Will J.J.

Day-to-day musings and occasional short stories for your delight.


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Inspiration and Struan!

Day 3475

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Hello friends! In my last entry, I detailed the experience of opening a present Emily had given me for our six month-iversary, and waiting to open her card because of the infinite possibility it represented. Today, I’d like to tell you about the card and the story it led me to write 🙂

Remember, this package was labeled “open when you need some inspiration”. Once I finally opened the card within, I found an invitation to take the Emily McKeown writing challenge! Uh, heck yes! There were 10 separate challenges included in the card, each labeled a number from 1 to 10. The card told me to pick a number from 1 to 10, read the instructions for that challenge only, and take no more than two minutes to brainstorm before writing, once I had my inspiration.  I picked the second challenge.

Challenge two told me to 1) go to a baby name generator online and pick a name at random, 2) look up the meaning of that name, and 3) write about a character perfectly suited to that name.

The first name that popped out was “Struan” (I had never heard of it either). When I looked up the name, I found that it meant “the flow at the point where a spring appears.” I interpreted that to mean the origin point for something that grows from there. My mind took off from there. What is the struan the origin of? What does it grow into? Two minutes later, I wrote the following story. Hope you like it! Thanks for the inspiration Emily 🙂

 

 

     Struan

     Struan left school that Friday afternoon, daydreaming down the sidewalk. Her eyes were glued to the page of a novel. Why can’t I be like one of those characters, she wondered, so adventurous, brave, and bold? She felt like none of those adjectives described her, and she’d have settled for one. It came to her then, an idea, grander and more radiant than anything she had ever known, an explosion of possibility.

Her walk may have ended when she reached her bedroom, but her mind continued to race, like an uncontrollable freight train. She liked it. Struan started jotting down her thoughts at length, none complete, but each catching a new facet of her idea before it fluttered away. Later that evening, her mom knocked on the door to let her know that dinner was ready. She found Struan scribbling away at the pages, her hand cramping, but showing no signs of slowing down. Spotting her mom, Struan’s idea came tumbling out of her like raging rapids. Her mom was excited, but anxious at the same time, for she knew her daughter had dreamed up something big. She cautioned Struan against sharing her idea until she fully understood it, but Struan’s excitement would not be contained.

The next day, despite her mother’s warnings, Struan told everyone she could about her idea, and it soon spread like wildfire. Before she knew it, acquaintances were stopping her in the hall to tell her abut this crazy, revolutionary idea they had heard, not realizing she was its mother. Like a runaway train, it matters little where it began, and far more where it is headed.

Upon arrival at school on the third day, Struan’s excitement had abated, giving way to clear minded observation. What she witnessed was sobering. This idea, so pure and hopeful in its infancy, had grown beyond her power to control, and in its expansion, the purity had been lost. What once was clear and shining had become murky and twisted. The whispers she heard on that day were different than those relayed only a day before, malignant. Like a grand case of telephone, the idea had been changed from person to person, both out of misunderstanding and self-interest, and what remained was only a shade of what she had originally hoped.

No, she cried, and she struck back defiantly, struggling to clarify and reshape. She grabbed her classmates by the arms and screamed, striving valiantly to fight the tide, but she quickly realized that it was too late. Her idea was not hers any longer. She could only watch as the idea ran its course, part of her hoping it would die, but another part longing to watch it grow. She was reminded of Alfred Nobel, who invented dynamite as an instrument of peace, only to see it used as a means to further war.

On the walk home from school that day, Struan’s focus was flooded by thoughts once again, unable to distract herself from the idea she had unleashed. Only when she tripped off a curb did she realize how mindlessly she had been striding. Picking herself up, she found herself in the middle of an empty intersection. A swift breeze pushed at her back. She looked in all four directions, each one taking her down a different path. It occurred to her suddenly that, while her dream had failed, she had succeeded. She had become adventurous, brave, and even bold, but at what cost? What would her idea lead to?

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Why I Write

Day 3071    

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      I get asked a lot about what inspires me to write and why I started writing in the first place. Especially since Darkness Reflected was published, I’ve heard those two questions more than ever, but to be perfectly honest, they weren’t questions I had ever put much thought into. Funny how others have the power to pinpoint something you never realized about yourself. I’ve been thinking quite a bit recently about why I started writing and what the process of writing is like for me, and this is the product of those thoughts.
     Ever since I was a little boy, I remember having a rather expressive vocabulary. I recall helping my father study for the GRE before he applied to graduate school, and I loved adding all those fancy words to my personal dictionary. Just because I knew many words, however, did not mean that I liked writing or that I felt I was any good at it. In fact, perhaps because I knew so many words, I felt that I fumbled and misused them far more than the average person. Every once in a while, I was able to string together a few words that I was proud of, but overall, I was less than confident in my abilities. It was not until eighth grade that my perspective toward writing would change.
     Every student in a Texas public grade school has to take a series of annual standardized exams. These tests seem to change every few years, from the TAAS, to the TAKS, to the current STAAR, but when I was in middle school, it was the TAKS tests that I was required to pass. To prepare for these exams, we would take a benchmark every 6 weeks or so, and these benchmarks were essentially mock versions of the real tests meant to prepare us under real conditions. On the writing exam, our essays were based on a 1 to 4 point scale with 1 being the lowest, 4 being the highest. The TAKS tests were always a breeze, and the actual testing days were little more than snoozefests.
     I had never received anything below a 4 on my TAKS writing essays, and as I said before, I did not consider myself anything better than an average writer. I can’t recall the prompt we had for the writing exam in eighth grade, but I do remember thinking that I could write something truly awesome if I infused my story with more detail and introspection than usual. Much to my dismay, my English teacher did not agree with my vision, and for the first time in my life, I scored a 3. This might not seem like a big deal, but it definitely was for me. What did I do wrong? I felt that I had created something far greater than any of my previous essays, yet I was punished instead of being rewarded. I pleaded my case to the teacher, with no success. Despite her criticism, I knew that I was onto something, that the way I had chosen to write for that essay held greater potential.
     To an outsider, that single TAKS essay would probably seem like an insignificant event, but life is made up of many seemingly minor details that subtly chart a person’s course. When I think back on my path as a writer, I think of the day I wrote that essay as the first of my writing career. I wanted to prove my teacher wrong. While I hardly thought that essay was earth shattering, I felt deep inside my mind that the tools and style I had utilized in its creation were capable of greatness. It was a rare instance when I knew exactly which path to take.
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     Writing does not come easily to me. That’s a common misconception that many people make about writers, that because someone chooses to write, it must come naturally to them. Quite the opposite is the case for me. I do not write because it is easy for me but precisely because it is hard. Words are so malleable and fluid. Even writing a single sentence, you may create something that no one else has ever thought of. It is that sort of freedom that inspires me, but it is that same freedom that can be so frightening. The rules of grammar and spelling are the only ones that apply, and even those can be bent for effect. I’ve spent hours just trying to piece together a single sentence, not to mention the difficulty every writer finds in an attempt to describe something that seemingly cannot be put into words. Writing is not easy. It is an excruciating task.
     I wrote my first short story when I was 15. It was called “The Fire.” The story followed a man who rushes to salvage his possessions from a burning apartment, only to relinquish them at the final moment. Why did I choose to write that story? Because it was an idea that refused to be forgotten. It had been lingering on the fringes of my mind for weeks, and I felt a need to release it. That’s how many of my stories have come to fruition, by waiting until they reach the boiling point, only a moment away from bursting free on its own. I find that inspiration is all around, and I am assaulted by an excess of possibilities, but the only stories that I usually end up writing are the ones that stick despite the everlasting tide of new ideas. Sometimes, even when an idea has been simmering within my mind for quite some time and I try to sit down and dedicate it to paper, I find that the idea isn’t ready. The time is not yet right.
     In order to create a story, I have to place myself in a very specific state of mind, and that state differs depending on the content of the story. Writing can be a highly emotional experience for me. My greatest resources are my imagination and my own experiences, and whenever I combine the two, the result can flush a great deal out of me, in terms of both emotion and energy. I find that writing fiction is a fantastic way to release, but that release comes at the price of my own internal barriers because I draw from topics and feelings that I’m not always prepared to explore. Facing those demons can be torturous, and I don’t always win. I like to think that writing anything worthwhile comes with a certain degree of pain, and that the pain is what grants the writing a sense of humanity.
     If someone was to ask me what I love most about writing, this is what I would tell them: Writing itself is not an enjoyable task, in fact, it is one of the most uncomfortably agonizing experiences I know of, but the result is worth the effort for me. The juice is worth the squeeze, and the rewards are two fold. First off, without fail, I have always discovered something new about myself in the process of writing, as if the stories themselves were whispering me secrets as I penned them into existence. Second and equally intense is the euphoria of having created something new, something that is the product of you yet exists independently of you. Despite all the challenges of translating a complex scene or emotion into words and the unnerving sensation of dissecting my own inner demons for examination, nothing compares to the utter bliss of completion.