Buckle your seat belts, everybody. I expect my first real post to be a long one. I’m going to talk about my history as a writer, my first major source of inspiration, and my thoughts on fanfiction.
I’ve always considered myself a writer. I think it started when I was in second grade and won a city-wide writing competition. I had no idea they even had those; I still find it a little odd such a thing existed for that grade. At any rate, I won for a short story about a dinosaur getting stuck in the present day. A scientist brought the dinosaur back to the prehistoric era with a time machine.
That was it. I like to think I’ve come a long way from those days. But for the next seven years, I barely wrote anything except for what was required of me in school. I remember penning a short two page original story later on in elementary school, but that’s about it. In order to understand what drove me to write in earnest, you need to understand something about my childhood. I’ll make it quick and interesting, I promise.
I had loving parents, but they were overprotective. Not to the extent of locking me in the basement and shielding me from the sun, but I don’t think I crossed the street on my own until I was 8. Until the tail end of high school, I almost never hung out with anyone outside of class. I had birthday parties, a sleepover once or twice a year, and I remember going to a couple friends’ houses on maybe a half dozen other occasions. That was about all the outside-school social contact I had for 10 years.
By the end of middle school, I began regretting this part of my childhood. I started to realize that most kids had more fun than this; they had great stories of wandering around town and going on adventures. Also, as one would expect with such little social interaction, I never had any romantic endeavors until late in high school. Both the social and romantic worlds seemed very alien to me. They were enticing & frightening at the same time.
Because of this, during eighth or ninth grade I became very attached to a particular television show. This was The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron.
This is the lame intro without Libby. Libby was da bomb.
I was at the age where you outgrow cartoons, but this one stuck with me in a big way. This was for two very simple reasons. The first is that In this show, I saw the childhood I never had. I’m not talking about flying off into space and fighting aliens, but wandering around town with a group of friends. Though Jimmy Neutron wasn’t intensely serialized, the characters still clearly grew closer together over the show’s three seasons. I absolutely loved watching these kids experience sleepovers, trips to the amusement park, and just hot summer days wandering around town; all the while coming to appreciate each other in the process. I could never go back in time and get a more social childhood, but I could experience that through this show.
The other reason I loved Jimmy Neutron so much was the love/hate relationship between two of the main characters: Jimmy and Cindy. Remember, I had never shared a declaration of love or even held hands with a girl. Watching these two children start off hating each other and slowly admitting their feelings just seemed so pure and rewarding.
So, I watched this show. It was my guilty pleasure, my escape into a world that I’d missed out on being a part of. Young love, childhood innocence, growing up together with close friends. I watched this all, three seasons’ worth of hilarious and touching adventures.
Then it ended.
No more new episodes. It always sucks to watch the last episode of your favorite show, but this was like losing a friend. But I found something to ease the pain. It was called fanfiction.
Let’s clear up a few things about this concept. What is fanfiction? Fanfiction is creating stories based on books, movies, TV shows, etc. that are not your own. You write a story about the universe or characters you want. You post it so that others can read and review it. You don’t get any money because you’re using copyrighted stuff as the basis for your writing.
What is fanficiton not? Too often I hear comments in the media about how fanfiction is nothing but creepy, horribly written sex scenes. Does this happen with some fanfics? Of course, but it happens in regular books too. Fanfiction doesn’t mean anything except some part of your story (character, setting, universe, etc.) is not an original idea of yours.
With that explained, we can get back to my tale. I discovered the Jimmy Neutron section of the largest fanfiction website. To my amazement, there were over a 1,000 stories for me to read. That was like finding 1,000 new episodes! I tore through as many stories as I could. Some were amazing; most were not. The majority were written by the show’s target audience, kids and teenagers. But there were some fanfics written by amazingly talented authors.
Then, of course, I ran out of fanfics to read. I don’t mean that I read all 1,000 stories. But after a while I found out ways to weed out the good stories from the bad. Then I remembered how much I’d loved writing as a kid and realized I didn’t want this experience to end, and that I also wanted to give something back to this amazing community. So, I did what I now do best.
And wrote. And wrote. In just over a year, I’d written over 330,000 words.
A novel is generally considered anything over 50,000 words. In about 13 months I’d written the rough equivalent of over 6 books. Granted, they were first drafts. Granted, looking back, most of them were schlop. But still, I think that is impressive.
This time of my life is pretty much a blur to me. It was 10th grade, and I was spending nearly every minute of my spare time outlining and penning these stories. (There was also more than a little bit of Halo played, but we’ll get to that in another post.) I had never written like that in my life. It was incredible, and it taught me so much about how to write.
I learned how to foreshadow effectively. How to portray nuanced characters that weren’t cardboard cutouts. How to make more interesting romantic plotlines than going to a dance or two lovers moving away (these were the plots of two of my earliest fics). I learned effective pacing, came to use Latin terms as my calling card, greatly expanded my vocabulary, and just all around figured out how to become a true writer.
And just to be clear, I’m not saying my work is up to par with Shakespeare’s. It wasn’t until my fourth story or so that I can look back and say that there’s anything good there. After that I started to come up with some good ideas here and there. There would be some well written lines, maybe an intriguing plot twist, but overall it was surrounded by crap. I can only look back on the last 2 stories from that time in my life and read through them without cringing every few pages. And even then they still seem pretty rough.
So, after that last fanfic in my junior year of high school, I stopped writing Jimmy Neutron fanfiction. I felt like I’d done everything I set out to do. I’d created more entries for the Jimmy Neutron community that had given so much to me. I was able to explore the childhood I never had in dozens of different ways. Most importantly, I’d strengthened my skills. I would still come up with an occasional idea for a new story, but I never got more than an outline done or maybe a couple pages typed up. I quickly came to realize that that time of my life was over. I’ve still got a few more stories about fanfiction (if you visit my profile in the links below you’ll see I have more stories after I first stopped writing in 2006), but that’s for another post.
So, I moved on. I’m happy to say I began to expand my social circle, I started to live the life I’d always written of and dreamed about. No, I didn’t build a rocket ship and fly off into space during study hall with my pals. But during those last two years of high school I made some amazing friends that I’m still in touch with. I wasn’t as outgoing as most other people, but I got out of the house, went on a few adventures, and made some great memories. Best of all, I finally gave that old romance thing a try and found the woman I’ve been with for the past seven years, the woman I hope one day soon to marry. I started writing my first original novel, which after a lot of hard work and endless edits is now available for sale. I’m even friends with one of the directors of Jimmy Neutron, and he’s…well, that belongs in one of the next posts.
All in all, I’d say fanfiction’s given me a lot. And I couldn’t be more thankful.
https://www.fanfiction.net/cartoon/Jimmy-Neutron/ – The old Jimmy Neutron fanfiction page, now up to over 1,500 stories.
https://www.fanfiction.net/u/851789/quietthinker – My fanfiction profile page with all my old stories. Again, the older stuff’s pretty rough.
http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00RDYVTD8 – My debut novel. (Don’t worry, we’ll get to this more in future posts.)