Instead of partaking in spring cleaning, my partner and I clean house in the winter because that’s when we have the most free time. I bring this up for two reasons: 1) I’m terribly behind on it because I am a serial procrastinator (oops), and 2) she unearthed one of my writing notebooks from high school.
And y’all? It is such a gem.
Mead Composition notebook. 100 pages. Wide-ruled. Every chapter written with a different colored pen. Me talking to the reader to introduce each new segment and thanking friends for unintentionally inspiring me to write what I thought sex was like.
And Gundam pilots.
Now this wasn’t baby’s first fanfiction notebook, no, that honor goes to Bulma and Vegeta from Dragon Ball Z. But lord, Heero Yuy and Duo Maxwell? They were the ship where I discovered what I was jotting down in my notebook had a name—fanfiction. They were the ship that led to me getting a fanfiction account and engaging with a community beyond the few kids in high school who read my stories. If my life were a sitcom, this would be the part where I’d frantically try and hide the notebook from my partner, maybe bury it in a closet, stuff it in a drawer and pray that she hadn’t taken a peek before she handed it to me.
But honestly? I have nothing to be embarrassed about.
While I can admit that I am a far cry from my baggy clothing, hat wearing, “my body is too fat for that” teenage self, there is one thing she unabashedly enjoyed that I am relearning how to truly appreciate: writing.
I didn’t just write fanfiction, I shared it with my class, passed around that notebook, and let them read stories about an emotionally constipated Gundam pilot and the self-proclaimed God of Death—forgive Duo, he was a 15-year-old in the middle of a war. Not a lot of kids watched anime back then, but I didn’t care, because I was happy—nay, proud—of what I’d written. This would follow me into college where fanfiction—once I decided to pursue writing as a career—became the tool I used to practice my craft. Playing with descriptions. Coming up with alternate universes for the characters I loved. Trying to be consistent with the plot if I wrote within the show’s canon content. Making my ship’s relationship believable. Writing content that grabbed people.
Everything that any writer strives for.
Fanfiction was, basically, the fun part of writing, the part I dreamt about when I was a nine-year-old girl who made books out of construction paper, pencil, and crayon. It was the part that didn’t include due dates or professors giving me guidelines. I was free to create what I wanted, when I wanted, how I wanted. I could play within the established universes of the shows I loved, start from scratch by building new worlds for my favorite characters, or add extra details like, you know, “Character A is queer and really into character B.”
I graduated college.
And folks decided to give me some career advice: get real.
There are two levels to feeling the need to prove that writing is a real job. There’s the “It is a viable career, Chad” level, and the “It’s more than just fun and games, Susan,” bonus round. Both of these parties feel like writing is easy and stress-free, it’s just that one looks on in disdain (Chad) while the other looks on in envy because they think it’s so much fun that there’s no way you’re not enjoying every aspect of it (Susan). I’d gotten over Chad in 2018, because Chad was never gonna see a career in what I did. So screw Chad. But Susan? Susan was stressing me out to the point of me feeling like I had to hide the fact that I’d gotten tired of writing. I mean, how could I be tired of, quote, “living the dream,” as they say. I was getting writing gigs. I was promoting my new book. I was visiting new cities for the opportunity to promote myself and my work.
But the truth of the matter is that, like any job, writing will wear you out.
For every pitch that was accepted, there were numerous rejections. For every convention I got a guest invite to, there were several “I’m sorry, but…” or just straight up silence. The topics I covered were emotionally draining—I’m a fat, black, queer woman, and sometimes I go there. The stress of hoping to land enough gigs to cover living expenses and wondering if my book was going anywhere sent me to bed crying on multiple occasions.
A lot of folks look at your accomplishments in this business and assume that you’ve made it, but overdue bills and declining Amazon sales tell a different story. So for a while writing was exhausting, the thing I did because I had to do something. And let me tell you, when your main job relies on creativity, being emotionally drained affects productivity.
After college, there was a lot of writing ain’t a real job talk that I subscribed to, so fanfiction became a different kind of tool: a de-stresser while I worked a retail job. A real job. Writing was now the thing I did to relax after dealing with irate customers and corporate district managers who sent emails from home while we worked laborious holiday hours. Since I was of the mindset of writing not being worthy of a career, I’d unintentionally turned it into the thing that, frankly, kept me sane while working a job that I ended up hating.
It took being fired after six years of midnight launches and Black Fridays to finally, finally try my hand at a writing career. That was back in 2012. And in the process of writing books, articles, traveling to conventions, and giving panels… I actually stopped writing fanfiction. I turned my back on it, claiming that I was too busy, knowing damn well that I’d managed to find time in-between classes and long retail shifts to produce hundreds, sometimes thousands of words about those Gundam pilots. I’d spend hours putting Naruto characters in high school AUs, spent months writing the scenes I desperately wanted to see between Kanji Tatsumi and Naoto Shirogane from Persona 4.
So… what changed?
At the time, I wasn’t sure, but as they say hindsight is, indeed, a bitch. I realize that I’d, ironically, adopted that not real mentally that folks used against me when it came to writing. Now that I was working to be, ahem, a real writer, I felt that there was no room for fanfiction. I had a few friends who’d advised me to not let folks know I wrote fanfic, that publishers would sneer and not take me seriously, that potential readers would treat it like yet another 50 Shades of Grey. So I just… stopped, focused solely on my own characters and stories, besides, who has time for fun writing when you got bills to pay?
Once in a blue moon I’d write something based around Poe Dameron’s lip bite at Finn, or Captain America’s first kiss since 1945 being with Falcon or Bucky—not Black Widow in a mall to hide from their enemies—but I never did the full song and dance of fanfiction accounts, sharing with friends, and posting it everywhere I could. Fanfiction was just that thing I’d reference, that sort of time capsule I’d look back on when one of those “years ago” memes circulated.
Then, in the beginning of May 2018, I was introduced to an anime called My Hero Academia. And y’all. You know that moment when everything clicks for the main character? The background shatters. Their eyes widen. They slap themselves in the face because, of course, how could they not have realized this entire time? That’s what this series was for me, but not in the way I expected, because after I binge-watched it with my partner I did something I hadn’t done in years.
I wrote fanfiction.
Not just one random fic to share on Tumblr and never look back at, no. I got an ao3 account. I flooded it with stories. I applied for zines, did weekly challenges, and engaged with other fic writers. I felt such a rush of inspiration from the series and its characters that my writing muses switched gears. Instead of feeling like writing was a burden it felt… fun again. I was writing because I wanted to, creating ideas I wanted to delve into instead of scrambling for ideas because gotta pitch something. Suddenly, writing felt like a fresh and wonderful thing that I wanted to share with everyone.
I was 16 again, with a Mead Composition book, and that one pen that let you switch between six colors.
At the time I didn’t realize the effect returning to fanfiction had on me. I was just really passionate about Izuku Midoriya and Katsuki Bakugou, ok? I was in love with their classmates, their teachers, the MHA (or BNHA if you’d prefer) universe as a whole. Unbeknownst to me I’d gone right back into my college ways: playing with descriptions. Coming up with alternate universes for the characters I loved. Trying to be consistent with the plot if I wrote within the show’s canon content. Making my ship’s relationship believable. Writing content that grabbed people. And since I was sending pitches and working on the second book in my series, this bled into my original content.
I sat down and focused on what I actually wanted to write about instead of trying to latch onto whatever was trending in the hopes of landing a gig. I could go into my second book without the stress of will it be good enough, the pressure of will it sell and how does it compare to other queer works? I could write about my feelings in general—not just when a relevant hashtag came about—and I could have fun with it, make geektastic references, hell, I could draw parallels between social justice issues and a team of black girls with magical powers and fantastic hair: the premise of my book series.
I could do exactly what I did with fanfiction: just write the way I wanted to.
I could also, well, not write if I didn’t want to. I didn’t have to jump into everything that spoke to my fat, black, queer self. There are topics that are just too heavy on my heart, sometimes, and it was ok to leave them alone in favor of my own well-being. Much like fanfiction, writing was my choice, and if there was something I didn’t want to address I didn’t have to.
It occurs to me, when looking back at all of this, that my 16-year-old self had the right idea all along. Since writing is a career that calls for creativity, it’s best that you’re enjoying what you’re doing. That’s not to say you can’t treat it like a job—you, in fact, should if this is what you’re passionate about. But part of the job in such a creative space has to be an exercise in entertaining your muses. What is it you want to write about? What stories are you interested in telling? What motivates you to open that notebook? Fanfiction reminded me of the freedom I enjoy as a writer: the ability to speak my words in the way I want, from the content I’m addressing, to the way I’m weaving the words together.
So, about that Mead Composition notebook I found? Is in my office, out in the open, right by my computer—right where it belongs.
© 2019 Briana Lawrence