Friday, October 11, 2013

4 Writing Lessons from a Praying Mantis (and Isaac Asimov)

view from the window October 2013

"You must keep sending work out; you must never let a manuscript do nothing but eat its head off in a drawer. You send that work out again and again, while you're working on another one. If you have talent, you will receive some measure of success--but only if you persist." --Isaac Asimov

One week it was hummingbirds out our porch room window. This past week the fascination--especially for the kids, cousins aged five, three, and almost three who played practically nonstop through a four-day visit--came in the form of one of the strangest of insect creatures, the praying mantis. "Come, look!" we said. "See if you can find the praying mantis among the vines."

An up-close encounter with the praying mantis coupled with discovering the above quote (thank you, Isaac!) elicited a chuckle. Parallels popped to mind between the strange insect, the quote, and the writer's life. Bear with me :-)

1. "You must keep sending work out..." A perfect camouflage cover, our cardinal creeper vine has the same same green hue as the mantis. The stick-like figure fades from view in its tangled shoots and leaves--never to be seen unless one intentionally focuses on it. Sort of like that manuscript buried in the bottom of the file drawer.

2. "You must never let a manuscript do nothing but eat its head off in a drawer..." You do know, don't you, that the female praying mantis is known for sometimes eating the male after mating? Don't let that manuscript lay in the drawer for fear it will eat its own head off!

3. "You send that work out again and again, while you're working on another one..." The praying mantis can turn its head 180 degrees. It also can scan its surroundings with two large compound eyes and three other simple eyes located between them (fact source: National Geographic). A writer would do well to emulate a praying mantis' observation skills, both in researching markets and in working on the next project--details, details, details.

4. "If you have  talent, you will receive some measure of success--but only if you persist..." The praying mantis, named for the bent position of its front legs, suggests a prayerful pose. Ah, a little talent and persistence as Isaac Asimov says and--my addition to the equation--maybe a little prayer? For me, it's one of the most important needs of a writer since, ultimately, success is a gift to be thankful for. So my goals for the upcoming week? Get that manuscript out of the drawer. Query with persistence. Attack the WIP. Attempt a poetry prompt or two to encourage the words to come. And pray.

Lessons from a praying mantis? You bet.

Any other parallels you see? Is there an insect you take inspiration from?


  1. Ants aren't very exciting ,until tou study what they're capable of building. They are admirably industrious. Best wishes for your writing goals next week.

  2. Great post! Lots of good lessons, especially the idea of working on a new manuscript while sending out the current one. And I think Cathy's comment about ants is a perfect way of seeing this wonderful writing community--think of all the contests hosted, free agent advice given on twitter, agent wish lists being shared, self-publishing support~ we really do create our own group success with this huge group effort being put into our corner of the blogosphere :)

  3. Cathy, love the analogy to the ant. The thought also struck me that the ant does what it does without a "boss"--overseer as Proverbs 6 tells us. That means successful writers motivate themselves and need to be self-starters. Hmmm, now that's food for thought this week :-) Thanks!

    And Jess, fantastic point about the writing community--so true. I marvel at the help that is out there--and how so many writers in these forums desire to give back to new writers coming along.The writers' community online is remarkable, and great friendships can be made. Thanks for sharing the thoughts...

  4. I need to do this more. I love the analogy - will never look at the praying mantis the same way again! Thanks for the inspiration! Hope you get a chance to write some of that poetry soon. :)

  5. Thanks back to you, Karen :-) And plans for more poetry is in the works. Maybe just as writing prompts, but then again those poetry contests you linked to over at your place really intrigue me...

  6. Well, I have to say I've felt like a worker bee this week -- buzzing around, working like crazy, and never having time to smell the roses (or taste the honey). Wonder what Isaac would say about that. :--)