James Gunn's
Suggestions for Writers
(particularly SF writers)

Writing is a difficult profession. Writers put in long hours in preparation and even longer hours writing. On the average they are poorly paid. No one ought to go into it with the idea of getting rich. A few make it big, but most don't make it at all. Even those who manage to get published seldom are able to make a living at it. So the only people who ought to seek careers in writing are those for whom any other choice would fill them with a sense that they have wasted their lives.

Writing is difficult; getting published is tougher. Frederik Pohl has said that the first question he always is asked after a presentation is: How do you become a writer? His answer is that there is only one way: you sit down and write. The second question he is asked is: How do you get published? And his answer is that you take what you have written and send it to someone who has the ability to publish it. There are other ways [particularly in these days of electronic publishing], but that's the best way.

Lots of books have been published about how to write, how to write well enough to get your work a good reading, and even how to get published. I've written one myself: The Science of Science-Fiction Writing. The secret, if there is one, is to read a lot and write a lot, and then write something different than anything else you have ever read. The only thing worth writing is what only you can write. Everyone is special, and what readers want, whether they know it or not, is a special persons vision of the special word that they inhabit, in appropriate language, action, and characters.

To be an effective writer, one must develop language and writing skills adequate to express the individuals sense of himself/herself. Then they must be combined in a way that communicates that sense to readers and moves them. But first one must go through an editor, and in order to do that, one must learn to put oneself in the editors place: overworked, underpaid, making judgments quickly. And so, as I lay out in more detail in The Author's Strategy, one must not give the editor a chance to say No, which is the editor's strategy.

Many resources are available on the internet these days. Here are a few useful sites:

www.sfwa.org/writing
www.speculations.com/finder.htm
www.locusmag.com
http://www.sfcenter.ku.edu
For an extensive list of resources visit our resources page.

- James Gunn
   3/31/2004


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