On Storytelling

I am currently away on an Internet Vacation. I’ll be back online tomorrow, March 31. I have written one new post for each day of my Vacation so that folks don’t miss me too much while I am gone. But keep in mind, these posts have been scheduled ahead of time. Feel free to comment, as always, but note that since I am not checking email, I will likely not be replying to comments until I am back from my Vacation tomorrow. With that said, enjoy!


A few weeks ago, Barry Malzberg had a column titled “The Carlin Effect” in the debut issue of Mike Resnick’s new magazine Galaxy’s EdgeThe column really resonated with me because is seemed to capture, quite succinctly, some feelings I’d been having lately about my own writing and my involvement in the “club” of science fiction. The key part of the article, for me, the part with which I shuddered as I read it, was this:

At the Readercon some years ago, I saw X for the first time since the last Readercon (he had been a regular for some years) and asked him how he was doing. Glad to see him, etc. X, a scientist, successful in academia and research, had come to science fiction writing later in life than most of us, he had attended one of the important workshops and almost immediately found himself able to sell short stories to the major markets in quantity. In a few years he had managed to accumulate more than two dozen sales, had his name on magazine covers and so on. “Not sure how I am doing,” X said. “Frankly, I don’t even know if I should be here.”

“The problem is this,” he continued, “I am on the verge of becoming part of the inner circle now, hanging out with the pros here, making a name on panels, learning the personal histories, hearing the gossip. The problem, I am afraid, is that I am losing the very isolation which formed me as a writer, which made me want to write. How can I be one of the members here and retain the sense of exclusion, the anger, the loneliness, which were the basis of my ambition to be a writer? I just don’t feel comfortable hanging around here anymore. I don’t think it is doing me any good as a writer.”

While my experience isn’t quite the same as X (it’s not exclusion, anger and loneliness I wish to retain), it is analogous. At times I feel overwhelmed by the inside baseball and the behind-the-scenes antics. At times it feels like I’ve forgotten that what I set out to do was tell good stories, like those stories I read as a kid. Put more bluntly, at times, it feels like I’ve lost site of the fundamentals.

Part of my reason for taking these two weeks away from the Internet was to do a kind of mental reboot, with a focus back on storytelling. For me, it all comes down to storytelling, to being able to write the best possible story I can, each time I sit down and start something new. They might not be received with much fanfare, they might be far from what other people think are good stories, but they are the best I can manage at the time I write them. I feel like I’ve lost some of that because I’ve been distracted by my entrance into the “big f— club,” as Carlin puts it.

The thing is, now that I’ve made it into the club, now that I’ve sold stories and demonstrated to my satisfaction that it wasn’t a fluke, I don’t have to keep proving that part to myself any more. In many ways, I’m shifting to a new phase of my writing life, one where I can stop trying to prove to myself that I can be a writing and instead, start writing for the pure joy of writing.

For me, storytelling is one of the few forms of magic that exists in the real world. Sitting down to read a well-crafted story is, for me, what I imagine it must be like for a music-lover to listen to a well-crafted concerto. There are all kinds of facets and moving parts that go into its creation, but somehow, it comes out whole, and when it works, it transports the reader some place else. That is what I want to do. That is the reboot I have been looking for these last two weeks. So if you notice a slight shift here–one in which I write far less about my writing, understand that it is because I am trying to spend much more time actually writing, learning to become the best storyteller I can become. I’m too old to play shortstop for the New York Yankees, but you are never to old to learn to tell good stories.