From time-to-time, I get into a rut where it seems like nothing I write is any good. This can be self-propagating. You write more and it feels worse, so you write even more and that seems even worse. In reality, it isn’t. When this happens to me, however, writing doesn’t seems as fun as it should and I begin to despair. Science fiction conventions can often turn this around, getting me excited about what I am writing, once again. Yet while there is probably a science fiction convention taking place every weekend of the year, I can only get to three or four, and they don’t often coincide with feeling down about my writing. Fortunately, I’ve discovered something that works just as well:
Yesterday, for instance, I had lunch with Juliette Wade, whose three stories in Analog have impressed just about everyone who has read them. Until yesterday, Juliette and I had never met in person, although we chat quite frequently online. (She is working on a fantastic novel that I have been getting to read quite literally as the chapters come off the presses.) But she happens to be in town and yesterday we spent several hours talking shop while taking bites of food in between.
Shop-talk for writers is a must, I think. Writing is a lonely business. When it comes down to putting the words on paper, it’s just you and the keyboard. I’m sure I’m not unique in saying that most of my long-time friends are not writers. Most of them are not even science fiction fans. This goes for Kelly as well. I can complain to Kelly when I’m having a tough time with a story and she is always sympathetic. But sometimes a writer needs to talk with another writer about the craft of writing, someone who understands the ins-and-outs, the daily struggles, the triumphs and the failures. I come away from these talks always feeling re-energized about my writing.
In an odd way, many professional writers I know don’t talk in detail about the stories they are writing to friends, family, and especially fans. In the case of the former two, talking about the story can take away from the excitement of it. In the case of the latter, you don’t want to give away what you’re writing about. You want your fans to discover the new story once it is complete and be able to enjoy it in its entirety. But when one writer talks to another writer, there seems to be no problem talking about stories. We talked about what we were working on, what we felt worked and what wasn’t working. We talked about finding the time to write. We talked about characters and plots. It was great. It helps to lubricate your brain. Ideas that were struggling begin to flow more freely. You get another perspective on things from someone who has been there. No wonder you can come away from these lunches feeling so energized.
Of course, there are added bonuses, too. For one thing, you get to talk with cool people. For another, you get to hear about stories before they ever see an editors desk, let alone appear in a magazine or anthology. And when the story finally does appear, you can sit back in your chair and smile knowingly, thinking, I remember so-and-so telling me all about that story and I knew it was going to be a hit!
These writers lunches can happen almost any time you need them to, and unlike conventions, they generally don’t require much travel or expense. And yet you still come away with the same net-effect. I am reminded, for one thing, that I am a Science Fiction Writer. For another, I get enthusiastic about writing all over again. Enthusiasm like that is contagious. I wonder how often a famous science fiction writer has come away from a lunch like this and started writing what ultimately became a signature story, or a masterpiece of the genre. I’m sure it has happened. And I can only imagine that it was the enthusiasm they got from talking about writing with another writer that helped jar loose what was needed to take that next step.
So if you ever find yourself struggle with your writing, unsure of your words or story, feed your writer’s block. Call up a writer-friend and invite them to lunch. Then spend the time talking shop. You are certain to come away feeling better.
Writing can definitely be a lonely, solitary, isolating pursuit.
The Shining was not about a photographer or graphic designer, after all!
Paul, that’s so meta!