Why Write? And Why
By Sandra Miller
Oh, if I had a nickel for every time I've heard those questions. Isn't
writing just the ultimate egotistical pursuit, after all? And in these
troubled times, aren't there much more important things for us to be doing
than writing fiction, especially speculative fiction?
I won't deny that writing is egotistical. It is perhaps the height of
vanity to think that words we string onto paper from our minds should
interest anyone but ourselves. It must be beyond vanity to imagine that we
should be paid for such a pursuit, or that others should be willing to pay
to read our flights of fancy. But I fight any suggestion that egotism is
all writing is.
Writing is a fundamentally positive act. As writers, we are often
uncomfortable with the things we see, with the people and events who
surround us every day. The writer's mind constantly wonders, What if?
And the writer shares the answers with us in their work. Writers challenge
the assumptions and practices of those around them, upset preconceived
notions and sometimes force people to reconsider their views.
Writing is a sharing of self. It is a humbling act; a way of shouting to
the world, "These are the things I care about!" The writer is a mirror in
which society is reflected, both the good and the bad. Unflinching courage
is required to write. The writer reminds readers of the things that are
truly important, and can point out when society's actions do not match its
These things are especially true for speculative fiction. In writing
speculative fiction, we ask our readers to suspend disbelief with a
completeness that is not required in more traditional genres. We push the
boundaries in all directions, we comment on things that could not be
comfortably discussed without the cover of unfamiliar people in a strange
land. We ask our readers to invest themselves not only in a made-up tale,
but a made-up world.
Speculative fiction is important, even in times like these -- perhaps
especially in times like these. We remind people how necessary it is to use
one's imagination, and how it feels to dream. Universal truths of love and
justice transcend the boundaries of genre, the boundaries of societies, and
even the boundaries of worlds. We remind people that even grown-ups need to
believe in a certain amount of magic.
Our world has become a terrifying place in certain respects. Speculative
fiction provides a release for some of the tension this modern world builds
in our readers. In fantasy, the kinds of problems we face today may have
not yet evolved; in science fiction, our fictional societies have sometimes
evolved past many of our problems. And yet our characters will often face
problems that surpass ours. No matter how bad things are in the world
around us, no matter how negative the headlines become, our readers can turn
to a speculative fiction work and know that the characters will have
problems that are bigger. And one way or another, those characters will
triumph. We remind people that it is possible to win in the face of
terrifying odds, that one must never give up.
Speculative fiction offers a necessary retreat from modern society. It is
often called "Escapist fiction," and to a certain extent that is true. The
twin genres of science fiction and fantasy allow the reader to move for
awhile out of the context of the real world. Important issues are addressed
outside of the familiar settings of more traditional genres. Speculative
fiction is a much-needed respite for the mind of the reader.
Speculative fiction has been poorly regarded by the more traditional genres
for many years, carrying the derisive tag "ghetto literature." This is
undeserved, and the twin genres of science fiction and fantasy fill a
necessary role in today's society. I do not feel that speculative fiction
authors should need to apologize for their genre, today or ever.
We keep the fires of imagination burning.