My boyfriend might not know this, but I remember him from before we officially met. We were sat on opposite ends of the same creative writing classroom and I thought he was an idiot. George’d already taken a less-than-serious approach to the first exercise (I think he said he was a shark-wrestler in his author bio), and then, in response to being asked why he wrote, he said ‘I just always have’. That’s right. I’d given some slightly-too-honest-to-be-sharing-with-strangers answer about how writing made me feel ‘in control’, and he’d gotten away with saying ‘I just always have’. Idiot.
Whilst I apparently have no problem telling a class of strangers about my supposed control issues, there is one particular aspect of my writing profile that I’m not always comfortable talking about: fanfiction. George has a different writing background and doesn’t get why I’m so embarrassed every time he brings it up in front of people .The way I’ve experienced it, though, there’s nothing like good old fanfic to make people look at you like you’re not a ‘real writer’. Cue eye rolls, snorts of laughter, and speedy subject changes. In fact, it’s probably because fan fiction makes up such a huge part of my history that I feel the need to come up with angsty reasons to validate why I write.
I wrote fanfiction between the ages of fourteen and eighteen. Having just checked my old author page, I can tell you that during that time I wrote thirteen short stories, started (and never finished) two novels, and completed one novel. Some of them are terrible, but that’s kind of the point. What’s weird is that I still get a surge of pride whenever I see them all sitting there on the webpage, each one with a its shiny banner (the fanfic version of a book cover).
My daily routine:
- Wake up five minutes early so that there’s time to load up the internet before school. Check to see if there are any new reviews. Reply to any short reviews.
- Spend school day thinking about reviews/story currently working on/stories currently reading/conversation with online friends from night before.
- Get home and lie to parents about ridiculous amounts of homework. Go straight to computer and log into forums. Spend evening reading, writing, and talking about writing. Scream at anyone who comes near the computer because if they find out the truth it will be the end of the world.
So yes, I wasn’t exactly very ‘cool’, but then again, I didn’t have that much of a life before I found fanfiction either. And I’m realising, more and more, that I accidentally ended up in one of the most nourishing environments available to grow up as a writer in. I was partaking in creative writing workshops long before I had even heard of UEA (and honestly: some of them were more useful).
Yes, there were other writers in my year at school, but hardly any who produced work consistently enough to have any sort of feedback circle, and even less who were willing to share what they’d created. In the fanfiction community I was able to show my writing to readers of all ages, to readers from all over the world, to readers who didn’t know me and gained nothing from being nice. But nice they were (well most of the time anyway), and without any characters or back-story to worry about, I was able to experiment with different voices, styles, and themes. There were challenge prompts to keep me out of my comfort zone and an internet full of people to bounce ideas back and forth with when things weren't working.
Telling people that you studied Creative Writing at UEA means that the ‘Why do you write?’ question occasionally still gets thrown at you, and, three years later, I reckon the ‘I just always have’ response has something to it. It’s quick, to the point, and somewhat true. The desire to write isn’t something that needs a because to explain it away, it’s one more way of making sense of the world. For me though, it still feels like I’m being deliberately evasive. I think the main reason I get embarrassed whenever fanfiction comes up is because people think of weird relationship pairings and badly put together sentences, they think of Fifty Shades of Grey. And whilst I won’t admit that I’ve never written a non-canon romance, I will say that I owe my friends in the fanfiction community much more credit than I tend to end up giving them. I hope that, wherever they are now, they are still creating.
And no, I won’t tell you what specific type of fanfiction I used to write – but if you know me even the slightest bit, you won’t find it hard to guess.