This past summer, I separated from the military, sold my house, and moved across the country.
In September, I began a new job that I was excited for – perhaps too excited. The organization itself ended up not being a good fit. My mental health was suffering. After I chose to leave the position, I learned from my parents that they had been very worried about me.
When I love something, I throw myself into it. And I loved the skills and opportunities that job had – creativity, planning, communication, working with other businesses.
Sometimes things don’t work out the way we want them to. What we need and what we want are not always the same. This has been a difficult lesson for me.
So what else is new? I have been reading more and even got new library cards for my son and I.
This October, I have been working on a new story.
This project is an entirely new one. I wanted to write something with a fantasy/magical element that takes place in the story-world that I’ve had in my head since I was a teenager. Now, I finally feel comfortable enough to start world building.
The premise of my new story The Pomander is that two women must go on a journey and along the way they learn and reveal truths about themselves. The consequences of their ability or inability to accept their truths could have life changing and potentially lethal consequences.
It’s what I’m calling more of a soft fantasy – it’s in a fantasy world but there’s not a ton of gallant dueling or dragons or things like that. In the first draft, I am aiming more for the emotional than the action. Plus, this world is connected to earth.
I have more stories that will take place here – Museum of Halfwood Things and eventually a story about the original heroine, Cadwyn – but for now I am enjoying the writing process (I use Scrivener) and crafting the characters.
Sharing this side of me has always been difficult because I thought it made me feel too different. At some point during my childhood – or more accurately, over the course of it – it was instilled in me that being different was not good. I only wanted to be good. I never wanted to be “bad”.
The stress of disappointing others has held me back from so much when I should be focusing on myself.
As an adult, I’ve met and been inspired by so many amazing people who are not afraid to be “different”. To them, I am eternally grateful.
Now, I don’t want to be good or bad – I just want to be myself.
I hope you do something for yourself today, friends!
This post comes from prompt 1 in a writing group I am in with a friend called the World’s Most Low-Key Writing Club. It’s a 10-minute writing exercise. I didn’t do any editing so it’s very raw but very real.
Content warning: stress eating, body image
I’m sharing this prompt in particular because I think a lot of us need to know we are not alone in our negative thoughts about our bodies – if you don’t have any, tell me your secret! Confidence and self-love are something that are a constant struggle in my life and I want to share with others that it’s okay to feel the way you feel.
More detailed explanation and thoughts are on the Oak + River Books podcast!
*Note: if you are struggling with body image or eating, please consult a professional. This post in no way intends to treat or diagnose – it is solely my personal experience and thoughts.*
Prompt #1: If I could change one thing about myself…
This has two meanings to me. The first – that I thought of first – is “what is the physical thing you would change about yourself?” For me, that’s easy. I would literally just change the way my body looks. It would always be proportionate, even when I’m in a plus-size status. Outside of the body positivity movement – and even sometimes in it – there is a right way and a wrong way to be plus size. If you are pear shaped or hourglass shaped (echo all of the female comedians questioning why we have to be like fruits), then you are in the clear. Your body is “desirable”. But an apple shaped woman? Oh no. You have fat in all the wrong places. Your body’s way of distributing it makes you disgusting – instead of just curvy or thick. I don’t know what it’s like in the men’s scene. There is still work to be done there, too. I just hate feeling like my “mom bod” is less worthy than a “dad bod”. It makes me wonder how much time I’m spending looking at other people’s bodies – wondering why and how they look the way they do, wondering what their parents look like, wondering what they eat or if they fast. I am obsessed with other people’s bodies not because I’m a stalker but because I’m vain. I didn’t know I was vain. I just thought I hated the way I looked and everyone else hated the way they looked and that’s just how life was. Time moves on and post-Navy I think will be a healthier head space for me. It’s not that I’m okay with anyone being unhealthy, I’m just not okay with feeling like I am a horrible human because I’m not beautiful.
The second thought I had regarding this is what personality trait would I change about myself. It’s no secret I get obsessive… let’s say passionate. My heart is huge and heavy and love comes pouring out of it – but it’s often misguided. I have a tattoo on my ribcage that says “let love not wander”. I don’t know the real inspiration for it. I was just thinking about cool tattoos to get one day and this phrase popped in my head and I said, “That’s the one.” And I went that day to get it. My love wanders because it grows. It wanders because it tries to enter homes where it’s not welcome. It wanders because it’s searching for another love just like it. My love is loud and forceful. I need someone who loves just as forcefully but in a quiet way. A sturdy presence. A solidity. Someone who doesn’t run when things get tough. Or when I get emotional. Someone who will let me be mad and then we’ll talk about it and we’ll move and no one will hold grudges. Someone who will argue with me about leaving socks on the floor, or what color to paint the walls, or what to make for dinner tonight. I don’t even want to really argue, I just want to bicker a little bit. I don’t want someone who is passive and chill about every little thing. I have a fire in me and if I feel like I’m stomping over someone else all the time with it, I will make both of us miserable. So I want to let my love be free. I want it to roam and seek out corners and crevices and shadows. But I don’t want it to go banging down doors it doesn’t belong at. Crossing thresholds destined for someone else. I want to accept that sometimes life just doesn’t work the way we want it to, or the way we imagined it would. Sometimes I want the fact that I have loved at all to be enough. But this is not sustaining. My love will flourish when it is loved in return. When it no longer has to wander alone.
Most of all, I would change the way I love myself. Because most of the time, I don’t. I know my good traits – funny, smart, witty, caring. But I feel like if I don’t tell people my bad traits, they’ll think I’m hiding them. So often I have the urge to be like “I shouldn’t be eating this because I need to lose weight” or “I know I’m annoying but…” Why can’t I just love myself enough to be confident? Why can’t I love my own heart enough to trust that it will be okay? The best thing God has in store for me is not what I’m currently experiencing. Am I really so arrogant to think that THIS is the best God can do? THE BEST? He knows my heart and he knows my love and while I absolutely disagree that people need to love themselves in order to be loved by others, I think I do need to love myself more. I have heard that often enough I finally am on the cusp of believing I am unworthy of others’ love because I do not love myself. But I need to love myself as fiercely as I try to love other things. Fiercely and unabashedly.
This is the first of a series called Letters to an Author. What authors have influenced and inspired you? What did you like or dislike about them? How did they change how you perceive the world?
* * *
Dear Michael Crichton,
For making sci-fi feel accessible, I thank you.
I have never considered myself “good at” science. It was always something reserved for the people I thought of as super-smart.
I just didn’t feel like I was good at science, and with you, I don’t have to be.
I know wires are important, but I didn’t need to know all about them to enjoy Terminal Man. I understand the concept of a camera and recognize the expertise involved in studying dinosaur bones, but I didn’t need to study those to enjoy Dragon Teeth.
Can you believe I haven’t read Jurassic Park? Don’t worry, it’s on my list – and I saw the movie!
There arre the authors we think are our favorite authors, then there are the ones we come back to again and again. It’s hard to pick a favorite sometimes. But I own more books by you than any other author. Mostly in paperback – except Pirate Latitudes in hardcover, which I loved by the way.
Thank you for making mystery fun and nerdiness magical. For making it an exploration and an adventure. For making me not only think but ponder. For helping me enjoy science.
There’s probably a huge line of people who want to meet you on the other side, and you know I’ll be in it.
Today’s post is inspired by the diyMFA writer igniter. I have used this tool a handful of times and want to start using it more to build my writing habit.
diyMFA offers tons of info on writing, reading, and building your community. You will love it!
Today I am sharing a short (very short) story I wrote based on the igniter prompts.
My process involves: 1. shuffling the igniter tool 2. spending a minute or two thinking of an idea I want to explore 3. writing for five minutes to help force some words on paper 4. cleaning up the story and adding more details
Check out the video below to see the igniter in action. (Goal for this year: laptop upgrade. What are some good laptops for writers??)
I am starting simple with this practice. You can adjust it to your level – maybe you want to write for 15 minutes straight, or even longer!
After you are done writing, you can critique your own pieces to see what worked well and what didn’t, and also ask a trusted friend (note: this is the community part of the process) what their critiques are. I have put my own critiques below the story.
As I am about to start spring semester of graduate school, I will not be doing this particular exercise every day. Eventually, I do want to do a one-week challenge where I write a mini-story every day for seven days. Perhaps at the mid-semester break!
And remember, the igniter prompts are just that – prompts. If you are inspired to go a different direction once you start writing, who’s stopping you? The prompt police? It’s not a requirement.
One caveat is this: Doing an exercise that includes sticking to the actual prompts can help you branch out your knowledge base. For example, one time I had a prompt about a water polo referee.
My knowledge of water polo is pretty limited; luckily, the situation was that they were running into an ex in a quaint European village. I made the story about how a female referee was facing backlash for a questionable call, which she firmly believes she was in the right for. However, the foul she called was against her secret ex-lover. Fast forward to Europe, and she’s going to run into him at a women’s water polo tournament.
I actually want to explore that story more because I had fun with it. And that’s the goal! Having fun and building ourselves 🙂
Without further ado, on to today’s prompt!
The Masked Magician
This was shaping up to be the strangest party Isaac had ever been asked to work at.
Where even are we? he thought as the black sedan rolled into the “parking lot” – not so much a lot as it was a crunchy, rocky area where trucks and old cars were sitting.
“Boss, are you sure about this?” Isaac said to Bill, who was in the driver’s seat. Bill was a man of great repute; he had been a magician for decades and knew all the best spots.
This barn in the middle of nowhere – that looked like it could keel over at any time – was decidedly not the best spot.
“Of course,” Bill said, but Isaac noticed a drop of sweat on Bill’s upper lip and the way Bill’s hands clenched and unclenched the steering while, knuckles white. Bill unbuckled his seat belt and climbed out of the car and headed to the trunk of the car. “Props won’t unpack themselves, Isaac.”
Isaac nodded, even though he realized Bill couldn’t see him anymore. He sat in the car a minute longer and looked around.
Isaac had grown up in the city. He wasn’t used to the country life. He was fairly certain he had never even seen a real barn before. Maybe the fake one they put up for the Harvest Festival which was really just an excuse for people to party and drink, and he could perform his tricks and make a few bucks and no one would be any the wiser. He sighed and got out of the car.
“Hey, is this your mask?” Bill called.
“What?” Isaac asked as he came around the back of the car.
Isaac didn’t have time to look at whatever it was Bill was holding. Suddenly, a gunshot blasted from nowhere. Isaac dived for the ground. Bill lurched forward into the trunk. Time froze. Isaac heard distant laughter. If it was possible, Isaac also froze even more.
Who is shooting at us? Isaac thought frantically.
That’s when he noticed it: the mask.
Bill must have dropped it and it fell to the ground. Something about the mask pulled Isaac in. He seemed to forget all about the gunshot and Bill’s dead body above him.
Isaac gingerly reached out to pick up the mask. It was white, perfectly white, on one side. The other side was black, and made him think of charcoal and night. The mask was light in his hands and pliable. He realized this mask was reversible.
Isaac was trying to decide which side to wear when a voiced hollered, “You boy! Are you coming to do the show, or what?”
Isaac looked towards the voice and saw an old man in overalls. As Isaac remembered where he was and what he was doing there, the severity of what had just happened hit him.
“I can’t. I have to take care of my friend.” It would occur to Isaac later that he didn’t ask for medical help.
“Bill, he was just –“ Isaac turned back to the trunk of the car “-shot.” He grew angry as he faced the man again. “Where is he? What did you do with his body?”
Isaac’s heart raced. He squeezed his eyes, closed tight. Am I dreaming? Please let this be a dream.
“Best come inside before yer supper gets cold. Come on now.”
“I think I should go back.”
“How? You gonna walk 200 miles?”
Jesus had we really driven 200 miles to get to this dump?
“I’m leaving!” Isaac shouted. He turned to get the keys from Bill.
Crap, that’s right. Bill was gone.
And now the car was gone, too.
What the hell is going on? Isaac felt like he could have a breakdown any moment. Why were they playing games with him?
“Son, I don’t like havin’ to ask the same thing so many times,” the man said. He had come up next to Isaac and put his hand gently on Isaac’s shoulder. “Please come inside.”
The way the man said “please” struck Isaac as somehow endearing and threatening. Isaac looked down at the mask in his hands. A surge of anger and confusion went through him.
Isaac turned to follow the man into the barn. On the way, Isaac tried to decide what to do about Bill, their car, these weirdos in the middle of nowhere.
Isaac stopped on the outside of the big barn door and fiddled with his mask. He decided to wear the black side facing out – it seemed a little more mysterious.
Isaac vowed to seek vengeance as soon as he figured out what was going on.
Mask firmly in place, Isaac walked inside the barn.
Critiques: I like a good cliffhanger, so ending on this note felt natural to me. In a second draft, I would add more detail to the setting. What I wrote didn’t adequately explain what I was picturing in my head. Future me would also ask a friend for input. Someone with an outside perspective will have questions that you can answer in your writing; this will help the audience understand your vision. I picture the above scenario as the beginning of a story that would hopefully entice readers to continue reading and learn what happens next and what happened to Bill and the car. Also, oftentimes I like to read aloud what I wrote. This allows you to hear dialogue and now if it sounds natural or not.
Writing prompts can also be catalysts for bigger stories. Explore and enjoy the journey wherever it leads you!
I can’t wait to see what you create! Happy writing, friends!