Fanfiction has been around since Shakespeare—some of his most famous works were written based on previously written work. But the debate on the validity of fanfiction as a writing practice has been around for a long while as well. Some incredibly successful writers got their start in writing fanfiction, but other writers think fanfiction may actually hurt the ability of a writer and can be used as a crutch.
Fanfiction can be defined as “fictional writing written by fans, commonly of an existing work of fiction.” I’m a writer, and I got my start writing fanfiction. I loved reading books and being able to take beloved characters and plots and create my own work from them. It allowed me to work on my writing skills while also actively enjoying and creating from the source material that I loved. Because I created original characters and plots as well, these skills have transferred from fanfiction to writing my own original stories. It is also a fun outlet to write in and to share with friends who enjoy the same fandom.
One prominent author who got her start writing fanfiction is Victoria Aveyard, the author of the Red Queen YA Fantasy series. She wrote Lord of the Rings fanfiction when she was younger because she wished to see herself and other women represented in the material that she loved. She has a new book coming out called Realm Breaker which she has said is partly written due to not seeing girls represented in high fantasy stories.
Another well-known author, Neil Gaiman, has multiple works of fanfiction as well. He is known for writing Good Omens and Coraline. When asked about his thoughts on fanfiction, he said on his website “as long as nobody's making money from it that should be an author or creator's, I don't mind it. And I think it does a lot of good.”
Some writers say that writing fanfiction makes your writing worse. R.S. Benedict, an author on Twitter, tweeted that “it's incredibly bleak how many contemporary aspiring writers cut their teeth on fanfiction, a form that actively teaches you to write worse.” However, often in creative writing classes, we are taught to look at other works of writing and mimic their writing, which can also be considered fanfiction. Twitter user John P. Murphy also offers a rebuttal to Benedict’s first tweet, stating “I know quite a few excellent writers who cut their teeth on fanfiction. I would say quite the opposite, that the form teaches writers to identify and engage a particular audience, and to pay attention to what they find compelling in stories. Those are important skills.”
Sure, there is going to be poorly written fanfiction out on the internet. There is poorly written writing everywhere. But the value of practicing writing in a safe space like fanfiction is so important to writers of all ages and levels. Sometimes, if I’m in a writing slump, I may write a short story based on a character from Harry Potter or the Marvel Cinematic Universe to help get my brain to formulate ideas and keep my writing fresh.
The demonization of fanfiction needs to stop in writer's communities. Fanfiction is not hurting anyone as long as the author is not breaking copyright rules and profiting off previously published work. I believe that not being so uptight with the certain “rules” of writing lessens the stress of actually getting into writing. Writing, ultimately, is an art form, and art is expressed in so many different ways that some people may not like. It is time to quit gatekeeping and let people enjoy writing in whatever way they would like!