July 13, 2014

A Slice of PIE: “If you want to write, write; otherwise shut up!”


At the speculative fiction convention I attended, a lot of people say a lot of things, some of which I attributed…some of which I did not.

I have no idea who said it.

On the other hand, if you Google the phrase, “Shut up and write”, over 55 million results appear. So the saying isn’t unique. It’s not even original. Perhaps the phrase has entered the realm of the dreaded cliché. I’m not sure.

I’m also not sure that this is good advice.

As one of the slush pile-reading-crew for the online magazine STUPEFYING STORIES, I take up position between the executive editor and the mountain of unsolicited manuscripts coming his way. This mountain is living proof that lots of people have followed the advice above. It’s just that out of the 250 manuscripts I’ve screened and ranked since starting to help, I’ve given out roughly twenty scores high enough to get more than a cursory read from the exec. If I ran a few paragraphs past you, you’d see how literally some people take the advice above, without a thought or care in the world.

That’s the problem. It seems to me that lots of people want to write, so they write. They just don’t think.

They don’t think about their idea. Worse still, they don’t google the idea to see if someone’s done it before. Let’s say I have this great idea for a story where it turns out that Adam and Eve were actually aliens or genetically engineered by aliens (the second idea is experiencing a renaissance at this time a la David Brin’s UPLIFT books). I want to write it, therefore, following the aphorism above to the letter; I do and I send it out to the wide world, confident that I’ll be taking the spec fic world by storm. If I had only paused to check however, I’d have found that 1.1 million websites mention this idea or expound on it. Unless the writer is incredibly skilled (or David Brin, himself), the story will not see the light of day – at least not on a site or in a magazine that has an editor.

Frustrated, the writer works their way down the list of magazines, submitting right and left, then without selling it, finally self-publishes on Amazon.com or with Smashwords or whatever. Maybe their story will take the spec fic world by storm. Odds are against it, however.

I propose to add a corollary to the aphorism. In mathematics, a corollary is “is a statement that follows readily from a previous statement...[and]if [it] can readily be deduced from A or is self-evident…The importance of the corollary is...secondary to that of the initial theorem…Sometimes a corollary has a proof that explains the derivation; sometimes the derivation is considered self-evident.”

The aphorism with my corollary then: “If you want to write, write; otherwise shut up. Corollary 1: Before you write, think.”

I believe that I would not have been subjected to many of the stories that came my way if the writer had paused to think about what they were writing. Once they started to think, they might have googled the idea to see if it had been done half a million times. While googling it, they may have gone on a tangent and had their idea intersect an entirely unrelated thought.

THAT may have produced a truly new idea they could use in a story that really would have taken the spec fic world by storm!

I’ll take a vote on appending the corollary. Any “nays”?

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