I’ve been meaning to post about fanfiction for a while, not really in connection with recent online discussions of literary fanfiction. Instead I want to talk about one particular reason why people write fanfiction. They write fanfiction for feedback, and for community.
I’ve been involved with fandom since I was a pre-teen. I read my first Star Trek fanzines in middle school and was unimpressed, I think because the stories didn’t resonate for me. At that time, fanfiction was on paper. You had to be “in the know” to even know the stories existed, much less to know how to obtain them. (I learned through a club, and through conventions.) If you wrote fanfiction, you did not have the distribution that’s possible with fanfiction that’s posted on the internet. You were writing for a very limited audience.
Some fanzines were published in series. If your story appeared in the first issue, and anyone bothered to comment on it, and the fanzine had a second issue, months or even years later, you might get a sentence or so of feedback. When I wrote fanfiction in college, that feedback was like gold. No, platinum. Because I was writing for myself–I love writing–and to explore aspects of the off-the-air television show over which I obsessed, but I also craved discussion. Partly of the show, but more and more of writing.
By the time I was in graduate school, in the early 1990s, fandom was on the internet, mostly in forums and mailing lists. I joined a mailing list and we began to exchange stories via email. Longer stories were posted to the list in parts, usually ending in dramatic cliffhangers.
Feedback was often instantaneous. Even if you posted your story in the middle of the night, someone, somewhere, was awake and reading. Long discussions might be sparked by a story, on all aspects of the writing, not just its relation to the show’s canon. In fact, often the stories were very, very far from reproducing episodic television format. Those interested in writing for its own sake found each other quickly, and formed strong bonds. I learned it was all right to geek out about writing. I wasn’t the only one.
That was what I loved most about writing fanfiction. I enjoyed writing for the paper zines–I couldn’t afford to buy them, but writers received contributor copies–but it was the quick, sincere feedback on the mailing lists that was most valuable to me. If not for those mailing lists, I might not be a professional writer today.
Lois Balzer never did finish that crossover!
I was just thinking of that when I went looking for illustrations for this post.
Thanks for posting this! I get a lot out of the fandom I write for, including the courage to write for a publisher in original fiction. I agree that fanfiction is a good way to build and participate in community – and to practice and hone one's skills, too.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts!
You're welcome! I was thinking about it again while preparing for a Readercon panel.
I've never been into fanfic, reading or writing, but I hear you on the addictiveness of good feedback. I was a member of a writers' workshop for almost 10 years, which was so much fun. And then once I got online, I fell in love with discussion forums.
I've been in the same writers' workshop for many years, but it's a different experience for me – we don't normally comment on work that's in-progress, and I'm not writing FOR them the way I would write for the mailing lists and such. Each type of writing has its advantages for me. Though it's probably been a decade since I wrote any fanfic.