Word Wars, Sprints, and Crawls (Oh my)

The main focus of my creativity quest is revolving around Camp NaNoWriMo, striving to hit my goal of 50,000 words by the end of the month. I came out strong, getting over 10,000 words in a single day at one point. But it never fails: I always start to falter when I make it to the halfway point. My stories lose a little bit of steam and I am easily distracted by household chores and reading other people’s books rather than writing my own. I’ve done enough of these challenges to know that this is pretty routine for me. So how do you re-energize yourself when you find yourself itching to pick up the TV remote? Simple: you turn it into a game.

            There are a lot of fun ways to step up your word count goal. There are prompts, sprints, crawls and wars; oh my, my darlings, wherever will we start?

The Prompts

Prompts are a pretty basic way to reinvigorate your writing, although it can feel challenging at times to insert a prompt right in the middle of an existing project- that’s the fun part. For these you can pick something off-the wall, a vague concept, or simply take a detour from your story to gain new perspective on your characters or the elements influencing them.

  • Fan-Fiction Freestyle: Pick a favorite character and insert them into your story (you can change their name and general appearance, but have the core of that person remain true to the character you chose). What will they do int the world you created, how will they interact with your characters? What kind of mischief could they insert into the story line?
  • Volcano Theory: What unexpected eruption would have the most impact on your character and how will they respond to it? It could be in a relationship (an unexpected kiss), emotional (a blind-siding truth bomb), physical (a building collapses, a sucker-punch in a crowd), or natural (an actual volcanic eruption, anyone). The key here is to make create an explosion that changes the landscape of your story
  • Extra, Extra, Read All About It: Flip through a magazine or a newspaper (or click a random link from a news site). Whatever the article is- incorporate it into your story. This one can be fun because you can tailor your choices a bit: interested in a sci-fi element, search out a science magazine. Want pop culture: hello, People. Want something truly random: National Geographic, Archeology Magazine- there are a lot of good choices out there. You never know what you are going to find. It could even be an ad for a new dry shampoo: perhaps your character will have to use it to cause an explosion in a bathroom so they can escape and hitch a ride on the nearest passenger plane.
  • Style Swap: Change up your genre. Writing sci-fi? Create a scene in the style of an over-the-top soap opera. Working through a post-apocalyptic piece? Insert some poetry. In the middle of a murder mystery? Why not toss in some hints at paranormal elements?
  • This is the Worst: What is the worst possible thing that could happen to your character right now? Make it happen. Our characters are forged through the crucibles we lead them through.
  • Getting in Their Heads: Stick your MC on the proverbial therapist’s couch. What are they thinking and feeling, how are they dealing right now? What is scaring them, what is motivating them, what is confusing them? Will they break down? Are they in denial? Will they push therapist away, start throwing things? Get under their skin and in their heads, do a deep dive to understand them a little bit better.
  • Playful POV’s: Write a scene from another character’s POV. It will help you find more depth within the scene and understand the motivations behind each of your characters- you want 3 dimensions for all of them, not just the coveted MC. What is their motivation, what makes them tic? How will they response to these situations? This one is really good to help develop a scene and give it more depth. Plus, sometimes those characters will take you in very unexpected directions.  

Word Sprints

Word Sprints are fairly simply. Just pick a certain amount of time you want to write, set your timer and go! Try to beat your own records, or join a group (you can find them in the Nano Forums, on Twitter- all kinds of places) to see how your word count lines up.

Word Wars

Wars are very similar to Sprints. You pick a friend, stranger, person in the street- and have a friendly competition to see who can get the most words in a set challenge. Most often you see this with timed sprints, but you can also challenge someone to a crawl, or an overall daily count challenge. Alternatively, you can attempt a ‘time trials’ version where you only compete with yourself. (Current-you can totally kick past-you’s booty, you got this!)

The Fifty Headed Hydra Challenge

This is perhaps the most famous of the sprint challenges. The premise itself is pretty simple, though it is considered to be one of the harder ones to accomplish. You set your timer for 5 minutes. The goal here is to see if you can hit 500 words before that timer goes off. The key to winning: write with frantic abandon. Don’t worry about punctuation errors or spelling. Just type/write as fast as your hands will allow. The legend behind the name is that the original creator managed to hit the illusive 500 word goal, but the only words they spelled correctly were ‘fifty,’ ‘headed,’ and ‘hydra.’ And thus: the lore was born.

World Crawls

Crawls are my absolute favorites. They are fun, challenging, and combine all of the previous challenges together into a pocket-sized epic adventure. My big NaNo goal is to do a crawl every single day of NaNo. I haven’t managed it yet- it usually requires a bit more prep than I’ve put into it. Perhaps in November you’ll see me giving it another shot.

Crawl are narrative-style challenges that walk you through a particular storyline while peppering you with writing challenges you have to complete before moving on. They are almost always themed. You can find just about anything: generic D&D style, fandom oriented, fantasy, romance- just about anything you can imagine. The most popular usually surround fandoms: think Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Sherlock Holmes, Hunger Games- the list is truly endless and new ones are being created every day. Some can be finished in under 30 minutes while others carry you through multi-day epic adventures. In the end you tally up the number of words the crawl got you and then you get to celebrate your victory.

Below is a link to the Fun and Games section of the blog. On that page I will be regularly adding new crawls and other games. At the moment there is just my own first attempt- The Mummy Word Crawl. Check back over time and you’ll be able to catch some new additions.

Fun and Games: Writing Edition

The Journey Begins (Creativity Quest to Save the Muse)

The sun had barely crested the horizon when I pulled on my worn leather boots and slung my pack over my shoulder. I hadn’t told the innkeeper what time I would be leaving, I didn’t want her to be worried about seeing me off. She hadn’t wanted me to go to begin with. “Tis too dangerous out there for someone in your condition,” she had warned, “Orcs, dragons, the creatures of the forest, the mages in the western lands; who knows what you will come across. You should just stay right here where it’s safe. I could use the extra help.” She knew her words were falling on deaf ears, that my mind was already made up. I had a Muse to rescue, and my heart would never sing again if she remained locked away in that tower.

I tiptoed past the rows of tables, making my way to the front door. “Thought you would go without me noticing, did you?” I jumped when I heard the voice from across the darkened room. She stood in the doorway to the kitchens, arms crossed over her chest, “You forget, my child, you are not the first adventurer to lay your head under my roof. I know what that spark in your eyes means, I knew you would be leaving in the next day or two.” She reached down to the table beside her and picked up a small package wrapped in brown paper and tied together with twine. “It isn’t much, but it should keep you from starving,” she waited for me to take the bundle and gently add it to my little pack.

Her eyes seemed distant when she spoke next, “I can’t tell you how many people I’ve watched walk out that door in search of adventure. Most of them don’t ever come back,” she watched me closely for a moment before continuing, “Do me a favor, if you can. Whatever it is that you are searching for- don’t give up on it until you find it. And once you do, I want you to come back here, sit in front of this very fire, and tell me your grand tale. I could use a good story to lighten my heart.” She nodded her head once before turning back towards the kitchen, busying herself with the morning chores. She refused to look back in my direction.

The village was swathed in shadows as I made my way outside. The pre-dawn sky was filled with roiling gray clouds that drizzled lazily over the landscape. A small shiver raced down my spine, though I couldn’t tell if it was from the cold or sheer anticipation. The weather promised a storm would be soon to follow; perhaps not the best time to begin a grand adventure. But I knew if I waited another day, I would simply fade into the background of this place. It would be far too easy to ignore the voice that was calling me forward and hide inside the inn with its crackling fire and lively conversations. No, it was now or never. Even if that meant I was walking straight into a hurricane; that was better than wasting away in the comfort of routine and expectation.

I took a deep breath and placed my foot on the cobbled bridge that led out of the village and towards the Forrest of Furies. There were rumors of fearsome beasts and midnight Whisps that delighted in confusing the wayward traveler. It was time I learn what truths this strange place carried. It was time start the journey.

What kind of tale would Bilbo have been able to tell if the path to the Lonely Mountain had been paved and well-traveled? Every good story starts with strife. It is practically a requirement that things will start out a bit rocky, jarring you from the comfortable routines you have slipped into. The real adventure is found within the challenges, the monsters faced, the tests overcome, the burdens carried; these are the things that will crystalize your character into its greatest version. Some days you may want to load up your pack and turn around; Bilbo craved the sanctuary of The Shire many nights. But he continued on regardless: this quest will be much the same. There will be days you want to stop, but if you keep going, your art and your soul will sing.

This past week I made my first valiant attempt at rescuing my Muse. To be honest, I probably looked a bit more like Don Quixote rather than Geralt of Rivia as I charged into my personal battle. But the key takeaway: I still charged in. In spite of everything inside of me telling me to give myself a break and do it tomorrow- I tried. Did I fail? Oh, spectacularly at times. But I also stumbled across a few unexpected successes.

If the past COVID year has taught me anything, it’s that creativity can be found in the most unlikely of places. For me, a huge amount of my innovative thought funnels straight into my workplace. Last year was all about learning how to function in The Upside Down, finding patch-gap solutions and fine-tuning them as we went. It was clunky, challenging, and incredibly exhausting- but we did it. Like an earthquake, COVID completely changed the landscape of my working life. Which means that now that we are slipping into Phase Two (Operation Reopening) we aren’t in a position to just flip a switch and send everything back to the way that it was. My old job will never exist again in the form it once did. We are all evolved Pokémon now, there is no going back. Once again we are being challenged to come up with new innovative ideas, to create a hybrid of what once existed, and mash it up with what we’ve been doing for the past year. Coming from a field that is notoriously resistant to change, this is a unique and unprecedented opportunity. It is a chance to flex those creative muscles again, albeit a different kind.

And while I won’t spend much (or really any) time talking about my day job or the creative challenges I face there, I do think it’s important to include this element in your personal quest. Don’t sell yourself short or ignore a successful venture just because it wasn’t an artistic masterpiece: sometimes solving a work-related problem takes even more novel ideas than anything else you could make. Celebrate those wins, acknowledge the mental energy they take- because otherwise you will feel like you are failing when you don’t have the extra energy once you get home to do even more. Creativity comes in so many forms: in your professional life, in caregiving roles, in making dinner, heck- even in parking the car at times. Always give yourself credit for these roles.

And now moving on to my personal creative challenges: the past week I have put my entire focus on writing. More specifically, I’ve been taking part in Camp Nano. I set my goal for 50,000 words by the end of the month. Although I secretly hope to hit a double NaNo (100,000 words total, gulp). Now, I’ve participated in Nano events since 2013, and have logged in over a million words through the various challenges. I used to win every year and prided myself on that streak. But then a life event happened that sent me reeling. It was like the earth cracked in half and swallowed me whole. It’s taken be several years to my way back to the surface again.

People respond to trauma in a variety of ways. For me- I felt like I had been burnt to ash and needed to rebuild myself from scratch. Writing had always been my identity, and suddenly I had run out of words. I was tapped, I didn’t have it in me anymore to create. My well had run dry. As silly as it sounds, I remember trying to compete in Nano and losing. I remember how that made me feel like I was less than the girl I had been. Who was I if I wasn’t a writer, a creator? Who was I going to be if I couldn’t complete this one silly challenge I had done for years?

The truth of the matter is you have to give yourself time. Healing is not something that can be rushed through. I’ve tried Nano for the past three years and almost always failed. When I did meet my goal it was with gibberish ramblings that weren’t ever going to be useable in any project. But then this year happened. And while I am not sure why it felt different: it did. I’ve been preparing myself for months, amping myself up through this Creativity Quest (which you are probably realizing means a lot more to me than just upping my productivity- it’s a search for self: the version of me I miss, the one I want to be again).

            The truly exciting thing: it meant that for the first time in three years, I was actually ready for my Nano challenge. And guys- I’ve been doing it! Since the first of July I have written over 43,000 words, meaning my goal for a double Nano is actually within reach. Now, you have to keep in mind: I was on vacation for the first few days of July, and I didn’t complete any other thing on my vacation to-do list. You also have to realize that now that we are over a week in, reality is starting to step in the way and my numbers have gone way down the past few days. I have to refocus on finding a balance. But damn, it felt like I had finally broken the curse. I was me again, I was the girl with ten different stories running through her brain, the girl who could throw in a plot twist and pivot with a moment’s notice. I was a writer again.

I feel like my writing is bringing me back home, helping me discover that, though I am a very different woman now, there are some things that will never change, no matter what I go through. For the first time in a long time I have hope back on my side, and it feels so amazing.

I’m working on adding new elements to the challenge. A coworker of mine is a pretty awesome artist, and she’s going to start giving me lunchtime lessons with watercolors. I have some house projects that need to be completed- shelves that need repainted and a string art piece that’s (hopefully) going to grace my bathroom wall. Plus, a monster travel-wall project for my entryway that is going to take a long of ingenuity (particularly if I don’t want to spend a small fortune-which I don’t really have on hand to spend, so there we go).

So on we march, my brave adventurers, to see what awaits us beyond the next veil of trees. Keep creating, even if those creations aren’t at all what you were expecting.

Creativity Challenge

  • Join Camp Nano and begin to write- any goal, any type of project, just start moving the words from your head to the page
  • Draw a picture of the forest you are about to enter
  • Sculpt a monster you might find in these woods
  • Create a camp-out meal creation and taste-test in a backyard picnic

Creating Space for Creativity (Rescue the Muse)

Okay my friends, we’ve beat around the bush, skirted the issue, but now it’s time to finally dive in. I want to talk about your room. But don’t worry, this isn’t like those times your mom would yell at you about having too many cups on your nightstand, or your in laws would make passive aggressive comments about the location of the antique they gifted you last week or the length of the grass. Oddly specific examples, right? Any resemblance these have to real life situations are 100% intention, I’m looking at you family.

Cultivating a creative space can be incredibly hard, but it is vitally important to nurturing your ideas until they are ready to flourish. This can make the difference between forcing yourself to sit down and practice your craft, or enticing you to willingly go flirt with your muse. If you ask 50 different artists what is the most important element to their creative space, you’ll get 51 different answers. Some are firm supporters in the idea that you must completely empty your surroundings, keeping it devoid of any stimulation that could distract you from your projects. Others vehemently expound on the virtues of immersing yourself in chaos, filling the void with all things that spark your passion and curiosity.

I don’t have any magic beans that will grow the perfect atmosphere for your adventures. I can’t pluck out the secret ingredient that will ferment into a fine wine of inspiration. I’ve spent years searching for the right answer, the perfect space, the design to end all designs. I haven’t found it yet, and in truth; I don’t think I ever will. Though that may sound depressing and a bit defeatist, it’s actually the opposite. When you stop searching for the ‘perfect’ anything; you grant yourself permission to be free and messy. What you do with that newfound freedom is completely up to you.

Cultivating a creative space is a lot like buying a new pair of jeans. Sure, you can commit to one option blindly. Or you can step into the dressing room and do a couple of lunges first to see if they feel right. What looks adorable on your Pinterest board could drive you batty in the real world. Trust me, I would know; my office has gone through about 50,000 incarnations to reach where it’s at. And it’s really nothing to write home about.

Some people thrive in zen plant spaces, others need splashes of paint and neon shapes that glow in the dark, still others won’t feel the same without a wall of their favorite books staring at them. For me: I need all of the above.

I am a bit of a nomad when I’m working. I will wander from my office to the bedroom, bedroom to the back yard, back yard to the living room, living room to the kitchen table. I used to berate myself for this: after all of the time I spent working on my office and making it truly feel like mine, why wasn’t I spending my time actually working in there?

The answer was rather simple: what I need changes and evolves as I’m working. I am primarily a writer who likes to dabble in other crafts and artistic endeavors. Some scenes require the calm simplicity of my kitchen counters, the wild weirdness of my office, the comfort of the bedroom, the enveloping arms of nature that I get outside. Sometimes I need complete silence that is only found in my garage, and others I need the camaraderie I feel when I plop down on the futon in my spouse’s space.

A huge unsung aspect of creativity is evolution. We are constantly challenging ourselves to explore our boundaries and skills, to assess what we can do differently, to play with falsely confident brush strokes in the hopes that it will provoke beauty. If our space isn’t evolving with us, then perhaps we need to reevaluate where we stand in our work. One of the first signs that I’m in a creative rut: I stop playing with my surroundings. I sit in the same chair day after day without variation.

But just because that’s the way I work, doesn’t mean that’s what is right for everyone else. What works for me could drive another human to the brink of insanity. Others feel like their most creative selves when they stick to a routine: I will write in this place at this time on these days without fail. A multitude of famous authors work this way. But alas, I am not one of them.

The key aspect of creating your space: you need to live in it, breathe in it, make it truly your own. Toy around with what you enjoy, what inspires you, what makes you feel like taking action. After all of the personal deep-dives we’ve done in our Creativity Challenge, you probably have at least an inkling of what your creative side craves. Find a way to balance all of your Muse’s needs with your own. Don’t be afraid of experimentation.

While you are more than welcome to explore all avenues of your creative venture, it seemed important to note a few tips that have worked for me.

Keep your space clean. I know it sounds silly, and maybe you will bristle at the suggestion because you’d rather tango with chaos- that’s all fine. But I do strongly suggest a more organized chaos. I can’t work when it’s messy. I mean, that’s not entirely true- I can’t work when it’s a certain level of messy. I don’t have to vacuum and pick up every sock or straighten each book before I work. But I can’t have piles looking at me, lurking in corners. If I’m working in the kitchen I have to either make sure the sink isn’t overflowing with dishes, or I have to turn my back and force myself to refocus on my work (the second option will usually result in some miffed house-mates, so proceed with caution). If I’m in my room there can’t be a pile of clothes waiting to be folded. When I’m in the backyard oversized weeds can’t be taunting me from behind the daisies. And if I’m in my office, I always hope and pray that the Littles didn’t just finish playing hide-and-seek in there (they gravitate towards my nerdy stuff like moths to a flame, which means anytime the nieces and nephews are around you can pretty much guarantee that my fluffy star wars army has gone to battle, the casualties are littered across three rooms, and Yoda is hidden somewhere wearing a cowboy hat and a pink ‘birthday girl’ sash). Like I said, experiment with the chaos, but rein it in a little.

This dovetails into organization. You don’t need to have your space color-coded and catalogued, but your artistic self will sing praises in your honor if s/he can find that indigo paint and those tiny brushes right when they need it. Knowing where the clean notebooks are, or what happened to your pencil sharpener will save you a lot of time and frustration in the long run. Nothing ruins my creative flow quite like these pesky little details that interrupt my vibe. My spaces tend to get messier as a project progresses; I move things and leave them in different areas assuming I’ll be back soon to continue. You don’t have to keep your space spotless, but I suggest you clean out those drawers and re-stack the construction paper before you start any big projects. Organization up front will save you a world of trouble on the back end.

Be versatile. You don’t have to have a lot of space in order to make versatile work areas. Having different rooms that speak to different pieces of you can be amazing; but isn’t all that realistic if you are living in a studio or sharing space with others. Even little things, like facing a different direction, can be helpful. Have your nature-stuff near the window, your bright art pieces along the back wall, a nerdy carpet partially draped under your bed, a little blanket fort and lamp you can pop up when you need plain walls and isolation (I would recommend a small fan as well, it gets a little stuffy under there).

Make it your own. Don’t be afraid to pair weird things together. Throw all of those fancy interior design books out the window (unless, you know, you like them). Be unapologetic in your exploration of what sparks your passions. Stick a vintage typewriter next to a baby Yoda doll. Pair your plant with a charcoal sketch of a demon. Put your travel pillow next to your poster of The Fat Lady from Harry Potter (you laugh, but I actually have one of those on the back of my closet door in my office. She was meant for an escape room birthday party I was planning that never came to fruition. Thanks COVID). Be wild and spontaneous. Show the world that you are as unexpected as the big plot twist in Project Hail Mary (awesome book that I just finished, incidentally). Embrace your weird, your beautiful, your crazy, your tame, your goofy, your inspiring self.

And if you are able: carry this passion into different rooms and spaces in your life. Dress up your cubicle, decorate the car, deck out your whole house in the things that bring you joy and excitement. Color your surroundings with odds and ends that make you wonder, concepts that spark your curiosity. Fill your browser history with oddball questions, stack your bookshelf with unusual finds, slip odd ensambles into your closet. Fill your life with the things that make you want to explore and wonder and create. I promise, you will be happier for it.

Below I am including an assortment of my creative spaces from several places I have been lucky enough to call home. One of them was far more conducive to…shall we call it unusual decorating styles. I could have included some of my more nature-themed spaces, but truthfully- I have always had so much for fun creating these nerdy areas where I felt like I could really dive into the things that make me who I am. And though it isn’t a decorative choice, I’ve also included pictures of my meme worthy Bulbasaur. It was an online purchase that went horribly wrong in all the best ways (he was supposed to be a Halloween guy with a jack-o-lantern on his back: obviously what I got was not as advertised). He has, however, turned into one of my favorite games. My partner and I hide him around the house for the other to find. After six months we have definitely been forced to get a little more creative with our options. I feel like it fits because it’s one more little element I’ve added to my life to encourage play and- well, just plain fun.

Burned Plants and Buckled Asphalt (When Climate Change Comes Calling)

I’ve spent my entire life in the pacific northwest, and I’ve always felt pretty damn lucky to call this beautiful place home. Snow covered peaks, lush forests, beautiful coastline, and a few volcanoes to keep things spicy. It’s a beautiful place to live, assuming you can handle cloudy days and 7 feet of annual rainfall.

But it seems that every year things are getting a little bit stranger. The term ‘unprecedented’ has been uttered by my local weatherman more times than I care to count. In February we had a surprise snowstorm that brought feet of the fluffy white stuff down to the valley floor. I can probably found on one hand the number of times that has happened in my 32 years here. My dad, who lives up in the mountains wound up with drifts against the side of his house that were taller than him. Workplaces closed early, Judges cancelled their own hearings when the county refused to shut the courthouse down because they were worried about their staff making it home that night. Anyone in the midwest might be rolling their eyes (as many transplants who live here do when the flurries start coming). But the key takeaway here is that this type of weather isn’t common for us. We don’t drive well in the snow because we don’t have to. Our road crews can’t keep up with the maintenance because it’s not something they generally need to practice on a large scale. Which means when one of these storms hit, things get complicated.

Fast forward four months and we are sitting in the middle of a heat wave that smashed records held for 80 years. Last week we slammed through the record high temperatures all across this swath of land. Broke it on Saturday, then again on Sunday, and once more on Monday for good measure. The previous record for my little home was previously at 106°F, and on Monday we climbed up to about 116°F- which still wasn’t even the hottest in the area. Some areas were spiking a good 5-10 degrees above that.

Now, the thing to remember: different areas are built for different climates. Not every road is created the same because what Texas needs to withstand the heat isn’t the same thing that the Midwest needs to survive the cold, or what the pacific northwest needs to muddle through the rain. The composition of the roads themselves are created with different variables in mind. The infrastructure of the pacific northwest was not built for what it endured last week.

The sidings on homes and apartments began to warp. Asphalt buckled. Most homes in this area don’t come equipped with AC units because they’re usually not needed, so cooling centers were opened. Those who were lucky enough to have a new home with AC had to deal with them bogging down and failing, unaccustomed to the amount of strain. Some areas lost power, though luckily it was only a small percentage. Plants were scorched, shriveled and died. Some areas were put on water alerts and asked to only use it when deemed absolutely necessary until the supply could be replenished. The Department of Transportation issued alerts for people to remain home if possible because the roads were suddenly unsafe. Days later Oregon announced that 76 people in their state had heat-related deaths attributed to the heat wave. Rolling into the Fourth of July weekend, fireworks have been banned due to unsafe fire conditions.

The fact that these events are happening is really just par for the course when dealing with mother nature. The true issue here is the frequency with which they are happening. This by itself is alarming. And it doesn’t matter how many times people say ‘global warming is just a theory’- that’s all well and good, but if you want to get technical, gravity is also ‘just a theory.’ There is a lot of research and peer review that goes into the making of new theories, and it’s probably about time we start listening to the experts. Otherwise, these one-off events will become the norm. This beautiful place I call home will become a scorched little crisp of land.

According to Climate.gov, in 2019 alone the the US experienced 14 separate weather disasters that cost roughly a billion dollars each. Every winter we set new global records for ‘the hottest winter on record.’ The summer of 2020 brought droughts to the west coast that led to mass fires and hazardous air quality that hurt the lungs and made driving conditions treacherous because of poor visibility. Sadly, this is becoming the norm in my part of the world. In 2017 a wildfire jumped the gorge and threatened my childhood home. I had to drive out to my dad’s house to help him pack up the things we wanted to save, and beg him to evacuate along with his neighbors. Ash rained down from the sky. You went into a store and came out with a layer on your car. We aren’t alone in this either.

In February 2021 winter storm resulted in blackouts for over 9.9 million people in the US and Mexico, to include the Texas power crisis. The storm spurred several tornadoes. The death toll rose to at least 176. That same storm set records for snowfall in many other areas, to include larger cities like Seattle, WA, Portland, OR, and Boise, ID. Blizzard warnings were issues in Albuquerque, NM. At the end of March torrential spring rains caused flash flooding in Nashville. A study that month also concluded that the intensity of tropical cyclones were increasing, likely caused by climate change. In May Louisiana was hit with flash floods after a foot of rainfall fell within 24 hours; this is while the area was still recovering from two hurricanes that hit last summer. These are just a few US highlights from the past 6 months.

So the real question we must start asking ourselves isn’t “What will happen next,” because rest assured, it will be more of the same. More summers set ablaze, more roads cracking from the heat, more winters blanketed in ice and rolling blackouts. None of this will get better on it’s own. The real question is “What do we do next?” When it seems that the powers-that-be get hopelessly bogged down in the politics of it, what do we do? What can we change when the problem feels far too large for us? It starts right here, will small choices and little steps. It gains momentum, it forces itself into the light. Because if this world burns, we burn with it.

Shopkeep, Where are Your Wares? (Rescue the Muse Creativity Quest)

I couldn’t remember what happened after I washed ashore; I heard the panicked voices of the villagers that found me before I succumbed to the darkness encroaching on the edges of my vision. I’m not sure how much time had passed before my eyes finally opened again, but judging by the stiffness in my joints, it must have been a while. The blankets they had draped over me were scratchy and thin, but a crackling fire in the hearth kept me warm. The innkeeper was a kind, rosy-cheeked woman who always prodded me to drink a second bowl of soup every night after the doctor saw to me. It took a week to convince them I was able to leave my sickbed and make my way out into the small village.

The innkeeper sent her young stable boy to accompany me, not trusting that my shaky legs would be able to carry me back to the modest establishment. As we wandered the cobbled streets, I couldn’t help but notice the dreary store windows, empty of wares, or the way that so many of the villagers jumped at the slightest noise. When I asked my young companion, he scratched at the back of his neck and kicked at a pebble before suggesting we make our way back to the inn for supper and a story. 

Over a meat pie and colossal ale the young boy told the tale of his sweet village, “It was a very different place once,” he took a tentative sip from his drink. “Plenty to eat, toys in the windows, oxen to help work the fields. People traveled from all over the realm to visit our seashores, it was a happy place to grow up. But then the orcs came- driven from the mountains by the three dragons who decimated the upper lands. They plundered our realm and cut off our trade routes. Our resources dried up. Those who could leave did, and the rest of us just do what we can to get by. They’ve made their camp just to the north, in the ruins of the old farmlands. If nothing changes, then I fear the worst for my little home.” He glanced to me thoughtfully before venturing to ask, “You are on a quest, aren’t you?”

I nodded and told him of my beautiful and daring Muse, locked away from me up in the tower of an old castle. My young friend nodded his head slowly, spearing a soft chunk of carrot and popping it into his mouth. “Well, we may have to get a bit creative in the shops, but I will try to help you gather supplies for your journey.”

In these modern times there are a million different tools at your disposal to assist with your creative endeavors. Online classes (that usually come with a small fee) can teach you everything from tarot card reading to how to build a house-cleaning robot. Want to make a Chewbacca outfit? You can pay an exorbitant amount for the right fabric and find a pattern online to help. Interested in baking the world’s best carrot cake? There’s an app for that. You can purchase the best markers, electronic drawing pads, kitchen gizmos, and pre-cut fabric with step-by-step instructions to help you sew together a new book-themed quilt.

But what do you do when the world tosses a few challenges your way? When the pandemic or unusual weather events disrupt supply chains and any order you place online comes with a three week wait? What do you do when you don’t have extra cash to burn on all the fancy tools and equipment? You are forced to get creative with your creativity, my friends.

Accepting your limitations opens a whole new world of innovation in your creative life. When you don’t view your constraints as roadblocks, but instead opportunities to come up with novel approaches; you give yourself a chance to flourish. There is a certain amount of forgiveness you can grant yourself when you don’t feel like you are ‘wasting’ precious (and expensive) supplies. You can always upgrade later, once you get a feel for what you are doing or decide which avenue you are most interested in pursuing. Sometimes the style of art you initially want to invest in isn’t the one you actually have the most fun doing. So start small: use the old crayons and colored pencils paired with construction paper to practice drawing. Take apart that old techy contraption you never use and put it back together before you try your hand at the fancy TurboClean5000 Home Robot (but also: I am more than willing to test that bad boy out once you have to up and running). Sew together scraps of old fabric before filling up that shopping cart with funky design and fancy threads. Poke holes in an old cardboard box to make a treat-whack-a-mole for your dog instead of spending a heap of money on a plastic one. He doesn’t care, as long as he is able to catch a few carrots poking through the holes (although be warned: it didn’t take mine very long to realize he could just tip the box over and attack from below like the land shark that he is). 

Today’s goal: make a mental inventory of what wares your little home-shop has and how you can work those into your creativity quest. Are there any projects you’ve had sitting around for a while? Any old items you dug up during your spring cleaning that you were planning on driving to the dump? Any stories you’ve had percolating in the back of your mind? A pile of weeds in your backyard you want to weave into a basket (no judgment, I have a heap of my own little yard demons mocking me from the window). Make a list of challenges, steal some of the ones I’m attempting from the list below, google ideas, ask a friend what random hobbies that have- you might be surprised what you come up with.

And from there, you can start mapping out your course. After all, what kind of adventure would this be without a dusty old map leading the way? What avenues do you want to explore? Leave a little bit of room for variety; that way you have the space to dive into a rabbit hole, should one spark that passion within you. While I will give you the blueprints for my path, it’s important to think of this as more of a choose-your-own-adventure story. What works for me won’t work for other people, the things I’m interested in could bore someone else to tears. The amount of time I am able to dedicate to these projects will vary from week to week and day to day; it often won’t match up with the investments others might want to do.

My personal path is geared towards overall creativity in my life, reigniting the spark that I’ve lost in my daily adulting. That being said, my projects are going to be all over the board. I plan on doing a lot of dabbling. A large chunk of it will be focused on writing adventures; that’s always where I felt most at home in my own skin. But I also want to start playing with more physical art: drawing, painting, sculpting, carving, whittling, knitting, sewing, weaving, coding, cooking, baking, gardening, dancing- I have this desire to try it all and see what speaks to me. I’ve spent so much of my life planning to learn these skills without really giving myself a chance to try them. And now I am sick of waiting.

I’ll start with the simple things, the ones that I already own, the ones that wont cost me a penny to chase. And from there I will start saving up a bit so I can branch out into new areas. Later with week we can dive into the connection between art and money, but that’s a problem from another day. Right now, I want you to look around your little home-shop and make a list of what you can do right now on your Creativity Quest. Then make your dream list- where do you want to go, what can you reasonably set aside in these pursuits? Today we write out our blueprint so that we know where the heck we will be walking in the coming weeks.

What can I do right now?

  • Nano (writing- I have dozens of unfinished projects to play with)
  • Learn to draw (a cheap art set and some drawing paper will get me through for now. I can play with graphite, colored pencils, markers, pens, water color, pastels, charcoal, paint)
  • Sewing (I have a quilt kit I meant to put together as a gift for a past holiday)
  • Knitting
  • Coding
  • Cooking (a bazillion cookbooks that I can work into my weekly grocery trips)
  • Dancing
  • Wood carving (well, I have the kit…still need the wood)
  • Paint coasters
  • String art

Creativity Challenge:

  • Writing Prompt:
    • Novelize a scene from a favorite movie/TV show
    • Think of a common saying (ex: an apple a day keeps the doctor away) and write a horror story about it
  • Culinary Creations:
    • Make a new mixed drink (no alcohol required)
    • Make a themed meal inspired by a book
  • Adventure in Arts:
    • Make a comic strip
    • Find an online tutorial and learn to draw
    • Choreograph a dance
    • cosplay using items in your house
  • Crafting Corner:
    • Knit Dobby hats
    • Learn origami
    • make paper flowers out of old magazines
  • Learning something new:
    • begin learning sign language
    • watch a youtube video about a person creating interesting things
    • Read up on home brewing
    • pick a random documentary and write/draw something inspired by it
  • The Great outdoors:
    • Plant something pretty
    • make a gnome/fairy retreat
    • sidewalk chalk portraits (extra fun if you have littles)
  • Journaling through the Tough Stuff:
  • Write a poem about something going on in your life
  • What’s one thing you need to forgive yourself for?

Keep creating, my friends, the muse still waits in that dragon-guarded castle, but we are well on our way to that looming mountain.

Off to Camp Nano (please write)

It’s time! I can barely contain my excitement, my friends, Camp Nano is back in session- and it’s just in time to fold itself into our little Creativity Quest. For those who are wondering what the heck I’m talking about, let me explain. If you love to write (or just feel the desire to dabble with a bit of wordplay) then NaNoWriMo is something that should stick on your radar. It’s a nonprofit group whose sole focus is to help people find their voices and creative talents through the written word. They support writers of any age and created special programs for young writers to explore. They invest in writing fluency and education, and their challenges have led to a plethora of new books hitting the market. A few bestsellers written during the challenge have been: The Night Circus, Cinder, Fangirl, Wool, Side Effects by Mary Vary, Water for Elephants, The Beautiful Land, Don’t Let Me Go; and the list goes on.

NaNoWriMo stands for ‘National Novel Writing Month’ which is in November of every year. It began in 1999 with 12 writers, but has flourished to include hundreds of thousands of budding authors worldwide. The goal for the main event is fairly simple: write 50,000 words during the month of November.

Now, you are probably wondering why the heck I’m talking about it right now if the main challenge isn’t until November? Good question, you tricky little devil. You see, the popularity of the event grew, leaving the participants to wonder why they couldn’t challenge themselves every month of the year instead of just one. Sure, they could write on their own, but it just wasn’t the same. One of the best parts of Nano has always been the community; popping onto the message boards to work out story problems, hunt plot bunnies, and just generally bond with like-minded strangers who shared this particular passion with you. Thus, Camp Nano was born.

Camp Nano happens twice a year: once in April and once in July. The rules are a bit different than the traditional event, but if anything, they have perhaps become even more popular for their fresh community vibes and customizable goals. In Camp Nano you can join a virtual cabin with friends or strangers (or you can fly solo if the social thing just isn’t your jam. Want a little mixture of both? The message boards are always open if you just want to dabble in conversation when the mood strikes). Everything is done online, so there is no need to dig out your bug spray or poncho, no entry fees, no swimsuits- not unless you want slap that baby on, and more power to you. You can choose your own goal for the month: editing, writing, novels, poetry, whatever you wish. You can determine the best way to track it: in hours, pages, words. And you can decide what that actual goal is going to be: you can default to the traditional 50,000 words, or ramp it up/down depending on what vibe you are feeling.

Camp is probably one of my favorite times- I’ve met some amazing people through it, ones who I still keep in touch with. Many writing groups have been born from the cabins that were randomly slapped together. Some of the groups migrate to Facebook, though most these days make their way to Discord where they will continue long after Camp has packed away their virtual tents. The groups can be pretty amazing, and a little bit of searching can help you find the group of oddballs whose weirdness most closely matches your own. I’ve rarely found the kind of support and camaraderie that comes from the others attracted to this particular challenge.

Today is the very first day of July Camp, and I am pumped to be at it again. I didn’t register until yesterday, so I feel like I’m flying by the seat of my pants. If you are thinking about it- just jump in: what could it hurt to try? You don’t get penalized for starting late, so if you decide in a week that you are interested: give it a go. You don’t even have to register for the actual Camp anymore. Nano has completely revamped their website to allow you to track your writing goals throughout the year with ease.

Normally I like to start one fresh new project for Nano, but realistically: I have way too many partially finished first drafts sitting in various states of disarray. So instead of beginning one more project, I’m going to start pulling my old ones out of limbo. Finish up those first drafts, and then later this year I can begin the deep dive into editing. Right now I’m set to the standard 50,000 words, but there is still a chance I will change it as I settle into my routine this month. I am contemplating upping that number to 100,000 (also known as a double nano) and dedicating half of it to my novel projects and the other half to the blog.

The creativity challenge, should you choose to accept it: join Nano and spend the month writing with me.

To join follow the link here: https://nanowrimo.org

As the month progresses I’ll be offering up some tips and tricks I’ve learned for world building. I’ll also be tossing out a few of my favorite writing games, like word crawls, tarot challenges, etc, to keep it all exciting. While you don’t have to join Nano to participate in any of these challenges I’ll be throwing in, it could still be fun to give it a shot. Who knows, maybe it will get you one step closer to that Muse.

Conquering the Sea of Distractions (Rescue the Muse)

The gods must have noticed my previous bids for escape, vowing to leave me marooned on this island they sent the forces of nature to stop me, distract me from my quest. The storm had been raging for days, stinging my skin as it slashed through the air. I tried waiting it out, shivering as I huddled in a tiny cave at the heart of the island, slowly braiding grasses and fronds together as I planned how to rebuild my raft. I spent the time thinking of my lost Muse, staring at a blank wall and listening to the incessant howling of the wind, the pounding of the rain against the rocks, the angry roiling of the ocean waves assaulting the shandy shored below my dilapidated camp.

The decision was made in the dead of the night, as I huddled closer to my dwindling attempt at a fire. I would have to brave the storm, set sail anyway. If I failed- did it really even matter anymore? At least I would go down fighting, not resigning myself to this tiny spit of land designed specifically to hold me captive.

The sky was still a murky gray when I set out, pulling the remnants of my broken craft beside me. My skin was numb from the pelting rain as I repaired the damage as best I could and glared out into the angry sea. Before I could lose my nerve I took a deep breath and released a screaming war cry for the gods above and monsters below; charging into the sea like I was going into battle. And perhaps in a way, I was. There was a desperation to my actions, a fire burning inside that even the sea could not drown. This was the time, I could feel it in my bones. I would make it to the distant shore or be lost to Davey Jones forever.

Every good storyteller knows that you must test your characters to force them to grow. Nothing is ever simple in life or in books; something that appears straightforward will often carry hidden challenges that must be overcome. Well, my friends, we have built up our personal knowledge and leveled up our skill set all in an attempt to battle through this Sea of Distraction and continue on our Quest to Save the Muse.

It hasn’t been an easy journey; the first leg of our adventure was more about breaking down bad habits so that we can have space to rebuild new ones in their place. It often seems that the most difficult challenges are the smallest ones; those tiny habits you indulge in your spare moments, the thoughts and distractions you allow to take up residence in your mind. By their very nature they are subtle and insidious, they walk the thin line between helpful and damaging.

I don’t know how I made it past those first few raging waves; it was as if the gods themselves were shocked at my daring and waited now with baited breath to see my next move. I made it past the gauntlet of cresting waves and out into the open sea. The rain still lashing at my skin, the storm appearing to double in size, making it nearly impossible to see. But it didn’t matter anymore; I was off that accursed island, and the simple act of moving felt liberating.

I didn’t notice it at first, assuming the sudden jerking of my tiny vessel was merely the ocean venting her frustration once again. It’s wasn’t until I felt the slippery brush of flesh against my arm that I realized what was happening- the monster from my nightmares was back. Large tentacles rose in the air and slapped at the water near my boat, sending waves that nearly dislodged my tenuous grasp. She had still managed to find me, even if this storm.

The sky crackled with lighting, the booming thunder filled my ears and left them ringing as the underwater monstrosity continued her assault. I grabbed my puny paddle and dipped it into the water, praying it could spin me into a new direction. Another dark shape rose from the roiling sea and slammed down, cracking against the edge of my tiny ship. I saw the shards of wood splitting as though in slow motion. I tensed my body and waited to be plunged back into the ferocious ocean.

Taking a deep dive into who you are and the things that you prioritize is not easy. It forces you to really analyze what is actually important to you and whether you truly want to make the changes that you need to. Is this the right time in your life to invest in yourself and your goals? I sincerely hope the answer is yes, though I know that far too often we are forced to simply hang on and hope for brighter days in the future. There are moments when you wont have the bandwidth for what needs to be done, times when you have to set out tiny steps and focus on reaching those milestones before you can look up to gaze towards any semblance of a future. You must wake up, take care of yourself, get through your work day. If you are struggling; it’s okay. If this isn’t the perfect time; that’s fine. If you can only give 5%, there is nothing to be ashamed of in that. These changes are not meant to be overnight accomplishments. If it had been easy, then this challenge would never have existed.

The key take-away for the baseline challenge is really about self-awareness and compromise. You don’t have to reach perfection before moving forward, but you do have to take a long hard look at yourself and walk away with realistic expectations. You must peel away all of the excuses and facades, acknowledge the insecurities and the faults- confronting them is the only way to overcome them. Surviving the Sea of Distractions is about learning how you operate and unearthing a game plan that will help you success. Will it be perfect? No. Will you continue to learn more about yourself as you go? I sure as hell hope so.

For me personally, I know the monsters that are swimming just below the surface, ready to pull me back to that island of distraction. I know the inner demons that send me scurrying for unhealthy coping mechanisms, and I know the excuses I constantly allow myself to utter over and over again even though I know I they shouldn’t be believed. I know what I need to work on, and while I will not fix everything overnight; I am better able to combat them and refocus my energies now that I have a face for my enemy.

The broken vessel bobbed helplessly as I secured the knot tying me to the tiny vessel. If it sunk, it didn’t matter if it dragged me down- there would be nothing else out here to save me. I reached for a splintered stick, holding the jagged edge aloft like a spear. I squinted out into the rain, daring the monster to finish her attack. I had nothing left to lose as the fight burned brighter within me.

I didn’t see the tentacle to my right until it crashed into the side of my vessel, pulling me under. I sunk for a moment before the rope around my waist began to pull, buoying me back to the surface. I was able to take one deep breath before I saw the flash of flesh above me, pushing me below the surface once again. I stabbed blindly with my little spear, feeling resistance as I hit something- was it the creature?

There was a thrashing in the waters around me. I pried my eyes open and saw the looming shape dancing beside me, a black inky substance coloring the water around one long tentacle. It reached for me- perhaps in anger. I held my stick in front of me like a lance and waited. Another push and shudder in the water told me I had hit the mark again. The hulking body of the beast lurched towards me as the rope tied around my waist pulled me first left then right- had it grabbed hold? A shot of panic raced through my body- it was going to drown me. I shoved my stick towards the body of creature and stabbed- over and over I tried to make contact, the water turning inky black around me. I was desperate now, running out of breath. I pictured my Muse as the darkness closed over my eyes, my arms will wielding my minuscule stick weakly. Then, as suddenly as the attack had begun, the movement stopped. The voracious tentacles slid away and I felt the gentle tug of the rope around my belly.

The air was cold on my face as I broke the surface, gulping at the air greedily. The storm had not abated, but the monster was nowhere in sight, slipping back into the depths from whence it came. I barely had the energy to cling to the two pieces of wood still lashed together; the pitiful remains of the raft that had saved my life. I held on as best I could and let the ocean determine where it should carry me now. I closed my eyes and waited.

I didn’t even have the energy to open them when I felt the soft resistance of sand beneath my body; I had made landfall, but I dare not peek out, in fear that I had been carried back to my tiny island once again.

“Over there,” a voice shouted in the distance. Arms roughly pulled me out of the surf, “She’s alive, help me get this rope off,” I could hear yelling and rustlings around me. My eyes remained shut, but I could feel the faint flicker of a smile on my lips- I had made. I don’t know where I landed, but I had made it through the Sea of Distraction. With that final thought, I let unconsciousness take me.

Today we celebrate the completion of phase one- we have made it off that damned island, battled our monsters, faced moments when failure seemed absolute. But we persevered; we are here. We are ready to continue on to Rescue the Muse. And my friends, this first stage was by far the hardest.

This quest that we are on is not for the faint of heart. The world that we live in is not always conducive for creative thought. Far too often we feel as though we are simply surviving while the world burns down around us. We feel lost and disconnected in a reality we wish we did not belong to. There really is no sugar coating it- life is hard, it’s messy, it can be excruciatingly painful. It feels like the monsters win sometimes and the heroes must crawl away.

But this, my friends, is the reason for our quest. This is where the Mission to Save the Muse truly comes into play. When the world becomes dark and overwhelming, we run to the arts for comfort. We binge watch shows, explore virtual museums, read books- this is a fundamentally human experience. Since the beginning of our species’ time on this planet, we have connected through stories; that’s what all of the arts are- a variety of mediums that tell us tales. It has brought is together since the first caveman smeared pigment on a stone wall, ever since bands of travelers gathered around roaring fires underneath stars that lit up the sky.

We do this to connect, to create change, to become more than we were yesterday. And right here in this moment, we have taken the most difficult step: we have faced our inner demons, shouted back at our negative voices, and refocused on why we decided to begin this journey at all. If you’ve come this far- it is time to celebrate. We have fought the first monster and made it out the other side. After this: the real fun begins.

Creativity Challenge

Tonight’s challenge is simple: turn on your favorite music and bust out a happy dance

Resisting Distractions Baseline (The Sea of Distractions – Creativity Quest)

Well my friends, here we are: the last of the baseline checks. Once we fight through this final round we just might be ready to face the monsters in the Sea of Distractions. We must celebrate the fact that we are one step closer to Rescuing the Muse. This last section ties in with all of the previous ones. It’s all about identifying your weak spots and finding a way to combat them.

What are the things that get in your way? What stops you from creating? Sometimes these distractions can be herculean: perhaps you get sidetracked by your own insecurities or an old injury that makes your passions feel impossible. Sometimes your biggest foe will be tiny stolen moments that sap your mental energies before you get a chance to let they flourish: maybe you pop onto Facebook for just a minute and find yourself mindlessly scrolling.

What do you fill up your time with? Is it worth it? Is it the kind of thing you truly want to cultivate? And if you don’t: how bad do you want to change? You see, that’s always the real kicker for me. I can usually identify my bad habits pretty easily. I know exactly where my time gets sucked, or what pits I can trip into. Trying to break the habits that bring me into those negative spaces: not as easy. It’s not even always about willpower; for me, most of my distractions stemmed from coping mechanisms I picked up when I was dealing with my own personal traumas. I relied on them until they grew unwieldy and far more powerful than I was. Putting that genie back in the bottle hasn’t been all that easy.

So, to dive into the baseline: what are my distractions? Number one on my list: sounds. I know, that seems silly, but let me explain. When I was dealing with my own personal issues and anxieties I became deeply uncomfortable with silence. It created too much space to think. Space to think meant ruminations Ruminations often slipped back into the darker places I wasn’t ready to process. So I filled the silence. Sometimes it was a tv show I wasn’t even really watching, or music. Most often it was audiobooks. I used the stories of others to drown out my own inner voice. Which worked for it’s intended purpose: it stopped my brain from ruminating. But it also stopped my brain from doing all the other things I loved- like telling my own stories. This has been a particularly difficult habit to break for a multitude of reasons. For one, filling my head with sound was an easy way for me to control my thoughts and anxieties; so turning down the volume was terrifying. And I’ll be honest, at first it was deeply uncomfortable because all of those thoughts I wanted to silence came screaming back in Dolby Atmos. But little by little, I’ve learned to be more comfortable with myself.

The other reason it was so difficult: I just flat out love books in any format, and forcing myself to put in limits just went against my nature. I have a TBR that is almost panic-inducing it is so large, plus I tend to get exceptionally competitive with myself. Trying to step back from my reading goals (which are heavily dependent on audibooks) went against most of what I believe in. I will be honest: I still struggle with this one. A lot. It’s a constant balancing act, and I don’t always succeed with it. I have some weeks where I am great, and other weeks where my other half has to remind me that earbuds aren’t for bedtime anymore. The struggle is real.

My other distractions: social media, playing on my phone, making lists of projects I have no intention of completing. I’ll be honest: most of my other bad habits are actually under control for the most part at the moment. Occasionally I find myself going down a social media rabbit hole- I set up a few timers which made a world of difference. I am a sucker for list making- I don’t know why I am like this, to be honest. I guess I’m a bit of a nerd, considering I get a little thrill out of spreadsheets and stats. Wow I sound old and boring when I say that. Anyway, I noticed that one of my bad habits is focused on over-planning and never-doing. I’ll make lists, plots, plans- get very detailed with every step…and then…nothing…happens. I just drop it. Until the next time I decide I need to make a list. I have one for everything- house projects, weekly chores, things I want to learn, meal planning, my ongoing TBR list (seriously- it is categorized and everything, has different tabs based on what format it’s in, whether I’ve finished it, given up on it. It even has notes on how many pages and estimated time it will take to read. Like I said: I have a problem with using lists as distractions).

Overall I think I have a good idea of where I slip up in this area. I know exactly what to look out for. To help combat my little book fixation, I’ve begun peppering in ones that will lead me back to my creative projects. I’ve been picking ones that will teach me specific skills, talk about creativity itself, or spotlight a person I find inspirational in these new fields I am interested in. That way I can get lost in a chapter, but feel the natural pull towards my own projects when it’s done.

My score: 6/10

Creativity Challenge

  • Draw a cartoon of your distractions (they can be monsters, or the main character can be you- and all the ways you get sidetracked from one tiny task you want to complete)
  • Pick up your journal and do a deep dive into your own distractions. List out at least two creative solutions to help you combat each one
  • Craft an interpretive dance that depicts the struggle you have over your own energy (see- now we’re truly embracing our creativity)

Creative Time and Priorities Baseline (The Sea of Distractions – Creativity Quest)

My daring adventurers, the finish line is just ahead: we are on the last two sections and then we will be geared up for the next stage of our quest. Putting in the work here at the beginning is going to make all of the difference later down the line. Right now we are building up that foundation, and we need to make sure it will be able to hold the weight of our own little world.

This section is very closely tied to the one we tackled yesterday surrounding our work-life balance; only this time, we are reversing our perspective and analyzing from the creativity side of things. While it can be difficult to make your creative projects one of your top priorities, it is vitally important to make sure it is a valued slot on your personal time-board. How much time do you allow yourself to play and explore, or watch new YouTube channels, read a different blog, sit down with your keyboard and just tap away to the rhythm of the neurons firing in your brain.

I have been actively trying to prioritize more creative time when I have the energy for it (some days it just isn’t going to happen, my brain has turned to oatmeal and I’ll be lucky if I can pay attention to one of those old tv shows I’ve watched 10,000 times). But lately I’ve been making a point to sit down and write after work- even if it’s just for ten minutes, that’s still ten minutes more than I was doing before.

I tend to do my best writing first thing in the morning- that is one of my favorite things about weekends. I am usually the first one awake, so I can take the dog out and slip back into bed with a hot cup of coffee and my notebook. I scribble away until the rest of the house wakes up and I must start my day in earnest. Unfortunately, this isn’t a routine I have been able to carry into my working week. I already have to get up at 5:30 to get the animals and plants taken care of before I get ready for work, and I am struggling to push that start time any earlier. I need to work on going to be earlier so I can give myself a little bit of a chance.

I’ve intentionally cultivated my social media so that it has a more positive creative focus. I can spend a few minutes scrolling and gather up some new inspiration or tips from others; though I try really hard to limit any time spent there. I also like to fill my feel with any type of hobby I’ve had a passing interest in; it’s a beautiful mishmash of gardening, book nerdisms, home brewing, history buffing, animal loving madness. All of my passions pasted hap-hazardously like one of those collages you make as a kid using magazine pictures.

I’ve been making a point to slow down and let new ideas percolate. I don’t listen to anything when I’m in the shower, I try to find new music when I’m tuned into Spotify, take breaks after I read chapters in my book, dive into any research that sparks my interest. And more importantly I’m getting better at talking about these random side-quests with my friends and family. Not only does it liven up conversations, but I’ve actually learned a lot of random facts about them. For example, who could have guessed that I would share the same bizarre goal of going to Mount St. Helens and finding the sites where some of the people passed away in the explosion- to sit and share a moment with the spirit of the place and pay respects to people I have never met, but who’s stories have touched me. Very random, a bit dark and twisty- but surprisingly common considering the very first person I mentioned it to laughed and said they went through the same thing two years ago (you guys, we both even had little routes planned out to get to a couple of the locations).

So while I am headed in the right direction, I do still have a lot of work to do in this area. I need to get better at protecting my personal time and spending that in a way that is nurturing for my soul. These habits aren’t easy ones to build, but if I want this life, then I need to fight for it. Whether that means waking up 30 minutes earlier, or rearranging my evenings to that I can do my writing while my brain still has some go-go juice left in it: I have to decide where my priorities will lie.

My score: 4/10

Creativity Challenge

  • Put your spotify list on random, play at least 2 songs (ideally closer to 4), write a story or poem inspired by the selection. Even better if they are completely different genres and really have nothing in common.
  • As soon as you wale up, spend 5 minutes writing about whatever dreams you remember
  • Strike up a conversation with someone about something completely random (a little-known fact, a dream of yours, an unusual hobby) – did you learn anything new about them or yourself?

Work-Life Balance Baseline (The Sea of Distractions – Creativity Quest)

Here we go again, my wordy little birdies. Continuing on our quest (we are almost done with the baseline tests, and then I promise, we will finally be leveled up enough to face the Sea of Distractions on our epic quest to save the muse). The next stepping stone towards our grand adventure: finding that work-life balance. We all have them: those dreaded extra responsibilities that keep us from living in our dream world all the time. Keep in mind- when I talk about work, I don’t just mean your standard 9-5 clock in and get paid kind of thing. I mean ‘work’ in the broadest sense of the term: it can be taking care of a household, wrangling children, assisting loved ones, volunteering; the list is truly endless. What it really boils down to: responsibilities that you give your time and energy to. For me personally, the majority of this time is spent on a career, taking care of a home, and family obligations because I don’t currently have any tiny tots to chase around, so that’s where most of my personal baseline discussion is going to be coming from. That being said: if you choose to participate in this section, I strong encourage you to take a step back and really evaluate all the different types of ‘work’ you have in your life.

I have been clocking in far too many hours at my place of employment lately, and I know it. My work tends to ebb and flow; some weeks you’ll have lots of room to breath, and wind up with the option of taking a few hours off here and there to recharge. Other weeks you will be coming in early, working through lunch, staying late, dream about the place when you’re in bed- and still be behind schedule. There is rarely a happy medium. In the past few months I’ve been doing way too much overtime. My last time card popped up into the triple digits, which isn’t a particularly good sign. I also recently realized that I’ve cancelled so many vacation days this past year that I actually maxed out on the number of hours I’m allowed to have banked up- I ultimately lost about 45 hours of time I should have earned. Which sucked, to say the least. I have been working so hard that when I get home I am mentally fatigued and a bit grumpy to boot.

I have been working far too many hours lately, and I know it. My work tends to go in phases: some weeks you’ll have lots of extra time to use your flex or take a couple of hours off, other weeks you will be coming in early, working through lunch, and staying late- and still be behind schedule. I’ve been doing way too much overtime. My last time card popped up into the triple digits, which isn’t a good sign at all. I also realized that I’ve given back so many vacation days the past year that I actually maxed out on what I’m allowed to accrue, and ultimately lost 45 hours of time I should have been earning. That…sucks, to say the least. I have been working so hard that when I get home I am mentally fatigued and a bit grumpy.

The overworking until I drop mentality has caused havoc for my personal time. Not to mention, it is simply not sustainable. I haven’t had the time to invest in any of the projects I’ve had on my list, and most creative endeavors fall flat before they ever get a chance to start. My balance has been out of whack for a while.

Luckily, the major projects that were forcing the extra overtime have all concluded. The next big one I have on my radar may not rear it’s head until August, which gives me a little bit of time to recoup and prepare. I am fortunate for the fact that I have a boss who is very understanding of what burnout can do to a person and encourages me to leave early whenever there is an opportunity (and even at a few times when all I can do is laugh because I am up to my eyeballs in paperwork). The next big bonus: this week is thankfully very peaceful, and next week I am on vacation. Nothing big or fancy; my partner/basically husband/whatever you call the man you have been with for nearly a dozen years even though you still aren’t married in spite of his mother’s best efforts- he couldn’t get the time off work, so it will be a stay-cation for me. If I’m being honest: I am thrilled about this. I have a laundry list of projects around the house, a closet full of crafts I’ve only partially started, a pile of books, and a dog that will force me out of the house every chance he gets. This is going to be a game changer kind of break.

So, even though I’ve spend way too many extra hours on work than I would like, I’m about to strike a slightly better balance in the next few weeks. It’s going to be a far more manageable routine. I’m working on getting ahead of a few projects so I can be mentally prepared when they take over again, so I can rearrange my creative endeavors and make them a little less intensive during my crazier work weeks.

When it comes to other types of work in my life: my balance is getting a lot better. I am lucky to have a partner who splits the housework with me pretty evenly. After over a decade we’ve learned that some weeks one of us only has 30% to give, so the other can offer up 70%, and when the roles reverse we can flip it. But we usually aim for even stevens. I’m also getting better at doing chores when they are still small (ex: do the laundry when you have one full load of dirties instead of waiting until you are completely out of underwear, or emptying the dish washer as soon as it runs instead of waiting until the sink is overflowing and you have to cook the noodles in a crock pot). If I keep chipping away at the CONSTANT trickle, then I won’t get swept away by the raging floods.

My score: 5/10

Creativity Challenge

  • Make a monster out of household chores you haven’t done (ex: dish monster, laundry monster)
  • Create a chore/task game (I used to do this as a kid, and loved it- it can be anything. Put 5 things away as fast as you can and then run an impromptu obstacle course. When I was little I would heighten the challenge- the obstacle course was made up of the toys I needed to clean, so it got easier and my time got faster as I went. You can have any sort of mini game or reward, be as creative as you like)
  • Write a full short story during your break. It could take the entire 10-15 minutes, it could be a hard hitting piece with just two sentences.
  • Take pictures of your daily tasks as though you were an alien exploring this strange world you found, or an investigator trying to unravel a mystery (but don’t take any pictures of anything that could get you in trouble in the workplace- if it’s a trade secret, confidential, or proprietary- it’s best to let that sleeping dog lie)