I’ve never been one to follow the beaten path.
I don’t say that with any kind of pride, and I don’t necessarily think it’s a good thing or a bad thing. It’s just part of who I am, and I could no more change it than I can change how tall (or short) I am or my date of birth.
I suspect I write fiction because I’m always looking at what could be or might be and I like pursuing that line of inquiry to discover if what’s comes next is better, worse, or just different.
Asking “what if?” followed repeatedly by “then what?” can take you to some interesting places, both on and off the page.
Isaac Asimov’s “I, Robot” stories feel like a good example of this.
What if we had robots? Hmm, if they’re stronger and smarter than us, how do we make sure they don’t take over? Well, we could embed the three laws of robotics into the robots. Hmm, if they’re smarter than us, how would they interact with those laws in ways we can’t predict?
We all ask what if questions in our lives and then depending on our appetite to follow those what ifs, we can change things big and small. At twenty-two years old, I asked, “What if I left the UK and went to Australia?”
I followed that one, and now I’ve lived more of my life in Australia than the UK. That was a big one (for me), and the answer might have been different, but not knowing the answer is why what if questions are interesting. If I hadn’t liked Australia, maybe I would have just had a short holiday on the other side of the planet and then gone “home”.
Sometimes what if gets in the way too.
If I were willing to follow other people’s lead, life might be simpler (easier?). There are people who are way smarter and more experienced than me, who’ve figured out this writing and selling stories thing and have systematized the writing process, the book launch, advertising, and connecting with readers to build successful writing businesses (note, systematized isn’t intended negatively or to convey anything about how they engage with the work or their readers). At this point, there are some well laid out road maps for writers to follow to connect with readers, and yet, here I am, trying an unproven format on the strength of a what if.
It’s probably a terrible business decision, but at least it feels creative and by pursing it, I’ll learn something.
Last week, I talked about the decision to write a serial. Part of that decision was based on the what if that followed hearing somebody say:
People don’t read books any more, but everybody reads email.
The extremes at both ends of that idea are easily disproven, but what if reading books by email is actually a better fit for many people?
When I think about books, I don’t really see how they can survive outside of being a niche item, like vinyl records. Even audiobook which have been gaining in popularity feel like they’re not as immediate as podcasts.
Stories will be around forever, but books? I’m not so sure.
After all, what are books? For a long time, they were one of the easiest ways to access information and stories. Now, you can reach for your phone and access just about any information you need in a variety of formats. Physical books still carry some prestige, but will that last? Can prestige beat convenience?
I don’t see how it can.
Of course, I might be wrong, or at least, way off on the time line, but what if I’m not? What if reading stories, one small episodic piece at a time is actually more convenient and accessible for more people than reading books?
What if the difference between finding the next episode in your inbox instead of having to purposefully open a dedicated ereader app is the difference between building a reading habit and not?
This might be a rationalization for creating the art I want to create in the format I want to create it in, but even if I’m wrong, I’m still writing the stories (almost) every day and when I finally admit this particular what if isn’t working out the way I want it to, I can package the stories as books and sell them the way sensible writers sell their stories.