When I first started writing, it was purely for me: I went to great pains to make sure that no-one saw the screen while I was typing. I still do. But I suppose the seed of change was planted in school: enough of the teachers commented on the things I wrote in class that I eventually showed one of them some of the things I wrote outside. That one action is the beginning of my career, such as it is: the realisation that I might get someone to tell me they like my stories … it is the only real reason anyone tries to get anything published.
So as that idea took root, I started to look about for places that I could send my stories. Publishers didn’t even occur to me. I did consider magazines, but those kinds of stories didn’t seem to come to me. It was difficult, trying to write what I thought would get published, especially when I was twelve, thirteen, fourteen and everything I wrote was automatically way outside of my personal experience. I learned very quickly how to put words together in interesting ways, but I didn’t have anything to say.
But fan fiction automatically gave me a wealth of experience that I shared with thousands of other people. I knew Doctor Who. My audience knew Doctor Who. The way that other fiction talks about life, fan fiction talks about its subject: it lets you practice letting your readers discover a story and a character through allusion and subtext, without you needing to know enough about life to make it feel like something that might happen. Instead, you have to know enough about Doctor Who to make it feel like something that would happen to the Doctor. It gives you something to lean on while you learn some of the other basics of writing a story.
Which begs one question: why do I still write it now?
There is an idea for some that fan fiction isn’t proper fiction, and that by extension fan fiction writers aren’t proper writers. That as soon as you become a proper writer, fan fiction is something that you should leave behind. But everything that makes fan fiction attractive when you are learning your trade is still there when you’ve had a couple of minor successes. It’s fun. It lets you explore something you love, talk about how you experienced that love in a way that you know will connect with somebody else. And it’s liberating: in fan fiction, you can explore any idea, any theme, any style that you want to experiment with. No-one is going to pay you for it, and no-one can tell you it’s breaking too many rules.
At the end of the day, it’s just you and an idea.
That’s a very attractive proposition for any writer.