Attitudes Toward Fanfiction

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Related terms: fanfiction
See also: Professional Author Fanfic Policies, Ordover Wars
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Fans of fanfic have produced a lot of meta and discussion about outsiders' attitudes toward fanfic. Negative attitudes have appeared in all demographics: showrunners and TPTB, professional novelists, the media, academia, non-fannish friends and relatives, and other fans. Of course, condemnation is not universal, and in the age of social media and the breaking of the fourth wall, acceptance appears to be growing; more canon creators make supportive statements, media reporting on fanfic is more likely to be accurate and not derisive, and public libraries include fanfic writing in their teen activity programs.[1] But even some of the positive outsider attitudes seem weird or off-base to fanfic fans.

Fic Writing as a Hobby

Although many fans consider fandom to be a way of life, it is essentially a hobby for those who haven't made a career of it. Like other fanac, the same holds true for fanfiction. Yet, nonfans often fail to understand this.

At a 2011 Muskrat Jamboree panel run by wneleh on mainstream media perceptions of fanfic, fans discussed this strange inability to identify fanfic as a hobby. Fan writers reported that they had been asked why don't they write real novels and make money? Why don't they use all that free time to cure cancer? etc. Yet, there are lots of other hobbies people don't make any money on and no one says they should be curing cancer instead. There was some speculation that this attitude tied in with American cultural norms (monetize everything).[2] See also Fandom and Profit.

On Tumblr in 2015 a fan reported,

I remember the first time I told my Dad one of my fics had gotten to 10,000 hits. I was crazy proud, over the moon with happiness. The next words out of his mouth.

“Now, imagine if you’d actually published a book, that could have been a couple of thousand sales.”

I felt like I had whiplash. It took me down from the highest of highs to a low so bad that I stopped writing for a while.

What was the point in writing if I wasn’t getting paid for it? Why did I tell these stories that would never get me recognition or money or notoriety? What was the point?[3]

In a 2016 interview, Speranza commented,

It’s like somebody knits you a sweater, you say: “Oh, that’s great, why aren’t you running a knitwear company?” The answer is that truly that would be a very interesting thing to do, and women should run knitwear companies, but I am actually just knitting this for fun. You know what I mean?[4]

Proving that there is nothing new under the sun, in a 1983 letterzine, a Star Wars fan wrote:

A very close friend of mine gave me a verbal slap in the face. She told me that anybody who writes media fan fiction, and by extension, anyone who reads fan fiction, is nothing short of a moron... if a person has the ability to write, they should be using that talent to write professionally. And not wasting their time and money on fannish pursuits. I tried to explain that, to many people, fandom is a hobby and costs money just like any other hobby. I also explained that many, many people enjoy writing but they only enjoy writing fiction can't be published professionally --no matter how good the writing is. My friend" s reply to this was that those people who are wasting their time writing this "media garbage" should try to write something original or stop writing all together....[5]

A discussion followed in the next issue, with other fans weighing in:

Most of us will never make our media writing anything but a wonderful and satisfying . hobby; if we are looking for a way to make a living, we'll have to venture outside the media fiction framework. But for those who want to do so, writing and reading media fiction should not be a stigma! After all, who do all these "pro" SF/Fantasy writers think they are selling their stuff to? People who never read or write anything else? Don't bite the appendage that feeds you![6]

I'm happy for those fan authors who have turned pro and are being paid for their work--everyone should strive to get what they want in life--but I have great respect and admiration for those writers who sweat and struggle over a piece of work they'll never be paid for--just because they love the subject they're writing about. High status and Big Bucks are nice, but I have a higher regard for anyone, pro or unpaid, who creates for the simple joy of creating.[6]

See also FANDOM IS A LEGITIMATE HOBBY[7] by juliusschmidt (2015)

Fic Writing as Practice

Fic writers who become published authors have said that writing fic in a fandom community helped enormously to improve their writing. Statements like these are also used as justifications for fic writing.

As far back as 1969, Nimoyan-Spock's Scribes founder Sam Cole was describing the club as providing training in the elements of art and writing for pre-teen and teenage members. The polished and highly influential Kraith series by Jacqueline Lichtenberg, based on Star Trek The Original Series, began as exercises for the Famous Writers School. Lichtenberg and others talk extensively about fanfiction as practice for the complexities of the writer's craft—plot, theme, characterization, etc. -- in the 1975 book Star Trek Lives!: "This is something like trying to learn to nod your head, clap your hands, do a hula, and tap dance, all in different rhythms at the same time."

A fan pushed back on another fan's comment that "It is obvious that Ms. Alexander has talent; but since she can't make any money writing Star Trek stories, wouldn't it make sense to put that talent to work for her?", and said:

I think these writers find writing Star Trek fiction, or whatever kind of derivative fiction, good practice in putting one word after the other. Not every piece of fiction I write is going to be something I'll put in the mail to the professional editor. A writer should be able to write things just for themselves, or just for fun, or just for practice, and in fan fiction writers can write and publish things wherein they can deal with subjects that the professional markets have no interest in. [8]

In the 1985 essay To a Mundane, Sharon Monroe wrote,

So we'll point out something Mother can understand and appreciate. A good fanzine can teach you a lot. Education. Mothers always want education for their children. In the first place, naturally, there's the English language — American or British version. We're learning things like simple writing skills, improved vocabulary, proper grammar and spelling, all of which carry over into our "normal" lives. We can learn the mysteries of descriptive phrases, depth of character, and plot devices, and can help teach other people — our readers (we assume there are some) — about them, too. This can be especially helpful if we'd some day like to become professional writers. Practice, practice, practice. Many pros today got their start with little amateur publications yesterday.

By 2005, this argument may have been too successful, creating an impression that "practice" was the main function of fic writing. cesperanza pushed back a little:

Fandom is not--in my opinion, and despite the constant whining, worried, self-justifying quotes in mediocre newspaper articles--merely a "training ground" for professional writing. Yes, many fan writers become pro-writers, and many people find their writing skills improve as a result of writing fanfic, etc., which is terrific and makes me happy: you go, guys!! Similarly, many fan writers are already pro writers, or English majors, or publishing people, or journalists, or technical writers, or college professors, or--shock!--avid and involved readers, who'd'a thunk. But I believe that that's not why they're fanwriters, and if it IS why they're fanwriters, i.e. purely as a steppingstone to somewhere else, then they're not really in the fannish community.[9]

The attitude that fic writing is practice crops up in science fiction fandom and elsewhere. For example, at a Arisia panel in 2013, one member of the audience brought up the lack of fanfic programming, and it was suggested that existing writers' workshops at the con might fill the gap.[10] Well-meaning suggestions like this from within fandom likely stem from a lack of awareness of fanfic as a community that includes readers, who gleefully devour the output of fic writers, comment on fic, discuss fic, and recommend fic, but may never write any of their own.

Fic Writing and Visibility to Outsiders

From a fan in 1979:

... anyone who can write as well as Gerry Downes should be able to create her own heroes and situations to great advantage. I suggest that the same substitution be applied for the characters of these erotic stories. To use established characters is still imitation, no matter how well done.

To write Star Trek stories for fun is fun. But to believe that expanding and elaborating on these characters is the one reason for writing is self-defeating.

It may also be one of the reasons that for anyone who does not know and love Star Trek and all its characters, and who happens to read one of these stories, may conceive Star Trek as something entirely different. [11]

See also

Slash and Porn

A reporting bias in media and academic treatment of fanfic has arguably led to some confusion; reports and analysis often focus exclusively on slash fanfic or porn because it's more shocking, more titillating, a better career-booster, or just more fun for the journalist or academic to write about than gen.[12] The end result is that many non-fans have the impression that all fanfic is slash or all fanfic is porn (or all slash is porn). Thus, the pushback against fanfic in some quarters tends to resemble a moral panic over the perceived deviant content of fanfic.

Press examples:

Academic examples:

Negative Attitudes: Rooted in Misogyny

Former fanfic writer and published novelist Sarah Rees Brennan described being harassed by other fans as a result of going pro and deleting her fanfic. She discussed the misogyny (often internalized) behind some of the negative attitudes toward her and her published novels:

My books get called fanfiction all the time, I think, for two reasons:

a) I am a girl. Dudes get to write perceived-as-derivative/actually-derivative fiction all the time and it’s a HOMAGE, but girls can’t do either. People decide girls’ stuff is derivative and lousy all the time, whereas boys’ stuff is part of a literary tradition and an important conversation. This is sexist and terrible.


b) I used to write fanfiction. (These two issues—sexism and fanfiction—are actually very closely intertwined, because writing fanfiction is something that mostly girls do, and thus like all things Associated With Ladies, such as sewing and pink, is treated as dumb and worthless. And fanfiction, as I’m going to discuss, provides people with a narrative that go ‘why this lady actually sucks’ and people love narratives which say that.)


But I’m troubled by the way people, inside and outside of fandom, consistently act like being a published writer who used to write fanfiction is something shameful that those writers should be punished for. Do the people who write fanfiction and who torment me about having written it think *they* should be ashamed of writing fanfiction too? Do they think they suck as well?

Is this another situation where a girl—who had a hobby which is overwhelmingly a hobby for women, and thus despised—is told by people that she’s awful, and everything she’s tried to achieve is awful? Don’t we know better than this by now?[13]


  1. ^ Examples: Teen Read Week Fanfiction Contest at the Harris County Public Library (Texas) in 2009, Fanfiction Fiesta for Teens at the New Albany-Floyd County Library (Indiana) in 2014.
  2. ^ user:aethel's con report: Muskrat Jamboree: I took notes, posted to Dreamwidth 12 April 2011.
  3. ^ tumblr reblog by aria-lerendeair, Archived version , posted 8 June 2015.
  4. ^ Just a Fan from Brooklyn -- Speranza
  5. ^ Southern Enclave #2, December 1983
  6. ^ a b Southern Enclave #3, March 1984
  7. ^ archived. "archived". Archived from the original on 2017-07-16.
  8. ^ from Tracey Alexander in a response to a letter of comment in Enterprise Incidents (US #7
  9. ^ untitled livejournal post[1], 10 August 2005.
  10. ^ user:aethel's personal recollection as of 8 August 2015. See also my 2013 dreamwidth post.
  11. ^ from a letter of comment in Enterprise Incidents (US) #7 (November 1979)
  12. ^ "... one of the reasons we tend to think of M/M content as 'dominating' fandom is that that is the practice that is often considered most DISTINCTIVE of (and therefore representative of) transformative fan communities, even if it is not the most common. Slash has often been treated as the most interesting/‘exotic’ aspect of transformative fan activity, by academics, by journalists, even by fans themselves. It’s not necessarily that fans do it more; that’s just what people tend to fixate on when talking about it because its seems novel and curious and ~weird~, in a way that people shipping Ross and Rachel simply does not." Fandom is NOT mostly slash reblogged by impostoradult on 1 January 2017, Archived version
  13. ^ sarahreesbrennan. untitled Tumblr post, 26 February 2014.