Researchers Uncover Evidence That Writing Fanfic Increases Happiness

Research and testimonials both attest to its effect on writers

Notebook
A growing body of evidence suggests that fanfic can help its makers find community and develop as writers.
Sikander Iqbal/Creative Commons
By Tobias Carroll / January 22, 2020 9:16 am

We live in a watershed time for fanfic. If this wasn’t apparent before, the Hugo Award win for the Archive Of Our Own last year was as clear a sign as many people could hope for. The Hugo Awards are presented to a year’s most notable works of science fiction and fantasy; that the Archive of Our Own, a massive online fanfic community, won Best Related Work, is a huge deal.

At Vox, Aja Romano explained just why this is so important. “The Hugo win is a huge validation for many fanfic authors — many of whom are used to being dismissed and culturally maligned — that all of their non-professional works are worthy of respect,” she wrote.

In an in-depth article for the MIT Technology Review, Cecilia Aragon discussed a study that she undertook with her colleague Katie Davis. They focused on fanfic published on Fanfiction.net — specifically, fanfic set in the world of Harry Potter, My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic and Doctor Who. Aragon and Davis’s research suggested that fanfic offers a host of benefits to those who write it:

We found that not only were fan fiction authors writing original fiction; they also learned life lessons, becoming more tolerant and willing to help others. Some said they’d become more open-minded, and had received emotional support that helped them navigate adolescent traumas and find identity.

Aragon also discussed her own experience writing fanfic as a child — specifically, of how she wrote her own version of Lord of the Rings as a child. “Writing my story gave me comfort,” she wrote. “It also taught me about the effort involved in creating a narrative.”

That sense of fanfic as a means of studying writing is one that plenty of writers have cited: Naomi Novik, who co-founded The Archive Of Our Own, is also an acclaimed author of original works. In a recent interview about his work on Star Trek: Picard, Michael Chabon discussed his own forays into fanfic as a young writer.

I never tried writing any Star Trek fan fiction, but when I was starting out, I wrote Sherlock Holmes fan fiction, Robert E. Howard fan fiction, Larry Niven fan fiction, John Carter/Edgar Rice Burroughs fan fiction…

In a 2019 article, writer Vivian Shaw made a compelling case that writing fanfic offers writers a number of ways to hone their craft. And is it that far removed from, say, the young Hunter S. Thompson retyping works by F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway to get a sense of how each one’s writing worked? 

Award-winning author Seanan McGuire made an even stronger case for the appeal of fanfic to nascent writers, calling fanfic communities “the most rigorous writing school in existence” in a 2018 essay.

For writers looking to hone their craft, fanfic offers a community and plenty of lessons; for people seeking a community and likeminded cohorts, fanfic offers that as well. There are numerous cases to be made about fanfic’s importance, but these two in particular resonate. 

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