I should preface this by mentioning that I don’t go to parties if I can avoid it. I do go to SF conventions, and writing comes up a lot there, but it often happens that all the participants in those conversations are writers, so we usually end up either discussing the minutiae of the craft (how to make really alien aliens, how much time we spend editing, why we all like drawing maps so much) or gossiping about editors and awards and the peculiar politics of our domain. Talking about one’s writing with non-writers is a whole nother beast.
What I’ve noticed about the questions I get is that they’re almost always about my writing career, rather than about the writing itself: Are you planning to switch to writing novels eventually? (Maybe.) Don’t you think you’d make more money writing for TV? (Maybe.) Are you going to be the next J.K. Rowling? (Maybe.)
Essentially they’re asking me what the writing is doing for my life: what I’m earning from it, where it’s taking me, what I get out of it. Which is fair, because those are generic questions that can be applied to most jobs, and when you’re talking to strangers, generic questions are easiest.
In a perfect world, I wouldn’t have to tell people anything about my writing, because the writing would speak for itself. (Although it would be quite different writing, because the sort of science fiction that someone living in a perfect world would write would be very different. There ought to be a story in that.) Anyway, what I want to tell people and what I’m not sure always comes across because of my own limitations is that writing ought always to have a social conscience. The best writing, the truest writing, should in some way show what people are like, or can be like. Not necessarily explicitly; the idea that stories have to have a moral of some sort is I think a destructive one. But the writers I most admire, people like Theodore Sturgeon and Ursula LeGuin, have as an underlying stratum in their work the idea that we need to care for one another better. If the writing is good enough, it puts you into another world for awhile, and being part of a world where things that ought to be true are true, can’t help but alter your outlook, just a little.
That’s an optimistic, even grandiose, thing to say, I’m aware. And sometimes it’s rather discouraging, because we already have the writing of Sturgeon and LeGuin and Cherryh and Vonnegut and so forth, and it hasn’t exactly stopped people being horrible to each other yet, so what can someone like me do by comparison? Sometimes I get to thinking like that and can’t write at all for awhile. But it does come back eventually, because there are better worlds out there, and they need to exist in a lot of people’s heads first, before they can turn up anywhere around here.