The words have been written, the creative monsters satiated. The fires are put out, plot bunnies wrangled, and Camp Nano is coming to a close. There is something about endings- full of excitements and tinged with an outline of sadness. It’s been a long time since I’ve had a Nano season go so well. I felt like the writer I used to be, once upon a time. I was able to find the words and chase the stories; though the past few years I’ve simply felt like an empty well trying to pump dust and dirt. I feel…victorious. I didn’t manage to hit that illusive double Nano, but November is just around the corner and I’ll be able to try it again.
Today is the last day of Nano, and my words are not done climbing, but I think it’s safe to say my final numbers will probably be in the 60,000-70,000 range. While I didn’t get any of my partial projects to full completion, I dove into a few of them and got them a lot farther along. I was able to flesh out their ideas so that I have a strong direction to aim for now. My outcasts are discovering their oddball friends, addicts are trying to get clean, fanfictions are carrying their stories past the last pages of their original stories (I’ve found that fanfiction can be an awesome place to start practicing your writing again when you feel rusty- bonus points, you can go back to the original book/movie to reinvigorate your brain when you feel your energy waning).
Nano has expanded their website so that you can continue with your own projects after the main writing events are over; you can swap your goals from writing to editing, track your daily progress and keep up the good work even when the main events are over. Today I’ll be reorganizing some of my project pages and setting myself up for some off-nano success. I’ll continue adding to my writing pages here, to refresh the prompts and writing game sections, so that when November Nano comes around we will be ready to charge in with swords glinting and fire blazing in our eyes.
That being said, it’s time to carry the Creativity Quest to Save the Muse into its next dimension. We are about to embark into the ever-expanding field of art. I am ecstatic to dive into a new realm, though a word of caution moving into the next phase of our tale: I am in no way, shape, or form, a budding artist. My skills aren’t anything to write home about- so the pictures I post probably won’t have you begging me for more. That’s not really the point though, my goal here is to start learning and playing. Who knows, maybe I’ll actually improve. We’ll have a bit of an advantage moving into the next round because I have a coworker who is incredibly talented, and she’s agreed to teach me some of her skills. We’ve been doing lunchtime painting parties with watercolors a couple times the past week. Now, that experience was fraught with its own misadventures (as it turns out I listen to advice better than I actually follow it).
Expect the art challenge to hit the pages shortly, but for today- we celebrate our victory and sneak in a few extra words while our hearts are light.
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?
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The fire burnt down to embers as we tossed and turned through the night, each pretending to be lost in our own dreamland to avoid speaking to the others. Admitting we were afraid of today could have broken our resolve, kept us shivering on this lonely island instead of taking the first steps to find our Muse, locked away in a distant tower. Now that the sun is beginning to creep above the horizon, we sit, staring blearily at one another. The moment of truth has come.
We douse the coals, though there is nothing left on this island for the flames to dance with; we used every last scrap to build that puny little boat we expect to sail on. For the past week we toiled away with the driftwood that washed ashore, lashing it together with bits of rope braided together from the sea grass. Our vessel is small and shoddy, but she floats; and as castaways in this dangerous sea, we could hardly expect more. Every day as we toiled away we kept our eyes on the horizon, half hoping our daring Muse would have found a way to rescue herself and come back to us. But alas, we must be the heroes of this story.
We take a deep breath, look out at our island one last time, and step onto our tiny craft. Pushing out into the roiling waters that have surrounded us for ages, stealing our motivation and locking us in this solitary place. It is time to do the unthinkable, my friends; traverse the Sea of Distractions. Few make it across these waters; many find themselves flung back on the shores they tried to leave. But not us: for we know the secrets to these waters, we know where they get their strength. And we know how to fight.
A Digital Detox in the Sea of Distraction:
It is no secret that one of the largest enemies in the fight for creative control is the technology we wield like modern-day wizards. Our devices can be the perfect little weapons for mass distraction, siphoning our mental energy into clickable games, social media, the constant bombardment of alerts and notifications. Now, I want to be clear: I don’t think our techy sidekicks are evil; far from it, much like Kylo Ren, they have the light and dark sides coursing through their veins. What makes all the difference is how you decide to channel that energy. And I will be the first to admit: it is far easier to channel that energy towards distraction instead of creation.
Now, I tend to be a bit leery of studies that lump all screen time together; as someone who works at a desk when I’m not moonlighting as a super hero (or villain?), I will automatically clock in nearly eight hours of ‘screen time’ just from work alone. And not all screen time is created equal, in my opinion. I do most of my writing on a laptop because I have an easier time keeping up with the flow of the mental story I’m working through than when I am putting pen to paper. That being said, I know that I have a lot of room for improvement.
The brain is pretty astounding in its ability to adapt to new experiences. This skill is known as neuroplasticity, and it is the reason we can readjust so easily to a changing world. In 2008 a study conducted at Dundee University in Scotland found that adults who grew up in households with black-and-white TVs were more likely to dream in black and white. Younger participants who grew up with screens full of technicolor almost always dreamed in color. This is a small change, but it just shows you how susceptible the brain is to the evolving technology in the world around us.
It used to be an insult when someone compared your attention span to a goldfish: and yet, new studies are indicating that in the future this could be more of a compliment. According to a study done by Microsoft, the average human’s attention span was calculated to be about 12 seconds back in 2000. Today it is more in the range of 8 seconds. To give you a frame of reference: a goldfish clocks in at 9 seconds. We are going the way of the guppy. While many things could contribute to these numbers, it is true that there has been a steady decline since the invention of the smartphone, and anecdotally many people would agree that they noticed a difference when they started relying on their gizmos more (at least I have).
The term ‘popcorn brain’ has even appeared in recent years to describe the effects of too much screen time and over-connectivity. Popcorn brain describes the way we can become so hooked to the electronic multitasking that we are often expected to do, that we begin to crave the fast-paced way we can bounce between topics. The fallout from this: the slower-paced ‘real world’ can’t hold our interest in the same way that it once did. Ever find yourself reaching for your phone when you are waiting for someone to come out of the bathroom, or standing in line: the slow-paced life just isn’t catching your interest anymore. Pop, pop- so goes your adrenaline-craving brain.
So how do you fight your favorite frenemy when tech is the way of the world? I’m not saying to completely disconnect: that’s not feasible, and in many ways it’s not necessarily ideal. There are so many positive things that can come from our techy world, so many avenues of inspiration available to walk our Muse down. No, the trick is to attempt to be a bit more responsible with our tech lives; to use our powers for good, not evil.
Step one in the Digital Detox is very simple: lift your eyes from that screen and take stock. How much time do you spend on distractions? Can you allow yourself to just sit somewhere for five minutes without pulling out your phone and idly scrolling? Is there a particular app that you feel you may have an unhealthy attachment to? Or perhaps one that makes you feel better about the world around you?
Try not to laugh at this next suggestion: you can even download an app to help you keep up a tally of your usage. You might be surprised at how many times you unlock your screen, how many minutes you spend scrolling through pictures you aren’t really looking at or glancing at headlines when you never read the articles. Often times there are patterns in your day that you might miss without the visual pie charts staring you in the eyes.
What did I learn about my own habits? My favorite kinds of distractions come in an audio format. Most of my filler time is spent with an audiobook playing while I click away at one of those easy games that don’t require much thought, just a lot of thumb taps or puzzles. I also like to fill all of the little nooks and crannies of my day with tiny little check-ups that add up to a whole lot of time. I have a tendency to check my phone for something simple: like the time, without actually registering what I’m reading, so I have to check it again 12 seconds later. My attention span doesn’t seem to be much better than Dori’s as she’s helping to find Nemo.
I also noticed the way my distracting tendencies skyrocket when I am feeling a particular amount of stress. All of my numbers jump, and I dive head first into the closest Kindle book or puzzle game to keep my brain from racing through my usual symptoms of anxiety. Unfortunately for me, distracting myself from what is really important usually tends to increase my anxiety, which in turn makes me want to create more distractions so I don’t have to focus on the anxiety- and you see how this snowball is suddenly large enough to take out an entire city block.
So what do I want? What am I hoping to regain with a digital detox? It’s really quite simple: my sanity. I want to rediscover my focus so that I can actually finish one of the ten thousand articles I have tabbed on my computer. I want to be able to put the phone down and sit on a bench watching the world around me. I want to be content in my own head, comfortable with my own thoughts. I want to feel like I am in control of my life again. I want to feel like my brain has the space it needs to think clearly and rediscover the creative energy that used to drive everything I did. I want there to be balance in the force again.
Once we have a good baseline, it will be easier to find the right way to battle these waves and navigate the treacherous creatures below the surface. It is important to be honest with yourself about your habits; both good and bad, and attempt to root out the cause. Having insight and awareness will make at the difference when trying to reach the distant shore.
She stands in the window of the tower, staring forlornly at a world she no longer belongs to. She remembers what it had been like, back when she could escape these four walls that held her. She remembers the way the dewy grass felt underfoot as she ran across the early morning fields. She can picture what it was like to sit beside a crackling fire sharing stories, fingers sticky with melting sugars and cheeks sore from laughter. The girl sighs, turning back into the dark and dingy room. That had been her life before; before the monsters came and stole her away in the dead of night. They whisked her off to this far away place and locked her in a fortress, destined to be forgotten by the world below.
I sit cross-legged with my eyes closed, picturing the tower from a thousand bedtime stories. I can envision the young captive, hauntingly sad eyes staring straight through me. My Muse, trapped behind a wall of my own making, held captive by the dragons and monsters I, myself, created. This isn’t the first time the damsel in distress needed rescuing; though the walls to this tower seem much thicker than they once were, the monsters are bolder, aware of all of my usual tricks.
Nonetheless, I take a deep breath and picture a tiny little hero stepping onto the field, long brown hair blowing in the wind in the striking way that only Hollywood can achieve. Her tall leather boots are tied all the way up her shins. Her traveling clothes are bedraggled and threadbare from the climb to this precarious place. The hilt of a silver sword glints at her hip , and a roughly hewn wooden shield bounces against her back as she steps forward. She takes a moment to tie her hair back into a neat little bun before squaring her shoulders and grasping her weapon in one hand. She glares at the tower, eyes scanning every brick and grasping vine of ivy on its way to the top. She is here to save the damsel, to rescue her Muse from the grasping clutches of the emboldened enemy.
My inner struggle with writer’s block has turning into a raging battle. It has become a ruthless war of creativity; a struggle for the words that will save the Muse from her dragon-guarded keep. In truth, it is no wonder that the inner war has grown so intense; I never slow down long enough to allow myself to create. By the time I am finally able to sit down and spill a few words from my soul, I discover that the well has run dry. I am simply exhausted.
We live in a world that is constantly vying for our attention, overly connected and tuned in to every shift of the wind. We fill every single moment with a distraction, not wanting to miss out on anything important. We don’t even notice our attention span starting to ebb as we switch from reading entire magazines to glancing at snapshot headlines. We never realized that we were locking our Muse away behind a wall of notifications, locking her in a paper mâché prison of to-do lists. We fed the beasts of distraction never realizing that they were suffocating our creativity. We didn’t notice until we ran out of words, until the mocking blank page was too painful to stare at anymore.
Cultivating a mental and physical environment for creativity is a daunting task in the modern age. And yet the only way to rescue the Muse is to fight for her; to give her the nurturing space that will allow her to fight for herself. So, how do we save her, my friends? Like any true adventure: we must peek at the map.
The Map to the Muse:
My lovely band of wayward adventurers, we are currently marooned on the Island of the Lost (bottom left of the map: that little campfire, that is our humble little home base). The mission: to get to the upper righthand side of the map: the dragon-guarded keep imprisoning our Muse. To begin this journey we must do the unthinkable: traverse the Sea of Distractions. Do not let it’s alluring waves fool you- this trek is not for the faint of heart. To survive this first challenge we must do the single thing that strikes fear into the hearts of even the bravest traveler: learn to be bored.
Science has shown a direct link between boredom and creativity. There is a reason why most of us get our best ideas while in the shower (about 72% of people have reported this is where most people have their greatest eureka moments). There is something about the combination of a mind finally able to wander aimlessly in whichever direction it chooses, coupled with the vulnerability and intimacy of standing naked under a stream of water. Our brains are wired for stimulation; and when we can’t get it from the outside world, we create it on the inside. Boredom gives your brain a chance to fire different neurons, processing events that have taken place, making new connections between unrelated ideas, working through problems, and providing insights that can lead you down the path of inspiration.
Unfortunately for us, we live in a world of constant connection. We are on a never-ending loop of notifications, plugged into the world around us, desperate to soak it all in so we don’t miss anything. While technology is capable of making our lives so much better: connecting us to people we would never meet otherwise, giving us valuable information with the tap of a finger, or simply help us manage our day-to-day lives; it is also far too easy to get drunk with the power you carry in the palm of your hand. Much like Kylo Ren/Ben Solo, our techy sidekicks have both the light side and the dark side within them. Unfortunately for me, I seem to be slipping towards the dark more often than not.
This first hurdle for me is going to be one of the hardest: detoxing from the distractions in order to open myself up for more creative thought. There will be a lot of trial and error, perhaps some painful insights and diving deeper into the root of why I let my monsters steal my Muse without much of a fight.
Tonight we gather around the fire one last time before climbing into our rickety row boat in the morning. So tell me, my friends, when you face the Sea of Distractions: what kind of monsters are lurking below the surface? And do we dare to face them together?
The yellow lights glittered against the darkened windows, blankets strewn across the wood floor. Two lone guitars stood sentinel at the front of the room, enticing us as we circled around. Like little kids crouching around the campfire, we waited with a hazy anticipation. Bottles of wine and cups of tea were discreetly passed amongst friends as all settled in, curling closer together as bodies spilled into the nooks and crannies.
We were seeing the double life of this room, the secret identity to the superhero that welcomed our little band of adventurers to walk its floors. That morning women had gathered in this space to perfect the lotus pose, slip into downward facing dog, breathe deeply standing in warrior, relax into child’s pose. This was the last place you would expect a live concert to be held. And yet, here we were, all faces turned towards an amp and two lone guitars. Eyes roved the audience wondering who the singers would be; which artists would share their beautiful creations with us?
I had never heard of SoFar before; it still feels like a secret that I’ve been let in on, like I’m carrying the code to discover the speakeasy behind the wall. Once upon a time in London there was a man who was a bit disillusioned with the way we experienced music; you go to a small venue that’s too loud, everyone is staring at their phones or talking over the artists that only want to share with the world the thing that they love. In a society that prizes moving at the speed of light, no one was slowing down to truly enjoy the inspiration of one another’s creative ventures. It needed to be dialed back, we needed to give ourselves the space to embrace the gift we were being given.
So in 2009 Raffe Offer decided to create his own little intimate setting; he invited a few friends over to listen to a live performance while sitting on his living room floor and sharing a couple of drinks. Little did this tiny band know, this moment would prove to be the spark that would ignite an international movement. A decade later hundreds of secret shows are put on every month in 444 cities all over the world. As fate would have it, one was taking place in a tiny upstairs yoga loft right in my own backyard.
Legs crossed, we all sat and listened; not a single phone in sight as one by one the performers took our impromptu stage and shared with us the passions that breathe life into their souls. There is something mesmerizing when you share in a moment like this; one soul telling a story to another. Because truthfully, that is what it was; every single song had a story, a reason for being. From the inner workings of another’s life it had percolated and come to fruition, it had burst from the mind of these strangers and made its way to us. Dark truth and deep-felt pains were the lifeblood of the beautiful words shared to a crown of perfect strangers. It was a gift humbly given, a glowing treasure that would spark the dry kindling in another soul.
I’ll admit, I’ve been in a bit of a creative drought these past weeks; fear of the stories percolating below my surface have left me feeling trapped in my own skin. The words, while so colorful when bouncing around in my skull, dry up when I attempt to put pen to paper. I’ve felt as though I’m on the edge of a cliff, the panic setting in as I wonder: who will I be if I can’t write? When a lifetime is spent with a singular identity, it is terrifying when you feel the foundations shake underneath you, threatening to take the one thing you always thought would be a certainty.
And yet, there these strangers were; taking the dark and twisty moments in their lives and creating something beautiful with it. They were not worse for their misfortunes; no, they were more powerful because of them. The authenticity in their voices shook me, the strength in their journey inspired a hope to carry my own. There is something magical about being privy to observing the way another person carries their vulnerability on their sleeve, willingly sharing pieces of themselves.
The obvious joy they felt for what they do reminded me again why I keep plucking away at keys the way they must pluck away at chords. Even if no one ever listens, the act of telling a story is a beautiful and brave thing. It is a healing thing. And, when given the chance, your words will strike a chord with another; perhaps helping them find a voice they thought they had lost.
SoFar I have made it. SoFar I am still here, I am still trying. SoFar I still have an ember inside that can burst into flame if I give it the space it needs to grow. All it took was a couple of singers, glittering lights and an after-hours yoga studio.
The firing synapses in my brain went quiet the moment I turned my eyes to the blank page. My mind was suddenly as still as the world during a 3am snowfall. It was peaceful and oh so infuriating. I am a lover of words, a connoisseur of the scribbled pages. I adore the way these tiny symbols can carry the weight of the world within their thin lines and looping forms. And yet the second that I find myself hovering on the periphery of a blank page, everything goes blank. I am alone with a blinking cursor that mocks me with every single blip of its heartbeat.
So here I sit, practicing in an exercise of futility; fighting the writer’s block by writing about its very essence in flowery descriptive sentences that stretch off into the sunset. I fight with pointless words that won’t ever see the light of day, hoping that each syllable I string together will slash at the tentacles holding my thoughts hostage. I feel like a hero in all of those fantasy books I’m continually reading, although I probably look a bit more like Don Quixote charging at windmills. That’s okay, I always found his pure devotion a bit enthralling, so I guess he is the perfect mascot in this little game.
It feels silly, really, to be writing like this. But perhaps there is a purpose, chipping away at the fear and anxiety that I can’t do it by…well, just doing it. Perhaps there is power in this Sisyphean task. At least I haven’t completely given up the fight, staring up at the crest of the hill and focusing on each individual step towards my goal. It’s almost liberating, in a way, jotting down words to describe the monster that has been haunting you for far too long.
It has been too easy lately to live in the world of distractions and ignore the passions fizzling away inside my chest. I’ve been losing myself in books, tv shows, games, errands and chores, time with friends and family. I’ve been getting caught up in making plans and resolutions; all while carefully ignoring the difficult things that will bring real meaning to my temporary existence. If I don’t create, then I don’t have to be disappointed if the outcome doesn’t match my expectations. It’s a game of Schrodinger’s cat; at the moment I am both an amazing writer, as well as an awful one.
The truth is, if I don’t write then I don’t have to face the fact that I’ve let my voice slip away; I’m like Ariel after she made her deal with the Sea Witch. My ideas feel stale and overdone. My words are rusty and dry. The touch of optimism and humor that normally colors my work feels like an insincere shadow. And perhaps this is where we reach the real crux of the issue, the reason why I have been so damn afraid to put pen to paper and send it out into the world. I am different, the past year has changed me and I fear that it may have changed my writing too.
It is no secret to those who know me that the past year was the hardest one I have ever struggled through. My earth cracked and swallowed me whole; the fall left me shattered and lost. I have spent the past twelve months picking through the rubble of my old life to decide what was worth carrying into the new version of myself I was building. I glued each piece back together with intention and love; and I’m proud of my new mosaic, although it only bears a slight resemblance to what it once way. I am not afraid of who I have become. But I am afraid that I have changed too much, that I am no longer the same creator that I was.
Writing is such a personal endeavor, colored by everything we experience and encounter in our lives. It is impacted by the people we surround ourselves with, the news we read, the tv shows, books, movies, music, and art we consume. Our words come from a deeper place. So it stands to reason that when that place has changed shape, it is inevitable that our work will too. Truthfully, I am a bit afraid to see the changes. I am scared that I just wont be any good.
I am aware that this is a silly fear; change is not always a bad thing, and I’ve always known that my work could use a bit more grit, more fire and fury. I guess I’m worried that I wont rediscover my lighter touch; that I will be too dark and twisty to recognize the words I always loved. Where there was confidence and fire, I now find insecurity and trepidation. I am gun shy and world-weary. I don’t know what will come out of my soul and find life on the page.
And yet, here I am; still writing gibberish and nonsense about writer’s block, poking at a sleeping dragon to see if it awakens, naming my monsters and charging at windmills. Perhaps not all hope is lost, if I’m still willing to be optimistic enough to try. Perhaps it’s time to release my fear and see what words are dancing around inside of me. Who knows what I am bound to find if I keep pushing through the anxiety.
To the little monster who’s been sitting on my shoulder whispering in ear that these words will not be good enough. So what? They are here, they fought their way to the page, and are staring proudly back at me. My words my be brittle and unsure, but they will get stronger. I will find a new voice to suite the new me. I have named the monster, revealed it for what it really is. I will be like brave Don Quixote, charging at my wordy windmills in order to slay my dragons.
There is a reason why they say that you must write everyday. But do you want to know a secret? It is not just because practice makes perfect, no, if only it were that easy. It is because time can make the tiniest hill feel like a mountain. When you hide from your words for so long, your tools become rusty and old. They do not flow as freely as they once did, your syllables squeak as they bend and pull along the line of their sentences. This tiny daily task becomes daunting and unwieldy. Suddenly you find yourself staring at this blank page, desperately needing a profound spark of genius to make it all feel worthwhile, to make it feel like you didn’t waste weeks of your life on nothing.
Stagnation; that is the fear. You are Sisyphus with your chosen art form- you push and you push every day, but if you slip- you must start back at the bottom with your damned rock. It is perhaps made even more difficult because you have seen the view from those higher peaks. You know what you are capable of creating, and you know how hard it will be to get back to those lofty places.
This is why the best advice any writer will ever give you is to simply write. Write everything, all day every day. Write out two lines on a sticky note at your desk between phone calls, pull out your journal when you get home, dictate a few sentences in the notes on your phone. But whatever you do, don’t stop. Don’t take a couple of days off- even if you only write for two minutes: do those two minutes, toss every brain cell you have at them.
Refining your craft and discovering your voice is a lot like working out. You may have the grand vision of your best seller in your mind, you may know all of the key plot points to hit along the way. But, just like a marathon, you can’t go out there and do your best work if you haven’t been training. You might finish, but it won’t have that spark you envisioned, the elements that makes it stand out above the rest. It will be missing an integral component: the true voice of the creator, unshackled and free.
It took me a year of daily writing (especially when I didn’t want to) to find my voice, to discover the flow of the syllables and the tempo of my paragraphs. It took only a fraction of that time to let the voice fade. I expect it will take me another year to get those muscles back in shape. But if you love it- then it’s worth it. I will push that boulder up the mountain once again; wiser because I’ve done this before, stronger because I know what I am capable of creating- and I was so damn proud of it.
So I sit here and I stare at the blank page that is refusing to back down. But instead of putting it away with a sigh and an “I’ll try again tomorrow when I have the energy,” I start writing. And it’s clunky, it’s hard, it’s unforgiving- it isn’t particularly good. But with each word a little rust chips away. Here’s the beautiful secret of a blank page: it won’t judge you for what you decorate it with, it will simply be pleased that you took the time to adorn it with a crown of your own making.
The time has come once again my literary lovelies, wordsmiths, ink-slingers and syllable-stringers; it is time for summer camp. Lucky for you, being outdoors is optional (though highly recommended), you won’t have to share any of your snacks, and you can wear your plot bunnies as slippers from morning til night if you wish. The July edition of Camp NaNoWriMo is just around the corner. Yes, it’s true, you can really do anything on the internet these days: even summer camp.
For those who don’t have a clue what I am talking about, let me just back up a step or two. Camp Nano is an offshoot of the main Nano, also known as NanoWriMo, which stands for National Novel Writing Month. It’s a virtual writing challenge where thousands of people across the globe sign up to tackle a single venture at the same time. The main event takes place every November. The challenge: to write 50,000 words in 30 days.
Camp Nano is the figurative little brother of the November session. It has more of a community focus to it. If you sign up, you get the option to join virtual cabins- either of your own creation or through a bot that will randomly place you. You also get to set your own customized goal- whatever you want it to be. You can track words, pages, lines, minutes, hours, and you can be as nice or ruthless with your goal as you want (this time around I’m being a little bit mean and going for a ‘double Nano,’ which means 100,000 words in 30 days). Every person in your cabin has their own project to work on, but you get to network and talk throughout the month as you all embark on the adventure together. Rest assured, it is a virtual camp- there is no travel required, and no real roughing it unless you decide to take your laptop out on the back patio.
I am addicted, I’ll tell you that upfront- and if anyone reading this is interested in writing- I strongly suggest you give it a shot, what do you have to lose? It’s such a positive community, it is one of the few places where I feel completely accepted. My oddball interests and quirks suddenly aren’t so strange anymore. Plus- there are thousands of writers who have years of experience, tips and tricks to share. And they are more than willing to help anyone who stumbles across their path.
I had never lost a Nano until this last year when a few things went a wee bit sideways in my life. I’m hoping that July will be my redemption. I have a few projects that are halfway finished, so I’m going to try to push through to get them ready for editing. I can’t wait. I haven’t decided if I’m joining a cabin yet this year; I’ve found a new writing group that mainly uses Discord to keep in touch through the year (all 60+ members met through Nano and have kept each other motivated the past few years), and I’m really hoping I can sleuthy-sneak my way into being one of the regulars.
Adventure awaits, my friends- do you dare take the first step to meet it?
You are a creative soul; that’s why you are here, that is how you found this tiny little hobbit hole in the great expanse of the internet. You dare to dream in the middle of the day, you find inspiration in the most unlikely of places. You, my friend, are a kindred spirit. You can see shades of the world that others cannot or will not acknowledge. You have a flame that burns inside of you; some days it is just an ember, and on others it roars with a passion that could rival all the stars in the universe. Your work is your physical soul molded by your own hands. You tirelessly give your energy to this creation without realizing the magic you are wielding. There is a beauty in the way you bring something tangible to life, something that was born from the firing neurons and synapses in your brain. You have a passion that demands to be explored, a gift that the world would be priveledged to experience.
Art takes many forms, some are more subtle than others. We are all artists to a degree. The writers, the painters, the musicians, the actors; yes, these are easily counted. But there are others: a chef who plays with the ingredients, a mechanic bringing an engine to life, a mathematician calculating the mysteries of the universe, a lawyer crafting an argument that turns the law on it’s head. Our mediums may be different, but our love is the same. The things that we give life to in this world are often the same things that also give life to us.
To make lasting art you must step outside of your comfortable corners. To breathe life into your work you must first soak up as much of it as you can. Your new knowledge will color your creations, bleeding into the corners, etching the nuanced edges until they gleam and entice the rest of the world. An art piece bursting with life is a piece that demands to be witnessed, it is a creation that carries within it the power to change the world. To invest in your work you must first invest in yourself. It doesn’t matter how perfectly crafted your sentences are if they drop lifelessly from your pen. Interesting things do not need a perfect presentation to be noticed.
Invest in yourself, in your experiences, in your knowledge. Let your interests guide you and teach you. Pick something that you love; a place you want to travel to, a book you want to read, a skill you want to learn- and dive into it. Find a class for tarot reading, go to the post office and get your passport, find your way to the nearest museum, watch a documentary on the Stone Henge and UFO conspiracy theories, go to a Chinese New Year celebration even if you don’t know a soul there, read books about people that inspire you. Never stop learning, never stop investing in yourself, never stop feeding your passions. All of these tiny things, these new experiences, these tidbits of random knowledge will find a way into your heart, your mind, and your work. They will create an authentic story, they will grant you a new perspective that you can share with the world.
You will create something beautiful, something that will resonate with people. You may not change the whole world, but you will have the power to change a single person. You will have the power to inspire them. Your work will find it’s way into their own, over and over again until we find ourselves staring at a beautiful tapestry of the human experience. After all, that is what art is; it is passion, it is the spirit personified, it is an interwoven story of all of the things that have made us who we are. Be proud to be a part of this tradition, be proud of your contribution to it. Invest it in, nurture it, and never be afraid to dive headfirst into it.