Interview with Martha Wells

 Sep 19, 2017

Re:Fiction: Tell us a little about your earliest days of writing. What age were you? What kind of fiction did you write? How was it received?

Martha: I actually played around with writing from the time I was a kid.  I was probably in elementary school when I used to watch reruns of Godzilla movies on afternoon TV and wrote stories about them and made elaborate maps of Monster Island.  I always like science fiction and fantasy, and when I went to college I started to try to write short stories and went to writers’ workshops with local authors.  There was a student-run SF/F convention at Texas A&M University where I went to college, and other SF/F conventions in Austin, Houston, and Dallas so there were a lot of opportunities to go to panel discussions about writing and publishing, and meet writers.  I eventually went to the Turkey City Workshop with Bruce Sterling, which was very helpful.  I got a lot of encouragement but wasn't able to sell any short stories during that time period.


Re:Fiction: When did you realize you’re serious about pursuing a writing career?

Martha: I think I realized it before I went to college.  I knew it was something I wanted to do, though at the time I thought I might go into journalism.  I think I wanted to write fiction but wasn't sure how to start a publishing career.


Re:Fiction: What was the first piece you ever got published? How hard was it to get your first acceptance?

Martha: The first piece I sold was a novel, The Element of Fire, which sold to Tor Books.  It was published in 1993.  I'd gone to some writers workshops taught by Steve Gould and Laura Mixon, and Steve had recommended me to an agent.  I got very lucky and the novel sold to the second publisher it was offered to.  I still hadn't managed to sell any short stories by that point.


Re:Fiction: How do you approach a new writing project? What kind of preparations do you make?

Martha: It depends on the project. Some need a lot more research than others, and in those cases I try to start assembling the materials I'm going to need to get started.  These might be books and/or websites on architecture or art or travel.  I usually want something that's going to help me get the feel of the settings for the book.   I do most of the research after I start writing, when I have a better idea what I need to know.


Re:Fiction: What are your writing habits? Do you have daily or weekly goals? Do you have regular hours? A regular workspace?

Martha: I have a daily goal of 1000 words, and I usually write in the morning and early afternoon.  I use a laptop and usually sit on a bed, since I don't like sitting at a desk.  I'm used to a little bit of noise so I have the TV on.


Re:Fiction: How do you slog through the challenge of writing a full-length novel? What keeps you going? How do you keep the passion alive?

Martha: It helps to be excited about telling the story, but sometimes it is just pure work.  If you want to finish, you have to make yourself keep coming back, and not give in to the temptation to work on something else.  I think it does get easier the more books you write.  Once you realize how good it feels to finish a draft, it does help you keep going.

 Sometimes not being excited about the story is the sign of a problem in how you're telling it.  Sometimes you have to stop and ask yourself why you aren't excited and what change you would need to make in the plot, setting, characters, etc. that would make you more interested in it.  If you're bored with what you're writing, the reader is probably going to be bored too.


Re:Fiction: Do you ever run into writer’s block? If so, what do you do to overcome it? How well does it work?

Martha: Usually when I'm blocked it's because I've gone drastically wrong with my plot or characterization, and part of my brain knows it, and I just have to stop and figure out what the problem is.  Usually the source of the problem is earlier in the manuscript, so it helps to retrace my steps.  I've only been seriously blocked once for about a month, when I was dealing with a lot of stress, including illness in my family, and it was miserable.


Re:Fiction: What do you consider as success in a writer’s life? How do you recommend getting there?

Martha: It's tempting to say that success means making a living as a writer, but nowadays that's a nearly impossible goal for most people below the bestseller level.  (Most working writers I know still have second jobs.)  I think personal success is different for everybody.  It might mean making a lot of money or being nominated for awards, or it might just mean finishing a story and getting it posted online somewhere.  If a writer feels they've been successful, then it's valid, whatever the goal was.


Re:Fiction: What is the best tip you can give to new and intermediate writers in general?

Martha: Learn all you can about publishing, from agents, editors, publishers, other people who are actually in the field.  Writing is an art but you have to approach publishing as a job.


Re:Fiction: What is the best tip you can give to new and intermediate writers in your genre?

Martha: Read as much as you can, especially new and up and coming writers.  Read outside your comfort zone.  Try to expand your comfort zone as wide as you can.  As a genre SF/F is big and varied, and if you don't enjoy exploring and reading it then it might not be for you.


Martha Wells, thanks so much for sharing your experience and wisdom with us writers!

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