You might have guessed (if you've ever thought about it before - and really, why wouldn't you?), that I was quite the reader as a kid. I read the expected Little House on the Prairie series, The Wizard of Oz series, the Tintin comics (man, I loved those!). But girls grow up and want to learn about the world around them...and so I started reading science fiction.
Okay, it may have been because it's what my older brothers were reading (although I don't think we read the same books exactly). I know at least one of my brothers was a big Lord of the Rings fan, and (sit down before you continue) I didn't read them until just before the movies came out. I think we did have our Robert Heinlein in common, though.
I had other favorites that I couldn't pass up: Robert Silverberg and Anne McCaffrey come to mind as authors I read everything I could get my hands on.
But there is one book that came out in 1992 (well after my youth - I was in my twenties at that point) that really made me think about what a book was. It was a book of short stories entitled Alternate Presidents. (I can hear some of you just groaning...or desperately wishing...for an alternate president or two in the last two decades.)
The introduction starts like this:
Playing the Game of WHAT IF?
One of the joys of science fiction is that it gets to ask the question What If?
I would say that any fiction gets to ask the question What If? You, the author, take the reader on that trip into what-if. You provide that alternate reality where people can explore the what-ifs in the world, whether that's in the safety of someone they relate to or the eye-opening experience of relating to someone they never thought they could. Sometimes that alternate reality makes our reality more bearable; other times, it gives us a chance to see the world from a different point of view.
So on those days when the words just won't come, or those characters have minds of their own and won't do what you want them to, remember that you are providing your readers with the opportunity to explore the what-ifs in the world...and the world would be a poorer place without your gift to it.
PS- I just checked Amazon to link to the book, and it seems there is a whole series of Alternate Histories: Presidents, Kennedys, Warriors, Outlaws, and Tyrants. Keep your eyes out for them online or at your favorite book sales!