I keep telling people an important thing about my blog:
I am not a writer.
Really. I don’t have that urge to create. If i blog I have something to say. If i don’t blog reason number one is that anything that occurs to me to write is likely to bore me to sleep before I can open up my blog much less spew it into the text box.
I am three things, that I think are useful to writers. First I’m an analyst, I can pick apart patterns well enough to recognize what will and won’t work, and what eventualities I can expect. I’ve actually only failed to pick one president in my life at least three months out. Second I’m a voracious reader. I read across types of fiction, half a dozen scientific disciplines, tech manuals, cereal boxes, and marketing material of nearly anything. This feeds into the first. The third is: I’m an opinionated cuss. Yes, anyone can bee an ass, but being able to back it up with a reasonable database to draw from is fairly useful.
One of the things I noticed in science fiction and fantasy over the last three decades versus the previous four to six is the shift in what type of science(s) the writers were interested in. Most of the early science fiction was based on physics, maths, aerospace design and similar “hard sciences”, about the late seventies the shift was on. People started getting degrees in all sorts of things and writing science fiction. Medical doctors, marine biologists, began joining the ranks. Then there were that odd mix of cross genre writers, various humanities, sociology and other religions.
One of the things that stuck out is that you can almost always tell which general area a writer comes from. Irene Radford’s writing is influence by her love of dance. Dave Freer’s knowledge of fish, and certain social orders comes through strongly. James Enge is much to the utter lack of surprise of anyone who’s ever met two classics professors among that number himself. Just read Chuck Gannon’s work, you’ll probably guess for yourself what his background is if you don’t know already.
One prevalent issue for a lot of writers is a lack of distinct voice. It’s a hard issue to overcome because “voice” as a term is as hard to nail down as the difference between two musicians. I can identify Whitney Houston’s voice, and Prince, but describing the difference between a voices is not easy. One of the two is male, both have good range. Beyond that almost everything is highly subjective except that you can pick up either voice almost instantly.
I think writers need to feed their voice on different styles as much as they need to feed their hind brain on different fodder to produce intriguing worlds and characters. When I ran across this today I realized how few writers even mention sports in our genre, and usually only with derision. I’ve mentioned it before but how people play is a huge part of what they are. Who they turn to for information is very interesting as well. One distinct thing across any form of commentary be it hockey, baseball, politics on any part of the spectrum, or even tech blogging is that the most distinct voices that don’t make a fetish of it are the most successful.
Love them or hate them Bill Maher and Rush Limbaugh stand out. Neither is trying to obscure their commentary in allusions and hat tips to something irrelevant to the average audience member. Oprah Winfrey wasn’t the most powerful takshow host on the planet for decades because she was a shrinking violet. More importantly the three are all authentic. None of them is imitating anyone, and no matter how many clones competitors rolled out they’d bounce off the juggernaut and fall aside.
So here’s the bottom line: Writers need to find their voice, and going outside your comfort zone to do so is a good thing. For publishers, there’s no real point in having six imprints in the same genre if a committee votes on every acquisition for each of them. You aren’t building six brands, and despite the best efforts of the weak witted to convince people otherwise universal appeal is a bad thing, it waters down distinctive qualities.