On being a science fiction writer

Last night, as we spent the evening in the family room with a fire going in the fireplace, Kelly put on the HBO show, “Talking Funny.” I’d never heard of it until I saw it. It’s a 50 minute show with four of the greatest modern comedians talking shop: Jerry Seinfeld, Louis CK, Chris Rock and Ricky Gervais. It was a very funny and very entertaining show, and you really did get into the creative minds of stand up comics.

But something Jerry Seinfeld said about being a stand up comic really stuck with me. They were talking about the first time they ever went out. Did they bomb, were they a hit? Jerry said he bombed the first time he went on stage but that it absolutely didn’t matter. He said (I’m paraphrasing), “All I ever wanted to be was one of those guys. I wasn’t in it for the success or the money. I just wanted to be one of those guys. The minute I got out on stage and did my routine, I was one of those guys and that’s all that mattered to me.”

It really resonated with me because that is exactly how I feel about being a science fiction writer. Growing up reading Isaac Asimov and Barry Malzberg and Robert Silverberg and Cyril Kornbluth and Robert J. Sawyer and Connie Willis and Joe Haldeman and C. L. Moore and Nancy Kress and Robert Reed and Harlan Ellison (the list goes and and on) all I ever wanted to do was be one of those guys–that is, do what they do. Tell the kind of stories that I loved to read. And the minute I got out on the stage–or as it is in our case, made my first professional sale and my story was in front of a paying audience–I was one of those guys. I’d done it.

I had–as I’m sure many SF/F/H writers had–a creative writing professor who recognized some small amount of talent in me and proceeded to lecture me on how I was wasting my talent writing science fiction. “Why do you want to write science fiction?” he’d ask me. As a junior in college I never had a particularly good answer for him. How I wish I could go back and say to him simply, “Because I want to be one of those guys,” and then walk away, leaving him to wonder what the heck it was I meant.


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