On Writing: Drafting, Revising, and the Critique of an Ever-Shifting Present

One of the perils of writing–or, more specifically, revising–the sort of near-future science fiction that I write in the slow manner that I tend to write it is that the issue that sparked the story often changes significantly by the time I get around to polishing up said story.

Stepping back a bit: I’m in the camp that believes that one of the purposes of science fiction (and really, any form of literature) is to critique some element of the present. Yes, these stories should be full of interesting characters having interesting conflicts while doing interesting things. But there should also be something that grounds readers to the present, or something through which they can view that present.

But what happens when that present suddenly and dramatically shifts?

What got me thinking about this is that I recently came back to a story that I drafted in 2014, a near-future SF story about a young new mother whose repressive family twists the circumstances and narrative around her child’s birth. Back in 2014, I wanted to explore the collision between recent research on altering memories and the usual reproductive rights issues that find their way into my fiction.

And then in 2015, we saw a religious backlash in the US to the Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling, a backlash that gave a platform to certain southern judges and county clerks.

And then in 2016, the current US administration was elected, sort of.

And then in 2017, the Texas legislature passed laws that allow child welfare agencies to deny adoptions and discriminate against prospective parents based on the agencies’ “religious freedom.”

And so on.

Which left me wondering, should events in the intervening years affect the story? Or the world-building around it? Given the damage done to reproductive rights in Texas in the last legislative session and the real threats to religious freedoms handed down from the state and federal levels, should I alter the society as I’ve imagined it?

The readers of the story will be inhabitants of 2018 (or 2019 as publishing schedules usually go), so it makes sense for me to address anything that no longer works with current policy and so forth.

But ultimately, the question must be what will make for the best story? If I just want to explore the consequences of a given law, then I should just write an essay or a blog post. If I want to write fiction and affect readers, then any changes have to be in service to that end. The critique has to be secondary.

After all, if no one is moved or intrigued or delighted or enraged by a character, then what’s the point of telling her story?

Ursula K. Le Guin: An Appreciation

Most of the appreciations of Ursula K. Le Guin have focused on her fiction, but the SF master also wrote speculative poems. Like so many in the field, I began writing SF after reading her lyrical, intelligent prose. That lyricism, of course, we also find in the intelligence of her poems.

I’ll admit here that I haven’t read as much of her poetry as I’ve read her prose. That said, one of the most striking speculative poems I’ve read in a while is hers: “Werewomen.” which I encountered in The Moment of Change, edited by Rose Lemberg. (As an aside, the anthology is a solid collection of speculative poetry that I highly recommend. Read a review by Brit Mandelo on tor.com here.)

The poem is a cry of an older woman who, like the younger women and urban women she aligns herself with, implores the reader to “Listen what I need is freedom,” including the freedom to walk alone at night. In an era of #metoo, marches against the current US administration, and other calls to raise our voices, we should keep the last lines of the poem with us:

“All kinds of women
talk about walking alone.
When the moon is full
listen how they howl,
listen how they howl together.”

And so, we keep howling. Howling on placards and protest chants. Howling through calls and letters to our elected officials. Howling through our online posts. Howling through our stories.