For years fanfiction has been a dirty word, and anyone who took their writing seriously would never be caught dead writing it. They wouldn't be caught... but you'd be surprised how many writers actually partake in it. Seven years ago, while reading the Harry Potter books with my daughter, I found myself itching to tell a story that took place inside the Potterverse. It was during the Prisoner of Azkaban, when the characters of Remus Lupin, Peter Pettigrew and Sirius Black were introduced to the storyline. Friends of Harry Potter's parents, I began to imagine what it must have been like for them... the adults of the story, who must have at one point been teenagers. I found it somewhat easier to relate to them all because I was an adult myself and their situations had already been presented. I sat down and began penning a story called In the Shadow of the Future.
In the Shadow of the Future featured a character of my own making named Perpetua McEllis, whose family had been killed by death eaters during her fifth year at Hogwarts. Of course, early on, Perpetua (or Pet as she eventually became known,) was quite a Mary Sue. Not only was she a clairvoyant, she was also best friends with Lily Potter and stuck in the middle of a love triangle between Remus Lupin and Severus Snape. I worked on that story with a vengeance, and about 9 chapters into the story, I began to post my chapters on HPFF.com, a fanfiction site run by adults, that mostly catered to and encouraged teenage writers. My penname there was Llewellyn McEllis, the name of my main characters older sister, a name that sort of stuck to me like glue.
That first story turned into a series that actually saw seven novel-length fanfiction works, six of which were completed over a two year period. Over the span of the story, my character grew into something I am still rather proud of to this day, though I wasn't sure of that until yesterday.
I haven't been writing a lot lately. In fact, I've written so little this last year that I actually started to feel incredibly depressed about it. I started thinking about one of the most productive times in my writerly life. Oddly enough, it was during those couple of years I was writing a lot of fanfiction. Seven novel length fanfiction stories, a couple of novellas, dozens of short stories, not to mention a host of original work as well... during the few years I was on the fanfiction wagon, I was incredibly productive. Of course I branched off into a few other fanfiction areas as well, like Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, Heroes and Labyrinth. My Labyrinth fanfiction turned out to be so unique that I actually stripped the fanfiction elements out completely and have been working on completing the second draft of the story. There was a massive part of me that really missed how inspired and excited I was about writing during that time in my life. I dug out three of my favorite fanfictions in the Shadows series last night and started reading.
I'll admit that for a long time I wasn't all that thrilled anymore about how much time I had sunk into writing fanfiction, but when I started reading through the novels I had written something clicked inside of me. I remembered why I had written those stories in the first place, and a familiar sense of passion started to burn inside me again. While writing fanfiction is definitely easier than creating your own stories and universe, I definitely learned a lot about myself as a writer and a storyteller. Through those stories I recognized my voice again and felt an incredible sense of pride in how well I worked at exposing the sensitive side to things considered wholly dark and evil. The most exciting part about it was that it made me want to write again. Fanfiction, my own fiction, whatever. I just wanted to get behind the keyboard again and breathe life into a few souls.
Now back to one of the earlier points I made, people have often looked down on fanfiction writers, saying they aren't creative just because they pick up characters in a preexistent universe but I'll tell you this: I've read fanfiction stories that were far surpassed the work written by the original author. I've been privileged enough to know writers and work with writers who took preexisting characters and gave them voices and personalities that their original creators couldn't have begun to dream up for them.
Maybe you can't make a living writing fanfiction, but then again, maybe you can. I've known dozens of writers who have written their way into the Star Wars universe, Dragonlance, Warhammer, Forgotten Realms, Battlestar Galactica and even the popular comic series, Hellblazer. If you are a good enough writer with a creative idea, chances are you can get permissions to write almost anything. Another thing to consider is the originality of your fanfiction idea. If your idea is really phenomenal, there is a good chance that you can strip away the fanfiction elements and make the story your own. I've done, and I have had friends do it as well. In fact, a very talented friend of mine has a fanfiction story that she stripped all of the fanfiction elements out of getting ready to be published.
If you're a writer always remember that as long as you are writing, you are living as you were meant to live.