Long-time Writer's Symposium guest Aaron Rosenberg is a writer of science fiction...and fantasy. And some horror, too. Mysteries, sometimes. Oh, and kids' books. In this article, he tells us why he doesn't just pick one!
When you tell people you’re a writer, the first thing they ask is usually, “Oh, what do you write?”
My answers tend to get a little complicated.
If I don’t feel like going into it, I might reply with something like, “Oh, just about everything.” If I’ve got more time (and patience), I’ll answer, “Mostly novels, these days, but I’ve also done children’s books, educational books, young adult novels, short stories, essays, and roleplaying games.” If I’m feeling particularly detail-oriented I might also mention that I write “fantasy, science fiction, horror, action-adventure, comedy, mystery, thrillers, superheroes, westerns—almost anything, really. Except straight-up military and pure romance.”
I get a lot of wide-eyed stares after that, often coupled with phrases like “Wow, that’s a lot!” or “How do you manage all that?” or “How do you keep it all straight?”
But my favorite response is “Why don’t you just pick one?”
Why don’t I just pick one? Why do I write so many different things? There are several different answers to that, all of them true and all of them overlapping.
The first reason is because I can. As a writer, it’s important to test yourself, to push your boundaries, to see what works for you and what doesn’t. Writing a five-thousand-word short story is very different from writing an eighty-thousand-word novel and requires a different skill set, just like writing a picture book is very different from writing a novel or an educational book or a roleplaying game. It used to be that authors were constrained by their publishers—“you’re a horror writer, don’t tell me about some fantasy novel you want to write, give me the next horror novel!” But these days it’s a lot easier for writers to try different genres, different story lengths, different audiences. There’s no reason not to try your hand at different areas if you’d like.
Which leads into the second reason—because I like to. I enjoy writing different things. I don’t see a reason to limit myself—I’m never going to say, “Oh, that’s a great idea for a book but darn, it’s steampunk mystery and I only do urban fantasy” or “Crap, I had this awesome idea but it’s for a kids’ book and I only do adult novels.” Why should I? If I have an idea for something I really want to write, I write it. I’m not going to limit myself to one area when I have so many to choose from.
And that’s the third reason I write so many different things—because having that kind of flexibility gives me options. Some people would say, “sure, a writer should have lots of different tools in his toolbox” and that’s very true but that isn’t really the right analogy here. A toolbox suggests that you sit down to do a job and root around until you find the right tool to get it done, which works perfectly when you’re trying to figure out how to solve a problem in a story or how to best convey a message or theme. This is more like being willing to pick different items off a menu. It’s great if you have a favorite dish and always order that from your favorite restaurant, but what if one time you go there and they say, “Sorry, we’re actually out of the sesame chicken today”? Do you go hungry? Not if you actually have three or four dishes you like, or are simply willing to take a chance and say, “You know what, what the heck, let’s try the vegetable chow fun for a change.” And imagine if you ate at that same restaurant every night, week in and week out. You’d probably get tired of having sesame chicken every night. But if you mixed it up a bit, ordering beef in black bean sauce one night and Szechuan noodles another night and so on, you’d be able to keep things interesting.
That’s what writing is like for me. I order all over the menu—sure, I have a few favorites I come back to more often than others, but I’m willing to try almost anything once, and if I like it I add it to my list of dishes to have again. What’s great about treating writing this way is that if something new turns up, I’m flexible enough to take advantage of that.
True story—I used to make a living writing entirely for roleplaying games. Then I had the opportunity to start writing tie-in fiction, first for games but then for other properties like Star Trek and World of WarCraft. Around that same time I got offered the chance to write a children’s book, and then shortly thereafter an educational book. I switched over to doing mostly educational books for a while, then was invited to do more children’s books and focused on those and young adult novels for the next little bit. Then I moved back into writing novels again, this time primarily original fiction. But I never closed the door on any of those areas—even when I writing mostly one thing, I maintained contact with my editors in each of those other areas and I was always happy to consider projects as long as they interested me and fit into my schedule. Having that versatility and that willingness to work in so many different areas means I tend to have a lot of different projects on my plate, whereas if I’d kept all of my eggs in any one basket I’d probably wind up with dry spells between work. Instead I keep very busy, and I’m constantly changing up what I’m working on so I never get tired of any one type of writing.
So, yeah—that’s why I don’t just pick one thing to write. There are all sorts of fun and interesting items on the menu, and I like being able to pick and choose according to my appetite at that moment. I haven’t tried everything yet, but I figure I’m working my way down the menu at my own pace. Who know, the next time someone asks me “What do you write?” I might have a few more to add to that list.
Aaron Rosenberg is the author of the best-selling DuckBob series (consisting of No Small Bills, Too Small for Tall, and Three Small Coinkydinks), the Dread Remora space-opera series and, with David Niall Wilson, the O.C.L.T. occult thriller series. His tie-in work contains novels for Star Trek, Warhammer, WarCraft, and Eureka and stories for X-Files, Crusader Kings II, Tianxia, and more. He has written children's books (including the original series Pete and Penny's Pizza Puzzles, the award-winning Bandslam: The Junior Novel, and the #1 best-selling 42: The Jackie Robinson Story), educational books on a variety of topics, and over seventy roleplaying games (such as the original games Asylum, Spookshow, and Chosen, work for White Wolf, Wizards of the Coast, Fantasy Flight, Pinnacle, and many others, and both the Origins Award-winning Gamemastering Secrets and the Gold ENnie-winning Lure of the Lich Lord). He is the co-creator of the ReDeus series, and one of the founders of Crazy 8 Press. Aaron lives in New York with his family.
Aaron will be speaking on panels this year at the Gen Con Writer's Symposium! Check out the schedule here: /docs/2017SymposiumSchedulev1.2.pdf and be sure to register for events soon--many Symposium events have already sold out! Tickets for most are free, but seats are limited.