How to be a writer – or “Rubbing Elbows with and Standing upon the Shoulders of Giants”

Over the weekend I made zero sawdust or shavings, but I had woodworking and making on my mind. My family attended Clockwork Alchemy 2015, a fantastic Steampunk Con – and according to none other than Professor Elemental himself, “the friendliest” such event in existence.

I went as a panelist, along with my wife and a cadre of talented writers who collectively form the Treehouse Writing Adventures group. We’re a cheerful bunch at Clockwork Alchemy, and have had the pleasure now two years running of counting Harry Turtledove among our number on Author’s Row.

Rubbing Elbows with Giants

This year I sat next to Mr. Turtledove on a panel titled “How to be a Steampunk Author.” To my right were Anthony Francis and T. E. MacArthur. So there’s the rubbing of elbows part sorted out.

During the panel, each of us had a chance to talk about our experience as writers. We talked history (Harry, Anthony, and T.E.), we talked research (all of us). We talked character tropes (me and T.E. mostly, but everyone added in) and how (or how not) to employ them.

We talked. And we listened.

Because there was a guy on the panel who’d been writing science-fiction for the past 38 years or so, and we kind of figured he might have a few ideas or thoughts to share.

Standing on Their Shoulders

For my part, I addressed writing from an editor’s perspective, mainly because I haven’t scribbled much of my own prose for the past six months. Editing is my bread and butter, and it’s closest to hand when I go digging into memory for tidbits of writing wisdom. At one point, I noted the importance of working with an editor if you’re brand new to the world of “writing for public consumption.” When I’d finished my thought, I heard from my left:

“I’d like to speak to that.”

And he did. Harry expanded on what I’d said and layered on a whole lot more than I could have. He referred back to Heinlein’s five rules of writing, which I knew about but hadn’t brought to mind in quite some time.

Put the words on the page. Finish what you start. Don’t muck about with it (except to tidy up the obviously wonky bits) until you’ve got an editor’s eye on the manuscript. Send it out, sell it. Keep it out there until it sells.

Afterwards, still slightly reeling from having Harry Turtledove pick up where I’d left off in the panel, I sat down at my author table and sold a few more books. But my head was spinning with the idea that after 38+ years, even with all the changes that have taken place in the world of publishing, the same truths still apply. The same rules still fit the mold of what it means to be any kind of writer, Steampunk or otherwise.

Like a couple of rusty old hand planes picked up from a junk shop, Heinlein’s rules do the same job as any shiny new set of writing advice you might stumble across.

The strokes are the same, whether you’re using a cleaned up junk store find or a brand new Veritas premium tool. You’re taking shavings off wood using the same hand motions, in the same powerful stance (feet shoulder-width apart, along perpendicular lines). You’re working at the same ideal height for your size and arm length.

You grip your grandfather’s No. 5 the same way he did when he used it 70 years ago.

All good things…

As we all made our departure Monday morning, I stopped by Harry’s table to thank him for being a part of our little authorial arm of the convention, and to tell him how encouraging it was to hear my own thoughts as an editor mirrored in his perspective during the panel.

“You’re aimed in the right direction,” he said.

Chuffed. To. Bits.

Where do you find the best writing advice and how does it match up against Heinlein’s 5 Rules of Writing?ย 

About ajsikes

I am a freelance editor and author of speculative fiction in the dark/weird vein. My editing style is best described as nurturing. I treat each customer with the same respect and consideration regardless of the quality of their writing, and always aim my comments at helping writers improve and strengthen their work. For more information, please visit me at my website.
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2 Responses to How to be a writer – or “Rubbing Elbows with and Standing upon the Shoulders of Giants”

  1. jazzfeathers says:

    Fantastic experience. I bit envious ๐Ÿ™‚

    • ajsikes says:

      It was something else, let me tell you. I used to sell his books at the shop I worked while in college. Bit of a fanboy moment I guess, but it really made my weekend ๐Ÿ™‚

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