WHAT YOU NEED AND WHAT YOU SHOULD HAVE

One of the first things we talk about in my Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction classes are two short lists:

What You Need

and

What You Should Have

These lists are meant for students who show up to a classroom every week for eight weeks, but looking at these lists again as I began teaching the class for this new term, it struck me that this is pretty good advice for any would-be author.

This is what I believe is absolutely required and what you really need to think about having if you want to do any sort of creative writing, not just science fiction or fantasy. Let’s start with the basic requirements:

What You Need

Creativity

Desire

Paper and pencil (or pen)

Respect

Patience

What’s interesting about this list is how little this will actually cost you in real dollars. The only thing on this list that’s actually a tangible commodity is paper and pencil/pen, and you may well be able to gather that stuff up for free.

Creativity

Okay, we’re talking about creative writing here. You need to tap into the deepest wells of creativity you can find. This is where your ideas come from, and is the source of your ability to convey those ideas. It’s not just what you have to say but how you say it. Creativity is, in many ways, like a muscle. It’s possible to develop it through exercise. There will be some bigger posts on that subject to follow, but think about “creativity,” at least in terms of this list, as the single most important thing anyone can bring into creative writing, which is why they call it creative writing and not . . . I don’t know . . . note taking.

Desire

You gotta wanna. This is a tough business. Writing is hard, and getting published is even harder, and maintaining a career as an author is harder still. If this is just kind of a passing fancy for you, there’s little chance you’ll be able to drag yourself through those dark nights of the soul that lie ahead for you. If this isn’t your life’s passion, think about what actually is your life’s passion and go do that.

Paper and pencil (or pen)

Who knows if those stories about J.K. Rowling writing the first Harry Potter novel with stubs of pencils she found on the street and any little scrap of paper she could scrounge up are actually true. The fact is, you can write the Great American Novel or even a pretty good little space opera, on some pieces of paper and with whatever pencils and pens you can find laying around. I always go to Target (or any discount store will do) the day after school starts in my area. They tend to slash prices on all the leftover school supplies on that day (or a few days later) and you can buy your entire next year’s worth of office supplies for a few dollars. Here’s a picture of some pads and comp books I bought for less than fifty cents each, along with a few pens that I got for free. Please note the entire 6-pack of legal pads I got for ninety-nine cents. Score! These are sitting in a box near my desk waiting to be filled with genius.

Bargains Galore!

Bargains Galore!

Respect

Have respect for the genre you’re writing in. If you’re writing a fantasy novel because you think fantasy is stupid and obviously anyone can do it and get rich quick then, wow . . . *%!& you. But beyond that, read what other authors are doing, and put in the necessary time and effort to research and to really learn how to write. The fact that you’re reading this right now helps. The desire and commitment to write well shows a respect for your craft and your audience. Your potential readership deserves your best efforts.

But also have respect for your fellow authors. This is not a competition. You get no points as a writer by crapping on other writers. You may end up finding that an increasing number of your friends will be writers, too, and some of them might be in a position to help you. Be a member of the community, not an invader.

Patience

How many times have I said this? If you’re sitting down right now to write a fantasy novel because your mortgage payment is due on the first of the month you’re in big trouble. Even if you could write a book in a week (and no, actually, you really can’t) it will take more than a day to publish it, even as an indie e-book, and money will come in slowly over a long period of time, if at all. I’ve written in more detail about the need for patience, so I’ll refer you back there for more.

And in terms of what you absolutely need to write a great book, that’s actually it.

The next list, though, is only slightly less essential.

What You Should Have

A computer with Word (or other word processing program)

An internet connection

A notebook

A sense of humor

This is where you stop exploring writing and start trying to actually do it for a living.

A computer with Word (or other word processing program)

I use Microsoft Word because when I moved to Seattle with what was TSR to work for Wizards of the Coast, Wizards of the Coast gave me a new computer that used Word, which was a million times better than TSR’s ancient and hilariously out of date computers that ran WordPerfect. From then on, I just kept being compatible with what was happening at work. So this really isn’t some kind of Microsoft Office commercial. Like Google Docs? Okay. Scribner? Fine by me. But if you plan to sell your work eventually it will have to be neatly typed and edited in some kind of an electronic form. At least be able to save it as an RTF (Rich Text Format) file. Very, very, very few agents and editors are so Old School that they still require hardcopy manuscripts. The overwhelming majority of the professionals you’ll be interacting with will want you to email stuff to them, or submit work through an online submission portal. You’ll need to be a part of the 21st Century eventually. This is as good a reason as any.

An internet connection

I did just say agents and editors will want you to email them manuscripts, right? Or use an online submission portal? And wow, does the internet help when it comes to quick research. I use tons of online tools including a widget dictionary/thesaurus and Google, Google, and more Google all day every day. And once you’ve actually sold a book, you’ll want to tell people about it via Facebook, Twitter, GoodReads, and so on. Short on funds? Use the computers at your public library.

A notebook

This is kind of a repeat from the first list, but have a notebook with you to jot down ideas, another to keep your worldbuilding, character, and plot notes for your current work in progress. If you can keep notes on a device like a smartphone or tablet computer, okay. But have them somewhere safe and accessible.

A sense of humor

You know what really sucks? The first time you read an online review of something you’ve written that really rips you a new one. Something else that sucks? You have this great back-and-forth with an agent or editor and are absolutely sure that you’re “in” then all of a sudden a dismissive form reject from an assistant with no explanation. And yes, this happens all the time. You know what else sucks? Pitching a brilliant idea to an agent then going to the movies and seeing almost exactly that same idea play out before your terrified eyes. That last one happened to me. Damn you, M. Night Shyamalan. Damn you straight to the pretend 19th Century.

Creative writing is a subjective business, and if you are able to maintain an emotional distance from it you’re probably not going to be very good at it. That means it’ll hurt when (not if) this sort of thing happens. A good sense of humor may be the world’s single most effective suicide deterrent.

It’s worked for me, anyway.

 

—Philip Athans

 

 

 

 

About Philip Athans

Philip Athans is the New York Times best-selling author of Annihilation and a dozen other books including The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, and the recently-released How to Start Your Own Religion and Devils of the Endless Deep. His blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook, (https://fantasyhandbook.wordpress.com/) is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans.
This entry was posted in Books, creative team, Dungeons & Dragons, E-Books, horror movies, horror novels, intellectual property development, Publishing Business, Romance Novels, Science Fiction & Fantasy Novels, SF and Fantasy Authors, transmedia, Writing, Writing Science Fiction & Fantasy and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to WHAT YOU NEED AND WHAT YOU SHOULD HAVE

  1. Love every word you write! Brilliant blog… The only one i follow! Never stop writing Mr Athans.

  2. Gryphonboy says:

    Good solid advice.
    I think is the desire one is the only one you truly “need”, Obviously pen and paper is essential(if you don’t have a pc) but without the desire I can’t see how any of the other stuff matters.

  3. Pingback: THE JOY OF WRITING BY HAND | Fantasy Author's Handbook

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