Taking the F.F. Train to Carnegie Hall

If I am ever lucky enough to be a famous enough writer that people ask me for advice on writing, the first piece of advice I will give is this: “you want to become a writer? Then write”.

Cliché, right? But it’s true. How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practise. Don’t worry about gathering a large audience, just practise.

Very few people are going to be making a living from writing, so if you want to write, you’d better be sure that you enjoy writing. You’ve got to be willing to write just for the fun of it, for small audiences, or even no audiences. A personal journal which you write in daily is the best tool a writer can have.

But don’t forget fan fiction. If I become a published author, it will be because I spent the last fifteen years of my life writing Doctor Who fan fiction (even if it does make my characters speak like middle-aged Brits). I refuse to be ashamed about that. Some see fan fiction as an unworthy activity for writers, but I think that fan fiction is an excellent training ground for young writers; I’d call it the ‘training wheels’ of writing, were it not for the fact that the phrase ‘training wheels’ is an inherent put-down of the activity.

By writing in the universe of a television show or book that you love, you are immediately offered a setting and a set of characters all made up and ready to go. This saves you a lot of time as you build your story, allowing you to concentrate on developing your narrative, your plot development, dialogue and character interaction without going through the arduous task of setting up the whole universe and every single character in it. Even writing for characters that others have established is helpful. Many art students learn their craft by copying the paintings of famous artists, and in this, fan fiction is similar. If you can make your version of Hermione Granger act and sound the same as that of J.K. Rowling, then you’ve gone a long way to understanding what makes Hermione work as a character. Once you understand that, you’ve gone a long way to understanding how to create your own characters.

Fan fiction even allows you to set some of these elements aside and go it alone. You can create your own original characters or settings to interact with the universe the fan fiction is based upon. Can you create a new character without it being an obvious “Mary Sue”? Then you’re a better writer than most. (I don’t need to explain what a “Mary Sue” is, do I?)

Best of all, you have access to a larger audience who will read your work. The fans of the universe you are writing in will give your work the time of day. It’s a fraction of the numbers that read professional fiction, but they’re larger than the number you receive if you try publishing original fiction on your own. They will be kind (most of them), and they will tell you what they think. Feedback and constructive criticism are the fertilizing agents that will allow your writing abilities to grow. Don’t shun them.

Once you get comfortable playing around in fan fiction. Once you know that you enjoy writing just for the fun of it. Once you’re willing to push yourself further, to the point of creating your own universe with its own characters, you’re ready to move out into the realm of original fiction. It’s a scary feeling. When I started writing Rosemary and Time, I felt like I was performing acrobatics without a net. But finishing my first original novel, not even knowing that it was worth any publisher’s time looking at it, was the biggest rush I’d received in my writing career. It was like finishing a fan fiction magazine project, only magnified tenfold. That’s why I write.

And I will always have fan fiction to thank for it.

Fan Fiction Sites

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