“How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on, when in your heart you begin to understand… there is no going back?” ~ Frodo Baggins
I have been learning recently about the need for breaking good habits. More specifically, about the need to be constantly conscious of which habits are working for me and which aren’t any longer.
For example, in January I started going to the library to write. I went every weekday around 2 or 3pm and stayed for three to four hours. I came home excited every day because I had written 1800 words or more. I felt justified in taking weekends off because I was being so productive. I stuck to that schedule with few exceptions for a month, ending up with 30 thousand words written.
I kept track of my word count for each day, which is why I can look back and see where I started to flag. I slowly stopped going every weekday. I didn’t write as much each day. Thinking back on it, I realize that part of the problem was my sleep schedule shifting later, which meant that I wasn’t getting to the library early enough to have time to get my desired word count in before the library closed.
I tried to push through this slump, telling myself I was just being lazy. This habit got me 30k words in a month, so obviously it worked. I just needed to try harder.
Or maybe (I realize now) I needed to tweak the habit to something that worked better for me.
Of course, then I got sick. And then some upheavalous life events happen in my friend group. And then coronavirus happened and the library closed. So, y’know, life is different for everyone now.
But back to habits.
My next productive habit involved Camp NaNoWriMo in April, which got me another 25k words. Then my laptop screen went kaput, thus confirming my realization that this season of my life is about learning to adapt.
In writing, we often talk about giving our characters agency. That is, making them proactive instead of simply reactive. Reactive characters are boring. Proactive characters are exciting and interesting. We root for them to succeed.
I think I need to be like that: not simply reacting to my circumstances, but having agency and being proactive about making choices that affect my life and circumstances for the better.
So here is one new thing I’ve been doing recently that gets me excited about writing: flash fiction. A friend on instagram hosts a contest every month or two. There are prompts, either words or a picture, and the limit is 150 words each. Which is really short. But it gives you the chance to try out something brand new, just for fun, and then be done with it, if you want.
This month, I wrote three pieces in a new world that has been forming in my head. I’m pleased with how they turned out, so I thought I’d share them with you all.
For clarity, the MC (main character) in the first story is the same as the woman in the second and third stories. The MC in the second story is the same as the man in the third story.
Prompt 1: The city blazed amber, but it wasn’t the brightness that made me look away. It was the thought that my brother had done this.
The city blazes amber, but it isn’t the brightness that makes me look away. It’s the knowledge that this is my brother’s work. He does anything he’s told. If the mystics command it, then it must be for the good of all. And with these powers they’ve given us, we could destroy the world. But I don’t buy it. There’s something strange going on here. Something they’re not telling us. We fight the monsters that come in the night. We defend the world, and the people worship us. But if the mystics have so much power, then why can’t they stop the monsters from coming? Why do they tell us to burn our homes? How do these innocent deaths save us? I have no answers. I can only turn my back as the city burns and the people die. Maybe tomorrow I’ll be the one setting a city on fire.
Prompt 2: image of person peering through door with light spilling through (see above)
As I peer through the gap, my hands shake and my heartbeat thunders. If I’m caught, they’ll kill me. But I can’t stop looking. This is where they’re made. The legends. This room holds secrets no human has seen before.
A door opens, and a woman stumbles in. I see from her height and fiery eyes that she is already a legend. Why is she here then? She peels off her armor, and I almost gasp. Her torso is a mass of golden cracks, dripping light like blood.
From a dark corner, a hooded mystic steps forward, stretching out its desiccated hand. A smokey darkness swirls around the woman, sucking up the light and filling the cracks in her body. She hisses in pain, but it is finished. The mystic retreats to its corner, and the legend replaces her armor, hiding her new golden scars.
No wonder legends never die.
Prompt 3: Write about the taste of sunshine.
“What does sunshine taste like?”
“What?” His brow furrows. “What does that have to do with anything?”
Her lip curls. “Surely you can describe it.” She crosses her arms, and her golden eyes narrow. “Spit it out.”
“I mean, it doesn’t actually have a taste, but–” He shifts nervously as her foot starts tapping. “I guess it’s kind of warm and crisp and . . .” He closes his eyes to think. “It tastes like honey. Like–”
“Wrong,” she snaps. “Sunshine tastes like ashes and bitterness. Like the sharp tang of innocent blood and the dry dust of crushed bones. Sunshine tastes like death. As does everything else.” She stalks away.
“Wait!” He reaches out a hand. “You didn’t answer my–”
She whirls back to face him, eyes glittering. “That was my answer. You want to become a legend? You want my power and immortality? Then you’d better know what comes with it.”
If you want to see other people’s responses to the prompts or perhaps participate yourself next month, here is the host’s IG. If you want to keep up with my writing process (and also get book recommendations based on what I’m reading), here is my IG.
I started this post with a quote from Lord of the Rings (no one is surprised):
“How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on, when in your heart you begin to understand… there is no going back?”
I think I keep trying to pick up old threads. I keep trying to move on, to muddle through, when it’s not really working. Life has changed, or I have changed, and so something about my process has to change. There is no going back. And this is not always bad.