Fan-fiction writers aren’t plagiarists who can’t come up with their own ideas, and they’re not all amateurs. Naomi Novik, whose Temeraire novels are best sellers and have been optioned by Peter Jackson, who directed the Lord of the Rings movies, writes fan fiction. “Fanfic writing isn’t work, it’s joyful play,” she says. “The problem is that for most people, any kind of writing looks like work to them, so they get confused why anyone would want to write fanfic instead of original professional material, even though they don’t have any problem understanding why someone would want to mess around on a guitar playing Simon and Garfunkel.”
That concept of “joyful play” resonates with me, of course, as a writer. What the Harry Potter and Star Trek universes offer the type of structure that poets have when they think about haikus or couplets. That play could be extended into the writing process as something extemporaneous, but bounded, strikes me as particularly meaningful.