Sunday, January 20, 2019

A Few Words For New Writers

You're absolutely right. The story you're working on sucks. It's terrible. It's unreadable. Worse than that, it's unpublishable.

And you know why?

Because you haven't finished it yet. And, unless it's by Franz Kafka or Jane Austen or J. D. Salinger, nobody is going to pay good money to publish an unfinished story.

Moreover, until it's finished, you don't know what changes you're going to have to make in order for it to be the best possible story it can be. So the odds are that your story is a bit of a mess and will remain so until you undo the inconsistencies, rewrite the problem sections, cut the superfluous ones, and do the final polish draft.

Meanwhile, instead of simply putting your head down and plowing ahead, you're staring at what you've written and comparing it to the finished work of writers you admire. Theirs is so marvelous! Yours is so... unfinished. Maybe, you think, the best thing would be to just erase the file and spend the rest of the day playing solitaire online.

But the work of those writers you like so much was nowhere near so admirable while it was being made. Trust me on this one. Sausage ain't even in it!

You may be a very dear friend, someone to whom I owe a lot and for whom I would walk a mile barefoot through the snow if need be, but I am not going to let you read my rough drafts.

The best writing advice I ever got was from Jack Dann. He asked me once what I was working on and I said something like, "Well, I have this story set in space but I'm not crazy about the characterization..."

Jack grabbed my lapels then and shook me. He literally did. Then he said, "Michael! Never criticize yourself! That's what other people are for."

So, when you're writing, your first responsibility to your craft is to learn to turn off that internal critic, that little Stalin of the soul for the duration. You can turn it back on when you're going over the finished story to see what changes need to be made, if you like. But keep its grubby little hands off the actual writing.

End of sermon. Go thou and sin no more.

And those "other people" Jack talked about . . . ?

They've never let me down. 


Thursday, January 3, 2019

Ginungagap in China


I'm in print again! "Ginungagap," my second published story (and also, I am vain enough to point out, my second story to be on the Nebula ballot) is in the current issue of  Science Fiction World Translation.

It's always a particular pleasure to appear in China. Partly it's because I have friends in there. Partly it's because I admire Science Fiction World both as a magazine and as a publishing house. But mostly it's because this is a very exciting time for science fiction in China.

The first time I visited China, over a decade ago, I was told that science fiction there was still a Young Adult literature. Its readership peaked in the senior year of high school, dwindled throughout university, and went to zero upon graduation. Last year, I attended a bookstore event in Beijing that was thronged with adults. So the field is growing and evolving just as fast as everything else in China is.

It is in such times that new ideas arise and remarkable works get written. Which is why you should be reading all the Chinese science fiction you can find.

As well as all the other science fiction you can find, of course.

And as always . . .

I'm on the road again! Or will be soon. I'm headed for the north coast of Scotland, where I'll be teaching at a workshop and retreat in Findhorn. Whenever I teach, I give the students all the attention I have. So I may or may not be able to blog then.

I promise I'll try.