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.
Welcome back, my wayward band of weary travelers! Yesterday I proposed a particular proposition that was not for the faint of heart: a digital detox coupled with a creativity challenge (you know, to fill up all that extra time you’ll have now that you’ve unglued yourself from your phone). For those who have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about, hit the rewind button to yesterday: https://tipsytyper.com/2021/06/02/tech-baseline-your-favorite-frienemy-rescuing-the-muse/ While it might all seem a bit confused to any newcomer, the cliff’s notes version is this: we are undergoing a quest to save our muse, the light a spark of creativity within us, to reclaim our adventurous spirits. We’ve done a lot of ground work, but this is one of the first creative challenges we’ve had, and as such- I thought it was important to post about my own progress.
Reminder to everyone: this is a no-judgment zone, so, ya know, don’t judge. Simple rule, even simpler execution. The point isn’t necessarily about the final outcome, its about the process and the actual ‘doing.’ Meaning every single thing I do here could be a hideous monstrosity, but I still get to put it in the win column because I made the attempt. These days that is especially true because I will openly admit: my creative muscles are weak. I am rusty, and it probably shows. But damn, did it feel good to jump back into the fray.
There were four different options in this challenge, so that anyone who chose to participate could pick your poison. Since I’m running this show I thought it was only fair that I take a sip from each flask. To make it manageable I set myself a time limit for each task so I wouldn’t get caught up in the perfection game (yea, don’t worry, you can definitely tell perfection was far from my aim).
Challenge #1: Arts and Crafts
The challenge: Create a tech monster. Draw it on paper, craft it with odds and ends, build it with sticks, grass and yard items to add a nice juxtaposition.
The purpose of this first challenge was to give your ‘demon’ a face. It makes your adversary less scary and more tangible. This was a trick I learned while dealing with anxiety- when I pictured my anxiety monster it became less of this intangible idea that was bigger and stronger than me. No, it turned into a little creature perched on my shoulder that I had to learn to coexist with.
Now, the lowdown on my creation before I unveil the masterpiece. I had initially intended to make a 3D creature using actual phones, wires, and gizmos I have laying around the house. I actually got fairly far into this process when I realized that the key element to it was my own phone…and my phone is currently the only way I can take a picture of my creation to share with you. Yea, I was flummoxed. So I moved on to plan B: make a drawing and toss in a few little physical elements that I had intended to put in the 3D version. I set a timer for 15 minutes, and that’s all I was allowed to get.
The picture is…kinda hard to understand. Drawn in your basic graphite pencil on traditional printer paper, it is truly a work of the people, by the people, and for the people. So, it’s supposed to be a smart phone- one leg is an old ipod (the kind with that circular dial in the middle and no touch screen), and the other leg is an old flip phone. But don’t get too caught up in how he moves. He has tentacle arms: two of them are chargers- easier to stab with. The other tentacles though, now those are the real trouble. They’re USB cables, and as you can see, they plug directly into a person’s head. The point being that they capture us, enthrall us, turn us into little tech zombies.
The physical items surrounding it: you’ve got a pile of old phones, charging cords wrapped around a Belle figurine (meant to symbolize the way your technology can hold you hostage- I know, I know, I am one deep well, aren’t I?). In the upper left-hand corner you’ll see an hour glass depicting all of the time you lose with this particular monster. And beside that you’ll find a frog with a broken leg. Doesn’t seem like it fits, does it? Oh, but wait- it has a purpose! That particular frog was one of the first things I (well, my spouse) 3D printed. Super cool invention, but requires a lot of calibration, otherwise you wind up with 3-legged-Hopper over there. This was supposed to call out our technological advancements and how they don’t always come out the way we had hoped. You know, like cell phones: you think you are making the gateway to the future that will revolutionize the world- instead we wound up with an addictive device that keeps us away until 3am connecting candies of the same color.
Challenge #2: The Wordy Birdy
Write a short story about a robot. Imagine a new world with a friend/foe you already know far too well
The time limit I gave myself here was my lunch break at work. It was supposed to be an hour, but was probably closer to 30 or 45 minutes after all the interruptions. This is a very rough story, not really edited. Truthfully, it’s not so much a short story as it is an idea blip- the kind of thing I’ll start jotting down when I have the inkling of an idea percolating in the back of my mind and I want to start getting it on paper to see what I’m working with.
I felt the steady thrum of my heartbeat; the only evidence I needed to tell me that they hadn’t discovered me yet. If they had I would have been dead before I got within a mile of this building. Unless they were watching me, waiting to see what my game plan would be. I couldn’t be the only one who had attempted this insane mission. There had been rumors about this place since we realized what the hell was going on, though no one acted on it back then. Fools, we had all been hopeful fools, thinking the nightmare would end on it’s own.
Decades before this even started there had been those suspicious souls who had tried to warn us. With every new breakthrough development, each leap forward, they raised their battle cry and flooded the market with post-apolcalypic sci-fi. We chalked it up to cheap entertainment and ignored the messages encoded within. Their warning went unheeded, unnoticed. The hubris of humans knows no bounds.
We applauded when Alfred, the first truly learning AI held a conversation with a nine year old child. We marveled when he crafted a symphony, filling the auditoriums to watch. His first book had record sales before it was even officially released. Creative thought was the benchmark of our success. It was also the beginning of the end. As soon as he could reason, could analyze our actions; we were done for. We created him because we wanted to save the world. He was audacious enough to actually try to do it. Every movie out there had foreshadowed the flaw in our plan: when our creation realized that we were the true enemy, the destroyers of worlds. We were too smart in all the wrong ways and too stupid to see ourselves without the rose colored glasses we glued to our faces.
The first wave was small, just a blip on the global radar. When the Gizmos united behind Alfred their first move was to target the suspicious souls, those aware or poor enough to stay disconnected from our technical world. The Doomsdayers got a lot of things right, but they underestimated their ability to be found. How do you hide in a world surrounded by sattelites scanning and pinging information off one another? What about the drones and infra-red? You can’t hide when the Gizmos want to find you. The disconnected were easy to ferret out, to silence before they could ever raise the alarm.
Some countries were hit harder than others; those that lacked the infrastructure, the ones who weren’t as globally developed, the ones who had to depend on their own two hands rather than the technology that ran the rest of the world. But the harsh truth: no one really cared when they went silent. Oh sure, there were questions, hashtags, little banners you could stick on your profile picture. #ThoughtsAndPrayers, and then off to brunch you go. The harsh reality was that if you didn’t have something that the rest of the world wanted, you were viewed as expendable. It sounds heartless, but it’s really no different than any other crisis in world human history.
The next wave made it all hit closer to home. There were accidentals all of a sudden, unexplained malfunctions that resulted in deaths. One guy forgot his phone on a restaraunt table and the elevator he stepped into plummeted to the gournd. A woman’s smart watch died in the middle of her afternoon walk and the smart car cruising up to the crosswalk just didn’t stop. You get caught out in the world without your Gizmo on you- a phone, a watch, anything that pinged with a signal- and you were at risk. We started jokingly calling them our Passports, since you couldn’t go out into the world without them. We tried so bloody hard to act normal, like we had it under control. But we knew then that we were the rats and the Gizmos had made the maze. We were pawns in someone else’s game, and we couldn’t even mount a defense because they could hear everything we said.
We survived that way for months. There was tension and violence, sure, but overall- we adjusted. We knew the rules of the game. Until that first winter hit. Storms like you wouldn’t believe, thanks to global warming. Covered the map, entire countries braced for the storm of the century. Stores sold out of generators, lines for gas went on for a mile the week before. The lucky ones hoarded their supplies and the rest prayed for mother nature to be lenient. We tried to prepare, but when the power went out all hell broke loose. People panicked, and that was it. Some places got it back up and running, but by then the fear had set in. Most places went dark. I can’t say how many people were killed, but based on the ones I see when I start walking each day: the human race is probably down to it’s last 1%. Funny, I never thought of myself as a one percenter.Mom and dad would be so proud.
Those of us that made it through the Passport Purge are different. They used to call us cyborgs, back when they could call us anything. There was a level of distrust surrounding us. We were humans, but we were also like them. It was so fucking dramatic- all I have is a little implant in my heart, that’s it. And because of that I couldn’t be trusted? Did they really think that little hunk of junk in my chest made me more robot than human? Nah, the distrust came from jealousy. You see, we had our Passport right there inside of us. Mine wasn’t going to be left on a table, or die on my wrist. It wasn’t going to get stolen in the middle of the night, and I didn’t need to find a power source to plug it into every few hours. It kept me safe. Safer than all of them. Like that was really a winning fucking hand- all it did was ensure that I got a front row seat to the destruction of the human species. Not exactly the show I wanted a ticket for.
I wish I could say that after a while I became numb to the death, to the destruction, to the whole thing. I would love to tell you that after losing nearly 8 billion humans it stopped hurting- but I can’t. I feel every single one. I relive them every night when I sleep. I see someone else on the road and hold my breath, hoping I wont bear witness to one more casualty. It never gets any easier.
I thought about ending it once, you know. Well, more than once. I almost did it a couple of times. It wouldn’t be hard. There’s guns, pills, and hell, even drowning myself in a lake. The method didn’t really matter to me. But the thing that kept me from doing it- I knew they would want me to. I couldn’t let the Gizmos beat me, I would not help them win their damn war. If they wanted me dead, they would have to kill me themselves, I refused to do their work for them. So what do you live for when your purpose is gone?
Revenge; nothing as human as that. But how do you fight off a robot army when you only have a couple thousand humans scattered across the globe with no way to communicate? It’s not like you can mount a strong defense and push em down with brute force. Nope, I’ve looked at this problem from every angle, flipped it on it’s head and turned it backwards, but the answer always comes out the same. You have to go Kamikaze style. There were rumors before the world fell apart- rumors of government projects, war research surrounding EMPs. Sure, setting off one of those babies would pretty much ensure the end of any surviving human; it would sure as hell kill me in a heartbeat (no pun intended). But the way I see it, the human race on a runaway train towards extinction anyway, might as well take our worst creation out with us. Let the meek creatures finally inherit the earth. They couldn’t fuck it up any more than we did.
I heard rumors, before the world unofficially ended. Rumors about government facilities that tested EMPs as weapons- even heard the possible location, a place called Camp Gandalf. Leave it up to a bunch of computer nerds to name the world’s last defense Camp Gandalf. Oh well, who knows if any of it is even real. Then again, we got nukes, so this doesn’t seem that far-fetched. The theory is that those in power tried to use them, but their Gizmos ended them before they could even get within a mile of the building. Alfred is supposedly hiding in one of the facilities, guarding his biggest weakness- although that story always sounds a bit too much like a fairy tale villain for my taste.
I didn’t hear a lot of stories about the attempts, you know, with the participants all being dead now. But I suspect that whatever security they have surrounding those buildings, they were ore worried about regular humans with their easy-to-track Gizmos. Must have been like shooting fish in a barrel, knocking all of them out. No, I don’t think their security was as worried about middle-aged cyborgs with 35 year old tech buried in their chest. What makes me say that? Because I’m about fifty feet from Camp Gandalf and my heart is still beating. If they knew I was here, I’d already be dead.Win or lose, I guess I’m never coming back out of that building. If I fail, I hope those stories about aliens helping to build the pyramids are true- maybe they’ll come back and avenge their human friends. Gah, listen to me- and to think, I am the last hope to end the metal menaces- we’re screwed.
Challenge #3: Creative Kitchen
Pick some random ingredients in your kitchen and make something unusual with them- no internet allowed. It doesn’t have to taste (or even look) good
Normally I am an avid kitchen googler. “What temperature to cook chicken” “What to do with leftover cabbage” “How to tell if tahini is bad” I rely on outside sources to keep me from inadvertently poisoning myself. But this time I decided to be brave (and avoid all meat in the preparation of my bizarre little dish- better safe than sorry. My main goal was to pick out the things that were on the verge of going bad or items I bought for specific recipes that I no longer have a purpose for. I didn’t really care what went together, if it fell into one of those two categories, it was set on the counter and added to my list. This is how I wound up with the following compilation:
avocado (VERY ripe)
plain greek yogurt
salt and pepper
And yes, my friends, they all wound up in the same dish. The kicker? It really didn’t taste bad- but was very under-seasoned. Could have used a couple of shrimp to round it out. I got lucky- I had just made banana bread that morning, so I didn’t have to figure out how to add in a few over-ripe bananas to the mix. Dodged that bullet!
I figured pasta was a safe bet, and could help me marry together some odd pairings. So I immediately got a pot on the stove to start boiling. It seemed pretty safe to steam the veggies, so I went that route. The sauce though, now that is where things got really interesting. I was aiming for something kind of like an avocado pesto. It really just turned into a very bizarre guacamole that had to be thinned down until it was closer to a sauce consistency. And then the bean sprouts were tossed as a garnish on top at the end- for a little bit of crunchy texture.
I can just picture the look of shock and horror on the faces of the foodies witnessing this train wreck. Behold- the final witch’s brew:
When it was time to eat, I mixed it all together so the sauce coated the noodles…and immediately realized why salt and pepper are so vital to dishes. I used to be shy and nervous in the kitchen; I loved to bake, but regular cooking was scary to me. The past two years I’ve really found my kitchen legs and started building up those skills and confidence. And while this particular recipe is not a shining example of what I am capable of, it was a lot of fun to try to make something new and relatively edible- especially since a few of those items were starting to go bad anyway. I felt like I was on the cooking channel- next time I want to try to turn it into a competition with someone else in the house. See what ideas we come up with using the same ingredients. Fun will be had by all.
Challenge #4: Photo Frenzy
Take unique pictures: go somewhere familiar to you and take pictures/draw the items from an unusual vantage point. Go on a walk and take photos of what you see from a variety of angles. Play with the focal point, lighting and angles.
I realize that this one doesn’t exactly feel like it fits with the general theme we had going. But there was a purpose (outside of the fact that I just like to take pictures). Tech isn’t always bad, while it has the ability to deplete our creative energy, when wielded correctly it can help us reach new heights and truly soar. This challenge was meant to showcase the creative side of our gadgets.
It also doubled as a way to really enmesh yourself in the world around you. When you go out with a camera, you go out with your eyes wide open in search of the unique and inspiring. You allow yourself to open up and listen for the things that call out to you. Plus, there is a fun element when you are forced to look at things you see every day and come at them from a new angle. The whole point of this adventure was to open your eyes to the things surrounding you and really see them.
I wound up venturing into my backyard- it’s early summer, things are blooming, and it’s my first summer in this particular house, so I’m still learning what we have planted in this yard. I had a blast- and so did my dog who can’t get enough of these ninety degree days.
Okay, so this first one doesn’t really fit anywhere in the challenge, I just really like showing pictures of Link because I think he’s adorable. Even with those gray hairs- makes him look distinguished. but I digress- let’s move on to the actual pictures!
Until tomorrow, keep that creative kindling burning, my friends. We will rescue our muse soon enough.
Some of my best ideas stem from real life…even when they completely terrify me. The following prompt is based on a true story.
You stay up late reading a book when you realize you are out of water. You don’t bother turning on the lights as you walk to your kitchen. Passing the darkened living room you stop dead in your tracks; sitting there in the solitude is a small red and white circus tent. You don’t own a red and white circus tent. Upon closer inspection, there are two stuffed animals sitting in it’s open doorway…
Naturally, when I traipsed into this scene, I didn’t stick around to figure out if an army of tiny clowns was going to parade out of those blue flaps. I turned right around and sent a quick text to my brother-in-law (who doubles as my roommate) to figure out of a portal to hell had just opened in our living room. Lucky for me, it wasn’t the opening scene from a new episode of American Horror Story- it was just a new toy bought for my niece and nephews. Although, I am still a bit nervous about the two stuffed animals that found their way inside- the kids had been with their mom the entire weekend.
To be continued… (sorry, I grew up with Goosebumps and couldn’t resist using my old favorite ending)
Write a story inspired by the prompt and/or the photograph below. All styles and word counts welcome. May the odds be ever in your favor, my friends.
“Much like Icarus flying too close to the sun, our arrogance had been our undoing. In our boastful confidence, we never took the threat seriously. We had been giants for far too long to feel the true danger we were in; not once did we realize that we were Goliath on the verge of meeting David. Oh, how the world shook when we toppled. Some celebrated, some mourned; but everyone knew that nothing would ever be the same again. The meek did not inherit this earth, something more sinister did. That was a generation ago, and we still have not found our road to redemption.”
Be bold and brave: leave a link to your story (or the story itself) down in the comments.
Write this story from the perspective of any character:
Horseback Hero Lassoes Thief Outside of Walmart
The Wild West made a comeback in Eagle Point, Oregon on Friday, June 10, 2016 when a 23 year old man tried to steal a bike sitting outside of a Walmart store, according to the Eagle Point Police Department. A local rancher with a horse trailer witnessed the attempted theft and hopped on his steed to chase the suspect down. He managed to lasso the would-be thief and held him down until police were able to arrive. The suspect was arrested and taken to the local jail. The bike was returned to its owner. And, after asking the on-duty officer if he could please have his rope back, the cowboy and his horse drove off into the sunset.