Jay Has Some Thoughts On Writing

I'm a big fan of JA Konrath's advice on publishing. I think he tells the truth about how much work it is and how tedious it can be, but he also makes it clear what the benefits are for all of that. But I sometimes disagree with his advice on actual writing, like I do with his post here, about how writing is like being an emperor.* I agree with most of it, but here's what he says about writing that I have issues with:

You shouldn't write in a genre you aren't well-read in. You shouldn't submit a story to a magazine unless you've read several issues cover to cover. Every time you write, you aren't reinventing the wheel. You're simply putting a new spin on the wheel. Figure out how the wheel works, then you can spin it accordingly.
There's actually two pieces of advice here, stuck together as one. The second piece--the part I agree with--involves publishing. Do not submit to places (magazines, publishers, agents) that you're not familiar with. Right. Yes. Exactly. Submitting at random is at best a waste of time, and at worst setting yourself up to be the victim of a scam artist. So I totally agree with Konrath there.

It's the first piece of advice--you shouldn't write in a genre you aren't well-read in--that I disagree with. And maybe it's because of my own personal situation that I disagree, so let me do some disclosure.

See, I've got an idea right now. It just popped into my head one day, stitched together from a lot of other stuff and displaced some of the other ideas I've had for a long time. This idea line jumped, in other words. It's right up at the front of the line, waving its hands at me and shouting "pick me! pick me!" and it's even shoved the TNP out of first place, even though I already have a (very) rough first draft of the TNP done.

And this idea, well...it's not something I've done before. It's a little more hard core fantasy than I typically deal in, and a little more sci fi, and it requires some major world building, which is something I've never done before. In other words, a lot of work.

And I'm totally going to write it.

What I'm not going to do is what Konrath suggests--namely going out and getting widely read in the sci fi/fantasy world before I write it. I've read a little bit in those genres, of course,** and I'm familiar with some of the tropes of the genre, but I am by no means "widely read" in either sci fi or fantasy, especially not modern sff. I am going to, to use Konrath's words, re-invent the wheel on this one. I don't care how the old wheel works. I don't want to spin somebody else's old wheel. I want to build my own wheel on this one. From scratch.

But, of course, that's not to say I'm going to sell my new wheel without understanding what sort of wagon it's going to be hitched to. In other words, to sell the book, I'm going to probably have to read up in the genre. See what's been done before. See what's out there. It's possible, sure, to sell a book without knowing what you're selling into. It seems to happen, ironically, to a lot of people who thought they were writing adult books but were actually writing YA. But I wouldn't go out and shop this book without knowing the genre.

So it's not that I disagree that an author shouldn't be widely-read in what they write, I guess I just disagree with Konrath on the timing.

That's how I do things--I don't research first. If I did, I would just end up spending all my time on research and never get anything actually written. I like to strike while the iron is hot, then go back and match up my story to reality later. So I'm going to write this idea the way that I think it should go, and then I'll worry about whether it works with the conventions of the genre and how it satisfies the expectations of the potential audience. But I do that after, not before.***


* Of course, JA Konrath has a successful mystery series published and I haven't sold a book yet. So, you be the judge on what weight to give my opinion versus his.

**True story: one of my writing teachers in undergrad was the late great Jack Williamson, Nebula winner, Hugo winner, famous sci fi guy, and all around cool dude.

***Incidentally, the last part of Konrath's post is especially good, where he talks about how to respect the audience. Notice that "respect" does not mean "give them everything they want" -- it means treat them with respect. Don't try to force a romance into a story that doesn't have one. Don't try to resolve a mystery through the use of too many coincidences. Don't think you're all that, unless you're actually "all that" and even then, don't think it. This is good advice.


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