Image Prompt Response 081 – Wedding Photos

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I chose the image of the castle ruins seen on my Welsh Dragon Haggis Tour back in 2005.  I managed to find the original image I wrote this prompt to despite the compute drive kerfuffle that lost my originally planned image prompts for this month.

You may recognize a couple characters from Image Prompt responses 20 and 62 if you’ve been reading here for a while.  They don’t have a book of their own yet, but there are some scenes lying around that could develop in that direction one day.

Wedding Photos:

Ian angled the camera up toward the second story of the structure while he waited for the wedding planner to finish positioning people.  He made sure there was just enough of the sky above the wall in frame to add a nice lighting effect to the finished shot, making the sky seem like a bright white haze above the wall.  With any luck it would turn out artsy enough to get some prints ordered online.

He turned back to the group and made sure he was ready to start snapping pictures as soon as the wedding party and family members were arranged as requested.  This was the set of formal photos the bride and groom’s families wanted.  Posed shots with certain members in them.  After this, he and the wedding party would have time to do the pictures the couple wanted for themselves.

“I think that’s everything,” the wedding planned said after Ian had finished taking several shots of the entire two-family group.  “I’ve got everything on my list for the families,” she said to Ian.  She turned back to the group and raised her voice.  “Family members, thank you for your patience and cooperation.  We’ve got everything we need from all of you, so please make your way carefully back to the path and down to the reception tent.  The wedding party will remain here to get a few more photographs before joining you.”

Ian sighed quietly and glanced about as the group began to disperse.  The bridesmaids and groomsmen had formed a bit of a huddle to one side, between the families and the couple, who were standing a little away, her leaning in and his arm around her shoulders.

Ian quickly got a few pictures of them enjoying the quiet moment, as well as a few that showed their wedding party being a buffer for them.  He really liked this couple.  Weddings usually weren’t his favorite thing to shoot, especially when they involved travel, but they’d wanted him because of all his pictures of ruined castles and other structures as much as for his portrait work.  They liked his versatility and that he loved the old structures like they did.  The groom was just starting out a career as an archeology professor and the bride was an engineer who specialized in restoration and preservation of stone structures like the one they were standing in.

Ian caught a movement in the corner of his vision and turned to look.  Up on the second floor, somewhere visitors were barred from going without special permission, stood a petite man with pastel blue hair and blue butterfly wings.  Well, man was a bit of a misnomer.  One of the Fair Folk.  Ian smiled up at Ailill briefly before returning his attention to the wedding party.  He still had work to do, and he knew Ailill would just watch quietly, hidden by his glamour from anyone but Ian, until Ian was done with work for the day.

“We’ve got at least half an hour before anyone starts getting restless,” the wedding planner said.  “I advise wedding party shots as quickly as we can manage, then we can send them down to keep everyone happy while we get the couple shots you want.”

“Sounds good,” the groom replied.  “Mostly we just want to find interesting backdrops to use and situate ourselves less formally.”

“I know you wanted to rely on the eye of the photographer more for these,” the wedding planner said.  “I’ll try to stay out of the way and be helpful.”

The bride smiled.  Ian was pretty sure she’d hired this wedding planner specifically because the woman was willing to back off and give them control again when the situation warranted it.

“I think we can get some good variety with different angles in here,” Ian said, “and it would be nice to try a few in the two smaller rooms as well.”

“I agree,” the bride said, beaming at Ian.  “I wish we could go up to the second floor, but they were very adamant that it wasn’t safe yet.”

“I took a look at the stairs,” Ian said.  “they’re right.”

Ian spent the next ten minutes giving stage direction to the group, and the wedding planner was actually great at helping when he wanted to do something like vary the heights across each row and things like that.  She knew everyone’s names.

By the time they’d gotten enough with the wedding party, the sun had shifted just a touch, giving the whole place a slightly more mysterious look.  Ian was pretty sure it would give the couple shots a slightly surreal and out of time look to them.

“Do you need anyone to stay and help with your dress?” the wedding planned asked.

“I can help,” the groom said.

“And with just them I can do anything that he can’t,” Ian added.

“You can go on back with the party,” the bride told the planner.  “Thank you for everything.”

“I’ll keep everyone happy and settled until you arrive,” the wedding planner said.

The bride waved to her party as they headed out of the castle ruins.

“Now, take a breath and relax,” Ian advised.

The bride laughed.  She looked truly joyous.  She then took a deep breath in and let it out slowly.  Her groom followed along with her breath, and they leaned in, foreheads touching.

Ian got pictures.

“How about the two of you just wander and explore and I’ll get candid shots,” Ian said.  “If there’s anywhere you’re particularly fond of, we can do some more posed and composed images as we go.”

“Thank you for being so wonderful today,” the bride said as her groom offered her his arm.  They began to stroll through the ruined castle together.

“It’s wonderful to be here to capture everyone’s joy, especially yours,” Ian replied.  He did like that aspect of wedding shoots.

“And that’s why we picked you,” the groom said.  “No one else ever said anything about capturing the emotions of the day, just the memories.”

“We all think of it differently,” Ian replied.  He didn’t know how other people talked about their photography.  He hadn’t talked with other photographers much about it since university.

Image Prompt Response 079 – An Abyss of Stars

An image taken from slightly above looking down on a collection of classical inspired buildings including one with a dome. Buildings are surrounded by paved pathways and green grassy areas.
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I chose the image of Calton Hill for my prompt today.  It reminded me of an Image Prompt from a while back (number 40) so this is more a continuation of that idea (as in an actual continuation of the scene, so you may want to go read that first) than it is anything about the picture, but I had fun with it all the same.  I hope you enjoy.

An Abyss of Stars:

“What is this?” Ryan asked.  He could still feel the solid ground beneath his feet, still feel Xander’s hand in his, but everywhere he looked was just an expanse of stars, as if they would float off into space at any moment.

“This is the Celestial Academy,” Xander said, gently squeezing Ryan’s hand.  “It’s a bit of a space unto itself, but it’s also very much here in Edinburgh at the top of a hill overlooking the city,” he said.  Xander stepped closer, never letting go of Ryan’s hand, and pointed behind Ryan with the hand holding the flask.  “Look.”

Ryan turned, and right behind him was the grass and the paths, and beyond that the gate and the light of the city beyond.

“This is one of those things that I’d have called crazy until you showed me it was real, isn’t it?” Ryan asked.  Xander was always talking about something strange, like purple plants or fairies being real, but he almost always managed to come up with real proof to show Ryan he wasn’t crazy.

“Probably,” Xander replied.  “I’m so immersed here that I forget what you consider normal.”

“Nothing about you has ever been normal if that helps,” Ryan replied, turning to look at Xander again.  “So how does this particular not normal work?  And is it safe to walk here?  Because it looks like I’m going to fall into an abyss of stars.”

“I won’t let you fall,” Xander said, his hand holding Ryan’s just a little tighter.  “The new students usually say it’s easier not to look at your feet or think about them much.”

“I’ll do what I can,” Ryan replied.  He trusted Xander, but this was taking that to a bit of an extreme.

“Come on,” Xander said, taking a step forward.  “I’ve got you.”

Ryan nodded and took a step to follow Xander.  His foot landed again like he was still walking on that worn stone path, so he took a deep breath, focused on Xander’s face, and walked forward.

Xander smiled at him, and once again Ryan remembered why he went along with all the weird.  Xander was a lot of things, but above all else he was Ryan’s oldest, closest friend, and the man he loved the most, even if Xander didn’t necessarily know that last part.

Ryan managed fairly well as they walked along the wall of the building, the solid presence of it giving him something to orient toward.  When they reached the corner and Xander turned them left, out into the abyss of stars, Ryan tried to focus on Xander, but after only two steps he tripped over his own feet and the sudden movement without any visual cues triggered the nausea and Ryan stumbled to a stop, eyes closed, clinging desperately to Xander’s hand.

“Ryan?” Xander asked softly.

Ryan squeezes Xander’s hand to let him know he’d heard.  He swallowed hard, praying his dinner wasn’t about to make a second appearance.  He was incredibly prone to certain kinds of motion sickness so he had plenty pf practice trying not to hurl when it happened.  Ryan very carefully shifted his feet, spreading them wider for better balance and leaned down a little, resting his free hand on his knee.  He took slow deep breathes and remained very still, hoping his stomach would settle once his inner ear did.

“You didn’t tell us you’d have a guest tonight,” a woman’s voice said.

Ryan flinched, surprised by the unfamiliar voice and the nausea threatened to overwhelm him again.

“Hold this,” Xander said to the new person before Xander’s hand came to rest against Ryan’s neck.  “I won’t let you fall,” Xander whispered softly, followed by a string of gibberish that didn’t sound like any language Ryan had ever heard.

Xander’s hand grew cooler against his skin.  The nausea slowly faded away, the sense of disorientation going with it.

Ryan risked cracking one eye open.

Xander was bent slightly, looking into Ryan’s face with obvious concern.

“Better?” Xander asked.

“Yeah,” Ryan replied softly, swallowing one more time.

“I’m glad,” Xander said, standing up straight again but not moving his hand.

Ryan stood up straighter too, very conscious of the fact that Xander’s hand was still resting on his neck.  They were standing close.  So close.  Ryan took a deep breath.  They weren’t alone, and this wasn’t the time to risk decades of friendship on something ridiculous.

“You haven’t done that for anyone in a long time,” the woman said softly.

“The students have to learn it for themselves,” Xander replied, stepping back and pulling his hand away.  He squeezed Ryan’s hand though, that connection still there to ground Ryan.

Ryan glanced around, finding an incredibly tall woman with luxurious black hair, bright brown eyes, and the smoothly perfect dark skin that spoke of ancestry somewhere in Asia.

“This is Anusha,” Xander said.  “She’s one of the other teachers here.”

“It’s nice to meet you,” Ryan said, nodding to her.  Normally he’d offer to shake hands, but even if Xander didn’t have his right hand, he wasn’t sure he should move yet.  He was a little surprised the nodding hadn’t caused a resurgence of nausea.

“It’s always nice to meet one of Xander’s friends,” Anusha said, smiling brightly.  “He seems to have forgotten some of his manners though,” she said, smirking at Xander.

Xander blushed.

Ryan blinked.  He’d never seen that before.

“This is my oldest friend, Ryan,” Xander said softly.

Anusha’s eyes went a little wide, and she looked at Ryan again.  “That must make this spring water then,” she said, holding up the flask.

“He was very kind to bring it,” Xander answered.

“Shall we?” Anusha asked, motioning to Ryan’s left.

Ryan turned and found they were standing beside a different building, a door waiting to be opened.

“We shall,” Xander replied, motioning Anusha to lead the way.

Anusha opened the door and held it for them.

Ryan took a careful step and when the nausea didn’t come surging back, walked into the building still holding Xander’s hand.

Murky Middles

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I’ve been revisiting some older stories and working on finishing them lately, and it’s reminded me of how hard middles can be sometimes.  Not quite as had as beginnings for me personally, but still plenty hard.  (For context, I always have to both reposition and rewrite the beginning.  It’s a thing I’ve come to accept about my writing process.)

I used to wonder if plotting and other planning would make the middle easier.  Is it something I struggle with because I’m flying by the seat of my pants as I write, or is it something a lot of writers struggle with, even when they plan?  Do the plotters just struggle with it during outlining instead of drafting?  The more I talk to other writers, the more I think it depends on both the writer and the story.

Some writers have the plotting process down to an art form and they can plot out a middle as easily as a beginning or end.  Some discovery writers can blast through a draft and race through the middle with no problem at all.  The rest of us struggle with that murky middle whether we plot or pants.

Sometimes, I just don’t know what to do to get my characters moving from the beginning to the end.  Sometimes I get lost in character interactions and lose the thread of the plot.  There are plenty of ways to get lost in the middle of a story.  I haven’t put a lot of thought into strategies for working through the middle, so if you have any, I’d love to hear them.

I don’t always struggle with middles.  When I was drafting Strong Fort Spathí, the middle was a breeze.  I knew exactly what I needed to happen to get me to the end point.  Books two and three have been a completely different story.  Book two was almost nothing but murky middle for a while (as well as way too much extra beginning, but that I was at least expecting).  Book two is shaping up much better these days (after the second complete redrafting) and book three is at least in progress, but I’m struggling with that one on the transition from the middle to the end.

I will admit to struggling less with middles when I’m writing fanfiction than I do when I’m writing my own original pieces.  I think it’s because I can rely on the convention of the canon books, or because I don’t mind so much if the plotting is circuitous or unwieldy in a fanfic.  I’m just practicing and playing with ideas in fanfic, so I’m slightly less of a perfectionist.  (I’m still a perfectionist, don’t get me wrong, it’s just less than with my original works.)

The lack of pressure to get it perfect, or even right, in a fanfiction gives me the freedom to worry less about how murky my middle is.  Readers are a bit more willing to follow a tangent to have more time with the characters in that space.  Or maybe I’m selling myself short and they’d be perfectly happy to follow me off on a tangent for more time with my original characters too.  You never know.  Without much feedback from the wider audience who has acquired my first book, it’s hard to know for sure.

Looking back at this post, it feels a bit like a rambling, murky middle all its own.  We’ll call that a feature, rather than a bug.  I wish everyone luck with their middles, be they murky or not.

Where I Find Inspiration

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I’ve spent a lot of time this year thinking and writing about process, habit, and other parts of my creative life.  Today, I want to take a little time to think and write about inspiration.

First, let’s talk about what I mean by inspiration.  I’m not talking about the motivation to write, or the push to start a project.  I’m talking strictly about the ideas side of things.  Writing, like most art forms, involves a process that gets you to completion, but the creative idea, the inspiration for the story or character, can come from a variety of sources and through a variety of processes.  Said another way, this post is going to be about where my ideas come from, their source if you will, rather than how I get them written down.

There’s a saying that comes up in most writing communities I’ve been in: There are no new stories, just new ways to tell them.  This is to remind you that there are so many stories in the world about so many things, that nothing is truly original anymore, it’s all informed by the stories you’ve been exposed to, but also that this isn’t a bad thing, and it doesn’t make your story any less worthy of being written.  Only you can tell the story you want in the way you want to tell it.

Most of my examples in this post are going to come from the Western Literary Tradition, because that’s the one I was taught in school and while I’ve branched out to try to read works from other cultures, most of my experience is still with Western stories.  Any story about star-crossed lovers is likely to invoke comparison’s to Romeo and Juliet, anything where a character kills their father will bring up references to Oedipus Rex (with or without the accidentally marrying your mother part).  Even major corporations do this as they’re making new stories.  Take the Lion King movies as examples.  The original is a retelling of Hamlet.  1.5 is Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are DeadLion King 2 is Romeo and Juliet.  I’ve definitely done this in the past.  I’ve retold an older story, or at least borrowed heavily from one.  And that’s not a bad thing in and of itself.

The special magic I bring to the equation is how I tell the story differently.  What’s unique about my star-crossed lovers?  How is my retelling of the hero’s journey different from every other hero’s journey before it?  (And let’s be frank, most stories can be boiled down to a hero’s journey.)  That’s where the inspiration comes in.

I draw ideas from all around me.

When I’m creating a character, I may borrow a piece of their description from a favorite character in a book and a piece from someone I know in real life.  I may give them a verbal quirk one of my friends uses, or one of my own.  I may put someone in an outfit I saw while I was out shopping, or one hanging in a store display.

When I’m creating the plot my characters move through, it’s informed by everything I’ve ever watched or read.  I can use the tropes and ideas that are familiar from a star-crossed lovers’ story to set up an expectation that’s how things will end, and then subvert that idea by letting the lovers triumph and find a happy ending together.  When I’m writing an epic fantasy set in a medieval like society, it’s hard not to reference or draw on popular works that have gone before me, like The Lord of the Rings.  Even if I haven’t read the books or watched the movie in years, that series is so foundational to fantasy in the Western Tradition, that I can’t really avoid comparisons or overlap because so many other fantasy stories I’ve read draw on it.  I may not do it intentionally, but there’s going to be something that could be pointed to as similar.

The same is true for how I create my world.  How I decide the magic (or science) of a vampire works in my own fictional world will draw on the original legends, on Dracula, and on a number of different modern vampire novels, stories, and movies I’ve read.  This will extend to role-playing games as well.  I try very hard to mix and match and bring my own original spin to things and make something relatively unique, but there are some things that are going to overlap simply because that’s what is thought of as a vampire.  After all, if they don’t drink blood in some way, are they still a vampire?  How I construct the nature of my world (or my vampires, werecreatures, fae, etc) will have repercussions for the plot as well.  Dracula would have been a very different book if the character hadn’t had some way to mesmerize his victims.

There are a lot of ways that my characters, worlds, and plot lines come together in unconscious ways.  I don’t always realize where the inspiration came from or where I’ve read an idea before.  There are also ways that I do this very consciously.  Many of my stories are a way of sharing something about myself.  A lot of my main characters are women, and a lot of them are white (or would be default read as so in most cases).  This is partially because that’s my identity, and thus the one I feel most comfortable writing about.  I’m not saying that everything my characters go through is based on my own life, but usually at least a few bits and pieces of the problems they encounter, be they external, internal, or interpersonal, are things I’ve experienced or struggled with.

Another way I consciously draw inspiration from the world around me is trying to add diversity to my cast of characters.  In the US at least, most readers will assume a character is white unless there are specific ques in the text telling you they aren’t (like a physical description or a mentioned nationality).  My particular writing style is fairly descriptive.  I know basically every physical characteristic and detail of my characters if they get any substantial amount of page time, and while I don’t tell readers all of it, I do try to give enough to invoke an image that will be at least similar to my own image of the character.  I’m doing to mention hair color and style, eye color, and skin tone.  I’m probably going to tell you about the kind of clothes they wear.  Something I’ve been trying to be much more intentional about since my first book is to make my fictional world better reflect my actual world in the abundance of diversity it contains.  I want there to be a possibility of readers seeing themselves in my books, even if it’s not the main character.

This effort to diversify extends beyond the obvious (in the US) demographic of race (which I need to continue working on).  I want to include diversity of socioeconomic backgrounds, religion, gender identity, sexuality, age, and life experience.  (That isn’t necessarily the full exhaustive list, just the major ones I focus on a lot.)  Sometimes I’m doing this before I even start writing (I tend to have ideas for characters before I have the idea for the plot) and sometimes I look back through a draft and see where I can insert diversity in ways that help give my world more vibrancy.  This can involve quite a bit of subtle tweaking to make the changes fit well into the existing narrative, but that’s work I’m happy to do to improve my story.  And it’s work I know I could get wrong, so it’s something I want to pay a lot of attention to during my editing phase by getting a diverse range of readers to give me feedback on how well I’ve done portraying various characters in ways to look realistic and respectful.

When you boil it all down, I get inspiration from everywhere.  I take inspiration from the world I live in, the stories I’ve read/watched/played, the things I’ve experienced, things others have told me about that they’ve experienced, dreams I’ve had, or artwork I’ve seen.  I have a half-drafted novel that came about entirely due to an image I saw posted online ages and ages ago.  If I ever published that one, I’ll be thanking that artist for the inspiration, even if I can’t find the original image posted anywhere after all these years.

That may have turned into a bit of a ramble, but I hope it at least gives you a sense of where I draw my inspiration from.  Are there specific places you find inspiration or a particularly good story about where you found inspiration for a work?  I’d love to hear about it.

Image Prompt Response 078 – Meeting the Enemy

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I chose the image of the spider as inspiration for today’s 20-minute sprint.  Using characters from the project I started for Camp NaNoWriMo back in April.  For a little context, Hannah is from our modern world and was transported into the fantasy world in the scene below.  I’m trying to leave out most of the world building stuff for this exercise, but hopefully the character and story parts will come through alright.

Title: Meeting the Enemy

After weeks of travel and training with both the locals and her fellow Champions, Hannah was ready to meet this being from another plane to figure out how she could protect this world from it.  She still wasn’t entirely sure she bought into the idea that the only way to do that was to kill the creature.  She also wasn’t entirely sure what the previous Champions described when they defeated their opponents was death.

She’d asked to go alone, since everything she’d learned seemed to indicate that she should be relatively safe but any of the local people could be killed just from getting to near this thing.  She’d been a little surprised when everyone agreed to that plan, but there she was, walking alone down the streets of the empty city.

The buildings weren’t very tall, maxing out at five stories, but they had a certain charm to them.  They all had the kind of embellishments she associated with Victorian era homes, but the architecture she’d expect in an Asian country with the wooden structures, sliding walls, and easy ways to add ventilation.  It was an interesting combination, but she liked it.

She’d been told that the being had arrived a few months ago, and had attacked anyone that came near it, and managed to drive the inhabitants out of the city entirely before taking up residence near the center of town on the central tower.  They’d all said that it was twice the size of the larger animals they used for riding and pulling carriages, which made it about twice the size of an ox.  Hannah held the Scepter loosely in her right hand, and had a slim sword hanging at her side.  She’d enjoyed fencing in College, so she’d kept with it recreationally since.  The locals seemed to like that she had something they saw as martial training.  She still wasn’t used to the weight of the real sword compared to a fencing foil though.

When she came to the end of the road and walked into the main square, she paused and looked around.  The Champions had indicated that she should know the being when she saw it.  There was something about humans like her that could recognize the other-planar beings.

Hannah looked across the paving stones and didn’t see anything.  She did have the strange feeling that she was being watched though.

She examined the fronts of all the buildings, looking for signs that one might be inhabited.  And then she looked up at the tower itself.

The tower was made of a pink stone that glittered slightly in the bright mid-day sun.  Hannah’s eyes tracked upward, admiring the carved ornaments at the corners of each story.  And then she was looking at the top story of the tower.

It was a spider.

That was her first thought.  It was just a spider hanging down between her and the tower.

Hannah shifted to one side, but the spider didn’t move.  It was resting against the tower, it’s black body gleaming in the light and the yellow markings along it’s back and legs seeming to shift and move as she looked at it.

The spider lifted one leg, and Hannah saw the shadow of it move against the tower.

It was a spider.

From front legs to back it was nearly two stories long, which made it about ten meters she guessed.  That made the body itself about ten meters long.

“You have got to be kidding me,” Hannah said out loud.

The spider’s head moved.

You do not run from me.

The voice wasn’t something she’d heard.  It was more like how the previous Champions spoke to her from the Scepter.

“You can hear me?” she asked, curious if it understood her.

They all run from me.

“You tried to eat them, of course they ran from you,” Hannah muttered.

I was not trying to eat them.

“Well, it sure looked like it to them.  And that means you can hear me and understand me.”

Of course.

“So, why are you here and what do you want?” Hannah asked.  If it was intelligent, she might as well ask the questions.

I did not choose to be here.

“That makes two of us.  So what do you want now that you’re here?”

Hannah saw the spider’s head tilt one way and then another.  It was a mannerism more like a dog or a cat, when they were trying to listen to their human talking to them.

What do I want?

“Yeah, what do you want?”  If the answer was to go home, maybe she didn’t have to kill it.  Hannah rather liked spiders most of the time.  They were useful.

Image Prompt Response 077 – Unnatural Fog

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I chose the image of the morning mist and the edge of a wooden dock for my twenty-minute sprint today.

Unnatural Fog:

Riley sat at the edge of the dock, looking out at the morning fog that clung to the river.  It had been three days since he woke up to find the river and their small trading post surrounded by dense fog.  It was as if someone called down a cloud to cover them, and it hadn’t gone away.  Normal fog dissipated over the course of the day, the heat from the sun dispersing it.  Not this fog.

“Whatcha thinking?” his sister Kiley asked as she sat down beside him.  As usual, she’d arrived without a sound or warning.

“This isn’t natural fog,” Riley replied.

“We all know that,” she replied.

“We haven’t seen anything on the river in three days either,” Riley said.  “There should have been a few traders, maybe even an inspector.”  They were actually overdue for a government inspector.  As an official, government-sanctioned trading post, they had to be inspected twice a year to make sure they were storing goods properly, posting information according to regulations, and not letting anything pass through without documentation.  They’d had their yearly audit back in the fall, but it was well into spring now, and usually the inspection of the facilities themselves happened well before summer.

“They might have just missed us and decided to come back on their return trip,” Kiley said.

“But that doesn’t explain seeing nothing on the river for three days,” Riley said.  “Or the fact that you can’t hear things in the fog like normal.”

“The quiet is eerie,” Kiley agreed.

Normally, when there was fog on the water, sound seemed to carry further and louder than usual.  It was impossible not to hear another boat, even if you couldn’t see them properly.  Fog made navigation dangerous, but this fog seemed even worse.  You wouldn’t even hear another boat coming until you were right on top of it.

“There’s nothing we can do about it,” Kiley added after a while.

“We could,” Riley countered.  Neither of them was much of a magic user on their own, but when they worked together they could accomplish some pretty impressive rituals.  Clearing out the fog with a strong wind or a fire spell was conceivably possible if they worked together.

“You know father would never let us,” Kiley replied.

Their father was a little overprotective and a lot worried they’d be taken away if their abilities with magic were discovered.  Their mother had been conscripted by the government when one of the inspectors found out how good she was with magic.  They hadn’t seen her in ten years.  They got letters occasionally, so they were pretty sure she was still alive, but she wasn’t allowed to come home.

“I just get a really bad feeling about all this fog,” Riley said, pulling his knees up to his chest and hugging them tight.  “It feels wrong.”

“I know,” Kiley replied, shifting closer to wrap and arm around his shoulders.  “It’s not natural and it makes my skin crawl a little.”

“It feels heavy,” Riley said.  “Like if I’m not careful it will smother me entirely.”

“I know what you mean,” Kiley replied, rubbing his arm.  “If we have to do something about it, I think a fire spell out over the water makes the most sense.”

Riley nodded.  A magical water spell, which fog would be, could be negated by a fire spell to a certain extent.

“We should wait until it matters though,” Kiley said.  “If we go a whole week without a boat.”

Riley nodded.  They often went a few days between boats, but a week was unheard of.  It would definitely mean something was wrong.

“And maybe we’ll ask forgiveness instead of permission,” Kiley added.

She was right that their father wouldn’t approve of the idea of them doing a spell to clear the fog.  It would make it too obvious that someone else in the family had a talent for magic.  Riley didn’t want to be taken away from his home, but sometimes he wondered if he’d get to see his mother again if he was conscripted by the government too.  He barely even remembered their mother.  He’d been five and Kiley eight when the official came for her.

On Creation and Completion

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I’ve been thinking a lot about my creative processes and what I get out of them lately, in case the past few regular posts haven’t made that obvious.  My creative process looks a bit different for free-form things like writing than it does more concrete things like sewing or cross-stitch.  These are the three types of creation I’ve been doing the most of lately, so they’re what’s on my mind.

My writing processes are all over the place, but I take more joy in the drafting stage than most other parts of the process, including actually finishing something.  With cross-stitch and sewing it’s a bit different.  I enjoy the process.  The individual steps and seeing the project come together are enjoyable, but seeing the final finished project is a huge rush all by itself, even if the last thing I did was super easy and only took a few minutes.  That act of completion is just so amazing.

So, for my writing, I seem to enjoy the creation itself the most, but for most other crafts, the completion of the project is the most enjoyable part.  I find this interesting.  And I think it might have part to do with the fact that a writing project doesn’t always look or seem either complete or incomplete, especially when it’s just words on a screen, but you can tell with just a glance if a sewing or cross-stitch pattern is complete or not.  A little less so at the end stages when you’re doing finishing work, but certainly during the bulk of the project it’s either in pieces or has big gaping holes with no color or stitches.

All of this got me thinking about why I create.  Why do I want to make things or write stories?  Part of the answer is that I enjoy the act of creation.  I love making things.  Whether it’s new words, a new shirt, a teddy bear for someone, a cross-stitch that makes me smile when I look at it, or a cardboard creation to keep the cats from getting at the cords under my desk.  Believe it or not, that last one brought a lot of satisfaction with it.  I could get at my cords easily, but the cats could no longer walk on the power strip where there’s a switch they could accidentally flip to turn everything off.  It happened once, my cat was not amused by the yelling and cursing that ensued.  We’re both much happier with this new arrangement.

Sometimes I’m really proud of the final products I make, like the Regency gown and Spencer jacket I made so I could fit in with the bridal party at my friend’s Regency themed wedding.  Sometimes, it’s just the satisfaction of making a solution with no extra costs, like that cardboard cord protection.  Sometimes I’m writing a story just for me, and never plan to share it with anyone.  Sometimes I’m writing a story I want everyone to read.  But no matter what the motivation is, I enjoy the creation process.

Taking joy in the process as well as the finished product is one of the best things about making of any kind.  Yes, you have an awesome thing when you’re done, but you also spent time (sometimes a huge amount of it) doing something you enjoy.  Sometimes, when the editing is hard, or the ideas aren’t coming, I need that reminder that the creation isn’t all about the end product.  It’s about the process and the enjoyable time (and sometimes friendships) I make along the way.

I think what I’m trying to say, is don’t forget to take joy in the process, and if the joy is gone from the process, maybe it’s time for a break to make something else for a while.  My writing has been a bit of a struggle lately, but I’m finding a lot of joy (and some peacefulness in my own head) from working on cross-stitch projects (mostly gifts for others).  So, I’m trying not to stress the lack of writing progress right now.  Trying to force it can lead to stress, so doing my one or two sprints in the morning is enough.  And if every few weeks I miss a day entirely, that’s fine too.  There’s only so much creative energy and time, so at least I can spend it on the project that’s giving me joy.

With the state of the everything right now, it’s important to be compassionate with yourself, especially when it comes to your hobbies and the things you’re doing because you want to do them.  If it’s no longer enjoyable, a break might serve you better in the long run.

Image Prompt Response 076 – No Going Back

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I chose the image of the tiny waterfall in the creek for my twenty-minute sprint this time around.  I decided to come back to an earlier image prompt (#22) and explore K and M a little more.  I continued the exercise of not using gendered pronouns that I tried out in that one as well because it’s an interesting exercise.

No Going Back:

K stood looking up along the creek in the early morning light.  K’s parents were still asleep and K had packed up everything they wanted to take with them the night before.  M had promised that everything would be alright once they left this morning and M’s parents would smooth things out with K’s.

Now that it was almost time to leave, K was nervous.  M had always been nice to them, as had M’s parents and siblings, but K spent so many years trying to hide everything and not let anyone know that it seemed strange to have admitted it.  And that was before considering the whole running away thing.

K noticed as soon as M stepped out the back door.  M didn’t say anything, just walked over to stand beside K.

K shifted closer to M.  It had been an enlightening few days talking with M’s family.  After sixteen years believing that none of it was real, that admitting it would lead to either being committed or locked away in some research lab for being a freak, K still wasn’t quite used to the idea that empathy and telepathy were real things that science accepted and understood.

M gently draped an arm around K’s shoulder, pulling K into a half hug.

“Ready to head out?” M asked.

“Nervous,” K replied.  It would be good for M to know that.  K wasn’t sure if M could still pick up on emotions despite the shields K had developed to protect against all the noise from others’ emotions and thoughts.

“I’ve got your back,” M said.  “There might be some tough bits, but we’ll get through alright.”

K nodded.  M believed it.  So did M’s parents.  K believed that M wanted to help, but knowing M’s parents did too gave K more confidence that it was okay to leave with M, which was a bit like running away.

“Come on,” M said, using the arm around K’s shoulders to turn them and head them toward M’s car.  “I grabbed your suitcase and your coat from the rack in the hall,” M said.  “You said that was everything you needed.”

“Yeah,” K agreed.  Enough clothes for about a week and the books K had brought to read while on vacation with the family.  There wasn’t much else K would miss really.  M had offered to drive straight to K’s house so they could get anything they needed, but really K didn’t have anything.  K’s parents didn’t believe in keeping material things.  Clothes were utilitarian and the books they kept were mostly for K’s home schooling.  K didn’t even own any stuffed animals or toys anymore.  The few K had owned were given away years ago.

“Let’s get on the road then,” M encouraged.  “There’s a place about forty minutes away that does great breakfast.  I figured we could stop there for a bit then head to my place.”

M squeezed K’s shoulders before letting go, then opened the passenger side of the tiny sedan.

K slid into the seat, closing the door and buckling in as M walked around the car.  K looked out at the three cabins the family had rented.  It was a new place they hadn’t tried before, but K liked it.  Having three buildings for all fifteen of them had meant it was quieter at night and K slept better.  There were also more places to sneak off to and be alone.

M started the car and carefully turned around in the narrow drive before slowly heading up the gravel driveway to the road.  K didn’t look back.  Looking back wouldn’t help any.  There was no going back now anyway.

Creativity as Process and Pattern

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I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my creativity and my creative pursuits and how to continue to do them and enjoy them even when I’m not feeling especially inspired or motivated.  I’ve realized that most of the creative things I do follow a type of process, and that I take comfort in that process.

Take sewing for example.  You have a pattern that needs to be cut out of the fabric and then there are steps that need to be done in a certain order to sew everything together and finish all the edges and make it into a complete and finished item.  The same goes for things like cross stitch, crochet and knitting.  There’s a pattern you’re following, even if it’s something as simple as making a row with a few dozen stitches made a few dozen times to make a square.

I find that this applies to my writing as well.  It’s not always quite as obvious, but there are patterns to most writing.  Whether it’s a pattern of rhetorical choices made in a persuasive piece, a pattern of plot in a narrative, or a structural pattern for something descriptive.  There’s always going to be an underlying structure to the final product that shows the pattern I was working from.

With my writing, these patterns are often something invisible, something that only exists in my head, but they’re also a tool I use for revision and improving the piece.  With fiction, I don’t usually write the pattern down in advance, but I do map it out after the first draft.  But that’s just my discovery writing style process, and I have been experimenting with plotting out stories in advance.  That plot outline is the pattern you’re applying to the narrative.  There are all sorts of ways to think about that pattern and how to create it: seven-point plot structure, three act structure, or the snowflake method.  All of those give a sort of template for the process at least if not the actual structure of the plotting pattern itself.

I find patterns comforting.  Humans are a bit hard wired to see patterns (which is why we read so much into what is actually random or coincidental).  I can use that to my advantage when I’m doing something like a sudoku or picture-cross puzzle, where it’s obviously about patterns, but I can also use that pattern recognition tendency in things like my crafting hobbies and my writing.  Almost every sewing pattern I’ve used that has a modern style sleeve has basically the same instructions.  I can use that familiar pattern to help me make a better sleeve next time.

With my writing, the process of it all, the drafting, revising, and editing, helps me keep going even when I’m not feeling particularly motivated.  The habit of doing something every day at the same time helps my brain shift into the familiar pattern of writing work at that time each day.  I find it easier to write during my morning sprints than almost any other time these days.  My brain is so used to getting up, getting ready, and settling down to write before anything else, that it falls into the thought patterns that help me write.

In times like these, when the motivation or inspiration may not always be there, having the process to fall back on is great.  If I can’t think of anything to draft, I can work on revisions I’ve made notes about before, fill in details for a plot, character, or setting I’ve been working on, or copy edit something that’s nearly finished.  I can keep doing the work, even if it’s only for a short time, and that keeps the pattern of my daily writing work happening.

In the end, the process is how you get from an idea to a finished piece.  Whether it’s the process of laying out the colors to go in each square for a cross stitch pattern, making those stitches, following the pattern directions for a sewing project, or following the process of drafting and revision that works for you, it’s all about process.  Despite the romanticized vision of sudden inspiration, creative products don’t just happen.  Someone puts a lot of work into them by following their own personal creative process.

Right now, I’m taking some much-needed joy in appreciating that process for its own sake.

Discipline vs Inspiration: How Habit Keeps Me Going

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Writers, and other creative types, all rely on inspiration for ideas, but over the decades I’ve been writing, I’ve learned that inspiration can only take you so far.  Discipline and habit are needed to get you the rest of the way.

These days, I see writing from two different angles.  There’s the idea creation side of things that encompasses world building, character creation, and plotting (whatever that looks like), and then there’s the physical act of writing, which involves dedicating the time and energy to do the work (be that drafting, revision, copy editing, research, or anything else you need to do to finish the project).  In my early days of writing, I think I bought into the inspiration leads to writing idea a lot more.  I hadn’t learned yet that habit and putting in the time, can get me there even when I’m not feeling inspired.

Take this month as an example.

I started playing with an ide for a new character and world to help meet my April Camp NaNoWriMo goal of writing for at least twenty minutes every day.  I haven’t felt very inspired and some mornings it’s been excruciating trying to make myself write.  But somehow, I’ve done it.  My NaNoWriMo region has been doing early morning sprints together online for a few years now, and it’s become a part of my morning routine.  Even with writing slower and not writing much outside those morning sprints and my one weekly write-in, I have over 25,000 words on this new idea.  It’s a jumbled mess of random scenes, world building notes, and character descriptions, but it’s a lot more than I would have expected given how unmotivated and uninspired I’ve felt all month.

As one of my fellow morning sprinters put it recently “Discipline >> motivation any day.”  The habit I’ve built of writing every day (I’ve only missed two days in April so far) has carried me through when I was struggling to feel creative.

This is part of why I love NaNoWriMo.  While the challenge is ostensibly about writing 50,000 words in a month on a brand-new novel, in spirit, it’s much more about building a daily writing habit.  The ethos of celebrating all new words (or progress of any kind), no matter how few, and every successful effort toward more words, even if the 50k goal is out of reach, is something that I really like.  As a very fast typist who doesn’t usually struggle to get words out, the 50,000 words isn’t the hard part of NaNoWriMo for me personally.  The daily writing habit is my true goal for the challenge these days.  Writing every single day, even over the holidays and busy work times that always come in November, is something I’m really passionate about.

From talking with friends, both local and around the world, I’m not the only one struggling with inspiration these days.  It seemed appropriate to share with the world (or whoever reads this at least) the technique I’ve found to get me through when the inspiration might not be there.  Dedication can get you pretty far all on its own, and it’s more than worth developing good habits of dedication to your writing, or any other creative pursuits.

With that in mind, here’s what’s been working for me:

  1. Dedicate a time every single day to your writing.  This could be as little as five or ten minutes.  Consistency is the key here.  It’s about building up a mental habit which helps with getting into the writing headspace.
  2. If the words aren’t flowing, trying just one sentence.  If that goes well, try for a paragraph.  The physical act of writing (long hand or typing) can help your brain get into the right gear for writing.
  3. If it’s really not working, try changing something.  This could be switching to a different project, moving between drafting, revision, or copyediting, or trying out a different POV.
  4. Don’t berate yourself for working slowly.  Some days it will take 20 minutes to write as little as 200 words.  Some days you might manage two or three times that in 20 minutes.  You should be just as proud of those 200 words as you would be of 600 words.  It’s forward progress.
  5. Remember that revision and copy editing are still writing work.  Just because it might look a little different doesn’t mean you aren’t writing.