Should Great Writers Steal?

You’ve probably heard the famous quote “good artists borrow, great artists steal” (commonly attributed to Pablo Picasso, but most likely originating from T.S. Eliot).

Before you sound the alarms, there is a world of difference between creatively copying and blatantly plagiarizing. Plagiarism, at least in the context of writing, is the act of taking another person’s work, word-for-word, and passing it off as one’s own. It is never acceptable, excusable, or, in the simplest of terms, ok.

What I like to call “creatively copying” would probably make more sense if I used the analogy of walking down an art museum hallway. You’re surrounded on all sides by splendidly crafted paintings of every era, of every classical artist. Clearly, these are all masterpieces. Then, just as you think you’ve seen it all, something catches your eye, something that stands out from the rest. For you, it might be the extraordinary pointillism in Georges Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte or that singular, swirling gold moon in Vincent Van Gogh’s The Starry Night.


You find an element that speaks to you, and from there are inspired to create your own pointillistic piece or painting themed around that luminous, eternal moon.

I believe that the same principle applies to writing.

For example, I first read George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones three years ago. As I read, I kept coming across small, striking descriptions that arrested me with how vividly they popped off the page into my mental image of the story. Every time I found one of these extraordinary wordings I would dog-ear the page, and by the time I got to the middle of the book I realized that there were just too many gems to continue damaging the paper. So I started to write them down.


This is just a small sample from my collection of descriptions.

What did I do with these phrases? Many remained untouched, isolated from their original sentences in the crumpled pages of my notebook. But I always kept them in the back of my mind, and as I was writing my novel I would suddenly remember the perfect pair of words for the perfect situation. I wouldn’t copy them directly, of course. “A reptile stare” became “a reptilian glare.” “Pale moon face” became “sunken, moon-shaped cheeks.” “Frog-faced” became “frog-like lips.”

I used the same technique for the rest of The Song of Ice and Fire series, and for many other books that stuck with me: Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind, Nicola Griffith’s Hild. They were just bite-sized, beautiful phrases, but one by one, they helped me to learn to look for remarkable qualities in simple descriptions.

I’m a firm believer that great writers must be great readers. And, by nature, a writer who reads is a writer who steals.

© 2016 Stellular Scribe

The Art of Bleeding Words

hemingway typewriterSometimes, writers get so caught up in the three Ps of prose (prepping, plotting, and plumping)* that they use outlines and character sheets and thesauruses as crutches for creativity. Don’t get me wrong — I’ll be the first to advocate for a little outside assistance when it comes to laying out your story and sparking inspiration. It’s good to do research, to have resources on hand, to feel confident in what you write.

But often, the best way to write free from reservations is to just go for it without fearing run-on sentences or flat adjectives or continuity. I think Ernest Hemingway said it best:

There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.

In less eloquent terms: spew out word vomit.

Find a comfortable space. Listen to some music or hone into the natural noise around you. Take a deep breath. Ready your typewriter (or writing hand or laptop or other device). And write. Don’t look at a thesaurus. Don’t go googling every little thing that pops in your head. Trust your instincts, and write.

You should never write to fill space. Write to fill your thoughts.

*prepping — worldbuilding, character development, establishing setting
  plotting — outlining, structuring of rising and falling events
  plumping — syntax, description, and other word magic.

© 2016 Stellular Scribe
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If Writing Is Selfish, Then I Am Scrooge

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I’m sure by now most writers have heard the worn-thin saying that anyone who puts pen to paper is a selfish creature. It was George Orwell who said:

All writers are vain, selfish and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives lies a mystery. Writing a book is a long, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.

I suppose that when I first read Orwell’s “Why I Write,” I was reluctant to attach myself to any of those harsh adjectives. I wasn’t vain. I certainly wasn’t selfish. Heck, I was the neurotic opposite of lazy. Writing wasn’t a struggle; it was a pleasure. I was, as far as I knew, devoid of demons.

When I think back on it, when I first absorbed Orwell’s long-echoed advice (or rather, observations), I wasn’t doing much writing myself. I said I was a writer, and I loved writing — but I hadn’t yet attached myself to a project I was passionate about or truly committed my free time to improving my craft. When I started to write more and actually develop characters and worlds and plot lines that I cared about, that quote meant something completely different to me.

Writing was a selfish act, I realized. I was selfish. I was the Scrooge of my own, blocked-off world, a world that I thought worth investing precious time into.

When we write, we pour our hearts into something that, at first, only exists to us. By simply believing that what we write matters, we indulge in egotism. When we write for ourselves, we are self-indulgent. When we write for others, we are vain. When we are vain, we run the risk of creating self-inserts — and after all, aren’t self-inserts selfish?

At first, it was an unsettling notion.

But then I thought about what the word “selfish” actually meant, and it didn’t seem so callous and narrow-minded. Merriam-Webster defines it as

concerned excessively or exclusively with oneself :  seeking or concentrating on one’s own advantage, pleasure, or well-being without regard for others.

Isn’t it a good thing to care about yourself? Isn’t seeking to improve your mind and pursue your passions what you should always be doing? Writing “without regard for others” might seem harsh, but really, all it means is to do what you want without worrying about what others think. Write the story that you want to write, not the one that you think will sell or be critically acclaimed.

I, for one, am proud to be a Scrooge if it means doing what I love unapologetically. 

 © 2016 Stellular Scribe
If you’re interested in my illustrations; get this design on a t-shirt or other product at Redbubble! Thanks. 🙂


Writing: The Early Bird

ideas wake me

I feel like we hear a lot about the writer who works into the dead of night, scraping out word after sleep-deprived word until the morning light creeps through her window.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m guilty of the stereotype. It is currently 1 a.m. as I am writing this and I haven’t even eaten dinner yet.

But I think there’s a lot to be said for the proactive early bird, who wakes ready to write. I think — and this is shocking, coming from me, the ultimate night owl — that they might actually have a brilliant thing going for them.

I don’t need an alarm clock. My ideas wake me.
— Ray Bradbury

I am an incredibly unpleasant person in the morning, so of course it was a good idea for me to try out this waking-up-at-a-reasonable-hour-and-actually-being-productive thing. Yeah…maybe not. The first day I snoozed through the alarm and had barely enough time to get myself ready for school, let alone make time to write. The second day was the same. And the third. And the fourth. And the — you know what? Let’s just skip ahead a week.

Finally, finally, I forced myself out of bed at the bright and beautiful hour of 5 a.m. On a Saturday. Ugh.

I had a plan that I was determined to stick with. No coffee. No food. No checking my phone. No email or social media. No distracting, click-bait websites. No leaving my room. And absolutely no rolling back into bed.

That last one was the toughest.

I moved to my desk, drank the glass of water I had placed there the night before, and opened my notebook. That’s right; I went at it the old-fashioned way. Ol’ pen to paper, the hearty handwritten word. At first I found it foreign, trying to process my waking thoughts onto a physical page.

I wrote random thoughts, micro observations, pieces of half-remembered dreams and broken poems. Honestly, it felt like word vomit.

But then I settled into something tangible, an almost-narrative that was unlike anything I had written at night. I can’t even describe what made it distinctive. It just felt different.

I felt clear-headed, my words felt clean-cut, my writing felt straightforward and on task. I still had the dark blanket of night to block out any unwanted senses, but I also had the unhindered mind of someone who had just gotten her full eight hours and was ready to seize the day.

There’s something about waking up and writing without letting the stress of the day sink in yet that makes you hyper-aware of your thoughts. You become conscientious of what you have not yet started, thorough with what you have already begun. When you write at night, the day’s strain has already piled on top of you, and you write with it bearing on your back. And while this can allow for incredibly creative, inspired, and meaningful works, it’s not the same as waking and writing with nothing but the raw, original word.

So, what have I learned from this? Will I change my night-writing ways? Eh…probably not. I mean, the time’s now 1:30 a.m. — so there goes that prospect. But I do think everyone should at least give it a try, and I want to carry with me the concept of waking up with ideas rather than irritabilities. I enjoyed this little experiment. And now I’m going to sleep.

© 2016 Stellular Scribe
If you’re interested in my illustrations; get this design on a t-shirt or another product at Redbubble! Thanks. 🙂

Writing: Architects and Gardeners

 I think there are two types of writers, the architects and the gardeners.

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The architects plan everything ahead of time, like an architect building a house. They know how many rooms are going to be in the house, what kind of roof they’re going to have, where the wires are going to run, what kind of plumbing there’s going to be. They have the whole thing designed and blueprinted out before they even nail the first board up.

planting panel 2.png

The gardeners dig a hole, drop in a seed and water it. They kind of know what seed it is, they know if planted a fantasy seed or mystery seed or whatever. But as the plant comes up and they water it, they don’t know how many branches it’s going to have, they find out as it grows.


And I’m much more a gardener than an architect.


~ George R.R. Martin


Illustrations by © 2016 Stellular Scribe
If you’re interested in my illustrations; get these designs on a t-shirt or as stickers at Redbubble! Thanks. 🙂

How Writing Poetry Has Helped My Fiction

If you pop by my blog often, you might notice that I write a lot of poetry in my spare time. Like, a lot. I think the current count is at well over one hundred poems in just this past year. Lord, whatever you do, do not go back and look at the early stuff. I was fifteen and angsty and I don’t want to talk about it.

With this is mind, it might also surprise you to know that poetry really isn’t my forte. I spend many more hours of the night writing novels, elaborate stories, and all sorts of whimsical fictions.

I picked up poetry by accident.

I’ve been working on my current novel for about a year and a half now (slow and steady wins the race — right?), and about mid-way through it I got to a scene where my main character was supposed to overhear a stranger sing a song that he recognized.

I did the only thing I could do, and whipped out the ol’ rhyming dictionary.

Oh, it was garbage (I can say that now), but something about that shambled-together, trite, melodramatic song opened my eyes to the potential of poetry. That song added an entirely new, visceral dimension to my story: atmosphere, fluidity, voice, movement.

My writing as a whole felt strengthened, so I made it a habit of jotting down poems everyday. As I became more comfortable, I experimented with more forms, styles, and meters. I abandoned a rhyme scheme; I rhymed religiously. I did away with punctuation and capitalization; I carefully molded each section of each sentence.

I know that to some people, poetry can seem scary. It feels like an entirely foreign, much more formidable beast than pure prose.

But I’m here to tell you that poetry really isn’t that different, and writing a little on the side might even help your fiction.

1. Capturing distinct sensations and imagery.

Poetry can be written for many different reasons — but it almost always seeks to convey some sort of image, be it concrete or abstract. Fiction in and of itself is the consolidation of diverse images to create a storyline.

The more poetry I write, the easier I find it to procure similes and metaphors to illustrate objects, meanings, and sensations. The more poetry I write, the more readily I reach into synecdoche, metonymy, and onomatopoeia to personify and paint scenes.

Poetry forces you to discover sharper, more powerful images. In fact, there was an entire movement in the early 2oth century where “imagists” considered the image to be the most important aspect of the written language. William Carlos Williams was well know for his simplistic yet highly evocative poetry. For example, here’s his 1923 poem, “The Red Wheelbarrow.”

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

Now, take away the stanza structure and add some punctuation, and you’ve got a beautiful sentence that could strike color into any prose: “So much depends upon a red wheelbarrow, glazed with rainwater beside the white chickens.”



2. Perfecting pacing. 

Whether you’re writing free verse or a meticulously metered sonnet, poetry is all about pacing. Every choice must be deliberate yet effortless — not too short, not too long, avoid superfluous words, and use just the right amount of description to get your image across.

When I write stories, I often have difficulty managing the pacing. Sometimes I’ll get so wrapped up in a plotline or a particular paragraph of characterization that the end result will be either too long, too dull, or too disjointed.

Poetry has taught me to let my writing breathe. Every word must have a purpose and serve to move the story forward.



3. Balancing different emotions. 

I surprised myself with this one — I thought that I had my characters all figured out. I thought that they were well represented as emotionally complex individuals. I thought I was something special for creating such substantial individuals.

Yeah…then I started writing more poetry, and realized just how flat they actually fell.

I wrote poems — lots of small, un-extraordinary poems — that forced me to tap into emotions that I had never considered before. I truly experienced my characters through their eyes, and I delved into dark, unfathomable parts of their hearts and bright, mysterious places alike.

To give an example, here is a poem called “Wrecked” that I wrote over a year and a half ago:

They left me folded in sheets
of sand — wrapped in molding bandages
on the bed of the shore, with the surf
licking my frozen toes.
The gull who weeps for his friends
long dead is much like me — a nomad
with no name and no clan;
a roamer rejected by rose-ravished
words. Here I waste away,
repeatedly bitten by the wind’s sharpened
teeth — left to rot.

I discovered something intensely hopeless about the character this poem was written about. Something savage and vain, yet somehow wistful.

After this poem, I wrote that character anew — and for the better.



4. Writing with the natural rhythm of speech. 

Rhythm is separate from pacing in that it deals with the fluidity, eloquence, and overall cadence of a piece of writing. In poetry, some semblance of rhythm is almost unavoidable. The same should be said for fiction and other forms of prose.

While you shouldn’t always write “how you talk”, you should always write with the rhythm of speech in mind. What I love about poetry is that it is intended to be read aloud, and therefore must have a certain “flow” about it that cooperates with the voice.

Simply put, the more poetry you write, the more fluently you will consider the world around you and your subject matter at hand. You’ll find your own unique rhythm!



5. Committing. 

Maybe this is just me, but poetry actually inspired me to write more prose.

I got on a schedule of writing poetry, becoming overcome by a deep impulse to translate my newly realized emotions, sensations, and images into fiction, and buckling down to work on a story.

I’m by no means a poetry connoisseur. I’m also nowhere near being a fully functioning, organized member of society.

But somehow, poetry made me commit. And I will forever be grateful because of it.

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So, what are your thoughts? Do you write poetry? Fiction? Do you find any meaningful connection between the two forms?

Thanks, and happy writing! 🙂

© 2016 Stellular Scribe


Top 10 Worldbuilding Resources for Writers


Imagine that you’ve just sat down to dinner and someone sets an enormous plate of all your favorite foods in front of you. Mmm. For me, it would be baked ziti, my dad’s famous purple potatoes, and bread. Lots and lots of bread.

Supporting everything — from the meaty bits to the peas and corn to the loaded baked potato — is your trusty, sturdy plate. Your plate might be beneath everything, it might be obscured by the pasta or muddied by the gravy, but it’s everywhere, upholding everything, keeping it all together, all the time. Your plate is vital to your dining experience, even though it’s not the part that you actually eat.

In fiction writing, the surrounding world is vital to your reading experience, even though it’s not the center of the actual plot.

The plate is the world, the ziti and potatoes are your plot and characters, and this is my attempt at a worldbuilding metaphor.

Terrible analogies aside (I apologize profusely), I’ve compiled a few of my favorite go-to sites for inspiring rich worlds in my writing. Dig in!

1. For names:

A list of this nature would not be complete if I didn’t introduce you all to FANTASY NAME GENERATORS

Holy mother of Middle Earth, this site never ceases to amaze me. From every fantasy, sci-fi, realistic, and ridiculous character name you can think of to the names of bridges, film studios, space stations, weapons and the like, FANTASY NAME GENERATORS has everything you need to get started on this vast worldbuilding frontier.

If you’re suffering severe writer’s block, they even have description generators of castles, societies, cultures, holidays, and diseases.

2. For beginnings:

Behold the majestic CHAOTIC SHINY, for here all great nations are born!

Ok, but seriously, this site has made me think about worldbuilding in ways that I never thought possible. Here you can build constellations, establish laws, develop civilizations, and map out demographics.

My advice would be to play around with some of the generators until something piques your interest (I found the crowd generator very helpful for writing descriptions of citizens in a village), and then see where it takes you!

3. For languages:

What’s the saying? “The limits of my language are the limits of my world” [x]. Well, never fear, because now your world can be limitless as you craft languages with SCRIBOLY.

Building a language from scratch is no easy feat, and depending on the depth of which you want to go in your writing, it doesn’t have to be time-consuming! Maybe a character will sprinkle their speech with foreign words, or maybe the language is only used in passing. To keep the meaning and syntax consistent, try out SCRIBOLY by typing in your desired phonemes and translating your text.

No world is dominated by just one language, so if you have more than one culture/civilization, play around with the word patterns and see what unique sounds you can generate.

4. For maps:

Beware! Here be maps at POLYGON MAP GENERATION

If you can’t seem to get a solid image of what the geography of your world looks like, flip through some random map designs until you find one that works for you. Knowing the layout of your world is important for keeping cities, trade routes, and ports consistent as your character traverses the land.

5. For religions:

Every respectable universe needs to have an abundance of religions to tear it apart. Or maybe it’s one to unite it? You decide at BELIEF SYSTEM GENERATOR.

This site is especially interesting because it breaks down the origins of your world according to beliefs, minor/major deities, nuances in afterlife, morals, rituals, and clergy. Again, I’m not saying that you should copy every detail that you randomly generate — it’s just a great place to start.

What’s more, you can even compare multiple religions side by side to see how they might interact in your potential world.

6. For mythology:

A lot of what shapes culture comes from the wild tangles of imagination and the supernatural. Draw from a plethora of real world myths to inspire your own folklore and legends at ANCIENT MYTHOLOGY.

It was at this site that I first read about Zoroastrianism, and from there was inspired to create a series of fables for my novel. Most of what we create is based off history, so why not take a look at some of Mother Earth’s greatest stories? May it be Japanese mythology or Mesopotamian superstitions, I’m sure that something in the archives of ANCIENT MYTHOLOGY will inspire you.

7. For tropes:

Some writers try to avoid tropes like the plague. I say, take advantage of them! Find something done before and make it your own at TV TROPES.

Explore different world settings (Medieval European Fantasy or Space Opera?), cultural ticks (Martyrdom Culture or Immortality Seeker?), and religious whims (Robot Religion or Easy Evangelism?). Of course, I’m not advocating for anyone to adopt these tropes (they’re called tropes for a reason — because they’re overdone), but I think that sometimes the most ground-breaking, striking worlds are ones that take tropes and twist them.

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8. For questions to answer:

SFWA has composed an extensive and impressive list of questions to keep in mind when worldbuilding. Please, read through the questions. You’d be surprised at some of the seemingly mundane things that really make a world pop.

9. For asking questions:

Can’t come up with the right answer to one of those questions? Go ahead and ask it at STACK EXCHANGE WORLDBUILDING. This is a great site for getting technical. I myself am woefully uninformed on physics, and if not for these forums, my world would probably lack gravity.

10. For music:

What’s a rich world without a rich soundtrack? Head on over to 8TRACKS or another internet radio of your choice and check out the fantasy, writing, and soundtrack tags. Sometimes, the right mood music can get you in the right frame of mind for making up cultures.

Be sure to check out my personal music suggestions on Music Mondays!


Ah, there’s nothing like a hearty plate of well-done worldbuilding.

Good luck, and happy writing! 🙂

© 2016 Stellular Scribe