Love Letter to My Fanfiction Past

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Remember when you were a fan of just about everything?

“Please don’t scream in the car!” your dad would shout when you became overexcited by a dog we had just driven past, or a convertible with its top up. “You’re going to give me a heart attack!”

As early as the first grade, you had already accessed your stores of obsessive energy. You could not be contained.

Remember when you redirected that frenzy, from random objects on a street to actual TV series and books? You shot yourself so far down the rabbit hole that you actually emerged from the other side. Remember the Harry Potter fanfiction you wrote when you were ten, a series of hijinks involving Professors Snape and McGonagall and a misplaced love potion? How pleased you were with the number of times you got to write, “snog”? From there, you dipped into Yu-Gi-Oh, The Outsiders, Inuyasha, Sailor Moon, Rurouni Kenshin. You wrote right up until the end of high school, and then you just stopped, because you decided it was time to get serious.

I have always been embarrassed by you, my fanfiction writing past. You cared too much, not just about fictional worlds and characters, but everything. You responded to every reviewer for your stories. You apologized for cursing in your work. You were so bald about your desire for romance and adventure that the last piece you wrote, “The Hormonal Ups and Downs of Misao Makimachi,” might as well have been your journal and vision board combined. I hate that you still exist, buried in an archive online. But I don’t hate you enough to delete you.

I owe you. Because you wrote for wish fulfillment. Because you taught me that if you have the compelling characters, the story won’t be far behind. Because you reminded me to be responsible. And most of all, because you put the quotation marks around “serious” writer.

For you, writing was a joy, and fanfiction was the most generous genie in a bottle, granting you infinite opportunities to change the original story around. Every piece of fanfiction you ever wrote tapped into what you most wanted to see happen. What would happen if protagonist A ended up with antagonist B? Wouldn’t the story, which is originally set in Meiji era Japan, be better if you switched the setting to a modern day American high school? How ballsy were you? Look at how much fun you had! Nowadays, writing is a chore. There are rules to follow, well-worn paths to trudge down, but you remind me that I can do what I want.

What’s more, you’re smarter than I’d like to recognize. You liked writing fanfiction because it was like being given an elaborate playset, complete with ready-made dolls. You were a good fanfiction writer in that you stayed true to the characters, and you allowed their personalities and predilections dictate where your stories went. You knew that if you put Hermione Granger, a rule-following know-it-all, in a situation where she had to choose between breaking the law or proving her intellect—say, with a dare to make an illegal and highly complex love potion—the story would write itself. That’s been a hard habit to break, and now I almost never start writing a story knowing where it will go or how it will end. However, I do allow myself to go on tangents and down dead-ends because in the process, I develop a feel for how my character thinks and acts. As long as I have a good grasp of my characters and understand what will drive them to action, I have faith that they will move themselves down the page.

I’m even thankful for that awful disclaimer you put at the top of every chapter, a disclaimer that has no actual power to dissuade legal action. Regardless, at the beginning of every page, you wrote: Don’t own, don’t sue. The disclaimer became for you a small reminder to be respectful in your treatment of the characters and world that you were borrowing for your own enjoyment. So when you turned Sailor Moon into a stripper, you made her a stripper with a heart of gold. Now, I find that I try to be generous when dealing with characters and work that I actually do own. I could kill off everybody. I could be contemptuous of the weaker characters. I could make redemption and forgiveness impossible, turn every ending bleak. But I don’t, because of that ever-present disclaimer.

Finally, your very existence prevents me from ever forgetting that as a writer, I’m really just playing with dolls. You never bothered to wonder if what you were writing would “matter,” or if your were even any good. With your last story, you published twenty chapters in total. Those were twenty times you could have allowed fear keep your writing from going public, and twenty times you chose instead to shrug your shoulders and let embarrassment be a matter for your future self to settle.

So thank you, my crazy, overemotional, unflappable, fanfiction writing past. Thank you for not being self-conscious, for not being aware of rejection and bad reviews, for letting your freak fanfiction flag fly. I am a braver writer because of you.

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