I’ve always liked to write. When I was seven years old, I created my own comic series about a thief who wore a beanie (don’t ask). Growing up, my interests evolved — from the usual bad poetry every emo teenager attempted to write to even (equally bad) songs with my brother. I started — and failed — to write fiction several times. I didn’t know what exactly I wasn’t getting right, I just knew it wasn’t right. But, then, I found something that would change everything for me — fanfiction.

It took me a while to give fanfiction a chance. I had all those preconceived notions that writing about real people was creepy and wrong — and, honestly, in some cases, it is. I’ll never forget reading about how the lead singer of a band was kidnapped and had his vocal cords removed. There is such a thing as too much, and that was certainly too much.

Anyway, I started actively participating in a forum of a certain band when I was around 19 years old. There, in addition to friends that are still in my life to this day, I also met some fanfiction writers. A lot of the fans in the forum were fanfiction advocates (and obviously readers), and upon chatting with the writers, I decided to give it a chance. It turned out to be the best thing I would ever do!

I soon found out that creepy wasn’t a requirement to write fanfiction and that some of them were actually very good stories. I started reading a lot of them in search of those good ones — that’s when I came across the most popular fanfiction in the fandom at the time and, spoiler alert, one of the best stories I ever read in my entire life. It was thankfully finished by the time I found it, so I read it through in three days, despite it having over 70 chapters and 600 pages. Believe me, it was worth it. I reread it a number of times over the years. I’m rereading it this month, which is what prompted this post. If you’re curious about it (and the fandom I’m talking about), you can still find it online through this link. You don’t have to know a thing about the band to enjoy this story. And, I promise you, you will enjoy this story.

This was the story that ultimately prompted me to start writing my own fanfiction, and in doing so, I found out what my problem with writing fiction was: characters. I didn’t know how to create characters. It was immensely easier to write about someone who already existed than creating my own people. Therefore, my first fanfiction had only people I was a fan of at the time — a mash-up of bands and TV shows and books. It worked for me. It opened a door in my head that I didn’t know how to access before. I wrote every day for months, on a notebook, by hand, until I found out how the story ended. I still don’t know how I managed to do that because I could never replicate that process — I don’t write chronologically. I have ideas for major plot points and only after I write them down is that I’m able to write the rest of the story. Writing that first fanfiction was an anomaly, but one I’m glad happened, otherwise I wouldn’t have learned how to write.

Which brings me to my next point: fanfiction is great for experimentation. It has a lot of room to try and fail, to test your limits, to learn what works and what doesn’t. It’s also maybe the only time in writing when you already have an audience before you start. It doesn’t matter what you write, there will always be people to read it — and give you feedback, which is so important for any writer. Knowing people’s opinions on what I’m writing is what fuels my drive, so having so many people read and love my fanfiction was really important to me. The other great thing about fanfic readers is that they’re almost always positive in their comments. Even when they have something to criticize, they do it with care as to not hurt your feelings. At least that was my experience (and also what this research found).

So, I’ve mentioned before how, so far, all my ideas for books come from songs. I think that might have to do with writing fanfiction, since I wrote mine about a band and tried to find places to use their songs within the story. Now, I always imagine what story might have inspired the song I’m listening to, and that’s how my creativity thrives.

Now, what you might not know, is that Once in a Lifetime, aka my second (and third) novel, started out as a fanfiction idea. Many years ago, when I was still writing fanfic (I don’t anymore — once I learned how to write my own characters, fanfiction took a backseat in my writing life), I had this idea where the main band would go on tour with a second band and then things getting would get… tangled. I didn’t develop the idea back then, but I wrote one scene that always stayed in my mind as my favorite thing I had ever written.

After I finished Welcome to New York, I already had a story for the next book (which will now be book #4) but it was going to be a long one again. And I wanted to try to write something shorter because I didn’t want to spend another three years writing the second book (little did I know the second book would turn out to be second AND third books at the same time, which now got me really close to reaching two years of working on them). That’s when I remembered that fanfic and the scene — my favorite thing I’d ever written. I knew it would be shorter because the story spanned over a short number of days. So, I dug up the file from the confines of my hard drive and… cringed so hard. Turns out the best thing I’d ever written was garbage. Total, utter, mortifying garbage. This was both disheartening and encouraging — I obviously didn’t remember what I had written, but it also meant that my standards had evolved. I knew better now what was good writing, which only proved that my abilities had improved. Thank God, right? I mean, imagine still having the same skills I had more than a decade ago.

Anyway, even though I had nothing to work with from that old fanfic, I decided to take the idea and give it another spin. And now we have Once. Well, I have Once, you’ll have it sometime in the future. The near future. Hopefully.

I think that only goes to show how fanfiction played — and still plays — a very important role in my writing. I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing if it wasn’t for fanfiction. I wouldn’t have evolved if it wasn’t for fanfiction. I wouldn’t have the courage to write and show it to people if it wasn’t for fanfiction. I think that’s why I decided to reread Catapult once more, it feels kind of a full circle. It’s the story that kicked all of this off. And I have to say, I still love it! It still holds its spot as one of my favorite stories I’ve ever read in this life.

I can only hope that one of my stories — fanfic-inspired or not — may become someone’s favorite story as well.

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