Write what you care about

June 2024

During the day, Lance Robinson is a social scientist dedicated to managing our natural resources, but outside of work hours, Lance is a Sci-Fi writer, bringing readers to new worlds where humble characters are thrown into bizarre situations and emerge as heroes. We had the chance to ask Lance a few questions about his craft and his hopes for the future now that he’s won the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future award and is happy to share his responses:

Bayview: What drives you to write? Is there a certain message/theme that you want to bring to your readers?

Lance: My goal is always to write the kind of fiction that I like to read. And that’s primarily science fiction. Good science fiction kindles a sense of awe and possibility, and the best science fiction does this through very human stories. When I try to create that same spirit in my writing, I often do so with a focus on environmental themes. Musings about human beings’ economic, cultural, and spiritual relationships with nature are often woven into my stories.

I’m also trying to figure out what it means to have faith and hope in this scary world. A lot of science fiction lately is bleak. Simply tuning into the news regularly provides more than enough reason to lose hope for the future. But although I’m a short-term pessimist, I am a long-term optimist. Once in a while, I’ll write something dark. But I think people today need some hope and need to be reminded of what human beings can be when we’re at our best, so I usually try to make a small contribution to that need in my fiction.

Bayview: Describe your writing process: are you a planner or a pantser or a little of both?

Lance: I’ll usually start with a concept, a bit of worldbuilding, and the skeleton of an outline, but then as I write, I discover new possibilities. Maybe the worldbuilding suggests a new challenge for the main character or a way for the plot to unfold that I hadn’t thought of. Or maybe someone who I thought was a secondary character will start to come to life for me. Then I’ll go back to planning, and make some changes to the outline.

As a writer, the problem for me comes when the spiralling between seat-of-the-pants writing and the linear, planned approach goes on for too long. I’m beginning to learn when to bring that iterative approach to an end and tell myself, “Now it’s time to sit down and to finish the dang thing.”

Bayview: What do you feel pushes your story forward? The characters, plot, theme? A bit of each?

Lance: Part of what propels a story forward is the worldbuilding and the unique settings and situations that the worldbuilding creates.

Bayview: How have you improved as a writer? What important things have you learned along the journey?

Lance: The key to improving at writing is to write. I’ve been putting in a lot of time writing lately, and I believe I’m seeing the results. Two lessons stand out.

First, I’m learning to trust my instincts. Bookstores and the Internet have endless guidance about classic story structures, about eliminating adverbs and passive voice, about pacing and characterization. There are rules of thumb, tricks of the trade, and wise advice. And much of it is true and helpful to a point. But when this kind of guidance becomes formulas or unbreakable rules, it can do more harm than good. At some point, the writer needs to let all that learning retreat to their unconscious, and to trust their instincts.

And second, the maxim “write what you know” is a crock. Too often, what a person knows well has become mundane to them. It’s more important to write about what you care about, what excites you, and what you’re willing to learn about.

Bayview: Tell us about the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future award and what this award has done for your future as a writer.

Lance: Late in his life, in the 1980s, Hubbard established the Writers of the Future award for science fiction and fantasy writers who are good enough to be, but who are not yet, professional. Since then, the contest has been an important early milestone in many careers: Nancy Farmer, Robert Reed, Patrick Rothfuss, and Nnedi Okorafor, to name a few.

Winning first place in the quarterly contest and having one of my stories appear in Volume 40 of the annual anthology has provided a mind-boggling level of exposure to readers. And more importantly, it has boosted my confidence.

Bayview: Tell us about your stay in Hollywood for a week of writing/mentorship with big industry professionals. What did it involve? What did you take away from it? What were the challenges and “a ha” moments?

Lance: Yes, this took place in April. Most of the week was taken up by a workshop, half of which was a master class on the craft of writing, with the other half devoted to the business side of writing, including publishing contracts, promotion and marketing, and strategic use of social media. The biggest challenge of the week was one of the workshop exercises: the 24-hour story. We were given 24 hours to write an original short story. Until now, I’ve been a very slow writer, and I marvel at those who can do thousands of words a day when I sometimes agonize over a couple hundred. A key legacy from the week for me, is going to be skills and tricks I learned to get out of my head, and let the rational, editorial, and self-censoring part of my mind take a back seat in favor of my intuition.

Bayview: Now that you’ve moved to Thunder Bay and experienced some of our culture, do you have any plans to incorporate Thunder Bay and its surrounding area into your novels?em>

Lance: Absolutely. The natural world and environmental themes are almost always prominent in my stories. And the natural beauty of northern Ontario is an ideal place for a writer like me to find inspiration for these kinds of themes.

Lance’s award-winning story ˚”Five Days Until Sunset” is available in the anthology L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future Volume 40 and his collection of short stories entitled Chasing New Suns will be released later this year. You can read more about Lance and his books at www.lancerobinsonwriter.com

Donna White is an accomplished author and Jubilee Medal winner for her volunteer work with World Vision. Visit her website at www.DonnaWhiteBooks.com

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