Obviously not my actual tenth birthday. I’d have extremely good syntax for that age, apart from anything else. Today is my tenth birthday as a writer and reader of fanfiction. It was on this day that I got my account on fanfiction.net and tumbled down the rabbithole. You do a lot of growing up in ten years. To celebrate that milestones, I thought it’d be appropriate to make a list of my top ten favourite things about fanfiction, and what’s kept me coming back year after year after year.
10. New fandoms.
Apparently fanfiction is terrible because it’s copyright theft and reduces the income of the creators. That’s not remotely true. Most fanfiction writers and readers are also the sort of fans who go to conventions, who buy memorabilia and the official fanfictions. What we also do is smash our favourite things together, gleefully and with abandon. Fanfiction brought me back to CSI, introduced me to the Sandman series and, through my ex, got me into the whole marvellous world that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Most of the things I’ve picked up on recommendation have actually been things that featured in crossover fanfiction.
There’s a very, very long list of things I want to get my hands on because some talented writer threw my favourite characters into that world.
9. Really weird information.
I love to learn new things. I even went on an NVQ level 1 qualification the month before I collected my degree because it was free and LEARNING IS AWESOME. So the amount of random stuff I’ve learned through fanfiction is just brilliant. In particular, I’ve learned a lot about Wales (like seriously, masses), especially because I managed to combine my degree with my fannish passions.
My final year dissertation was a research project on the motivations behind Torchwood-induced tourism in Cardiff. I got to go to Cardiff and sit in pubs and talk to my friends about why we liked going to Cardiff, and the previous year I did an article on what Cardiff to has offer to tourists – for which I did a specialised report on Doctor Who tourism, did the location tour, went around the castle, stayed at the St David’s Hotel and Spa and got drunk.
Okay, so the awesome holidays have been part of that, but I love my subject so much that I fully intend to return to university to continue my research and get my PhD.
8. Jack Harkness and Ianto Jones
Broken. Co-dependant. Sexy when dangerous. Utterly efficient. Sarcastic. If that’s my list of qualities I like in a man, it’s a good job I’m gay.
Jack and Ianto, though, just had something. All of the above, really. I followed Jack from Doctor Who, where he burst into my teenage angst by being queer and not being bothered by it. No one else was bothered about it either, it was amazing! So I followed him like a puppy to Torchwood, where everyone was at least a little bit gay, and there was this beautiful, broken idiot and they fell in love and so did I.
Most of the stories I’ve written have been about them. No other couple in a show or book has captured my attention in quite the same way. Whether I’m driving Ianto even further into darkness to see what he does when the shit hits the fan or sending them on romantic holidays across the stars, I can’t leave them alone. I don’t want to. If I have a muse, it’s them.
This explains a lot…
7. Writing Apprenticeship
Some 800000 words of Torchwood fanfiction published. I’ve learned a lot in those words. Well, you’d hope so, wouldn’t you?
Writing is the only way to learn to write. Playing in a world I knew, where there was a community of people who could tell me what I was doing wrong and what I was doing right, was the best training scheme I could have had. I’ve learned how to research, how to construct and write a story, how to build a world and characters, and how to persevere when I really don’t want to to meet a deadline. I’ve even learned how to work together with other people on a single project. It’s not a recognised course and isn’t going on my CV, but the stuff it’s taught me is really special.
6. Hope and Dreams
Writing teaches you to dream big. It also teaches you to plan for the future, whether that’s just putting together a plot or designing a jewel heist. In your story, anything is possible.
It’s a bit harder in the real world, but all I have to do is write myself into a story and I can figure out how to get there. I have a plan for world domination and a plan for living quietly in the country with many cats, a cider orchard and a B&B for writers and artists. Admittedly, the one for world domination involves aliens, but the cider orchard sounds nice enough anyway.
I think it’s a universal constant that being 16 sucks when it’s happening, proportional to the rest of your life. When I was 16 I was too busy imagining being a secret agent hunting aliens in Cardiff to bother with being 16. I didn’t get pregnant or smoke. I played the lottery once. That was exciting.
My teenage years weren’t great, if memory serves me right. I was bullied, struggling with high expectations in school, had the usual self-image problems that all teenagers are inflicted with, and I can’t remember any of that over the sound of how awesome fanfiction was.
The things that have stuck with me, partly through relentless cheerfulness and partly through selective forgetfulness, are discovering NaNoWriMo, buying a decrepit ex-school laptop for £15 and dragging it everywhere with me, writing every second I had, and meeting my best friends over the internet.
4. Experimenting and exploring
You can do anything in a fanfiction. There’s a rule out there of “if it exists, there is porn of it”. There’s a clause of that rule of “if it exist, there is porn of it with Jack Harkness”. That applies to everything, not just the NSFW stuff. You want to write Dracula as a Hogwarts student? Go ahead. Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli in an America high school? If you must. Jasper Fforde/Doctor Who crossovers? He name-dropped that.
Whatever you want to write, you can borrow some pre-made characters or a setting you already know and set off on your adventure. Or you can just push the boundaries of the familiar sand-box. It’s already big enough for everyone, but a bit more space, a bit more colour or scenery, never hurt.
Yeah, it’s pretty awesome. This month, despite the fact that I’ve not updated my stories in years, I’ve had readers from 22 countries. I can count the friends I have at home on one hand and probably not run out of fingers, but I’d need to duplicate myself and take off all of our shoes and socks to count up all the people I’m that close to around the world. I had mentors and was a mentor at the same time, which is a bit weird.
When I go into action on operation “acquire a cider farm”, several steps along the way will be “visit X person in Y place”, and once I have my cider farm I hope many of them (and you) will visit me.
2. Best friends
Among that community I’ve found some of my best friends. We’ve been scattered across the world, even more so when I went to Oz, but I’ve actually managed to meet them all. One turned up on my doorstep, despite living in the USA, the day after I got worried about her being out of contact for a few days. We have had some absolutely ridiculous conversations, some absurd adventures, and I love them all to bits.
I am not short on words. Sorry about that. I’m extroverted, bubbly, loquacious. I was also extremely shy. Note the ‘was’.
Fanfiction, and the wider fandom, has broken down some of the barriers I’d built. It gave me the push I needed to sit in a shopping centre in Brisbane wearing a bright yellow bandana so a complete stranger could give me a place for the night (note, this is not advisable, except when it is). It taught me to share my work with other people and lick my wounds when they didn’t like it, and then get back up and give them something else. It showed me that I do actually have something to offer.
A lot of fans are introverts, because it’s an activity that doesn’t force social interaction with people like me. I’m a fan because I like connecting with people who share my passions. They put up with me anyway. The most awesome people I know are weird and dorky, like board games and dressing up as fictional characters, and would rather spend a night with a book than a night in a pub.
So, you know, maybe I can be awesome too. Purple top hat and all.
All things considered, I hope there’ll be another ten years of fanfiction and fandom. I couldn’t ask for a better hobby.