Category Archives: Inspiration

Here Be Dragons: The 140,000 Word Outline

Reblogged from Bare Knuckle Writer:

Click to visit the original postSo, those of you who’ve been here a while—or read through some of the archives—know that my Big Project, the one that’s taking up nearly all of my writing time at the moment, is the re-write of The Patchwork King. PWK* was last year’s NaNoWriMo project. You can read about the gradual descent of my sanity level here…

Read more… 391 more words

Amazing words of encouragement and wisdom from what is becoming one of my new favourite writing blogs.

Special 50th Anniversary Feature

Today, 22 November 2013, is the 50th anniversary of the death of an important figure in 20th century history, especially amongst the English-speaking people. His work and writing has influenced countless people around the planet, and even today, the most pessimistic person cannot deny the effect he had on our culture. Whatever your religion, race, ethnicity, or political persuasion, chances are you’ve encountered the great works of this wonderful man, who died too soon, 50 years ago today.

cslewisOnly 64 years old, one week shy of his birthday when he died, Clive Staples ‘Jack’ Lewis is still justifiably famous for his writing, especially his seven-volume fantasy series The Chronicles of Narnia, and his Christian apologetics. Long after I fell in love with his writing as a child (even cramming myself into the coat closet to read The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe because somehow, at age 8, that just seemed right) I began to realize the effect he had on theology and philosophy, as well as children’s literature. One cannot understate the effect he had on children’s literature. Along with Roald Dahl and Shel Silverstein and Judy Blume, he felt that it was possible to write for children without writing down to them, and this still shows in his writing. If you haven’t read at least the Narnia books, read them. Twice. (Though please for the Love of Aslan, read them in the published order, not the new series order. My first, memorable experience of the joys of a prequel came from his books, and the simple fact that children are robbed of this if they read them in the new order bothers me.)

I never read his Christian works, though, not until college. It wasn’t so much that I was anti-Christian, just that I was a rebellious teenager (there’s a redundant phrase for you) and had no interest in reading essays about God. It was enough that I was breaking stereotypes by never really growing out of children’s books, at least at the time. But at San Joachin Delta College in Stockton, California, I had a philosophy professor who was a very strict atheist, stopping just short of being one of the ‘Atheist Evangelists’ that populate a lot of Internet forums these days. Once, I went to his Office Hours and I saw that he had a bunch of his books in his office. When I asked him about it, he said “I consider him a worthy opponent.” The respect he said this with left a mark on me, and I had a second run-in with his essays and thought, making me fall in love with the guy’s writing all over again. And while I didn’t agree with a lot of his views (I’m a Jewish Taoist) his essays and arguments were so engrossing that I didn’t care. Mere Christianity is still one of my favourite books of religious philosophy.

I’m not sure how many times I’ve read the entire Chronicles (five? seven?) or the individual books like The Voyage of the ‘Dawn Treader (fifty? I’d slip into chapters of that book sometimes once a week just to re-experience its world) but I can still say that they never get old. And of course, the older I get, the more I realize the wonderful way he worked Christian symbolism into it. Most Christian allegories (read:  pretty much every one I’ve ever read) are fairly heavy-handed… maybe a kid named Joshua is nice to everyone at his Dad’s autoshop, and after a few miraculous things happen, the bullies get together and beat him up, but he just smiles and lets them do it, or something like that, and they lay on the treacly syrup pretty thick. Lewis never fell into that trap. Oh sure, it’s pretty obvious that Aslan is a stand-in for Jesus, and parts of The Last Battle mirror Christian apocalyptic thinking. But that’s as far as it goes with direct sequences lifted from the Bible and other religious books. The rest of the symbolism is there if you look for it, but it doesn’t smack you in the face repeatedly, and if you don’t look for it or don’t care about it, your enjoyment of the story isn’t hindered at all. For example, in The Voyage of the ‘Dawn Treader:’

On the next page she came to a spell “for the refreshment of the spirit’. The pictures were fewer here but very beautiful. And what Lucy found herself reading was more like a story than a spell. It went on for three pages and before she had read to the bottom of the page she had forgotten that she was reading at all. She was living in the story as if it were real, and all the pictures were real too. When she had got to the third page and come to the end, she said, “That is the loveliest story I’ve ever read or ever shall read in my whole life. Oh, I wish I could have gone on reading it for ten years. At least I’ll read it over again.”

But here part of the magic of the Book came into play. You couldn’t turn back. The right-hand pages, the ones ahead, could be turned; the left-hand pages could not.

“Oh, what a shame!” said Lucy. “I did so want to read it again. Well, at least I must remember it. Let’s see . . . it was about . . . about . . . oh dear, it’s all fading away again.

And even this last page is going blank. This is a very queer book. How can I have forgotten? It was about a cup and a sword and a tree and a green hill, I know that much. But I can’t remember and what shall I do?”

Later, of course, the last paragraph jumped out at me, but as a child (and as an adult when I’m just reading it for enjoyment) it’s just a nice bit of folklore-style storytelling. Or you can dig and realize that the cup could be the Grail, the tree the Cross, the hill Golgotha. But if you don’t know any of that, it’s still a fun part of the story and makes sense. (If you do it doesn’t smack you over the head, either.) The same goes for the harrowing scene underground in The Silver Chair when the Lady of the Green Kirtle is hypnotizing the heroes into thinking there’s no such thing as ‘above;’ everything they think comes from above is merely their imagination working on something ‘below.’ There’s a fairly obvious parallel there… and it’s also just a scene leading to the climax of a story where all hope is lost for the characters and they’re about to be betrayed by the antagonist.

These reasons are why I still love, admire, and respect his books, and why I recommend them to other writers. This is the way to work symbolism and allegory into a story, starting with the idea that you should work it into the story, not the other way around. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing about Christianity, or Buddhism, or the Panic of 1819. Create your characters, write your story, and focus on having the characters resolve the story. Then go back and sprinkle on a little of this and a little of that. Flavour the story with an allegory or metaphor if you wish, but in small doses; too much can make the reader’s throat clench. The most important thing in any story is the story. You should be able to strip away any symbolism and, though the story would be hurt, it would still make sense.

I’m going to close with one more section from The Voyage of the ‘Dawn Treader, one that still haunts me. This has nothing to do with this article; I just like this piece of writing so I’m putting it in. This is from Chapter Twelve, ‘The Dark Island:’

Edmund thought he had never seen a wilder-looking man. Though he did not otherwise look very old, his hair was an untidy mop of white, his face was thin and drawn, and, for clothing, only a few wet rags hung about him. But what one mainly noticed were his eyes, which were so widely opened that he seemed to have no eyelids at all, and stared as if in an agony of pure fear. The moment his feet reached the deck he said:

“Fly! Fly! About with your ship and fly! Row, row, row for your lives away from this accursed shore.”

“Compose yourself,” said Reepicheep, “and tell us what the danger is. We are not used to flying.”

The stranger started horribly at the voice of the Mouse, which he had not noticed before.

“Nevertheless you will fly from here,” he gasped. “This is the Island where Dreams come true.”

“That’s the island I’ve been looking for this long time,” said one of the sailors. “I reckoned I’d find I was married to Nancy if we landed here.”

“And I’d find Tom alive again,” said another.

“Fools!” said the man, stamping his foot with rage. “That is the sort of talk that brought me here, and I’d better have been drowned or never born. Do you hear what I say? This is where dreams—dreams, do you understand, come to life, come real. Not daydreams: dreams.”

That last three-word sentence is probably what turned me into a writer of haunting stories. I’ve been trying to recreate the jarring sense of ‘oh crap’ that hit me when I first read that book.

EDIT: I can’t close on that note. Here is a beautiful letter of his written to a young American fan and archived on the Letters of Note site.



Popcorn and Rubber-Necking: NaNoWriMo Survival Guide For Spectators

This might be more in line with yesterday’s topic, but this is a great article on how to survive NaNoWriMo when all of your writing support group seems to be doing it. If you want more of the same, check out Charlotte Cuevas’s excellent article on the same subject. Honestly, that might have been what pushed me over the edge from ‘Thinking about not doing it and feeling guilty’ to ‘Not doing it and still being productive.’

Popcorn and Rubber-Necking


One more article on Inspiration and Writing…

… and then I have a date with a book and a large mug of tea. This article is by Richard Nordquist and it’s not so much food for thought as it is a lush, wonderful buffet.

“Had I mentioned to someone around 1795 that I planned to write, anyone with any sense would have told me to write for two hours every day, with or without inspiration. Their advice would have enabled me to benefit from the ten years of my life I totally wasted waiting for inspiration.”
(Stendhal [Marie-Henri Beyle], quoted by Enrique Vila-Matas in Bartleby & Co, New Directions, 2004)

The whole article is worth reading and bookmarking.

Waiting for Inspiration

Sometimes if you wait for the bus where the bus is supposed to arrive, it will come right on schedule. You’ll be there exactly when you need to be, you’ll have exact fare, and when you get on, you can easily find a seat and go wherever you need to go.

Sometimes you go to meet the bus and it’s a block away. Or a quarter-mile. Or your regular route was cancelled that day and you have to take a different bus. Or you can sit at your regular spot and hope it shows it. Maybe it will. Or maybe you would have gotten the bus if you’d walked around the corner. True, it wasn’t supposed to come there, but as long as you still get to the bus, it’s all copacetic.

Sometimes the bus never shows up. Maybe there was a strike. Maybe your route was cancelled. Maybe the driver just decided he was going to skip your block and there’s nothing you can do about it. You still need to get to work, though, and you can’t just tell your boss that you need to wait until the bus just shows up. So you either give up work and such luxuries as eating and sleeping under a roof, or you find another way to get there.

And so it is that sometimes you get up and hammer your words out while the coffee’s brewing, or have your painting sketched and all done but filling in the lines, or your clay nearly ready to be fired before you’ve finished that last mouthful of eggs. And sometimes you’re eating a late-night snack wishing you could put something on the blank page. It’s tempting to set it aside and say “Oh, when inspiration comes, it will come.” Damn tempting.

That’s a good way to miss the bus.

As I like to tell my friends, “90% of writing is showing up.”