Opinion

Can Fan-Fiction Really Improve Your Writing?

I sometimes get embarrassed when I say that fan-fiction played a huge role in my life. It has such a bad reputation that it makes people cringe, or they judge fan-fiction writers. However, I’m a firm believer that fan-fiction really can improve your writing.

TL;DR Benefits Of Fan-Fiction For Writers: Practicing writing in any form is beneficial for budding writers. Fan-fiction often allows you to skip world building and character development, so you can focus on improving your storytelling skills. Plus, it gets you writing to deadlines when you have impatient readers more than happy to offer constructive criticism.

How Can Fan-Fiction Improve Your Writing?

1. You’re Writing

girl writing at laptop - can fan-fiction really improve your writing

The first way fan-fiction can improve your writing is because you’re writing.

Reading a book or other people’s fan-fiction is beneficial, but the best way to get better at writing it to write. Fan-fiction is great practice because you don’t have to worry about world-building or creating all-new characters from scratch; you can just write.

A lot of people have good ideas for stories, but very few of them have the skills to execute it. Writing is very much a skill you can learn – but you have to be willing to humble yourself and put the time in.

2. Deadlines

The second way fan-fiction benefits budding writers is self-control and disclipine.

It’s also good practice for writing to a deadline because you have readers asking for the next chapter. A hard lesson for writers is that while you can’t control when inspiration hits, you still need to find ways to be productive.

Sure, a lot of readers will be patient with you, but some will lose interest if you take months between chapters. A lot of readers just refuse to read unfinished fics because so many writers abandon their work.

If you want to write for a living in the future, learning to be disciplined is invaluable. No matter impressive your writing skills are, if you always miss deadlines, you won’t last long in the industry.

3. Testing Ideas

close up photography of eyeglasses near crumpled papers
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I used to use fan-fiction to trial ideas I had for books I intended on writing one day. As my fics just featured the members of My Chemical Romance it was easy to slot them in as the characters for original story ideas. People read fics for the same reason they watch remakes; it’s familiar. It worked!

I did have an audience of people who genuinely liked the story, but the truth is, they read it in the first place because the main character was Gerard Way. At the time, my original stories would have had a harder time getting attention.

When you brand it as fan-fiction, you can get readers who will get invested in the tale. Although the story was never originally a fan-fic, it was a great device for getting a feel for how it would go and if it’s something people would actually read or enjoy.

While most of those ideas will never see the light of day again, some were based on stories I do see myself writing in the future, but of course, my original characters will be written back in.

4. Constructive Criticism

Putting yourself out there is scary. People on the internet can be cruel for no reason.

Many fan communities are pretty friendly and welcoming, and will be nice about how they address issues with your story and writing.

To be blunt: A lot of writers are pretentious but don’t actually have the skills to justify their ego. You need to be willing to humble yourself and listen to other people in order to grow. There is only so far just writing alone can do before you hit a wall. The next step, is to look elsewhere.

Learning From Other Writers

If you’re too shy to post online, it doesn’t mean you’re just going to stagnate.

When I was 17-about-to-turn-18, I started attending a poetry event. At this point, I had a bit of a writing ego myself. Fortunately, I was too shy for people to really see it, but in my head, I thought I was better than I was.

black note book that reads "write ideas" - can fan-fiction really improve your writing

Just being exposed to other writers much more talented than me was a huge wake-up call. From there, I made major breakthroughs with my writing from being exposed to all the things they were doing right. So, finding some sort of community will help you grow.

5. No Pressure

Since fan-fiction is a hobby, there’s no pressure with it. You’re less likely to procrastinate because you’re already passionate about the subject and there are no stakes.

With no pressure, you’ll probably invest a lot of time into it without having to force it.

As fun as writing is, I will admit, it was more fun when it was just a hobby. Writing fan-fiction was the most fun I’ve had as a writer because all I had to think about was the story. These days I have to wonder, will my invoice actually get paid, is this a stable career, will this piece get rejected, etc.

My Fan-Fiction Story

I always wrote when I was a child, usually songs and made little comic strips. The idea of writing books and stories appealed to me, but I never put it into practice until fan-fiction came along.

When I was 14 I joined My Chemical Romance’s website. As far as band/artist websites go theirs is one of the best because it was like a social media platform. Fans can post blogs that go into a “community” section for others to read and comment on. There’s also the option to private message others, so I had a few internet friends I’ve sadly since lost touch with.

Their website became a safe-haven for me where I could share my thoughts with like-minded people. I never deleted the account so I cringe at all my teen angst now. However, the space really meant a lot to me at the time, and got me through my very troubled teenage years. In fact, I owe it to why I’m actually blogging now!

book cover for poetry collection

Not only did it ignite my love of blogging, but I discovered the weird and wonderful world of fan-fiction.

Having begun reading other fics, I decided to give it a try myself. I began my first fic when I was 15, uncreatively called “fan-fic.” From there I spent the remainder of my teenage years penning fics about MCR, and then also migrating to Wattpad where I wrote a few about Supernatural, and Fearless Vampire Killers.

The Benefits Of Writing Fan-Fiction For Me

I thought my writing was good at the time, when in reality, it might actually be on par with My Immortal. I think the readers might have been humouring me. If they were, then that was really nice because the encouragement kept me going.

I’ve since re-read everything, and there are huge improvements in my writing with each fic. At the time, my English grades in school actually shot up so technically that makes it educational.

I’ve seen been published and paid for my creative writing. When I took a creative writing module in college, my tutor remarked that my writing was quite advanced for my age. Although a big book lover from my early childhood, I owe a lot of my writing ability to spending my teenage years writing fics. Fan-fiction really can improve your writing!

What Other Writers Have To Say About Fan-Fiction

I chatted to Artie Carden about fan-fiction. With a creative writing degree under their belt, Artie knows what they’re talking about. We also collaborated on a post on their blog about being eco-friendly if you’d like to check it out.

Artie recommends writing fan-fiction for budding writers because: there are no rules for fanfiction, I think it’s easy to get stuck in ‘oh no I can’t write about that because I’m writing this genre’ but in fanfiction anything can happen, and it’s a good place to go to learn what makes a good and a bad sex scene.”

The Benefits Of Reading Fan-Fiction

Artie says that fan-fiction was one of their first forms of reading.

As someone with dyslexia, fan-fiction was easier to read because a lot of it is written relatively simple and to the point, according to Artie. They were able to develop better reading comprehension because of it.

reading on a kindle - can fan-fiction really improve your writing

Diversity

As a large chunk of avid fan-fiction readers and writers are queer people and teenage girls, it’s a place to explore feelings they’re told they aren’t allowed to have, according to Artie.

“It’s a great place for young people to explore ‘taboo’ subjects that aren’t often in mainstream media. I didn’t have LGBT+ books I could read back in my teens and even if I did, would I want to carry it around with me? When it’s on the internet on your phone or laptop it’s private and no one would know unless they searched your history, which is less likely to happen than someone seeing the book you’re carrying and giving it a search.”

I completely agree with Artie’s point here. I read a lot of books as a teen and I think it was only three times that I came across books with LGBTQ+ characters. Whereas in the realm of fan-fiction, LGBTQ+ characters were a given.

Other teenagers on the internet were saying it’s okay to be queer and to see yourself represented in stories, and a lot of mainstream authors weren’t. I don’t think those authors weren’t supportive of the LGBTQ+ community, not every story has to feature queer characters, but publishing is first and foremost a business and, sadly, it wasn’t something publishers thought would be well received at the time. It’s not just a case that fan-fiction really can improve your writing, but it’s a space for young people to explore their identity!

This does mean that the future of fiction is bright, as former fan fiction writers become published authors we’re going to see more diverse characters in fiction, which is wonderful.

Why Does Fan-Fiction Have A Bad Reputation?

So, while I’ve been speaking highly on fan-fiction, you might be wondering, why is it weird to like fan-fiction? Why do people say fan-fiction is bad?

While myself and Artie wouldn’t engage with it now like when we were both teenagers, it was an important part of my life at the time. Artie admits they still sometimes read some old favourites.

Artie says fan-fiction can be cringe and a lot of it isn’t written very well, but like any reading, it has its audience. They gave a great example of it being like adults reading YA and saying it was too immature. The target audience and characters in YA are teens, of course they’re not going to be as mature as a 30 year old!

Personally, I think the bad name comes from a lot of things. The main one being from readers and writers who have never gone near fan-fiction dismissing it as low-grade trash.

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1. The Elephant In The Room: Smut

Mostly, I think the fact that smut is the biggest sub-genre within fan-fiction is the bulk of why people say fan-fiction is weird or creepy. Personally, smut made me uncomfortable so I never read it or wrote it. It’s not because people were exploring sexual themes in it, it’s just that type of content as a whole makes me uncomfortable. It’s why I don’t love adult fiction because a lot of authors ram as much sex and curse words in as possible because they can.

People look at the big bad fics, like the Milk Fic or My Immortal and paint all fan-fiction with the same brush.

A lot of people argue that it’s disrespectful to write or draw lewd and graphic stories about people who haven’t consented. I don’t disagree with that. Not all fan-fiction is sexual, and not all fan-fiction is based on real people.

2. Unoriginal Tropes

There’s also a lot of common tropes in fan-fiction regardless of who/what it’s based on such as the “school project” enemies-to-lovers fics, “my mom sold me as a slave to *insert band here*”, “randomly meeting *insert band here* becoming a roadie, and *insert favourite band member here* falling in love with Y/N.”

Most fics take on an original story, but while I never liked those tropes, they’re not bad. I preferred to read more original stories, usually the ones about vampires, werewolves, witches, etc, because that’s what I was writing, and the genre of traditional literature/YA I read.

That said, tropes are a big part of fiction in all forms. Some published books rely too much on them too. A lot of fan-fiction is self-indulgent, but I’m sure lots of mainstream writers have self-insert characters too.

3. Disturbing Content

Some fics are downright unacceptable. While shipping real people might be close to the line, incest fics about people hooking up with their siblings or worse, their minor children is horrific.

Some fan-fiction is creepy and disgusting. There’s no ignoring that.

4. Trolling

A lot of fan-fiction isn’t serious. Plenty of trolls write up the worst thing possible, hoping it will go viral.

So, if something is so bad it’s funny, that could be intentional. The point is to get people to rip on those who genuinely enjoy fan-fiction by making it look like it’s all trash.

So, Is Writing Fan-Fiction Good Practice?

A lot of big authors now used to write fan-fiction, like Cassandra Clare, Neil Gaiman, and Rainbow Rowell.

I would say writing fan-fiction is good practice and it’s fun! You can refine your writing skills, make friends, and engage with something you love.

The Bottom Line On The Benefits Of Fan-Fiction

person writing on notebook - as part of blog post on "can fan fiction improve your writing"
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I think fan-fiction really can improve your writing. Any form of reading and writing is progress for young writers I’d never discourage it. Whether you just want to write fluffy stories about your favourite ships like Destiel, or use it as a medium to tell your own tales, fan-fiction can help you improve your writing skills.

I’d be really flattered if one day someone wrote fan-fiction about something I made, but I wouldn’t read it.

Unless you’re Anne Rice, most authors and celebrities are okay with it, again so long as you don’t send it to them. Although many public figures turn a blind eye to fan-fiction, remember, you can’t legally profit from it.

What’s your two-cents on fan-fiction? Can fan-fiction really improve your writing?

Go check out Artie’s blog and Youtube channel.

6 thoughts on “Can Fan-Fiction Really Improve Your Writing?

  1. I’ve actually heard a few people say that’s they’ve benefited from fan fiction writing, one of my friends used to write a lot of the stuff has since won awards for her writing! This was so interesting to read x

  2. I started writing my first fan fiction when I was about 8. Having characters of my fave TV shows in mind helped me to focus on the story itself. I didn’t have to think how a character would act or react in certain situations or which words he would use. I think it’s a great start to get into writing no matter what age. However, I haven’t written many fan fictions lately, as I wanted to get my own work out there. The negative aspect is, that my characters are unknown. Most people prefer to read about something they already know somehow. That is why I decided to start a little fan fiction series as part of my latest blog post. I got in touch with so many people over the years, and I heard how many of them love reading fan fictions, so I will give it a try now and be happy about every reader. It’s fun and refreshing in some way. I also think it’s a good way to improve my English as it is not my mother tongue, and people are more likely to find me. I hope that one day I will have some readers who know my writing, and that they might read my original work as well.

  3. As an avid writer of fan-fiction, I love what you are saying. Perhaps it is true it discourages the building of one’s own world and characters, but it is practice. I wrote fan-fiction and I saw how my writing changed. Now, even my fan-fiction is barely fan-fiction. It is place for me to relax in to when the real world and my own novels get to rough.

  4. I used to write fanfiction when I was younger and it was so much fun!! I met one of my friends Lindsey through her fanfictions and met recent friends through theirs! I still read all of it to this day and I think it’s brilliant practice for improving writing!

    Daisy xoxo | TheDeeWhoLived

  5. I love this idea for writing! I think most people would probably not admit it, but I think a lot of people have actually read fan fiction. And they also wouldn’t want to admit it, but a lot of it’s GOOD. I used to read it a lot and attempt to write it myself (I like to write, but I can never seem to finish a product if my heart isn’t in it. Which is why I love posting blog POSTS), and I’ve never thought about it as practice for writing, but you’re so right. You have all the components there. It’s a writing exercise where you already know the characters and the world. It’s really brilliant! I never would have thought of this if you hadn’t written about it! That’s awesome that your writing has gotten better and has evolved since fan fiction.

    Such a great post!! It really opened my eyes!

    Emily | https://www.thatweirdgirllife.com

  6. Fan fics are such a great way to develop writing skills – i think it’s lots to do with the fact it’s something you enjoy writing so you’re developing your skills without it being like and English class essay. I used to do the same, writing about hotels from brochures when I was a child (random) but now i love to travel write < so maybe it helped! 😁

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