Sunday, 7 October 2012

Hey, Sean! What Do You Write About?

That’s a question that can be answered in a lot of different ways, so I guess I can at least try for a few of them…

In the tightest, most concise, pigeonhole-iest context; I write science fiction stories.

Specifically, we’re talking about science fiction stories about Irish Gypsies who live in space and hate the government. That doesn’t account for any of my detective fiction, though, or any of my fantasy stories, or any of my other non-Irish-Gypsy related work…All of which make up for slightly less than fifty percent of the whole. And then there are some stories that take place in the same setting as the Irish Space Gypsy stories, but do not involve Irish Space Gypsies or Irish Space Gypsy related activities. It’s complicated.

See? A definite way to answer, but not a great one. Let’s try again.

Conventional wisdom—which often arrives to you as a writer by way of high-school English teachers and overzealous family members and other people who want to contribute to your writing without putting any real thought or effort into the exercise—says, often invariably, this:

Write what you know.

And that’s great. It’s perfectly all right. And it makes sense, because, presumably, everyone knows something and as long as they know about it they can write about it. Sure. Why not?


But here’s the thing, and maybe I’m a bit thick, or maybe I’m just being willfully obstinate for the sake of having something to write about, but whatever: That sort of thinking can, eventually, be unbearably restrictive. I mean, really, what do most people know? In the most serious sense of being so intimately acquainted with a thing that they can reliably and consistently portray it through the medium of text? For the majority of folks, this means that the modern novel can’t extend too far beyond the wheelhouse of being in school, doing a job, and dealing with family dysfunction.

God knows that if I so restricted myself I couldn’t do a whole lot more, and I’m trying to do this ridiculous job professionally.

Hell, if all writers so restricted themselves then we would probably end up with nothing more than a bunch of writers writing novels about writers writing novels. Just endless, recursive, meta-textual messes…And then the publishing industry would definitely be in Capital-R-Capital-T Real Trouble.

And so, with all due respect to “Write what you know,” I don’t like it a whole lot in the long run. It—right out of the gate—dismisses most of the creativity from the creative process. If we just follow what we know, we’re asking no more imagination of ourselves than what we need to form the words into sentences.

So that’s no answer, either, but it does bring me to a similar saw that I much prefer:

Write what you love.

And that, that, is where I want to be. That is what I want to do. That is the thing that I love, because it leads me to all of the other things that I love and that I love to write about, and at least from there—if you’re still interested and aren’t asleep—I can throw together a short list of things that I love to write and write about:

  • People
  • The Future
  • Politics
  • Rocketships
  • The Way Things End
  • Family Dysfunction
  • Work
  • Crime
  • Ham Fisted Swearing
  • Gunfights
  • The Irish
  • The Past
  • Detectives
  • Revenge
  • Love
  • Sarcasm
  • Long, Long Conversations
  • Defenestration

I could go on. Probably for a long time. Hopefully, though, you’ll be able to take something away from this that will help you understand me and my writing a little bit better until you see a piece of short fiction from me sometime next month.

And if not, you can always come away from it knowing that I write pulpy, character driven Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Detective Fiction. That’s probably a little easier.

Whichever makes you happier.

I’ll be back next week with a little more writer-babble.


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