When I was a kid, my little sisters would sneak into my room after our parents thought we had gone to sleep. My sisters sat by my bed for hours, hanging on my every word, as stories starring a menagerie of characters softly filled my room. Original characters, characters from our favorite stories, and in some stories, even a few self-inserts of my sisters and I.
When I got a little older, I found an ancient laptop computer at a garage sale. After haggling the price down, I pulled out a tiny handful of cash that seemed like a fortune and traded it for my brand new writing machine. It ran barely more than Word, Internet Explorer and Minesweeper, but that was all I needed. My stories began to bleed out of my brain and onto my computer.
Once there, I read them aloud to my family. My sisters, as usual, loved my stories. But then, they loved everything I did, so this was no surprise. However, unexpectedly even the adult members of my family praised my work. At first it was pleasant, basking in the positive attention toward my passion. But very quickly, I started to notice something.
They praised everything about my stories: every plot twist, every character, every interaction, and even lines of dialog. Everything I wrote was of the highest quality in their eyes. And despite the appealing idea that everything I did was perfect, I absolutely knew this was not true.
Just as suddenly as confidence rose, it sunk back to where it had been before.
If everyone around me was so biased, was I really that good of a storyteller?
This doubt plagued me for several more years. I kept writing but did not share it with family members or friends. In my head, I knew I was a writer. But I also knew that without objective criticism, the perceived quality of my writing would be blown way out of proportion.
And then one day, I discovered roleplaying.
This was a magical world where strangers told stories together by controlling one or two characters in a massive group plot that took unexpected twists and turns. Where the entire goal was comradery and pleasure. Where anything could happen and everyone had fun. My imagination was captured.
Shortly afterwards, I applied to join a roleplay on a forum I was already a part of. My heart raced as I put myself out there for the first time.
The author of the RPG replied, accepting my application. I tried to portray a calm I did not feel as we worked out what my character would do and what her role would be. And then it was up to me. My first post in the RPG. My first time roleplaying. My first publically shared writing. This was it.
I labored over that post. Carefully choosing my words. Balancing action with dialog. Bringing to life the characters the plot required. Editing, editing, editing. By the time I could no longer think of how else to improve the post, my brain hurt from the effort. But it had to be perfect.
And then, with my skull aching and my chest tight and blood racing through my veins, I hit the submit button.
There were no fireworks for this act of courage. No fanfares. No trophies. But I sat on the edge of my seat for the next day until I finally heard back from the author of the RPG.
She loved it.
I was incredulous. How could this be? She didn’t have a bias toward me. I wasn’t her friend or sister. But she still liked it? Was it possible that my writing was actually OK?
Relieved that I was accepted, but not completely convinced that someone wasn’t making a mistake, I stuck with the RPG. My cratered confidence was slightly bolstered as I kept contributing post after post to this large story.
As this was going on, I stumbled across the most glorious website I had ever seen in my entire life. A website entirely dedicated to fanfiction. The term was foreign to me, but reading just one story immediately made me realize that I’d been telling fanfictions for years. All the stories my sisters clamored to hear, the short nonsensical tales I told to entertain them during chores, the outrageous adventures that danced through my head were fanfictions.
This website was the home I’d been looking for all my life but never knew it.
I absorbed fanfics from my fandoms for hours, eyes glued to the screen, heart pounding. I had to be a part of this magical place.
Digging through my rickety computer, I searched for the few fanfics I’d actually written down. There were only a handful, but I posted one of them on the website anyway. It was a silly, indulgent comedic piece that featured no OCs and was written purely to make me laugh. After publication, it had very little traffic. But eventually, someone left a review.
It wasn’t a detailed review. All it said was “Haha. Poor [character]! That’s hilarious!”
But it was enough.
In that moment, I knew someone got the point of the story I’d crafted from start to finish. An absolute stranger understood where I was coming from, followed the story exactly as I intended it, and came out with the impression I’d meant to give.
It was enough to make me post more of my absurd little fanfics.
And then finally, comments that were not pure positive began to roll in. Some included critiques of the stories. Miraculously, I got hold of a beta reader, who was much older than me and had no problem kindly but firmly telling me what was crappy about my story.
More than any gushing over my stories, this was what improved my craft and skyrocketed my confidence. If these people saw the flaws in my writing but still liked it, then it must be really and truly OK.
Somewhere in the middle of all this, someone told me “You should do this for a living.” I don’t remember who it was. Or why they thought that. But the idea just clicked.
Taking a look at the communities around me, the support I’d received, the practice I’d got in, the confidence I’d gained, something within me resolved. For the first time in my life, it struck me with sudden clarity: I could do this for the rest of my life. I could make a living at it.
So that’s what I decided to do. And I haven’t regretted it for a moment.