Writing science fiction and fantasy is not, said the late Ursula K. Le Guin, like writing any other kind of fiction. Le Guin, a titan whose legacy still looms large over both genres, became famous for taking the time to nurture and advise young and new authors, even as she approached the end of her long life. She was famous, too, for eschewing the trappings of mainstream authorial success (“I didn’t want to be a writer and lead the writer’s life and be glamorous and go to New York. I just wanted to do my job writing, and to do it really well,” she told Paris Review in an interview). And in the wake of Le Guin’s death earlier this year, many readers and writers of science fiction and fantasy have been taking a page out of her book and finding ways to pass on their advice to up-and-comers interested in these two genres, so often paired together but also so uniquely distinct from each other.
If we have to give you any advice as an author of science fiction or fantasy, what would that advice be? Much of it can be summed up in five suggestions.
1. Don’t be afraid to get into your “lump of concrete.”
Sometimes the going is easy, but often … it’s not. Science fiction and fantasy are deeply rooted in thorny political, philosophical, social, spiritual, and personal conversations. Every author in every genre is likely to run into the occasional roadblock, but authors in these genres are more likely than most to run into a tangle of complications related to one of these conversations. In her Paris Review interview, Le Guin described this kind of struggle as like trying to work with a “lump of concrete,” and it very often feels like that, doesn’t it? But if the lump of concrete is recognized for what it is — the prickly but necessary exterior to a rich and complex interior, worth navigating through and not insurmountable — and not mistaken for something that is rock through-and-through, then you know that there’s an end in sight. And it’s oh-so-much-easier to go forward knowing that it’s worth doing so, and that the dreaded Writer’s Block and all those other thorny problems are not permanent. The first step to finishing your science fiction or fantasy book is knowing that it can be finished, and that it should be finished.
2. Revisit your favorites.
Le Guin is just one of many fantastic authors of science fiction and fantasy, and no doubt you can think of at least a few others whose names simply roll of the tongue. Rowling. Tolkien. Martin. Asimov. Okorafor. Card. Sagan. Who are your favorite authors in the genre? What books became your refuge when you began growing into your voice as a reader and writer of science fiction? If you’re struggling to finish your book in one of these two genres, there’s no better way to remind yourself of what you want to do than to revisit a few of these influential voices in your own canon of best genre writers! Pluck a couple of your most beloved favorites off of the shelf. These are where you started. These are what first made you fall in love with words. You can simply enjoy them, or you can start breaking them down and analyzing them for what made them work on you so powerfully in the first place. Either way, you’ll have a new (old) place to start your next chapter.
3. Beautiful sentences matter.
There’s no substitute for good craft, is there? Whether you’re reading a thrilling work of crime fiction, a glorious romance, an epic fantasy, a compelling work of non-fiction, a masterpiece of literary fiction, or a spectacular work of science fiction, the art of writing is worth cultivating. Readers recognize it on the page when they see it, and their pocketbooks show the difference. If you’re looking for a path forward to finishing your next book of science fiction or fantasy, don’t forget to use craft as one of your constellation of guiding stars. And if you’re looking for inspiration, look to the books and blogs and other creative outlets that your fellow writers of science fiction and fantasy have used to chronicle their own artistic processes. If you’ve hit a brick wall in executing some element of your plot, perhaps it’s time to shift gears away from the scaffolding of your book and time instead to focus on the minutiae: the beauty of each sentence on the page. Doing so may just shake loose a new idea or two.
4. Be an escapist.
Sure, writing is definitely hard work, and no one is more aware of that fact than an author of science fiction or fantasy, the two genres most often described as “escapist” by readers everywhere. This dichotomy is the irony which underpins everything authors of these genres do; how is one to create the ultimate work of escapism while being tethered to the often-humdrum writing process?
Maybe it’s time to have a little fun, and to remind yourself that writing isn’t just work. It’s something more. It’s something which brings you joy, and if you’re having a hard time finding that joy right now, first of all that’s alright, and second of all it’s okay to take a step back or slow down (this isn’t a race, after all), and thirdly, you deserve to have fun. That’s right … fun! And while it’s hard to predict what bit of fun is likely to break through a bad day, it’s worth experimenting with all of the options. Maybe it looks like changing your voice or adding a new character. Maybe it looks like shifting the setting to a new planet or ignoring a few fundamental laws of physics. Maybe it looks like literally picking up your laptop and making a run for it and enjoying a literal as well as a metaphorical escape to the hills, or the beach, or your local coffee shop.
5. Shoot for the top.
We so often get in our own way, don’t we? But it doesn’t have to be that way. Fear doesn’t have to hold us back. When we consider the heroes of our own stories, whether science fictional or fantastical, we are reminded that fear of failure is not the end of a good story. Consider, for a moment, what book you would write if you had absolutely no fear, if you could do exactly what you want with your book. And isn’t that what self-publishing is all about? We really can and must shoot for the top, as Le Guin put it, and only in doing so can we truly appreciate where we started, where we’ll end up, and all of the various points along that path which connect us to these genres we love so much.
And there you have it: five fresh ways to hone your craft as you draft your next book! Still not sure what you need to get started publishing your next science fiction or fantasy manuscript? Visit us online at www.outskirtspress.com to chat with a Publishing Consultant or call us at 1-888-672-6657 to find out how to finish your manuscript and get it ready for publication. To see our staff picks of amazing science fiction and fantasy books from many of our published authors, visit our Pinterest page by clicking here.