I’ve already written before about my writing education – that I had none. Or at least no formal one. By the time I knew MFA’s were even a thing, I was three years deep into a Classics degree.
But that’s okay – I’d already spent six years writing fanfiction, which turned out to be as good as an informal education. There’s a common piece of advice thrown about in the writing community that you have to write half a million words – or some other, seemingly vast and impossible number – before you begin writing anything good. Of course, there are a multitude of exceptions in the bookstore to this rule, but it still holds a certain truth. You’ve got to allow yourself room to play and fail and keep playing in order to learn anything.
And what better way to play than writing fanfiction?
It’s low stakes, because you’re never going to sell it (we’ll just ignore certain well-known examples). It’s got a built-in fanbase. And the community is enthusiastic and supportive. Plus, it scratches that itch of instant gratification, because a lot of fic is posted on a chapter by chapter basis. So you can throw a chapter out there and get the encouragement that will keep you going onto the next.
Because let’s face it: writing is an incredibly solitary and lonely endeavor sometimes. Like any skill, you have to put in the work to get good at it, but for many people that work will take years and years, if not decades and decades. And especially in the beginning, when you’re still sussing out the basics, it’s great to have a place for that gentler feedback. We all start out writing crap and continue writing crap for a long, long time.
The only way out is to keep writing through the crap. And what better way than by having fun with it?