Everything I Learned, I Learned from Fan Fiction

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There are few remnants of my time as a writer for fanfiction.net. I deleted my stories years ago, and my profile is empty. Fan Fiction is a world where writers from around the globe are always posting, and deleting, and reviewing, and favoriting. Forums clogged with pairing discussions compete with forums dedicated to role-play games. If you’re gone for a month, you can find yourself lost in an ever-growing pile of stories. If you’ve been gone for as long as I have, it’ll be as though you never existed. 

I was a fan fiction writer. I wrote for Harry Potter, Twilight, Percy Jackson and the Olympians, the Hunger Games, Avatar: The Last Airbender, and one piece for the Lord of the Rings. I was a beta reader and a forum admin. I designed and joined role-plays. At the peak of my fan fiction career I’d written over 200 stories and had some of those stories translated into around fourteen languages. I made friends from France, the UK, Singapore, Australia, Saudi Arabia, and Canada. 

For almost six years, fanfiction.net was my second home. So when I was failing chemistry, a fan fiction writer who happened to be a chemistry teacher in London found an American textbook to teach me stoichiometry. And I created a forum thread dedicated to making sure every member of our forum received a drabble (200-500 word story) for their birthday. My fan fiction friends and I traded college admissions essays and discussed our potential majors. We all wanted to be writers, but some of our parents were more supportive than others. One girl planned to major in math to please her dad. Another went the English literature route. I started out studying Linguistics. 

I haven’t heard from any of them since I left fan fiction. I know that one of the girls went to my sister’s university. She joined a Christian sorority. We were Facebook friends for a while since we were both from Florida. I was one of her admins when she first started her forum “The NextGen Fanatics”. The forum is still active, and now it’s apparently one of the largest Harry Potter forums on fanfiction.net. It’s foreign territory to me now, though. The members and the admins are new, and all of my old friends have discontinued accounts. One reads: “Last updated May 2014”. 

Even so, if I look hard enough I can find remnants of my time there. Like the introduction thread of the forum. My entry is one of the very first: 

Hi Amy,

I’m Smile Life Away a.k.a Smile a.k.a My name…we’ll keep that a secret for now.

Favorite next-gen characters/pairings: Teddy/Roxanne, Scorpius/Rose, Scorpius/Lily (i know contradiction to love both), OCs galore! and Scorpius alone is cool too.

Introduction: i’m a human-being on planet earth. I love Lord of the Rings. Harry Potter is second (not a close second like a medium second) but this forum isn’t about LOTR, of course if you cared my favorite character is Faramir!

Other notes: You invited me, and I came 🙂

The thread continues with two high school girls joking about coming from Florida and what a boring place it is to live. I tell my friend Amy that, “I’m going to move north as soon as I turn eighteen.” She doesn’t know that at twenty-two I actually did. The Florida girl who spent her high school years in front of a computer screen writing her favorite characters into new stories moved to Chicago to experience the big city. It’s a cliche.

The only records of my old stories are scribbled in notebooks in the back of my closet at my parent’s house in Florida. Ten-page chapter by chapter outlines with each chapter guaranteed to end on a cliff hanger, so I don’t lose readers. I scheduled my uploads, so a chapter would go up every week, but a one-shot (a one-scene story) went live every day. It meant I was always writing. In my creative writing class I tried to write five one-shots a day, so I wouldn’t fall behind. I wrote in chemistry and geometry — both classes where I sat in the back and wasn’t planning to pay attention anyway. I insisted I couldn’t drive to school and wrote stories on the way and on the way back, and I even managed to scribble out ideas in church. I wrote until my hands burned from the effort, and I spent so much time typing my ophthalmologist threatened me with eye drops because I wasn’t blinking enough in a day. 

Meanwhile, my online presence thrived. I started to receive requests to join off-site, invitation only Harry Potter role-plays complete with a scientific sorting test, which in the days before Pottermore was always an exciting prospect. I also started to use an application-based beta reading service which included two assigned editors and a one-week turnover period. My biggest breakthrough came, though, when one of my stories broke 600 reviews. As a member of one of the largest fan fiction fandoms, which at the time already had hundreds of thousands of stories getting ten reviews was considered impressive. 

Festering beneath the surface of virtual friendships and fandom popularity were other explorations shaping my adolescence. My stories imagined a world where beauty was less important than brains. I wrote a characters versed in floriography who quoted the authors and poets I was learning in school: Sylvia Plath,  Walter Whitman, Henrik Ibsen, Tennessee Williams, Shusaku Endo. I wrote about love the way I understood it as a teenager who saw kissing as the ultimate form of romance, and through my virtual friends I learned a lesson taboo in my childhood: love is love. I also found a community who cared, so when a girl in my class died my virtual friends sent me virtual cookies and private messages with encouragement. And, of course, in fan fiction I escaped. I wasn’t short and chubby with dandruff in my hair and ill-fitting glasses. Nor was I the shy girl who would rather lose points in World Literature than raise my hand in class. I wrote characters who were brave, powerful, and sometimes evil. Sometimes, they were beautiful, and sometimes they were short and chubby with dandruff in their hair and ill-fitting glasses. But in this fiction, they were accepted. 

I never decided to leave fan fiction, but one day I woke up and it wasn’t there anymore. My stories seemed written by a different person. My online friends had all moved on. And I realized, months had passed between my logins. College changed my connection with my second home. Surrounded by friends and armed with a credit card, the world I created was no longer the one I wanted to live in.

There are new fan fiction writers now, new readers, new forums, and even new sites. The fandom world goes on and hardly notices its departures, and I realize I never even knew most of my friends’ names. But sometimes when I’m asked for a fun fact about myself I say, “I was a fan fiction writer.” And on occasion I hear my favorite response: “me too.” 

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