Nnedi Okorafor at the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest providing tips on how to start writing.

The Sport of Writing by Nnedi Okorafor

Originally published in Writers of the Future Volume 29, this article written by Nnedi Okorafor provides useful writing tips on how to start writing and even more specifically how to start a story. She discusses her personal story beginning with a career as a professional tennis player and how this provided her greatest writing lesson learned. Nnedi explains the battle she fights when beginning a new story, when facing the dreaded blank page and her ultimate triumph that has made her one of today’s most successful fantasy writers.

“The Writers of the Future experience played a pivotal role during a most impressionable time in my writing career. Everyone was so welcoming. And afterwards, the WotF folks were always around when I had questions or needed help. It was all far more than a mere writing contest.” —Nnedi Okorafor


When I was sixteen years old, I learned one of the greatest lessons I could learn as a writer. This was four years before I wrote my first creative work, so I didn’t know this at the time. I was barely paying attention, really. I was too busy trying to win. I was in San Diego, California on the hot tennis court, Wilson tennis racquet in hand, Reebok tennis shoes on my feet. These were from my corporate sponsors, but I loved their products, too.

I was playing in one of the United States Tennis Association (USTA) junior national tournaments. These were where the top young players in the country battled it out. I wasn’t a top seed. Neither was my opponent. I don’t even remember her name. However, she and I were evenly matched and for this reason, our match was long. Where most tennis matches took about an hour, ours had stretched to five and a half.

I’d lost the first set 6–7, won the second set 7–6 and because of this, we had to play a third. The score was 6–6 and we were playing a tiebreaker. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky or a person on the sidelines. We had no audience. Both of us had flown to California alone, so neither of us had parents there to watch.

Regardless, we were two teenagers at war, slugging that ball back and forth, diving for drop-shots, acing serves, really digging into the root of the sport.

All the other girls had finished playing their matches. Everyone but the officials at the front desk had gone home for the day. Finally, after about five hours and forty-five minutes, I won the match. There was no burst of applause. I hadn’t advanced to any namable position like the finals or the semifinals. I didn’t scream or fall to my knees with elation. And if I had, there was no photographer to catch that moment.

Nevertheless, I felt I’d reached the top of Mount Kilimanjaro; I experienced the purest form of success. This had nothing to do with winning and everything to do with loving the game and playing it well after being blessed with a formidable opponent. She and I shook hands and then sat in the shade and drank lots of water. We didn’t talk. We had nothing to say. We went to the front desk and reported our score. That was it.

Nearly a decade passed before I realized the lesson in this experience. Just as in sports, when writing creatively, if you don’t love the craft and art of it, you’ll never experience this pure form of success. Yet when you do have this love, you realize that pure success does not come from fame or fortune, it grows from that love.

Too often athletes and writers are seen as being on opposite sides of the spectrum, culturally, socially and in practice. The seed of this separation is planted early. In elementary and high school, there are “the jocks” who are the athletes and “the nerds” who are the academics (this group more often than not includes those who seek to and will become creative writers). Writers are stereotyped as sedentary people who loathe exercise; their movement is in their heads. Athletes are stereotyped as being anything but academics and thinkers. It is brains versus brawn.

How to Start Writing

Both groups miss out on valuable lessons by being so separated. The fact is that there are many parallels between the worlds of sports and creative writing. In my experience, they are nearly interchangeable. They are both forms of craft and art. Since I am speaking to writers, I’d like to share some of the lessons I learned from sports that are perfectly applicable to writing.

One of the greatest lessons is how to gracefully, bravely face fear. I remember vividly those matches where I had to play against someone ranked just below me. These were matches where I had nothing to gain and everything to lose. One of the unique things about tennis is that it is a very mental sport. The best player does not always win. All it takes is a small distraction and next thing you know, you’ve lost.

For example, I was playing a girl in a tournament when I was about fourteen. I was winning easily. I’d won the first set 6–2 and I was up 5–3. I was about to wrap things up. Then during one of the changeovers (every two games you switch sides), I noticed her left hand. It was prosthetic. I was only about fourteen years old and this killed my concentration. I went on to lose the match because I couldn’t stop looking at her hand and marveling at the fact that she could compensate so well.

Loss of concentration is not the only type of mental struggle when playing someone ranked below you. I was immature and highly competitive and such matches sparked sharp nervous fear. Despite this, I had to go out there. The walk out to the court was like a death sentence. The warm-up was torture. When I began playing the first point, I would find that I had to either curl up and lose or stand up and fight.

This is a battle I fight when beginning a new story when facing the dreaded blank page. There’s a voice in my head saying, “There’s nothing there! How can you create something from nothing? Where do I begin? There’s no instruction manual or guide I can Google.” That blank page is like the opponent who has everything to gain from me and nothing to lose.

Though I feel this fear every time, I have never walked away from it. I stand and face the monster, then I dance with it and it is exhilarating. “If you fear something you give it power over you,” says a North African proverb. And if you conquer that fear, you are rewarded with power and joy.

For one year, between the high school tennis season and my first (and only) year playing college tennis, I joined my high school’s track team. I went on to win over twenty-two medals and compete and place in the state championship in multiple events. My best event was the 400m. This race was once around the track; it is the longest sprint. Whenever I ran this race, something peculiar happened. I’d black out from the hundred-meter mark to the three-hundred-meter mark. Then I’d return to myself in that last hundred meters. The sound of the crowd would burst back into my ears as if it had been on mute and I’d speed up all the way to the finish line.

How to Start a Story

At first, I was disturbed by this blacking out. These were moments where I had no control of what was happening. However, after winning a few races, I learned to stop questioning and just trust in it. This is something I’ve applied to writing many, many times. Practically every successful story I’ve written grew from a “blackout” moment where I would fall into a creative zone. During these times, no matter how hard I try, I cannot recall how I came up with what I wrote. When I first began writing, these moments scared me. I didn’t like the idea of not knowing precisely where something came from or how I wrote it. Nonetheless, many novels and short stories later, I’ve learned not to question, fear, deconstruct or try to remember these blackouts.

There is a side of creativity that defies logic. This is the side that is no longer craft, but art. Imagine driving your car. Now, remove your hands from the wheel. Or imagine running. Now, shut your eyes. Now trust that you will not crash or fall. These are mystical moments for a mystical practice. Both athlete and writer are better off accepting these moments, welcoming them, even seeking to evoke them.

When life happens, certain emotions can cripple progress … like rage. There is one particular tennis match where I was being eaten alive by rage just before I went out onto the court. It was the state championship and I was tired of everything—the constant matches, nosy reporters, trash talking and pressure.

I felt burned out and generally angry at my existence. I just wanted to go home and sleep.

Instead, I had to play a girl who was just below me in rank, one of those “everything to lose and nothing to gain” situations. However, instead of letting that hold me down, I went out there and focused my rage to a razor-sharp edge. Then I used this weapon to demolish my opponent in a half hour. I beat her 6–0,

6–0, acing nearly every serve. I didn’t care about winning; I just wanted to get off the court so I could go relax.

Rage and writing can be enemies or friends. One can be so angry that she walks away from the page because she can’t focus enough to write. The words fall apart when she looks at them. Her eyes cloud with tears so that she can’t see them. The angry throb in her head is too loud for clear thinking. Or one can use that rage to sharpen her pen. Rage can be a great blade sharpener. It doesn’t feel good but it’s burning inside you, so you might as well use it. Don’t let it stop you from producing; channel it into your work instead. Let it serve a purpose. Produce something positive.

My Greatest Lesson

Possibly the greatest lesson that I took directly from sports and brought to writing was stamina. The stamina needed to practice day in, day out and then prove one’s worth in a tournament or track competition is the exact same stamina needed to navigate one’s way through the mental and physical obstacle course of finishing a novel. My days of training for the nationals and state championships helped me tackle the challenges of my first novel, Zahrah the Windseeker. Right after I sold this novel to Houghton Mifflin, my editor asked me to change it from third to first person.

On the tennis court, I’d tell myself, “One point at a time.” When writing, I tell myself, “One page at a time.” One of my favorite Nigerian proverbs is, “Little by little the bird builds its nest.” I used this proverb to create Nnedi Rule Number One: Don’t look a novel in the eye until you are done with the first draft. Focus on the journey, not the destination. This is the best way to reach your destination. Understand that the journey will be tough, perilous and sometimes painful. Never give up, but be willing to change and listen. Finish what you start. I’ve written over twenty novels and there has only been one that I have not finished.

The body and the mind are deeply connected. Writing is a mental and spiritual art but there is a physical side to it, too. One must have the stamina to sit and focus for long periods of time. There’s the physical act of the fingers flying across the keys or the hand holding the pen as it dances across the paper and the mouth moving as it exhales the story. Part of my own writing process includes working out at the gym. My muse sends me many of my finest ideas while at the gym, sweating and breathing hard, blood pumping. Exercise keeps my body fit and I therefore have more energy to burn writing.

It’s all connected.


Nnedi Okorafor

Dr. Nnedi Okorafor is a speculative fiction novelist of Nigerian descent. Her novels include Who Fears Death (winner of the 2011 World Fantasy Award for Best Novel), Akata Witch (an Amazon.com Best Book of the Year), Zahrah the Windseeker (winner of the Wole Soyinka Prize for African Literature), and The Shadow Speaker (winner of the Parallax Award). Her children’s book Long Juju Man won the Macmillan Writer’s Prize for Africa. Her short story “Windseekers” was a Writers of the Future Contest finalist in 2001 and was published in Vol. 18.

Dr. Okorafor holds a Ph.D. in literature and is a Full Professor at the University of Buffalo, New York (SUNY). She became a Writers of the Future judge in 2013.

Find out more at: nnedi.com

Cover art, “One of Our Robots is Missing,” for Writers of the Future 35

Sci-Fi Robots

Real robots and sci-fi robots are not new. Since the Golden Age of Science Fiction, robots have both haunted and amazed us. In any given month, over 2 million robot related searches are done on Google alone.

Works of science fiction have long inspired the field of robotics. Robots and androids also have been an inspiration for speculative fiction authors since the beginning of the genre. In fact, the Bob Eggleton artwork above, used for the cover of L. Ron Hubbard presents Writers of the Future Volume 35, inspired “The Lost Robot” original story by Dean Wesley Smith.

When New York Times bestselling author L. Ron Hubbard wrote of robots, he really wrote about people—this quality set the trend of “humanized” robots and androids in science fiction at a time when the genre stories were about machines and machinery. For instance, in “Battling Bolto” a strong man pretending to be a robot discovers his boss is a robot, and in “Tough Old Man” an aging constable’s lack of feelings is not a matter of insensitivity, but of a secret—and surprising—side of his character. Both of these classic short stories can be found in L. Ron Hubbard’s When Shadows Fall.

While amazing leaps are being made in the world of real science, with robots like Honda’s Asimo (practically a fully functioning android!) and the Mars rover making it possible to explore other planets, we wanted to share some of the most loved science fiction robots and the books and movies that inspired them.

Meet giant robots and android robots—some are currently trending in the media and a few are from the dawn of television, and one of them is a famous robot that got his start in a video game.

 

Alita: Battle Angel

Set in the future, a cyber doctor salvages a cyborg woman by connecting her head with the powerful Berserker body. When she awakens, Alita does not remember the details of her former life and she must learn to navigate this new life on the treacherous streets of Iron City. James Cameron and Jon Landau are producing Alita Battle Angel as an American cyberpunk action film, based on Yukito Kishiro’s manga series. Here is the movie trailer.

Atom of Real Steel

Atom is the “People’s Champion” in the robot boxing science fiction movie Real Steel. Heavy towering robots have taken over the boxing ring, washing up prizefighter Charlie Kenton. Charlie and his estranged son Max come together to create a championship robot boxer for one last chance at redemption in the ring. This film was based on Richard Matheson’s short story “Steel” published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, which was also adapted into a Twilight Zone episode.

Bicentennial Man

The Bicentennial Man was designed as a robot programmed for domestic chores. His uncommon characteristics, like his sensitivity to beauty and humor, lead him on a two-century journey to become more than human. The story was based on the science fiction novel The Positronic Man by Isaac Asimov and Robert Silverberg, which is written in the Foundation universe. I, Robot, is a collection of Asimov’s positronic robot stories. (Definition: positronic refers to a computer brain created by Isaac Asimov that gives a sort of consciousness to robots.)

Bicentennial Man

Baymax of Big Hero 6

Baymax is an inflatable health care robot whose purpose is to take care of people. He is activated by 14-year old Hiro Hamada, and together they fight to avert a deadly plot involving mass production microbots. Big Hero 6 is a Disney animated film inspired by a Marvel comic superhero of the same name and is now a manga series by Haruki Ueno.

Big Hero 6

Box of Logan’s Run

Box is the killer robot in the science fiction film Loganʼs Run. Set in a utopian future, where all is perfect, except that death is mandatory at age 30. The runners are hunted down by an elite police force known as Sandmen. Logan, one of them, decides to become a runner himself and join the resistance, only to find himself frantically pursued by a fellow Sandman. The original novel was written by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson.

Logan’s Run

CHAPPiE

State-of-the-art armor-plated attack robots have virtually replaced the human police force. One police droid, Chappie, is stolen and given new programming to aide a gang of criminals. Chappie soon starts to develop the ability to think and feel for himself. This dystopian science fiction action crime thriller was directed by Neill Blomkamp.

CHAPPiE

Data of Star Trek: The Next Generation

Data is the robot in Star Trek: The Next Generation. He is the sole survivor of an attack on his system. He is a self-aware fully functioning android that serves as the second officer on the USS Enterprise-D. His character replaced Spock in this new generation of Star Trek. The series follows the intergalactic adventures of Captain Jean-Luc Picard, and the crew, as they travel the galaxy and explore new worlds.

Star Trek: The Next Generation

Robot K1 of Doctor Who

Robot K1 is an experimental prototype that starts to learn too quickly, proving too risky a project. While Robot K1 is thought to be retired, it is secretly programmed to kill using a disintegrator gun and his target is the Cabinet Minister and anyone who gets in the way. Doctor Who, a compassionate alien Time Lord, must not only stop Robot K1 but must discover who is behind the plot before it is too late and the death toll ratchets up. Robot K1 is the first of many robots that appear throughout the Doctor Who series.

Doctor Who

Ex Machina

Unbeknownst to Caleb Smith, an internet computer programmer, he has been chosen to be the human element in a capabilities test with Ava, a beautiful android with synthetic intelligence (IA). However, Ava turns out to be more self-aware and deceptive than imagined. Ex Machina is a science fiction thriller film by Alex Garland.

Ex Machina

Gort of The Day the Earth Stood Still

Gort is the deadly robot in the American science fiction film The Day the Earth Stood Still. Gort was brought to Earth by an alien dignitary attempting to warn us. They soon find themselves involved in a government witch-hunt in this science fiction classic. Gort is an eight-foot-tall robot created using a seamless single piece of metal and armed with a laser weapon under his visor that can vaporize matter. This film is based on the short story “Farewell to the Master” by Harry Bates, an editor for Strange Tales and Weird Tales. The robot Gnut in the story became Gort in the movie.

The Day the Earth Stood Still

HAL 9000 of 2001: A Space Odyssey

HAL 9000 is the AI supercomputer that controls the Discovery, a spacecraft used for the mission to Saturn, in 2001: A Space Odyssey. This epic science fiction film was produced and directed by Stanley Kubrick and the novel was written by Arthur C. Clarke. HAL is capable of the highest levels of cognitive functioning, perhaps rivaling—and even threatening—the human mind.

2001: A Space Odyssey

The Iron Giant

A huge robot crash-lands on Earth and is rescued by a young boy. He tries to protect the gentle giant from the military and a nosy government agent. This Warner Brothers’ animation The Iron Giant captures both the imagination and heart. The story was inspired by Ted Hughes’ novel The Iron Man.

The Iron Giant

Johnny 5 of Short Circuit

Johnny 5 is the military experimental robot who escapes after short-circuiting in an electrical storm, in the high-tech comedy Short Circuit. After being struck by lightning, he is given consciousness and decides he’s human. The Defense Department is desperate to find him, but the young woman who found him is protecting him and teaching him a gentler way of life.

Short Circuit

Giant Robo of Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot

Giant Robo, under the voice control of Johnny Sokko, battles countless menacing monsters threatening Earth. This flying robot with his huge size, fiery breath, finger-launching missiles, laser eyes, and physical strength ignited the imaginations of many early robot fans in this Japanese TV series brought to America in the ’70s. It was originally inspired by the Giant Robo manga series created by Mitsuteru Yokoyama.

Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot

Lost Robot

Lost Robot is a huge warrior robot stranded in Lake Mead. Author Dean Wesley Smith, inspired by L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future Volume 35 cover art, writes an original Sky Tate mystery about the discovery of a giant robot warrior and his unusual relationship with a human. Artwork by Bob Eggleton. Order your copy and you will receive another book in the series for free.

Lost Robot

Marvin the Paranoid Android of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Marvin the Paranoid Android from Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is the depressed robot controlling the spaceship Heart of Gold. Earth is being demolished to build an intergalactic highway, and just seconds before the destruction Arthur Dent is rescued by his friend Ford Prefect, who turns out to be a researcher for The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. And thus begins this hilarious adventure through the Galaxy.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Mechagodzilla of Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla

Godzilla meets his match with Mechagodzilla—an enormous robot with the size and strength of Godzilla, further enhanced with rocket-propelled legs, nuclear finger missiles and made of indestructible steel. When the two super-monsters battle in this Japanese science fiction film classic, the entire world is confused by this Jurassic imposter.

Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla

Mega Man

Mega Man is the super fighting robot in a science fiction video game. The game has eleven main games and several spin-offs. A series of corrupted robot masters face Mega Man at the different stages of the game. Mega Man also inspired a Japanese Animated TV series where Mega Man and several video game characters battle Dr. Wily as he attempts to destroy the city with his evil machinations.

Mega Man<

Optimus Prime of the Transformers

The science fiction action movie franchise, the Transformers, features the Autobots, a sentient self-configuring robotic lifeform from the planet Cybertron. Optimus Prime is the leader of the Autobots, and working with others like Bumblebee, forms an alliance to protect mankind against his arch-nemesis Megatron and his Decepticons.

Transformers

R2-D2, C-P3O, BB-8 of the Star Wars franchise

The Star Wars science fiction movies have long featured robots and androids (known simply as ‘droids’) as integral characters. R2-D2, C-P3O, and BB-8 are universally recognized robots. This epic space opera is set a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. There are eight main movies so far released (and several other character and sub-plot movies) and many books in the series.

Star Wars

Robby the Robot of Forbidden Planet

Robby the Robot was designed by Dr. Morbius, a stranded survivor on the distant world of Altair IV, in the classic science fiction film the Forbidden Planet. He was programmed using the deciphered secrets of a long-extinct race. When a rescue mission arrives 20 years later, Dr. Morbius refuses to give up the technology and mysteriously the rescuers start being killed off.

Forbidden Planet

RoboCop

Alex Murphy, a murdered Detroit cop, becomes RoboCop—a crime-fighting cyborg equipped with high-tech weaponry in this science fiction action film. Despite his nearly indestructible exterior, he has nightmares of his previous existence and his murder that drive him to do more than fight crime—he wants revenge.

RoboCop

Robot 7723 of Next Gen

A top-secret combat robot known as 7723 teams up with the rebellious young Mai in this action-packed animated Netflix feature movie. They set out to stop a vicious madman from world domination. Here is the Next Gen trailer.

Next Gen Netflix

Robot B9 of Lost in Space

The un-named B9 robot from the TV series Lost in Space has become an iconic cultural image, and often demonstrated human characteristics, and is remembered for warning young Will Robinson of impending danger by saying, “Danger, Will Robinson!”

Lost in Space

Roy Batty (Nexus-6 replicant) of Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049

Roy Batty is the renegade leader of the Nexus-6 replicants, in Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049. Originally created for off-world military service, he is a combat replicant and main antagonist. Agent Deckard hunts the destructive fugitive replicants in this high-tech dystopian science fiction thriller inspired by Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Blade Runner 2049

The Terminator

In a future where Skynet’s synthetic intelligent machine network has virtually wiped out mankind, John Connor forms a resistance. To stop the resistance before it is begun, a ruthless cyborg terminator is sent back in time to kill Sarah Connor, John’s mother, before he is born. The Terminator franchise was created by James Cameron and Gale Anne Hurd.

The Terminator

Wall·E

WALL·E, a Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-class, is the last functioning robot on Earth. He has spent 700 years cleaning up the planet one piece of trash at a time. 700 years is a long time and he has become very lonely. When the spaceship Axiom sends in the EVE probe in search of plant life, WALL·E is smitten. WALL·E embarks on his greatest adventure as he follows EVE across the Galaxy in this animated masterpiece by Pixar.

Wall·E

Yod of He, She and It

Yod is a unique cyborg implanted with intelligence, emotions, and the ability to kill, and created to protect Tikva, the Jewish free town in Marge Piercy’s cyberpunk novel He, She and It. When Shira returns home to Tikva, she is recruited by her brilliant grandmother to help protect the city and meets Yod, who she develops an unexpected relationship with.

He, She and It


This article would not be complete if we did not share some amazing videos about real robots that show the leap from science fiction robots to reality:

Let us know your favorite sci-fi robot.

Other articles you may be interested in:
Science fiction is the herald of possibility: How fantastic fiction has become science fact

Science Fiction’s Role in Space Flight

Not Your Typical Science Teacher

New Year's resolution

The Future of Short Stories: A New Year’s Resolution

Writers of the Future is a contest built upon short stories, inspired by the days of pulp fiction, where short was de rigueur, whether science fiction short stories or fantasy short stories.

So we want to help you start off the New Year by keeping with the original goal for Writers of the Future as stated by L. Ron Hubbard when he launched the Contest in 1983, to “provide a means for new and budding writers to have a chance for their creative efforts to be seen and acknowledged.”

What better way to make a New Year’s resolution than to ask some of the top names in publishing their thoughts on the future of short stories. Allow them to help you reaffirm your goal to be a published author of fantasy short stories or science fiction short stories!

Bill Fawcett

Bill Fawcett“I see short fiction and media merging with cut scenes and videos weaved into eBook formatted stories and audio read stories … Multifiction format.”

Bill Fawcett, an American editor, anthologist, game designer, book packager, fiction writer, and historian.


David Farland

David Farland“The future for short fiction has never been brighter. With a plethora of new online magazines, it’s now cheaper to produce and distribute great short fiction than ever before, and so I see a burgeoning market over the next decade or two!”

David Farland, an international bestselling author, a writing instructor, and the Coordinating Judge for Writers of the Future.


Mike Resnick

Mike Resnick“The short story, as has been shown over the past couple of centuries, can be as powerful as the novel. It’s quicker to write, easier and cheaper to publish, takes less of a time commitment on the part of the reader (and usually, though not always, the author), and there’s no question that it’s here to stay. I would guesstimate that there are more short stories in print from the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s than there are novels in print from that same time period.”

Mike Resnick, has sold 69 science fiction novels and more than 250 short stories and edited 40 anthologies, and is Editor of Galaxy’s Edge Magazine.


Jody Lynn Nye

Jody Lynn Nye“With a single plot and a world drawn with rapid strokes, short fiction has a flexibility that long fiction does not. Readers can have the pleasure of downloading a piece to enjoy with their lunch, during a commute, or just standing in line. Writers have been experimenting with the explosion in social media and new technology to get their work into the hands of more readers than ever before. We’re already seeing short stories being posted on websites, transmitted over Twitter, or downloaded on cell phones (especially in Japan), in both text and audio formats. Every advance in communication is an opportunity for writers to offer their ideas, their characters, their worlds to readers. Short stories are those bite-sized pieces ready for those eager consumers.”

Jody Lynn Nye, the author or co-author of approximately 40 published novels and more than 100 short stories.


Dean Wesley Smith

Dean Wesley Smith“I think in this new world of indie publishing, short fiction will play a major part in a lot of different areas, from increased cash flow to promotions to discoverability of a writer’s work. In essence, I think any writer working into the future must know short fiction and make it a regular part of their writing.”

Dean Wesley Smith, has published almost 200 novels in 40 years, and hundreds and hundreds of short stories across many genres.


Nancy Kress

Nancy Kress“In science fiction, short fiction has gotten increasingly sophisticated and literary, and as a new generation writes, its social concerns will be reflected in fiction’s themes, as has always been true.”

Nancy Kress, bestselling author of 26 novels and four collections of short stories.


Orson Scott Card

Orson Scott Card“The investment a writer makes in a novel is staggering. For months or years of their lives, writers concentrate on a single story, usually a complex one, with many threads. Living inside that world, it becomes familiar and, when the books emerge, they are self-consistent exactly to the degree that the writers disciplined themselves to stay within the bounds of that fictional reality.

“In short fiction, however, the investment of time is far less burdensome. The writers have room to play, to explore. If they come upon an idea that contradicts what they said earlier, it’s a simple thing to go back and revise in order to fit in the new idea—because they will be revising here and there among 20 pages, not 200 or 1,000.

“Creativity, not consistency, is the river that spawns short fiction. Short fiction can make nonce rivulets that flow where there has been no stream before. It is in short fiction that genres are defined and redefined, banks and boundaries oversplashed and, in some cases, eroded away, to move the community of writers and readers into new channels and new possibilities.

“No television show can ever take the place of short narrative fiction, because the huge budgets required even for the cheapest storytelling podcast or vlog, compared to the cost of purveying short fiction, make it commercially impossible to create screen stories that do not meet audience expectations and follow the tropes and obey the parameters of existing genres.

“Even though television and its stepchildren on other screens have largely replaced short fiction in the attention of the vast public, there remains a select audience that recognizes that in the text of short fictional narratives, the best writers are carving out new territory. It won’t be ready for television for decades, in all likelihood—yet through that select audience, the influence of the short fiction will spread, opening the minds of the wider audience until they are ready to receive the new worlds and ways invented and discovered by the writers of short stories, novelettes, and novellas.”

Orson Scott Card, international bestselling author (Ender’s Game) and publisher of Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show


As we enter 2019, the future of short stories, whether science fiction short stories or fantasy short stories, looks brighter than ever. So if your dream is to be a published writer, then heed what these top authors above have said and avail yourself the opportunity provided by the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest.

Make your New Year’s resolution. Enter the Contest. And allow your creative efforts to be seen and acknowledged.

 

 

Katherine Kurtz with her bestselling Deryni Rising

Writers of the Future Welcomes Bestselling Author Katherine Kurtz as its Newest Judge

It is with considerable enthusiasm that we announce Katherine Kurtz as the newest judge in the Writers of the Future Contest.

Katherine, known for her fantasy writings, is the author of sixteen historical fantasy novels in the Deryni series. She is also known for her alternate history Templar series and urban fantasy Adept series.

I Always Try to Help

We were introduced to Katherine at Dragon Con by Writers of the Future judge Jody Lynn Nye and Bill Fawcett. It rapidly became apparent that Katherine would be perfect as a judge as she brings with her a strong desire to help aspiring writers—stating, “I always try to help up and coming writers and am delighted to be able to judge in the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest.”

Also discovering that Katherine was great friends with Anne McCaffrey, who had been a Contest judge until her passing in 2011, even living near Anne in Ireland, made her all the more desirous to have on board.

World Fantasy Award-winning author Tim Powers and longtime Writers of the Future judge was enthusiastic about the prospect of Katherine coming on board and stated, “Katherine Kurtz has written some of the finest fantasies of our time.”

When L. Ron Hubbard created the Writers of the Future Contest, he wanted to provide a “means for new and budding writers to have a chance for their creative efforts to be seen and acknowledged.” So it was important to provide the best possible opportunity for writers to pursue their dream however envisioned. We wanted top brand judges who, combined, specialized in all aspects of speculative fiction.

About Katherine

Katherine sold her first novel, Deryni Rising (actually, the first trilogy, The Chronicles of the Deryni) on her first submission attempt! She completed her second two novels, Deryni Checkmate and High Deryni, while completing her MA in medieval English history at UCLA and writing instructional materials for the Los Angeles Police Department. Her early work built on the popularity of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings Trilogy, but she soon defined and established her own sub-genre of “historical fantasy” set in close parallels to our own medieval period and featuring “magic” that much resembles what some of us might call extrasensory perception.

Rainsdon Brittany Certificates

Birthing Stories: Five in Thirty-Five by Brittany Rainsdon

I’m Brittany. I’m a nurse. I’m also a mom. I just had a baby. And I got my fourth quarter entry in for the Writers of the Future Contest while working around giving birth. Crazy? Maybe. But sometimes our dreams make us push a little harder (pun intended) and crazy things make a certain kind of sense.

Discovering Writers of the Future

I first heard about Writers of the Future approximately two years ago, when I took an online writing class and was assigned to research potential markets. A few clicks made it clear this was the contest to enter—but it almost seemed too good to be true. In fact, I remember querying a few writer friends to find out if the contest was indeed legit. It was.

Another assignment involved reaching out to published authors from my target market and asking for an interview. Still intrigued by the contest, I hit up Sharon Joss, a previous Golden Pen winner (she also has eight novels under her belt). She gave me an entire page of writing tips and advice, but perhaps her most far-reaching was this: join the Writers of the Future Forum, a discussion board where members communicate about the contest.

I did.

I immediately found friends who wanted to exchange stories, talk craft, and some even seemed to have insider information on how to do well (Coordinating judge, David Farland’s tip emails were foreign to me at the time). They preached producing a fresh story every quarter, not giving up, and maybe (eventually) you would win.

They were right. Even if I didn’t win, my craft would. I would form habits. If I kept writing and then sending my best stories to other markets, I could even pro-out. That would be a win in and of itself. I’ll admit, I haven’t sold anything yet—but with two honorable mentions and a silver honorable mention from this contest, I have hope I’m on the right track. Writing professionally is a marathon, not a sprint.

At the start of Volume 35, one “forumite” set up a challenge—enter every quarter. I had already entered three in a row the previous year, so I committed to do four more. Obviously, at the time, I didn’t know I would deliver a little girl a few days before the end of the final quarter.

When two pink lines did show up a few months later, I determined to plow through all four quarters regardless. What’s a little morning sickness? But I discovered it was much harder producing stories while pregnant. I had three other children, and well, they didn’t exactly slow down when my body did.

Although it got harder to write with each trimester (and Writers of the Future quarter!), the real scrambling didn’t start until the end. For some reason (I blame hormones), I decided the old nursery needed to be completely redone and sanitized. I love my three other kids, but kids can be gross! We scrubbed the walls, painted, caulked, put up wainscoting, rented a carpet cleaner, and even sewed a matching nursery set. Coupling that with other health issues (thanks again, hormones), writing time became slim. Slimmer still as I felt like I couldn’t work on anything non-baby related until the baby came.

As the final quarter drew to a close, my story remained unfinished. With twelve days left in the contest and my baby overdue, I needed a boost. I took to the Forum.

Whenever I tell people my goals, it makes me more accountable. It’s the reason I’ve joined consistent critique groups in the past—friends help friends get things done. The Forum proved to be that and more.

When I told the “forumites” about my desire to finish, they were super supportive, but also reminded me to be reasonable. Having a baby is kind of a big deal, and they advised me it would be okay to take a pass this round. No judgment. I still wanted to finish, but it was a reality check that health and family came first. I told myself I would only write if I had time and it made sense.

I didn’t touch my story.

Instead, I focused on making my home baby-ready, caring for my other children, and eating as much spicy food and pineapple I could handle (spicy food to start contractions, and pineapple to prep the cervix for delivery). For the record, pineapple core is gross, but not so bad when blended into a smoothie.

When the baby still didn’t come, we scheduled to induce labor on the twenty-fourth. All my other children had come naturally, so medical intervention made me nervous—especially when well-meaning women would tell me their induction horror stories. And what would recovery be like? I didn’t think it would include writing. Still unwilling to admit defeat, I gave my laptop the side eye and packed it into my hospital bag.

Giving Birth

Rainsdon's BabyLucky for me, I went into labor on my own a few hours before my scheduled induction and had my little girl in my arms shortly thereafter. It was, perhaps, my easiest labor.

So, I wasn’t exactly giving birth with a typewriter atop my belly, but I was incredibly grateful I had my computer in the delivery room. When the rush of adrenaline came that wouldn’t let me sleep for hours, I had something to do.

While still in the hospital and snuggling my newborn close, I typed out everything but the last scene. I kept my promise to only write while it made sense. If I was tired, I slept, and when my other children came to visit, I visited.

Transitioning to home was difficult. The baby didn’t sleep, I didn’t sleep, and it seemed I had tripped just before the finish line. But my sweet husband knew my goal and offered to take the children on Friday afternoon (the twenty-eighth) so I could finish my story. A few hours later the deed was done.

On the last day of the contest, I edited as much as I could and then hit submit. It was my most rushed entry, I had no time for critiques, but hitting that button felt oh, so good. Four submissions in Volume 35—but by my count, I produced five in 35. I dare you to count differently. I birthed two babies that week!

I think I’ll keep pushing.


Brittany RainsdonBrittany Rainsdon grew up as the only girl in a family with four brothers. She’s reversing that trend with her own children—three girls and one boy. Brittany is a registered nurse and has worked in both medical/surgical and rehabilitation nursing. When she went to her first writing conference in 2017, she wore a new pair of green glasses and several people recognized her during lessons as “that girl in the glasses.” She kept the nickname and uses it as her tag on the Writers of the Future Forum. Brittany wants to eventually publish novels, but is currently focusing on writing short stories.

Author Scott Parkin (right) with fans at SLC FanX18

Writer or Author? How to start a story playing with a question…

I think the answer is pretty straight-forward. A writer writes; an author publishes for a paying audience. So while every author is a writer, not every writer has the stuff to be an author.

How do you make the transition (other than the obvious: selling)? You develop and internalize the tools needed to produce material that satisfies both your own inner critic and a publisher’s needs—and use those tools to deliver on-time and according to request (word count, genre, subject matter).

Things to Write About

For example, when you see a call for submissions for an anthology of urban fantasy with a deadline in two days, do yourself a favor and figure out what urban fantasy is. I had no idea, so I wrote a nice bit of magic realism involving a miniature horse and a WW1 veteran (based on a real person), then set it in Berlin. Sent it off the next morning so it would arrive before the deadline. Got a lovely rejection that same day from an obviously confused editor who said, “It’s urban … and it’s fantasy. But it’s not urban fantasy. Good luck selling this elsewhere.”

Oops. I hit the deadline just fine, but I didn’t understand the genre or its tropes. Writer, not author.

Sometimes you don’t have time to wait for the muse to provide inspiration for things to write about. So you learn to make anything into a story. I once used an “Empty every night” label on a trash can as a fantasy writing prompt to write a story that I’ve now sold three times by playing the question game.

How to Start a Story

Empty every night… Empty what? Stories are about characters so it should be a character who is emptied. Emptied of what? Thoughts? Toxins? Hope? Memories. His memories are edited each night. Is he a robot or a person? Editing a person’s memory is both harder and more horrific, so it’s gotta be a person. Who does it? Government agents? Caring family? Himself? I like the idea that he edits his own memories, but I think it’s more horrific if it’s done to him by someone he trusts. Aliens? Yes. Aliens whose only desire is to help, so it hurts them to do this cruel but necessary thing to him.

And so on until you’ve answered enough questions to generate a plot with try/fail cycles, character jeopardy, and meaningful consequences. What to write about—all from a trash can label.

Sometimes when working out how to start a story you start with an idea. I recently sold a piece based on the question, “What makes someone beautiful?” Sometimes you start with a colorful character as I did with the horse/veteran story above. Or an image, as I did with a microchip advertisement that featured a chrome-clad warrior woman standing atop a silicon wafer—who I immediately recognized as The Electric Valkyrie.

So go out into the world and experience new things to generate new images, characters, and questions that you can then transform into a story. You can literally turn anything into a story by playing the question game and exercising a little creative imagination.

Writer or Author?

In fact, this post is based on exactly that. I wrote an odd, quirky little experimental story that ended up winning a prize in the Writers of the Future Contest. (Read “Purposes Made for Alien Minds” in L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future Volume 31.) At the award ceremony, I noticed that the announcer always referred to the winners as either author or artist, and that set me to wondering why. And of course, I already knew the answer—an answer that had been reinforced time and again during the week-long workshop before the awards.

Authors are those who can turn anything into a story that’s well-written and interesting enough to be published. All you have to do is work hard and compellingly answer a few simple questions.

 

Scott Parkin after his book signing at FanX Salt Lake City 2018.


Scott ParkinScott R. Parkin is an author, essayist, podcaster, and pop critic who’s sold more than fifty short stories to a wide variety of markets from literary-academic to romance to military SF. He is also a proud winner in the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest.

Alicia Cay certificates

How To Start Writing

I have always known that I am a writer. With the kind of knowing you feel deep in your bones and emanates from the very core of your being. And as writers must do, I write. Although that wasn’t always the case. How to start writing…

A Writing Contest

About eight years ago my Mom returned from a trip to Los Angeles with a couple of books she had gotten for me. One was the coffee table book, L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future—The First 25 Years, which she had even gotten signed by someone. The other book was the contest’s most recent anthology at the time, Volume 27. My Mom encouraged me to read about the writing contest and send in a story. Somehow she knew it too, before I had ever written a purposeful word of fiction, that I was a writer, and I just needed a nudge in the right direction. I appreciated the gift, thanked her, and promptly tucked the book away on a shelf. I don’t think I even cracked the binding.

A Writers’s Journey Begins

Three years later my Mom passed away, and it took another two years for the haze of grief to thin enough for me to realize, it was time to begin writing. But where to start? As if in answer, a writer showed up in my life and took me under his wing. He introduced me to the world of writing, showed me where to begin, and even took me to my very first Sci-Fi/Fantasy convention. Now, I had heard about the contest from those books my Mom had given me, but at the convention something happened that was going to change the direction of my entire life. I met a previous winner of the Writers of the Future writing contest who was kind enough to share her experience with me, and that, as the old saying goes, was all she wrote. I decided right then and there I was going to start writing, enter the contest, and win! This meant that I, who had never written a short story before in my life, now had a month to write one and get it submitted before that quarter’s deadline.

My First Story

The first thing I did when I got home from the convention was to dig out those books my Mom had gotten me, and I began to pour over every word. I learned everything I could about the contest itself, and began to read and study the stories written by previous winners. I even studied the contest judges, previous and current, reading at least one book or story from each of them.

I managed to get a story written and submitted by the end of that quarter. Two months later I was rewarded for my efforts with an Honorable Mention. I haven’t missed a quarter since.

Twelve Quarters Later

Twelve quarters and many stories later, I have attended other conventions and met other Writers of the Future winners, all of them kind enough to offer a word of encouragement or sign their story in one of the volumes I have collected. I also attended one of David Farland’s wonderful writing workshops, where he taught us how to bring our stories to life and immerse the reader into our worlds. A few of my short stories have even given way to novel ideas (pun intended), and I’m working on those now. Of course, I always make sure to get a story entered into each quarter of the contest as well.

I am beyond grateful. This contest started me writing and it has kept me writing. It gives me a deadline, and a goal worth achieving. Plus, there are those cool certificates that show up in my mailbox and keep me encouraged—nine Honorable and Silver Honorable Mentions to date—such a treat! The contest also pushes me to continue to improve my writing, and not only my writing, but in my life too. I had to come out of my shell to learn how to network. I’ve found other writers to talk to, I’ve made new friends, and I’ve become part of an awesome writing group. All of these things I have reached for because there was a need for it—because I want to be a better writer, and because I am going to win this contest. To do that, I need to write a story worthy of those who have come before me, and whose words grace the pages of each new Writers of the Future volume.

Oh, and that signature in the Writers of the Future book that my Mom gave me? Turns out she got Kevin J. Anderson, one of the contest judges, to sign it for me. So yeah, Kevin got to meet my Mom. Lucky guy.


Alicia CayAlicia Cay has had a loyal love affair with books since she could read, collects quotes, and suffers from wanderlust. She currently writes short fiction, has had two of her stories published in SF/F anthologies, and is working on her first novel. Alicia lives in Denver with a corgi, a cat, and a lot of fur. Follow her writing and traveling adventures at: aliciacay.com.

Dave Wolverton and Algis Budrys

A Different Kind of Writing Workshop

David Farland with Algis Budrys at the Writers of the Future workshop in 1991

When L. Ron Hubbard initiated the Writers of the Future contest, he knew that there would be awards and publications for the winners. As Algis Budry, the first contest administrator put it to me, “He wanted to make sure that this helped launch new writers. That it gives them publication and some notoriety, along with enough prize money from winnings and publication so that a new writer could invest in his or her career by purchasing a new computer, doing research, and so on.”

But he wanted more for the new writers. He wanted them to meet and mingle with real professionals, people who had struggled and made their mark on the field, and he wanted to do that in the context of a writing workshop.

So a different kind of workshop was envisioned. They knew that the authors who won would already be good writers—maybe even incredibly gifted and talented writers. So a decision was made early on: We’re not going to go back over the basics. We aren’t going to teach the writers yet once again how to polish a sentence.

How to Become Writers

It was reasoned that each of these writers would have learned to write, at the very least, a professionally sellable story, and probably a great story. So what do you teach a writer who already knows the basics of how to write?

The answer was to teach them “How to become writers.” In other words, teach them how to move from being an armchair quarterback and to get into the game.

You see, people have a lot of odd ideas about what writers do. They imagine that we go to scenic mountain resorts and type out a manuscript, then deliver it to an editor to great applause. What most people don’t know about writing is this: Writing can and should be hard work.

So a workshop was created to give advice that would be perfect for taking budding new writers into the professional arena.

Algis put the lesser amount into the workshop, and so I will cover his offerings briefly. He suggested that in the mid-1980s, most new authors weren’t being taught how to plot a novel or short story. He was right.

Plotting a Story

Throughout the 1930s to the 1980s, many in the mainstream were rejecting the idea of literature that they felt “relied upon plot.” Such literature—which included things like romance, mysteries, and science fiction—were called “genre literature,” and were not considered worthy of study. Certainly, in many creative writing programs, plotting was something that was never taught. In my school, Brigham Young University, several professors refused not only to teach how to write genre literature but demanded that students not even read or study it, since it was unworthy of emulation.

Now, it didn’t matter that the most popular stories in the world were well plotted, or that “genre authors” very often outsold literary authors a thousand copies to one. Nor did my teachers realize that their notions were antiquated and had been proven wrong in other mediums. For example, in poetry when many of the beat poets were suggesting that poets ought to revolt against form in writing, Robert Frost famously silenced them by saying that “Writing poetry without rhyme is like playing tennis without a net.” In short, it makes the artist weak and sloppy. His real answer to them, though, came in his own magnificent poems that used rhyme and near-rhyme so effectively that the rhyme schemes became invisible, so that you could read one of his poems in a natural voice and not discover until after you stopped and studied the poem that it was a perfect sonnet.

In short, Algis’s argument in favor of form is simple: A formed story can be more powerful than one that has no form. So he decided to talk about form in the workshop. How do you write a plotted story? He chose a simple adventure plot, and advised writers on how to handle it. As he put it, “This isn’t the only way to write a formed story, but if you use it, you can make an entire career using this basic plot line.”

So he taught authors how to write a simple story. You can learn about his structure in an article called “Writing to the Point,” which is available from Wordfire Press. It is one of the most insightful little books on plotting you’ll ever find.

When Algis wrote it, I don’t recall ever seeing any other book on plotting—and I looked. I was researching the craft heavily, and I really wanted to know. Eventually, I became an expert on plotting myself, and you can read some of my insights into it in my book Million Dollar Outlines, where I teach not only how to create a plot, but also teach enough advanced audience analysis so that a writer can figure out how to write a bestseller.

Of course, in the past thirty years, I’ve seen a number of other fine books on plotting come out, and they are readily available now.

Becoming Your Own Muse

L. Ron Hubbard wanted to talk about more than just plotting, though. He wanted to talk about a lot more. He wanted to talk about where ideas for stories come from, and how to generate them off-the-cuff, so that if an editor calls you looking for a story or a novel, you can compose the tale in a matter of a few hours, rather than agonizing over them for years.

So Ron contributed articles like “The Manuscript Factory,” where he emphasizes that an author is a factory that produces manuscripts for a living. If you aren’t producing, you’re like a factory that has shut down.

He also contributed articles like “Magic Out of a Hat,” where writers learn to draw upon their broad experience in travel and in learning various vocations so that they can “write what they know.”

Most writers are insular people—folks who make their friends in books, so that they have little in the way of first-hand experience to draw upon. But the most successful writers in science fiction have been people who have studied engineering, worked in the military, become doctors or researchers.

In short, his advice can be boiled down to “live a large life.” As a teen, Ron left home to travel the world, becoming a photographer in China, joining the Explorer’s Club, learning to fly a plane and pilot a ship, and eventually joining the military. All of his experiences became fuel for his stories.

So he designed exercises to help writers identify some of their own unique experiences. Maybe the author has worked as a cop or a prison guard? Maybe she’s been through an ugly divorce? Maybe he was abused as a child? All of that can add details and realism to a story.

And of course, he suggested that we keep learning. Ron designed exercises to help people learn how to go start up conversations with strangers, or how to research information at libraries.

In short, I think that he would say that the person who refuses to live life, to go out and experience it, to examine it, is probably not going to go very far.

Oh, yeah, and there is that productivity thing. I remember in college hearing a quote from an ancient Greek philosopher who said that if he could go out and come up with a perfect sentence in a single day, he felt gratified. It was enough.

But that’s foolish. One sentence a day won’t do it. Instead of writing one perfect sentence in a day, I’d rather write twenty pages of damned-fine scenes, and with some jobs, it might take more. A real writer sometimes has to roll up his sleeves and get to work. If a producer needs a hundred-page screenplay in two weeks, you write it in two weeks. I recall writing a Star Wars book at 3 a.m. and feeling exhausted, so I put in another two and a half hours before I caught some sleep.

All of that “Sitting around and waiting for the muse” is tripe. Real writers become their own muses.

So Ron suggested that we have our winners compose a story in a day. For many writers, that seems undoable. But most of our writers discover that not only is it doable, it becomes an essential skill.

The Point of the Writers of the Future Workshop

Last of all, L. Ron Hubbard wanted to expose the winners to some of the wisdom of the best current writers in the field, so on the last couple of days of the workshop, the authors get to hear from and hobnob with our contest judges, where they learn the industry secrets and gossip that you won’t find in any writing books.

The entire workshop is a big and exhausting event, and it is sometimes hard on some of our winners. For example, early on, Algis and I had to decide how to start the workshop. We might have people flying in from all over the world on a Monday. Some of our winners might have flown in from places like Australia, or London, or South Africa. They’d have terrible jetlag. So we considered giving them that first night off, but when we talked to students, most of them were excited to get started.

So we decided to introduce them to the workshop that first night in part so that our winners would be able to get some work done.

But we felt that there was something far more important that happened: When we introduce the students to one another on that first night, they always get together and begin to talk, to compare notes, and to socialize. They bond, and in effect, they often begin to become best friends for life. We’ve even had couples marry.

So if you win the contest, and you’re jet-lagged that first night, and I call you in so that we can all introduce ourselves, blame me. Sorry, you might lose a little sleep, but you’ll gain something more.

Really, what I want to emphasize is this. The point of the Writers of the Future workshop was never to “teach you how to write.” Instead, the goal was to teach you some more important skills, like “How to succeed as a working writer.”

 


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.

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.