Read It and Weep: Writing fan fiction shaped my adolescence

At 12 years old, I spent most school nights in my room writing new tensions, romances, and plot twists for my Harry Potter fanfiction that I shared with fellow Hogwarts fans online. My years as a teenage fanfiction author taught me the hard work and patience that writing as an adult requires.

Fanfiction is a form of creative writing based on characters from books, movies, and television shows where the narrative is extended by the reader. Some people even base their fanfiction on real-life actors, musicians, or online personalities. Most fanfiction authors, like myself, join multiple fan communities known as “fandoms” where we swap stories online and give each other feedback.

A shocking number of millennials and Generation Z kids spent years of their adolescence on websites such as Wattpad, Tumblr, Archive of Our Own and Fanfiction.net, which are famous for their writing communities. Wattpad, my favorite fanfiction website, reported in 2018 that they receive 70 million readers a month—90 percent of this audience being millennials and Generation Z.

These spaces online made creative writing trendy for teens and young adults. This isn’t a small trend—Fanfiction.net reported in December 2018 that their most popular fanfiction categories, such as Harry Potter and Twilight, contain as many as 200,000 to 800,000 fanfictions.

My interest in fanfiction started with my love for the Harry Potter book and movie series. I wrote prompts that romantically paired two of the main characters, Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy, together, even though Harry and Draco never had a romantic relationship in the series. Other fanfiction writers, myself included, took the liberty to create that reality online, either through short stories or multiple chapter novels.

I started my journey in fanfiction writing by posting the first chapter of my story to Wattpad at around 1,000 words, an online community for writers to publish their own stories. I felt surprised when my story started to gain likes and friendly comments over a few days. I shared the link to my fanfiction on Tumblr, where it drew even more attention. After writing a few more chapters over a couple of weeks, my fanfiction readership reached just below 20,000 reads. In a year, I finished my fanfiction at roughly 15 chapters, averaging about 1,000 to 2,000 words per chapter.

I wasn’t alone in my idea. The “Drarry” fandom is one of the most popular fandoms online, according to fanfiction website Archive Of Our Own, which lists 30,200 fanfictions pairing Harry and Draco. On Wattpad, multiple Drarry fanfictions have readerships in the millions.

At the peak of my interest in fanfiction, my hobby could be viewed as eccentric, even laughable, by my peers. In eighth grade, I was with my friends talking about our favorite fanfictions, when another girl walking by overheard us. From that day forward we became known as the “weird kids.” I experienced isolation from others who didn’t understand my appreciation for fanfiction. Even though I felt like an outcast at the time, I’m glad I didn’t let other people’s opinions get in the way of my writing.

Aside from the Harry Potter series, there are countless fandoms famous for their fanfictions. Think of any mainstream book, movie, television show, or celebrity—there’s at least a handful of fanfictions written about that subject online. Take for example the best-selling erotica novel Fifty Shades of Grey, which was originally written as a Twilight fanfiction.

In 2019, more of the fanfiction community will break into mainstream entertainment. The Harry Styles fanfiction “After” will hit theaters as a film adaptation on April 12. Author Anna Todd published her first chapter of “After” on Wattpad in 2013. She wrote 99 chapters and accumulated 508 million reads. Although I never joined the One Direction fandom, seeing another fanfiction author gaining mainstream success makes me proud to be a part of this community.

About a year ago, I deleted my fanfiction on Wattpad out of fear it might resurface in my adult life. Although writing this fanfiction is a cherished childhood memory, I decided I didn’t need people reading the poor grammar and story development crafted by the 12-year-old me. At the time of deletion, my stories had reached over 90,000 reads on Wattpad.

Looking back on my teen years, I realize I loved fanfiction because I love writing. Through this creative expression, I discovered I can enjoy writing and use it as a skill in my adult life. I didn’t know it at the time, but all those hours I spent sharing stories about Harry and Draco on a school night instead of sleeping, I was preparing myself for a career in writing.

Without the online fanfiction community, I never would have found my passion for writing. For this reason, I’ll always be grateful for the multitude of fandoms I joined in my youth. They made me feel less alone as an insecure pre-teen and they taught me the inexhaustible power of the written word.

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