Improve Your Writing with a Little Fan Fiction

Fan-written fiction (fanfic) means taking a story someone else wrote and making your own version of it without requiring permission or seeking profit. It’s usually done by amateurs, though some pros go at it too. While you can argue it’s been going on informally since the beginning of storytelling, modern fanfic is mostly posted on the Internet.

And, lately, fanfic is finally getting some respect as a sort of underground writing movement. It’s sedition against the corporate ownership of stories. It’s personal expression gone wild. It’s exploration of modern culture motivated by shared interest and decidedly not overseen by The Man.

More to the point for this blog, it’s also a good way to work on your writing.



Let’s get it out of the way that I’m talking about using fanfic as a writing exercise, not about writing fanfic for the rest of your life (though you certainly can if you want to). Writing fanfic helps with some things, but it isn’t a good way to work on the incredibly important business of establishing plot, character, or setting. After all, those are what you steal when you write fanfic.

Figure Out What Inspires You & Copy It

People write fanfic because they feel inspired by the original material, whether it’s Star Trek, The Simpsons, Harry Potter, The Catcher in the Rye, or March of the Penguins. Fanfic means trying to continue those qualities you feel inspired by, and this can help you figure out who you are as an author.

I’m not going to resist the metaphor of the aspiring painter who makes copies of the masters to learn techniques and to see why and how things work. Put Indiana Jones or Elizabeth Bennet at a dinner table (or on a battlefield) and see if you can keep them in character with your own words. Take the Tolkien universe and add your own monster. Is it as scary as the orcs? Write your own mystery with Sherlock Holmes. Can you come up with an appropriately clever crime?

Improve Your Dialogue

This one’s a beaut. A problem almost all writers struggle with, especially new writers, is making their characters sound like different people. I highly recommend reading dialogue, others’ and yours, out loud. Writing dialogue for someone you can clearly hear in your head (say Mary from Downton Abbey or Tony Stark/Iron Man or the Wicked Witch of the West) can help you learn to stay in character with every word.

For extra points, learn to do with without catch phrases. No “Beam me up, Mr. Scot” or “Vodka martini, shaken not stirred.”

Get Feedback

Writing can just be so damn lonely. When you write fanfic, you don’t have to post it for others to see, but you certainly can. It’s free and it’s fun. And no, you don’t have to join any sort of cult.

The best place these days is Archive of Our Own (, an open-source, non-commercial, non-profit archive for fan fiction run by the Organization for Transformative Works. You just register and post your story with the online template. If people like it, they can give it “kudos.” And if they really like it, you’ll get comments.

If you do want to join an online community, there are many on Twitter ( and Tumblr ( There’s also Live Journal (, which allows large posts and encourages things like fanfic challenges and hooking up writers with “beta-readers” (people who will read your work before you post and give you feedback).

Isn’t Fanfic All Kinky and Weird and Stuff?

Yeah, yeah. People on the outside of anything are only interested in the weird bits, but, believe it or not, a lot of fanfic out there reads like mainstream TV episodes or movie sequels. While to a lot of people “fanfic” instantly equates to “Kirk and Spock get it on,” there’s really every variety you can think of, and quite frankly more.

In fact, it’s a little overwhelming at first. That’s why most fanfic archives have “warnings” and “tags” so that you know exactly what sort of thing you’re going to read. You can also use these yourself to tell the world what sort of story you’ve written and thus attract the audience you’re looking for. Here’s a brief into:


Short for general audience (aka G-rated, no sex, no major violence, etc.). At Archive of Our Own, 334,424 of the current 1,341,499 stories available are tagged “Gen.”


This means the story will feature a relationship, most likely romantic, between a man and a woman. “Het” by no means equals “Gen.”


Yeah, let’s get it out of the way. It’s a romantic pairing between two people of the same sex.


This one’s actually my favorite. It means a story written like the writer’s on crack. Read (or write) about your favorite characters as cats, or dogs, or Martians, or Girl Scout Cookies. Done poorly, these stories can be pretty lame. Done well, they can be awesome.


A light and sweet story.


Not fluff.


Stands for “plot, what plot?” Usually a sex scene, but sometimes a gag or just thinking out loud.


Stands for “alternative universe.” This means a story where the characters from one fictional universe (say, that high school in Glee) are put into another universe (say, one where everyone’s a vampire).


Stands for “improving my writing with a little fanfic.” Hm, well, this one isn’t actually a standard tag yet, but it could be!

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Have dinner with best-selling author Tim Ferriss

tim ferriss best selling author podcast arnold schwarzenegger

Tim Ferriss is an American author, entrepreneur, angel investor, and public speaker. Author of The 4-Hour Workweek, which was a No. 1 New York Times bestseller, a No. 1 Wall Street Journal bestseller, and a USA Today bestseller. In 2010, he followed up with The 4-Hour Body, which was another No. 1 New York Timesbestseller. Ferriss is an angel investor or an advisor to Facebook, Twitter, StumbleUpon, Evernote, and Uber, among other companies.

For a chance to have dinner with him, just promote his latest podcast (an incredible interview with Arnold Schwarzenegger) via any means you choose.

In the interview, Arnold tells the story about his poor upbringing in Austria, making money in home construction, his body building and acting, lessons learned, routines, favorite books, meditation, and much more.

Check out the podcast on iTunes here, or his blog here.

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10 Wise Steps in Writing a Dissertation

Step 1

    • Ask your department chair if you can skip the dissertation and get a Ph.D. solely on the strength of your winning personality.
    • Okay, so it’s never worked before. It’s still worth a shot, isn’t it? Think positive!
    • Or, if not your winning personality, some previous work, work experience, body of work—anything at all!
    • Okay, so that rarely works either—but it does and has worked for some people, depending on the strength of that previous work.


Step 2

  • Make a plan and stick to it!
  • Plan to spend more time finding a manageable dissertation topic than researching that topic, and more time researching it than actually writing the dissertation.
  • Plan to spend more time revising the dissertation than writing it, and more time writing it than researching it.
  • Spend more time researching it than finding out what your topic is.
  • To help with the organization of your thesis, consider hiring a logician. I did.

that's the plan dr. horrible neil patrick harris

Step 3

  • Make sure you and your thesis advisor are on the same page.
  • Make sure to tell your thesis advisor what page that is.

matt bomer always on same page

Step 4

  • Abandon all hope of reading everything that’s germane to your chosen topic. Eventually you’re bound to discover that somebody has already said everything you want to say, and in the very words you were going to use. Scary!
  • However, don’t be alarmed by this. Remember: “There is nothing new under the sun,” and “Of the making of books there is no end,” and “So, the heck with it, what’s one book more?”

silver linings playbook throwing book out window

Step 5

  • When you’re ready to write, strike while the iron is hot.
  • If the iron is not hot, heat it. By … any … means … necessary!
  • If you don’t know what the iron is, forget about a career in academia. Consider becoming a professional golf caddie, instead. (“Here’s your 5-iron, Tiger.”)

jim carrey bruce almighty typing


Step 6

  • Be sure to follow all of your department’s specifications for formatting your thesis, no matter how difficult they are.
  • When in doubt, hire a reputable editing service to do this for you.



Step 7

  • Prepare for your thesis defense as if your life depended on it. As a matter of fact, your career does.
  • Anticipate every possible question. Now is the time to do the research I told you not to do back in Step 4. Quickly, quickly.
  • However, on the day of the defense, relax. You’re as ready as you’ll ever be. There’s nothing more you can do.
  • Try to enjoy your defense. If you have some ability to make people laugh, make your committee members laugh. If they’re having a good time, the defense might be a breeze.

 i've got the power boom bruce almighty jim carrey

Step 8

  • Answer each and every one of their questions politely and thoroughly.
  • If, after 45 minutes of politely and thoroughly responding to each and every one of their questions, they still maintain that you’re talking gibberish, remember your Samuel Johnson. Say, as haughtily as possible: “Sirs,  I am required to furnish you with an explanation. I am not also required to furnish you with an understanding of it.” (This will sound twice as impressive if you happen to be wearing a powdered wig.)

samuel johnson book perplexed

Step 9

If at some point you find yourself at a complete loss for words, quote the lyrics of some Broadway or Hollywood musical. I have found that there are surprisingly few things in life, academic subjects included, that have not at some point been made the subject of a song. A comforting thought, no?

Step 10

Okay, here it is, my final word of advice, the fruit of my years of experience as a dissertation editor: take pride in writing your dissertation and do the very best you can do. It’s a reflection of you. So cherish, respect, and enjoy the entire process for it should be a labor of love. If it’s not, then you’re not doing what you should be doing with your life. Tough love words, I know, but the absolute truth of the matter.

big bang theory sheldon that's how its done

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21 Things That Happen While Watching The Super Bowl

1. You begin to stuff your face with buffalo wings and corn chips during the pre-show.

2. Then you realize a beer would really complement the wings, you genius.

3. As the National Anthem is sung, you realize you are the epitome of being American – football, beer, food, and the Star Spangled Banner.

4. You yell “HEADS, HEADS, HEADS” at the screen before your team picks the coin toss.

5. You mentally prepare yourself for kickoff.

6. You start getting anxious since the score is staying at 0 – 0.

Anxious meets eating faster, right?

7. And hope that your team scores first.

8. Then you start hyperventilating when the other team is about to score.

9. And when they do, you just about lose it.

10. But you realize it’s okay because it isn’t even halftime yet.

11. You find yourself unimpressed with the commercials and start wondering where the funny ones are.

With food in hand, of course.

12. Then Doritos flies (get it?) in and restores your faith in Super Bowl ads.

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13. You refill your plate during halftime.

14. And “lose control” when Missy Elliot comes out.

15. Then, after Katy Perry is a firework, you are back in game mode.

16. You realize your voice is getting hoarse from all the yelling.

17. But it’s okay because helping out your team is worth it.

18. You start truly appreciating your food when a crappy commercial comes on.

19. And can’t even taste it when the game is back because it’s crunch time.

20. When the game finally ended, you were stuffed and exhausted.

21. And then you realize Katy Perry’s shark was the real MVP.


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