The Importance of a Writing Community

I participated in the most amazing session of Dungeons and Dragons this past weekend.  The DM put so much work into the mission, it has been a blast to play.  He has developed personalized nemesis for each of the players and tied into their backstories.  It just so happens that everyone playing in this session is big on backstory, so he asked for and read all of them– pages and pages worth– and then developed the mission based on those and a previous mission played.  Needless to say, it has been so, so fun to participate in.  On Sunday my character met his nemesis, and found out some things about his lineage and his parents that he had never known before.  Super interesting.

Anyhow.  I have been asked to write and DM (if any of you are wondering what this is, I would love to explain and talk to you about it… and no, it technically isn’t correct to use DM as a verb, but we do it anyway) a mission after this one finishes up, but I frankly told my friend on Sunday that I am now thoroughly intimidated, and I didn’t think I could come up with anything nearly as good as his.  His response was, “Oh, I don’t believe that for a minute!”  It was incredibly encouraging to me, as well as challenging.  I feel like he has raised the creative bar as far as Dungeons and Dragons goes, and I am eager to work on my mission.

This is reason number [insert really high number] why I love Dungeons and Dragons– it does not allow me to settle, but challenges me to higher and higher levels of creativity.  And I realized, this is true in writing, as well, and shows why it is so important to have a community of fellow writers.  It took me a long time to realize this and actively seek one out.  In college, it was easy to find people to peer review my writing, and I was surrounded by other creative minds to help and challenge me.  But after college it was harder to keep that going, when it really fell upon me to be self-motivated, and I let it fall by the wayside far too long.

However, recently a number of the writers that have been coming to Dungeons and Dragons formed a writer’s group, and I had the opportunity to join.  I had forgotten how good it is to discuss writing with other writers.  Not only is it good for me on a practical level, it is inspiring my own creativity just being able to talk about my ideas with others and hearing about theirs.  One of the guys in the group, Stephen McCranie, is a professional cartoonist who is currently working on a serialized work called Space Boy.  (It is amazing, you should all check it out!)  I have never been very much into cartoons or graphic novels, though I had some exposure to them in college.  It has been so interesting and cool to talk to him and find out about his creative process and to think about the differences between how he draws out stories and how I write them.  How a lot of what I picture through description he draws out and shows without words– which, of course, brings me back to the importance of showing, not telling.

Do you have a writing community which has helped you on your creative path?

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I am a Nerd. Or a Geek. Or Something.

I play a game called Dungeons and Dragons.  It is a role-playing game (rpg), and I started doing it about two years ago.  I think it took approximately six months for it to become my favorite activity.  Yes, I am officially a nerd.  Or a geek.  Or something.  But I don’t care if people label me that, because it is so fun!  Plus, it’s a blast to talk to other people who are enthusiastic about the same things as me and totally geek out over the same activities (such as DnD, writing, or baseball).

I think Dungeons and Dragons appeals to me so much because I am a writer, and the creative side of me delights in developing stories and characters, which is what DnD is all about.  I do in DnD what I always try to do with my stories– enter into my character’s shoes and thoroughly get to know them– roll-playing them as authentically as I can.  I have experienced many different aspects of the game, from playing a character of almost every class to becoming the “Dungeon-Master”, or DM.  It’s always interesting when you plan a session and the characters go a completely different direction from what you had in mind.  Interesting– but not surprising– the characters in my stories do this all the time. 🙂

I feel about DnD much the same way I feel about my writing.  Developing the characters and stories for both makes me incredibly excited.  As a writer, there are always times when I go through creative “dry patches”, also known as “writer’s block.”  I do not doubt that every writer out there knows what I am talking about.  It is the blessing and the curse of a creative mind– the unbelievable joy and excitement of inspiration, and the awful sorrow and frustration of writer’s block.  The highs and the lows.  For me, this past week has been an extremely high point.  You can read part of the reason why in my last entry.  I have been feeling inspired about the story I am currently working on, and two exciting sessions of DnD over the weekend continued to inspire and cause my mind to go crazy thinking about it.  What happens next?  What will so-and-so do in this situation?  Etc.

I have had trouble sleeping lately because of all the excitement.  When I am too weary to write I lay in bed and spend the restful hours thinking– thinking– until I finally drift off.  I have been tired, but I have had so much adrenaline lately it doesn’t really matter.  How long will this last?  I don’t know.  I have to admit, in spite of the physical toll these creative high’s can sometimes take, I wouldn’t exchange the experience.

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When the World begins to Come Alive

I wrote all day yesterday.  All day my thoughts were in another world.  All day I felt the joy and excitement that only comes when the creative fire is burning.  It was such a happy day I wish I could live it over again.  Every time I had a chance I sat down and scribbled, while I listened to one certain piece of music over and over and over again.  That is my creative process.  I will hear a particular piece of music and associate it with a scene in my mind, then it will inspire me while I work on the scene until I am satisfied with it.  Oddly enough I don’t tire of the music, it awakens certain emotions in me, emotions which I pour into my writing.  The music changes at different periods of time, but the creative process is pretty much the same.

Writing this scene yesterday caused me to think of other scenes.  Showed me aspects of my characters I wanted to learn more about.  I thought out conversations while I was in the shower and doing dishes.  Conversations brought up questions.  I scribbled them down.  While the kiddo napped I drafted scenes, each one that came to mind in no particular order.  I couldn’t write fast enough for all the thoughts and ideas pouring into my head.  Then last night I sat down with my pages and pages of notes spread out and crafted the story on my computer.

When I first began writing this story it was from the premise of an elf appearing in a town where elves aren’t usually seen.  I have been trying to go forward from that place, to find out and write what happens next.  But it turns out what I really needed to find out was what happened before.  I thought knew this already, but when I took a closer look I realized I really hadn’t explored the backstory in-depth before.  When I began to do so, I understood so much more about my main character.  I found out what events had shaped this main character, who the important influences were in his life, and what had transpired to bring him to this place.  Knowing all of this gave me much better understanding of the actions he will take in the future.  Now I feel as though I am, ironically, back at the beginning and ready to move forward.

I did not want yesterday to end.  At the end of the day I felt as though my characters had become real and I really knew them at last, to the point I could walk around in their shoes.  It felt as though the picture– this story idea we had in our minds– was shifting from one, to three-dimensional.  The world had come alive.

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An Elf Walks into a Bar…

Have you ever had the experience where you spend hours struggling to come up with a good beginning, where you try writing it a million different ways, you spend hours and days and weeks devoting time and thought to it, and simply nothing is working out?  Then one day you are walking out of the bathroom and the perfect beginning just comes to you.  It plays through your mind with a little background music and you just have that happy, contented feeling of knowing you have found the right words… the perfect words… at last.  This happened to me not very long ago.

But first, a little background…

I have never been a very big fan of the fantasy genre.  I read Narnia and Lord of the Rings with enjoyment, but for the most part I didn’t care for reading or writing fantasy, and the idea of coming up with a world was always very daunting.  However, when I married my husband, James, he mentioned that he loved coming up with worlds but wasn’t good at figuring out the stories.  That is my forte, so we thought perhaps we could work on a story together– he coming up with the world, cultures, background, etc, and me coming up with the characters and story.  We became very excited about this and started working on it at once.  However, the effort was rather a flop.  I detailed the reason why in one of my previous entry’s.  So we put the idea aside for the time being, realizing we couldn’t force it and hoping at some future day we could work together on a story if a good story ever came to us.

Well, recently an idea popped into my head.  An elf walks into a town where elves are never seen.  How would people react?  What sort of reception would he receive?  Why was he there?  And slowly, a story started developing in my mind.  I shared my idea with James, and he began work on the world.  Suddenly, our idea had life and was really going somewhere.  So that’s been my latest project, and I am very excited about it.

But in spite of myself, whenever someone asks what our story is about, the line that keeps popping into my head is “So, an elf walks into a bar…”

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