A while back, I read several short stories by Ted Chiang. The stories overwhelmed me with their magnitude, complexity, and depth of concepts making me feel inadequate as a writer. Surprisingly, that did not undermine my desire to be a writer. Chiang’s stories are the product of genius, and hard work. I may not have the genius, but I can work hard. I like what I write. I will never be a Chiang, but I am inspired to be the best me I can be.
The movie Arrival (2016) is based on Chiang’s story Story of Your Life, which was one of the stories that had wowed me. The movie, even with the changes made to turn it into a movie, was as intellectually thrilling as the short story.
I suggest seeing Arrival and if you want to read Chiang’s first eight short stories, check out Stories of Your Life and Others. You too will be inspired to be the best you you can be.
To write, I need uninterrupted time. Time to think. Time to imagine. Time for introspection to bring forth the thoughts and emotions that will fill the written page. My mind enters a state of flow and the story unfolds and streams into existence.
Interruptions intrude into my day and break the flow preventing the story from streaming forth. Frustration and anger at the interruptions and their sources are the result.
Even with the distractions, I write. In these circumstances, I will write a paragraph, or sometimes only a sentence, but I will write. Thought out, planned, and outlined, I know where the story is going and what happens next at any particular point. This allows me to write the next few words even if I don’t have time to issue forth the next hundreds or thousands of words.
Another task I perform in these moments is editing. I return to words already written and tweak them striving to improve the writing and to enhance my skills so I will write better the next time.
One of my editing steps is to search for occurrences of words from my list of problem words. This leads me to places in the prose where I can improve sentence structure and conciseness. In the past, I searched the document by doing a find on each word one word at a time. That was slow and tedious. To enhance the process, I created a Word macro that highlights the words from my list and words ending with ly. Creating the macro was fun, but interrupted my writing time.
A future enhancement to my macro will highlight with different colors the words from my list, and the ly words, based on why the words are on the list. Doing that enhancement will again interrupt my writing time. It seems I cannot escape interruptions.
I struggle at the beginning of every chapter. I review my outline and say, “This part is boring. Maybe I should cut it.” However, I had spent a great deal of time designing the story and the scenes in this chapter are important to the story’s progress. I tell myself it’s here for a reason. I must trust my design and write the chapter and its scenes. In revision, I will make adjustments, but not now.
I fight procrastination to force myself to slog through. Sometimes, great ideas emerge and I begin feeling better. Other times, I simply use craft skills to get the writing done.
Once finished, the same thing always happens. I sit back, read the chapter aloud, and say, “That’s good.” After applying a little editing, I feel even better about it. I like what I write regardless of the weight of my doubts when I first begin.
With every chapter and every scene, as I resist beginning, I tell myself, “When I finish, I will like it. The quicker I write it, the quicker that reward will come.”
Few things are harder than writing those first few words.
The movie Pete’s Dragon (2016) had a few flaws and plot holes — I’m sure the Everything Wrong With <Movie Title> people on YouTube will have fun with it — regardless, the movie touched me more deeply than any movie I’ve seen. My emotional response was extreme even for someone who is touched by anything sappy.
Those emotions are what I want to capture in my writing.
I plan to see it again so I can have another good cry.
If you have a heart, I recommend you see the movie. Take a handkerchief.
“There’s something wrong in not appreciating one’s own special abilities, my girl. Find your own limitations, yes, but don’t limit yourself with false modesty.”
— Sebell to Menolly in Dragonsinger by Anne McCaffrey
First Aladdin Paperbacks edition April 2003
Knocking the reader out of the story is something writing mentors warn writers to avoid. I think the concept is one of those nebulous notions that has no clear definition beyond causing the reader to think outside the parameters of the story. I don’t know how to know if something I write knocks the reader out of the story. When reading other stories, I sometimes experience moments of pause and ponder that might be considered knocking the reader out of the story, but those moments do not harm my experience of reading the story.
One such moment occurred when I read the above line of dialogue while reading Dragonsinger. It caused me to stop and think. I felt it was addressed to me. I am suffused with self-doubt. I shouldn’t be. I still have much to learn, but I am good at what I do. I must accept that and not let my doubts or modesty limit me.
Because I stopped reading and began contemplating, was I knocked out of the story? I don’t think so, but if that is knocking someone out of the story, I think it is something to strive for. I want occasionally to make the reader stop and think.
On the other hand, horrible sentence structures, bad grammar, spelling errors, typos, etc., also knocks the reader out of the story. Those kind are bad. Don’t do those.
Again this year, I am participating in the Clarion West Write-a-thon. My goal is to complete drafts of the next two chapters of The Dragon Universe Book 5.
The write-a-thon is a fundraiser for the Clarion West Writers Workshop, a nonprofit literary organization based in Seattle, Washington, USA, with a mission to improve speculative fiction by providing high quality education to writers at the start of their careers.
You may sponsor me by donating to Clarion West in my name on my profile page on the Clarion West web site by clicking on the “Sponsor Lester D. Crawford” button. As a reward for considering donating, my profile contains an excerpt from The Dragon Universe Book 5.
I volunteer with my local emergency services organization. For several weeks I have been preparing full time for a huge, multi-state disaster exercise. This work has taken time away from my writing, but I feel I am contributing to the community by doing it. The volunteer activity also contributes to my writing by enhancing my ability to tell stories containing disasters.
I recommend you also volunteer to help your community. Not only will your community benefit, you too will benefit.
“I believe doing good deeds is the purpose of life.”
— Kameekim in Flurfy’s Secret by Lester D. Crawford
The Cascadia Subduction Zone off the coast of North America spans from southern British Columbia to northern California and can produce earthquakes as large as magnitude 9 with accompanying tsunamis.
The Fairyland series by Catherynne M. Valente is a collection of five books, plus a prequel. For me, the whimsical imagery and narrative of the stories created a delightful adventure and was one of the most enjoyable reading experiences I have had.
Valente’s writing style in these stories is amazing. While I have no plans to ever try duplicating the style, I wish I had the skill and talent to do so. I am inspired to use what skill and talent I do have to create my own wondrous worlds even if they are not as magical as Valente’s.
Those of you who are just like me* will also enjoy these stories.
(* I am one in a million. That means there are more than 7,300 people just like me. Are you one of them?)
This is A-Through-L. He is a "Wyverary." His mother was a wyvern and his father was a library.
A-Through-L may not be a Dragon, but I love him just the same.
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two The Boy Who Lost Fairyland The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home The Girl Who Ruled Fairyland—For a Little While
(This is the short prequel published by Tor.com. You can read it at the link.)
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making — Book Trailer
Often I speak about inspiration. That’s because moments of inspiration provide me the thrill that keeps me hooked on writing. Few experiences are more exhilarating than being inspired.
I needed inspiration. For a few days, I had struggled with a scene whose conflict was failing. My idea for the scene was wrong, which kept it from achieving its purpose. I could not find the actions and emotions to make it work. The characters’ motivations did not fit the situation and their behaviors did not lead to the desired revelation. Then I went to see Zootopia.
In one scene, the two main characters exchanged two lines of dialogue that caused my mind minions to explode. An entire, fully detailed, exquisitely tuned scene came to me that was exactly what I needed for this precise moment in my story. I was ecstatic. I have yet to quit bubbling. After the movie was over, I rushed home and wrote, creating a scene that not only hits the proper action beats, but it hits the emotional beats perfectly to strengthen the relationship between my two main characters. All I had needed was the flash of insight those two lines of dialogue provided me.
I look forward to the next great moment of inspiration.