Oh, you know, just a week of outlining and practicing the guitar and simmering anger

This is not a good week for creativity. I must recognize that some weeks are going to be harder than others in these extraordinary times. I’ve felt increasingly helpless and angry about systemic racism, unrest and the lack of leadership, and some days I can write through anguish and other days I just can’t.

This week, my idea well has dried up. I’ve been trying to think of a flash fiction idea all week. I want to submit to a website that also reads their stories aloud. I thought it would be interesting to edit by reading aloud, as well. But I got nothing. I thought about writing a science fiction story but science fiction worlds are much harder to write about in such a short length.

I have, however, started working on an outline for a new story I am developing to submit to an anthology. The anthology call is for stories that are 5,000-10,000 words, and since that is the longest story I will have ever completed, I decided I just couldn’t “pants” my way through it. I really hate that word, by the way. I am not a “pantser,” but rather a discovery writer. I do have an outline, but I tend to keep it in my head. I was afraid I couldn’t keep 10,000 words in my head, though, so I am using a spreadsheet with the Snowball Method of outlining and developing character profiles.

Dungeons and Dragons character alignment worksheets are my go to source this week – you know, “Lawful Good,” “Chaotic Neutral,” et cetera, as a way to develop my characters, and I got stuck on which I wanted my characters to be. But it is a great way to explore characters, even if people in all their real-life messiness don’t fit these guidelines exactly. It is a good way to think about how your character feels about the rules.

I am also exploring online writing groups, mainly on Discord chat forums. Discord is an app that is traditionally used for gaming, but it also has chat groups for other topics. I like the idea of a moderated chat with people who share my common goals and interests. Of course, it’s difficult to find writers like me who don’t want to quit their day job to become the next Stephen King. But it’s something different that is a kind of social interaction. I don’t want to write in a vacuum any more, even though writing is at its heart a solo practice.

Before COVID-19, I wanted to look for a critique group. I had taken a sci-fi writing class at my local community college, and I just enjoyed having other writers reading my work and saw the value in community with other writers who “got it.” Our local writing group does not appear to meet by Zoom, but I realized, if a writing group exists online, it does not matter where the members are from. I feel a little old for Discord and gaming is not in my blood so it is not entirely comfortable for me as a medium, so I don’t know how long this experiment will last.

The truth is, I miss social interaction, even this self-avowed introvert. I miss my friends, my family, the gym, my community band, and volunteering at an animal shelter. This is Day 77 of quarantine. I call it quarantine, not lockdown, because I really believe it is our best line of defense as a country. It is a sacrifice, but it is one we can make for others, and for ourselves. But it’s hard. It’s so hard.

Everybody else I know is seeing their friends and family. I never know how to respond without judgment. I try my best not to judge, but I am afraid my responses are always tinged with judgment. But let’s face it. You can’t expect people to stay isolated for three months, four months, six months, a year. It’s just not realistic. Every decision we make these days is a matter of calculating the risk. Even going out around the neighborhood for a walk has a small amount of risk. I fear, however, a second wave, and if there is another outbreak, you won’t be able to lock people down again after they have had a taste of freedom. We would never last through another world war if we can’t even change our behavior for two or three months.

For me, personally, social interaction still carries too much of a risk. I expect everyone has different calculations of risk. In Oregon, the Oregon Health Authority reported no new deaths from coronavirus, but known cases rose to 5,060, with 72 new confirmed and presumptive cases in the last 72 hours, according to The Oregonian. A seafood processing plant in Newport reported 127 cases, which kind of spoils a day dream I had about a day trip to the beach.

I do plan, however, on hiking more this summer. You do run into people on trails, but I would carry a mask with me. I believe outdoors in the air is a somewhat lower risk. Most parks are open now. The exercise and nature would be good for me. Working in the garden has been good for me as well. We cooked chard and zucchini from the garden last night, our first harvest that was not herbs. Our zucchini plant looks like an outer space alien. But it tastes delicious with a little salt, pepper and butter.

I’ve not done any photography in the past couple weeks. It is difficult to keep up with photography and stay inspired with subjects to photograph, especially since I haven’t gone anywhere, really, except to the office a few times and around the neighborhood. It makes me glad I quit Instagram and do not have the pressure of producing daily visual content for free when I just don’t feel like it.

I am practicing guitar almost every day, though, and am working on developing callouses. So that is something creative. I can play the notes for several songs now, including Ode to Joy and Aura Lee; notes on the first four frets. I can play a C major chord. Not bad for only having the instrument for a few weeks.

I am expecting to get a shipment of yarn tonight for a new project. I want to knit my first blanket. I started a blanket earlier but I decided the cabled pattern was too complicated for my first project that is not a scarf. I always have to keep my hands busy and I like the methodical repetition of knitting. I find it meditative. It suits the way that my brain works. As much as I wish I were a Chaotic Good personality, I believe in actuality that I am more of a Lawful Good. We all have our flaws.

I have been slacking on exercise this week also, which probably has contributed to my malaise. This yoga every day goal is so hard. I go on spurts where one week I’m committed and the next week I’m a slacker. It’s hard to stay consistent.

Another way I pass the time in isolation is by rewatching Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. I am now starting Season 2. This was not my favorite series but I am starting, despite myself, to care a lot about the characters. This series had some truly great character development. I find it a kind of self-soothing activity to watch Star Trek these days.

I don’t have many writing goals this week except to work on my big project, tentatively titled “Dragon Girl.” So I have basically set aside my flash fiction pieces until I can dig into the meat of it. I have been staying off social media, deleted the apps from my phone, and am trying to avoid all distractions and it’s still difficult to gnaw into the bone. I guess I am just not one of those writers who who writes better when I am in emotional pain.

As seems to be the theme of this blog lately, one day at a time, one day at a time.

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Support my creative work? Donate $1 to my tip jars: http://www.venmo.com-denise-ruttan / http://www.ko-fi.com/fieldofstars

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