The one piece of advice you’ll find from successful authors is: Read. It’s one of the surprisingly few agreed-upon mantras; you gotta read as much as you can.
This always intimidated me because a) I do not read very fast and b) all these successful authors always talk about how they “devoured every book they could get their hands on”. That wasn’t me, and I think that anxiety can carry over to today’s spec fic writer when it comes to keeping up on your own genre.
I picked up How to Write Tales of Horror, Sci-Fi, Fantasy, partially because it’s such an old text and I was curious. While Bradbury’s “Thing at the Top of the Stairs” is always good, many of the articles collected are showing their age.
Today’s writers know they live in a constantly shifting market. Genres are visiting one another more often these days. They’re interbreeding and creating adorable little monstrosities with Fantasy’s face but obviously Horror’s eye color. We are enjoying what I would call an unprecedented mixture of genre, where the ghost of the horror story can freely walk into urban fantasy or even sci-fi and feel welcome.
And then, of course, it’s that much harder to stay sharp, stay relevant. What’s the best balance for all the weight? For all the reading you must have to do? This has been one of my largest personal demons in my effort to commit myself to writing, and I imagine other people struggle with it, too.
I couldn’t imagine having full-time college, a full-time job, and still manage to read dozens of blogs every morning, get my hands on new SF/F anthologies, read up on the new trends in spec fic, and still scratch out some time to pen words down. Never mind dealing with other creative people!
But that’s okay. It’s a process. Especially for science fiction in fantasy, I think, the growth, the gestation period, is crucial. So I’ll share the concept that allowed me to alleviate the stress that came from the inability to devour all the books.*
When I was in therapy in my younger days, I told my psychologist I wanted to be a writer, and he was practically delighted, because he said, and this sticks with me every time I sit down at my keyboard: “Writers are singularly gifted in that they draw from everything, all the time, to create entirely new things that only they can produce.”
It really blew my mind. I still wonder if he was waiting for a patient of his to be a writer so he could bust that one out. Look at it; it’s a lovely sliver of dialogue. Savor it, digest it, print it, pin it, frame it, you’re welcome. But, yeah, I think it’s advice worth following.
If you feel like the Weight is an alien concept to you, or you are only worrying about all you need to read because I just mentioned it now (sorry!), then relax. Finding your pace as a reader will help you forge your path as a writer. Do you have to put the time in? Absolutely. Do you have to break your comfort zone and do research and make the time to write? Yup.
But you still have a pace, and you still have that singular gift of a unique voice. One that no one else has heard before, that no one will hear after you. Sure, when you start out it may sound like a mod of your favorite authors, but keep at it.
The voice of the speculative fiction author is one that uses comfortable words and a familiar hand to bring us to exhilarating, mystical, and quite often terrifying new places. And that’s all kinds o’ fantastic.
*sidenote: I would still take the superpower of being able to read a book by touching its cover. Would totally be the coolest thing in the world.