Transitioning from Fanfiction to Original Fiction

When I was 11 years old, I wanted to be a writer; specifically, a playwright. I wanted to be like Neil Simon, living in New York above an Italian deli run by a kindly old woman who would sneak me cannoli. I imagined I would ascend to my writing loft, careful not to knock over the books lined up on the stairs. I’d bang out the next “Mousetrap” on my antique Smith Corona as my future husband, Richard Dreyfuss, would praise my brilliance. 

This fantasy never quite coalesced. As a middle-aged woman looking at the other side of 40, I don’t quite have that 11-year-old’s fantasy down. Dust and dirty laundry line my stairs. I don’t live in New York, that creative mecca, but rather in Burbank, where creativity is business. I have a wonderful husband who is just as cute as Richard Dreyfuss and brings me coffee, not cannoli. What I didn’t have for a long time was writing. I didn’t write anything besides a shopping list, which seemed a chore. I decided my resume doesn’t count as creative writing, though an HR rep might disagree.

Writing was a craft for talented people, not non-creative old me.

Rekindling My Love of Writing

The “Writing Bug” has a way of finding people when they least expect it. I was bitten later in life by a strange source: A popular network TV show.

It was pure accident when I first learned about fanfiction. I was hooked on a tv show, “The Big Bang Theory,” and they had a season finale with a great cliffhanger. I had to know what happened next. In the age of the internet, I was sure someone would reveal spoilers. I found a website: “What will happen in the Season 8 Premiere.” Bingo. As I read the piece, my jaw dropped. Not only did the couple I was worried about not break up, but they finally got together with a torrid sex scene I thought would be too racy for prime-time television. 

You can find fanfic in places like Archive of Our Own,, and Wattpad

When I told my friends of my discovery, they all laughed at my expense. They informed me that I had found fanfiction. Fanfiction is a type of fiction in which fans write their own stories based on the characters, world, and/or plot of an existing show, book, movie, or video game. 

It can be anything from a retelling of Jane Austin with vampires to that torrid sex scene for my rated G show. I was hooked.

Writing My First Fanfiction

I had an idea for how the Network paid writers SHOULD write the new season premiere. After downing half a bottle of wine, without any sleep, I wrote a story. It was my first creative writing endeavor since 7th grade when I was asked to write a story for school. It showed. Weak plot, spelling errors abound, grammar was an afterthought, and it was littered with song lyrics. Then I did an outrageous thing. I posted it. Just put it out there for all of humanity to view and judge. I didn’t expect much, maybe someone would say, “Yes, that’s a great idea. You should write for the show professionally.” 

That review didn’t come, but what did were comments from people. From all over the world.  Real people read my story and the miracle of miracles, they liked it. Some helped me by pointing out spelling errors, like “organism” for “orgasm.. The majority of the reviews were positive. I had to write another. 

This one, I thought about the plot and the characters more. I made more mistakes. I spelled things wrong, but I created a whole story. The reviews flooded in. I did it again with yet another story and another. Each time I learned a new aspect of craft. I played with POV and worked on vivid descriptions and character arcs. Fanfiction rekindled my dormant love of writing.

The Journey To Original Fiction

I had been toying with an idea close to one of my other loves: History. I’m fascinated with code breaking and World War II history. I wanted to write a love story set in Bletchley Park, where they broke the Nazi Enigma code. I toyed with the idea of writing my vision in a fanfic piece, but the story begged to be told differently. An original way. I had friends who tried to jump from fanfiction to traditional writing. Some changed the names of their fanfiction characters and self-published, misspellings and all. Some removed all traces of their stories from the internet; lest a nosey publisher discovers their humble untrained beginnings.

I readied my pen to write my own story, not play in the sandbox of someone else’s imagination. As I stared at the glowing blank Word doc, I froze. I wrote over 1 million words for my fanfiction. But for my own story? Nothing. Writing my own story became a chore. As my friend Kate Graham says, it was “less a wonderful journey and more of a crawl along the floor with frequent naps.” At the same time as this unfortunate writer’s block, I was working on my latest fanfiction. I opened that doc and banged out over 10k words. Feeling back in a groove, I returned to my original work. 

Still nothing. I lost my spark. What was I doing wrong? I had the story in my head. It was screaming to come out and live. I just couldn’t get it out of my grey matter onto the screen. Eventually, I figured out the problem. I’d run into the dreaded writer insecurity. I thought, “No one will want to read this story. No one cares about my silly little scribbles. I’ll never be taken seriously.”

What Makes Fanfiction Great

It’s no wonder since this route is not the most popular in the traditional publishing world. Not all fanfiction is akin to the popular yet poorly-written 50 Shades, but the whole genre is written off, if you’ll excuse the pun. The fanfiction world is stigmatized as amateur works. 

Most people think of fanfiction as a silly indulgence by teenage girls addicted to Tumblr. I wonder why the world derides girls for their interests and then tries to profit off them, but that rant is for another article. Those girls are out there, as are thousands of others of all genders, and they are falling in love with some movie, book or TV show and feeling inspired. 

What are these people doing that so many would-be writers are not? 


They write every day. They can produce thousands of words and multi-chapter novels all for the love of it. Fanfiction taught me things that traditional writing classes could not. Fanfiction taught me how to write without judgment. It taught me that a community is key to keeping up a writing habit. I learned a beta reader is a lifeline. I learned to listen to that inner voice that told me, “Just write it.” In the end, I wrote over one million words that over 250 thousand people read. That was the gift fanfiction gave to me. How to write without limits. Write for the joy of it alone. To craft a story that strikes a chord.

Writing fanfiction is like bringing brownies to a chocolate lovers’ convention. You know the fans will love it. That is what I missed in my foray into traditional publishing. No feedback. If I was going to get better at this writer thing, I had to find a fandom I could join. A fandom of writing.

Learning More About Writing

That’s when I found This small cohort taught me more than just the rules of writing. The group exposed me to different genres, styles, and writers. I started to pay attention to things that fanfic reviewers might forgive or ignore with greater interest. Fanfiction aficionados appreciate a good plot if you stay in the character’s voice and humor. Through more classes, conventions, and workshops, I learned to accept feedback and give it. No longer did I do any head hopping, and I figured out how to keep my tenses straight. I added tension, upped the stakes, and amped up the pacing. I gained the knowledge I’d been missing. It was as if I had a love of food and started to learn flavor theory.

Story structure and character arcs were the first part of the craft I yearned to learn. I sprinkled less passive voice and folded in more tension and stakes. My new spicy verbs added to the action. In the world of fanfiction, the words are all darlings, never to see the blade. I learned to edit, cut, and kill my darlings. After years of writing stories for a small, selective market, I finished my novel, “A Secret Never to be Told.” I have queried this book to seven agents, and so far, four asked for a full manuscript request. I’m finishing my final edit on book one of my three-part dystopian series. I’ve generated more words than I did in fanfiction, all from my own imagination. 

Fanfiction Writing is Writing

Fanfiction is more than a stepping stone to traditional writing. It’s a wonderful way to learn writing, test out ideas, get feedback and, most importantly, keep that love of writing many of us lose in traditional fiction. If you have never written fanfiction, here is a bit of advice: Write without limits. Write like you know the audience is going to love it. Write like a fanfiction author but edit like a traditional fiction one. 

If you’re a fanfic writer who wants some tips on how you can write original fiction and to make your fanfiction better, join Rachel for her workshop:

Transitioning from Fanfiction to Original Fiction

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