The following is something that I've been meaning to write for a very long time, and rather than pack right now (which I should be doing) I figured I would do this instead. Why? Because I'm done with school stuff for the semester and I finally get to be irresponsible.
Dear Fanfic Writers,
I am about to tell you something you do not want to hear. Please understand, I say this out of love. I may offend some of my regular readers, but you have to understand that I say these things from experience. It is my goal to help you, not judge you. In fact, I hope you understand that none of this is actually meant to be judgmental, but instead friendly advice.
So, here we go. Fanfic writers, please stop writing fanfiction. Put down the pen, close your word processor, and stop. No, I don't think you're a bad person, and no there is nothing inherently wrong with fanfiction... but again, just stop.
Let me explain. I used to write fanfiction. I used to write a stable fanfic which was becoming actually rather lengthy, and while it was never completed - it was close to being so, and the plot was set to completely wrap up in a coherant fashion. But then, I stopped. Why did I stop? Well, I wish it was for the reasons I'm about to talk about, but in truth it was laziness. But it was from within this laziness that I was fortunate, and when I resolved to continue my creative endeavors I grasped the truth: That fanfiction is a big old waste of time.
Now, don't get mad - just hear me out.
It doesn't matter how good of a writer you are, your fanfiction is always going to be a part of someone else's world. You never have ownership of your ideas. Not to mention, you are literally locking yourself into a readership that will never outgrow the fraction of the fandom community that is willing to read fanfiction. You will never see a broad audience for your work. Your works will also be forever derivative, and no matter what anyone ever says, good fanfiction is still nothing better than good fanfiction.
Now here's the part where I tell you what you should do.
Create your own story. Create your own world. Create something new. We need new stories, we need new tales. Give the world a new concept to obsess over, even if it isn't any good by the fact that it's new will help enrich our culture. Grow your stories in your head, and if you have these great ideas, why not compose them within a reality which is entirely your own? Create a continuity you can influence, and be the official voice
Do not let someone else's work guide your creativity - make your own map, and chart courses that others haven't.
Well, good timing. I just finally called time on fanfiction writing myself only earlier this week. Never really satisfied me as it did when I actually finished a story of my own creation. Plus, it was very rarely I could actually enjoy it. Now I'm focused on what I want to write with what I create.
There is a positive to writing fanfiction: practice.
Don't get me wrong--I stopped writing fanfiction for exactly the reasons you listed above, Trae. But the novel-length piece of fanfiction that I wrote from my freshman year of high school until my junior of high school is somethng I'm proud of because I finally had accomplished something with a cohesive plot and decent characters. Never mind that I was borrowing Rowling's HP world and my best friend's original characters (since I wrote the damn thing, it's my characterizations!) the point is that I finally grasped the concept of plot. Unlike the 300 original rambling soap-opera pages that I wrote in middle school. Or the original yet cliche-filled pages I wrote before that. Now I'm fairly confident about creating a cohesive original world with characters, setting and plot. But trying write an original piece in a fantasy-universe of my own design...it was like trying to drive stick-shift before getting used to the gas being on the right and the gas on the left in an automatic. Fanfiction helped that transition.
To be fair, trae, most fanfic writers should also stop writing because they suck. But the handful of good ones do need to hear that message. (Like Matt Finch; I'm glad he started writing his own stuff, finally.)