Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Origin Story

Did I ever tell you about the birth of the Awful Space Opera?


Well, you see, it was like this:

I’ve been planning to “be a writer” for as long as I can remember. But, unlike practically every successful author ever, I didn’t start writing until I was an adult.

And I hated it.

Not the process, as such, but my writing. It was so terrible. So very, very bad. So much worse than every piece of bad writing I had ever read anywhere and I used to read Harlequin Teen romances.

This went on for years.

I decided to get a job at a newspaper, because one had to get a job somewhere, and I figured I needed practice. Writing for a newspaper is fun. If you like that sort of thing—the person I replaced and the person who replaced me both hated it, but I had a wonderful, wonderful time. But I soon realized it was the wrong sort of practice. Journalism and writing fiction are very different things. If you want to write fiction, eventually you have to just do it.

So I did. For maybe ten minutes. Then I got stuck. But I had other ideas—I never, ever run out of ideas—so I decided to try something else. Got stuck again.

After spending a week or two beginning unfinished projects (mostly comic screenplays—somewhere between the ages of ten and twenty I outgrew my passion for historical romance novels), I realized that something had to change. And that something was: Standards. I needed to get rid of them.

You see, my writing is still dreadful. Even after struggling along with it for two years, it is vile. (Every now and then someone reads this site and says, hey, you’re a good writer, and I really appreciate it, I do, but if you read any of my fictional work you would take it back.) But squirming at my lack of talent was holding me back.

The only way to ever get anything done was to embrace the hack within.

So I decided to start a side project, the Story With No Standards. To establish our low expectations, I began with the universally acknowledged Worst Opening Line, courtesy of Edward Bulwer-Lytton.

“It was a dark and stormy night,” I typed cheerfully.

Immediately I was transported back in time: I am in my grandmother’s yard, standing on the trunk of the collapsed apple tree, the one that we always used as a bridge across the creek, and my cousin is telling a terrible joke, based on Bulwer-Lytton.

I was probably nine, which would make him ten, but that’s not really an adequate excuse for this joke.

So I added the joke: “It was a dark and stormy night. They were all sitting around the campfire. The captain said to the mate, ‘Tell us a story.’ And the mate said, ‘Okay. It was a dark and stormy night. They were all sitting around the campfire. And the captain said to the mate…’” (I’m not sure when you’re supposed to stop telling the joke—my cousin seemed to think you weren’t.)

So—I had a dark and stormy night, a campfire, a large group of people led by a captain and his mate, hello, shipwreck! No, make that spaceship wreck!

And that is how, with no planning or preparation whatsoever, I became a writer of bad science fiction.


  1. I really really really want to read this story ...

    And Ira Glass is my hero of creative people, and here's why

  2. Thanks for that link. Definitely something I needed to hear today.

    And you will read it, some day. When it is much less awful than it is now.