I don’t know if other writers were like me, but when I first decided I wanted to be a writer, part of it was driven by some innate desire to tell stories, and part of it was driven by, what seemed to me, to be the glamor of being a science fiction writer. I’d read a lot of science fiction, and I’d read about the lives of the people who wrote science fiction. The stories they told made the life of a science fiction writer seem somehow glamorous1 and exciting to me.
After I sold my first story, back in 2007, this interest in the backstage goings-on of the science fiction world increased. I started attending conventions. I started talking to other writers and editors about the “inside baseball” of the writing world, and I loved it. In fact, I loved it so much that it seemed that my fascination with this world that I’d come into–the world of SF/F/H–overtook my enjoyment of the simple act of telling stories. This fascination probably reached its peak in late 2011/early 2012 and if I were to attempt to plot out this fascination of mine with the inside baseball of SF/F/H, it would look something like this:
This fascination of mine with the inside baseball–or shop talk–of the SF/F/H world has pretty much burned itself out. I think there are several reasons for this, the first and foremost of which is that something is always more fascinating where you are outside of it, as opposed to being part of it. We are fascinated by the lives of movie stars in part because we are not movie stars. Were I to become a movie star, I can imagine a graph that would look somewhat similar to the one above. Once I became a writer and got to see behind the curtain, things became a lot less fascinating.
Another important reason is that I was surprised by how little of the shop talk seems to focus on telling good stories. There was some of this, but it was a distressingly small fraction of what I saw going on behind the scenes. Instead, I saw the typical cliques forming, and discussions that were always polarizing. And although I participated in these discussions myself, I think I quickly grew tired of yet another discussion of self-publishing vs. traditional publishing, or whether or not awards were good things. These were traps, all of them, that sapped away time from the thing I had come to do in the first place: telling good stories2.
I began to realize that, while I had set out to be a science fiction writer, the path I had really taken was one that would lead me to become a science fiction insider. “Where was the storytelling in all of this?” I’d ask myself. I considered–of all of the time I spent in the SF/F/H world, reading, attending conventions, blogging, etc., how much of that time was spent actually writing, and telling stories? I sketched out a chart to try to illustrate this:
It wasn’t really until this year–when my love affair with the inside baseball of SF/F/H finally began to wane, that I really began spending the bulk of my time trying to write stories, trying to improve my craft and tell the best possible story I could. If you look at the trends together–the inside baseball and the writing trends combined, my time spent in each of them over the last six years or so looks as follows:
I was at my worst somewhere in mid-2011: toward the peak of my insider involvement in SF/F/H and at the nadir as far as my actually story writing was concerned. It wasn’t long after that the trends started to change. I think I recognized it unconsciously at first, then more overtly, and it was probably in late February of this year that I decided I needed to choose between being an insider and being a writer.
I chose to be a writer.
I suppose it is ignoble of me to admit that I am turned off by the politics of the genre. Politics should be engaging, and should act as a mechanism for social improvement and change. I’ve had my fill of politics both inside and outside of science fiction and it is something I’ve come to loathe, for good or ill. I am not speaking of any one political position or viewpoint here. I am speaking of politics as a whole I don’t want to spend my limited time in the endless political discussions that take place in the bars, that fill the forums, that overflow into Twitter and Facebook. I don’t want to spend my time debating the pros and cons of self-publishing or traditional publishing, or whether some book or story was really worthy of an award. But it seems to me that what gets lost in all of this is the art of telling a good story. Nothing is as satisfying to me as sitting down with a good story, one that moves me in some way. Each time that happens, I marvel at it and wonder if it is possible for me to do the same for someone else.
And so I’d rather spend that time writing stories, and trying to become the best storyteller that I can be. There are people out there that can do both, that can fight the political fights and continue to write good stories. I, alas, am not of them. My love affair with the inside baseball of SF/F/H has come to an end. I will leave the debates and arguments to those who are more interested–and likely, better at it–than I am.
But my love affair with writing stories has really just begun. There is an immense relief in both of these things.
ETA: That this post appeared on the same day that some controversy is brewing within the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America is a complete coincidence and should not be taken as a reaction to the recent controversy. The post and the charts (such as they are) were written and sketched out well before I’d heard about this most recent news. The fact is this subject has been on my mind for some time. I even hinted at it back in March.
One thing to keep in mind is that many of the writers who choose to get involved with the politics aspect pave the way for better things for the rest of us. When Damon Knight started SFWA, he was inspired by receiving yet another bad contract. I don’t regret the time he spent away from his writing to change the industry standards the way he did.
Way to follow your own path Jamie! Becoming a major league inside baseball player isn’t for everyone. I look forward to reading all these stories you’ve been writing. (Also, let’s swap some reading material before Capclave. Then we can talk about storytelling all you want.)
Jamie: Great post! And for the aspiring writers who don’t have physical access to travel to conventions, seminars, etc, you could substitute “imagining the financial rewards” rather than actually writing. When I was a teenager making my first fitful attempts to write, I think I calculated to the exact penny how much the check would be when the story sold! (Strangely, no checks arrived….)