Tag Archives: Writing

Inspiration & Originality: An Interview

   You’re a writer. What, or who, inspires you most?

The one thing that never fails to pull me out of a writing rut is the magic of a favorite story. These stories have a life of their own—they pick me up and make me forget and make me care, and remind me why I tell stories. Books, movies, plays, even music can do it. And once all that greatness has seeped into my thoughts, it’s bound to come out in my writing.

   Shouldn’t you be worried about originality?

No. You’ve heard that all the great stories have already been told. Take Star Wars, the original Star Wars. That was far from original. George Lucas took a good helping of his storytelling from ancient mythology and The Hero’s journey. C. S. Lewis did that too. These authors were inspired by classics, and created new classics that really aren’t new.

Don’t worry about originality, worry about authenticity.”

The point is, if you’re a writer, you need something to aspire to. That’s inspiring. Stories to remind you why you love stories, that pick you up and blow you away and leave you changed. You’ll absorb elements from them, and I think that’s great. What more could you ask for than having the quality of your writing approach that of your heros?

Why You Should Write When There’s No Time

If you don’t write when you don’t have time for it, you won’t write when you do have time for it.” ― Katerina Stoykova Klemer

When I became busy with college, I didn’t like this quote. First of all, as a homeschooled high schooler I’d had plenty of time to write, and write I did. Poems, novels, far-fetched tales of adventure in Africa, and letters—so many letters. Take that, Katerina. I wrote even when I had time.

Then college started. I valued grades over words on the page. All of a sudden, college ended and a career began. I start to see that I’ll never have time to write, at least not in the foreseeable future. What’s a writer to do?

Write when there’s no time. Up to 15 minutes of creative free-writing a day, just to get words on the page and a blog post out. I’ve finally learned that practice makes better, no matter how much raw talent you do or don’t have. Through practice, you can better understand your craft and yourself. No practice, and you’re a seed without soil.

I’ve noticed something interesting about writing when there’s no time. Katerina’s right. After a busy weekday, it’s easier for me to write than on a free weekend. The pressure is a motivator. And, against all indications to the contrary, writers aren’t hermits. A big part of the job is spending time out in the world with other people, interacting with them, exchanging ideas, getting to know the readers.

Even when there’s no time, if you want to write, write. For five minutes. Maybe just ten words. If you love it like I do, this will be enough. It’ll remind you what writing’s like. And if you ever get the time to write more, you’ll be ready.

Inhibited

Dim fluorescent lights flicker over our half-empty classroom with pale windowless walls on all sides. It’s creative writing class, and students scribble all around me, writing impromptu stories. After the exercise, those that dare are invited to read their mini-tales aloud. I dare, take a breath, and plow ahead.

It’s a silly, crazy type of story about someone’s lost shirt, inspired by the stories I used to amuse my family with about themselves blown all out of proportion. Like most of my goofy stories, telling it right involves a bit of yelling. My classmates don’t know what to think. When I finish, there’s dead silence. To everyone’s relief we move on, and I’m left to consider my sin of uninhibited goofiness.

Over time, I learned to hide my freshman self under a protective shell. I became a chameleon, changing colors to match my surroundings, sometimes hoping someone would come up and talk to me, sometimes hoping I’d be left alone. And though I’ve learned a lot about writing through college, becoming a chameleon hurt my writing ability. Instead of taking joy in the act of writing itself I became preoccupied with what readers will think. A writer can’t be this way.

Good writers let go. They give up fear and inhibition and throw caution to the wind. They write their heart, be it goofy or weird or sweet or aching. They keep writing and worry about the audience later, if ever. This is how something meaningful is made.

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When I wrote my first NaNoWriMo novel, I lived the story through my characters. I laughed and cried with them, spoke their words, felt everything. My heart was in that story and it’s worth reading. However, my subsequent attempts at noveling are sad imitations of good stories. I was busy with college at the time and just “made stuff up,” never really getting in touch with my characters. This just doesn’t cut it—good writing is heartfelt.

Don’t be afraid to put your heart in your writing, and shine!

Problems with Pruning

The morning glories were strangling my tomatoes again. I didn’t mean to plant them so close together—in fact, the morning glories sprouted on their own from last year. As it happens, if I dare plant morning glories purposefully, the rabbit will come by and eat them. Feral morning glories are the only ones I’ve got.

Eventually I toughened up and pruned back the morning glories. Pruning is something I almost never do—I’d rather have an overgrown garden, a wilderness of variety without space to breathe, than pull up beautiful plants. No wonder my gardens can be unproductive.

Pruning and weeding is something done by all good gardeners, and all good writers, and all busy people. Often, good things have to be sacrificed in the name of better things. Morning glories for tomatoes, and paragraphs for books. The problem with pruning is that it’s hard to know what’s worth the loss.

Do I really need a monstrous tangle of morning glories, or just a few? Since last week when I pruned them, the vines have started strangling the tomatoes again. They’re not going down without a fight.

These tomatoes are some of the sweetest heirlooms in the world. They’re worth it.

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By Starlight

The first thing you notice is the emptiness. Notice the sound, the feel, even the taste of open air. You’re exposed, and you know it. Alert and listening, you look around at the rustling leaves and wait for your eyes to adjust. You look up and see stars, and start walking.

A crystal roof of pinpoints, featureless if you don’t see the patterns. Living alongside the fireflies.

It’s empty out there, full of possibilities. The stars are closer than the rustling leaves, closer than the blinking lights on a distant hill.

They can’t be that close. Not really . . . but they are. Lightyears apart, all you really know is that the reaching fingers of dead space haven’t caught you yet. You’re under a blanket of warmth, the summer air a thin veil between solid earth and empty sky.

The stars are yours. Made for you.

This is the only time that ever was or will be.

Natural Enemies: Creating Conflict

top20superscenes-darkknightinterrogation-590Every story needs clash, whether it’s a grand battle of good vs. evil or the more nuanced everyday confrontations when opposing forces collide.

The best stories, in my opinion, blur the line between good and evil. The bad guy is so relatable that you care for them against your better judgement, and the good guy occasionally makes you dislike them. How can a writer accomplish this, and write convincing clash?

First of all, start with two people who are fundamentally different from each other. (Whenever two people are different enough, clash arises.) Pair natural enemies. Think of the classics:

Luke Vader SnipRebel vs. Dictator—Luke and Vader.

Criminal” vs. Policeman—Jean Valjean and Javert.

Order vs. Chaos—Batman and the Joker.

But also think about real-life natural enemies, where it’s harder to tell who’s the good guy.

Environmentalist vs. Third-world Poacher.

Fundamentalist vs. Liberal.

Partier vs. Studier.

Starting with ingredients like these—two opposing forces that can’t coexist until someone changes—is a great way to generate an entertaining and meaningful story.

16 Personalities

I recently took a free personality test at 16personalities.com. These tests can be fun, though they’re not to be taken too seriously. A test where you input data about yourself returns a (hopefully insightful) reflection of who you know yourself to be; the better you know yourself, the more accurate the test is.

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16personalities reflected that I’m an Architect personality type, and this description got a lot right about me. It reflected a distaste for rules and structure, a love of planning things out, and perfectionist tendencies. It also pointed out that Architects do their best thinking alone, and I hadn’t noticed this yet. I have noticed that my mind can freeze up in team settings, and that walking outdoors is a great way for me to mentally work through the day’s events. The personality test took the facts I knew about myself and put 2 and 2 together.

So, that was fun. Apparently the Architect personality type is also a popular model for supervillains. Great. Which brings to mind, you can use these tests to help build complex literary characters by mixing and matching the personality traits. Voila! Your character (or supervillain like me) just became three-dimensional.