Author A.T. Sayre discusses the challenges of writing and the surprising ease of how his new story for Analog came to be. Read “The Big Day” in our [March/April issue, on sale now!]
“The Big Day” is the second story of mine to grace the fine pages of Analog magazine. I know, I know, I’m not sure what they’re thinking either. I mean, I like my stories. And of the various friends and family who’ve read my stuff, well, most of them are still talking to me. Which I take as a good sign. But anything that ever goes beyond that—I’m just always going to be mystified at some level whenever I find irrefutable evidence that someone likes what I write. My God, it might mean I know what I’m doing.
This story itself was a very strange one. Not in the content, mind you, nothing especially nutty happens there. But in how it came to be.
The normal process of writing a story, at least for me, is sit down at my desk around noon or so, filled with overly ambitious goals for the day on whatever it is I’m currently working on, and then fail to come anywhere close to reaching them. If I make it halfway to where I’d hoped to be before it’s time for dinner or the Sox game starts I consider myself lucky. There are times in there where I find myself on a particularly good roll, sure, but more often I get bogged down rewriting the same sentence over and over, or going down a blind alley of an idea that I wind up deleting and backtracking the whole story. And I’ve had more than my fair share of days where I get nothing done at all; every word I type is summarily deleted, whole swaths of content is cut away, replaced, then cut away again, or I get so frustrated I give up early and watch YouTube videos of people reacting to Pink Floyd tunes. Fun, huh?
But this story, it all came out in a single sitting of about seven hours or so. Depending on whether you count bathroom breaks or not.
That’s only happened one other time to me, back when I was 18 and writing in my parent’s kitchen after a night of chain smoking and Denny’s coffee, tapping away frantically till the sun came up. But that story was silly, probably due more to pretentious philosophy I didn’t really get and caffeine overdose than any kind of inspiration. I don’t think I would ever admit to that story let alone let alone let anyone read it.
But “The Big Day” is, at the very least, Analog good.
I don’t think I had even that much of a coherent idea about what this story was going to be when I started. It was almost more of an exercise. But it just kept developing as I went. And pretty smoothly. Bad sentences were at a minimum. Every choice I seemed to make on the path was the right one the first time. And I never got that moment of existential pause that happens all the time, when I wonder about the value of what I was doing, both in the general and specific sense. There wasn’t time for navel gazing like that, because my head was already working out the next moment and was chomping at the bit to get to it. And I got there. From a blank screen to a beginning, middle, and end story in less than half a day.
The normal process of writing a story, at least for me, is sit down at my desk around noon or so, filled with overly ambitious goals for the day on whatever it is I’m currently working on, and then fail to come anywhere close to reaching them.
After it was finished, I went back a few days later, read it over, corrected some of the grammar that I never catch when writing (some day I hope to initially type “like” without putting the e in front of the k—it is . . . a dream of mine), added a little more detail at the beginning on a few things, and it was done. What you see is in Analog is essentially what I wrote in that first seven hours.
Granted, it’s not a particularly long story, and while I do like it and think I got at my idea out pretty well, I have no illusions of it outdoing Conrad’s Heart of Darkness in any way other than perhaps brevity. And that might have a lot to do with how I was able to write it all at once. Also perhaps going into it with little planned out in my head was a bit freeing and is what prevented so many starts and stops and getting strangled by cords of the plot. I’m sure all of that played into it. But ultimately I’m not sure I know how I managed it. All of those factors have been in place for other stories both before and since, yet I still always struggle with the words like usual.
So in the end all I can do is be heartened by the fact that writing doesn’t always have to be an uphill slog barefoot in a wet snowstorm. Sometimes it can be easy.
“The Big Day” is, for me, is about paradigms. Those little bubbles of life that everyone no matter how open minded they try to be has around them. I have mine, and I’ve seen pretty strong ones in others. They’re not necessarily bad things, more a natural way to try and order an ever increasingly complex world in your head. Though it can get out of hand. In politics of course, as we have all seen the last few years, but also in smaller things, people can get real defensive about their paradigms. Back in college I once had an entire UK student pub decide to not talk to me because I not only didn’t recognize George Best on a talk show program but also had no idea who he was. Which can make you get defensive when you’re surrounded by someone else’s (or seemingly everyone else’s) paradigm. Like trying to save face by feigning indignation in front of a bunch of English students in a pub because they’d never heard of Ted Williams.
For me, that’s what Maddie is doing in this story. She’s acting out a little. She isn’t really as apathetic about the event as she acts, but she’s overcompensating over it because it’s taking up all the air in the room, so to speak. Not necessarily because the zeitgeist of the moment isn’t focusing on her passions, but because its spending so much in one place. The media touting something as the big thing, the only thing that matters, all anyone can talk about, you have to be in some way deficient if you aren’t as excited about it as everyone else is. Like a Super Bowl win. Or a hit Broadway musical. When as far as she can see nobody really cares. But that’s not true, plenty care about it; it’s just that what cares about the event are not part of her paradigm, and so are invisible to her. Like a lot of groups out there can be, the farther they get from your own collection of interest bubbles.
It’s a humbling kind of moment, one which I’ve had more than a few times. And one I think it would do a lot of people some good to have at least once while they were paying attention.
That was what I was going for, anyway. Some of you might disagree. Maybe the story is about the first day of the great robot uprising, as some of my writing group readers thought. To which I say, if they get me some UBI and more good Farscape episodes, I for one will welcome our new metal overlords.