Who are you?
My name’s Dan Moren; I’m a writer and a podcaster from Somerville, Massachusetts. I’m the author of the Galactic Cold War series of sci-fi spy novels. My debut, The Caledonian Gambit, was published by Talos in 2017, and my later works The Bayern Agenda and The Aleph Extraction in 2019 and 2020 by Angry Robot. My latest is The Nova Incident, also from Angry Robot, which debuted in July 2022.
What do you write?
I’ve been a writer ever since I was able to put pencil to paper (that’s how we did it in those days!). Back in second grade, I was writing stories about the secret worlds of cats and dogs, but when I discovered sci-fi and fantasy there was just no looking back. My earliest works that I actually attempted to publish were actually Star Wars fan fiction—fortunately, I think those have been lost in the mists of time. That’s probably for the best.
I’d say my writing style is largely pragmatic—I’m one of those writers who kind of has a movie playing in their heads and is trying to describe it to my readers so that I can beam those stories and feelings directly into their brains. I try to tell stories that are fun, that keep the reader turning pages, and that surprise and delight them.
As far as whether loving writing, there’s an old saw, “I don’t like to write, but I like having written” (oft attributed to Dorothy Parker though it turns out probably not her). For me, it’s a lot like working out: I always feel better about myself when I’ve done it, but the hardest part is always that first step of getting over the initial hump.
Where do you write?
For years and years, I wrote fiction primarily outside of my house at a succession of local coffee shops. My morning routine was taking a leisurely stroll down, grabbing a cup of tea, and then sitting there for a couple hours, typing away. The pandemic largely put an end to that, so now when I’m working on a book, it’s been either in the dining room of my house, in a comfy armchair that looks out on the street, or in an armchair in my living room. Sometimes at the peninsula in my kitchen, if the mood strikes me.
I write fiction almost entirely on my laptop, even though I have a nice big iMac in my office. For some reason, the desktop computer has never been conducive to producing fiction for me, for the same reason that I don’t tend to like writing in my office. There’s a switch that makes the desktop and the office feel like “work mode” for the non-fiction parts of my job, so I like to move to a different space for creative work.
For fiction I work almost exclusively in Scrivener until it comes time to edit, which because of the vagaries of the publishing business ends up being in Microsoft Word. I’ve dabbled in other tools over the years, but the only one that I’ve found truly helpful is a self-hosted wiki software called Gollum in which I’ve organized most of the information about my Galactic Cold War series. (But I don’t recommend it to anybody else—try an app like Obsidian for something that’s similar but much easier.)
Notes, for me, live in the iOS/macOS Notes app because it syncs between all my devices and it’s always there, waiting for me to jot down ideas. I’ve used physical notebooks and pens in the past, but I’m not precious about them, and honestly, I just find them harder to use, as my handwriting is often an illegible scrawl.
When do you write?
I much prefer to work on fiction in the morning. I’ve got a pretty good routine these days where I get up, have breakfast, and settle down to write with my second cup of tea. I’ll work at other times if I need to and I’m on a deadline (say, for a book under contract), but I find my brain is the freshest in the morning, unencumbered by any of the other responsibilities of the day.
In the past, I’ve generally had loose time limits for fiction writing, because I eventually had to get back to the rest of my job. But with the latest project, I’ve been working on I set myself a goal of writing a thousand words every weekday. That may be on the modest side, but I’ve also found that even on days where I’m struggling, I can get a thousand words down. (It’s still nice to have a weekend though. Just like in working out, rest days are important.) That schedule’s been extraordinarily successful for me: I’ve been more consistent about my writing than any time in my life—though, as a downside, this book has turned out to be rather on the long side, so even a thousand words a day is proving to be a snail’s pace.
Why do you write?
I want to say that writing’s not a choice, but it absolutely is. It’s way easier not to write. But I still do it, maybe more out of sheer stubbornness than anything else. Like I said earlier, a huge part of it has concocting these stories that I want to share with others, that need an outlet.
But beyond that, I suppose there’s something about the challenge of it. Translating the limitless ideas in your mind into concrete concepts on a page is damn hard, much less doing it well. My love of writing is probably, like many writers, born out of a love of reading. There’s an experience you have, usually at a young age, where you read something that transports you to a different time or place or world, and once you’ve encountered that kind of power, all you want to do is bestow that experience on someone else.
So I guess what inspires me is the idea that someday a kid might pick up one of my books and that it inspires them to write their own stories and thus the circle continues.
How do you overcome writer’s block?
Sheer bloody persistence is, to my mind, the only way through writer’s block. Some days you stare at the page and you can’t think of a single word to put down, and it feels like you’ll never write again. Every single time I’ve broken through a block, it’s because I’ve simply forced myself to start typing. Getting the words down is more important than getting them good—that part comes later.
I do like taking walks; when I’m stuck on a particularly knotty problem in a book, I find it helpful to put on some music and let my brain wander, or talk it through with my partner or a friend. But that’s a bit of a different beast than just feeling unable to even get words out: it’s much more a tactical problem than a block.
Bonus: What do you enjoy doing when not writing?
I really enjoy tabletop games. In the pre-pandemic era, I was a great fan of board games, but it’s been harder to actually get together and play them these days. However, my Dungeons & Dragons group is still going strong, albeit on Zoom, and it’s probably the event I look forward to the most every week. Sometimes the best way to relax from writing is to play a rogue who has no compunctions about murdering a bunch of monsters.
I’m also a big puzzle aficionado, especially crosswords. The New York Times daily crossword is a ritual for me, and every year I complete in the MIT Mystery Hunt with a team of friends, solving puzzles for an entire weekend, which is a true joy. I like anything that makes you think and takes a little brainpower—probably, again, why I love writing, because what is a novel if not a puzzle waiting for your brain to solve it?
My thanks to Dan Moren for today’s interview.