In this post, we will look at some things the great author, C.S. Lewis said about writing. As someone who has built the beloved world of Narnia, I hold Lewis’ work in high regard. After all, my most prominent skill is exactly that – world-building. So, who is this master of the craft, and what insights can he give us? (This article is based on VelocityWriting’s video, C.S. Lewis – His Practical Advice for Writers, as well as quotes from Lewis.)
While most of us literary folks and fantasy nuts know, C.S. Lewis is the author of the Narnia stories. I remember getting my brick of a book as a teen, it had all the works collected into the same frame. His deep sense of the world left a huge mark on my young mind. And who am I kidding, befriending a magical, talking lion that pretty much rules the world would’ve been epic!
What I didn’t know, however, was that Lewis was not just a fantasy writer. He wrote essays, studied medieval literature, and journeyed through the prestigious universities of our time. And as if that wasn’t enough, he also managed to dabble in some science fiction in his spare time!
When I heard about Lewis’ friendship with Tolkien, I smiled. Go figure, birds of a feather flock together, and so forth. It is said that their talks swayed Lewis’ to become more religious, having initially been an atheist. I wonder what they chatted about when they met?
Turn off any distractions
My general consensus is, that while multitasking is becoming somewhat of a trend (if it isn’t already) it will not help you be more productive. In this point, my view aligns with Lewis’, as he advises people to ‘turn off the radio’. Of course, in today’s world, we have many more distractions besides that.
My personal struggle comes from the ease of access to social media, YouTube, and Spotify. Everything is at our fingertips. Those little voices, telling me to put on some nice classical music, to check that one notification… It’s from the devil, I tell you!
All jokes aside, I used to listen to some instrumental, cool lounge music while I worked. Since then, I have noticed the effect of music on my moods and mind, and I don’t want the things I listen to to affect my writing. And so, I aim to turn off all distractions.
Read good books, a lot of them
Now here is something that most prolific writers keep telling us – Keep reading! I couldn’t agree more, especially when we are still in the beginner’s shoes. However, I have matured to think that at some point, we need to move from consumerism to creation. At that point, the time to devour other’s works will significantly lessen.
In my case, I still read, but it has become difficult to fit it into my schedule. As a child, I could easily haul home 6-7 books from the library. All I would do was read, whenever I could. I suppose there is something to learn from that young me. After all, what better way is there to spend the time waiting on various things than to pick up a book?
Not to mention how easy it is these days! I carry a fully furbished library in my pocket, and I believe I’m not the only one. That brings me to another point – I often choose indie authors. Those are the people on the same path as me, and I feel I can learn a lot more from my peers at this point.
Write with your ear
My, does this ever make sense?!
Have you ever read something that you struggle with? I sure have, and it can be so, so frustrating. It’s especially hard-hitting if the writer is good at one thing and a beginner elsewhere.
I know this because I am one of those writers. For me, it is the constant battle of prose vs dialog or any spoken lines for that matter. I just can’t seem to make it sound natural, or even half-natural at that. My characters tend to speak like a can of pickles that refuses to open. You know, the kind you have to wrangle with a knife so the lid pops.
That’s why I read things out aloud. I learned this while doing my translations. Reciting my written text helped me find inconsistencies, disrupted flow, and other anomalies. So, since I like to think I’m not a fool, I transferred this skill to my other writing. It helped, immensely!
Write about what interests you
Otherwise known as ‘Write what you know’.
This is something so important, especially in today’s bizarre environment. People can not flourish in a place where they are forced to do things that go against their true self. There have even been rumors that some Disney writers have quit their jobs due to the incessant force-feeding of the woke agenda. And who could blame them?
That is why questions like ‘What genre do you write in’, or ‘Is your script inclusive enough’ will not fly with me. Now, I won’t go out of my way to not have diverse characters in my stories, but the ideology itself will not dictate my writing. Mine will. Shocker, isn’t it?
The fact is, that I am not interested in this nonsense. I just wish to bring my worlds to life, as they are. And you should do that, as well. It’s high time we stopped catering to all the lunatics who try to demand our work reflect their views. If you don’t like what I write, you are free to move on and find things you do like. Why waste either one of our time?
Time for a fun fact about Mrs. Vana. I suck. And I mean I really suck, at being clear. This was made abundantly clear to me while I attended a private writing school in the past. Boy, did they have problems with my prose, more than I could’ve ever imagined!
The problem with me, and I think many other writers, is that it is all very clear in our minds. The meadows, the shadows, the culture, everything makes sense. You must know what I’m talking about. And this would all be fine, if not for the attempt to describe it all as if to a good friend. A friend who is in the know.
So, make editing your best friend. As you go through the lines, and as someone else goes through them, you will find dubious things. Read out loud. Go through it again, another day. Does the text convey what you want it to convey? No? Keep fiddling with it. That’s what I do these days, anyway.
Save your attempts
This one is funny, as it reminds me of my husband. As a wizard of the technological, he has a memory bank of thousands of lines of code. It’s crazy to see him go, he can whip up just about anything in an instant!
I have a habit of hoarding my short stories. Many of them have since taken their rightful place in the greater realms. They are waiting for their time in the light. Unfortunately, I haven’t kept a dump file, where I would put all my random sentences or paragraphs. I might start one up soon.
When it comes down to it, we humans have a limited memory. That’s why all the wise people jot down their thoughts, their ideas, and why not lines of prose or poetry? Who knows, maybe one day you will browse your material, and your muse will yank the reigns. At that moment, something magical may happen. This is all your creation, keep it safe, and revered.
Feel the rhythm
Here, I can’t agree with Lewis’ on the point of the typewriter being disruptive. To me, as I write, the taps of the keyboard lull me into a mild trance. Everything disappears, and I live in the moment, in another world. It might just be the flow everyone always gushes about! And I have mechanical tapety-taps, they make quite the ruckus.
I find that the rhythm of the words, as Lewis puts it, is found in the essence of the story itself. After all, if the world around me flows, the words will flow too. That’s generally how my writing happens. Within this moment of calm, it’s like meditation. I don’t think, I feel, and most of all, I observe. It’s quite freaky, really. I sometimes forget to eat and drink while in it.
Know your words
What I would like to add to this, is that you need to know the words you use, as well as knowing the words your readers might not use. While I detest scripting my creations based on the mandates of others, I am a true believer in linguistic clarity. Why use something extravagant, something complicated, if I can say the same thing with simpler words?
Unless the character demands such extravagance, there is absolutely no need for all the fancyness. What are you trying to prove anyway? And to whom? I know I’m not impressed if a novel I’m reading is using random high words that don’t belong to it. But, to each to their own, I suppose. I’m warning you though. If you make prose like Hallgrímur Helgason in his book ‘The Author of Iceland’, I will put the book down within the first 10 pages. Wow, that language was thick!