#Write Tip: Why Do You Write? Knowing Yourself Is Key

Recently, Writer’s Digest posted a contest based on Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk’s 2006 Nobel Prize acceptance speech in which he addresses the questions: WHY DO YOU WRITE? Now normally I ignore such things, but I’m in a very contemplative mood today. And it’s a very valid question, one I think many writers may not be asking themselves enough.

We all do what we do for various reasons, but, in my experience, understanding your motives is a key factor to great satisfaction and success. It allows you to focus and to fine tune decisions. It keeps you pressing on when obstacles and frustrations arise. And it gives you a sense of purpose, which, as writers know, can be hard to hold onto and easily lost in the midst of  the labor of creating a manuscript.

Pamuk’s reason is quite compelling and worth looking at (use the link above), but what it did for me is cause me to reevaluate what my own answer might be. So here’s what I posted at Writer’s Digest’s site:

WHY DO YOU WRITE? Love to hear others’ answers but here’s mine: I write because I can’t NOT write. It’s a compulsion, an addiction. It’s not about money or fame. I write because there’s stuff I need to get out there into the world. I hope people are moved by it. I hope they’re entertained. I hope it makes them think. But I’ll still write regardless, because I don’t have a choice. At least the writers will understand that, I think. It’s a way of processing the world, understanding the meaning of life, making decisions and striving to grow to be a better man. It’s a way of exercising demons, demonstrating better ways and exploring human nature. I write because there’s a voice inside me crying to break free. I write because it’s who I am. That’s why I write. The question becomes how can I NOT write?

You hear a lot of arguing these days about people who “sell out” by  using various antics. The guy who made himself into a bestseller via paying reviewers and other dishonesty or the person who leveraged hundreds of thousands of twitter following strangers into decent sales. But to me my mind, these are gimmicks that mean very little for the long run. They may make a big splash for a moment, but what happens in twenty years? Will the fame still exist? Will they still be writing? Will they still be getting bestseller rankings? Will they come to realize the fleeting satisfaction was empty and couldn’t last? Only these people probably will know the answer and not for a couple of decades.

Whether you believe in a Higher Power or not, you are the decision maker for your destiny in so many ways. You are in charge of who you are and who you become. You may ignore concern for it. You may just pretend to go with the flow. But the act of deciding to do that is choosing your destiny, in every sense. “Damn the consequences, I’ll deal with it later” is a decision. It may be a decision to deal with regrets some other day, but it’s still a choice you’re making.

For me, I prefer to have more direction. My SFFWRTCHT friends will mock me as being anti-chaos. But I’ve had my share of chaos in life, especially the past three years. Anyone who’s ever dealt with unemployment and a mentally ill spouse and all that comes with them at the same time, constantly, will understand what I mean. If you haven’t been through that, you really don’t. But even before all that, I’ve always been a purpose driven person–wanting to do things for a clear reason and with certain deliberation. It doesn’t mean I can’t be spontaneous. For example, I rarely do much outlining for novels or short stories and I am really good at improvising as a musician. But both of those have an overarching framework that gives them a sense of boundaries and structure. In one case, it’s the story idea, characters and/or setting. In the other, western musical theory. And I don’t think that means I can’t live in the moment at all, frankly. I just may put more thought into than some. Is that really so wrong?

You have to do what’s right for you, of course, but I do think asking yourself the questions to have a sense of boundaries–knowing where you want to be, where you are and how you plan to get there is helpful, especially for writers. Most writers will never achieve stardom and wealth. Many will toil in full time jobs and lives, while writing on the side, for their entire lifetimes. Others strike lightning. Good for them. I don’t know which I’ll be, and, honestly, I don’t care. I’d like to make a living from this. This month I will likely make half of what I need to live from freelance writing and editing. Full time would only put me mid-20k per year, which is not rich. But what it is is satisfying, and I can’t tell you how valuable that is.  After 29 months of unemployment, my wife’s illness, divorce, cross country moves, near bankruptcy, unemployment problems, and more, to be doing something I enjoy sitting down to do and earning my living from it is such a blessing.

In my 43 years, I have worked many jobs that didn’t satisfy me creatively or fulfill my goals. I did it for the paycheck. I did it because I had to. I sacrificed stability to found a non-profit and teach the arts in developing countries to people who couldn’t afford or get that training any other way. I worked freelance so I could do fundraising and take time off to travel. I loved every minute, but it gave me no financial stability and benefits to help me through the crises I now face. What it did give me was a longing to be doing what I love, to chase my passions. And that I am being blessed with the opportunity to do that now is so gratifying.

But I know why I write. Why do you write? What keeps you going? Where do you want to be? How will you get there? I’d love to hear thoughts from fellow writers and readers.  I hope this encourages yet challenges you. Most of all, I hope it makes you ask those questions to be reminded there’s a motive and reason that drives you. We all need that from time to time. I know I did.

If you’re interested in the Writer’s Digest contest, enter here with a comment: http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/there-are-no-rules/why-i-write-one-of-the-best-things-weve-read-all-week. Click here for Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk’s 2006 Nobel Prize acceptance speech.

I wish you happiness and continued success. May you live your dreams. For what it’s worth…

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince (2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. A sequel The Returning followed in 2012 and The Exodus will appear in 2013, completing the space opera Saga Of Davi Rhii. His first children’s books, 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Books For Kids (ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Land Of Legends (forthcoming) appeared from Delabarre Publishing in 2012.  His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (2012) and is working on World Encounters and Space & Shadows: SpecNoir with coeditor John Helfers, both forthcoming and Beyond The Sun via Kickstarter. He hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

Write Tip: 10 Tips For Finding Time To Write

One issue writers who work around dayjobs face is finding time to write. From job demands to family demands to everything else, it can be a real challenge. So how do you do it? Here’s some suggestions:

1) Write When You Can. Carry your laptop or notebook with you and write whenever you get a free moment. Whether it’s five or fifteen, such moments can add up and you’ll get more words than if you wait for the elusive big chunk of writing time which may never come.

2) Set Goals. It seems obvious but if you just write when you feel like it, you’re unlikely to be as productive as when you actually set goals. If you have a word count to meet, you have motivation to write. So set goals and work hard to accomplish them.

3) Treat Your Writing Like A Job. Can’t find time to write? What if you tried telling your boss that? If you’re serious about writing, you have to treat it like a job. Especially if you aspire to a career as a writer. That means setting aside time somehow and sticking to a schedule. It means being disciplined. It may require you to get family members on board so they won’t interrupt you during this time or will at least respect your goals for it. It will certainly require you to act like that time is work time and be productive.

4) Make A Time Budget. A time budget is a spreadsheet of your entire week, 24 hours a day, where you record all the ways you use your time. Some items have set times, like work hours, which must be blocked off. Others are more flexible. Start by blocking out what you absolutely must do, then see how much time is left and start blocking in other things you’d like to accomplish. If writing and reading are important, make time for them, then stick to it. Even if writing time isn’t an issue for you right now, making a time budget might be a good exercise. You’ll be surprised how much time you waste every week which could be put to better use.

5) Write With Others. Google+ has reminded many writers how productive peer group writing can be. You not only get to network and fellowship a bit, but the pressure of hearing clicking keys during writing time is a great motivator. Even greater is the encouraging support when you check in about word counts. Writing in a group setting like this can really be quality time.

6) Submit Your Work. Okay, you have to write it first yet, but the greatest way to encourage yourself to keep writing is to get positive feedback, especially when you sell a story. When someone else actually thinks what you’re doing is good enough to publish, it’s a huge motivation to set aside time so you can write more.

7) Use Beta Readers or Critique Groups. Unlike submitting your work, where you might get form rejections instead of feedback, working with beta readers and critique groups gets you guaranteed feedback. Some may be negative, but inevitably some will be positive too, and just knowing someone enjoyed what you did tells you you’re on the right track and motivates you to keep going. Finding time to write is easier when you know someone appreciates the results.

8 ) Hang Out With Writers. Even hanging out with writer friends without any specific writing time group goals is a great motivator to write. Hearing about their projects and accomplishments makes you want to have some of your own. After all, who wants to be the only one without a great new brag to share?

9) Learn To Say ‘No!’ One of the biggest obstacles to writing time is overcommitting yourself. Don’t do it. Learn to say ‘no,’ one of the first words most babies learn. If you don’t leave time for your writing, you can’t write. Set priorities and make writing one of them.

10) Reward Yourself For Success. If you meet your word count goal or writing time goal, reward yourself. It may be an ice cream cone or buying that special book you’ve been craving after a period of success. Whatever the prize, find ways to reward yourself as positive reinforcement for sticking to your goals. Ultimately, the greatest reward will come in other ways but you have to finish the book or story first. 

There they are, 10 Tips For Finding Writing Time. I hope these help you with your writing goals. What are some ways you find time to write? Please add to the list in the comments below.

F0r what it’s worth…


For those who don’t know, November is National Novel Writing Month, otherwise know as NaNoWriMo.  I have never participated in this before but decided this year I would.  I had planned to write a SF novella, but after a couple of days being stuck on that, pulled out my old first novel, the love story I had tried to write two plus years ago, and decided to revisit it.  The NaNoWriMo rules say no previous words, so this likely won’t count for credit.  I have copied a few dialogue sections from the old novel, but mostly rewritten everything else.  In any case, I don’t care.  I love this story and believe it deserves to be told, and I’ve learned a lot about my craft since I first started to write it.

One of the refreshing things about it is the switch from my usual genres.  Having crafted science fiction and fantasy novels and dozens of speculative fiction short stories since giving up on this novel, I was getting burned out.  All I’ve written and read has been those two genres.  I feel very refreshed to be stepping away from that for a bit, and I hope that freshness carries over when I return to speculative fiction after this novel draft is finished.

9452 words in three days.  3 whole chapters.  Feeling pretty good.  I can tell the structure and writing is much better than the last time, although I definitely will need to do some more drafts to work on the descriptive prose and emotional arcs.  First goal is to get the story and basic character arcs down.  Once I know the themes, all the rest can fall in place much more easily.

Likely I’ll take another pass at my fantasy novel before revising this one, but then I’ll have to move on to a sequel for “The Worker Prince” as I prepare for its publication.  I will want to get that done and to the publisher by the time the book comes out next Spring so I can stay on schedule with that series for one book a year.

In any case, it feels good to be writing daily again.  It’s taken some time away from job hunting and editing, but I need to do this for me.  Almost five months of barely writing has really left me depressed and discouraged about my writing career.  Professional writers can’t afford that kind of time off and if I want to reach that goal, I can’t either.

I’ll keep you informed as I keep chugging along.  Whatever the case, it’ll be nice to have three novels instead of one by the Spring next year.  I just hope these two have better luck helping me get an agent than “Worker Prince” did.

For what it’s worth…

Five Reasons Science Fiction and Fantasy Are Important To Me

I’ve had a love affair with science fiction and fantasy since grade school. I will never forget the time my cousins dragged us to this film with the weird name “Star Wars.” Even at age 8, I was sure the title sounded dumb, but my cousin and best buddy, David, had seen the film several times already, and “you just have to see it,” he said.

The film did not disappoint. From its opening minutes aboard the Rebel Ship, I was on the edge of my seat. That opening scene remains one of my favorites of all time for any speculative fiction film. There’s nothing quite like the intensity of the battle between Rebel troops in blue shirts and leather vests against heavily armored storm troopers in the tight quarters of their ship. The intensity only increased when the heavy breathing dark menace, Vader, enters through the hole in the hull.

“Star Wars” blew me a way and opened my mind to possibilities I had never considered before. Always creative, always a dreamer, suddenly my wildest fantasies, fueled by my fascination with NASA’s space program, became real possibilities for me – maybe not for today, maybe not for tomorrow, but some day. I wanted to walk on the moon, launch in a space ship, float among the stars, visit alien planets. Even in other activities, my dreams filled my mind. When I went gliding in the alps on the engine-less glider plane, floating silently on air as we descended back down to the pad where we’d launched into the air on a giant bungee, my thoughts were of space. Was that what it would feel like on a space ship with silence all around? Was the abruptness of the launch similar to what it would be like to ride a rocket?

In high school, I had the opportunity to visit the Kansas Cosmosphere in Hutchinson and see actual NASA craft, experience astronaut training simulations, touch moon rocks and buy NASA souvenirs. The brief NASA Adopt-An-Astronaut Program allowed me to communicate with the first shuttle pilot, read about their mission, and feel personally involved. When astronaut Steve Hawley, formerly married to Sally Ride, visited my high school, his family ties to my church youth pastor allowed me closer contact and the thrill of shaking an astronaut’s hand and asking the silly questions he’d heard dozens of times that I wanted to hear answers for with my own ears.

So the first of my five reasons why science fiction and fantasy are important to me is that they opened my life to possibilities which had only seemed far fetched before I discovered them. They made me believe the hope of possibilities was a viable thing to dream about and affirmed my sense of wonder.

One of the few movies and televisions shows my father and I could enjoy together was the 1978 animated “The Hobbit,” based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel which had exploded in the 1970’s with its release to mass market paperback. Where as the “Star Wars” books were my first science fiction reads, “The Hobbit” became my first fantasy read. I devoured the book, even though I was so young I couldn’t grasp a lot of it. Soon I was reading fan magazines, checking out other books, and making up my own stories.

I became a fan of Alan Dean Foster because his “Splinter Of The Mind’s Eye” allowed me to revisit the Star Wars universe between films in a book almost like the movies. Since then I have read many more of his movie adaptations and original books, and he continues to be one of my favorite writers.

I discovered Robert Silverberg and Orson Scott Card, my two top favorites, when family members gifted me “Lord Valentine’s Castle” and “Ender’s Game” and insisted I read them. Having never heard of them, I was reluctant at first. I’d always been a picky consumer, wanting to feel confident of the likelihood I would enjoy a book or movie before investing time in it. Both books blew my mind, and since I’ve bought almost everything I can get a hold of from both authors and devoured each the same. I’ve reread both those books and experienced that thrill of first discovery all over again, then shared them with friends so they could experience it, too.

The second reason why science fiction and fantasy are important to me then is the bonds they’ve allowed me to create with friends and family. They’ve helped bring our dreams and lives together in exciting, unexpected and enriching ways, allowing us to share our wildest dreams and celebrate our future hopes.

In working in television and film and as a writer in my adulthood, I’ve heard many stories about how science fiction and fantasy have influenced not only writers of other genres, but even the development of technology. NASA once sent experts to the set of the original “Star Trek” series to discover how the producers made the doors slide open and shut when actors entered and departed rooms. The producers actually had a crewman behind the doors manually sliding them over, but today there are many doors designed to do just that in everything from office buildings to vessels. Are they exactly like the “Star Trek” doors, no, but they are modeled after the possibility. Seeing the “Star Trek” creator’s view of future possibilities inspired others to dream of how they could bring those possibilities to life and changed our world, the third reason why science fiction and fantasy are important to me.

I will always remember the first time I turned to the Sci-Fi Channel and discovered the new “Battlestar Galactic.” I had certainly heard of it, but like many fans of the original, had not liked what I’d heard about the “reinvention” and changes made by the new writers. To my great dismay, I loved it. It was darker and more serious than the original had ever strived to be, but it also provided an amazing commentary on our times, examining political and moral issues being faced at this moment in countries around the world. Like the original “Star Trek,” under the guise of “science fiction,” the new “Battlestar” was able to confront issues head on which most writers would never dare to.

The result was a compelling and inspiring television series, and one of the most respected and admired speculative fiction series ever created. So my fourth reason why science fiction and fantasy are important to me is that they can speak to issues in our own world and cultures in ways that contemporary works cannot, forcing us to think about things in a new light and consider possibilities we would never accept if they weren’t presented as “other world” instead of our own.

The final reason why science fiction and fantasy are important to me is that without the possibility of dreams and imagination, my life would have been unhappy and incomplete.

My dreams and imagination have taken me from a small Kansas town to the tribal villages of Africa, from the slums of Rio De Janeiro to the cobblestone streets of Europe and everywhere in between. Without being a dreamer, I would have never lived the life of risks I have lived in the thirty-two years since I discovered “Star Wars.” I would never have worked in film and television, written stories and scripts, released three CDs and a national single, or toured the world to speak, teach and sing. Some of those dreams had never occurred to me in Kansas, while others were the same ones my colleagues and classmates laughed at and mocked when I first mentioned them.

Ironically, at our 10th High School reunion, they all seemed to know where I’d been and what I’d been doing and instead of laughter, offered their admiration. I’d lived the life I said I’d wanted to. I chased my dreams and even caught some of them. None of that would have happened, if science fiction and fantasy hadn’t taught me to dream. And there are many others just like me.