From: Frontier Crossings: A Souvenir of the 45th World Science Fiction Convention. London: Science Fiction Conventions, Ltd., 1987.
If a writer really cares about his art and his craft, then acquiring the skills to become an author can be a very exciting process.
Talking with other writers, editors, literate readers; reading with insight, analysing and cogitating; all of these are a great aid. But they make up only a small percentage of the total gestalt of a writer's skills. They should happen almost daily and should also be an ongoing process. Any writer whose reach does not exceed his grasp is loafing or on the skids - or both.
But breakthroughs are exceedingly rare. I can remember only one that was truly important. By hindsight it might be considered obvious; most simple and vital things are. Or why didn't you invent the paperclip first and get rich?
Like many other SF authors I grew up in science fiction. I read all kinds of fiction - but liked SF the best. So when I started to write this was what I wanted to do. I wanted to read more of the kind of SF I liked. So at first I was more than happy to think as, and be, an Astounding-Analog author. Campbell was God and his magazine was prophecy. He liked my work, as did his readers, and it was a wonder to be alive in that world.
Critical analysis came slowly. Fine as Astounding-Analog was it had been born in the pulps - as had the authors. This was a stricture. More than just the lack of profanity, absence of breasts, importance of action, necessity of back-plotting. It was the overall attitude. The absolute taking for granted that SF had built-in limitations, could never compete with the Joyces and the Faulkners.
Which is nonsense. Literature is literature, prose is prose.
The breakthrough I had was that all of the restrictions on SF were inside my head. If I felt the profanity taboo was a good thing I would never even consider a plot development that might contain a world like damp. If I thought that SF was a second-rate field of literary endeavour, as many fantasy writers today obviously do, then everything that I wrote would be second-rate. Thought control is self-imposed. Realise that you are free to create in any way you want and you are free.
So after writing Deathworld at least five times under various guises I wrote Bill, the Galactic Hero. Read it and you will understand.
© Harry Harrison 1987