Something I’ve always struggled with has been my inability to break free from the structures which I build in my mind. I am constantly taunted by what feels like a perilous desire for order. When I write, I plan a novel to be some thousand words long and if it is not that, I grow agitated. If it is over, a stretch the goal to a higher number, as if writing one hundred thousand words when I planned to write sixty thousand is somehow a failure, I stretch my goals beyond my capacity because “If I can do one hundred, I can do one hundred and fifty.”
In the same vein, although different, I suffer with the concept of things far more than the execution. Where my wife and my friends can live in their day to day without the need for structure and order, I cannot. Everything I do must be maintained and organized. I have thirty minutes a day to do the dishes, but only when I get home from work and only when I have started dinner. So that means, to me, when I do not work I bear no responsibility to make dinner or clean up the kitchen. The series of events which calls me to wash a plate or two did not trigger, and as such, I have no need to do that chore on that day.
I could recount a million of these to you here, and explain to you how all of them interconnect and how one thing will lead me to another. When I do not start my work week by getting to bed by eight with melatonin in my system, the rest of my week will be wreathed in discordance and I will give up by Thursday that I might try again the following week, to right the wrongs I’ve accounted for.
It’s extremely difficult to break that pattern, and to do so requires more of me than I considered. I’ve become familiar with my bodies warnings now, when I am burned out or growing exhausted from the mental drain of what I must accomplish. That, at times, it takes everything inside of me to commit to doing something merely because the task before me is not in line with the strict schedule I’ve put in my head. Life, then, becomes difficult.
What’s more is that this habit has followed me into the act of creation. I plan and organize and write and on my first pass through because I did it in a way that was suitable to my mind, I believe it to be good enough for myself and that isn’t always the case. If you read the previous post, you’ll know I am working on rewriting Sisters of Westwinter from the ground up because I grew unsatisfied with the place it was going. It became yet another chore in a long list of chores and I realized with the last few episodes that it was no longer something I was putting my energy into to make it worthwhile. It wasn’t until I wrote the interludes in which I realized this, either.
These three small stories which were merely flickers in the lives of other characters revitalized my passion for this project, which might not be the best thing for an author to announce, but it is true and in all things I endeavor to be honest. Writing, specifically [SOW] Interlude Three: The Seafarer’s Secret, I found myself enraptured once more with this world I’ve been building for just under a decade now.
What you might not know, is that Amsukar, the world in which these stories take place, has been the setting for my homebrew D&D Campaign since roughly 2015. It’s been worked and reworked, rebuilt and fine tuned in a myriad of ways, and with the introduction of Westwinter all of that history is here in the pages. That being said, when you are releasing content it can grow tedious, quickly. The brilliant flash of ideas grows dim over time, and for me, what started as a fire to light my way became a destructive force which pulled me out of my purpose for telling this story in the first place.
Sisters of Westwinter is a novel about healing from hurt. It’s a novel about surviving change when you feel like the world is moving faster than you could ever hope to. It is a novel about accepting that you are different from the rest of the world and you may never “fit” like you want to. It is all of these things because I am all of these things. To write it as though it is part of a mechanical series of events which I must accomplish to feel like I’ve done something with myself isn’t why I started this. It isn’t why I start anything.
I’m telling you all of the above so that I can clearly explain this:
Your creativity, your passion, whatever you hold dear that you simply love to do for the sake of doing it… hold on to it. Don’t let it grow stale. Take breaks, if you need. Relax, do something else, something completely foreign, if you need. If you find you no longer love the thing you do… it is okay to take a step back, look at it and come back to it when you need to. No matter what anyone tells you, there are no rules.
Well… there is one.
Always respect the flame.
Creativity is sometimes like a spark. Once it lights, it can set fire to every soft thing within you until you are left with a smoldering pile of ash and jewelry made of earth & glass. It can be destructive and restorative all the same and many of us don’t know what it is going to do until it is already done.
Something we are taught early on is to respect a fire. Whether it be small, in the palm of your hand from a lighter or far larger in the middle of a dry forest consuming everything it sees there are precautions we should take. No matter the scenario, we are to react accordingly. To give space where it is necessary, to protect ourselves from the output of smoke and heat. When we are fighting it, to take breaks for a while, to rest and have water.
Creation is a wildfire when it is uncontrolled and when it is we cannot forget that it is still fire. Some of us are made up of sturdy things, things that don’t melt so easily in the throes of a churning blaze. Others, like myself, are made up of linen or thread. Quick to burst into flame and turn to ash with only the memory of the experience left to show for what it was to me.
In the same way, we are like sparks in the way we create. If you strike the flint above a bundle of twigs and dry leaves it will catch and begin something you might have always dreamed of, and in the same way it might leave you burnt out with a long line of charred cuttings in your wake. But it is too difficult to burn a tree down with a spark. It takes a raging fire to subsume an Elm and in the same way we cannot be made through our creation by setting fire to the tallest branches and waiting for the soft pine to catch.
We must build in small bricks, tiny twigs and pits to place our kindling within. To make a safe place for our fire to live before we can offer it to the boundless forest within us, we cannot create without first learning to destroy.
Humanity is already so adept at destruction, look around us.
The same tools we use to strike a spark and warm ourselves are used to kill an animal, to kill another man. It was not steel which first fashioned our knives.
The mere act of creation is in defiance to, and because of our ability to destroy. To take this flame in our palm and promise that we mean to do well with what the world has given us.
In this way, everything becomes a tool. To know the pain of not understanding, of being alone and being misled can be fashioned through the forge of hope into something stronger. Something powerful, is in itself a power.
To you, who might know the cruelty of the flame, it is you who holds the steel. Each of us carry a responsibility to ourselves, and to the act of creation itself, to take what has burned us and fashion it into something new.
This world is scarred enough already.
If you are perhaps like I have been in recent days, worried about what you create, I hope you know that the flame is there. Guiding warmth exists. It is not all cruelty and wildfire here, on this side of the forest. Here there is peace, and hope, and the promise of understanding. Here there is a bonfire awaiting your arrival to remind you that if you are hollow, we all are.
That is what the fire is for. To light the darkened places.
Do not let the places you’ve been burned keep you from moving forward. Do not let the world teach you that these things inside of you can only be used to harm. You are, just as I am, learning each day. Some days are full of sparks and wonder, and you may write a hundred thousand words or pain a hundred paintings. Other days it might feel as though the darkness has returned, or worse yet, the crimson tongue of your past might tear through that darkness and remind you of its presence, but you are not alone.
We are at this bonfire together, and our flint is still a weapon.