November 14th, 2005

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Robert's Rules of Writing #2: Get a Pen Pal

[Rule quoted from Robert's Rules of Writing: 101 Unconventional Lessons Every Writer Needs to Know by Robert Masello (Writer's Digest Books, 2005). See my original post for the rules of this discussion.]

So after advising people against keeping journals, Masello does a sort of about-face. In his second rule, he says that if you have the urgent desire to write, you should skip the "stream-of-consciousness twaddle" that shows up in journals, and instead, write a letter to a friend.

I think this is good advice, for all the reasons that Masello gives. He notes that the point of writing is to communicate, and that if you write a letter to a friend then you are, in effect, publishing a piece of writing for an audience of one. He also says that writing a letter will help you figure out what's on your mind, and that what's on your mind may be something you could turn into an article or a work of fiction for greater distribution.

I actually take Masello's advice further, but not necessarily in a way he would intend. (Then again, I doubt he'd object.) Sometimes, when I write a story, I aim it at a particular friend. This doesn't mean that I actually send a copy of it to that person, or ask that person for feedback; but sometimes, as I write, I keep in mind that my goal is to entertain this one individual, and if I manage to do that, then I feel I've succeeded.

By the way, Masello advises one to write an actual paper letter, and not just send an e-mail. I understand his perspective; there's always been something special about receiving a personal letter, just for you. Even with the explosion of electronic communication we've seen over the past decade, putting words down on paper often feels more permanent to many people. If you decide to write a letter to a friend in order to jump-start your batteries, I'd strongly suggest trying it longhand on paper and seeing what happens.
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Thoughts on the End of SCI FICTION and the Status of the Short Fiction Market

By now, most people reading this are aware that the SCI FICTION webpage is coming to an end. Over the weekend, they posted a message on their front page announcing that they would discontinue SCI FICTION by the end of the year. They also posted a farewell message from Ellen Datlow.

A lot of people have expressed their disappointment, frustration, and outrage on the Internet. The fact that SCI FICTION, as far as I can see, has never been a money-making operation, but simply a loss leader to bring people to the Science Fiction Channel's website, seems to pass people by. They look at the high quality of fiction that it has published, and the awards that it has won, and seem to feel that such things should be enough to keep the webpage going.

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In the end, if you really enjoy reading short science fiction and want to see it continue, you ought to subscribe to the magazines that publish it: Analog, Asimov's, F&SF. If you find yourself visiting a webzine regularly, you ought to click the donations button at least once a year, and give them what you would pay for a year's worth of stories.

And this goes for aspiring writers as well as readers. Because if you harbor a hope of one day appearing in those pages, well, the only way those pages are going to exist is if people keep supporting them financially so they stick around.