When it comes to writing, science fiction author Emma Newman says that finding your own voice can take a while – but that you shouldn’t be discouraged.
“Read a lot, and write a lot,” Newman says. “I think the first 400,000 words you write are going to be bad because in the early stages you will mimic your favourite writers. That is perfectly natural and an important part of learning to be a writer. In mimicking the writers you read the most, you are learning the craft.”
It’s advice that aspiring writers should take to heart, as they come from the acclaimed author of sci-fi series Planetfall, a series of stand-alone novels that takes place in a world where a genius escapes to the stars and humanity will never be the same.
When asked for a writing tip, Newman says: “Enjoy it. Immerse yourself in it because the more words you write, the closer you get to your own voice. And as you write more, it’s like clearing the pipes.
“Read widely, and ask yourself: ‘What makes this good? Why am I so invested in what is happening to this character right now? Why am I in love with this person? Why do I hate this person?’ All of that kind of soaks in and comes out in your own writing.”
Newman knows what she is talking about: it was an article she read about how 3D printing would be useful for colonising the moon that led her to the creation of Renata Ghali, her protagonist of the first story in Planetfall.
“It suddenly clicked in my head that the character that I wanted to write about was a 3D printing engineer who had to colonise a distant planet.”
Planetfall, the first in the series, has been followed by After Atlas, Before Mars, and Atlas Alone.
Writing science fiction appeals to Newman because the genre allows readers to examine humanity though a different lens to the one we see it through in our daily lives.
“It enables us to look at technology and people, and how one changes the other and vice versa,” she says. “It’s so important these days, because we have all this technology that is changing so rapidly, and our lawmakers and governments are not thinking about the implications of what these technological advances are going to do to our society.”
The series isn’t just about space and technology, though – the first book also delves deep into the protagonist’s fight with anxiety, depression, and obsessive compulsive behaviour.
“I suffer from them, too,” Newman says, “so I wrote about my own experiences.” The author knows, first-hand, the extent to which these mental illnesses can affect relationships, and that was something she wanted to explore in her writing – “not just on [Ren], but on her community when people find out what she is suffering from”.
Newman’s presentation of mental illnesses was so well-written that she says that one of her readers came up to her after an event and told her that her books have helped her understand her mum – who suffers from some of the same maladies – better.
It’s experiences like this that encourage Newman to continue writing, and why others should pick up their pens, too. For aspiring writers, the author recommends not just consuming books, but all types of media, including television series and movies.
“The things that we consume and our own life experiences all get thrown in a composter, and what we write grows out of them. So, for young people who want to write I would say, consume mindfully and consciously. Then, write. Don’t let fear stop you from writing.”
Her last piece of advice is to write a story that invites change in readers. “The most magical reading experiences come when you understand yourself better as a result of having read a story.”