Killing the Fanfiction in Me

By Luzelle Sotelo

I have a confession: I used to write fanfiction.

This is a slightly embarrassing thing for me to admit, given that I (almost) have two creative writing degrees, but it’s true. I was around eight or nine years old when I first read fanfiction—so young! (Who let me do that?!)

Not many people can say they’ve read fanfiction on DeviantArt, but that’s where I started. I quickly moved to FanFiction.Net, and then much later to Archive of Our Own (AO3). I didn’t really like Wattpad at the height of my fanfiction ‘phase’, but I feel most of the discourse surrounding fanfiction comes from stories published on Wattpad (compared to FFNet or maybe AO3).

For years I waited for someone to write the story idea I had burning in my head. But I realised that even if they did, there was no guarantee I’d like the way they’d do it. And so, at eleven, I rose to the occasion and wrote the fanfic I wanted to read. This was an extremely formative experience in my journey as a writer.

I’m hesitant to admit how much fanfiction I’ve read. I’d like to think that fanfiction doesn’t carry as much shame as it used to. I don’t know why I still censor myself when someone asks if I’ve read anything good lately. Why am I shy, embarrassed, ashamed or even afraid to admit that I’ve read a good fanfic?

I think it’s partly because there is still a stigma around fanfiction. Because it’s something that is (traditionally) enjoyed by young, teenage girls, it often becomes a casualty of ageism and/or misogyny. I feel too exposed if I admit that I genuinely still enjoy reading fanfiction, so I sometimes play it off as a guilty pleasure, especially now that I’m in my twenties. Maybe that’s why it feels so shameful to admit that I’ve also written fanfiction—it’s writing that isn’t viewed as valuable writing (even though I wrote plot and chapter outlines and edited the hell out of every chapter). In reality, fanfiction is a form of serial storytelling and can attract the same amount of readers as a bestselling author. For example, EL James’ 50 Shades of Grey was Twilight fanfiction and Anna Todd’s After series as One Direction fanfiction received financial success after being adapted into mainstream movies, but received criticism because the source material was fanfiction.

Why isn’t fanfiction considered legitimate literary expression?

I would argue that writing fanfiction actually makes you a better writer. When you post your work on the internet in this way, you’re subject to many opinions. Some are valuable critiques, raving compliments; some can be hurtful and mean. But for me, this feedback gave me the ability to think critically about my writing at a young age: is this my own writing style and voice? What are my characters’ motivations? In what areas am I overwriting? I liked writing, and having a lot of reviews, follows, and favourites on my fanfic made me think I was a decent enough writer to study creative writing at university. It was only when I sat in my very first creative writing class that I realised how different the world of fanfiction is to other forms of writing.

Instead of feeling excited, writing exercises made me anxious. There was one tutor in my first year of university that loved to ask people to read their work aloud (I use ‘ask’ here liberally). My anxiety levels were through the roof in this class because I hadn’t had time to edit ‘the fanfiction’ out of my writing. I hadn’t had time to make my writing more sophisticated or cool, and the thought of exposing how much of a fraud I was, calling myself a writer, was terrifying.

I became extremely self-conscious of my writing—how one-dimensional my characters seemed and how ‘plain’ my settings were. My writing wasn’t as eloquent, beautiful, interesting or original as other students who shared their work. I became convinced that there were two types of people: there were writers, and then there were authors … and I felt so deeply like a writer.

I no longer find myself spiralling into thoughts like this. I’ve come to terms with my writing being what it is: sometimes the fanfiction writer in me still slips into an overly clichéd sentence, or maybe I’ll unconsciously describe a character’s appearance in a very fanfic-y way. There are other things that fanfiction writers tend to do that I’ve been guilty of in the past, but now work to avoid. Although I’m now an editing and publishing student, in my heart of hearts, I can honestly say that writing fanfiction has shaped me as a writer and reader—for the better. My peers might perceive me differently now that they know this about me, but that’s okay.

Because I have a confession: I used to write fanfiction. And I’m no longer ashamed to say it.

Luzelle Sotelo is a Filipino-Australian writer from Sydney currently studying a Master of Creative Writing, Publishing and Editing at the University of Melbourne. She likes to re-watch Pride and Prejudice (2005) and is attempting to eat her way through Melbourne.

Feature Image: Rewrite Edit Text on a Typewriter. Photo by Suzy Hazlewood. Used with permission.

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