I’ve written more about Sherlock Holmes than the man who created him.
Books, fan fiction, articles, essays; three quarter of a million words.
The thing is, I almost stopped so many times. Because I write professionally, people pay me to write about flu jabs and saving for retirement. They did not pay me to write 600,000 words of erotic and romantic Sherlock fan fiction over the course of five years.
So I tried quitting, and like Arthur Conan Doyle, I tried to focus on my ‘real’ writing. Yet every time I turned in an article on feral cats or baby colic or 403(b)s, I’d start another chapter on another fic, muttering I shouldn’t be doing this, this isn’t paying the bills. I was always promising myself I’d quit.
I didn’t quit, and there was a reason for that: writing about John Watson and Sherlock Holmes in love and lust made me happy. Giddy happy. Excited happy. Run round the room fist-bumping myself happy.
Yet, because I’m duller than the average deducing bear, I still tried to stop. Each time I did, I’d grouse and grumble, and each time I did, my husband Tony would patiently encourage me to keep going.
And yet, like some sort of swirly, over-dramatic consulting detective, I’d flail and lament: “But fan fiction doesn’t earn me a living!”
Finally, Tony responded with the two best words in the history of best words.
So what? So what?
Yes. That. That right there.
Fuel for the Fire
So the hell what?
So fine, maybe being part of a fandom like Star Wars, or Sherlock or Supernatural, maybe having a passion for writing fan fiction or drawing fan art doesn’t bring in a pay check. Well generally neither does petting a kitten, going to the cinema, having sex, or knitting, and yet people manage to do and delight in all of these things; they find fulfillment and joy.
That’s what Tony’s so what taught me. The joy is enough. Finding joy in a fandom is reason enough. Yet even beyond that, being part of a fandom, drawing, writing, meeting people in a fandom, well these things can give so. many. other. things.
A community. A place to share ideas. A place to find new ones.
“Fandom is gorgeous,” says Tuba-Twin. Being part of a fandom, taking part in fandom gives people “passion, focus, love, dedication, determination, commitment, engagement.”
Fandom allows us to be included, to be seen, to find people like us, to find people who like us. Fandom means love, says Luckyonesjournal, and not just for the fictional thing one can get obsessed with, but for people. “I mean, look at us all, we adore each other because of our shared profound love towards Sherlock.”
How can finding a place, a focus, making friends who you encourage and who are encouraging possibly be encompassed in a pay check? And more importantly, why should they be?
Fandom and the passion it fosters is like a circle, says Zen Taylor. It’s inclusion, positivity, joy, creativity, challenges, education, communication. “If you’re passionate about something you go look for the fandom, and then the fandom and the inclusion, the positivity and the communication, they make you more passionate. It’s a circle, one fuels the other.”
Ah, and there it is. There it damn well is.
One thing fuels the other thing. Being involved in a fandom provides the fuel of passion, and passion fuels ideas and goals, shows new paths and then lends us the courage to venture down them.
Passion is what fandoms give us; that is how they pay us.
Though sometimes…they do pay us. I know fandom writers who’ve gained their first professional writing credits because fan fiction taught them not only how to write, but what it is they write well. I know of artists who have gone on to sell their artwork because their fandom drawings caught someone’s eye, or they got the courage to put it up on Redbubble or Etsy and started selling more than they ever thought they would.
Me, I was forty-seven when I wrote my first Sherlock fan fiction, forty-eight when a Sherlockian friend—who, I now believe, is possibly a sorcerer—encouraged me to apply for college in the UK. I got in, have been living in London three years, and am a week away from earning my very first degree.
Passion, it turns out, is sometimes indistinguishable from magic.
The Magic Touch
Falling in love with that magic—which is to say, falling in love with a fandom—is sometimes misinterpreted as selfish. A fandom artist whose work I enjoy recently said that she felt guilty drawing fan art, that it was self-indulgent.
But…but…who else is going to indulge you? Who else is going motivate you to draw so much that you get good. So that you’re so good you some day make money doing what you love? Who’s going to cheer you on if you don’t do it by finding the things that cheer you and help you go on?
Together fans create something bigger than themselves, says Kiki Vesper. “BBC Sherlock, for instance, gave us magic—and we keep making more magic out of the magic they gave us.”
It comes back, again and again, to fuel. “Fandom gives my imagination wings,” says Thememacat. “As an artist, I need to exercise my imagination regularly. I can paint with love because of what I find here!”
Fan fiction, fan art, making it, enjoying it, provides hope and strength, support and community and, over and over, it provides passion. “Passion is force. Force of will to do, to be, to create, to follow, to praise, to love,” says Tishwrites. “Passion is the drive to react to or act because of something. Fandom is freedom to use your passion in the way you are driven to, in a space that is welcoming and shares your passion. Passion is what gets you there but fandom is where passion can come out to play.”
Passion is loving what you do so much that you’ll do it every day and giggle while you do. You’ll do it so often you get better. Then better still. And when that happens, something unexpected happens.
Your passion gets messy.
It starts to leak.
Leak all over everything. It gets into your comments on the stories you love, into the conversations you have. It makes you feel like maybe you can jog a little further today, or get up early to photograph dew-bedecked spider webs. It motivates you to join that book club, take that improvisation class, or finally, finally, finally pitch a book idea to a publisher.
And be accepted.
Without the Sherlock fandom, without five years of encouragement from readers and fellow writers, I might not have bestirred my damn butt from its metaphorical chair and approached a Sherlock Holmes book publisher. I’d already pitched books to publishers you see, reached out to editors; like every writer I had the stack of rejections.
Then Jayantika Ganguly, a Sherlockian friend, one day said to me, “I’d like to introduce you to my publisher. You should pitch something to him. He publishes Sherlock Holmes stories.”
Those nineteen words of Jay’s have since led me to write 120,000 of my own in the form of two books, with another pending before year’s end. Books about Sherlock Holmes.
Huh, how about that?
A Force to Be Reckoned With
Fandoms matter, passion matters, words matter.
Arthur Conan Doyle’s words changed the lives of Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, fans of his Sherlock Holmes stories. Those men went on to create their own Sherlockian words and those words changed others’ lives. Steve Lawes, the cinematographer for five episodes of Sherlock, interpreted Gatiss and Moffat’s words with his own stunning visual voice. Arwel Wyn Jones, Claire Pritchard, Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman, and dozens of others have added their gifts, too.
What these people made helped make a fandom, and that fandom helped create more words, and those words help create “the spark that makes me want to create words, art, music about it,” says Narrelle M. Harris. Those words lead her to analysis, critique, original art, and above all, a desire “to share the joy.”
Aye, and there’s the rub. We have to step out and share. We have to let the fandom, the words, the art, inspire us, make us a force to be reckoned with, help us blaze.
And blaze we must.
Blaze quietly if that’s your nature, with a crackle and a hiss if that’s how you roll, but for the love of god and Benedict Cumberbatch’s bottom, don’t try and do what I did, don’t try to stop, to give up, don’t think nothing can come of your fandom efforts.
You are a force to be reckoned with. Joy is power. It’s what keeps us going forward despite set-backs, it’s what makes those setbacks learning tools, challenges that grow us. Passion makes us stronger. Some people lift weights to get strong, some swim or jog. Everyone builds themselves up in their own way.
Why shouldn’t it be that way with dreams? You want to write books? Who cares what makes you strong during the journey toward publication? If reading does it, that’s what you do; if writing fan fiction does it, that’s what you do.
And if you keep doing it you’ll find that long before the first pay checks, you’ve already been paid—overpaid—with the fuel of every artistic fire: Passion.
We’re Not the First, We Won’t Be the Last
If you’re still feeling shy about loving your fandom, about shouting or whispering your love from the rooftops, know that you’re not the first person to fall hard for fictional characters, that there’s been thousands before you and some went on to write original work, work that generated its own fandoms.
Mark Gatiss is a famous fanboy. Co-creator of Sherlock, he’s also been writing Doctor Who stories for decades. When asked about fan fiction inspired by his fan fiction, Gatiss said, “I’m very happy that the show inspires other people to write.”
Neil Gaiman, author of Neverwhere, Stardust, and American Gods, and himself a fan fiction writer agrees, saying, “How does it feel as a writer when people [write stories based off your characters]? It feels great. I’m thrilled the characters I’ve created are real enough that people want to do this sort of thing to and with them.”
Gaiman says he earned a Hugo award “for a story that ripped off Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories and H. P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos,” and that all writing helps you hone your writing skills. “I think you get better as a writer by writing, and whether that means that you’re writing a singularly deep and moving novel about the pain or pleasure of modern existence or you’re writing Smeagol-Gollum slash you’re still putting one damn word after another and learning as a writer.”
J. Anderson, a best-selling author of young adult fiction and writer of the novels Knife, Arrow, and Swift, writes that she too started out with fan fiction, writing stories set in the universe of Anne McCaffrey’s Harper Hall, Susan Cooper’s Dark Is Rising, and for TV shows like Remington Steele and Doctor Who.
She credits getting online, sharing her stories with other readers, and meeting other writers for improving her skills. “They showed me how to look at my writing with a critical eye, and figure out how to make it better. They encouraged me.”
Hugo-award winner Lois McMaster Bujold, author of stories like The Mountains of Mourning, Paladin of Souls, and Cryoburn, wrote Star Trek fan fic as a young girl.
When asked on her Goodreads page how she feels when people write fan fiction set in her worlds, she says people should go for it and have fun. “As I was writing fanfic possibly before the term was invented (and so were a lot of other people), any other answer would be quite hypocritical.” She adds that fan fiction is not new. “The Sherlock Holmes stories were generating fan fiction in the author’s lifetime, and more thereafter.”
As a matter of fact, “the case has been made that the phenomenon goes back even further — that the Arthurian cycle is medieval fan fiction, with different writers in different places picking up on their favorite Knights of the Table Round and associated characters to carry the tales forward in a multitude of ways according to taste.”
So the take home message from all of this is:
Just damn well write the stories you want to write. Create the art you want to create. Love the fandom you love.
You won’t be the first, and you definitely won’t be the last.
And maybe someday someone’s going to be asking you how you feel about fan fiction based on your universe of characters.
Fire, Fire, Burning Bright
If you’d be so kind, let me finish with a few highly personal and passionate tips on how to set yourself on fire, on how to bloody well blaze bright in your own creative sky:
Do all you can not to give one hot damn what anyone thinks.
There’s nothing in the history of humanity that has been approved of by everyone. Nothing. At all. Ever. So please stop worrying about what others think of what you love.
I do this by just denying that those people matter. Try that. Look right in the face of someone who’s maybe just said, “reading fics about gay detectives is lame and Arthur Conan Doyle would spin in his grave if he knew what you’re doing,” then smile, turn your back on them, and walk away.
Don’t engage, don’t try and change minds, because that person has already told you I don’t care what you think. Their dismissal was right there, clear as day. Dismiss them back. Deny them fuel. Walk away.
Do that enough and it gets easier, I promise. Especially if you have a friend or two to whom you can vent afterward. Narrelle M. Harris and Verity Burns have had all-caps messages from me more times than probably either can count.
Your age doesn’t matter. At all. Full stop. Forever.
You’re older than others in your particular fandom? So what? They’re on their journey toward your age too, no matter what they think. And your experience of life and living makes you brilliant at reading and interpreting the nuance of stories and meta, at seeing and clearly saying what you see. So forget age. None of us gets to pick when we’re born so just ignore it and enjoy the things you love and do the things you dream of doing.
Because here’s the thing about that: you’re going to get older anyway, so you might as well have made some fantastic artwork, got a late-in-life degree, or slow-walked a marathon while you’re on the journey.
Share your gifts.
If you have a gift, share it. That’s what fandom is for, that’s what your passion is telling you, isn’t it?
Like the people you admire in the fandom you love, show the fandom what you can do. Do it, share it.
You may be nervous, nauseated, and sweating like a farm animal the first time you put up some fan work. Whether a story, a line drawing, or a fan video, you’re going to hope no one sees it. You’re going to wish everyone sees it.
Then you’re going to get a kudos, or a comment, or a thumbs up, and—bam!—you’re going to contemplate therapy because suddenly you don’t know if you want to vomit or caper.
If you’re brave (and you are, you are), you’re going to maybe do both, but the caper’s what’s going to carry you forward. So you’ll write another story and another, or draw another drawing—and that’s vital, do as much as you can, don’t wait and sit and hope and watch the kudos counter or worry over every comment. As you do and do and do, you’ll find your own voice and momentum, you’ll find people who love that voice, who relish your gifts, who want to hear your stories. But you have to share them first.
Find people who are on fire.
You’ve already found them, haven’t you? They’re the ones you follow on Tumblr or Twitter or ArchiveOfOurOwn.org. They’re the ones whose work you read and comment on, or who read your work and leave comments for you. Stick with them. Create a history with them, share drawings or photos or dreams. The thing about fandom and the passions it feeds is that it feeds.
Someone’s artwork inspires another person’s story. That story inspires a different person’s artwork. A comment on each of them inspires their creators to create more. Your passion will feed others and they in turn will fuel your fire.
Joy, It’s About Joy…It’s Always About Joy
Whichever fandom you’re in, whether it’s Sherlock or Supernatural or Star Wars or damn well all of them—and if it’s all of them I salute you—the whole point of fandom is joy.
No, strike that.
The whole damn point of living is joy. If anyone tries to take that from you walk away. You control that.
Then walk toward the wonderful things and people and places and art and dreams that fuel you.