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?