Creative Ruts and How I Get Out of Them

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Everyone struggles and falls into creative ruts sometimes.  This has happened to me so many times I probably don’t remember them all.  It might be that I can’t find a way forward on a particular project, it might be that life has gotten me so stressed and twisted up that I can’t find time for my writing or creative projects (which usually just makes things worse and turns into a vicious cycle), or sometimes I’m just not feeling particularly inspired for a while.

I have different strategies for different kinds of creative ruts.

If I’m struggling with a specific project or story, one of the best strategies I’ve found is to step away and work on something else.  The problems I’m dealing with in that project stay in my mind as I work on something else, so when I come back to it, I often find there’s a solution waiting there, having simmered on the back burned for however long.

If it’s life stress, or worse a cycle of life stress, I’m struggling with then I have to be very intentional about correcting course.  I have to intentionally carve out time for myself amid the stress.  This might be time to pamper myself a little, which can take as disparate forms as baking a treat, dyeing my hair, or giving myself permission to binge watch a show for half a day.  This might be carving out time for the project itself by turning off my phone, putting on headphones, or moving to a different location all together.  I’ve found that, for me at least, when it’s life getting in the way, the problem won’t just resolve itself over time.  I have to make a solution.

When I’m just not feeling like working on something creative can be the hardest struggle to overcome.  I’ve found from experience that pushing myself to keep writing, sewing, or whatever creativing I’m doing, is likely to end in frustration and a product I’m not happy with.  So, when I get to that point, I often just need a break.  I have to be careful not to let that break get too long, but a day or even a few days, distance can really help.  After that, or sometimes instead of it, I try for small attempts.  Can I write a sentence or paragraph?  Can I just do one seam or press anything that needs it?  Can I try to just spend five minutes on the project.  Sometimes it’s five minutes of pulling teeth and I put the project down again.  Sometimes I end up spending an hour or longer and get out of my rut.

In this last situation, I also sometimes combine strategies.  I’ll carve out specific time and either put on my headphones or go to a place specifically to write.  This combined strategy tends to work best with writing.  Other creative endeavors usually respond to the try for five minutes method turning into a longer session.  One of my strategies for trying to sit down for at least five minutes of writing and switching projects is to work on a prompt.  Sometimes that will be one of my image prompts, sometimes it’s one of the may prompts I’ve collected on Pinterest over the years.

This last strategy seems to have worked this time (I’ve been struggling to write for the last month, but have been doing pretty well this week since I started this prompt).  I thought I’d share the beginnings of this prompt, which is fairly typical of the type of scene I start a project with.  Dump a character into trouble, and get to know them as they get themselves (or get help) out.

The Prompt:

Write about the dragon who rescued the princess from the knight.

The Scene:

Princess Velya didn’t know how her father’s men had missed Sir Godfred’s ill intentions.  She’d been bringing up her concerns about him for months.  No one took the words of a royal princess seriously though, so here she was.

Her wrists were bound in front of her and tied to the pummel of her saddle.  Her faithful gelding, Strider, had been killed in the initial skirmish when Sir Godfred and his group of soldiers ambushed her party in the forest.  She’d just been out for a little exercise for her and the horses.  Strider had done his best to get her away, and fought hard when the soldiers tried to take control of him.  She’d been so proud of his loyalty until one of them thrust a spear into his chest.  She was never going to get the sound of his dying scream out of her head.

Velya had managed to slide off the side Strider wasn’t falling toward, to avoid injury, but she’d only made it a few steps before she was surrounded and roughly wrestled to the ground.  They’d held her there, struggling and yelling until they’d subdued or killed the rest of her guards and attendants.  She wasn’t even sure who had survived and who perished.

She ground her teeth as she stared ahead of her at Godfred’s back.  He was a power hungry, cruel man, and she wanted nothing to do with him.  He’d been one of many knights to seek her hand, and one of the few she’d told her parents very clearly would not be acceptable under any circumstances.  Her father had even agreed that he would not be considered, since there were so many suitors and most of them were higher ranked and better favored among those at court besides.

“You will regret this,” Velya murmured to herself.  “I will make sure you regret this.”  She would fight with everything she had to make sure whatever foul plan he had didn’t come to fruition.  She would not be used as a weapon against her parents, and she would not allow such an oaf as Sir Godfred to use her against her kingdom.

When they left the forest, and the buildings began to loom ahead, Velya’s jaws tightened.  The monastery.  He’d brought her to a church.  If he’d paid off some of the monks, or gods forbid, the abbot himself, then there was nothing stopping the thrice damned man from trying to force her to participate in a marriage ceremony.  With enough witnesses, it would be upheld even if she was under duress and her parents hadn’t sanctioned the marriage.

Velya looked around, trying to think of a way to escape.  The soldiers had a strong hold on the reigns of the horse she rode, and it belonged to one of them anyway, so she was unlikely to get it to bolt for her.  Once they were inside the church yard there would be very little chance of getting away cleanly, especially if they closed the gates behind them.

Velya tried to remain as still as possible, holding her head high to appear the haughty princess assured that they wouldn’t harm her, while still searching for any means of escape.  She wouldn’t let Sir Godfred win.

When the gates clanged shut behind them, Velya flinched.  Damn them all to the seven hells for putting her in this position.  If she’d been doing anything but riding, she’d have been better prepared to defend herself and her people.  Her father had her trained in unarmed combat, as well as the sword and the use of daggers and other such small weapons.  When she was out riding there were always half a dozen or more of her father’s guards with her, so she didn’t carry weapons of her own.  It would have looked to suspicious to the common people who might see her on the road or in the fields or forests.  She wasn’t supposed to be an armed royal like her brother or father.

They stopped her horse near the entrance to the monastery.

Velya leaned forward and got a good grip on the pummel of the saddle.  If they wanted her off this horse, they were either going to untie her, or bring the whole saddle down with her.  She would not make this easy and she would not let them make it look good.

“Time to come down, princess,” Sir Godfred said as he dismounted.

“I will do no such thing,” Velya said, her voice easily carrying across the yard so that everyone could hear her.  She could see some monks in the doorway and still more over near the other buildings.  She would make sure there were plenty of witnesses to her displeasure.  “I will not follow orders from a knight who has disgraced his position by taking me against my will.”  Let him chew on that.

Sir Godfred made a tutting sound, like you would use when a child was misbehaving.  “Do not be willful, princess,” he said, his own voice pitched to carry as well.  “We must see that you are unharmed after your fall, and the monastery was nearer than the palace.”  His voice dropped as he approached her, these words for her alone.  “Do as you are told, and my men need not harm any of the monks here,” he threatened.

Velya stared him in the eye as she replied, her voice loud and firm.  “I would not have fallen if you and your men hadn’t intentionally slain my horse in an attempt to capture me,” she declared to all within earshot.  “You will release met to return to the palace,” she continued, even as he reached for her.  “You are an oath-breaking traitor, and I will not go along with anything you want me to do.”

Sir Godfred’s hand closed over her wrist, the metal of his armored glove digging into her flesh as he gripped hard and pulled.

He was a fully trained and armored knight, and she was but a slim girl with a little training in self-defense.

Velya found herself sprawled on the ground beside the horse.  Her hip and shoulder hurt where she’d landed on them.  It was probably a miracle she hadn’t hit her head as well.  Or maybe she had learned something from the unarmed combat training about how to fall without hurting herself.

“How clumsy of you, your highness,” Sir Godfred sneered.

Velya clenched her jaw.  No one was saying anything or raising an alarm.  He must have paid them all well to look the other way.

That’s when she head the roar, and felt the strong draft of wind beating down on them from above.

Looking skyward, she saw one of the great dragons descending from the sky, it’s powerful call shaking her very bones as it descended with strong flaps of its large and powerful wings.

The horses scattered as they screamed.

Velya curled herself into a ball, praying none of them would trample her in their haste to get away.  There were several heartbeats of chaotic sound and motion and she prayed to the gods to spare her life.

Once the horses were gone, Velya uncurled and looked up.  Sir Godfred was staring up at the sky as one giant, three-toed foot descended right for him.

Velya didn’t even have the presence of mind to scream as the giant foot came down, Sir Godfred between two of the toes where he stood above her.  The giant claws dug into the dirt on either side of her, and then she was being lifted, the foot tightening down around her as she heard the giant wings beat against the air and felt the sickening lurch as the dragon leapt skyward once more, taking her with it.

#

Sapphire knew her brother would be furious when she arrived home, but she couldn’t just lay there in the forest and listen as the princess of the local kingdom declared herself captured by an unfaithful knight.

She’d acted before thinking it through of course.  She could have just threatened the knight and made him release the princess.  She could have raised her voice in alarm and distracted the men, but no, she’d flown in, scooped up the princess, and flown off.  What was she supposed to do now, except take the girl back home to get her brother to help her sort it out?

Sapphire landed on the rocky outcropping near the top of her brother’s home and very carefully deposited Princess Velya on the rock before stepping back.  She didn’t know how the princess was going to react to all this.

Sapphire let out a breath of magic and her form shifted and morphed, shrinking her to the size of a horse.

Princess Velya sat up and looked around.

“Wow, it’s beautiful,” she said, her eyes caught by the view from the rocky outcrop.

“Yes, the views of the valley are quite spectacular from this high,” Sapphire replied.

Princess Velya’s head slowly turned so she was looking at Sapphire.  “You got small,” she said, blinking quickly.  “You…Did you…save me?” she asked, looking suitably bewildered.

“I could hear what you were saying to the knight,” Sapphire replied.  “I thought it best to remove you from his presence so I could find out what was really going on.”

“Thank you,” Princess Velya said, her words coming out with such force that Sapphire actually took a step back.  “I think he was going to try to force me to marry him or some such,” Princess Velya went on.  “I’m so grateful for you taking me away from him.”

“You are most welcome,” Sapphire replied.  Oh good.  The Princess wasn’t upset with her.  That was very good.

“Sapphire?” her brother called, stepping out of the door that led inside the cliff.  “What’s going on?  You weren’t supposed to arrive for three more days.”

“I’m sorry to impose on you early, brother.” Sapphire said, turning toward him.  “But it became rather urgent that I arrive,” she added, tilting her head to hopefully draw his attention to the princess.

“Oh, you brought a guest,” her brother said.  Standing stock sill.

Her brother, unlike Sapphire, did not look much like a dragon.  He was only about four feet tall in his natural state, his body built more like a salamander or newt than like a horse, and yet he stood more like a man.  He was at least blessed with the scales of a dragon, his in a deep green, and all the protection and magic that came with their shared heritage.

“I’m very sorry for intruding,” Princess Velya said, shifting so she was kneeling on the rocks rather than half laying down.  “Sapphire has just rescued me from quite a predicament.”

Emerald looked at her, his bright red eyes glowing slightly with intensity.

“She had been captured,” Sapphire said.  “Removing her from the situation seemed like the obvious priority.”  At least it had at the time.  Returning her home probably would have been the smarter course of action, but it was too late for that.

“In that case, please come inside,” Emerald said.  “We can see to any hurt you may have and provide you with clean clothes before returning you home.”

“Thank you,” Princess Velya said with a smile for them both before she moved to stand.

She made an odd sound in her throat as she did, her face going suddenly very pale.

“Are you well?” Sapphire asked, moving closer.  “You can lean on me if you need support.”

“Thank you,” Princess Velya said through tightly clenched teeth, reaching out to put a hand on Sapphire’s shoulder.  “It think the fall from the horse hurt me more than I realized.  Putting much pressure on my left leg causes a great deal of pain.”

Emerald glanced at Sapphire, his look inscrutable to most humans, but Sapphire could see the dozens of questions in his gaze.

“The knight pulled her from the horse,” Sapphire explained.  She’d been very careful when she picked up the princess, even in her haste, to make sure she wasn’t causing any damage to the girl.

“And I’m incredibly grateful to you for rescuing me from him,” Princess Velya said.  “I should be able to walk with a little support.”

“You probably shouldn’t,” Emerald said.  “Walking on an injury only makes it worse.”  His glance at Sapphire held very different questions this time.

“I could carry you on my back,” Sapphire offered.

“That seems presumptuous,” Princess Velya replied uncertainly.

“It is simply the easiest way for me to carry you inside,” Sapphire replied, crouching down so the princess could easily sit upon her back.

“Come now,” Emerald said, taking Princess Velya’s hand.  “Let us help you inside so we can tend to you properly.”

Thankfully the princess nodded and carefully sat side-saddle style on Sapphire’s back.

Sapphire stood slowly, making sure the princess had her balance before following her brother inside.

As soon as they were through the doorway, Emerald clapped his hands and called out orders to the servants.  A bed was prepared and supplies for healing the princess, and food and drink were brought.

Sapphire followed her brother to the nearest guest suite and walked the princess directly into the bed chamber before slowly crouching down.

Emerald steadied Princess Velya as she stood and helped her the two steps to sit on the bed.

“We’ll take good care of her,” Maria, her brother’s housekeeper, said as she breezed in with two maids behind her.  “You two go on and make sure a message is sent to her family.”

Sapphire did as she was told, making her way back to the hallway.

“I’ll send a sprite,” Emerald told her as soon as the suite door had closed behind them.  “I will inform them that we have rescued the princess from someone who was causing her harm, and that she will be returned as soon as her wounds have been tended to and she is fit to travel.”

“May I take her?” Sapphire asked.  She wanted to see the princess safely home.

“I will inform them that the princess will arrive home by dragon,” Emerald replied.  It was always best to announce themselves in advance so as not to frighten anyone.

“Thank you,” Sapphire replied.

“And as soon as the pixie has left, you are going to tell me everything,” Emerald responded.

“Yes, brother.”  He was only worried for her.  Sapphire knew that.

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