Why I Write

All right. I got tagged by the redoubtable Toni Fish (from her blog, over here) in what she’s calling a “Blog Hop”. There weren’t a lot of instructions, but there was a title (see above!) and guessing from the structure of Toni’s post, there were some questions I’m supposed to answer. I’ve written 3000 words of fiction today, delivered my kids to their schooling, picked up dinner and eaten — and now I have an hour to kill before the last kid finishes the Write A Book In A Day challenge, allowing us to drive home and get some sleep. Perfect.

What Am I Working On?

The sequel to Path of Night. My masters degree. A Steampunk novel. Seven or eight short stories. Several reviews. Oh, and I’m trying to train up three senior ju-jitsu students to brown belt level, and trying to get myself in gear to tackle my own 2nd dan grading. 

Yes. I’m fearfully overcommitted. I’ve never been good at saying “no” to interesting projects. 

How Does My Writing Differ From Others Of Its Genre?

Now, there’s a question that could only be composed by someone who doesn’t quite understand the concept of genre. For what it’s worth, I write across genres anyway. Path of Night is somewhere between Thriller and Horror. The Red Priest stories have been picked up as Horror, and as Dark Fantasy. A lot of my short stories are straight up science fiction. Others are definitely fantasy — urban, dark, or otherwise. 

When you ask a writer how they differ from their genre… you’re asking them to define the aspect of their writing that they genuinely do not, and can never truly understand. The genre “rules” are guidelines. We follow them because we like certain storytelling ideas and modes, but we necessarily bring something personal and individual to the work — or we might as well just copy out genre classics, right? 

So what makes you “you”? What are the individual foibles by which the world recognises you as a unique individual? Tell you what: make a list of what you think makes yourself unique. Make it a short list. Say — five things. Next, ask ten of your friends to make a similar list about you. Go ahead. See how many of the lists even share items! I guarantee none of ’em will match yours, by the way.

It’s the same with writing. I’m working between a number of very popular genres. If I tried to consciously differentiate my own work, I’d probably fail — because there’s so much out there to try to be different from, if you see what I mean. Instead I just write what I like, the way I like it. If you want something more specific, you might try reading this review of Angel Rising, a novella I put out a few years back. The review is recent, and it delights me because I feel that the writer has genuinely understood what I was doing with the book. 

Why Do I Write What I Do?

Room for imagination and vision. The first book I can recall reading was a tattered paperback version of the Twelve Labors of Heracles, in some sort of Young Reader edition. The next book which I remember is an ancient, hardbound telling of the Norse Eddas — the ancient myths of Thor, Odin, Valhalla, and all the rest. Then it was fairy tales, and Irish myths, and E.E “Doc” Smith, and Robert E Howard, and Heinlein and Clarke and Asimov and Bradbury and LeGuin and…. 

There are plenty of mundane things in the world already. I will readily grant the heroism which exists in the ordinary person, pursuing an ordinary life with ordinary goals. (I’m a parent, after all.) But if that’s the most we can aspire to; if such is the greatest possible dream of the human race then fuck it. I want to leave. Now.

I write speculative fiction because I enjoy thinking about things that could be, instead of things as they merely are. And while I doubt I will ever have the power to change the world, I don’t have to accept it as it is. I can think of better ways, better worlds, and I can write about them — and if I can’t bring them into being, at least by sharing the ideas maybe I can bring them a little closer. 

And no. That’s not just the “big stuff”, like the environment and the possibilities of space exploration and so forth. It’s the small stuff, at a personal level. My protagonists often display aspects of character that I’d like to have, or I’d like other people to have. “Farther-on Jones” hitch-hikes through the universe, meeting new species and learning how to break down the barriers between them for no reason better than that he loves to travel. The Red Priest fights monsters though he may be a monster himself: he wants to be better. And Mick Devlin from Path of Night — given powers greater than human, he tries to be a good human being first and foremost. 

There’s a whole lot more to it, but that’s a start.

How Does My Writing Process Work?

Who comes up with these cockamamie questions? No writer really understands her writing process. Most of us don’t want to, either. If we really knew where this stuff came from and how and why — well, I’ve got a terrible feeling that it might well go away. 

I tell stories, okay? That’s what I do. Sometimes there’s an image in my head. Sometimes there’s an emotion. Sometimes I pick an interesting anthology and just… let things happen. 

When I started, I used to write at white-hot pace. But then I had to put the work away for six months before I could review and edit it. Now I can only do a couple thousand words a day — but the editing happens the next day, and according to my various editors, the manuscripts are pretty solid. I just submitted a story to an editor the other day. It’s about 5500 words. I wrote and edited it in three days, in between feeding the kids, driving them to school, and doing all the dad stuff and the martial arts instructor stuff. The editor seems to think it’s worth hanging onto, so I guess I’ve learned something along the line…

Tagging Somebody Else

I’m going to put the zap on two folks — a writer (the elegantly talented Angela Slatter) , and an editor/publisher — Tehani Wessely of Fablecroft. I think that we hear a lot from writers (which makes sense, really, given what we do) but we don’t hear nearly enough from people like Tehani, who make it possible for some very interesting fiction to see the light of day.

I have no idea if either of these two redoubtable women will play along. They’re both fiercely busy. But I’ll tag them, and we’ll see.  


…and finally: Why Do I Write?

Because I never figured out how to stop. I’ve been telling stories all my life. I literally do not know how to do otherwise.


  1. “I write speculative fiction because I enjoy thinking about things that could be, instead of things as they merely are. And while I doubt I will ever have the power to change the world, I don’t have to accept it as it is. I can think of better ways, better worlds, and I can write about them — and if I can’t bring them into being, at least by sharing the ideas maybe I can bring them a little closer.”

    I think this is why I like spec fic as a “genre”, and one of the reasons we get along as well as we do. Honestly, just reading this makes me happy.

    Thank you for playing, and I apologise for the questions – I think you’re the first professional writer to respond and certainly the only person I know who actually understands genre (I’m clueless). I’m going to have to get my hands on some more of your stuff when I’m back in Aus / cave in and buy an e-reader.

    I’d love to hear from Tehani: i think a publisher’s perspective would be fascinating!.

    1. They were your questions? Oooh! If I’d known, I’d have been more diplomatic. On the other hand, they’re the kinds of questions that people frequently ask — so it’s likely you nailed your demographic, there.

      More seriously: writing fiction and storytelling (two distinct but related things) are poorly understood by most people simply because everybody assumes that you can just ‘sit down and write’ a story. I think it comes about because more or less everyone is at least basically literate, and of course virtually everyone can use the spoken language which has a close relationship with the written version.

      The Cliff’s Notes? People who see a ballerina don’t think “Gosh, I’m going to hop up on stage and perform Swan Lake now.” People who see a Van Gogh don’t think “Wow… I’ll just whip out my old pastels and run off a few masterpieces.” People who see a top-notch musician at work don’t assume that they can bring out their old recorder and mesmerise an audience. In fact, people see these things and they marvel at the skill, the dedication, and the intense training and practice.

      BUT! The same people see a novel, read it, and say: “Gosh. I could do that. I think I’ll just sit down over there behind my word processor…”

      The truth is that the modern language (verbal and written) skillset is NOT the same as the writer’s skillset. Not even close. In fact, the difference is so great that most people don’t even realise that the questions they think they should ask don’t really apply in the way they think.

      That’s not an insult. That’s a simple observation. If I could get readers and audiences to do one thing — one thing only! — I would ask them to recognise that putting together a really good story or novel requires as much training and talent and insight and dedication as producing a solid work in any other art-form.

      It’s not going to happen, though. Not so long as Dan Brown is still out there…

      1. No,no, not my questions! I just had to answer them as part of the “hop” myself, ad I passed them on to you, but I could have stopped and thought a little and edited them. I think the “Hop” and associated questions ere started by the domestic-bliss blog squad, but I figured I could use the questions to talk about things I wanted to, and you’ve adapted them to your needs as well.

        I do understand what you mean though. People read my blog and ask me why I’m not a writer and I sigh inwardly and try again to explain that writing blogs or magazine articles is completely different to writing a novel and that I just don’t have a novel or even short stories in me. Short prose pieces, the odd decent poem and magazine articles are my sad little limit (unless you count the stuff I write for work, which, boooooring!).

        Again, thanks for playing, and thanks for expanding more here! You have my utmost admiration for writing the way you do.


  2. paulboylan · · Reply

    I write because I cannot resist throwing stones into placid pools of water. I am obsessed with trying to understand the expanding, interlocking concentric circles that ripple and spread outward from each impact. I know I will never succeed, but no one can, and,when you get right down to it, success isn’t the point.

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