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.