FanFiction is not a sin.
Of course, in my book, poorly written fanfiction is pretty close to a sin, and it's definetely a terrible habit to fall into.
But well-written fanfiction is not a sin.
"Okay..." you say. "So what is the point of pointing this out?"
It's important to point out because I don't think very many people realize the benefits of writing some grammatically correct, well constructed, well plotted and nicely populated fanfiction. I think "serious" writers tend to brush it off as "amateur" and real amateur writers fail to see how fanfiction can help them polish their craft.
I say this because I've been there, but I've also really grown from writing fanfiction and I feel it's worthwhile to encourage the rest of you to do so as well.
Last summer I was in a particularily difficult place with the novel I was writing. I had spent a year and a half on it, and had reached the 100,000 word mark, but had been told that the plot was really no good. That meant a total rewrite, which was the last thing I wanted to do at that time.
So I set my novel aside for the summer and just read a lot of books, hoping that eventually new ideas would come to me.
Well new ideas came, but not of the sort that I was expecting.
Around the end of July, beginning of August, I finally had the nerve to pick up "Twilight" and its sequels. I found myself immediatly sucked into the franchise and before I quite knew what was happening, my friends Meg and Andy and I were starting work on a Twilight - fanfic...although it dealt primarily with our original characters and didn't significantly alter the fates of any canon characters (The Cullens and the Wolfpack were setting, not major players).
It was a fascinating project, but I kept moaning that it wasn't "real writing." I desperately wanted to get to work on an original project...but my idea generator was dead. No matter how many nights I paced up and down, or how many ideas I bounced off friends, I couldn't come up with anything that "worked."
So I went back to the Twilightfic, pounded away on that, and started developing an independant sequel that would give me room to develop the relationship side further.
Well, as I worked on that independant sequel, I realized that the characters I was developing were really extremely intriguing. I loved the way they interacted...and I loved their backstory. I realized that these were characters that were worth writing about - and worth sharing with the world. I also realized that they and their relationship would fit almost perfectly into the original story I had abandoned...and by now I had a new premise that had a lot of potential.
So I put the fanfic away and started writing my original novel again...and it bloomed, far richer than it would have been without the training ground of the fanfic.
So that was when I realized that, while I didn't have time to do fanfic all the time, it was a worthwhile experimentation ground to play around on once a year or so. I can try things there that I don't have space to play with in my novel, and I have the luxury of pre-created characters and setting to make the process go that much faster.
So, here are my thoughts on the subject...
1. DON'T use fanfiction as an excuse to push off your original writing projects. That's laziness.
2. DO use fanfiction to keep your writing sharp when you are genuinely stuck on your original writing projects.
3. DON'T be tempted to write sloppily. It's easy to fall into, but it's a bad habit to cultivate. Force yourself to write the very best you can.
4. DO share your fanfic with others. Let them comment on it - and use their comments to improve your writing.
5. DON'T feel confined by the story you set your fanfic in. Use it as a chance to explore character motivations, and stretch your imagination by adding your own twist on the story.
6. DO remember that even fanfics should be about more than romance. One of my friends is writing a brilliant fanfic that IS actually a romance - but he has hidden the romance so well that even professional writer/editors have been fooled into thinking it's an adventure story. But no one wants to read a fanfic that is just a ton of kissing, angst and dreaming. Bring in the mystery, action and politics! ;)
I could probably come up with a lot more do's and don'ts, but the last thing I wanted to say is a hypothesis I have about fanfic. I have a feeling that if one wrote a really good fanfic, and had a really large following on a site like www.fanfiction.net, that popularity would mean something to a publisher who looked at a submission of your original work. It's proof that you are a good enough writer to earn and keep reader's interest. Seriously. Just because you are writing a fanfic off of a popular story like Twilight, Star Wars, or LOTR doesn't mean that you are automatically going to get hundreds of followerers. Your writing and your premise have to be GOOD. So taking the time to do a fanfic well could actuall benefit your original work later on.