11 Life-Changing Pieces Of Writing Advice, All From Sci-Fi & Fantasy Authors
by Sadie Trombetta
Thais Ramos Varela/Stocksy

Let's face it: writing isn't a simple task, especially writing something as complex and immersive as science fiction and fantasy. Luckily, there is plenty of helpful advise and inspiring words of wisdom out there for people who want to try it, including these quotes all aspiring sci-fi and fantasy writers should read from famous authors who know a thing of two about the subject.

Writing a book or even a short story can feel like an intimidating process, especially to aspiring authors who have only ever dreamed of doing such a thing. That is probably why there are so many different resources out there for writers, new and seasoned, who need a little help getting started. Go to a library or a bookstore and you'll find plenty of guides about the craft of storytelling and the process of writing. Do a quick search online and you'll discover dozens of podcasts, video lectures, and TED talks about creativity and imagination. Check out any course catalog at your local college, university, or community center, and chances are, there will be a class about writing fiction or creating a novel.

My point is that, even though from the outside looking in, writing can seem like an impossible task, there are plenty of tools to help you accomplish your goal. My personal favorite? Advice from authors whose work I know and admire. Whether it be in interviews, book talks, on their website Q&A page, or even on Twitter, many successful authors are happy and willing to share their insights with fans and aspiring writers who want to know how that, too, can get their books out into the world.

Whether you're just getting started on your epic fantasy novel, or trying to find the motivation to finally finish your sci-fi opera, these 9 quotes from famous authors can help.

"I want the story to have a rhythm that keeps moving forward. Because that’s the whole point of telling a story.1 You’re on a journey — you’re going from here to there. It’s got to move. Even if the rhythm is very complicated and subtle, that’s what’s going to carry the reader."

— Ursula K. Le Guin, in an interview with The Paris Review

"First forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you’re inspired or not. Habit will help you finish and polish your stories. Inspiration won’t. Habit is persistence in practice."

― Octavia Butler, in Bloodchild and Other Stories

"Apply logic in places where it wasn’t intended to exist. If assured that the Queen of the Fairies has a necklace made of broken promises, ask yourself what it looks like. If there is magic, where does it come from? Why isn’t everyone using it? What rules will you have to give it to allow some tension in your story? How does society operate? Where does the food come from? You need to know how your world works."

“We who make stories know that we tell lies for a living. But they are good lies that say true things, and we owe it to our readers to build them as best we can. Because somewhere out there is someone who needs that story. Someone who will grow up with a different landscape, who without that story will be a different person. And who with that story may have hope, or wisdom, or kindness, or comfort. And that is why we write.”

― Neil Gaiman, from The View from the Cheap Seats

"Don’t write [like] me. Write like you. Nobody else can do that. Finish that book."

― J.K. Rowling, on Twitter

"It’s really hard for me to answer 'why do you write the way you do' questions, mostly because the answer is “because I feel like it.” I don’t mean that flippantly; it’s just that there isn’t another answer. I think non-writers must have the idea that writing is all somehow intentional and strategic and . . . it just isn’t. I feel the Force. I listen to my gut. I write what feels good."

― N.K. Jemisin, in a Reddit AMA

"Let's begin at the beginning. One of the most important decisions any writer makes is choosing the right idea to write about. The idea behind the story must do more than interest you (the writer); it must grab you by the throat and demand — forcefully, doggedly — that you tell that story."

― Malinda Lo, in a blog post "How To Not Give Up When Writing"

“When you write a story you're not trying to prove anything or demonstrate the merits of this case or the flaws in that. At its simplest, what you're doing is making up some interesting events, putting them in the best order to show the connections between them and recounting them as clearly as you can.”

"Just keep going. Write an entire monologue with your main character if you have to. Spend a chapter just exploring the life story of an antagonist. Write a scene with nothing but dialogue between your hero and your villain. Write a steamy love scene between your favorite couple. They don’t have to be scenes in chronological order. They don’t even have to end up in your book. But they will help you to keep going."

― Marie Lu, in a "Pep Talk" for National Novel Writing Month

"In terms of the SF and fantasy genres in particular, consistently applied internal logic is absolutely essential. Genre readers want to believe, and your readers are happy to suspend their disbelief while your characters travel through hyperspace or battle the twenty-headed liger, but where they’ll start to turn on you and begin to complain that your SF and fantasy is 'unrealistic' is when your characters spend three days in hyperspace to travel eight light-years in chapter one then get home again in fifteen minutes in chapter nine. You’ve established that the trip takes three days, how can they suddenly go faster and why didn’t they do that before? Now our entirely created FTL drive is 'totally unrealistic.'"

― Phil Athans, in an interview with Writers Digest

"I'd say learn to do the heart-rending thing of turning a critical eye upon your developing work. When you have managed to get a chunk of words on paper, those are clay, not art. You then have to sculpt them into a final draft. Be prepared to alter, delete and rewrite until it's as good as you can make it at that point in your artistic development. Then do the scary thing of showing your work to the world; workshop your writing, submit your stories to editors."

― Nalo Hopkinson, in an interview with Strange Horizons