L. Ron Hubbard as president of the New York Chapter of the American Fiction Guild in 1936

Advice to the Word-Weary by L. Ron Hubbard

L. Ron Hubbard, center, as president of the New York Chapter of the American Fiction Guild in 1936. The Guild’s membership included Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Once upon a time Ye Ed wrote me a letter in which he stated that he did not want a dissertation upon the way Keats used a comma. He wanted, he claimed, an article in which there was a great deal of sound advice about writing and a number of examples.

While cleaning my files I ran across the following letters and carbon copies. If I wanted to be grasping, I could write two dozen articles using this material.

Instead, by cutting out the funny sayings and things, here is raw, solid meat as handed out to certain gentlemen and ladies who, somehow or other, obtained the address and thought, for some reason, that I could write.

•••

L. Ron Hubbard
New York City

Dear Mr. Hubbard;
For a long time I have been writing fiction. Most of it came back and lies neglected in my files along with letters from editors and plain rejects.

I have not managed to sell a single line. Of course I had some published in the school paper and a few places like that, but I think that if I could get at it right, I could earn a good living by writing.

The man down at the service station has read a lot of my stories and has given me quite a lot of good advice on them. He took a writing course, I think, or maybe it was journalism, at the local university.

Is it asking too much for you to answer this question? How did you start to write and sell?

Respectfully,
Jim Higgins
Cornshuck, Iowa

•••

Jim Higgins
Cornshuck, Iowa

Dear Higgins;
It isn’t a question of how I started to write, it’s a question of why.

There’s a world of difference there. I take it that you have a job, otherwise you wouldn’t eat and if you don’t eat, you don’t last long.

We assume, therefore, that you are eating. That is bad, very bad. No man who wants to start writing should be able to eat regularly. Steaks and potatoes get him out of trim.

When a man starts to write, his mental attitude should be one of anguish. He has to sell something because he has to pay the grocery bill.

My advice to you is simple. If you have the idea that you can write salable stuff, go off someplace and get short of money. You’ll write it all right, and what’s more, you’ll sell it.

Witness the case of a lady I know in New York. She was plugging at writing for some fifteen years without selling a line. She left the Big Town with her husband. In the Pacific Northwest her husband died and left her stranded.

She went to work in a lumber mill and wrote a book about it and sold it first crack out. She worked as a waitress and wrote a book about that and sold it. Having succeeded with two books, she went back to the Big Town and got herself a job in the library until the returns came in. She wrote all the time after that but she was eating. In sawmill and hash house she wasn’t living comfortably. She needed the extra.

She hasn’t sold a line since.

The poet in the garret is not a bad example, after all. Personally, I write to pay my bills.

Jack London, I am told, plastered his bills over his writing desk and every time he wanted to get up or go arty he glanced at them and went right on grinding it out.

I think if I inherited a million tomorrow, my stuff would go esoteric and otherwise blah.

I started to write because I had come back from the West Indies where I had been hunting gold and discovered that we had a depression going on up here. Dead broke and with a newly acquired wife I had to start eating right away.

I started writing one story a day for six weeks. I wrote that story in the afternoon and evening. I read the mag I was to make the next day before I went to bed. I plotted the yarn in my sleep, rose and wrote it, read another mag all the way through, went to bed….

Out of that month and a half of work I have sold fiction to the sum of nine hundred dollars. At the end of the six weeks I received checks amounting to three hundred and two dollars and fifty cents.

Unable to stand prosperity, I left for California. I got broke there, wrote for a month without stopping to breathe, sold eleven hundred dollars’ worth. Nothing like necessity to take all this nonsense about how you ought to reform editors right out of your head.

As far as that guy down at the service station is concerned, he may be okay, but remember this: You are the writer. You have to learn your own game. And if he’s never hit the bread and butter side of the business, he knows less about it than you do, all courses to the contrary.

Write me again when you’ve gone and done some tall starving.

Best regards,
L. Ron Hubbard
New York City

•••

L. Ron Hubbard
Podunk, Maryland

Dear Mr. Hubbard;
I have always felt that I could write if I tried, but somehow I’ve been so busy during the last few years that I haven’t had much chance.

I was married when I was very young and every time I started my writing, Joe would either move (Joe is my husband) or we’d have to both work because of the bills.

Most of my children have grown up now to a point where they can take care of themselves and although I have some time now I don’t seem to be able to get down to work. I have a lot of stories in the back of my head but I just can’t find time or ways and means of getting them down on paper. I feel that this is mostly mental.

Would you tell me how you write?

Wishfully,
Mary Stein
Swampwater, Florida

•••

Mrs. Mary Stein
Swampwater, Florida

Dear Mary Stein;
Remember when you read this that I didn’t ask to be appointed your psychoanalyst. I am nothing but a hard-working writer, after all, using fictitious characters and working them over. When real people get planted in front of me I stand back and gape and wonder if it can be true.

Let me tell you about Margaret Sutton. She writes some of the best children’s books being written today. She has five kids, I think. A lot of them need plenty of attention. She has to support them and do her own work and everything.

One day somebody asked her why she didn’t get a maid now she had so much royalty money. She blinked and said, “A maid? Why, what would I do with my extra time?”

Well, there you have it. Maybe it is mental.

From Crabtown to Timbuktu, when I have been introduced as a writer, somebody always has said, “Well, now, I could write too if I just had some time.”

That is a queer mental quirk with people. If a man is a writer, he is doing something everybody thinks they can do. A chap who is the head of a big insurance company, highly successful, once said to me, “I would like to write, but I never seem to be able to find the time.”

It’s their way of apology, I guess. Nearly everyone makes that remark and, to be brutally frank, it is a source of much merriment in the professional ranks.

I am not one to talk about working and writing in the same breath. I have a law around the house here which says that writing comes first and to hell with everything else. The lawn grows into an alfalfa field, the pipes drip merrily, the floors need paint, but I turn a deaf ear to pleas and go right on writing.

I have found this to be the case. My time at the typewriter is worth, per hour, what the average artisan gets per week. I do not work the same hours he does. I work far less, but I work much harder.

Therefore I paint my floors and fix my pipes with the typewriter keys, if you get me. One short story will pay for all the work to be done around this house in a month including the maid’s wages.

People let petty things keep them away from a typewriter. I think that is true because they want to be kept away from the machine. When you start to write there seems to be an invisible wall separating you from the keyboard. Practice is the only thing which will dissipate it.

If you make yourself write during trying times, you are doing a lot toward whipping your jinx.

Recently I was very ill in a New York apartment. My agent, Ed Bodin, and his wife came in. My wife had been there with me for several days and was worn out. Ed and Juliet wanted to take her to a show.

They left at 8:45 p.m. They returned at 11:30. In the interim I had grown restless. I felt that I was stale, would be unable to write anything for months. Then I got mad at such a traitorous thought, climbed out of bed, sat down at the mill and wrote a story which I gave to Ed upon his return.

I knew, of course, that the story would be rotten. Half the time I couldn’t see the paper, I was so dizzy.

But I guess I was wrong. Ed sold it almost immediately to Detective Fiction Weekly. It was “The Mad Dog Murders.”

My contention is that, if you have the stuff on the ball, you can write anytime, anyplace and anything.

Best regards,
L. Ron Hubbard
Podunk, Maryland

•••

L. Ron Hubbard
Unusualado, California

Dear Mr. Hubbard;
I been pounding out a lot of western yarns and shipping same to certain editors located in New York where the only horse in town is located on a whisky bottle.

These gents claim, per letter and returned stories, that I haven’t got any real feel of the west.

The same irritates me considerable. I spotted a yarn of yours and you seemed to know hosses hands down and guns likewise and that don’t measure like most of these western yarns.

I think maybe I’d better go back to wranglin’ hosses because maybe I don’t know how to put it in stories. I sure do know something about putting them in corrals.

I thought it was about time somebody wrote some western stories that knew what they was writing about. I still think so.

The question is, what the hell can I do about it?

Yours truly,
Steed Monahan
General Delivery
Stud Horse, Arizona

•••

Steed Monahan
General Delivery
Stud Horse, Arizona

Dear Steed Monahan;
You have laid the finger on something. I’m not sure what. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that you have the dope but lack the knack of writing fiction. You know there might be something in that. Anyway, I’m no judge because I never read any of your stuff.

This question once leaped up at a New York Chapter meeting of the American Fiction Guild. Clee Woods, Al Echols, Sayer, and maybe Tom Roan got pretty deep into the argument about whether or not you had to know the west to write westerns.

I wasn’t so very interested because my forte is adventure and such, but I listened because I had been raised in Montana but had never been able to sell a good western story.

These lads who knew the west had it all settled to their satisfaction that you had to have the dope and data before you could put down the words and syllables.

Then Frank Gruber stood up and said he’d sold a few westerns that year. Fifteen or so. And that was odd because, he said, he had never been closer to a ranch than editing a chicken paper in the middle west.

So there you are. The dope and data does not outweigh good story writing. I can write stories about pursuit pilots, stories about coal miners, stories about detectives, stories about public enemies, G-men, arctic explorers, Chinese generals, etc.

Which doesn’t mean that I had to shoot down another plane to get the dope. I have never: 1. Been in a coal mine. 2. Been a detective. 3. A public enemy. 4. Been a G-man. 5. Explored the Arctic. 6. Been a Chinese general.

And yet I am proud of a record which was only marred by one inaccuracy in a story, and that was very trivial. By getting experience somewhere near the field, I can exploit the field.

For instance, of late, I have been looking into dangerous professions. I’ve climbed skyscrapers with steeplejacks, dived with deep-sea divers, stunted with test pilots, and made faces at lions. But at no time was I actually a member of that particular profession of which I was to write. I didn’t have to be because the research enabled me to view it from a longer, more accurate range.

The only thing you can do is try hard to write a swell, fast-action western yarn. Peddle it to every western book in the field. Ask for some honest comments on it.

But before you do this, be sure you are writing what these magazines are buying.

A good story comes first. Information comes second. An editor of one of our best books recently told me, “Accuracy be damned. Very few gentlemen will know you’re wrong. Give us the story. We can buy the accuracy from a twenty-five-a-week clerk with a library card. You don’t have to know. You can write.”

Ride ’em, cowboy, and don’t pull any leather until they spot your trouble for you. But if you can’t write, you can’t write, no matter how much you know.

And I guess that’s all I know about that subject.

Best regards,
L. Ron Hubbard
Unusualado, California

•••

Mr. L. Ron Hubbard
New Orleans, Louisiana

Dear Mr. Hubbard;
During the last few months I have managed to sell some of my stories to magazines located in New York. I have every assurance that I can keep right on selling these stories of mine and I think it’s about time I made a break for the Big Town.

I’ve been reading the writers’ magazines and I think you have to know all about New York and the markets before you can really get places in this game.

I’ve been making over a hundred dollars a month in the writing game and I’ve sold stories to__________, and__________. I asked one of the editors about this and he told me by all means look him up when I got to New York. As that sounds encouraging, I’m planning on leaving.

Jeb Uglook wants me to go with him to Baffin Land on his whaler this summer, but I think I better give my writing a break and go to New York instead.

But I thought, before I made a decision, I’d better write to some professional writer like you who’s been in New York a lot and ask him what conditions were there.

My stories are mostly about this part of the world as I am always cruising around or trekking off someplace with guys like Jeb Uglook, or Biff Carlson (he’s the Mountie here), but I think I ought to have a wider field for my work. Detective stories, for instance, and things like that.

Would you tell me about New York?

Sincerely,
Arch Bankey
GeeHaw Factory
Hudson Bay

•••

Mr. Arch Bankey
GeeHaw Factory
Hudson Bay

Dear Arch Bankey;
A few years ago I knew a beachcomber in Hong Kong. All he ever talked about was the day he would go to New York. That was the place. New York!

But he was smarter than the rest of us. He never went. He just talked about it.

There’s nothing like knowing your editors, of course. Editors are swell people as a rule. Nothing like getting their slant face to face. Increase your sales no end.

But if you think you can go to New York and live there on a hundred a month, you’re as crazy as a locoed wolf. Think about it from this angle:

In New York you’ll have noise, bad living conditions, and higher expenses. You will have to keep right on writing to keep eating.

You are used to writing where the biggest noise is a pine tree shouting at its neighbor. That is the condition you know. You can write there.

Chances are a hundred to one that you won’t be able to turn out a line when the subway begins to saw into your nerves, when the L smashes out your eardrums overhead, when ten thousand taxi drivers clamp down on their horns.

If you can’t write, you can’t eat because you won’t have enough reserve.

Besides, the markets you mention are not very reliable. Those eds are the brand that want something for nothing. Wait until you sell the big books in the pulp field. Wait until you crack into at least four of the big five publishing houses. Wait until you are pretty sure you know what you’re doing in the game before you make a change.

I’ve wrecked myself time after time with changes just because I have itchy feet. I have just come from New York. I got along all right, for a very little while, then the town got me. I had a big month and managed to get out.

But once New York gets you, you’re got.

Some of the swellest guys I know are in New York. Also some of the worst heels.

Here’s my advice, take it for what it’s worth to you.

Jeb Uglook and the whaler will provide you with lots of story material. Go with him and write it. Trek out with that Mountie and study the way he goes about it. Take your trips with your eyes open for data.

Neither Jeb nor Carlson will let you starve. If you can’t put out the wordage, you’ll find editors far from interested in you.

Write everything you can, study the mags you’re sending stuff to, collect every scrap of story material from GeeHaw Factory. Collect yourself checks to the amount of one thousand dollars, no more no less. With that all in one piece, shove off for New York.

On arrival, get yourself the best clothes you can buy. Register at the Waldorf-Astoria. Take editors out to lunch in a Cadillac taxi.

Stay in New York until all you’ve got left is your return trip ticket to GeeHaw. Pack up and leave right away quick for home.

Don’t try to work in New York. Don’t try to make it your home. Go there with a roll and do the place right, then grab the rattler for Hudson Bay before the glamor wears off.

Sitting in a shabby room, pounding a mill with the landlady pounding on the door is fine experience, but I think gunning for whales up off Baffin Land is much more to your liking.

Best regards,
L. Ron Hubbard
New Orleans, Louisiana

•••

And this, my children, endeth the lesson. Any questions?

 

L. Ron Hubbard

L. Ron Hubbard, New York City, 1935

With 19 New York Times bestsellers and more than 350 million copies of his works in circulation, L. Ron Hubbard is among the most acclaimed and widely read authors of our time. For a more extensive biography, go to www.galaxypress.com/l-ron-hubbard

Pulp magazine covers featuring L. Ron Hubbard stories

History of Helping New Writers by Algis Budrys

L. Ron Hubbard, 1935Like other author-adventurers with names like Melville, Twain, London and Hemingway, L. Ron Hubbard’s experiences and travels—as an explorer and prospector, master mariner and daredevil pilot, philosopher and artist—found their way through his writing into the fabric of popular fiction and into the currents of American culture for fifty years. Distinguished editor, literary critic and grand master of science fiction Frederik Pohl said of L. Ron Hubbard: “There are bits and pieces from Ron’s work that became part of the language in ways that very few other writers managed.… He had a gift for inventing colorful pictures that still stay with me…. Pictures that stayed in your head.” At the same time, his unique voice and style helped reshape and establish new literary trends for many of the popular genres he wrote in—from science fiction to fantasy, and from horror to adventure—resulting in a compelling literary legacy. And what a legacy it was: 19 New York Times bestsellers, stretching over 50 years from his earliest commercially published story, “The Green God,” in 1934, to the completion of a mammoth ten-volume novel, Mission Earth, in 1987. His most signal talent, however, was perhaps the ability to create rich characters and place them in unusual circumstances.

In his 1940 horror classic, Fear, Hubbard frames an unrelenting nightmare of the macabre around bookish and mousey James Lowry, Professor of Ethnology at Atwater College, who after publicly debunking the existence of demons and devils finds himself confronted with unexplainable and ghastly real-life evidence to the contrary. Horror/suspense giant Stephen King acknowledges Fear as “one of the few books in the chiller genre which actually merits employment of the overworked adjective ‘classic,’ as in ‘This is a classic tale of creeping, surreal menace and horror’…This is one of the really, really good ones.” Works like Fear etched Hubbard’s place among the greats of contemporary suspense fiction including legends like Ray Bradbury and Stephen King. But his storytelling expertise was not limited to suspense.

Hubbard also excelled in other fiction genres, including fantasy, “future-history” science fiction, space-travel adventure and frontier fiction, while still showcasing his unforgettable characters in desperate—or hilarious—but always original circumstances. In Typewriter in the Sky (a satiric, story-within-a-story, literary fantasy), he engages the reader in a what-if tale of a piano player suddenly finding himself part of an adventure novel written by his writer friend, Horace Hackett. As if that weren’t enough, he is trapped in the novel as the villain of the piece and discovers that he has to suffer through Horace’s hackneyed writing and threadbare plot—knowing that his character is going to be killed off at the end. In Final Blackout, the apocalyptic science fiction adventure set in the aftermath of total war, the story focuses on an enigmatic, post-modern guerilla fighter, who is the least likely to lead a nation back from oblivion, and yet finds himself stuck with the problem. To the Stars is yet another beautifully crafted novel of future space travel and adventure that explores the sensibilities of a man shanghaied into becoming a crewman on the “long passage” of extended travel across the universe, while time goes forward normally on Earth.

All are examples of Hubbard’s unique approach to fiction and his unmatched storytelling ability, crossing multiple genres with ease. From horror and suspense to action-adventure and, of course, science fiction, he blazed a wide path of fiction output rarely matched by either his contemporaries or literary followers with over 250 novels, novelettes and short stories to his credit. Not surprisingly, L. Ron Hubbard’s life was an adventure story in itself.

His real-life experiences began in rural Montana where he grew up on a ranch in the early 1920s and formed an early and lasting friendship with the Blackfeet Indians. By the late 1920s, he left the country to serve aboard a coastal trading vessel operating between Japan and Java in the Pacific. On his return in 1927, Hubbard studied engineering and took one of the earliest courses in molecular phenomena. Later, he went on to achieve renown as a pioneer aviator, famous in the air meets of the day, and became a master mariner—licensed to sail any ocean, and was three times a flag-bearing expedition leader of the Explorers Club (as recounted in George Plimpton’s As Told at the Explorers Club). All the information gleaned from his experiences growing up and his personal interactions with the characters he met during his travels found their place in his various works: stories of civilians’ narrow escapes from marauding warlords and vindictive Japanese generals during the Sino-Japanese war; men being trapped in the Sahara under the guns of the enemy without enough ammunition or water—or relief—in sight; or tales of danger and the risks taken by those who had to test airplanes for the military before such could be put into active service. During this period, his editors noted that his name on the cover of a pulp magazine would greatly boost its sales, so compelling were his stories, and he became a frequently featured writer.

NOVICE WRITERS ASKING FOR ADVICE

As a consequence, novice writers who hoped to learn his storytelling and story-selling skills often consulted Hubbard for advice. He was happy to offer suggestions and so he began sharing his hard-earned experience with creative writing students in speaking engagements at institutions such as Harvard and George Washington University. In 1935, he was named president of the New York Chapter of the American Fiction Guild, where he made it easier for new writers to join the guild and readily shared his knowledge of writing and publishing with others who sought his help.

Hubbard also generated a series of “how to” articles that appeared in a number of writing magazines in the 1930s and 1940s, offering guidance to help new writers navigate the rough waters they were likely to encounter. Included in this volume is his wry article, “Advice to the Word-Weary,” a compilation by Ron of advice letters not previously published. In 1940, as a feature of a radio program he hosted in Ketchikan, Alaska, while on an Explorers Club–sanctioned expedition, he offered advice for beginning writers and went one step further, initiating the “Golden Pen Award” to encourage listeners of station KGBU to write fiction, and he awarded prizes for the best stories submitted.

THE CREATION OF WRITERS OF THE FUTURE

Years later, in 1983, in recognition of the increasingly difficult path encountered between first manuscript and published work, particularly in an era when publishers devoted the lion’s share of their promotional budgets to a few household names, L. Ron Hubbard “initiated a means for new and budding writers to have a chance for their creative efforts to be seen and acknowledged.” And so were born the Writers and Illustrators of the Future Contests. These Contests have continued to expand and now receive entries from all over the world and have become today the standard by which any aspiring writer and Illustrator in science fiction and fantasy should measure their work. And, as years have proven, the writers and illustrators you will meet will be the names you will see in the years to come.

So read and enjoy Writers of the Future and see for yourself why Orson Scott Card says, “Keep the Writers of the Future going. It’s what keeps sci-fi alive.”

 


Algis Budrys

Algis Budrys (1931–2008), known as “AJ” to his students and friends, was one of the most prominent forces behind the Writers of the Future Contest, workshop, and anthology series. He was born in Königsberg, East Prussia, on January 9, 1931. He became interested in science fiction at the age of six, shortly after coming to America, when a landlady slipped him a copy of the New York Journal-American Sunday funnies.

Budrys began selling steadily to the top magazine markets at the age of twenty-one while living in Great Neck, Long Island. He sold his first novel in 1953 and produced eight more novels, including Who?Rogue MoonMichaelmas and Hard Landing, and three short story collections. In addition to writing, he was renowned as an editor, serving as editor in chief of Regency Books, Playboy Press and all the titles at Woodall’s Trailer Travel publications. He also edited Tomorrow Speculative Fiction, where he published numerous new authors (many of them his students at WotF).

In 1983, Budrys was enlisted to help establish a new writing contest for aspiring writers. This was a request he took to heart. Not only did he assist with the judging, he used his well-known skills as an editor for the annual anthology. He attended scores of science fiction conventions, speaking on panels during the day about the Writers of the Future, and again at night discussing the Contest with many of the top names in science fiction and fantasy, using his influence and charm to bring them on board as Contest judges.

 

David Farland winning Writers of the Future Contest in 1987

Prize Writing—Three Things to Know

Contest judge Frederik Pohl presents Writers of the Future Award to David (Wolverton) Farland, 1987

As many of you know, I got my start by prize writing. While I was in college, I won third place in my first writing contest and decided to see if I could win first place in a contest. I spent a year honing some short stories for various contests, in between my studies, and sent them out in the autumn of 1986. Within a few weeks I discovered that I had won not just one, but all of the contests that I had entered. One of the judges at Writers of the Future, Robert Silverberg, liked my story well enough so that he shared it with some editors, and this led to a three-novel contract with Bantam Books. I’ll always be grateful to Bob for that.

So I promised a couple of people on the list that I would talk about prize writing. If you think about it deeply, everything that you write is really for a competition. You’re competing for publication with other writers, for promotional monies from the marketing departments of various publishers, for literary awards, and of course for your reading audience. So these posts really apply to any writer. When you think about it, it would seem that there isn’t a lot that you can do in order to win a prize. Thousands might enter a competition, but only one will win. However, there are some things that you can do to increase your chances dramatically.

These things include:

  • Get to know your judge’s tastes.
  • Aim your story straight at your judges.
  • Make sure that your story is presented well.

This all might sound easier than it is, but let’s take this one step at a time. Your first step is to get to know your judge’s tastes. Now, if you’re talking about a contest judge, this person might be a teacher at a local university. The best way to gauge the judge’s tastes is to read anything that they’ve written. If your judge has written short stories, look at the age of the protagonists, the themes that the judge covers, his or her use of language, and so on. This will tell you whether the judge values crisp dialog over brilliant metaphors, slow pacing versus fast, and so on. Pay particular attention to the themes. If a judge has a penchant for writing about stories that deal with death, for example, you might realize that your story will hit them harder if you feature a death scene.

In some cases, you’ll have a panel of judges. For example, there are more than a dozen judges at the Writers of The Future. So if I wanted to win that contest, I’d look at the mix of writers. How many write only science fiction? How many write fantasy? What do each of their tastes seem to be.

One easy way to gauge their tastes is to look at past stories. You could read the grand prize winners from each anthology. By doing so, you’d begin to notice some patterns.

You can of course do this same thing with any publication. You could go to editor’s panels at science fiction conventions and listen to editors talk about their favorite books out. You could go to Publisher’s Marketplace on the internet and find out what each one of those editors has bought.

It’s really quite easy to learn the tastes of one solitary reader. If you’re facing a panel of judges, the task becomes more complex, but it is possible to write a story that will average out to be a winner.

So start studying!

 


David Farland

David Farland

Guest Blogger, David Farland, Coordinating Judge of the Writers of the Future Contest.

David Farland is an award-winning, international bestselling author with over 50 novels in print. He has won the Philip K. Dick Memorial Special Award for “Best Novel in the English Language” for his science fiction novel On My Way to Paradise, the Whitney Award for “Best Novel of the Year” for his historical novel In the Company of Angels, and many more awards for his work. He is best known for his New York Times bestselling fantasy series The Runelords.

Photo by Tegan Mierle on Unsplash

One Foot in Front of the Other by Wulf Moon

I know a truth. We are all going to fall. Many times. Perhaps I know this truth better than some because I was born with a disconnected spine and extreme in-toed feet—my left and right foot pointed directly at one another. I could not walk without falling. Kids laughed at me. My knees were not knees, they were horrible black and brown scabs. But I also know a secret. You can lay on the sidewalk, or you can get back up and start walking again, bloody knees and all. The choice is yours.

The same is true with writing. We are going to fall. Many times. We are going to think we’ve got it, that this time we can keep it up, only to trip and drop flat on our face and wonder what in the world just happened. It’s inevitable. When one is learning to walk, it is an absolute. When one is learning to write, it is also an absolute. What makes us soldier on? I suppose a core belief that we’d rather be walking than lying in the dirt. There is also that innate sense that we were born to write, and if we can just get our balance and catch our stride, we know in our heart of hearts we have the potential to soar like the wind.

But first, we must learn to walk. As in life, so in writing.

In life, I learned to walk at six years of age, when I finally had a successful surgery and corrective casts that turned my feet back out. My back, doctors left alone, so I have always been disabled, but that hasn’t stopped me from walking, running, even dancing, and yes, I still fall at times, but after the pain subsides, I always get back up.

As in writing, I have always known that I’m a writer. It’s in my blood. At fifteen I wrote an SF story that was a winner in Scholastic Inc.’s national writing contest. The editor at Science World, circulation 500,000 copies per issue, bought and published it in 1978. My first pro sale. I won so many contests after that, I was certain I was on the path to a professional writing career.

And then I fell. Living in a violent household, I escaped and got placed in a foster home. I didn’t care if I lived or died, and took many risks with my life. While at college I ended up in a hospital, my biggest fall of all, and came face to face with what falling would cost me. Saving my life required a change of life. I had to burn my bridges behind me. For me, that meant extreme measures, and I signed away my full scholarship, left bad friends … and I stopped writing.

It wasn’t until 1994 that I took up writing again. The Nebula Awards had come to Eugene, Oregon, and my wife encouraged me to go. When I signed up, I met Dean Wesley Smith. He noted I was from town and asked if I had anything published. As I listed some credits, his eyes lit up. “You’re a professionally published writer!” For the rest of the convention, he introduced me to everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, like this: “Have you met Moon? He’s a published writer!” I was beyond embarrassed, but by the end, I got the point. It was no small thing to achieve a professional sale, I was indeed a writer, and I should stand back up and walk the path again.

Dean introduced me to the local writer’s group, Wordos. They introduced me to Writers of the Future, and I started submitting and collecting certificates. My next pro sale was in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds II. From there, I queried the editor at Pocket Books, and he said I could submit my Trek novel. When literary agent Donald Maass represented me on it, I was certain my career as a novelist had begun. This wasn’t walking, this was running with the bulls!

Wulf Moon's certificatesAnd then I fell. The novel was rejected. At the same time, my wife became seriously ill. It took years to get her back on her feet, and when she was finally safe, we moved to escape the memory of that ordeal. In spite of it all, I kept submitting to Writers of the Future as able, and got an invite to attend the awards gala when it was held in Seattle. At the after party, I sat with Kevin J. Anderson, and he asked about my writing. I told him about the certificates. “They don’t hand those things out lightly,” he said, looking me straight in the eye. “This is a huge contest. That you have that many says a lot. It’s a Big Deal. Keep writing, Moon.”

And so I have. Through all the subsequent trials–as my wife’s health tanked again when she was diagnosed with cancer, as we lost our business and home in the recession, as we brought her through the treatments and got her stabilized—I would write as I was able. And I made a commitment a few years ago that in spite of the adversities, I would do my best to enter WotF every quarter. Out of the thirteen times I’ve entered with David Farland as coordinating judge, those twelve certificates you see above—from HM to Semifinalist—are the result. I have many more, but these are the ones with Dave. They aren’t wins, alas. But each one says I have not given up, and whether I win this contest or not, I am walking the path.

I am grateful for this contest. It has helped many of my friends jump start their writing careers. And the honorary certificates and critiques you get from the contest coordinators validate your writing and help you improve. In my case, I know there is no way I can have so many consistent near misses, over so many years, without my writing being of professional caliber. That’s comforting. So, I lower my head, lean into the wind, and keep on walking. Virtually everyone else has had to walk this path to achieve success (even my favorite author, Frank Herbert, with the most brilliant book of the 20th Century, Dune), so why should I expect anything different? A good personal rejection, a contest certificate, a judge that writes us an encouraging note–these are signposts along the path that we shall reach our destination if we stay the course.

I know a truth: The difference between success and failure is getting up one more time than you have fallen.


Wulf MoonWulf Moon feasted on fantasy as a young child when he lived with his Chippewa grandmother. He begged stories from her every night and usually got his wish—fireside tales that fired his imagination. If Moon had a time machine, those are the days he would go back to. Since he doesn’t have a time machine, he tells stories. Learn more at driftweave.com.

Blog photo by Tegan Mierle on Unsplash.

Frederik Pohl at the 1986 Taos Workshop

How to Impress an Editor by Frederik Pohl

Image above (L to R) Gene Wolfe, Rosemary Wolfe, Edna Budrys, Algis Budrys, Frederik Pohl and Jack Williamson at the 1986 workshop in Taos, New Mexico.

What goes through an editor’s mind when he reads a story by an aspiring writer? In this article written by Frederik Pohl in 1987 for Writers of the Future volume 3, he is about to tell you.…

I don’t advise writers to write with editors in mind. An editor is really only a middleman; his job is to try to guess what readers will like, and it is the ultimate reader who will in the long run decide who succeeds in writing.

However, it’s important to impress an editor—especially if he has no idea of how well you write. It is the editor who makes the decision on what gets into print, so he can’t be ignored. Moreover, there are things to be learned from editors, if only because the editors have had to learn them themselves. At least half of the workmanship skills and techniques of writing are things I learned over the thirty-nine years from my first professional editorial job to my last. These form a major part of how I appraise a story from someone I’ve never read before … and a good part of how I do all my reading.

What editors learn about writing comes largely from the things that writers do wrong. It’s easier to see where somebody else has gone wrong than it is when it’s your own work, and then you can look at your own with a more knowing eye. That’s a big plus, for anyone who wants not only to “be a writer” but to write well. Unfortunately, becoming an editor is not an option open to everyone who wants to write; there simply are not that many editorial jobs.

What you can do, however, is what Albert Einstein called a “thought experiment.” Put yourself in an editor’s place for a moment, and see how you look to him as he goes through the process of deciding whether what you will subsequently find in your mailbox is going to be a rejection slip, or a check, or something in between.

THE IMPORTANT FIRST IMPRESSION

I’m going first to spend some time discussing manuscript preparation because that’s what makes the first impression for your story.

Your first contact with an editor (not necessarily the editor, but we’ll come to that later) occurs when the mailman drops your manuscript on his desk. (It may well be “her” desk, rather than “his.” In fact, these days it is more likely to be a her than a him—but forgive me if I don’t keep saying “his or her.”)

You can lose the whole game right here if your manuscript is handwritten, or otherwise illegible. You can also stack the cards against you, though not always lethally, in a lot of lesser ways, and a lot of them come under the general heading of “neatness.”

You see, what you don’t want to do is make it hard for an editor to like your work. His eyes take enough punishment. Pica type (also known as 12-point in printers’ measure, or 10-strike in IBM’s loopy dialect) is usually better than the smaller elite or “12-strike”— but don’t go overboard and use one of the giant sizes available with some computers.

You should, (1) enclose an adequately stamped, self-addressed return envelope in case of need; (2) put enough stamps on the manuscript mailing envelope so it doesn’t arrive postage-due; (3) put your name and address on the manuscript. The right place for your name and address is in the upper left-hand corner of the first page, but at least get it on there somewhere. If you want to use a pen-name on the story you can, but put your check-cashing name in the corner of the manuscript. Then, under the title of the story, type whatever byline you want, and the editor will know what you mean. Repeat a key word of the story title, and the last name of your byline, and a page number, at the top of each succeeding page.

A few additional general rules about the mechanics of submitting a story:

It doesn’t matter whether you use a typewriter or a word processor, but if you use a word processor don’t set your printer to create a straight right-hand margin. (No editors insist on justification, as it’s called, and some editors actively hate it. Typesetters are infuriated by it.)

If your printer (or typewriter) lets you do fancy things, don’t do them. Don’t italicize; underline instead. Otherwise the copy editor has to do the underlining for you, because typesetters require it.

Don’t use odd typefaces—small caps, semi-script, sans-serif—they’re sometimes hard to read, and often annoying. Besides which, typesetters don’t like them, and sometimes charge extra for setting “difficult copy.” Editors don’t like extra charges—their publishers speak to them about it.

Finally, don’t try to cram a 40-page manuscript into a letter-sized envelope. For a short manuscript of five or maybe ten pages you can fold it in half, although a fold makes copy-editing more difficult; anything longer should be mailed flat.

Remember, these mechanical things are the first thing the editor sees. They are, God knows, not important to the merits of the story—but blunders with the manuscript can keep your story from ever being read.

Sloppy manuscripting will not, in the long run, keep a real masterpiece from being published. But the facts of life are that most stories aren’t masterpieces. There is no clear-cut line between the story that gets bought—reluctantly—and the story that gets bounced—regretfully. Many stories are right on the cusp. They can go either way. How well or badly you do the mechanical things can push your story one way or the other.

THE TITLE

If you’ve done all the mechanical stuff more or less correctly, then you’ve passed the first test. At least now somebody will evaluate your story. The person who reads it probably is not the person who will make the final decision about buying it, because nearly all editors use first readers to eliminate the worst of the “slush.” And you are by no means guaranteed that he will read it all the way through. But at least you’ve got the story in the hands of someone who has the authority to move it one step closer to print, and what happens now is up to your story. There are many ingredients that can sway the decision for you or against. Here are some of them:

Title. A catchy title encourages the reader to read on—whether he is an editor who gets paid to read or is your cash customer in the store. What makes a good title? Some answers to that question would be “relevance to your story,” “tickling curiosity,” “graceful use of language,” maybe even “humor”—but it would be more truthful to say, “I don’t know.” I do know a good title when I see one, and so does everyone else, but there isn’t any formula for generating them. Probably you’ll know a good title when you think of it… so always try a few different ones.

One other way to come up with a decent title is to make a list of as many possible titles as you would be willing to have on your story, then ask friends which one would make them want to read the piece. If you agree with one, use it. But don’t get hung up on this. If you have a good title, that’s a plus. If you don’t, it’s not fatal. Editors are willing to improve titles; some of them, in fact, actually feel left out if they can’t.

NARRATIVE HOOK

Opening. Once past the title, your editor naturally starts reading on “Page One.” If at all possible, have something there to interest him, for if you don’t he may never get to “Page Two.”

The technical name for the kind of opening you want is a “narrative hook,” meaning something which so piques the curiosity, arouses the sympathy or otherwise engages the attention of the reader that he is hooked and wants to get on with the narrative. There aren’t any good rules for constructing a narrative hook, either, but a good way to find one is to start your story at the point where something interesting is happening. The art of writing, to some degree, is the art of leaving out the dull parts. If you can’t quite leave out all the dull parts, at least try not to start with one. It is a useful exercise to look over some of your unsuccessful stories as though the author were someone you didn’t know and didn’t particularly want to know, and ask yourself, at every page and even every sentence, “Why is he telling me all this?” If you can’t think of a reason, cut that part out.

Page-Turning. The above applies not only to the opening of your story, but all the way through it. Students of playwriting at the University of Texas (so one of them told me long ago, leaving an indelible impression on my mind) used to be told that there were only three reasons for including any given line in a play: To show character; to advance the action; or to get a laugh. If you make the last stricture “to give the reader pleasure of some kind,” I would think those rules apply just as well to prose fiction.

However, you can’t make a rotten story good just by cutting it to the bone. The bone may be rotten. To make a reader turn the pages it is not enough to get to what you have to say quickly; you must also have something to say.

You also need someone to say it about, and that element is called characterization. It is characters who make a story move. If you read in a newspaper that 1800 Bolivians have died in an earthquake you may not be greatly moved; but if your bridge partner is run over by a truck you care. The difference is that you know your bridge partner, and you didn’t know all those other people; events are more interesting when you know who they are happening to.

Characterization is making the reader know the characters, so that he will care what happens to them. You can do that in a quick-and-dirty way—that is, by what is called “funny hat” characterization, meaning that you tag one of your people by giving him an odd and picturesque trait. Perhaps you have him wear a funny hat, or give him a wooden leg or the habit of saying “Bless my watch fob!” Or you can do it by letting the reader understand what the character is like through showing what he does and what he feels. Understand better, if it is done right, than the character himself understands. Mark Twain did both: You remember the heroine of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court because of her “funny hat”—actually, her habit of telling interminably dull stories—you remember Huckleberry Finn because Twain made you see right into his stubborn, cynical, quirky but decent and generous soul. The second way is harder, and better. But both work, and if you can’t manage the hard way then at least do it the easy. If you can’t tell us anything else about your characters, at least let us know something about what they want, what they fear—what their problems are; because these should enter into the action of the story.

AND NOW FOR THE STORY

Which brings us to story. A story involves change. Something has to happen. What happens does not have to be on a physical level; it can be the inside of the characters that changes, and maybe the only thing that changes is that the characters positively make up their minds that change just isn’t going to happen. (That’s an approximate outline of William Saroyan’s most famous story, The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze). It should not happen in a straight line, of course. If your character’s problem is that he wants to marry The Girl, and he asks her, and she says yes, then that’s a kind of story but, oh, what a dull one!

Some pulp writers of a generation ago used to follow a “Plot Skeleton.” It was articulated by the literary agent, Scott Meredith, in a book on writing, and it says, basically, that the structure of any story has three parts. In the first part, the lead character is in a hellish bad fix. In the second part he almost gets out of it but, through no fault of his own, fails. In the last part he successfully solves the problem.

According to Meredith, this plot skeleton is actually present in every novel and short story ever written, from The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter right up to the novelization of the latest Star Trek film. I wouldn’t go that far, but the ingredients are all useful: An opening problem, the more urgent the better; a complication that keeps the hero on the hook and the reader turning pages; a satisfying resolution so the reader knows when the story’s over.

Then there is pace. There are, it is true, some kinds of stories that require a good deal of elapsed story time for the events to unfold. Most stories don’t. Particularly in a short story, avoid like poison the sentence, “Several months went by without anything happening,” or anything much like it. The attention wanders. Once again, it is a matter of leaving out the dull parts—not only in the parts you describe but in those you don’t.

Last of all, accuracy. In writing science fiction in particular, get at least your basic science right. You can’t have helicopters flying around the Moon (there’s no air), or take a rocket ship to Alpha Centauri in a week (a rocket can’t go that fast). It is a matter of trust. If your reader doesn’t have trust in you, he won’t enjoy your story, and one sure way to forfeit that trust is to be caught in a fat-headed blunder. You don’t need to know much about science to write some kinds of science fiction, but don’t pretend to know more than you do.

What I have described is a sort of catalogue of the elements of an acceptable manuscript, as an editor might see them. The manuscript should be mechanically adequate. The story shouldn’t sprawl, either in wordage or in draggy action. The characters should be solid enough to make the editor (and the ultimate reader) care what happens to them. And something should happen in the story.

If you’ve performed the thought experiment of looking at your manuscript through an editor’s eyes, you now should be able to see some reasons why you’ve been rejected—if that has been the case—and in fact you can analyze your story, or anyone else’s, quite expertly. For that’s all there is to it … except for one thing, one element, one quality that I haven’t touched on at all, and that was quite unfair, since it happens to be the most important thing of all. I’ve talked about everything that goes into your story, except you.

The only thing any writer has to sell is his own personal, idiosyncratic view of the world. What is it that you have to say? What have you seen that nobody else has seen, that you can set down for others?

When the editor reads your story he does not compare it against the checklist above. But all of these things will be in the back of his mind, along with a hundred other things that have to do with his own personal needs and preferences. However, if all he is doing is no more than to count off the ways in which your story matches a standard recipe, you may sell, but you’re in trouble. That means your story is at best marginal, one of the dozen or so that he can probably print without stinking up the magazine (or the line of books) too badly, but which no one will miss if it doesn’t get published. And there really is no point in being a writer if you don’t intend to set your sights higher than that.

So … do all the things that are said or implied above, but don’t stop there. Do more. Do your best to write stories that no one but you could have written, and write them as well as you can.
And good luck to you in the attempt!


Frederik Pohl addresses the workshop attendees.

Frederik Pohl addresses the workshop attendees.

A notable SF author since before World War II and ultimately a Grandmaster of Science Fiction, Frederik Pohl (1919-2013) was also an editor of great influence throughout his career, starting at Astonishing and Super Science and going on to Galaxy, IF, and elsewhere. He is the discoverer of Ray Bradbury, R.A. Lafferty, Keith Laumer and Larry Niven, among scores of other well-known names. He created the Star series, setting the pattern that other editors still follow for anthologies of original SF short fiction. He was also a novels editor at several prestigious publishing houses, served as an instructor and Contest judge for the Writers of the Future program.

His own work in fiction included Day Million and The Gold at the Starbow’s End, The Space Merchants, Man Plus, and Gateway, which garnered a thicket of awards. But those symbols of expertise are equaled in number by the trophies he won as an editor. One year, IF won the Hugo award in every eligible category.

Mike Resnick (left) with writer winner Jonathan Ficke and his wife

Mike Resnick – Paying It Forward to New Writers

We recently had a chance to chat with Mike Resnick who was a guest speaker at the Writers Workshop and presenter for the 34th Annual Writers and Illustrators of the Future awards celebration here in Los Angeles.

Mike has been a full-time writer and editor for more than half a century. A prolific author, he has published 74 novels, over 260 stories, and 3 screenplays, not to mention being the editor of 42 anthologies. On top of that, he holds the distinction of being the all-time leading award winner, living or dead, for short fiction, a five-time Hugo winner (with a record 35 nominations), Nebula award winner plus a host of international awards.

Given his track record, and on behalf of struggling writers everywhere, we put forward the million-dollar question: How do you get the inspiration for your story ideas? His classic reply: “A pile of bills sitting on my table.”

Now, for anyone who knows Mike, you can appreciate both his candor and his sense of humor. Luckily for the writer winners who get to attend the exclusive yearly Writers Workshop, they are privy to much more from Mike as he explains.

Author and editor Mike Resnick giving hard-won advice to the writer winners.

“I enjoyed Writers of the Future this year, as I always do. It’s encouraging to meet the next generation of writers, and to guess which ones will eventually emerge as superstars.

“I figured that most of the judges would speak about the art and craft of writing, so this year—as per usual—I spoke about the business end of it: contracts, foreign sales, agents, killer clauses, the whole nine yards. Got some startled and troubled expressions from the audience but hopefully, almost all their questions were answered by the time I was done.

“Another thing I enjoy about these WotF weekends is that every night we gather in the lobby or the bar, and answer dozens of more questions. And, of course, the ceremony itself is always a class act, and this year featured some truly remarkable magicians.

“I try to keep in touch with a number of each year’s WotF finalists. I’ve bought from a couple of dozen of them for my magazines and anthologies, and have even collaborated with a handful of them. It’s good to know where my successors are coming from.”

As a judge for the Writers of the Future Contest since 2010, Mike takes pride in helping the newly published authors featured in L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future, get a leg up in the business. And this goes beyond just providing advice as Mike describes here:

Now that’s paying it forward!

Meet this year’s winners and the next generation of writers setting the trends with their diverse stories and visions here in L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future Volume 34.

 

The Magic Picture

Here is the next in a series of articles addressing the barriers to achieving your writing goals as requested by you, the new writer. It was also unanimous that you wanted to hear from top-line professionals as to how they overcame these same barriers.

In this article originally written for and published in Writers of the Future Volume 5 in 1989, Hal Clement, member of Science Fiction’s First Fandom and Grand Master of Science Fiction, deals with how to effectively “challenge readers with the ‘what if?’ implications of a background significantly different from the familiar and everyday.”

So if you are interested in learning from a Grand Master, read on …


The Magic Picture

Every story has a background; an environment in which—and a set of rules under which—everything happens, and writer and reader (or teller and listener) must have a reasonably similar idea of the nature of that background for the story to make sense.

In ordinary adventure or romance tales, the familiar “real” world forms the background, and the similarity can be taken for granted. Even in historical novels, while the author must specify the period somehow, it is usually safe to assume that the reader knows a fair amount of relevant history.

In fantasy and science fiction things are very different. The whole point is to challenge readers with the “what if?” implications of a background significantly different from the familiar and every day. A verbal picture has to be painted, and the wordage needed to do the background is what commonly makes SF novels easier to write than shorter fiction. The ordinary storytelling rules of pacing, characterization, and motivation still apply, but the SF writer has additional work to do; book-length offers more freedom to do that.

Why bother with the extra work?

The key reason is consistency; lack of this quality in a story will bother all but the most utterly passive readers. The slips may be minor but still annoying; Ozma’s magic picture, in Frank Baum’s Oz stories, sometimes has a gold frame and sometimes a radium one, and is sometimes called a magic mirror instead. This never has serious effect on the plotline; the existence and properties of the picture itself are the only important things; but to readers who thought they had the background clearly in mind, the changes still give a jolt.

Hard Science Fiction

In the “hard” science fiction which I personally favor, the background is “real” but deliberately unfamiliar in some ways. Here, at least one aim of the writer is to take the reader by surprise with a “what if?” that is logical but unexpected, as with Phileas Fogg’s gain of an extra day by going eastward around the world. The chief professional difficulty lies in spotting all the implications of the unfamiliar insertion, so as to maintain consistency. This task sometimes frightens writers out of the field. In my opinion, it should instead be taken as an opportunity; the implications can provide plot and action ideas. For example:

Quite commonly, science fiction authors have used planets whose atmospheres contain chlorine in place of oxygen. The usual implicit justification is that chlorine is almost as active as oxygen and chlorine-breathing creatures would probably do as well as we oxygen-breathers.

On the whole, I would agree, though as a matter of fact there is a minor energy disadvantage for the chlorine types. However, unless other implications of the chlorine (or fluorine, which has an energy advantage over oxygen) are considered, the author faces a strong risk of consistency slips (embarrassing), and of overlooking potential story-line material (wasteful!).

Some people claim that chlorine atmospheres are unlikely because chlorine is much less common in the universe, and probably on any given planet, than oxygen. True but unimportant; it is not necessary for a substance to be the most common, merely that there be enough of it. If the most common were automatically the most probable, we should be silicon instead of carbon beings ourselves; silicon-based life has been a favorite with writers for decades because of the chemical similarities between the two elements, and they may be right. It may be only chance that we turned out as we did, even though Earth’s crust is about a quarter silicon by mass and well under one percent carbon, but I doubt it (I am not saying that silicon life is impossible; that’s a different and much longer debate).

There is plenty of chlorine on Earth, however. If you want to write a mad-scientist story in which a genetic engineer plans to deploy organisms that can oxidize the chloride ion to the free element, you have a realistic plot. Only about a tenth of the chloride now in Earth’s oceans would have to be processed to match our present oxygen supply with CI2. Conceivably, it was only chance that the photosynthesis that works on oxides such as water evolved before one using chlorides; we might have been chlorine-breathers ourselves (an alternate-universe suggestion I haven’t seen used yet; please note my continuing point of possible storylines). In fact, there were (and still are) bacteria on Earth that used iron, and others that used sulfur in about that way, and which did come first. Why they didn’t end up in charge of Earth is another long question, and of course another possible set of story backgrounds.

If we grant a planet where a chlorine atmosphere does exist, what other implications are there?

Further Assumptions

They depend on further assumptions. If the temperature is in the liquid-water range, for example, we have the fact that chlorine dissolves (rather slowly) in water, reacting with it to give hydrochloric and hypochlorous acids; the latter in turn decomposes slowly to hydrochloric acid and free oxygen. To maintain the chlorine atmosphere, then, we need some process (presumably the original chloride-oxidizing photosynthesis) that will turn the acid back to free chlorine as fast as it forms; and we must also accept the fact that there will be some—possibly small but certainly not zero—concentration of free oxygen as well as the chlorine in the atmosphere.

If we had preferred fluorine, things would have been more difficult (read: more challenging). Fluorine also reacts with water, forming hydrofluoric acid and free oxygen. The acid is viciously active, even on the common silicate minerals of an ordinary Earthlike planet, with which it forms SiF4. This is a gas that is also pretty active, and the long-term result will put the fluorine into insoluble minerals, just where we find it on Earth, instead of into the oceans like chlorine. Maybe some unfortunate early life, far back in Earth’s history, did develop a fluorine-releasing variety of photosynthesis, but couldn’t keep things going. If Earth were enough colder to have hydrogen fluoride oceans, with water a solid mineral, now….

Be my guest again. But do some chemistry of your own; there are other problems (read: story inspirations) to be checked along this line.

With that taken care of, consider the problem of seeing. I don’t, obviously, mean that the eyes of a being that has evolved in a chlorine environment would be irritated by the gas as ours are; but as most people know, chlorine is visibly colored—greenish, hence its Greek-origin name. Scientifically, we say that it absorbs radiation in the visible spectrum, more heavily at the long-wave end. This implies that over more than a short distance, which I haven’t tried to calculate since I haven’t tried to write this story yet, the atmosphere is opaque to human vision. Presumably native organisms, if they have evolved anything comparable to our sense of sight, use a different part of the spectrum.

What part? I don’t know; you’re writing the story. If I did decide to try it myself, I would find out what I could about the absorption spectrum of molecular chlorine—or just possibly, if I were in a real hurry for some reason or got too lazy to finish the research, I would cross my fingers and tell myself that, say, microwave radio photons are too low in energy to affect electronic, spin, or vibrational energies of the CI2 molecule. In the latter case I would not be too surprised, after the story appeared in print, to get a critical letter from a spectroscopist.

I don’t want to scare potential writers into confining themselves to the narrow, “mainstream” part of the storytelling field. I want to show the desirability of considering as many as possible of the possibilities—something we would like to do in engineering and politics as well. However, I grant that spotting them all is just as impossible in this field as in those.

Producing a good story

One can certainly produce a good story that concentrates on one “what-if?” and deliberately ignores others. Rick Raphael‘s “Code Three” dealt with the problems of a highway patrolman in a North America laced with five-mile-wide superhighways, whose speed lanes went above five hundred miles per hour. Many of the cars were jet-driven, and nuclear-powered ones were just starting to appear. I personally doubt strongly the possibility of fueling such a civilian fleet, but I still enjoyed the story—plot, action, motivation, characters, and all—except the end of the book version, which was perfectly logical and reasonable but unhappy (that is, my objection was a subjective, not a professional, criticism).

I realize, and want to emphasize, that Mr. Raphael may have omitted the fuel matter intentionally. He may have felt that discussing it would harm the pace of the story; he may have been saving that question for another story; he may have disagreed with me about the weight of the problem, afterthought and calculation. He could even be right; science is an inherently tentative field, and maybe I didn’t consider enough factors. (Certainty is only an emotion, and science is not for you if you feel a strong need for it. Join a group that depends on faith).

You are, in the final analysis, going to have to use your own judgment in painting your non-standard background picture. You can research in books and journals, pick the brains of friends, get information from computer networks; but only you can decide, for purposes of the story you want to tell, whether we are heading for a Larry Niven world in which checking into a hotel entails the risk of having the bed booby-trapped with high voltage and finding yourself sold for spare parts the next day, or the kind I used in “Mechanic” where the genetic code has been reduced to engineering practice and a patient’s new heart or leg can be grown from a snip of his own flesh, thereby obviating tissue rejection as well as organlegging.

Painting a Word Picture

You are painting a word picture (or a series of them— the frames in a movie). Your pigment is your vocabulary, your brushes are the rules of grammar, and your model is the universe—the known (and thinkable, if you’re extrapolating) laws of Nature.

The desirability of a good vocabulary (a rich palette) is obvious. Skill with brushes (the rules of expression that help avoid ambiguity and other forms of confusion) seems to me equally important. Many people, however, question the need for a model (scientific knowledge).

Personally, I find it convenient to have a lot of the rules and facts in my head, though the last three words are certainly not essential and not always correct—I often have to look things up. It greatly speeds up the process of painting-in the background, and it is also a fertile source of story ideas by itself. It does not, of course, preserve me from error; all of us, every now and then, take something to be so obvious that we don’t need to check it, and then find we were wrong. Just after World War II, I was assuming that jet aircraft would not be practical commercially because of their enormous fuel consumption; I was a bomber pilot, and had a fair supply of relevant knowledge. What I should have been considering, of course, was not pounds of fuel per hour, but ton-miles or passenger-miles per pound of fuel.

Mission Gravity coverIn my novel, Mission of Gravity, I assumed, in spite of my perfectly valid astronomy degree, that my planet Mesklin would have an elliptical polar cross section (it was written before slide-rules grew buttons). Later, the MIT Science Fiction Society had a great deal of fun calculating what the actual shape would be, and of course telling me about it. In the same work, I took it for granted that my leading character’s vessel, the Bree, would sail faster with the wind behind it. A sailor straightened me out on that one. I should have known better; I just didn’t make the high-school-physics vector analysis I should have (and which I wouldn’t have had to make if I’d ever done any sailing; the situation would have been familiar).

The word, then, is to spend all the time and effort that you want in working out your hard-science background material. I spend a lot because it’s fun (for me). If you don’t enjoy it, don’t feel guilty; maybe (probably!) you’re a better character builder than I.

Don’t however, expect to avoid all mistakes, and don’t worry when you’re caught. You’re in the entertainment business, and many of your readers will get fun out of catching you. Just remember that the fewer mistakes you do make, the more triumph they’ll feel when they do; don’t make any on purpose.

And don’t try to claim that you did. “Touché” is a courtesy not restricted to fencing.

 


Hal Clement

Harry Clement Stubbs (1922-2003) earned degrees in astronomy, chemistry and education. He was a multi-engine pilot in World War II. By that time he was already capturing the attention of Astounding readers with a kind of SF writing he, in effect, invented and whose leading practitioner he remains. It’s usually called “hard-science fiction”; a combination of a gripping story—as in his famous Mission of Gravity—with meticulously worked-out scientific extrapolation of a totally alien environment, told entirely or in large part from the viewpoint of an intelligent and appealing, but totally alien, inhabitant of that environment … to whom it’s just that ordinary place he lives and must be brave in.

He was named Grand Master by the Science Fiction Writers of America in 1998 and became a Writers of the Future judge in 2001.

Robert J. Sawyer speaking to writer winners

Eight Things New Writers Need to Know

Here is the next in a series of articles addressing the barriers to achieving your writing goals as requested by you, the new and aspiring writer. It was also unanimous that you wanted to hear from top-line professionals as to how they overcame these same barriers.

In this article originally written for and published in Writers of the Future Volume 22 in 2002, Robert J. Sawyer provides eight important things you need to know as a new and aspiring writer.

So if you are marching along the road to becoming a newly published writer, read on…


1. Not Everyone Is Going to Like Your Work

And that’s okay. Your job as a writer isn’t to be blandly acceptable to everyone; rather, it’s to be the favorite author of a narrow segment of the population. If you try to please everybody, you’ll end up pleasing no one. Good book reviewers know this: their job isn’t to tell you whether they like a given work (which is a datum only of interest to them personally); rather, it’s to say if you like this particular sort of work, then this book will be to your taste—or not, if the book has failed at what it set out to do. Which brings us to…

2. Your Fiction Should Be About Something

Theme is the story element beginning writers spend the least time on, and yet it’s the single most important aspect. Nothing drives this home more clearly than the success of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. The book is poorly written in almost every way—and yet, on its own, it has been read by more people than read all the books published last year by all science fiction and fantasy publishers combined. Why? Because it’s about something. In particular, it’s about the suppression of the feminine in Catholicism, and a reinterpretation of the Christ story that is new to most readers. The quality of the plot (formulaic chases), the characters (made of the same stuff as the paperback’s cover), and the prose (pedestrian at best) are all forgiven, because Dan Brown had something to say—and you should too. Which means…

3. Your Job Is to Tell Your Stories

Too many talented young writers waste time writing fan fiction (such as stories set in the universes of Stargate Atlantis or Star Trek: Voyager). This is a waste of time; worse, it’s a seductive waste of time, because they get all sorts of feedback praising their “skillful handling” of the characters, which makes them think they’re much better writers than they really are (since creating your own memorable characters, not aping someone else’s, is a key part of a writer’s job).

Once you start publishing, you may be offered the chance to write a media tie-in; don’t do that, either. Your job is to establish your name; you are branding yourself in a competitive marketplace, and you do that by telling unique, original stories about characters and events you’ve devised while exploring issues that you are passionate about. Many experienced writers of media tie-ins do so under pseudonyms—precisely because they don’t want the association with hack work to taint their own original writing. And, for Pete’s sake, don’t even think about starting your career with a media tie-in; they are not entry-level work in this field; rather, they are dead ends. No, to launch your career, write your own wholly original first novel. But be aware that…

4. First Novels Are Hard to Sell

So don’t make it any harder. The number one reason first novels are rejected is that they’re poorly written; you, of course, don’t have that problem! The number two reason first novels are rejected—that is, the reason the vast majority of well-crafted, polished, tightly written novels are not bought by publishers—is that they aren’t easily categorizable. Almost no one who is involved in the selling of your novel will ever actually read it. All they will know is what the editor says about it at the publisher’s sales conference in perhaps sixty seconds, plus maybe 150 words of copy in the publisher’s catalog.

What the sales force wants to hear about a first novel from the editor is, “This is a Heinlein-esque military-SF novel that will appeal to fans of David Weber and David Feintuch” or “This is contemporary urban fantasy, in the mold of Charles de Lint.” Save your cross-genre impossible-to-categorize novel for later in your career, for the time when all the sales force needs to hear is, “This is the new novel by you.” In my own case, my first novel, Golden Fleece—which grew from a shorter work submitted to Writers of the Future in 1986—was a hard-SF novel about a murdering computer aboard a starship. It clearly echoed Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey—and that’s how the editor presented it. Of course, as with almost all first novels, I had to write the whole thing before I could sell it.

But for my twelfth novel, Calculating God, which I sold with just a conversation on the phone, I said I wanted to write a novel in which two people sit in a room and debate evolution vs. creationism without ever getting really angry in the process. I never could have sold that book as my first novel—but it was easy later in my career (and it hit number one on the Locus bestsellers list, and was a Hugo finalist), because by that point all that mattered was that it was a new book by an established name. That said…

5. With Your First Book, Knock Their Socks Off

Many people read a bad book then say, “Heck, I can write that well!” and then set out to try to do so—and they succeed, producing a bad book of their own. Set your sights high. For my own first novel, I wanted to do something that I’d never seen done well before: a book from the point of view of an intelligent computer (and I guess I pulled it off, because in his review of my book for The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Orson Scott Card said I’d created “the deepest computer character in all of science fiction”). It’s important to have ambition: you should be aspiring to greatness, not mediocrity, and your best inspiration is the top works in the field. Because the truth is…

6. If You Want to Write It, You’ve Got to Read It

When I meet someone at a convention who tells me they’re trying to break into science-fiction writing, I ask a seemingly unrelated question: “Have you read anything by me?” It seems self-absorbed, perhaps, but it’s actually a useful little test. See, I’ve been lucky enough to win the field’s two top awards—the Hugo and the Nebula, both for best novel of the year. If you want to sell in this market, you need to know what the market considers to be the best work. When people say no, they haven’t read any Sawyer, I smile politely and walk away—because they can’t really be serious about breaking in. After all, if they were, they’d be reading not just the Hugo and Nebula winners, but also the nominees each year; doing so is a key part of knowing the marketplace. Which brings us to…

7. Your Best Market Guide is a Bookstore

Sure, there are lots of websites with writing advice (including my own at sfwriter.com), but to sell in this field, you have to know the market inside and out—and the best place to learn about that is in a bookstore. Trivia question: what do the writers Cory Doctorow (Tor), Nalo Hopkinson (Warner), Tanya Huff (DAW), Robert J. Sawyer (Tor), and Michelle West (DAW) all have in common? Answer: we all used to work at Toronto’s Bakka-Phoenix, the world’s oldest SF specialty bookstore, and Michelle still works there, even though she hardly needs the booksellers’ wages—because being in a bookstore keeps her finger on the pulse of what’s happening in the SF&F marketplace.

Forget about online market listings. Rather, you should spend hours looking at actual books, studying what sort of work each publisher puts out. A wannabe author should be able to name not just their five favorite contemporary SF&F authors (and if the best list you can come up with is Asimov, Clarke and Tolkien, you’re not reading enough new stuff), but also instantly be able to name who each of their publishers are—and understand why they were published by that house and not another.

There is a world of difference between a Baen military-SF novel by John Ringo, a Del Rey contemporary-SF thriller by Greg Bear, and a Tor literate fantasy by Gene Wolfe. If you send your manuscript to the wrong editor, you’re wasting not just the editor’s time, but your own—and with editors taking a year or more to respond to an unsolicited submission, it behooves you to do your homework. Because…

8. Ultimately, It’s All Up to You

Editors do care, and agents can help. But, in the end, it’s only you who really has a large, vested interest in whether or not you succeed. Some established authors think it’s their job to discourage newcomers, because the faint-of-heart might not do well in a rough, competitive marketplace.

Ultimately, I think that’s short-sighted. Yes, the marketplace is harsh and uncaring, but what a loss it would be to our culture if the only books published were by hardened, thick-skinned, tough-as-nails types. There’s a place on bookstore shelves for the shy and the delicate, too.

So, take what advice encourages you, smile politely and ignore advice that discourages you, and, most of all, don’t give up. More than talent, more than luck, more than anything else, this is a game of perseverance—and the only sure way to lose is not to play.


Robert J. Sawyer, called “the dean of Canadian science fiction” by The Ottawa Citizen, has won all three of the science fiction field’s top honors for best novel of the year, the Hugo, the Nebula and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award, as well as eleven Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Awards (Auroras).

The ABC TV series Flash Forward was based on his novel of the same name. Maclean’s: Canada’s Weekly Newsmagazine says, “By any reckoning, Sawyer is among the most successful Canadian authors ever.” Sawyer’s novels are top-ten mainstream bestsellers in Canada. His twenty-three novels include FrameshiftFactoring HumanityCalculating GodWake and the Neanderthal Parallax trilogy: HominidsHumansHybrids.

Rob first entered the Writers of the Future Contest in 1984, and he became a judge for the Contest twenty years later. He lives in Toronto.

WotF finalist Molly Elizabeth Atkins doing research at the library

“Search for Research” by L. Ron Hubbard

A means to overcome writer’s block

Here is the first in a series of articles addressing the barriers to achieving your writing goals as requested by you, the aspiring writer.  In our New Year’s Resolution Survey, the top barrier you expressed to achieving your writing goal was simply the lack of self-discipline. While some said it amounted to being lazy, others stated it as a lack of drive. However you articulate it, it is a common malady and manifestation of writer’s block.

In this same survey, it was also unanimous that you wanted to hear from top-line professionals as to how they overcame these same barriers.

L. Ron Hubbard’s outpouring of fiction—often exceeding a million words a year—was prodigious, ultimately encompassing more than 250 published novels, novellas, short stories and screenplays, in virtually every major genre, from action and adventure, western and romance, to mystery and suspense and, of course, science fiction and fantasy.

In this article, Mr. Hubbard relates how he had come to the heartbreaking conclusion that while writers want to write and sell more stories, they generally fail to try.

So if you are interested in a proven tool to overcome writer’s block, read on…

“Search for Research”

Books with magic lampAll of us want to sell more stories and write better ones. It is hard to believe that there exists a writer with soul so dead that he would not. But, from careful observation, I have come to the heartbreaking conclusion that while writers usually want to do this, they generally fail to try.

Writers are the laziest people on earth. And I know I’m the laziest writer. In common with the rest of the profession I am always searching for the magic lamp which will shoot my stories genie-like into full bloom without the least effort on my part.

This is pure idiocy on my part as I have long ago found this magic lamp, but not until a couple years ago did I break it out and use the brass polish to discover that it was solid gold.

This lamp was so cobwebby and careworn that I am sure most of us have not looked very long at it in spite of its extreme age and in spite of the fact that it is eternally being called to our attention.

The name of this magic lamp is research.

Ah, do I hear a chorus of sighs? Do I hear, “Hubbard is going to spring that old gag again.” “What, another article on research? I thought LRH knew better.”

In defense I instantly protest that I am neither the discoverer nor the sole exploiter of research. But I do believe that I have found an entirely new slant upon an ancient object.

In Tacoma a few months ago, I heard a writer sighing that he washavingahelluvatimegettingplots. This acute writing disease had eaten deeply into his sleep and bankbook. It had made him so alert that he was ruined as a conversationalist, acting, as he did, like an idea sponge. Hanging on and hoping but knowing that no ideas could possibly come his way.

As usual, I injected my thoughts into his plight­—a habit which is bad and thankless.

I said, “Here’s an idea. Why not go out and dig around in the old files at the library and the capitol at Olympia and find out everything you can on the subject of branding? There should be a lot of stories there.”

He raised one eye and leered, “What? Do all that work for a cent and a half a word?

And just to drive the idea home, I might remark that one day I happened into the New York Public Library. Crossing the file room I slammed into a heavy bulk and ricocheted back to discover I had walked straight into Norvell Page and he into me.

I gaped. “Page!”

“Hubbard!” he whispered in awed tones.

Solemnly we shook each other by the hand.

CHORUS: Well, this is the first time I ever saw a writer in a library!

These two instances should serve to illustrate the fact that research does not rhyme with writer no matter what kind of mill you pound.

Research is a habit which is only acquired by sheer force of will. The easy thing to do is guess at the facts—so thinks the writer. When, as a matter of facts, the easy thing to do is go find the facts if you have to tear a town to pieces.

Witness what happened last summer.

Staring me in the face were a stack of dangerous profession stories which have since appeared in Argosy. At that time they were no more than started and I sighed to see them stretching forth so endlessly.

I chose Test Pilot as the next on the list and started to plot it. I thought I knew my aviation because the Department of Commerce tells me so. Blithely, thinking this was easy, I started in upon a highly technical story without knowing the least thing about that branch of flying—never having been a test pilot.

For one week I stewed over the plot. For another week I broiled myself in the scorching heat of my self-accusation. Two weeks and nothing written.

Was I losing money fast!

There wasn’t anything for it then. I had to find out something about test pilots.

Across the bay from my place in Seattle is the Boeing plant. At the Boeing plant there would be test pilots. I had to go!

And all for a cent and a half a word.

I went. Egdvedt, the Boeing president, was so startled to see a real live writer in the place that he almost talked himself hoarse.

Minshall, the chief engineer, was so astounded at my ignorance that he hauled me through the plant until I had bunions the size of onions.

I sighed.

All for a cent and a half a word!

I went home.

About that time it occurred to me that I used to write a lot for the Sportsman Pilot and as long as I had the dope and data, I might as well fix the details in my head by writing them an article.

That done, I suddenly saw a fine plot for my Argosy yarn and wrote that in a matter of a day and a half.

Two months went by. Arthur Lawson came in as editor of Dell and promptly remembered Test Pilot in Argosy and demanded a story along similar lines.

In two days I wrote that.

A month after that, Florence McChesney decided that she needed a twenty-thousand word flying story.

Test Pilot,” says I, “do your stuff!”

Each and every one of those yarns sold first crack out. Article for the Sportsman Pilot, short for Argosy, short for War Birds, twenty-thousand worder for Five Novels.

One day of research = several hundred bucks in stories.

This naturally made me think things over and, not being quite as foolish as editors think writers are, I added up the account book and promptly went to work. Thus, the moral is yet to come.

On the dangerous profession stories which followed, I almost lost my life and broke my neck trying to make them authentic. On each one I kept a complete list of notes and a list of plots which occurred to me at the time. There is enough writing material in that file to last me at least a year. It is the finest kind of copy because it is risky in the extreme, full of drama and high tension. I haven’t any fears about mentioning this, as any writer who is crazy enough to go down in diving suits and up in spar trees deserves all the help he can get.

But research does not end there and that is not the point of this article.

A short time ago I began to search for research on the theory that if I could get a glimmering of anything lying beyond a certain horizon I could go deep enough to find an excellent story.

I stopped doing what I used to do. There was a time when I expected a story to blaze up and scorch me all of its own accord. I have found, however, that there is a premium on divine fire and it is not very bright when used by a pulpateer. This gentleman has to write an immortal story about once every three days to keep eating.

On this plan I began to read exhaustively in old technical books, ancient travel books, forgotten literature. But not with the idea of cribbing. I wanted information and nothing else. I wanted to know how the people used to think here, how the land lay there. Given one slim fact for a background, I have found it easy to take off down the channel of research and canal-boat out a cargo of stories.

In other words, I have no use for an obvious story idea as laid out in Popular Mechanics or Forensic Medicine. I want one slim, forgotten fact. From there a man can go anywhere and the story is very likely to prove unusual.

In one old volume, for instance, I discovered that there was such a thing as a schoolmaster aboard Nelson’s ships of the line.

That was a weird one. Why should Nelson want a schoolmaster?

Answer: Midshipmen.

When did this occur?

Answer: The Napoleonic Wars.

Ah, now we’ll find out how those old ships looked. We’ll discover how they fought, what they did.

And there was the schoolmaster during battle. Where? In the “cockpit” helping hack off arms and legs.

Next lead indicated: Surgery during the Napoleonic Wars.

Wild guess in another allied field: Gunnery.

Again: Nelson.

A battle: On the Nile.

A ship or something strange about this battle: L’Orient, monster French flagship which mysteriously caught fire and blew up, throwing the weight of guns to Nelson.

Incidental discovery: “The Boy Stood on the Burning Deck” was written about the son of L’Orient’s skipper.

Back to midshipmen, the King’s Letter Boys: They were hell on wheels, arrogant, ghastly urchins being trained as officers.

And with all this under my mental belt I girded up my mental loins. Complete after a few days of search I had Mister Tidwell, Gunner, which appeared in Adventure.

All that because I chanced to find there was a schoolmaster aboard Nelson’s ships of the line.

This is now happening right along because I haven’t let the idea slide as my laziness dictated I should.

The final coup d’état arrived last winter.

Boredom had settled heavily upon me and I sat one evening staring vacantly at a shelf of books. They were most monotonous. Whole sets stretched out along the shelves with very little change in color or size. This annoyed me and I bent forward and took one out just to relieve the regularity.

It proved to be Washington Irving’s Astoria, his famous epic of the fur trading days.

It had never been brought home to me that Irving had written such a book and to find out why, I promptly started to read it. The result was, of course, a fur trading story. But the method of arriving at this story was so indirect that it merits a glance.

Irving only served to call to my attention that I was out in the fur trading Northwest and that I had certainly better take advantage of the history of the place.

I roved around, found very little because I had no direct starting point. I went to the Encyclopedia Britannica to discover a bibliography of such source books and started out again to ferret them out.

All these books were contemporary with fur trading days, all of them written, of course, by white men. But everywhere I kept tripping across the phrases, “The Warlike Blackfeet.” “The Bloodthirsty Blackfeet.”

This finally penetrated my thick skull. I did not like it because I thought I knew something about the Blackfeet.

Were they as bad as they were represented?

Into the records. The real records. Into Alexander Henry’s Journal. Into this and out of that until I had a stack of material higher than my desk.

And then I capped the climax by locating a young chap in Seattle who happens to be a blood brother of the Blackfeet. Lewis and Clark’s Journal contained about five pages concerning the circumstances which surrounded the killing of a Blackfoot brave by Lewis.

The way this suddenly shot down the groove is remarkable to remember. The Hudson’s Bay Company, the Nor’Westers, the Blackfeet, John Jacob Astor . . . The story pieces dovetailed with a click.

Coupled with years of experience in the Northwest, these hundred sources jibed to make the story.

The result was Buckskin Brigades, a novel being put out this summer by Macaulay.

Buckskin Brigades came to life because I happened to be bored enough one evening to sit and stare at a line of books on a shelf.

This account of researching is not complete unless I mention a certain dogging phobia I have and which I suspect is deeply rooted in most of us.

H. Bedford Jones mentioned it long ago and I did not believe him at the time. But after rolling stacks of it into the mags, I know that B-J was right as a check.

He said that it was hard for a person to write about the things he knew best.

This gives rise to an ancient argument which says pro and con that a writer should write about the things he knows.

Witnesseth: I was born and raised in the West and yet it was not until last year that I sold a couple westerns. And I only sold those because somebody said I couldn’t.

Know ye: The Caribbean countries know me as El Colorado and yet the only Caribbean stories I can write are about those countries which I have touched so briefly that I have only the vaguest knowledge of them and am therefore forced to depend upon researching the books and maps for my facts.

Hear ye: I wrote fine Hollywood stories until I came down here and worked in pictures. I wrote one while here and the editor slammed it back as a total loss.

There are only a few exceptions to this. I have been able to cash in heavily upon my knowledge of North China because the place appealed to me as the last word in savage, romantic lore. The last exception seems to be flying stories, though after flying a ship I can’t write an aviation story for a month.

The final proof of this assertation came in connection with my Marine Corps stories. Most of my life I have been associated with the Corps one way or another in various parts of the world and I should know something about it.

But I have given up in dark despair.

He Walked to War in Adventure was branded as technically imperfect.

Don’t Rush Me in Argosy, another Marine story, elicited anguished howls of protest.

And yet if there is any story in the world I should be qualified to write, it is a Marine story.

These are my woes. The reason for them is probably very plain to everyone. But I’ll state my answer anyway.

A man cannot write a story unless he is deeply interested in it. If he thinks he knows a subject then he instantly becomes careless with his technical details.

The only way I have found it possible to sidetrack these woes is by delving into new fields constantly, looking everywhere for one small fact which will lead me on into a story field I think I’ll like.

This is not very good for a writer’s reputation, they tell me. A writer, it is claimed, must specialize to become outstanding. I labored trying to build up a converse reputation, hoping to be known as a writer of infinite versatility.

I did not know until two years ago that the specializing writer is persona non grata with an editor. Jack Byrne, for instance, rebuilt Argosy with variety as a foundation. And once I heard Bloomfield sigh that he wished some of his top-notchers would stop sending him the same background week in and week out.

Maybe I am right, possibly I am wrong.

But I believe that the only way I can keep improving my work and my markets is by broadening my sphere of acquaintanceship with the world and its people and professions.

oooOOOooo

Additional hard-won advice from our Contest Judges can be found at WritersoftheFuture.com.


L. Ron Hubbard, 1935About L. Ron Hubbard

With 19 New York Times bestsellers and more than 350 million copies of his works in circulation, L. Ron Hubbard is among the most acclaimed and widely read authors of our time. As a leading light of American Pulp Fiction through the 1930s and ’40s, he is further among the most influential authors of the modern age. Indeed, from Ray Bradbury to Stephen King, there is scarcely a master of imaginative tales who has not paid tribute to L. Ron Hubbard.

 

 

Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

My 2018 Writing Goals. Is This You?

At the end of 2017, a 5-question Writer Survey was done on the subject of writing goals for the new year. Responses came from nearly every state in the US and we’ve posted the tabulation below.

Have a look and see how you fit in.

Q 1 – Which of the following best describes you as a writer?

Question #1

 

Q 2 – What writing goals will you set for 2018?

Question #2

 

Q 3 – How many hours a day do you plan on writing?

Question #3

 

Q 4 – What do you foresee as your biggest barrier to achieving your 2018 writing goals?

With over 130 answers, there were 5 major barriers that came up as the main blocks to achieving writing goals. These are listed below in ascending order.

8% – were blocked on how to open a story and what to write about

8% – had self-doubt and uncertainty on actually being a writer

17% – already worked very long hours with an existing job and so were unable to fit writing in

21% – time, sleep and supplementary school work (mostly college)

27% – lack of self-discipline – this basically was no more complex than recognizing they were being lazy and lacking drive as a writer

 

Q 5 – If a famous SF&F author was to address how they overcame their barriers in achieving their writing goals, would you be interested in reading their story?

A full 92% of those filling out their survey absolutely wanted advice from top selling authors. Such advice is readily available from our Contest judges in Writers of the Future who have come on board as judges for the very purpose of providing a helping hand to the up and coming writer.

These professional writers include:

Kevin J. Anderson
Doug Beason
Dr. Gregory Benford
Orson Scott Card
David Farland
Eric Flint
Brian Herbert
Nina Kiriki Hoffman
Nancy Kress
Todd McCaffrey
Rebecca Moesta
Larry Niven
Jody Lynn Nye
Nnedi Okorafor
Tim Powers
Mike Resnick
Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Brandon Sanderson
Robert J. Sawyer
Robert Silverberg
Dean Wesley Smith
Sean Williams

With that, we will begin a series of how-to articles from the above writer judges to address the barriers listed in this survey, and to align with the purpose of the Contest:

“A culture is as rich and as capable of surviving as it has imaginative artists…. It is with this in mind that I initiated a means for new and budding writers to have a chance for their creative efforts to be seen and acknowledged.” —L. Ron Hubbard

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