The title of this post is not mine—it’s the title of a workshop given by Canada’s most successful SF writer, Robert J. Sawyer. I was lucky enough to catch it at the “Social Science on the Final Frontier” conference at Laurentian University in Sudbury, but you can read a lot more of Rob’s advice on writing at his web site . It’s must-read material.

Before you do, you should know that Rob has said in a keynote address that the days of the SF novelist who can make a living at writing are numbered. He estimates there might be ten years left before the well dries up ( ).

If you’re still determined to soldier on, the most important point Rob makes about writing is that you must have something to say. The kind of plot that’s just one damn thing after another will not make your book stand out. You’ve got to have a strong theme that will get people talking about the book.

Before you do anything else on your manuscript, decide on your theme and then choose a character who’s opposed to it (like the astronaut Taylor in the original Planet of the Apes movie, who begins the movie sneering at the faults of humankind as he leaves it behind forever, only to end up in a courtroom defending the human race).

Rob points out that the number one reason people will buy a particular book is author recognition, but the number two reason is because someone else recommended it. So talk at the watercooler translates into sales. Don’t try to be blandly acceptable to everyone—make a point, and don’t be afraid to be controversial. That’s the only way to make something of lasting quality. And wouldn’t we all rather leave behind a body of work that will still be remembered by generations to come?


Last week I had the pleasure of attending my first-ever academic conference: “Social Science on the Final Frontier” at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario. Academic types presented scientific papers about subjects relating to SF, from comparisons of stories involving criminal rehabilitation using time travel, to the ins and outs of Community Economic Development in Space. Conference organizer David Robinson proposed that Science Fiction might be considered a true social science, and also analysed the economics of a space mining colony (it doesn’t add up without cheap and very fast transportation, meaning that such colonies would almost certainly result from political policy rather than business interests). Co-organizer Alain Boulay reminded everyone that we do a disservice to science when we portray scientists as stereotypical fanatics and obsessives—science is done by real people, with hard work and dedication.

I found myself drafted (very willingly) into the role of “chauffeur to the stars”, which meant that I got to spend extra time with old acquaintance Robert J. Sawyer and delightful new friends Julie E. Czerneda and her husband Roger. Rob gave an informative talk about an SF Writer’s View of the Social Sciences and an even more informative workshop on “How To Write Science Fiction”. I’ll give more detail on that workshop in a future post. Julie gave convincing proof that SF is a great tool in the classroom, and offered a very informative 2-part workshop with tips and resources for the subject.

Without disparaging anyone’s papers, my favourite part of the conference was the chance to hang out with Rob and Julie as well as the other writers and SF fans in attendance. Networking like that is the highlight of most conferences and scheduling should always provide lots of opportunities for it.

The conference suffered some hiccups from a) being a first effort, and b) taking place in mid-August, but it was still very worthwhile, and I congratulate and thank the organizers for bringing it to life. I hope it’s just the first of many more to come.