Reliable Writers

Sometimes I finish a book and have a difficult time figuring out what to read next. This usually happens when the book I’ve just finished is so good that almost nothing will hold up to it. It is as times like this that I will return to my stable of reliable writers. These are a handful of writers I’ve read over the years, whose work I always enjoy.

On the fiction side of the fence, these writers include Stephen King, Jack McDevitt, Barry N. Malzberg. On the nonfiction side, they include writers like Andy Rooney, David McCullough, Doris Kearns Goodwin, and more recently, Simon Winchester.

Later this week is the 4th anniversary of the first audiobook I listened to. Over those four years, I have also built a stable of audiobook narrators that I particularly enjoy. There’s Grover Gardner, for example, or Craig Wasson. There are also author narrators that I particularly enjoy, like Neil Gaiman, and Simon Winchester.

Thinking about the writers and narrators that I gravitate toward got me thinking about some of the ways that we describe writers. Here are some of the adjectives describing writers that I pulled from the review pages that often precede the text at the beginning of a book: Extraordinary, ingenious, master craftsman, ambitious, delightful, entertaining, reliable, vivid, talented, underestimated, luminous.

Of all these adjectives, the one that I most want applied to me as a writer—the one I strive for more than any other—is “reliable.” It would be nice to be a great writer, a master craftsman, ambitious, and all the rest, but many of those things are entirely out of my control. What is in my control is dependability. I want to be the writer to whom an editor can give a job and have confidence that it will be delivered upon.

I’ve written two lead editorials for Analog Science Fiction over the last few years. I did it upon editor request both times, but the second time the editor was on a short deadline, and turned to me to deliver, which I did. That was one of the more satisfying feelings I’ve ever had as a writer.

I know my limits. Though I can emulate styles with a certain amount of success, I cannot write the way, for instance, Barry N. Malzberg writers. I wish I could weave a story like Stephen King, but my writing abilities lie elsewhere. It took a long time to learn that, and a long time to be okay with it. These days, I just want to be a dependable writer.

That is true for this blog as much as for any editor. I write what I want here, and my interests change and evolve over time. But every day at 9 am, there is a new post, and I like to think I have a developed a style that works for my readers. I have a certain set of expectations in mind when I pick up a Jack McDevitt novel, or a collection of Andy Rooney essays, and I am rarely disappointed. That same dependability is what I strive for here.