On the eve of my eighteenth birthday, I wrote my first fan fiction after watching Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End in the theaters with my reluctant then-boyfriend-now-husband. Considering that my last foray with writing was a 12 page term paper on heroism in Beowulf for freshman year English, this came as a complete surprise to the both of us. I never expected to be sucked in by Captain Jack Sparrow’s charm, nor did I imagine that he would persuade me to join his crew on a high-seas adventure to find the Fountain of Youth. I simply could not help myself — I needed more.
At the time, I didn’t know what fan fiction was. I actually thought my need to write my very own version of Captain Jack Sparrow’s tale was one of those hobbies people tended to keep to themselves, like stamp collecting. Little did I know that I was about to take a swan dive into an entirely new world that I was slightly unprepared for.
Deciding to take the plunge armed with my favorite piece of advice: ‘Always remain curious,’ I decided to experiment and set realistic expectations for myself. I knew I wasn’t going to come out of the gate as strong writer, so I shook off my fears and moved on. Looking back at that time, if I got a comment like: “Your story sucks,” that’s probably because it did. Plain and simple.
Show of hands, have you ever looked at a piece of your writing and made this face?
Yeah, that happens all the time — I’m pretty sure George R. R. Martin is making this face right now as he’s editing The Winds of Winter — because as creative individuals, we’re always going to want to strive to be better at our craft. No one is ever going to be the perfect writer, but you can surely continue to raise the bar and chase after your goals.
With this in mind, my interest in writing went from a not-so-committed hobby consisting of lunch break off-the-cuff scribbling sessions and late night repetitive movie watching to something a lot more personal and challenging. And thanks to the mentoring of other knowledgeable writers I’ve met in fandom, I noticed that I would look at the different components that made up a story much more carefully; constructing subplots and understanding the arcs of all my main characters along with their motivations, strengths, and weaknesses. I found myself sorting these things out on paper and figuring out how they needed to meld together throughout the narrative and ultimately become one at the end. I felt like a chess player, calculating each and every one of the possibilities before moving a piece.
Learning how to write with already established characters in a familiar world taught me the basics of writing, but it was the tight-knit community that taught me how to be a storyteller. Interacting with other active writers bolstered my feelings about writing. I was able to identify with my peers and brainstorm within these large communities (ones that Wattpad has been fostering for quite some time through engagement) and establish meaningful relationships. Through these experiences, I’ve managed to find a really beautiful truth amongst all the chaos: fandom touches all walks of life. Seriously. That girl sitting next to you in class could be madly scrolling through a Tom Hiddleston Tumblr on her phone. Or that guy who made you coffee at Starbucks could be a huge Star Wars cosplayer. How is that not the coolest thing, ever? My day-to-day varies from editing with a worldly technical writer, gif-warring with a radio show host, talking shop with an iron welder, and discussing whether Jim Moriarty is really as dead as a doornail with a feisty veterinarian.
Because of the confidence I’ve built through fan fiction, I’ve been focusing my efforts on writing my very first original fiction in the fantasy genre (available to read for free on Wattpad!) and I am proud to say that fan fiction is where I found my footing and made me into the writer I am today.
It’s not like stamp collecting. It’s real. It’s warm. It makes you flail. It might even make you faint. And without it the world would be a scary place, like Daryl Dixon chasing after you with his crossbow kind of scary.