Podcast Ep. #8: Why Fanfic?

Since as of now I’ve finished far more fan fiction than I have original material, I thought I would share how I got into writing that, how it has helped me grow as a writer, why I think it’s great, and what it has taught me about the value of all creative endeavors.

I’ll start this episode with a confession. When I entered college back in 2012, I was part of a Creative Writing program, and I had this idea that I wanted to be a serious writer, whatever a serious writer was. I was eighteen at the time and incredibly naive about the world in general, and I had never heard of fan fiction before that first year of college.

Do you know what my immediate reaction was to learning the term ‘fan fiction?’

Oh my gosh, what a bunch of idiots. Why would any half-decent writer waste their time writing unoriginal work that they can’t sell and can’t get any real credit for under fake names for random people on the internet to read for free?

Well, I had no interest in writing something like that. I was going to be a serious writer and have my real name on the New York Times Bestseller list. I mean, I was such an ignorant snob about the whole thing that I refused to read any fanfic to even see how it was, so I snubbed my nose up at it and completely put it out of my mind for the next three years.

And at the end of those three very challenging, very eye-opening years, do you know what happened? I had to put my foot so far into my mouth, it popped out of my butt.

At the end of those three years, I watched a Korean drama called Boys Over Flowers and fell in love with a fictional couple called SoEulmates. I then proceeded to read every fanfic of them I could find anywhere on the internet: all the fics on fan fiction websites, things that had been posted in people’s LiveJournal blogs, etc. I even used the Wayback Machine to find fics that had been on Lovers Unparalleled and Winglin. I was obsessed, and I was also going through a difficult time in my personal life, and reading about SoEul couple was my escape from that.

I was immediately struck by the high quality of some of the writing and the seriousness with which so many writers had undertaken to write a satisfying ending for the couple; some people had been working on their multi-chapter stories for years at that point and were still updating them. They were very dedicated to finishing their stories for their readers even though it would have been so easy to abandon the story as surely they were in a different phase of life than they had been when they first started writing. I was further struck by the passion and creativity that people put into their projects out of pure love for the couple. Of course, this love was a feeling I could relate to at that point, and I was honestly ashamed when I remembered my initial reaction to fan fiction and other fannish things throughout my life.

It’s easy to judge something when you don’t get it, when you haven’t been there, when you don’t understand the value of it because it’s never meant anything to you personally. This is where I was wrong, and I admit my error. I think in general if you don’t open yourself up to new experiences, you will never know how rewarding they can be. I was very rigid and single-minded for a long time; my personal life wasn’t as full because of that, and, consequently, my writing wasn’t as good either.

For a long time, I wanted to be a serious writer, and I thought being a serious writer meant being like the writers I read in school. I thought being a serious writer—being a successful writer—meant that people would be critically analyzing my works in literary classes a hundred years from now. I thought that meant that my work had to have the transcendent, all-knowing quality of the complicated stuff that got published in literary magazines. I thought, at the very least, that meant I wrote deep, meaningful commentary on current issues in society. But that’s a tall order for anyone, and it’s certainly a tall order when you’re in your mid-twenties, working your first job and still living with your parents, which I was at the time that I began writing my first fanfic.

The truth was, at that time, even if I had been skilled enough to write a brilliant novel-length commentary on modern-day society, I was not in the emotional headspace for that. My personal life and my family life had imploded during my last year of college, and I had a nervous breakdown halfway through that year; I clung on through graduation, but I didn’t apply to any jobs or internships or graduate programs, so when I got out of school, I took a crappy retail job and for about a year afterwards, I barely had the energy to go to my job and come back home and watch Asian dramas until I fell asleep.

Well, a year passed by like this, and at the end of that year, I realized I had to do something because I felt utterly stuck and foolish and confused about my direction in life, but what bothered me more was that I had pretty much stopped writing because of that, and I had never been not-writing. But for the first time in a long time, I really didn’t want to write anything ‘serious.’ I wanted to write something that would make me smile and laugh, something I could look forward to getting home to, where I could just escape from the world-at-large, and that desire brought me back to the SoEulmate fics that had brought me so much joy. I started writing a fanfic, just a small thing that was only supposed to be a few chapters, just because I wanted to write something fun—something that didn’t have to ‘save the world’ when I could barely save myself. And that little project grew and grew until I finished it at sixty-two chapters. It wasn’t a perfect story, but writing it made me more disciplined and confident in my writing, and the best part was I was still having fun at the end of those sixty-two chapters.

It had been years since I had just had fun writing something for the sake of having fun; usually, there was some bigger goal behind it, but I discovered that I enjoyed writing about subjects that I enjoyed, and that enjoyment spurred me to write more and more things. Before, getting myself to finish anything had been such an uphill battle, but because I had such a love for the characters I was writing, I found that I could push through any kind of writer’s block. Through this, my writing improved; I generally felt happier, and I stopped feeling so directionless; I started feeling like my life could have purpose again, even if I didn’t know exactly what that purpose was yet. So I took all that energy that my enthusiastic readers gave me and was able to pull myself up, get a better job, get married, and begin writing something original that was important to me. In this way, fan fiction saved me where ‘serious writing’ failed me.

Writing fan fiction also taught me that it’s best to write what you enjoy reading. For a long time, I had this perception that what I enjoyed reading was not worth writing. And by that I mean that I wanted to be taken seriously by my professors and by the adults in my life, and I thought in order to do that, I couldn’t write about silly things like good girls falling in love with bad boys or magical lands far, far away. When I got to college, I was told that escapist literature was not ‘real’ literature, at least not in an academic sense. And I was so disheartened by that because I wanted to be a good writer. I wanted to be a really good writer. But I also wanted to leave this universe while I was doing it. However, given this information, I said, okay; then I want to write realistic fiction. I want to write fiction set in this current world and talk about current issues that actually affect real people because I thought that was what a serious, genuine writer did. Even though I had always read books for the escapist quality of them. My favorite genres were romance, fantasy, and mystery/suspense. I enjoyed historical fiction as well, but that, too, was for the escapist aspect. I liked going to different places and different time periods when I read. I read to relax, to travel, to experience something I could not experience in the real world. But I was informed in so many words that writing about those things would not help me become the best writer I could be—and I wanted to be the best writer I could be—so I fought my natural interests, and when I think about it now, it seems so ridiculous how much time I wasted trying to be a type of writer that I wasn’t solely because I wanted the approval of other people. Only when I stopped trying to write using someone else’s voice did I become much more productive and much happier with what I wrote.

I don’t want to make it seem like I had this horrible experience in college because I didn’t. I learned a lot of valuable lessons about the craft of writing while I was there. When you read academic literature, it’s so rich with symbolism and layers of meaning and all these literary devices that are cool to discover and pull out of the text. This was not a waste of my time. I apply plenty of things I learned in literary theory to writing about good girls and bad boys, and I would encourage anyone to read ‘literary texts’ even a little bit just to understand all the cool things you can add on top of your basic story layer. But not all writers enjoy all types of writing, and that’s fine and expected. Literary fiction and popular fiction serve different purposes and different audiences; sometimes those audiences overlap, and sometimes they don’t, and that’s okay.

There are so many awful things happening in the world, and there are so many talented, dedicated, caring people writing about those things, and I salute them. But sometimes, you just want to read about people falling in love in unconventional circumstances, you know? Especially when the world is falling apart. So that’s what I like to write. I still want to say something with a lot of feeling and meaning in it, but also, if you just want to read my stuff because there’s a spicy smut scene, I understand, and I want to write that too. I want everything. I want to tell a fun story, but I also want to have this layer—like, an icing—that has a deeper meaning if you want to think about it more, if you want to think about what this story actually means in a broader sense. And if you don’t want to think about it, that’s okay too. Some days, I don’t like to think about anything at all. And there’s literature for that! And, honestly, it’s probably the best because it just helps people survive. I know fanfic helped me survive. I cannot imagine how I would have pulled myself out of the depressive state I was in without it, so…fanfic! Yes! You should read and/or write it because it is awesome!

On a final note, I’ve become convinced that being a serious writer isn’t so much about what your writing as it is how you’re writing it. Being serious about something means you’re applying your best effort to it, that it’s a priority for you. It also means that you find something that you’re passionate about, and you write about that. It doesn’t matter what your passion is; it doesn’t matter if other people think it’s silly or that it won’t matter in the long-term. Everyone’s passions are different; that’s what makes the world such a rich and diverse place. The great thing about fandom is that, at its best, it can offer a safe, healing space for those passions to be shared, for creativity to flourish, and for people to find strength and comfort and joy in the middle of life’s mundanity and its struggles. And if that isn’t deep or meaningful or valuable—if that isn’t a serious endeavor—then I don’t know what is.

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About Me

JodiMarie Meyer enjoys toeing the line between the mundane and the magical and exploring the dichotomies of good and evil; she primarily writes love stories, but not always. Definitely someone who got in trouble for daydreaming in class. Definitely someone who scribbles frantic story notes while stirring pasta. She makes her home in the Maryland countryside with her husband, dog, and rabbit. She is the author of one short story collection: magic/madness. Currently, she is writing her debut novel, Luc & Lila.