East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Writing stories as a kid

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I found this incredible video this morning, in which Mary Robinette Kowal illustrates her approach to writing short fiction. It was something I fired up while taking a break for breakfast, and I found myself taking notes. Because it was that good.

But apart from the excellent content, there was something else that gave me pause: the lesson was presented in front of a room full of kids. As in high school kids.

And I found myself wondering what would have been of me, had I access to high-quality writing instruction when I was in high school.

I started writing around fourteen or fifteen. I had a handful of old Ike Asimov articles about writing as a guide, a few schoolmates as readers… and that’s it.

At the time there was no market for short stories in Italy – or at least no market I had access to. And really… writing?
That’s not a thing you do.

There was one national SF writing contest – the sort in which you send your story to the publisher, and if they like it, they publish it.
That’s no contest – that’s what publishers do, right?

And there was a SF fanzine – you subscribed, they’d publish your stories if they were any good.
I found a stack of those, a few days back, and checked the names – a lot of current authors in my country were already writing back in 1985.
They gave away their stories for free then, they still do now.
They all have “a real job”.

School only taught us essay-oriented composition.
We were supposed to be able to write a decent article, not a decent story.
What’s the use of writing stories, right?
In retrospect I wonder if poetry would have made “coming out” easier – when I was in high school writing poetry was considered a legit activity … at least as a hobby. Poetry-slingers were considered very sensitive and mature and oh, so romantic.
Writing space opera and sword & sorcery? Not so much. Not at all.

So I wrote “for myself” – meaning, with no hopes of publication, no hopes of reaching a wider audience than those 10 people that would read my typed stories.

But what would have been, had I access to a good fiction-writing course when I was fifteen, or eighteen?
Maybe I would not have to wait until I was 33 to make my first professional sale, or until I was 48 to become – due to desperation – a full-time writer.

This really made me think, today.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

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