Fanfiction Saved Me (And My Writing)
Everyone has a breaking point, and after years of fighting depression and anxiety on my own, I reached mine. It was January 2016, and I was going to be unemployed in two weeks as my contract with my employer at the time was ending. It was a terrible job, but it was full time and paid more than minimum wage, so losing it was causing a lot of stress. It was enough for me to finally get low enough that I had to ask for help.
It’s a long story as to why I didn’t ask for help before that point, one I won’t get into here. Right now I want to talk about how depression affected my writing. In 2016 I had four self-published novels, which were doing surprisingly well all things considered. But as time went on and I went from a part-time job to part-time job, I found myself getting weighed down more and more by my anxiety over what to write. At one point I was writing 4000 words a day, and that soon became none at all. What I had written no longer interested me, and it showed in my frail attempts at continuing the stories. The more my readers asked when my next book was out the worse I felt when that should have been an exciting prospect! People wanted to read my books, maybe not by the thousands, but knowing someone in the world wanted more from me should have been exhilarating.
Yet, it only made my gut churn with guilt. I was letting them down by not finishing a series. It was even harder to deal with responding to these questions, and I’d try to be as vague as possible without admitting I wasn’t writing. My desire to write was still there, my ideas were still there. I just couldn’t put my fingers on a keyboard and make the words come out the way I saw them in my head.
At least not for my original stories.
I found comfort in pop culture, in tv, movies, and video games.
They took me away from my harmful thoughts and suicidal ideation. The Winchesters, Iron Man, and Jesse McCree were characters I couldn’t get enough of and there was only so much canon content to binge when unemployed and chugging four cups of coffee a morning.
So I turned to the internet, Tumblr, and found fanfiction. As cringe as it may feel, reader insert (or self-insert) was my favourite. Often written in the second person, it would involve you in the story, being a hero or victim in your favourite fictional world. For those not in fandom this deep, it’s not about romancing your celebrity crush (though there’s nothing wrong with that!), many of the fics are about adventure, mystery, pain, and comfort. Most of the stories I found myself loving were the comfort fics. Just a short bit of writing about how my favourite character would cheer me up, how they would do their all to help me, and that’s it. It made me feel good enough that I wanted to dabble with my own ideas, and soon I was writing my own fanfic.
I wasn’t able to make progress on my original works, but I was still writing.
I was still reading and engaging my skills as best I could when all I wanted to do was cease to exist. And better yet, I found kindred souls that loved what I posted and wanted more. For the first time in a long time, I felt like a writer.
Encouraged by other readers and writers, I was able to get over the hurdles of anxiety about what to write. I was able to come to terms with the fact that my writing is for me first, everyone else second. It was something I’d lost sight of in the publishing process, where I focused so much on marketing that I forgot what really matters. Is it something I love? If not, why am I doing it? Is this a story I not only want to write but to read?
Fanfiction was already considered something you didn’t talk about publicly. Self-insert was even more taboo. So doing this, even anonymously on Tumblr, forced me to face myself and question if I loved what I wrote. It made me question why I was “trying” to be a writer (quick note, if you’re writing, you’re a writer!). In the end, I always came to the conclusion that I love writing, and being able to connect with a reader — whether it be making them smile, cry, or relate.
I truly believe that writing fanfiction was what kept me grounded during my months (years actually) trying to find a medication that worked for me. It ensured I didn’t completely lose my identity as a writer and is one of the reasons I’m still able to write today.
I’m writing my own original works regularly, so I don’t have as much time to spend writing fanfics, but when I’m feeling down I always turn to them for a pick-me-up. They never fail to lift my spirits.
Image credits (in order of appearance):