Sep 22 2010

Runnin’ with Rattlers

Melissa Crytzer Fry

I had remarked to neighbors over the past few weeks how unusual it was that by mid-September, I still had not encountered a rattlesnake.

I knew all that talk of “not seeing any snakes” was probably going to bite me in the butt — or the ankle (though hopefully neither)! Sure enough, three days later, as I was jogging, I ran into – quite literally – my first rattler of the season.

This angry rattlesnake, unbeknownst to me and hubby, was coiled right outside our screen door (2009). When we opened the door, not knowing he was there, we inadvertently ripped off eight segments of his rattle as they became caught under the door. Photo was taken hanging out of the kitchen window. Click to enlarge.

Because I still had forward momentum when I saw him – literally one stride away from landing right on him – I nearly fell trying to turn around on my planted left ankle.

Lesson learned? Do not grow complacent! I am, once again, hypersensitive while jogging, my eyes scanning for diamonds and stripes every step I take.

For Writers: This same complacency can be just as dangerous in your writing life. You feel you’ve written a spectacular scene, dialogue, or even first novel, second novel, third. You “know this stuff” and understand the mechanics of storytelling like the back of your hand. You don’t need to practice. You’re that good. Really?

Even Stephen King emphasizes a need for continual learning. That’s why part of his writing life involves reading the work of others – learning from them. According to debut author Jody Hedlund (The Preacher’s Bride), authors need to push themselves to grow. “I’m always surprised when I run across other writers who turn up their noses at the idea of learning more about the basics of fiction-writing,” she says in her blog.

How can you avoid that complacency in your writing?

  • Don’t be a lazy reader: Reading for pleasure is fun, but learn to deconstruct/analyze books for what is working, what isn’t, and why.
  • Consider the advice of experts: I’m not a huge fan of how-to-write books, feeling that reading “the real thing” is the best way to learn. But some craft books really do lend insight to your writing. Stephen King’s On Writing is one. The collegiate text Writing Fiction by Janet Burroway is another.
  • Edit, edit, edit: Even if you think your work is sparkly and dazzling, seek out the areas where more description could bring your novel to life; pare down boring exposition; ensure your dialogue is really authentic.
  • Take advantage of critique/criticism: Another set of eyes is paramount to good writing.  I believe writing in a vacuum can be the kiss of death. Helpful partners will point out what’s working, but also gaps, areas of confusion, the need for tension or more character development, etc.
  • Step back from your work: Your bleary eyes need a break from your work – work that has consumed you, become a part of you, frustrated you, excited you. Sometimes, letting your manuscript simmer and coming back three weeks or so later can reveal so much about your writing.

My advice: avoid the complacency. Now!

8 Responses to “Runnin’ with Rattlers”

  • B Jas Says:

    Fabulous piece, so true about complacency being a risk in your writing life. Must always work hard and learn and be humble… Thx!

    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    Here’s to hard work and humility (and avoiding rattlesnakes)! Thanks for the comment, B Jas.

  • Jody Hedlund Says:

    Wow! What an experience with the rattle snake! My heart was pumping extra hard just reading about it, much less nearly stepping on one! Glad you were safe!

    And I couldn’t agree with you more. Pushing ourselves to grow can only help to take us further. So why wouldn’t we? 🙂

    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    Thank you, Jody. I hope never to grow complacent with my writing and believe we can always learn more and hone our craft.

  • Bryan Hughes Says:

    In case you’re curious, that is a male diamondback. Males have longer, thicker tails than the females, which diamondbacks are courteous enough to measure with stripes. Generally, 5 or more stripes is a male, and 4 or less is a female.

  • Melissa Crytzer Fry Says:

    Thanks for the insight! Had no idea how to tell a male from female, but we believe he is the same one we saw stretched out further from the house a few days before. He was about 4 feet long from head to rattle.

  • Rachna Chhabria Says:

    Hi Melissa, wonderful advice. Complacency is the worst rut we can get into. I agree with the view that we have to keep pushing ourselves as writers. I just bought my first writing craft book and am dying to go through it.

    Let me tell you a secret, I am extremely scared of rattle snakes or any snakes for that matter.

    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    Thanks for your kind comments. Good luck with your writing craft book and your writing. And, let me just say that snakes can, indeed, be fear-inspiring. I like them MUCH better when I have a safe distance!