How science fiction and fantasy writers tend to self-mythologize…

J-Populist-1890s-anti-monopAt the Launchpad workshop, I was talking to Adrienne, a writer of literary fiction (and a webcomic artist!), about the assumption, especially if you’re a young writer, that you’re a wunderkind who had it easy and just sort of sat down and whipped out a publishable book.

In my life, however, I feel like what I often encounter is the opposite sort of mythology: the writer who talks about how dreadfully hard everything is, and how they sit down and write so many hours a day and go through so many drafts and labor so deeply over every sentence and how they are forced to eschew all frivolous activity so they can WRITE, because they are simply compelled to WRITE.

In some cases, I’m certain that’s true. There are people in the world with very demanding jobs and demanding lives. I’m astonished, for instance, at how working mothers are able to write books in a world that doesn’t seem to contain even the notion that they ought to have time to themselves.

But in many cases, I’m a little skeptical. I’m sure there are writers out there who write for eight hours a day, but they are not anywhere close to the majority. For most writers, three hours is a good day. And you can maintain a perfectly decent writing career on just an hour a day or five hours a week. Seriously, you can write and complete a book a year on that schedule, and many writers do.

So what need for all of this almost universal (in the science fiction and fantasy world) description of writing as hard labor?

I feel like it’s just a symptom of SF’s populist roots. If you come from a more aristocratic milieu (as in, for instance, the East and West Coast upper-class society that I and a lot of literary fiction writers come from_, then you value the appearance of effortlessness. Things are supposed to look easy and simple. You’re supposed to look good AND give the appearance that you’re not trying to look good. You’re supposed to make money, but not seem as if you want to make money.

On the other hand, more populist milieus are suspicious of what is effortless, and they tend to value that which comes with great labor. In these social milieus, everything is supposed to seem very difficult. You’re supposed to have come from a hard-scrabble upbringing. You’re supposed to have raised yourself up by your bootstraps. You’re supposed to be stern and independent. And when you’re surrounded by those ideas, writing tends to seem a little, well, frivolous. After all, it’s nothing more than sitting at a desk and making up stories. Which is why writers in populist milieus tend to spend so much time harping upon the difficulty of what they do.