Last week, I started Couch to 5k. For the first time in a long time, I could tell people that I went running three whole times in one week. Three whole times, for a total of six whole miles. (Well, I walked for a good chunk of them. That’s just how Couch to 5k works.)
It’s a start. The first week of any program is the easiest, but it’s a start. When I did cross country in my senior year of high school six years ago–the only sport I ever did, where I was actually literally the slowest person on the team, if not on all the teams in the entire district–my coach set a goal for me to be able to run 5k in under 30 minutes. Psh, I thought. That’s ten-minute miles! I can do that!
I still can’t.
So I paid for an app with a program I can follow, because on those days I know I’ll want to stop, I’ll think, But… those $2! You could have bought an avocado and didn’t! (Honestly, I probably did buy that avocado.) And so far, even though it’s been a week, and even though I know it’ll get much harder from here, it’s been worth it.
Last week, I also started making myself do daily writing prompts.
For those of you who aren’t my CP or who don’t frequent the various places on the internet where I’ve been posting lately (*waves at /r/YAwriters, the SCBWI Blueboards, and Twitter*), I’ve spent the last few weeks/months revising the fourth draft of my current huge project, WELL. Now, WELL is my baby. I love, love, love working on WELL and figuring out its problems. I love the characters. I love the world. But… I’m also gearing up to do Camp NaNoWriMo this April. And don’t tell WELL, but… I’m writing something totally new.
I haven’t written a new fantasy world in a couple years. I’ve tried, believe me, but honestly, I didn’t try very hard. I created a world of all-female witches that collapsed after a chapter and a half. I created another world that I’m not going to talk about because I want to go back to it someday. No matter what world I made, or how much I tried to build, I always came back to WELL, and WISPY (same world), and those friends in the good old town of Nowhere.
So when it came to creating a new world, I was kind of lost. I like my fantasy to feel natural; when I write my own work, I can’t bring myself to believe in the colored magic bursting out of fingers, or the telekinetic powers of an exclusive group of people. It’s why my witch story didn’t pan out. When fantasy is organic, it flows. It’s the magic that comes from fairies that could be hiding in the tree in your yard, or the owl that screams when you talk to the crows too much. It’s Peter’s shadow, who never shows the wrinkles on its physical form, who stays a silhouette so that somehow, some way, even if Peter did grow up, you’d never know it from looking at his shadow’s face. The fantasy that flows–for me–is the fantasy that’s real. With this approach, you might be able to understand why it has been so difficult for me to come up with something for Camp NaNo. How do you come up with a whole magic system that still feels real? But I needed to figure it out. I needed to step out of my comfort zone, out of Nowhere, and into a new set of rules. Most of all, I needed to write.
The idea built slowly. First, I wanted to simply listen to a fantasy audiobook with a notebook in hand, close my eyes, and jot down notes for whatever came to me. Thinking about the idea, though, I realized it didn’t make sense. What kind of world would I make for myself if I was listening to someone else’s? Next, I did the same thing, but without the fantasy audiobook. I sat in bed for fifteen minutes with a blank page in front of me trying to make sense of the ideas I had bouncing around in my head. Nothing went on the paper. (Admittedly, if I’d waited longer, something might have ended up on the page. I prefer efficiency.)
Then, I thought, I should just do a random fantasy writing prompt off Google. I did the search and came away with this prompting first line: “I will make trophies of your spines.”
This was the best thing I’ve done for my creative mind in many, many years.
The greatest thing about writing prompts is that there are no rules. Writing prompts are unrelated to anything else you do, so you have free reign to do anything. You can write a genre you’ve never written before just to see how bad you are at it. You can try to write in the style of your least favorite author, only to be surprised at how much you actually liked what you wrote. You can make your characters–even ones you’ve already created in other work–say or do anything and not have it technically count in your actual WIPs. And when you can do that, you can figure out what’s natural. Even more important, you can figure out what is decidedly not.
That first writing prompt ended up being three short paragraphs about a girl practicing her most villainous line–complete with a cape–only to be laughed into shame by a rival villain-in-training. Since then, I’ve branched out anywhere and everywhere–in one instance, I even revisited my fanfiction days and resurrected my favorite Harry Potter pairing of my own invention: Scorpio Malfoy and Lily Luna Potter, the only Potter kid sorted into Slytherin. True. Love.
In other prompts, I found voices for my Camp NaNo story. I found my new world. What I wrote the night I drafted this post might be my favorite thing I’ve written in months and months and months.
So if you’ve found yourself in a creative slump–and even if you haven’t–I encourage you to try this out. Exercise those creative muscles and get moving (see how I brought around that whole Couch to 5k thing?). Dedicate a notebook or a Word document solely to writing prompts. (I use a moleskine-like notebook so I can guilt myself into wanting to fill it up.) Grab any old random writing prompt and write something, if only for a paragraph. If the writing prompt is too boring, make your story liven it up. If the writing prompt takes itself too seriously, have a character laugh at it. Either way, write. Write like it doesn’t even matter–because it doesn’t, not really. Most of the words you scribble out for these prompts won’t even make it into an actual story. Whatever. It’s all yours. It’s all a product of your creativity. THAT is what matters.
Run like the wind? Well, you can try. But you know what you can do with wind?
Write it. Go.