Please, before you scroll to the bottom and pound into the comments section, note the asterik in the subject. WRITING is beneficial. I am not in favor of this trend of publishing (usually smutty) fanfiction on published works.
Now that that disclaimer is out of the way, onto the good stuff!
I think that writing fanfiction is supremely beneficial for writers. Here’s why.
You don’t own anything. Really. You don’t. You don’t own the worldbuilding or the characters. Everything belongs to their respective artists. There’s some relief in knowing that this isn’t yours, in a way. That while the story you write is your fault entirely, especially if it is poorly written, you are working in someone else’s world. These are someone else’s characters. These are someone else’s invented histories in someone else’s worldbuilding.
For me, writing fanfiction allowed me to stop fixating on the worldbuilding and the nittygritty details and start thinking about the story. It allowed me to start thinking about things like building tension, suspense, foreshadowing, allusions, in a way I didn’t previously because when I was writing my own fiction, I was too busy thinking “BUT AM I IMPARTING ENOUGH KNOWLEDGE HERE? DOES THE READER GET IT?”. Your fanfiction audience theoretically has a limited working knowledge of the fandom, the characters, and the story, so you start spinning stories and stop worrying about the background noise. Knowing how to write that background noise is important, but for me, writing fanfiction was like a daily writing exercise in letting go of the white noise and learning to love the story. It was a writing exercise, just like anything you find online or in any book. But it worked so much better for me because I had an audience in the fandom who gave feedback, but ultimately, keeping readers throughout the publishing of multiple chapters was the way I knew whether what I was doing was working.
Sometimes I wrote things that didn’t work and sometimes I wrote things that people loved. A strange meta dreamlike piece I have gets the least amount of hits but is my favorite. A minimalist, hands off, subtle, emotionally heavy multi-chapter piece I have gets the most hits and positive comments, and I think I spent less time writing that then the piece that was a third of the length.
Fanfiction also taught me to write serially, in chapters. I didn’t previously write like that. I previously wrote straight through and often very linearly, that every chapter was exactly preceding the one beforehand, and I didn’t skip huge chunks of time because WHAT IF THAT IS IMPORTANT (spoiler alert: you can skip huge chunks of time and justify it and no one will care). I also learned to write cliffhangers so that people were demanding “What happens next”. Isn’t that the best question we can be asked? What happens next. Fanfiction taught me to write like that. Fanfiction taught me that you can have minor crises and major crises and your characters can push and collide even as you build tension, and people will still want to read it even if Character X was a total ass this chapter because hopefully, you’ve built enough emotion that they’ll keep turning the page (or clicking). Fanfiction taught me to raise the stakes and the emotion.
Fanfiction also introduced me to a world of hurt, where characters betray each other and what hurts me the most is that I believe the betrayal because it stays within the characterization. I also learned to write sex by reading and writing fanfiction. (Another spoiler alert: there’s *much* better fanfiction inspired smut out there than Fifty Shades of Gray. I promise you.).
Fanfiction also kept me writing during a dry spell. It introduced me to other writers who write incredible, beautiful pieces (and aren’t trying to monetize off of their skill and love of the fandom). It gave me something to lean on when my own creativity well felt rather dry. I think there are more benefits to writing fanfiction than drawbacks.
Just, for the love of all things good in the world, don’t publish it. I don’t even understand how that’s happening.
(No, I’m not going to tell you what fandom I wrote in or where things are published. Yes, I know that if I ever get the balls to query and get lucky, I will have to pull everything off the internet. And yes, I know. The internet is forever. Trust me, there’s more stuff that doesn’t make it up than not.)