The pressure to always write ‘serious’ stuff can lead to burn out. Sometimes you need to leaven it with some fun, otherwise you’ll find you just can’t write any more.
Paolo Bacigalupi writes some pretty heavy stories. They do what great science fiction always does, they make you think—really think—about the issues that he writes about. Like the ethics of genetic engineering.
I remember reading The Calorie Man back when it first came out, just after I’d visited family in the wheat belt of the Wimmera and for some reason that visit we’d been discussing Monsanto and buying GM modified wheat. I tell you, reading Bacigalupi’s story immediately afterward made an impression that stayed with me for years.
However, I digress, I’m not here to talk about Bacigalupi, I’m here to talk about a comment he made on John Scalzi’s The Big Idea, which is part of Scalzi’s Whatever blog.
If you read science fiction and fantasy, by the way, I hope you’re reading The Big Idea. It’s one of the best places I know to discover new/unfamiliar authors.
But, back to Bacigalupi, whose new book is Zombie Baseball Beatdown.
In The Big Idea Bacigalupi says:
To be honest, I didn’t write Zombie Baseball Beatdown just for the giggle … I actually did it because it if I didn’t, I probably wasn’t going to write another one of my ‘serious’ novels ever again …
For the last two years, I’d been miserable trying to write The Drowned Cities with that Greek chorus of critical voices in my head. I desperately wanted to play creatively in a space where I no longer had to worry about who liked what, or who approved of what, or whether anyone would want to buy what I wrote.
I just wanted to create…
I know exactly how he felt.
When Sherylyn and I write we tend to do one ‘serious’ novel and then one ‘light and frothy’, before returning to another heavier story.
You can’t call our serious novels anything like Bacigalupi’s, of course, but they’re still a lot more serious than our light-and-frothies, which tend to be romps. We have written, for example, a young-adult fantasy, a rim-world science fiction and a romantic science fiction in our metaphorical time down.
Then we got an agent, and while our agent has been fantastic and not put any pressure on us at all, we put pressure on ourselves. We jumped straight from one serious novel to the next.
And we struggled. Linesman II (Acquard) has taken us twice as long to write as a normal novel, and while it’s good in parts, it’s nowhere near finished yet. We’re on the second draft and there’s still lots to clean up. Clean-up that would normally have been done in the first pass.
Like all of our writing, once we’ve finished a major draft we put the story away for a couple of months. We do this not just so that we can come back to it with fresh eyes, but also because once you have finished writing a story you’re tired of it. Put it away for a bit and you come back to it less jaded. You see what you loved about it in the first place.
So we put Acquard away and what did we do next? We jumped straight into Linesman III (Fergus).
More fool us.
Fergus was coming hard too.
Then, I have no idea why, we started a side project. A story about a demon who eats a wizard and decides to take that wizard’s place. It’s definitely a light and frothy.
We’re having fun writing again.
And not surprisingly, Fergus is coming along well too.
*p.s. Bacigalupi still manages to pack some heavy themes into a kid’s book.