Pluralistic: 23 Sep 2021

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Pluralistic: 22 Sep 2021

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Pluralistic: 21 Sep 2021

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Ignore Career Advice From Established Writers

We don’t know anything about breaking into today’s market

Screengrab of Judith Merril introducing Doctor Who on TVOntario, in the 1970s.

“Breaking In,” is my latest column for Locus Magazine; it’s both the story of how I broke into science fiction, and an explanation of why there’s so little to learn from that story.

When I was trying to sell my first stories, I obsessively sought career advice and memoirs from established writers. I sat in on countless science fiction convention panels in which bestselling writers explained how they’d butter up long-dead editors to sell to long-defunct publications.

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Everything is Always Broken, and That’s Okay

Beyond “competition,” “efficiency” and “innovation,” interop delivers self-determination.

Image from Theophilus Brown’s 1915 patent for a manure spreader (USP#1139482)

I am recuperating from hip-replacement surgery and while that often means I can’t concentrate enough to work, it also means I have long, uninterrupted periods to carry on correspondence, such as the paragraphs below, from my overdue reply to a left-wing economist with whom I’ve been discussing the case for interoperability. In our previous round, my correspondent had suggested that interop wasn’t necessarily good, and that even profitable interop could be bad for all of us — do we really need 50 nearly identical inks on Amazon that can all work with our printer? How can anyone make a “good” choice in that environment? My response is below.

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Why Bother?

A letter to a discouraged young writer

A broken pencil.
Photo: Eric/CC BY-ND

This week, a friend wrote to ask if I had any words of encouragement for a 14-year-old writer who had grown discouraged, convinced that writing would neither improve her life, nor this tormented and fraught world. Here is what I wrote to her, with a few edits.


XXXXXX asked me to send you a brief note of encouragement. I understand where you’re coming from. Writing can be incredibly demoralizing, in part because it is incredibly elevating. Working out your anxieties, hopes and fears on paper through the lives of imaginary people can be an absolute tonic, and when the world is all in chaos, that tonic can be balm indeed. But at the same time, writing can feel inconsequential, especially when you’re just starting out, because it is intangible, just a bunch of made-up rubbish that has no power on its own to materialize those aspirations or mitigate the things that give rise to fears.

Worse, when you start writing you will quickly discover that very few people even care that you’re doing it — the proud relatives in your life are glad you’re writing but not very interested in specific works, and the friends who are entertained by your work are only interested in consuming so much of it.

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Pluralistic: 04 Sep 2021

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Pluralistic: 03 Sep 2021

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Pluralistic: 31 Aug 2021

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