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Five things fanfiction taught me about writing as a career and five things it didn’t

I got my start writing fanfiction.

Actually, that’s not completely true: I got my start in writing as a six-year-old by putting together a series of stapled colored-pencil picture books about a magic flower. Also by concocting long and extremely involved epic storylines with my model dinosaurs and my Lion King action figures. But after that: fanfiction.

I get the sense that writing fanfic – in one’s past and even more in one’s present – is still a somewhat stigmatized activity among professional fiction writers. Probably less so than it used to be – more and more authors are coming from backgrounds in fanfiction, or are at least willing to talk openly about it – but still, I feel like admitting that I’m one of those amounts to making a slightly uncomfortable confession. Oh, you’re one of THEM. Like it’s something that I should be embarrassed by.

The truth is, fanfiction taught me a lot. The truth is that fanfiction has probably played a huge contributing role in getting me where I am now. I met my Line and Orbit co-author through a pan-fandom roleplaying game on Livejournal; we learned to write together through playing with each other’s characters, and we learned that we enjoyed it enough to embark on something original and novel-length. So it hasn’t been a waste of time, and it hasn’t been without value.

But the truth is also that there are several very important things that fanfiction didn’t teach me. That it couldn’t teach me. And I think anytime we’re discussing the value of fanfiction in writing fiction in general, we also need to be very clear about its limitations.

So here’s some of what it taught me – and some of what I had to learn on my own.

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