Letter to the Fiction Writer

Thud!

“Ow…” My forehead is regretting my decision to slam it into the desk, but I don’t particularly care. The monitor in front of me continues to glow, heedless of my disgust, displaying one blank word document with a blinking line at the very top. It’s waiting for me to do something. But what?

“I don’t know,” I groan aloud. The pieces of some vague plot are scattered in my brain, but they simply refuse to come together for long enough to get a good look at it. I can think of nothing to make those pieces sound interesting or compelling. Are they interesting or compelling? Am I fooling myself just by sitting here? Can I really write fiction?

I turn my head a little in an attempt to avoid a bruise in the middle of my forehead, and I happen to glance at the door to my room, which has been shut to the world for hours. I blink when I notice something white on the floor; a second glance confirms that I have never seen this object before. It’s a slip of paper, folded in half.

I rise from my chair and stoop to pick up the paper, half expecting to recognize the content as I unfold it, but no such luck awaits me. Someone has written in Sharpie, in handwriting I am unfamiliar with, “Inspiration awaits you out of doors.”

I stare at the words for a few seconds, turn the paper over a couple of times, and stand up again. Any normal person would wonder who had written the note, or what such cryptic words could be referring to. Those thoughts briefly flit through my head, but ultimately, the one I debate over is the one I ask out loud; “Where outside?”

Willing to suffer whatever consequences could await depending on this mystery writer’s intentions, I open the bedroom door for the first time all day, pass a glance at my fish tank on the kitchen counter as I strut through the house, and throw open the front door, squinting into the sun’s harsh, midday glare. All I can do is look at the ground for a few seconds. On the doorstep, just as if my guest predicted my actions, there is another piece of paper, this one sporting an arrow that points down the porch stairs. I spy another one on the tree, pointing left. Without stopping, I follow the arrows, only vaguely aware that I am being lured into the woods like some character in a horror movie. More arrows appear on trees as I go deeper and deeper into the woods. My only companions are the birds and squirrels I’m scaring away as I power through the brush.

Finally, the arrows stop. I wander helplessly for a moment before I notice a clearing. When I shove aside the last bush, I gasp: the ground is covered in wildflowers of every color imaginable, and the only thing to break the sea of sweet-smelling pops of color is the most inviting tree I’ve ever seen. It’s big and strong, its branches are thick with leaves, and there’s an alcove naturally set into the base of the trunk. Careful to shuffle through the flowers, I gingerly approach the tree to find a red spiral-bound notebook resting in the alcove. I weigh the stack of pages in my hand for a moment before daring to open it. There, in the same handwriting as that first note, is a letter.

Dear Fiction Writer,

Hello, you brave soul!

So you have dreams of becoming the next great American novelist. Or maybe you want to see your short story published in a magazine. Or maybe you just want to write down that plot bunny that’s been hopping around in your head for who-knows-how-long. Congratulations on breaking the bubble of academia and going for creative writing! You have chosen one of the most thrilling and most challenging modes of writing that exist.

I hope my little surprise helps you feel less like writing is a dull, thankless task. Sometimes, all it takes is a change of locale to get the creative juices flowing. Everybody’s “writing spot” is a little different, so I hope you like mine.

I took you on this adventure to make you feel an adventure. The emotions and physical sensations you just felt—those are what make fiction come alive. The crunching of dead leaves, the scampering of the squirrels, and the sensation of your heart pounding all come together to create one story—the story of how you recklessly followed a mysterious trail into the woods. The big story is the main focus, but the details make it worth reading.

Write what you want to read. I promise, there is someone out there who will read it. Maybe you’ll become famous in your lifetime, like C. S. Lewis. Maybe you’ll become famous later, like Emily Dickinson. Maybe you never will, and you think that’s just fine. Be happy in any case, because you’re going to write for yourself—no one else.

Before you give up, try it my way. It won’t be easy, but it will be rewarding beyond measure.

Happy writing!

I take a deep breath; the scent of hundreds of flowers fills my nose. I rip the pen out of the spiral and, for the first time, I write without boundaries.

Written by Catherine

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The Nature of Beauty: Short Story Day 2016

Two men stood upon an edge of a cliff, overlooking the land. The first was blinded in a childhood accident; the second was his dear friend, who took care of him every day.

“Can beauty be taken from a man?” The first cheerfully asked to the second.

The second scoffed. “It was taken from you, for you cannot behold the sight before us. Indeed, I know you cannot remember this sight from our childhood. I pray to the Almighty every day that your sight might be returned, that you might know beauty again.”

“Is beauty something one must see, then?” the first asked.

“Obviously. How can you appreciate a work of art without seeing it? Paintings and drawings must all be seen.”

“I can hear a piece of music,” the first hummed. “The chatter of men, the singing in a theatre.”

“Fine, fine. You can find beauty in music, in sound. But you still cannot behold most kinds of beauty.”

“And what of the sculptures found in the king’s gallery? I can feel the edges, the smooth curves, the grooves formed by the chisel. Can I not feel and behold that work of art?”

“I suppose you can behold the beauty of those works of art,” the second admitted.

“And I can eat,” the first grinned. “I love the taste of a pastry in my mouth. That, my friend, is beauty from a chef’s hands. Can I not behold the art of such a masterful chef?”

“I suppose you can find beauty in a chef’s work,” the second frowned.

“I can smell that same pastry as its being made. I can enjoy flowers. The fresh smell of rain, during and after, is nature’s own way of singing in joy that I can partake in.”

“I see you’ve thought this through quite thoroughly.”

“There’s more, my friend. What of the beauty of love?” the first said. “Can I not hear the kindness in her voice, feel the softness of her touch, and laugh at the sharpness of her wit? Can I not feel the thrill, the pulsing of my heart whenever she is near?”

“Fine,” said the second. “But what if all these things were not enough, if all these things were only pain in the end? If you were isolated, starved, your skin burnt ‘til you could not feel, and your ears deafened, you could not know beauty. All that would remain would be pain; therefore, beauty can be taken from a man.”

“What if the pain changes day by day?” The first asked. “If it does, then beauty, to that person, would be the times that pain lessens.”

The second grumpily huffed. “What is your point, my friend?”

The first smiled. “It seems to me that it is in man’s nature to seek beauty in all things.”

“Even in pain?” the second questioned.

“Especially in pain,” the first said, “for we seem to understand that there is a way things should be, and we search for glimpses of those moments.”

The two stood in silence. The second slowly realized that the first was, despite blindness, more able to perceive beauty than he.

“We would not have had this conversation without your blindness,” prompted the second.

The first smiled once again. “Indeed,” he said. “I believe your prayers have been answered, for I can see beauty far more clearly than before I lost my sight. Is that not something beautiful as well, that my blindness should be used to redeem my perception?”

The wind whispered gently over the two.

“This is how the Almighty works,” the second concluded, “in ways that create beauty from pain.”

“You are close to my point,” the first said, a thrill in his voice.

“Which is?”

“The Almighty, who created all things, who created mankind, who allowed us to see, to touch, to taste, to smell, to feel, is the source of all this beauty. And though His creation was corrupted, He still creates from the pain more beauty, which we otherwise would not know. He is truly everywhere, for He is beauty, and it is a miracle that we exist and experience Him.”

Written by Isaac: Many thanks to Brandon Sanderson for the inspiration of this short story—the first half is basically just retelling a conversation in the book Words of Radiance from his series The Stormlight Archive.

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