Admit it: you geek out about SOMETHING. Even if you refuse to use the term “geek out,” you find yourself with a store of knowledge, research, and collectibles about some particular topic. Something out there, unrelated to your work (or even related to your work, perhaps) sets your brain on fire and gets you talking like nothing else. Even if you’re a confirmed introvert, you can happily chat with a complete stranger if they mention the correct words or pick up the right book off the shelf. You know every line from a movie, sport clothing with iconic symbols, have tattoos on your body, or named your pet after a favorite character.
In short, you’re a fan.
Don’t worry; I’m not calling you out. It’s healthy to fangirl/fanboy over things. They make you a human being. Not to mention it gives you a topic that you’re an expert in that your friends and family AREN’T. So when one of them ask if you know anything about a certain comic, a book series, a movie franchise, or even an animal or plant species, you’ve got the answers. You might tend to go overboard in your enthusiasm (when you see their eyes glaze over, it’s time to reel it in), but that’s the measure of your devotion. And if you’re idolizing another person’s work? That’s a sign of flattery. You never know how much it means to an artist or writer that you think so highly of them. (Don’t cross the line into stalking, though. No one likes felons)
Taking that bountiful fount of knowledge and applying it to your writing can help you out of those blocks and doldrums. You got it: I’m talking about fan fiction. Playing around in a world you DIDN’T create and allowing your imagination the license to run wild. It’s a writing exercise that works when you can’t get anything else to function for you. And while you have a few caveats, you’ll find yourself exhaling a huge sigh of relief – and possibly filling pages and pages and PAGEs with words before you come up for air.
Now, fan fiction causes plenty of debate among writers. Some authors get defensive and “forbid” any fan fiction of their work. Cute, but there’s no way to actually enforce that bluster. Since it violates copyright to publish fan fiction, it’s also weird for them to take up the stance. (Note, that’s the biggest caveat. You can write a twelve-book series, but you’re using characters and worlds that belong to someone else. So it’s not going to see publication) Most authors, though, shrug it off and take it for the compliment it is. And plenty laugh at the different perspectives that writers bring to their work.
Not everyone thinks alike, after all.
Maybe you HATED the ending (despite loving the book) of a series. Or perhaps you identified more with a secondary character than the protagonist. Perhaps you want to ditch the entire cast and start fresh in the world. Run wild. As long as you’re putting words on the page, you’re engaging your imagination and getting your writing brain to function for you. And when it’s a choice between staring at a blank screen and WRITING? You got it – writing wins every time.
You CAN also look around and find online fan fiction sites. You want to make sure they adhere to the copyright rule and implicitly state that they DON’T own the characters, world, etc. And you CAN’T accept any compensation for your work. But you might earn a following of people who love your take on the idea. And, again, it’s getting words flowing from your fingers. Fan fiction has pushed plenty of writers through their dry spells. With enough tweaking, it might even land you a REAL publication.
Cassandra Clare’s Shadowhunter series? Yeah, that started as Harry Potter fan fiction. Marissa Meyer’s Lunar series? Sailor Moon fan fic. You won’t see the original characters or worlds anywhere, but if you squint your eyes, turn on your head, and twist the book inside out, you can tease out the threads. That’s what writing fan fiction can do for YOU, too. If you’re willing to dissect what you LOVE about your chosen geek topic of choice, you can start following the idea down a path that will lead you into a world of YOUR design. And before you know it, you’re crafting a new book or story.
I have a Robin (as in Batman and Robin, not the bird) fan fiction I’ve kept around for YEARS. Whenever I get bogged down and find myself struggling to find words, I pull it out and add more. I’m not trying to write for anyone but ME (and it’s definitely not canon). But it’s prompted two other short stories in the process – stories with NOTHING to do with comics or even the action-adventure trope. It’s why I never delete the file.
So don’t toss out that “silly” idea for fan fiction you’re keeping around. You never know when it might set off that inspirational light bulb. You don’t have to share it (I don’t). You don’t even have to admit you write it. Tuck it into a folder on your computer. Name it something droll. But when you find yourself confronted with a blank screen, pull it out and let your mind play. You WON’T regret it.