I used to be embarrassed by how I got into writing. Not anymore.
Early and Middle Years
Growing up, I was never athletic or particularly book-smart. But I was creative. Like many other children (sadly not as much today), I spent my evenings and weekends playing outside, creating games with my best friend, jumping the creek behind his house, exploring the playground. The common thread of many of these activities was the storytelling while playing. We weren’t just creating games—but immersing ourselves in our favorite TV shows (whether it was professional wrestling or the cartoon Gargoyles or Are You Afraid of the Dark). We weren’t just jumping a creek—but escaping the clutches of a pretend monster. We weren’t just exploring the playground—but being sieged in a medieval castle.
Sometimes the storytelling took the form of writing. I would scribble down stories or draw a comic book (which I recently found and will share later). Story ideas, many of which were just copies of things I had seen and read, came from all over the place. But, mostly, storytelling was all in my head. Until I got into middle school.
I got the first affirmation that I had a scant bit of talent from my eighth grade English teacher, Mrs. Baker. I remember writing a story and her telling me she thought it was good, and that I should try to write more, take the advanced English course when I got to high school. So I did.
Around that time, at the start of my four-year incarceration known as high school, I started hanging out with the “weird” people. Everyone knows the type: the social outcasts, kids who wore black and hissed at people and liked to go to the renaissance fair and watch anime. I wasn’t like them in all ways, but we clicked.
This group of friends had a spiral-bound notebook containing a running Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan fiction. They exchanged the notebook among themselves and it was the responsibility of the possessor to add a chapter or more to the overarching narrative. I read it and wanted to contribute. One problem:
I didn’t know a thing about Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Luckily for me, the FX network played two episodes of Buffy every weeknight from six to eight p.m. I watched every night I could, purchased the DVDs, watched the Buffy’s spinoff show, Angel (the superior show, I might add). I ate up as much as I could.
And I wrote my stories in the notebook. Like much fan fiction, it was filled with hackneyed Mary-Sue characters and teenage angst, but it was exciting to read the stories when the notebook came back to me, and even more of a thrill when someone in the group gushed about how much they loved a section I had written. More affirmation.
Buffy as told by Internet Strangers
But my friends were too slow. It took weeks for the notebook to make its rounds, but I was itching for more. Another friend who was already taking part in the notebook story was also into Star Wars role-playing in chat rooms (another form of interactive fan fiction). I did this too, which introduced me to a person online who was involved in a small community role-playing in the Buffy universe via message board.
It might be a little strange to someone not in that culture to understand what I mean by this. A role-playing message board is an ongoing fan fiction where real people would play characters, either canon or original, and write posts interacting with one another using a set of strict rules (such as not writing anything from another character’s perspective). It was a challenge telling stories this way. Many people posted every day or every other day, so there was always someone waiting on me to add the next chapter of the story.
Many role-playing communities don’t last long, just three to six months. Mine lasted almost three years. During that time I learned (or started to learn) many fundamentals like crafting memorable characters and writing semi-decent dialogue. It also taught me to adjust the story midstream, something I still have to do when my characters take unexpected turns. And I learned a ton from others in the community doing the same process. Most importantly, I learned that I loved to write. It was a joy going daily to a blank page and crafting something new. It was magic. It still is.
On Fan Fiction
There is a debate among authors about fan fiction, between those who are against the idea and those who embrace it. I see both sides. At the start of this post, I said I used to be embarrassed of my old days in message board role-playing (and still would be if someone found it—it still exists out there), but it helped me get a start and I had a lot of fun. I would not be writing if not for fan fiction. Many authors would probably say the same thing.