What I Learned Writing 50,000 Words of Homestuck Fanfiction [CC]

Hello. My name is Sarah Zedig, I’m thirty years old, and I just wrote 50,000 words of
Homestuck fan fiction in a single week. Let’s talk about that. [music] Homestuck is a webcomic that ran from 2009
to 2016 for right around 8000 pages. I won’t try to explain what it’s about in
any kind of detail because it is one of the most absurdly complex and simultaneously simple
narratives in all of literature. In short, it’s a story about growing up on
the internet and fighting against the boundaries of a coercive and controlling system. Something something capitalism is bad, you get it. Homestuck has a notoriously voracious fandom
of seemingly perpetual teens that’s big and widespread enough that no matter what convention
you go to, big or small, there WILL be people in grey body paint with horns and a zodiac
sign on their shirt. It is the 11th most popular topic on Hugo
Award Winning fanfic site Archive of Our Own, and there are literally hundreds of fan adventures
that range from side stories and alternate universes to completely original works that
just borrow the format. But I actually don’t have a lot of experience
with the fandom personally. I only read Homestuck for the first time from
2016 to 2017, which was basically a dead era for the fans. There was a long promised spinoff game called
Hiveswap, but there really was no indication that it was even in development anymore which
led a lot of people to assume it was a doomed project. As for myself, there’s a lot that I felt like
I didn’t understand about Homestuck when I finished it? But even still it… kind of changed my life? I think? It’s hard to know how true that really is,
I might just be projecting because I’m literally doing a video about it. What I can say for sure is that Homestuck
legitimately expanded my understanding of relationships, and it introduced me to a lot
of really interesting twists on the concept of self-actualization. It’s also just a very gay story with lots
of really well written characters, and it definitely had more than nothing to do with
me *finally* coming out as transgender in the summer of 2017. However! It turns out I got in right around the same
time that the Homestuck hole began whispering its profane invitations for the first time in years.>>Sarah v/o: THIS IS MY HOLE. IT WAS MADE FOR ME Hiveswap Act One released in September 2017
after five years of development, Viz Media announced their plans to publish hardcover
books with author commentary. In April 2018 we saw the release of Hiveswap
Friendsim, a game I’ve talked about before on this channel as one of my favorites of 2018. This kicked up what I guess we’re calling
the Homestuck Renaissance? Youtuber OptimisticDuelist started their
Homestuck Explained series and Kate Mitchell started the Perfectly Generic Podcast, both
of which worked to popularize a conversation around Homestuck as a work of art to be taken
seriously. I should mention that I’m now friends with
both OptimisticDuelist and Kate, and I’ve guested on Pgen a couple times. So just keep in mind that when I’m giving
them free advertising, it’s definitely a nepotistic exploitation of my social capital. Because I’m a con artist, and I am conning you. The ending of Homestuck was divisive, but I fall into the camp of people who were satisfied with it? That said, I had some lingering questions
that were rooted in skepticism about the comic’s happily-ever-after conclusion. I fall into a minority of the fandom in that
I’ve always identified pretty strongly with series protagonist John Egbert? On the surface he’s sort of a generic, blank-slate
character, so it makes sense that he’d get less love than, say, the alien vampire whose
lipstick is also a chainsaw. But I always felt like there was this deep
existential dread underpinning his character especially towards the end of the comic,
and I wanted to explore that! So, between March 30th and April 3rd 2019,
I wrote a 9000 word fanfic called Godfeels which explored those ideas through conversations
with some of my favorite characters. And I really want to stress just how weird
and out of the blue this was for me. Godfeels was the first fiction I’d written
since 2012. I’ve been trying for years to get started
on any one of the handful of book ideas floating around in my head, but I was never able to
push past this lingering sense of inadequacy. I was a writing student long before I was
a film student, if you’d asked me at any point in my adolescence and early 20’s what I wanted
to be, I would have told you I wanted to be a novelist. So for me to have gone seven years without
writing anything substantial, I kinda just figured that whatever drive I used to have
was gone. So imagine my surprise when I sat down to
play with a few questions I had about a webcomic I liked and wound up writing 9000 words in
five days! And it wasn’t insubstantial stuff. A lot of its drama is based on my own depression
and abandonment issues to such a degree that I cried while writing it. Which seems silly, right? Fanfic is just a frivolous indulgence, not
a place for real emotions! I’m being facetious for the purpose of irony,
I completely disagree with that sentiment. And then on April 13th, just over a week after
I completed Godfeels, the Homestuck Epilogues dropped. They’re a 200,000 word bifurcated narrative
formatted as a fanfiction that explore questions of canonicity in the context of fandom, questions
about who gets to tell a story and how their bias influences it, questions about the rise
of fascism and how people you grew up with can mature into really terrible people. There’s also a prosthelytizing clown who’s
addicted to breast milk. So… The Epilogues are controversial for reasons
I won’t get into, but I really liked them and they changed a lot of how I thought about
Homestuck as a story, and how I thought about stories in general. And for all their provocative content, there’s
no denying that this sudden and gargantuan injection of new material really kicked the
fandom’s ass into overdrive. Anyway, now I’m going to tell you a story
about a Toblerone. [music] A notable fact about post-2018 Homestuck is
that Andrew Hussie is no longer its sole author. The Epilogues, Hiveswap Friendsim, Hiveswap
Act Two, and Pesterquest are all largely written by a diverse group of other artists, with
Hussie supervising and contributing to varying degrees from project to project. This is a big deal because Hussie, for all
his skill as a writer, is still a cis het white guy who started as something of an internet
edgelord in the early 2000’s. And you can see that legacy throughout the
first third of Homestuck, where occassionally homophobic and also extremely ableist words
and ideas get thrown around. Some of this is debatably defensible in the
sense that this is just how kids behaved on the internet in 2009? Like, I’m not gonna pretend that I didn’t
use slurs when I was 13. I did. All my friends did. We were a bunch of privileged gremlins who
either didn’t know any better or who were doing it because we thought it was funny. Part of what rings true about Homestuck for
me personally is that the kids grow out of that language and do at times directly confront
their biases, which is something I also had to do. But there are a lot of instances where this
defense really doesn’t hold up, and I think it’s important to remember that. Hussie himself is very open to criticism,
and he genuinely seems to have grown as a person in the last ten years. But the fact remains that the dude has a lot
of blind spots, as do we all, so the addition of a lot of new people to the team was hugely important in reshaping how Homestuck interfaced with its audience. Specifically, the radical politics that had
always been present in the comic became a whole hell of a lot more overt. Which, you can imagine, has done quite a bit
to help mature the conversation around Homestuck. Now, this has always been a fandom-facing
comic, taking suggestions, acknowledging theories, playing with ships, that sort of thing. But it feels in a very real way, at least
to me, that this interaction has grown to include more thematic and personal elements. And I think this has a lot to do with the
new talent. And by “I think this has a lot to do with
the new talent,” I mean I know for a fact it does, because Hussie said as much in the introduction to the print version of the Epilogues.>>Kate Mitchell: By deploying it as mock-fanfiction,
and including other authors, I’m making an overt gesture that is beginning to diminish
my relevance as the sole authority on the direction this story takes, what should be
regarded as canon, and even introducing some ambiguity into your understanding of what
canon means as the torch is being passed into a realm governed by fan desires. The fanfiction format is effectively a call
to action, for another generation of creators to imagine different outcomes, to submit their
own work within the universe, to extend what happens beyond the epilogues, or to pave over
them with their own ideas. So now I’m looking to all of you on the matter
of where to go next. Wherever the most conscientious and invested
members of fandom want to drive this universe, as well as the standards by which we engage
with media in general, that will be the direction I follow. Which at last gets us to… the Toblerone. On August 8th, Andrew Hussie started an Instagram
account called eboyhussie, where… [trails off] Anyway, for his 40th birthday a few weeks
later, Hussie hid a box of signed Toblerones in Toblerone cave in California. Why did he do this? What was the point? I wish I could give you an easy answer, but
I’m just the messenger. So, okay, Toblerones in a cave, Hussie signed
them, that’s the first part of the story. The second part requires some context. Sometime after the Epilogues, a head canon
emerged that asked- what if John Egbert is transgender? Head canons, in case you don’t know, are similar
to fan theories in that they aren’t strictly canonical but may arguably be supported by
the text. The difference, in my experience, is that
a head canon tends to be more mundane and emotional? Like, Sans Undertale as post-death Ness
Earthbound is a theory, but Sans Undertale having raised baby Papyrus with a young Dr.
Gaster is a head canon. You’ll see these pop up a lot on fandom-specific
tumblrs and reddits, VERY often in direct proportion with how much LGBT and POC representation
the thing in question DOESN’T have. For instance, all the humans in Homestuck
are explicitly aracial. Which is a nice gesture, but most people just kinda read the kids as white anyway. But even in the face of that, you still get
a whole mountain of art and fan fiction reading Roxy as black, John as Asian, Jake as Arab,
etc. Which is to say: where the comic doesn’t provide,
fans pick up the slack. Head canons can have varying degrees of virality,
but it’s rare to see one spread so far and so fast as June Egbert. To me, it felt like June went from a few neat
posts on Twitter to an almost unanimously accepted head canon in just a couple of days. And honestly, I can see why. Like I said before, Egbert always had minimal
interests and characterization compared to the rest of Homestuck’s cast. That’s an experience that a lot of trans people,
myself included, can really identify with, because growing up with dysphoria often has
the result of distancing you from the things and people you thought you loved. As a trans person who always identified with
Egbert, I think it’s pretty obvious why I’m a fan of this head canon. Well, right at the zenith of June’s adoption
by the community is when Hussie hid the aforementioned Toblerones. The first person to find them tweeted a picture
and had an exchange that ended with “Having proven myself both conscientious and invested,
I declare June Egbert real.” And then Andrew Hussie violated his long standing
social media blackout to say, “You were the first to find my treasure, and so it will be done!” True to his word, Hussie followed the direction
set by the conscientious and invested members of the community, snapped his fingers like
Thanos if Thanos wasn’t a Malthusian crackpot, and made June Egbert canon. All because of a magical Toblerone. This, of course, prompted a deluge of art
and fiction about June- her trying on dresses and skirts, hanging out with the many ladies
of Homestuck, generally being happy and having a good time. This stuff made me feel some pretty big emotions
because I’ve actually felt a little bit like I’ve been backsliding on my transition lately? I don’t have a lot of meatspace friends, I’m
self employed, I basically have no reason to leave my room which means I don’t have
much encouragement to improve my makeup skills or build a consistent ensemble. So yeah, seeing this character I’ve identified
with for years get to feel the euphoria I’ve been kinda lacking was… a big deal. But it also rang kinda false. I think June is a wish fulfillment character,
in the sense that the ease of her transition, the acceptance of all these friends she’s
known for years, is cathartic and nice to imagine in a world where that kind of thing
rarely happens. It certainly didn’t happen for me! And I kinda think it wouldn’t happen for June, either. Which is why I decided to write a
sequel to Godfeels about my own version of June Egbert. God, I jokingly started this video like an
AA meeting? But we’re 2500 words in and I *just* got to
the thing I wanted to talk about. Y’all… [music] I started Godfeels 2 part 1 on September 3rd
and finished part 2 on September 12th, with a surprise NSFW interlude happening on September
13th, all three of which totalled close to 51,000 words. We’re gonna just shrug our shoulders and say
that ten days is a week and round down to 50k words because it sounds better. If you disagree with my methodology, I dunno,
go read a calculus textbook or something. Get off my ass. For the last week, with the exception of the
one day I forced myself to go to a party, I did literally nothing else besides write. I didn’t work on videos, I didn’t work on
podcasts, I didn’t live stream, I barely even tweeted! I was POSSESSED.
And this story isn’t even done yet! I had to force myself to reach an appropriate
narrative stopping point just so I could do ANY one of the things that actually pays my
bills. But I wouldn’t be making a video about it
if were just like… I dunno, a fun story? I’m not doing this to advertise my fan fiction although please do go read it it’s very good, I’m doing this because it was actually kind of a
transformative experience for me? To elaborate on that, we’re gonna talk a little
about what actually happens in Godfeels 2. I had every intention of writing another fluffy
escapist fantasy, albeit one that had a bit more edge as June’s friends gently push back
against her new gender identity. But instead of this being “John realizes she’s
trans and comes out as June,” I imagined that John’s gender literally split from her in
adolescence and manifested itself in physical form which is a thing that makes sense for
Homestuck, I promise and took the shape of Vriska Serket, a murderous spider-girl who
is notorious for having done nothing wrong and who once force-femmed John early in the
comic. The big centerpiece of part 1 is the reunification
of John with her Vriska gender, at which point the trademark second person narration of Homestuck
switches to first person. Closeted trans people sometimes disassociate
from themselves and view their lives as if they’re happening to someone else, and coming
out often has the surprising effect of making you feel embodied. So yeah, symbolically it made sense to me
that June would take over her own narrative when she came out. Now, I intended that to be just a fun thing? Like a fun thing that happens and then the
story goes on? But Vriska has a reputation for taking things over, and… she did that for me, too. And as I was writing, I quickly realized that
my version of June didn’t want to just be the female version of John, but rather kind
of a whole new character synthesized from two very different people with two very different
temperaments and levels of impulse control. So when June comes out to all her friends
and they prove to be more skeptical than she was hoping, June gets furious and causes a
ruckus before storming out. After that, she gets drunk, takes some alien
drugs, and uhhh… does some shit to her friends. The rest of the fic deals with her desire
to make up with those friends so things can go back to normal, while also refusing to
apologize because she knows she was in the right. Then misadventures happen, she gets the shit
kicked out her, she cries a lot, eventually she shaves her head into a mohawk and gets
a tattoo. Also yes by the way, that is fanart someone
drew of my version of June. I’m still just floored that this is a thing
that happened. Please draw more art of my beautiful punk
rock disaster. I said before that June is a wish fulfillment
fantasy for a lot of people, and the same is true for me. My version of June is a bitter, angry, impulsive
person who has a powerful drive to leave a mark on the world that she isn’t entirely
sure what to do with yet. She doesn’t take guff from anyone and basically
never apologizes, and like… GOD I wish I could be that much of a 8itch! Writing her has been this wonderful vicarious
thrill at the idea of just going ham on someone who mildly pissed me off. I went to pains to make sure June isn’t evil,
and to show that she’s deeply conflicted with what she’s doing… but at the same time,
what does it say about me that I found her worst qualities more than a little aspirational? There’s a moment in a later chapter where
June is openly examining her violent impulses where she says,>>June Egbert: I think what I’m really trying
to avoid thinking is that… I wanted to do it 8ecause they deserved it. I don’t mean in a literal sense that they
deserved to die for 8eing kinda shitty to me one time. That’s cartoonishly excessive. I just mean that… Here I am. ME. I AM HERE. I’m telling my own story. And they’re acting like it’s an inconvenience. They’re acting like I don’t know what I’m
talking a8out. And it makes me angry. It’s disappointing. It’s frustr8ing. And sometimes… Sometimes when you’re frustr8ed you just want
to kill a motherf8cker. That is! A dangerous sentiment!! To just sort of put in a bit of writing that
everyone can see!!! I immediately thought, wow, this could conceivably
get me on a watch list. It’s genuinely a bit alarming for this to
be an empowerment fantasy for me! But, in the same way that June has to be honest
with herself and confront these feelings head on, I need to do the same. [music] Trans women, in a general sense, have to put
on a smiling veneer in public, which is more or less true of everybody. But for trans people there’s a very particular
threat lying beneath the surface of every public interaction in that a lot of folks
have really regressive ideas about what trans people are, and are perfectly happy reacting
with violence if we cross some invisible border of civility. So we put on a patient face and shrug through
the day as best we can and hope that we get home before anyone else can throw fuel on
the garbage fire. And it’s not like this is a huge imposition
or anything, I think most of us just want to be nice most of the time. But sometimes… don’t you just want to rip
into somebody? Don’t you wish you could just beat the snot
out of that person who won’t get off their phone in the movie theater, or who misgenders
you when you order coffee, or who takes turns too slow in traffic? Please say with a straight face that in this
year of our lord 2019 you have never once looked in the direction of the united states
house of congress and thought, boy howdy, I sure wish I could give them a piece of my mind! Now, this feels like a dangerous thought for
pretty obvious reasons. America has… a gun problem. And we really want to believe that there’s
a fundamental difference between people who go on killing sprees, and people who don’t. But I don’t think there is. I don’t think anyone is a good or a bad person, good isn’t a thing you are, it’s a thing you do. Your best friend can still screw up and do
something that really hurts, because we human beings are A MESS. My point is, I think we all to varying degrees
have these violent impulses, this primal desire to just go beast mode on someone who we think
deserves it. But we don’t, because that would be a bad
thing to do. Hurting people, it turns out, isn’t good. Fun fact! Unless they’re [email protected] Don’t tolerate intolerance. When we pretend we don’t have these impulses,
that we’re pure of heart in at least this one respect, then all we’re really doing is
setting ourselves up for failure. Because regardless of whether or not these
dumb and not so dumb daily frustrations are, cosmically speaking, “fair,” they still stack
up. Like, it wasn’t that long ago that I cried
on the kitchen floor for twenty minutes because a cabinet door wouldn’t open, YES, THAT HAPPENED. But it wasn’t just the door, it was a week
of little frustrations that I’d been ignoring, all these things that were just… piling
up in the back of my head, souring my mood and priming me to throw a tantrum like a big
baby when the feelings got too big for me to handle. We have violent impulses, just as we have
sexual impulses. These are not good or bad, they are neutral. Functionally, they’re nothing! They’re thoughts, literally the most ephemeral
thing there is. Now, you can chastise yourself every time
they pop up, feel guilty for how awful a person you are, do some kind of symbolic self-flagellation,
try to forget it, and then repeat the whole process again another day… or, you can look
at this thought and really, truly ask yourself: where is this coming from? Why am I thinking this? There’s no reason to be afraid of these thoughts
because they aren’t actions, they don’t exist in the world, no one is judging you for them. What they will judge you for is if it’s the
millionth time someone’s pissed you off in a month and you lash out and do something
stupid that gets you in trouble, all because you kept telling yourself, “no, I’m fine,
it doesn’t matter, it’s nothing, I’m fine.” We have to be honest and look our worst thoughts
straight in the eyes, because they reveal true and often ugly things about us. We have to do this because we can’t fix a
problem if we pretend it doesn’t exist. Writing this angry, impulsive, violent trans
girl was cathartic for me because she’s absolutely nothing like me. Except… she is. Because I wrote her. She’s got to be an expression of something
real about myself. And that means there’s a part of me that must
identify with her. A part of me that wants to be like her. Right after I came out as trans, a lot of
my cisgender friends ghosted me and disappeared from my life. This is, unfortunately, a pretty common experience, which is why we trans girls tend to run in packs. It was a time when I desperately needed support
from the people closest to me, and the fact is they let me down. For a long time, I blamed this on myself,
like I was asking too much of them. I kept saying, no, they’re not transphobic,
they’re good allies, it’s just extenuating circumstances! All while I was deeply depressed and borderline
nonfunctioning as a human being. It took me a long while to realize that, whether
or not they had backwards ideas about trans people, they still did something shitty that
hurt me tremendously. Because, again, “good” isn’t a thing you are,
it’s a thing you do. And when I finally internalized that it wasn’t
my fault, I got angry. So angry it hurt. And all I wanted was to go back in time and
scream in their faces and push them around and break shit until they finally realized
how much pain they caused me. And those thoughts scared me! Every time they bubbled up, I tried to tamp
them down as fast as possible, because I am not a violent person, I can barely even stand
realistic violence in movies anymore, that impulse isn’t me, I’m a pacifist, what the
heck am I THINKING? What I realized as I was writing this very
thinly veiled version of myself acting out some of my own violent fantasies was that
those thoughts were an expression of something. I didn’t literally want to hurt my friends. I just wanted them to see me, and the fact
that they seemed so dead set on remaining blind really pissed me off. My resentment at that entire situation might
be greedy and simplified and certainly biased in my favor… but it’s also a real thing
that I feel. And through writing June, I finally laid out
for myself the core of those thoughts and feelings. I wish I could be more assertive. I wish I wasn’t so worried all the time about
invading people’s space or wasting their time. I wish I wasn’t so passive in the face of
people treating me like shit. I wish I was brave enough to never apologize
for being exactly who I am. Now, these were desires that I’d expressed
before in words, but saying something isn’t the same as doing something. But through June, I was able to synthesize
those desires into a set of behaviors and actions that I could actually practice. Almost immediately after that realization,
things started to change. I mentioned earlier that I went to a party
in the middle of this writing process, and when I’m at parties I tend to stick by myself
and not engage much? But I kept thinking about my June every time
I started to do that, and I could practically hear her telling me, no, to hell with that,
go talk to people. And I did! I was social, someone taught me a magic trick
I don’t remember, I FLIRTED with somebody! Did you know you can just DO that? Apparently you can just DO that!! So in a very real sense, this 50k word Homestuck
fan fiction was both an outlet for my petty grievances and a focal point for the ways
that I wished I could be. When I really looked at myself I recognized
there’s a middle ground that June herself has to reach, and that I want to reach, which
is a place of being assertive and not apologizing for being a person with wants and needs, without
becoming unnecessarily mean about it. And I guess the reason I wanted to do this
video is the whole time writing this fanfic, going through this process of introspection,
there was a voice in the back of my head kinda mocking me for writing fan fiction? Come on, Sarah, you’re thirty years old, what
are you doing?? But the thing is, unironically? This is the best thing I’ve ever written. It’s not quite finished yet so who knows if
it’ll careen off the rails and into a ditch, but right now… I’m so immensely proud of it. I’ve poured so many of my own experiences
into this thing, and I’ve gotten tons of comments from folks saying how much it surprised and
moved them, how SEEN they felt by a story that was honest with itself in the way I wanted
Godfeels to be. And there’s a big part of me now that wants
to apologize for writing fanfic, or to make fun of myself, do SOMETHING to ironically
distance myself from fandom so the skeptics out there can say “well, at least she feels
the appropriate amount of shame for her crimes.” But I’m not doing that because I’m not ashamed
of writing fanfiction, I’m not afraid to say that it’s well-written, and I honestly don’t
care if anyone watching this thinks I’m pretentious or full of myself for saying so. I got a number of messages and curious cats
to the effect of “wow, you’re so brave to post your fanfic on main,” and there’s a big
part of me that just got FURIOUS about that sentiment. What’s brave about writing a thing and sharing
it with people? Sorry I’m not cringing at my art! Oops, I’m being sincere about something now Reddit is going to make fun of me, oh nooo! 4000 words of that 50k are one long, extraordinarily
consensual sex scene between two trans women. I linked it on my twitter, and I’m talking
about it in a video to my 20,000 subscribers, because I legitimately do not understand why
we feel this cultural compulsion to pretend that we are not passionate about the things
we’re passionate about. I got my start writing fan fiction. I love fandom generally, I love cosplay, I
love fan art, I love it all! And I’ve also written a lot of original fiction,
including a whole-ass novel. There are a lot of people out there who like
to mock and belittle fanfic writers and artists as just, I dunno, riding on the coattails
of an existing property? Of course a lot of these are the same kinds
of people who petitioned HBO to redo the eighth season of Game of Thrones, so make of that
what you will! But what fanfic does is allow you to step
into an existing space and play with the toys that someone else left for you. Original stuff requires world building and
new characterization and, I dunno, sometimes you just want to jump straight to the good
stuff that is the whole reason why you wanted to write the damn thing in the first place! And it’s good practice to do so. Writing is writing no matter whether you can
sell it or not, and IN FACT, quite a few people have gotten professional gigs from fan works. Everyone brought in to make new official Homestuck
were fans who have just been doing fanfic and art for a long time. Toby Fox did Homestuck music for years, used
his fandom clout to fund Undertale, and now he’s friends with Masuhiro Sakurai and SANS the SKELLINGTON is in SMASH. A SONG THAT PLAYED WHILE VRISKA SERKET KILLED
A MAN IS IN SMASH. What I learned writing 50k words of Homestuck
fanfiction in a week is that fanfic is just as legitimate an art form as any other, just
as capable of philosophical introspection, just as personal and moving and funny as anything
we might call “original.” Fan works can change people’s lives, allow
them new avenues for exploring themselves and their identities, give them a model to
practice on to hone their craft, provide a safe place for experimentation and indulgence. You can’t tell me that’s a waste of time. ALSO DANTE’S INFERNO IS JUST BIBLE FAN FICTION GET OFF YOUR HIGH HORSES YOU FU- Sources in the description below the video!

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