Tag Archives: turning points

The Creeping Dark

Don’t look now, but – it’s October.

Booo! Image: nationalharbor.com

Image: nationalharbor.com

In a matter of weeks, we’ll be dressing up as ghouls and nasties in order to frighten away the real ghouls and nasties, and everywhere you look you’ll see happy, sugar-crazed children drifting about in giggling packs. We’re already in training for waking up, and coming back home, in darkness, and wardrobes are being raided for their stashes of waterproof coats and woolly scarves and funny bobbly hats knitted by someone’s granny. The world is yawning and stretching and plumping up its pillows, preparing for its long sleep.

As for me? Well. This is my time of year.

I love the changing seasons, and the blustery weather, and the cool air. I’m not crazy about the dark mornings, to be truthful, but they’re a small price to pay for all the other joys that the closing of the year brings. I love the feeling of turning, of transformation, that fills the air at this time of year. It reminds me that things are constantly in flux and that there’s a rhythm to everything; there’s a time for everything, and for everyone. It makes me feel like no matter how chaotic or frightening things might seem, that there is a natural progression in place. It makes me feel small – but I mean that in a good way. It makes me feel like I’m a very small part of a larger whole, one which will carry on with or without me, and that something a lot smarter than I am has everything under control.

Today, I’m feeling a little less frazzled about my work. Yesterday, I battled through and gamely worked away at my editing for as long as I possibly could; I found myself hitting a wall about six hours in, though, and instead of smashing my way through it and pushing on, I decided I was going to allow myself some downtime. I went for a short walk, and I did some baking (which, for some reason, was a disaster, but at least it was fun), and I read several chapters of one of the many books I have on the go. As a result, I am tired today but not completely exhausted, and I am looking forward to picking up where I left off yesterday. I think I’ll have to imagine my mental life as having its own rhythm, too, even on a micro, day-to-day level; mornings are like springtime, and when evening comes it’s fine to slow down and allow the darkness to start creeping in. The year needs its blanket of restful night, so why would I be any different?

Whatever season it is in Ireland, you can be sure you'll need your umbrella... Image: seasonsofireland.com

Whatever season it is in Ireland, you can be sure you’ll need your umbrella…
Image: seasonsofireland.com

Having said this, I don’t always feel so positively inclined toward darkness and its inexorable creeping. Like most people I am, sometimes, afraid of the dark, and I don’t like being left alone in it. As a child in my parents’ house I used to get a fizzing thrill of terror when the hall light was turned out as we made our way up to bed. As I raced up the stairs, I couldn’t quite shake the feeling that something terrible was on my heels, making a scaly, taloned grab for my fleeing feet, preparing to suck me down into some horrible subterranean lair unless I reached a particular step by a particular time. Perhaps I was afraid not of the dark itself but of what the dark was concealing; it was fear of what was in the darkness, what the darkness meant. Fear of the dark is a fear of not being able to see, or of not understanding what you’re seeing, or of dealing with the unknown. It’s a fear that comes straight out of the core of my brain and being, and it’s one that haunted my early ancestors too, I’m sure.

Nestled beside this ancient fear is an appreciation of the darkness, though, and the peace and rest it can bring. Sometimes I like to think of the autumn as a blanket being pulled over the world, a comforting eiderdown settling us all into the slower months. Maybe it’s helpful to think of darkness as an opportunity – a chance to take a breath and check the relentless forwardness we are driven toward when the days are long. Modern life, of course, doesn’t always allow us to live in harmony with the rhythm of the seasons, but it helps me, a little, to remind myself that these rhythms exist, and that they have a use and a purpose.

Maybe the only unknowable thing in the darkness is ourselves, and our own minds; perhaps that is the monster we’re scared of, the one we fear will suck us down into the deeps if we let it catch us. It might be time to embrace the darkness, then, and search through it for the fearful thing we’ve spent so long running away from. We might be surprised by what we find. It might turn out that what we fear, and what we’ve shrouded in darkness, is the one thing we’ve been looking for all along.

And hey. Maybe it’ll just be a monster. I reckon it’s worth taking the chance, though.

Image: dailymail.co.uk

Image: dailymail.co.uk


Prodding the Writing Brain

Every week (or, well, most weeks, at least) I take part in two writing challenges, one on Wednesdays and the other on Fridays. Anyone who’s been lurking around ‘Clockwatching…’ for a while will, no doubt, be aware of this; it’s my sincere hope that you’ve been enjoying the fruits of my labours, too. I look forward each week to these writing opportunities. If nothing else, it (usually) proves to me that I am capable of pulling a story together at short notice, and that I can rely on myself and my imagination to get me through a writing challenge. Whether or not the resulting story is worth reading, of course, is another question.

(Doubtless, there are weeks when my brain is an arid wasteland and no amount of encouragement can get the river of inspiration to flow. Those occasions are important, too. You can’t win ’em all, and it helps to know that it’s all right to not be able to call up a story on demand, every once in a while. The words will return when they’re ready. Fingers crossed.)

Call me again next week, right? It's just not happening today. Image: rxworks.com

Call me again next week, right? It’s just not happening today.
Image: rxworks.com

In any case, one thing these writing challenges have in common is that they both make use of prompts, or things designed to stimulate a writer’s imagination and give them some parameters for the work they’re going to produce. Prompts can take many shapes – if you think about it, actually, pretty much anything can be used as a writing prompt – but the ones I’m most familiar with are these: word prompts, and image prompts. Writing a story based on word prompts is, I feel, an entirely different challenge from writing one based around a picture prompt.

The Wednesday Write-In challenge, run by the CAKE.shortandsweet website, uses word prompts. Every Wednesday, first thing in the morning (before I’ve even had breakfast, usually), I check to see what words have been chosen for that week; because my entry for this competition doubles as my blog post for the day, I’m usually under time pressure to get the challenge completed. This, of course, is a good thing. It’s the equivalent of lifting weights with my frontal lobe, except a lot more fun. So, I look at the words, and I let them settle as I sit and take breakfast with my husband. I let them percolate as I boil the kettle for our morning tea. I ruminate upon them as I mooch about the internet, checking my various hang-outs, seeing what’s going on in the world, until – finally – my brain puts itself into gear and I can start planning out what I’m going to write.

Working with word prompts is, I think, slightly easier than working with picture prompts. Word prompts, to me, give a framework to a story. Writing this way reminds me, sometimes, of putting together a jigsaw; as kids, we’re always taught to find the corner pieces first, and get those in place before making the rest of the puzzle. Prompt words, then, are a bit like the corners of the jigsaw. They not only give me ideas for the story, but they are also like pegs upon which I can hang the fabric of what I’m trying to say; they form the corners, the turning points, the motifs. Sometimes, one word will jump out at me more strongly than the others and that word will be the leading image or idea in the story – the rest of the piece will slot into place around that. Sometimes, all the words will seem equally important, and demand the same share of the story. Either way, it’s a wonderful feeling to watch the story unfold in your head, to bring forth from nothing an entirely new piece of writing.

On Fridays, the wonderful people over at Flash! Friday run another writing competition. Each week, there is a prompt image provided, and the rules regarding how long the story should be change every week. Sometimes, they are as short as 100 words; sometimes, it can be closer to 500. Usually, the word count hovers somewhere around 250 or so. Besides the word count, and the prompt image, no further parameters are provided. This challenge is, to me, harder than the Wednesday Write-In. I’m not entirely sure why, but I find it harder to create a story from a picture than I do from prompt words. Sometimes it worries me a bit – normally, I like to think of myself as a fairly visual person. When something is being described to me, I can see it clearly in my mind, and when I’m reading, sometimes, it’s like I’m watching a movie. I’m good at visualisation, mental manipulation of shapes, and that sort of thing. Yet, my writing brain responds better to word prompts.

I’ve concluded it may be because the word prompts, as I’ve said, create a better framework for a story than a single image does. Perhaps it’s even because a picture prompt doesn’t limit my brain enough – I know that sounds a little unhinged, but it’s true! A picture prompt gives a starting point, whereas word prompts, at least the way my brain uses them, can create an entire story arc. I can look at the words and see a beginning, middle and end; a picture prompt can bring me anywhere.

Hello? Who's there? Image: technophobia.com

Hello? Who’s there?
Image: technophobia.com

I’m very grateful to the people who run the writing challenges in which I take part. They’re immensely helpful to me as a writer, and they’re also so enjoyable to participate in. They truly are challenges, in the sense that they ask for two different sets of writing skills, and the sort of brain agility that’s vitally necessary not only for writing, but for a whole host of other things too.

Have you taken part in writing challenges? Do you use writing prompts in your own work? Which ones do you find most useful?

And – why not take up one of the challenges I’ve mentioned here? Flash! Friday is currently running. Give it a go!