December 7th, 2009


Writing What I Wouldn't Read

A common piece of advice for would-be writers is that they should read a lot. I won't go over the reasoning here, that's easy enough to find elsewhere, but I will say that it's certainly true, with one caveat: you can't just skim the surface of the story, say "I read!" and be done. What is meant by this advice is that you have to study the work of other writers and figure out both what they've done and why they've done it. The same way artists should look at a lot of art, and musicians should listen to a lot of music.

For myself, I hardly consider myself well-read, although it's probably true that I read more than the average 40-year-old American male. I tend to do a lot of binge-reading ... in the past two weeks I've read three Rex Stout books for instance. I read the entire library of Hercule Poirot novels by Agatha Christie — except Curtain because I didn't want Poirot to be "over" in my mind. (By the same token, I've never read Aunts Aren't Gentlemen, the last Jeeves and Wooster story, and probably never will.)

The thing of it is, I don't generally read a lot of "what's current," and I especially don't read what few short fiction magazines there are any more. It's not that I haven't tried, I have! Just about every time I've started working seriously on a new book I've gone on a genre-buying splurge, but then what happens is that the magazines sit in a pile next to my bed or down in the den, and never get read.

Part of it is that it's such a crapshoot; fiction magazines are traditionally where up-and-comers are learning their chops (although this is less true than it used to be), so the overall quality is very hit-or-miss to begin with. Add into that mix my own peculiar habit of having binary tastes (I either love something or hate it, with little room in between), and a fierce and unrelenting impatience with anything that feels like a waste of time, and you can readily see how I find myself doing a lot of skip-to-the-ending, which is exactly what not to do in that situation.

This puts me in a strange place when it comes to writing for such publications. You see, I'd like to start writing a lot more than I've been doing. I'm working on a novel now, yes, but I also want to write some short stories of various types, and I'd like to do so aiming for a paying venue. [1] But frankly ... I don't know what those are. And I don't even know how I'd go about finding out. What do people read? Seriously?

Barnes & Noble has the usual Asimov's, Ellery Queen, et al.; I imagine somebody must read those, as they stay in print, but I've never actually seen anyone doing it or spoken to anyone who's admitted to it. A look in Writer's Market suggests that there are others out there, but I've never heard of or seen most of them. Where do people find these things? And who reads them? Can I honestly write for publications that I don't read? And is there any chance of getting in if I do?

These are the kinds of topics I'm going to have to tackle to go pro.

-The Gneech

[1] Not because I need the money, although of course that's always nice. But because pay venues are both a tougher market, and more likely to gain you actual readers. Jim Hines discusses that here. Also, well, I've done the "create just for the fun of it" thing. I was a webcartoonist for 10 years!
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