Vision: A Resource for Writers
Holly Lisle's Vision
Write like a Damsel
By Valerie Serdy
©2002, Valerie Serdy
decided back in April that I wanted to try this writing thing fulltime.
I set myself a goal (Get Published) and got to work.
With the ultimate goal of Getting Published in mind, I set out to the
library and began researching tomatoes. It
was early spring, so I figured my best chance lay in writing some kind of
children's article describing how to grow summer tomatoes.
There are about a jillion children's magazines out there; I figured it
would be a slam dunk.
I got bored with tomatoes. Well not
with tomatoes exactly, as I love a fresh tomato and basil sandwich, but I grew
bored with the idea of writing the article.
About this time, I stumbled across Holly's Forward Motion site and
decided, heck! I should be writing a novel.
That's what I'll Get Published.
I was off. I wrote my first draft in about six weeks.
Then I got stuck in the rewrite. I
had spurts of productivity but nothing like that first blissful outpouring of
words that got me through the first draft.
I stumbled and fought and cursed that the rewrite wasn't going as well as
the first draft. I wasn't having
any fun. I knew I needed to take
time away from the work to figure out what was going on, but I was unwilling to
do so. I felt that if I stopped the
rewrite, I'd quit altogether and then where would I be?
I wouldn't have anything that I could submit to editors, that's for sure.
I took a break. I took about four weeks off between writing the novel and
starting the revision, but I never got the story and characters completely out
of my head. They danced and cavorted.
Bits of my favorite dialog and scenes chased themselves around in my
head. I dreamed scenes from the
book and came up with better descriptions and dialog than what went into the
novel originally. It was a zoo in
real break didn't happen until we went on vacation to Mexico.
We dove for five days straight; my biggest worry was whether I'd reserved
enough tanks for one more dive. Crowding
out my characters and story were images of graceful sea turtles, parrotfish,
lobsters, and damselfish.
was resting on the ocean bottom, watching a school of black and silver striped
sergeant major fish drift back and forth with the surge, when the epiphany
started. A rainbow-colored
damselfish approached me and poked around my fingers.
Soon, a group of four damsels swam around my face and darted under my
arms and poked at my fingers; it seemed like a game they were playing.
one fish darted straight for my face. And
this wasn't one of those tiny blue damsels you see in aquariums.
No, this was a big honking six inch long iridescent silvery blue and red
fish with teeth. Lots of teeth!
I waved my hand at it. It
kept coming. I brushed it away with my arms.
It kept coming. I swam
backwards a little. Still, it kept
coming. Finally, when I could count
the sucker's teeth as it aimed at my facemask, I backpedaled clear away from its
didn't help to learn later that this was a juvenile damsel.
Every species has its hoodlums, I guess.
telling this story to everyone who would listen, I discovered a
six-foot-six-inch tall giant of a man in our dive group, who's probably been
diving longer than I've been alive, had been bitten by one of these fish.
A little research showed damsels are very territorial and aggressive.
They show no fear. Taking on
a diver nine billion times their size is quite common and those little teeth
I sat under an umbrella, shaded from the sun, though not from the humidity.
My pen slipped in my fingers as I wrote about the experience.
For the first time that week, I thought about my characters and grew
excited. I wanted my main character
to come diving in tropical waters. I
had all sorts of ideas for her continuing adventures.
And I realized what was missing from my writing.
I needed to cultivate a little damsel attitude: fun, fearlessness, and
wasn't having any fun with my story anymore.
I was afraid I'd never Get Published and my fear made me timid.
I'd back off before I got started, too afraid my words would stink before
I ever put them down on paper. I'd
block because I was afraid my family would read my work and laugh.
Plain and simple. Well,
damselfish have no fear. So, I
stepped back. I was afraid my
writing was too bad to Get Published. It
probably is; I'm still just learning. I
had started writing as a pleasurable way to spend my time: something fun to do.
A hobby, if you will. Seen
that way, why would I expect to write well straight out of the gate?
What gives me the chutzpah to expect to be published without going
through some training?
many other hobbies have I tried where I was successful straightaway?
I spent years burning meals before I learned how to cook well.
I took a class to learn how to scuba dive, and I'm still working out some
of the basics. I would never dream
of putting on skis without investing in an instructor and aspirin.
I picked up these hobbies because they are fun, and I enjoy spending my
time cooking and scuba diving.
here's where the aggression kicks in. As
I darted into every cookbook I could find to learn and practice new techniques,
I need to do the same to learn about writing: grammar, punctuation, style.
As aggressively as I practiced baking cakes (one cake a day for two
weeks), I need to practice writing. And
just as I am now skilled enough to take my cooking hobby professional if I
choose, perhaps after all the practice and learning, I'll be able to take my
writing hobby professional as well.
first, I have to discover if I even like it.
I've tried hobbies and learned after giving it a go that it wasn't for
me. By focusing on Getting
Published, I never gave myself a chance to enjoy the writing; I stressed about
creating the perfect turn of phrase that would catch an editor's eye.
Now, my goal, thanks to that damsel, is to Tell the Story. Tell a story with a beginning, middle, and end.
Tell a story with gripping characters and a moving plot.
Then revise that story to make it as good as I can.
Maybe I'll share it with people. Maybe
once I've finished that story, then I'll sit down and look at what I've done.
Did I enjoy it? Did I enjoy
those endless hours tapping at the keyboard, risking RSI, to produce something
as ephemeral as a story? Something
that, with any luck, will survive only in some interpreted fashion in a reader's
I did, I'll do it again. And again.
And again. Practicing new
things, learning new things each time. And
maybe I'll decide to risk rejection (fearlessly!) and submit something to a
publisher. And maybe I won't.
Today, it doesn't matter. Today,
only the story matters.
if I decide I didn't enjoy the writing process?
If I decide that sitting my butt down in my chair regularly, listening to
Enya croon and my fish tank hum in the background, tap-tap-tapping away isn't
fun, well, it won't be the first hobby I've abandoned.
It will be the cheapest, though. All
for the startup cost of ink and paper, I'll have discovered whether this new
hobby is for me.
I think I will enjoy it. I already
do. After that fateful meeting with the damselfish, I've finished
two nonfiction articles and two short stories.
I've revised four chapters of my novel and I've finally got new ideas to
continue it. I'm still practicing.
I'm not worried about Getting Published.
I'm having fun.
And all thanks to a damsel fish who straightened out my priorities. Have fun. Be fearless. Be aggressive.