Looking forward, looking back.
Science Fiction particularly is, at least in theory, about looking forward…
But that may not be right direction for a writer – or even a society.
I’ve been re-reading THE COLOUR OF MAGIC – Sir Terry Pratchett’s first Diskworld book – which is really 3 novellas loosely strung together. It’s an absolutely fascinating exercise, in that you can see the writing of one great masters of comic fantasy work evolve.
I freely admit to being a fan and one who in my inept fashion used his writing as a role model (along with Douglas Adams and Tom Sharpe) for writing humor. No, I am not in the same league – my best are pale shadows of his first and, bluntly, worst. But that doesn’t stop me learning rom him and from this – because I promptly went back to my old manuscript cupboard and did something I would advise any writer to try. Actually in a broader context it applies to relationships, politics – whatever. Life in general.
I dug out really early book I wrote, never sold.
It was a great thing to do at several levels. We are often so busy pushing as hard as we can at the current book, current chapter current page… that the bigger picture gets lost.
Firstly, it was – at least in parts – moderately bad. I could see, now, how to improve things I just didn’t know how to do, back then, as well as things where my skills have increased and improved. I’m no Pratchett, but yes, I have got better at some things.
Secondly I could see how far I had come. That was very comforting and yes… to use that stupid newspeak word, empowering. I have improved and grown in skill. It was also a sharp lesson, and not of the ‘empowering’ kind. It was painfully obvious just how hard I had tried to make up for that lack of skill with effort, with sheer hard push and enormous depth of research and development of those characters (I wrote 3 page bios of each character. I haven’t done that in a while).
Oddly, one of the things that was very clear was that I’d lost the path I had found – which wasn’t a bad path. I find even at a micro-level, within a book (or chapter) sometimes I just need to go back. Sometimes just to think it through again, take a slightly different tack. And sometimes at a deeper level yet – reading this I realize that I need to go back to re-read Tom Sharpe before I write another funny fantasy.
The other thing that burned out of that manuscript that I’d lost – thumped out of me by the saga of battering my way through trad publishing and the horrible ‘in’ cliques of sf… was that incredible enthusiasm. Now… well that’s become dogged determination and sheer obstinacy. That’s… admirable, perhaps, but less attractive to some readers – particularly the younger ones than enthusiasm. I shall have to go back and try and recapture it – because it is readers I write for, and I kinda think they pick tone too.
Anyway, so there is my brief piece of useful advice for the aspiring writer, the no-longer quite so aspiring writer, and people in general. It’s worth looking at where we’ve come from. And sometimes – says the guy who grows his own food and shoots/catches or rears his own food – the right way direction is back. Maybe that’s what is happening across the world.
Anyway, talking of back, tomorrow (America’s afternoon) we have the Anzac Day dawn service. The forecast is for rain and misery. I will be going as always, despite it, to play my part in remembering the fallen. Wars didn’t stop for rain, and neither should the honors. I won’t be replying to posts as a result.