by E.E. Grey
This summer marks 10 years. That’s right, 10 years of writing. It seems like a long time and yet not long at all. Some of the years have gone by really fast and some have dragged by. I have pieces from bad times in my life and great times, and the weirdest thing is that if anyone took the time to go through my archives, you’d be able to see it all laid out in a timeline.
Ten years ago, I had just turned 18. Fresh out of high school (and glad to be!) and ready to get as far from Phoenix as possible. I didn’t get that far, technically. But that summer, I went to Europe for the first time, my parents moved to Virginia, and I discovered I liked writing. It would be a while before I became any good at it, and I still have days where I question that notion.
My first forays into writing came from fanfiction, and it’s been a catalyst over the last 10 years to keep me writing when my original stuff feels like it’s sucking the life out of me (as it often does). My very first fic was a 17k word Queer as Folk fic (Brian/Justin, of course) which I handwrote in a notebook before transcribing it. I feel like I really came full circle this year since in June I went to the ATX TV festival to see a Queer as Folk reunion panel where both Gale Harold and Randy Harrison were there. I’m not ashamed to say that that particular fic is the worst thing I’ve ever written. The grammar is terrible, the formatting, the plot, the characterization. It’s all awful. Thank God the archive it was on bit the dust a long time ago and now it’s lost to the internet. I still have a copy on my computer but I’ll be dead before anyone gets to read it again.
I didn’t stay with the QaF fandom for very long, which isn’t surprising considering the show had ended earlier that year. From there, I moved to the fandom I probably should have been in since the beginning: Harry Potter. Technically, I’d been in it for years, but it wasn’t until that summer that I really began to realize how big it was and how much more was involved than just reading the books. I’ve been reading Harry Potter since I was 12 years old, but the summer I turned 18, book 6 was released, and that coupled with my new discovery of fanfic was enough to throw me headfirst into fandom and writing.
Harry Potter is also where I met my best fandom friends, the ones I still talk to outside of fandom. Of course, there were lots of friends who came and went, but I met my best friend, who I have now known for 9 years, through fanfic and Harry Potter and I wouldn’t change that for anything. Though we’ve only seen each other four times in nine years, it’s better than any friendship I’ve had with people I saw every day in school.
I can’t say that all my HP fic is great. Probably a lot of it’s not because I was learning so much in those first few years of writing, much more than I ever learned in high school, sorry English teachers! I began to understand nuance and especially grammar, and most importantly, critique. I’m still not great at it, but I don’t know anyone who is. This was the fandom in which I wrote my longest to date story ever – 101k words. It took me four months to write and I posted one chapter a week for an entire year. I had a lot of free time in college.
Since I was in college, it was that time where influences become formative. Music began to take on a big role, much bigger than it had growing up despite having musically-inclined parents (both play guitar and my mom sings in an award-winning choir). As it was 2005 and onward, this meant emo/pop-punk bands were in their hayday. Fall Out Boy, My Chemical Romance, Panic! At The Disco. They were everywhere. Are you thinking what I’m thinking? That’s right: bandom.
At some point, I fell out of HP, probably around the time the last book came out in 2007. It happens. Fandoms kind of peter out, and I have a short attention span anyway, so it makes sense that I moved on. Throughout the years, I’ve written in many different fandoms, sometimes just one or two fics and then I’m done, but there have been core fandoms and bandom is one of them.
I like to think I wrote some of my best fics in bandom. By then, I had much more experience, both in life and in writing. I was super prolific too, writing around 200+ bandom fics in the span of four years. I still have fics I wrote but never posted on my computer. Pretty sure it’s too late now to put them out there.
2007 was also the year I discovered NaNoWriMo, which pretty much revolutionized my ability to write non-fic. It forced me to actually sit down and write my own stuff, something I’d avoided doing before.
I self-published my first original novel in 2009.
I’ve spent a lot of time writing fanfic over the years, and I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to stop completely. After college, I did a lot of traveling. I moved to China for a year, then France. France is one of my absolute favorite places in the world. I lived in a small-ish town an hour outside of Paris, half an hour from Brussels, Belgium. I had a lot of time there to think and write, and some days I would just wander around town for absolutely no reason except to enjoy myself. I had no money, so I couldn’t shop. What money I had, I used for travel in the rest of Europe. It was in France that I decided I was done with fanfic.
I decided, as I sat in my apartment overlooking a long snow-covered garden, that I was only going to writing original fiction from then on. I wanted to be a “real” writer (I’ve since decided there’s no such thing. If you write, you’re a writer. Doesn’t matter what or if you’ve been published). Either way, I was 22 and I wanted to be a real writer who wrote things that weren’t fanfic.
I started writing original stuff all the time, posting some on LiveJournal, getting decent feedback. At that point, even if I had decided to keep writing fanfic, I didn’t have a fandom. Bandom had all but vanished after a succession of bands broke up (P!atD, FOB, The Hush Sound, and MCR would follow a few years later). That scattered the writers into other fandoms, and my friends I’d made in bandom floated away. Some went into Inception but I really don’t know where the rest went. Wherever it was, I didn’t follow.
For three years, I wrote nothing but original fiction except for a few gifts for friends in fandoms I wasn’t in (looking at you, Glee). It was kind of an uncertain time, as I moved back from France and still didn’t know where I was going with my life. I’d never really had a “career” in mind when I chose my major (French), so figuring it out wasn’t as easy as it is for some people. Plus, I was getting into my mid-twenties when you start having existential crises when you don’t know what you want and you feel like you should. Everyone always rags on millennials for being aimless, but when the world doesn’t have a place for you, it gets even harder.
I kept pushing, though. I wasn’t sure where I was pushing towards with my writing. I just knew I had to keep going. In 2012, I published, Cigarette Burns, my first m/m short story with FFP. I don’t remember if I found them or they found me. I submitted the story on a whim, just to see, and it got picked up. It was a moment of success.
In 2013, I self-published my second original novel. It took a year to write and edit and format.
With FFP, I have since published two m/m novellas (By the Hour and Checking Out) two more short stories (Brush with Death and From the Storm) and a novel, Vaulted, since 2012. I have two more slated for release soon (a novella, Stage Dreams, and a novel, Tumbled). It was my first time working with an actual publishing team, including editors. There have been days when I’ve felt like my brain can no longer work and that editing a particular piece is a fruitless activity because I am a shitty writer that can’t seem to get plotting or characterization right. I know all writers feel like that sometimes, but there were days when I felt like I was the only one struggling so much on something that should have been easy. No matter what changes I made, it didn’t make things better.
It was during one of these particularly brutal editing stretches that I went back to fanfic. It was a safe place, a place where the characters were already there for me, and I understood what I needed to do to make fandom happy. I could write this. I could be a good writer in fandom, even if I couldn’t for the life of me make my editor happy with something else. I’m not knocking the editors at all. It was my inability to make the right changes that left me a wreck some days, wanting to just throw it all away and pretend I’d never written it in the first place. They were trying to make it better and I couldn’t do it.
Fanfic embraced me with open arms. I was back in a place I understood. I’d forgotten how amazing writing could be, how easy it was to sit down and write 10k words in a day. I’d forgotten what it was like to get real feedback from readers who loved the characters as much as I did. With original fiction, you may love your characters and your plot, but getting other people to feel the same is difficult. To the readers, it’s a one-time read that may be good or may not be.
So now it’s ten years after that first fic. I’ve come full circle, from writing fic to not writing it and now back again. I never stopped writing exactly, but there have been long stretches of nothing, especially the past few years. I was writing a lot back in 2012-2013, but since then, I’ve only written a couple things, mostly fanfic. I suppose it has to do with my life as well. I’m not twenty years old with hours at my disposal anymore. I have a full-time job that often requires traveling and other things. I have animals to take care of. I’m getting ready to start looking to buy my first house soon.
I’ve discovered, over the past ten years, that being a writer doesn’t mean being published or writing every single day. It means that you write, period. I may not have written anything “original” since last November, but I’m still a writer. I wrote a fic the other day, 11k words in one day because I could. Because I was inspired. Because I love writing. There are days, weeks, months when that’s not always true.
I guess what I’m saying is, here’s to another ten years of writing and what comes out of it this time. They say creativity peaks in your thirties, so we’ll see.