A couple of weeks ago, I finally sat down and wrote a (semi-) formal business plan. It was an enlightening experience. I’ve kept it all organized in many different ways, but writing it all down in one place allows me to step back and take a wider look at what I do.
No business plan is complete without a mission statement. Here is mine:
To write and publish fiction that serves the truth, expands minds and hearts, and empowers my readers to be better men and women for reading my books.
To serve, expand, and empower. All of the books that have profoundly affected my life, from Ender’s Game and Lord of the Rings to The Neverending Story and A Wrinkle in Time, did those things.
“That’s very high and lofty, Joe, but what about just writing damn good stories that entertain people?” I don’t actually see a contradiction there. All of the best stories I’ve read that served, expanded, and empowered me were only able to do so because they entertained me first.
Entertainment is an important part of what I do. So is escapism. I have no idea how J.R.R Tolkien voted in the 1930s and 40s, nor do I care to know. I have a pretty good idea how Orson Scott Card voted in the 90s and 00s, but not from reading Ender’s Game. Sometimes I read authors for their politics (Ringo, Heinlein, Correia), but I didn’t read The Last Centurion to decide how I would vote in the last election; I read it because leading a stranded cavalry division across a post-apocalyptic Middle East sounded like a damn good story.
The surest way to kill a good story is to try to cram a message through it. The best stories never do this. They serve as a mirror that allows the reader to see themselves more clearly, whoever they may be. That’s what makes them timeless.
The world is becoming an increasingly scary and violent place. In the coming months, I expect that things will get a lot worse. This puts me in an interesting position. Should I try to write stories that engage with what’s happening in the world, or stories that provide an escape from it?
Or is there a contradiction between the two?
There’s a lot of outrage on social media from people who are trying to engage with the problems they see in the world. Unfortunately, the louder their outrage becomes, the more they seem to be part of the problem and not a solution to it. That’s part of why I deleted my Twitter account and radically scaled back my Facebook usage.
Does lashing out at injustice really make the world a better place? Adding outrage to outrage, pointing out everything that’s wrong? There’s a time and a place for that, sure. But there’s also a time and a place to disengage.
When times get hard, people need an emotional escape. That’s why they turn to things like sports, or movies, or books. But when this media instead tries to engage by bringing in politics or social justice or whatever, it deprives people of their escape. We see it all the time with the virtue signalling in Hollywood, or the issue dropping in TV and movies, or whatever the hell ESPN has become.
I don’t want to go that route. Not with my books, not with this blog—not with any aspect of my career. It’s tempting, sure, and I’ve flirted with it in the past, but it’s time to pull back. I may be convinced of my own views and opinions, but that’s not why I write. You don’t serve the truth by forcing it on other people. You don’t expand minds and hearts with moral outrage. You don’t empower people to become better by telling them that they’re wrong.
With the way the world is going, I think the best thing I can do is to focus less on trying to engage with it and more on providing an escape from it, through my books. Ultimately, I think that’s a better and more effective way to change the world.