Oct 27 2010

Tarantula Hawk

Melissa Crytzer Fry

I think most can agree that that prehistoric times – the days of giant dinosaurs roaming the Earth – are pretty darn fascinating.

Maybe that’s why, when I saw my first Arizona tarantula hawk, my mind immediately went to the Mesozoic Era. I mean, this giant flying insect mimics a mini-flying pterodactyl. A super-sized wasp by all accounts, one of them nearly took my head off back in 1998. (And I see them all the time now).

The body of the tarantula hawk is a shiny blue-black, with wings the same color or ranging from bright red to orange. This one is pictured on an acacia bush near my house. Click to enlarge. Scroll below for video of tarantula hawk carrying away its prey.

I know the scale is hard to determine in the photo above, but consider this: an east or west coast wasp is about five times smaller than its gargantuan southwestern cousin. Plus, it’s a bit nastier, paralyzing its victim (always the tarantula) so that it can lay eggs in the tarantula “host.”

Despite its steroidal size, the tarantula hawk rarely stings humans. For that, I’m thankful, but I can’t help but feel for the unsuspecting, slow-moving tarantula. (Anyone who’s read my previous posts knows that I am a big fan). So, yes, I will always root for the underdog, despite my fascination with things prehistoric – or prehistoric looking.

For Writers: Paralysis is a familiar concept for most writers. The words won’t come, the brain is seized up, the well of creativity is dry, our egos are crushed by a harsh agent response, a rejection. Pick your poison. Or, in my case of nearly two years of writing paralysis, I paid far too much attention to the advice of a writing instructor.

Yes, I know we’re supposed to take the advice of our coaches. But not necessarily all of it. And I actually think it’s a common mistake for new writers. We’re so eager to please that we hang on the instructor’s every word. We make every suggested change so we can please the coach, because, hey, we’re new at this. And the coach knows more than us.

But I think new writers often underestimate their own voice, vision, and ability. My advice is to stay true to your story. Don’t let an instructor bully you into a particular style or writing formula if you’re not comfortable with it. And especially if the formula/style is not “you,” not in sync with your genre, and if it’s not helping you to tell the story you want to tell. Because the truth is, for every formula or style one instructor recommends, a different instructor will recommend another. And no matter how well intentioned the instructor is, do not ever let him/her rewrite your story with suggestions that steer you away from your vision.

The moral of the story is that you’re allowed to say “thanks, but no thanks” to some critiques and criticisms – something I wasn’t able to do as a new novelist.

If you feel your writing coach is a bit of a tarantula hawk and causing you unnecessary paralysis, go elsewhere. There are plenty of talented coaches out there – all with different teaching and critique styles. Find the one who feels best for you and who can help you make progress on your novel. Or you may decide to stick it out with the instructor, but you must find a way to grow the backbone to say “no” when you need to.

Another option is to join a critique group of peers. I found my writing partner that way, and over the years, we’ve developed a tough-love-critique relationship that has helped my writing tremendously. I now rely on her throughout the writing process and another wonderful critique partner at the ‘editing’ stage (I am sans coach at this point, though I did find an excellent instructor in between, who was a better match).

New writers: please learn from my mistakes! It’s been a long road, but I’m happy to report that the paralysis is gone, I ended up writing the story I wanted to write, and I’m working on the next.

6 Responses to “Tarantula Hawk”

  • K Says:

    WOW! Seeing this on video is amazing and heartbreaking at the same time. I often have thought how script writers seem to take material from real life and make it into a horror movie. This wasp, for me, is “the alien” from the movie Alien. Using the tarantula as a host for the wasp’s offspring brings me to a shudder of disbelief.
    I do like the comparison of letting people paralyze you from your original ideas and goals. We are all individuals with our own way of seeing and expressing ourselves. It is our job and privilege to believe in ourselves enough to follow through with our vision.


  • Rachna Chhabria Says:

    Melissa, this is one of the best posts for me. I always feel that with the barrage of information about the craft of writing, from How to write that perfect book, to how to hook readers in the first chapter/line/word, a new writer may get overwhelmed with all the techniques and in the process not be true to his or her story. They may actually get paralyzed with shock.

    What we all should do is write the first draft just the way the story is unfolding. There will be sufficient time later to rework on the technique. My advice would be let the story flow first before we start listening to each and every bit of advice thrown at us. And not every advice is worth following. After all, you know your story best.

    The picture is wonderful. 🙂


  • Melissa Says:

    K- Yes, as they say, there is nothing new under the sun; I’m sure filmmakers are inspired by nature and borrow from it often. Couldn’t agree more that belief in ourself is probably our most empowering tool!

    Rachna- You’re so right; there is so much info out there about ‘how’ to write and ‘what’ to write that it is often quite overwhelming for new writers. Paralysis is so common. I like your advice of just getting the STORY down, then focusing on the mechanics/technique later, though I confess I am not that kind of writer. I tinker and try to perfect as I go. Have always been that way w/ my magazine writing, too. But yes – the key is that YOU KNOW YOUR STORY BEST!


  • Rachna Chhabria Says:

    Hi Melissa, there is an award for you on my blog.


  • Hallie Says:

    Love the analogy! However, still don’t like tarantulas. I will let you love them for me. 🙂 You live in a very creepy, crawly place, my dear. I would come visit, but….:)


    Melissa Crytzer Fry Reply:

    Don’t be afraid! The desert southwest is a wonderful place for a visit. We wouldn’t make you sleep outside. Promise! By the way – referring to your blog post … I’m also a few years from the 40 year mark, so I understand your sense of ‘urgency’ to write your novel. But there are plenty of novelists who were published well after 40! There’s still lots of time.


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