3 Lessons Learned from Writing Fanfiction for Over 20 Years
I've written Hey Arnold! fanfiction so you don't have to
April 30th marks the tenth anniversary of when I completed the fanfic Sailor Helga.
I’ve written fanfiction for twenty years, and have gained a lot of experience from the practice. Here are some of the most valuable lessons I can impart on newbies who wish to embark on writing fanfiction:
1. You’ve Got to Be Consistent
(there’s that C word again…)
Once again, I emphasize that developing a consistent writing habit is the single most important thing you can do on your writing journey.
When writing Sailor Helga, I would write a few chapters over several months, then go radio silent, only to dump all the remaining chapters on a fanfiction website in a single week.
As much as I enjoyed writing the story, I didn’t do Sailor Helga any favours by releasing content in this manner.
Fanfiction readers have trust issues. The last thing they want to do is invest time and emotional energy into a dead fic (a fanfiction piece less abandoned and incomplete by the author).
If you’re going to write fanfiction, make sure you can provide weekly to biweekly chapter updates. That way, you train your audience to expect when you post so they will stick around for every new chapter.
2. You Can’t Please Everyone
“You can be the ripest, juiciest peach in the world, and there’s still going to be somebody who hates peaches.” — Dita Von Teese
Not everyone is going to love what you write. The sooner you accept this bit of wisdom, the better off you’ll be.
I learned this lesson the hard way when writing Sailor Helga.
Although there’s a sizable Sailor Moon fan community and a modest but passionate Hey Arnold! community online, I discovered I was catering to a very niche audience: those who enjoyed Sailor Moon and Hey Arnold! equally, and enough to bother reading a crossover fanfic.
You can write an objectively spectacular piece of fanfiction, complete with engaging plot, characters, twists and turns, the whole nine yards…
But if you’re writing about an obscure property or a property not many people care about, then you’re not going to get a lot of views on your story.
I tested this theory by writing a secret Frozen 2 fanfic.
I’m not the biggest fan of the franchise, but I recognize the popularity of Hey Arnold! pales in comparison to the Frozen fandom.
With minimal effort, I was able to find and grow an audience for the story on Wattpad.
I’m not telling you to write fanfic about shows and movies you don’t care about.
I just want to remind you that sometimes, it’s not you, it’s the reader.
And that’s okay — different strokes for different folks. You just have to work harder to find the people who will actually be interested in your crazy story idea.
Trust me — in the world of fanfiction, you will find someone.
3. Own Your Weirdness
If you write fanfiction, you’re weird. That’s just the name of the game.
But there’s nothing wrong with being weird. The only thing wrong would be to deny the world your talents for the sake of appearing normal.
What is ‘normal’ anyway? I think 2020 has shown us that normal is fluid at best.
Don’t define yourself based on other people’s standards.
I LOVED writing fanfiction. Did it make me a geek? Possibly. But I still did it because it brought me joy.
When I wrote Sailor Helga, I knew on an intellectual level that the crossover fanfiction was an epic vanity project.
Even if I knew in my heart of hearts that I could never sell my idea, and that it would never be canon, I still felt it deserved to be seen by others.
You have to have this same confidence and drive when writing fanfiction. Understand that you’re doing it for yourself first. If other people join on and comment on what you have to say, then that’s just icing on the cake.
I’ve written over 100,000 words of fanfiction. If I would have listened to the critics, I never would have had that writing practice under my belt when I transitioned into writing original fiction.
And for the people who say I should have started with original fiction instead of fanfiction?
I believe that feeding my own soul first is what helped me build the necessary muscle to create my own original stories.
As Rich Dad Poor Dad author Robert Kiyosaki says, “Pay Yourself First”. I believe that’s relevant advice in both personal finance and in nurturing your spirit.
So to recap…here are the lessons I learned while writing fanfiction for 20 years:
- You’ve Got to Be Consistent
- Not Everyone’s Going to Love What You Write
- Own Your Weirdness
Do you agree? Do you read or write fanfiction? What other advice would you have for beginner writers? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!
Sylvie is a dual American/Canadian citizen living in Toronto, Canada. She has written for numerous sites, including Screen Rant, The Spool and Midnight & Indigo. Sylvie is currently writing her first YA novel; follow her writing journey at https://sylviesoul.com and @sylvsoulwriter on Twitter.