I’ve been chatting to Paul on Twitter for a while now. On learning that he’s a, shall we say, unrealised writer, I invited him to post here about why he doesn’t write, as part of my ongoing fascination with the process by which people actually become writers. Thankfully he accepted. While I’m sure his story is by no means unique, he writes it brilliantly.
The unwritten stories in my head
I’ve been a reader of science fiction and fantasy for over thirty years now. I’ve been a player of roleplaying games for about twenty five years. The genres of fantasy and science fiction together make up the vast majority of my fiction reading, and certainly a majority of my reading in general. And I read voraciously. From Arthur C. Clarke to Roger Zelazny, from Karen Lord to Laura Anne Gilman. I cannot live without books.
It’s natural to expect that someone so steeped in genre to have dreams or at least musings of creating their own content, their own contribution to the literary universe. And oh, do I have ideas for characters, settings, plots. I get new ideas on a weekly, if not a daily basis. The flurry of ideas comes easily to me. A simple blog comment by Pyr editor Lou Anders today, as I write this entry, has given me yet another idea for the idea jar. And my jar is already stuffed.
And it’s not like I am afraid of writing in general. I write a steady stream of columns and reviews. As the Gamemaster of two play by email games, I do a fair bit of writing game turns. So every week, I do a fair bit of writing in those contexts.
Again, it’s not that I am uninterested in the craft of writing fiction. I listen to podcasts about writing. I read, clip and save plenty of blog articles about writing. I eat it all up, and think about how to apply what I learned. I’ve read a couple of books on writing, too. I try to pay attention to craft when I am reading books. I am not a critic but I try to look at books beyond a simple “liked it, don’t like it” and try to tease out the mechanics and skeleton of a story and characters and plot.
But the actual writing of straight up original fiction writing, however, almost never seems to happen. A few odd bits and pieces here and there get written. Little stuff like that. But the novels and novellas and short stories in my head remain firmly in my head.
And you, gentle reader, might wonder why? Why haven’t I put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard. Why aren’t publishers and agents inundated with novels and stories? Why haven’t I even tried?
I could say, oh, I have the wrong software. Oh, I have no time. Oh, I have to think about the stories some more before I begin them. But all of that is bull. There is one simple reason why I haven’t.
Fear is the mindkiller, or so Paul Atreides learned, in Dune.
But fear holds me back. Fear that yes, while all of these ideas are lovely, I don’t have the spark that it takes to be a published writer. Fear that the process of submitting stuff and trying to get an agent will break my heart and soul. Fear that, not being a business savvy person, that even if I write the Great American F/SF novel, I couldn’t get it published anyway. Even fear that I will be ostracized and hated for Racefail, or Genderfail, or what have you. Fear that the ideas themselves are worthless tripe.
Fear. Fear. Fear all the way down, like turtles.
I shouldn’t let fear rule me in this regard, but it is there nevertheless. Sitting on my chest, keeping the stories locked up in my head and never put into written words. Not even as something free. I don’t even get as far as opening up a document in most cases. I just write it off as a bad job and go play Civilization or watch something on Netflix. “I’ll do it later. Later, later would be good. I would have more time and be more ready to write this. I need to think about this some more.”
And the hell of it is, that fear is not strong enough to quench the flow of ideas, thoughts, and ponderings of those unwritten stories. They still come to the corners of my waking mind, getting themselves a cup of tea and social tea biscuits, arranging themselves, sitting in chairs, staring at me while waiting and wanting to be examined, run through, and developed. Brought to life.
And yet the fear is enough to keep me from actually writing them down, much less showing them to anyone. And so the stories in my head there remain, as yet unwritten. Worse, not even unwritten, not even started.
But as Mur Lafferty says, I should be writing. Really. But as yet I am not.
Not really a Prince of Amber, but rather an ex-pat New Yorker that has found himself living in Minnesota for the last 8 years, Paul Weimer has been reading SF and Fantasy for over 30 years and exploring the world of roleplaying games for over 25 years. Almost as long as he has been reading and watching movies, he has enjoyed telling people what he has thought of them. In addition to his reading and gaming interests, he can be found at his own blog, Blog Jvstin Style, the Functional Nerds, the SF Signal Community, Twitter, Livejournal and many other places on the Internet.