Inspiration and Writing, or: OMG It’s Full of Light Bulbs!

Writing can be a difficult business at the best of times, and writing for science fiction has an added layer of difficulty. Presenting a “what-if” scenario which rings true, and has the characters in the story responding to it in plausible ways can be a difficult balance.

Literary fiction can be the disappointment of setting aside excitement in exchange for working nine-to-five, kids, paying a mortgage and so on. In science fiction, however, what if all the factors mentioned before are still parts of the character’s motivations–but it’s on a generation ship, hurtling through space? Or how would a character having his or her house blown up in the course of an alien invasion, not having “Alien Invasion Protection Insurance” change motivations?

So: writing is hard; writing for science fiction is harder.

Where to look for inspiration? Where can interesting ideas come from? The purpose of this blog will cover some resources which could get those brain juices flowing.

Reading other authors’ stories–the first step for someone thinking of writing science fiction should be reading in the genre. This helps by informing what the genre conventions are, what reader expectations may be, and–let’s face it, how original your idea may be. The more famous science fiction magazines are also professional markets, approved by the SFWA (the Science Fiction Writers of America). Most of them offer free versions of their published stories online. You could look up old mainstays, like The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Asimov’s or Analog. If e-readers and electronic subscriptions are your cuppa, then you should look at Clarkesworld and Lightspeed Magazine–both recent additions, and with very strong entries every month.

Read scientific magazines–magazines such as Scientific American, Smithsonian, National Geographic, among many, many others are always great resources for Big Ideas. Most are written in layman’s terms, and some have beautiful illustrations and photographs which further make the neurons fire off and dance behind the eyes.

At this time, there are several different podcasts I listen for inspiration on how stories can be shaped, and listen to how people speak. I’ve gone on binges for “This American Life” and for “Radiolab” which have a thematic structure around which they build three (or more, at times) different stories. These podcasts are great: entertaining, breath-taking and wondrous. The amount of ideas fired directly into the brain via the ear-holes is astounding. They are free (but if you like them quite a bit, you can donate to them), and have a large library of former programs.

Last, the issue of the old truism holds, well, true: a writer writes. All the resources in the world will not write a single scribble. This is where developing a habit of writing, setting up a wordcount goal every day, will help. Some professional writers may have wordcount goals of 1,000 words per day or more, but a beginning writer who has a day job may find this too challenging. After all, pro writers do nothing else but write as their job–it’s what their day job is, and has become lucrative enough to become so.

So, set up a wordcount goal that is based on reality, and be prepared to make certain sacrifices to reach this goal. In my experience, the hardest thing I had to give up, but the thing I miss the least is scheduled TV programming. If the TV show is a social event where you socialize with your friends or loved ones, it might require some consideration–perhaps negotiate a better time? Writing is by its nature an isolated activity–there is no need to shut the world out.

Happy writing!

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