“Write it, dammit!”
I write. Not as much as I used to, because I’ve been doing all kinds of other creative things as well, but I do write. When I don’t write, the problem is not writer’s block; I don’t remember ever having had that in my life. The problem is more like having too many ideas in my head and they’re all fighting. “Write me! And me! And me! And you really need me too! And…” After a while of that, the obvious temptation is to bash them all hard on the head and go and embroider something till they stop squabbling.
This isn’t really the best way to deal with squabbling ideas, but I didn’t know a better one until I recently discovered the 750 Words website. The idea is simple enough: you do a 750-word brain dump every day, or at any rate every day you can. It’s private, so you don’t have to worry about twiddling with settings as you would if you were doing something similar on LiveJournal or whatever. I had been thinking about doing this for a few days, and this morning I finally thought, right, I am getting into Squabbling Ideas mode again, so I will sign up on 750 Words, dump my brain and see if it helps.
It did. The first thing that came out was one strong basic story idea which is now the obvious thing to write next. This was followed by various random musings on my accidental invention this morning of the word “effoffable” (meaning “causing others to have a good reason to tell you to eff off”; I was woken up by some neighbours having a screaming row outside and doing precisely that, which was how it came about, because I was musing about whether or not the person being told to eff off had done anything genuinely effoffable), followed by some thoughts on SF which I’m going to develop further here. I hadn’t planned to use 750 Words to get an idea for a post for this blog. It just happened that way.
If you’ve been reading regularly up to this point, you will have noticed a huge love for science fiction coming out all over this blog. Would it astonish you to learn that I very rarely read any these days?
Well, I hope so, because it astonished me once I started thinking about it. My favourite author was always Asimov, but I read Heinlein (whose politics creeped me out a bit, but who could tell a good story), Clarke (great plots, not so sure about his characters), Bradbury, Dick, Zelazny, Bester, the works. I pretty much read my way through the entire SF section in the local library during my teens. I watched not only Star Trek, but also Dr Who and Blake’s 7 (Avon deserves a whole post of his own as the greatest tragic character since Shakespeare’s time, but possibly not on this blog) and Space 1999 and Sapphire and Steel and anything else like that I could get away with. (I was lucky, because my mother liked that kind of thing too.) I could not get enough of the stuff.
And then, somehow, I pretty much stopped.
Not entirely. I still read the odd SF book, turned out the odd bit of Blake’s 7 fanfic, and got into the more SF-orientated types of comic books for a while. (Ah, comic books. Another whole post on its own somewhere else.) But, somewhere in my late teens to early twenties, my consumption of SF went from insatiable to occasional, and it did so quite suddenly.
It’s not that I somehow went off SF. I didn’t. I still love all the basic SF tropes. There was, of course, the fact that at university I discovered Terry Pratchett (who was quite a new thing at the time), and with him the whole genre of comic fantasy; I think that made some kind of difference. But it’s taken me till now to put my finger on what the problem really was.
I remember very clearly when I stopped reading Asimov, or at any rate his SF. (I’d read pretty much all the SF he ever wrote by that point, anyway, so it was not exactly an unnatural end.) I’d been avidly reading all his stories about robots and alien psychology and properly thought out planets and so forth, and then I finally picked up – you know, I honestly can’t remember what the title was, but it was one of his later works. And he had clearly decided that the fact that he was no good at handling romance in his stories was a Bad Thing and something he needed to eliminate. So he’d put a romance in this one. Complete with sex.
Now, as I say, it’s not that I hate romance in books. I thoroughly enjoy reading Jane Austen, whose novels are all centred round some kind of romance and are certainly none the worse for it. I do hate graphic sex scenes and will skip over them, but Asimov’s weren’t anything like graphic; if I recall correctly, they were done pretty tastefully. No; what really threw me was the fact that it was Asimov doing it. Asimov, the man who cheerfully said he couldn’t write romance, and to whom I therefore turned with enthusiasm when I knew I didn’t feel like reading about it. Of course, by this point I had also read Heinlein, and he wrote sex all over the place, but that was Heinlein and he was different. I kind of tuned it out, to some extent.
It’s taken me till now to understand just how much that threw me. Really, it was the literary equivalent of walking in on the Pope and finding him smooching a nun (no disrespect intended to any past or present pope here – this is a hypothetical papal figure I have in mind). It wasn’t a case of “oh noes, here be sex”. It was “oh noes, here be totally unexpected sex in a book I thought was a safe space”. And it’s not possible to understand that fully until you can understand why you need a book to be a safe space from sex. For the longest time, I didn’t, so I couldn’t clearly articulate my thoughts.
Although I loved SF for its own sake, because I always loved science and it sprang out of that, the fact that on the whole it was pretty much free from both romance and sex for a long time did add a lot to its appeal for me. (Sadly, this was often because it was also free from women, and that was a major flaw with a lot of writers; not all of them, thankfully.) There were always authors like Heinlein who did deal with it, but they were in the minority. Generally speaking, SF was a safe place, and Asimov was the safest of all… until that happened.
I think there was a little bit of my brain that broke at that point. If it did, it obviously wasn’t logical; there was still all the stuff I had already been reading and enjoying, and I could still have taken refuge in that when I wanted to. But brain breakages aren’t always logical. Out of the brain break came the thought: “I still enjoy this genre, but it is not my safe zone any more. I need to find a new one.” It also didn’t help that the Doctor (as in Dr Who) started showing the first signs of becoming a sex symbol around this time. The Doctor had never been a sex symbol. The Doctor was asexual, though I didn’t have the word available to me at the time. When my female friends started gushing over the latest Doctor, that just felt… wrong. Let them gush over pop stars or whoever, but not the Doctor. He lives in the safe zone, right? …oh, wrong now. 😦
Back to this morning and 750 Words. I found myself spontaneously writing the following:
“I have not had SF ‘taken away’ from me in some way, not even at a subconscious level, due to my asexuality; if I want asexual-friendly SF, then I need to do what I would do if I want asexual-friendly anything else and it doesn’t exist so much these days. Write it, dammit.”
Sometimes I give myself surprisingly good advice. Whichever bit of my brain decided to pop up and type that little gem is right on the money. So… I’m going to write it, dammit!