The end of the Asylum is nigh. The locks are opening and doors are ready to release you back into the world.
You have spent the day in inhuman heads, writing from alien perspectives. You’ve given a voice to the silent, and told unlikely stories. It’s time to return to your own head now.
I hope you had fun today. I hope you did something new, maybe gained some inspiration you can take forward into something else. I hope you surprised yourself.
I’d love to hear what you thought of the Asylum. Which one did you find the easiest to write? Which one was the hardest? How would you improve the experience for next time? Is there something you would like to have a go at next time? Any feedback, please let me know.
Thank you for taking part. The Asylum couldn’t happen without you. Feel free to take the madness away with you and have fun with it.
Picture someone who travels a lot. They might travel for any number of reasons. It could be their work, as a businessman, or a long-distance courier, or a cargo hauler, or any number of other mobile professions. They might be in the military, always being posted in different places. They might be a habitual traveller, someone who is simply happiest when going to the next new place. They could be a happy backpacker, working random jobs or relying on the kindness of others as they make their way between locales. They could be one of the wandering homeless, drifting between camps and shelters. They might live on a ship of some kind.
It this person male or female? How do they afford to travel all the time? What led them to this particular kind of life? Do they love to travel, or hate it? What is the first thing they do when they reach a new place? What is the thing they most like to do in a new place?
This person has been travelling for years, one way or another. What is the one thing they never travel without? Why? Is the attachment emotional, or practical, or sentimental? What is important to this person?
What kinds of places has this person travelled to? What sort of people have they met? What sort of conditions have they travelled through, stopped in, or dealt with? Do they travel alone, or with a group, or does it vary?
In all of their years of travel, this person has carried the same piece of luggage with them. It has survived countless trips, possibly been repaired a few times, and is still going strong. What kind of luggage is it? Is it big or small? Is it a case, a duffle bag, a sack with a rope around its neck, a purse, a pouch? What’s it made of? What does it look like? What colour is it? What does it smell like? Do its many journeys show, in scrapes or stickers, stains or scars? Is its value obvious?
Fast forward to your traveller’s last journey. How old is your character now? Where are they going? Why is this their last journey? Is it planned to be their last, or does something happen to force it? Where does the character end up – do they make it to their destination?
Tell us the story of the end of this final journey from the point of view of that piece of luggage the character carries with them. Tell us what happens to the luggage after that journey is over.
Think of a religion. It can be real or fictional; your choice.
Think about what the religion values. The things that are important tenets or rules. What are its key teachings? What does it forbid or encourage in its followers?
What kind of people are its clergy? Who are its believers? What is the community that believes in this religion like?
Picture the trappings of the religion, like robes or incense, symbols or gestures. What does its talisman look like, if it has one? Where does prayer happen? Where do its altars live?
Think about the services, rituals, and ceremonies of this religion. Where do they happen? What is the tone of them? Who is involved? What is involved? Is there chanting, or singing, or silence?
Now consider what that religion might consider to be an artefact, a sacred object. What is this object? Is it big or small? What is it made of? Is it a piece of one of its saints, something that once belonged to someone important, or a vessel containing some kind of power? Something else? Why is it of such value to this faith?
How is that object kept? Is it locked away, kept in a glass case, or out in the open? Who has access to it? Is it kept privately or shared with any follower who wishes it? Is it part of a particular ritual? Is it preserved, or allowed to become rubbed smooth by the touch of thousands of hands over the years?
Where has it been in its existence? Does it travel, or is it kept in one place? Has it ever seen the sun? The stars? What has this object been exposed to in its lifetime?
One day, a thief enters the place where the artefact is kept, intent on stealing it. Why? What does this thief hope to gain? Is it money, or power, or something based in belief? Does he or she believe in this faith, or in the power of this particular artefact?
Tell the story of this theft from the point of view of the artefact.
Choose a building where people rent rooms: a hotel, motel, hostel, or an inn. Think about where it is located. What kind of world is this? What era? Is it in a city, out in the wilds, the last stop for miles, or part of a thriving hub of travel and tourism? What is around it? Next door?
What is within its walls? Does it have many rooms? What are they like? Is there a penthouse suite? A honeymoon suite? Is there a restaurant, or a ballroom, or a swimming pool?
This building has been open to the public for many years. Decades, perhaps. What kinds of celebrations and events have been held there? What is the general tone or feel of the place? Is it aging well?
What kinds of people have passed through its doors and slept in its beds? Who is its usual clientele? How do they treat it? How long do they usually stay? Why do they come to this particular hotel, rather than anywhere else? Is it price, or facilities, or a particular feature like a famous chef, or something more nebulous, like a promise of anonymity?
What does the building think of its clientele?
Now think of a particular evening. A celebration is happening. It could be something public, like New Year’s Eve , or a private event, like a costume ball or a wedding.
While this celebration is ramping up to full swing, there’s orange light growing nearby. A fire is making its way towards the building, burning up the city or the brush or woods nearby. It’s out of control, driven by prevailing winds, and eating up everything in its path.
Write this night of celebration from the point of view of the hotel. As an extra challenge, include a conversation between the building and the fire.
Picture a world. It can be in any era you like: ancient civilisation; contemporary and modern; medieval; fantastical; far-future. This world does not have to be Earth, though feel free to stay at home if you wish. It could be an alien planet, a colonised one, an asteroid, or simply an area in the void between worlds. I want you to focus on a particular location. It might be a spot on a continent, or in an ocean, on a mountainside, out in the reaches of space. It is a place of note. A place of importance to the people who live near there.
It is a place where many battles have happened. Armies have crossed this place countless times. They have fought and died there. Perhaps it is a border between two powerful states. Perhaps it is the gateway to a place of strategic advantage, or religious importance. Its wealth might be real and physical, or ideological, or spiritual. Its wealth might simply be a logistical quirk of geography, like the valley that passes between two insurmountable peaks or the proximity of an important stronghold. Choose a reason. Decide why this place has drawn so much battle onto it.
Consider the armies that have clashed here. Whose blood has soaked into the soil or water here, or hangs suspended in the vacuum of space? What did they want? How were they armed? How did it change over time?
What scars does this place have? Does it have any at all? In peace-times, can anyone tell what violence happened here just by looking at it? Has anyone cleaned it up? Are the dead buried here? What about their weapons; are they still here? Vehicles, warhorses, mechanoid helpers? Are there any signs under the surface?
Think about the fabric and atmosphere of this place. How has it been affected by what has happened in its embrace? Is this place vicious? Bloodthirsty? Is it sad and battered? Abused? Is it proud? Peaceful? Haunted by the ghosts of those who have fallen in its arms? Is it tired? Does it wish for peace-time or the thunder of the wardrums?
Now take this place to a time when there hasn’t been a battle in a while. It might have been a few years, or as much as a century. Enough time for it to grow quiet. Distantly, a group approaches. They might be on foot, on mounts, or in vehicles. They are obvious, they are armed, and very soon, they’re going to step into this place.
Tell us of the story of this group, from the point of view of the battlefield they are about to cross.
Picture a sprawling city. It can be any kind of city, from any era: wood and tiles; brick and mortar; glass and steel; plastic and neon. It’s a thriving city, healthy enough to have a bustling warehouse district, though it’s not as busy as it used to be. Parts of it are starting to fall into disuse.
Perhaps industry is starting to move elsewhere, or businesses have found better facilities in other parts of the city, or someone is buying it up to convert it to a different use. Either way, the warehouse district has started to age in patches, creating areas with a rundown feel to them. Trucks or wagons don’t rumble down those streets like they used to. Foremen’s voices don’t ring out over the fences so much. The streets are starting to fall into poor repair as the city isn’t investing time or money in them lately.
In this district, focus on a single building. It was once a busy factory, but it hasn’t been used for that purpose for a while now. Once upon a time, new things were made inside it, packaged up, and shipped off somewhere else. Consider that time, when things were all go here.
What was made in this factory? Was it a complicated process, like building pieces of technology, or something simpler, like bottling drinks or weaving fabric? Were its wares made by hand or machine? Was it powered by anything? Did a lot of people work here, or just a few overseers, or no people at all? What kind of vehicles used to pull up to the big doors to take the goods away?
The sign on the door is faded now, but what did it used to say? If there was a logo, what was it?
What caused this factory to be closed down? Was the real reason the same as the public announcements? Who was the last to leave and lock the doors behind them?
Now, a few years have passed since the industry in this factory was wound down and its doors closed for the last time. Dust has settled and spiders have spun impressive webs.
What is left inside? When it was closed down, was it gutted? Has any of the equipment been left here to age along with the building? Machinery, chairs, looms, tables, a lone broom? Build a picture of what this place looks like inside and out. Is it still hale and whole? Has the weather been kind to it?
What kinds of creatures might have moved inside and made themselves at home? Focus on one type of non-human creature in particular. Are they native to the area or imported? What do they eat, and what effect do they have on the building? Do they live individually or as a group? How many generations have lived inside this old factory?
A person is now approaching this abandoned factory. Perhaps they have a key; perhaps they do not. Either way, they mean to enter the building; they have a purpose here. Picture this person in your head. What do they look like? When they pause to glance up at the building, what expression are they wearing?
Tell us the story of this visitation, from the perspective of one of the creatures who calls the factory home.
Welcome to the Writers’ Asylum. Settle in and make yourself comfortable; you’re going to be here for a while. Don’t mind the sound of locks turning behind you; that’s the least of your problems now.
The theme of this Asylum visit is Altered Perspectives. Today, you’re going to be challenged. You’re going to be taken out of your own head and placed behind the eyes of someone – or something – else. You’re going to be asked to consider the world from different angles. You’re going to be asked to give a voice to something that does not normally speak.
There are five challenges ahead. You’re going to hear a series of prompts, questions designed to draw a picture in your mind. You’re going to build a world, populate it, and focus it on a particular spot. Then you’ll hear the challenge itself, and step outside yourself to write it.
In the hour that follows each prompt, you need to write at least a thousand words. You can write in first person or third limited, it’s completely up to you, but it must be from the perspective specified in the challenge. You can go off on any tangent your imagination comes up with; the prompt is only a starting point. See where these new eyes take you.
Push yourself. Venture outside your comfort zone. Go as crazy as you like. I will not ask to see your writing, though you’re welcome to share it if you wish. Feel free to post it in the comments on my blog.
But that’s later. Right now, the door has closed behind you. The Asylum has begun. Hold on tight, for the first challenge is almost upon you.
I got a message about a month ago telling me that the location we’ve been using for our write-ins for six years has closed down. Abruptly and without warning. It was three days before our monthly write-in. I was in the middle of the craziest period at work. It couldn’t have come at a worse time.
As I madly juggled about seven critical issues at work and attempted to find a place to take our write-in people to, I couldn’t help but think: what about next month? It’s the Writers’ Asylum and I have to find someplace to hold it. It’s bigger than our write-ins, I’ve got to read stuff out to people, and it’s all a bit special.
I couldn’t worry about it just then; there were far more pressing issues. I already had Starwalker on hiatus due to all the shenanigans at work. I threw together some emergency plans with my fellow MLs, and one of my awesome co-MLs took the write-in off my hands. She sorted it out and ran it, and I’m immensely grateful.
By last weekend, the write-in was done and the worst of the work stuff was sorted. So I took my other co-ML and a good friend off on a scouting mission to check out potential replacement venues for our write-ins and the Asylum. We visited a couple of restaurants I had heard would welcome a group like ours (we’re a bit special needs, what with needing to camp out for the whole day, take up a load of space, and plug in laptops). Both of the places we visited welcomed the idea of our group visiting and were very accommodating. No doubt knowing that we’ll all be ordering drinks and meals helped!
Last weekend, I came home with three bits of good news. First, the Asylum has a new home: La Dolche Vita (almost next door to where we were supposed to be!). We’re booked in and good to go. Second, we have a new Coffee Club to try out, which we’ll be doing at our May write-in. And third, our favourite Coffee Club hasn’t closed forever: we saw signs on it that said it was undergoing refurbishment and would reopen ‘soon’. I have no idea when ‘soon’ is but it’s still a huge relief.
So, the first quarter of 2014 has been crazy for me. A lot of ups and downs. A lot of changes. None of it has been easy. But things are falling into place. Despite the stress of the past month, I’ve managed not to get really sick, which feels like something of a miracle. I’m coping – barely, sometimes, but still clinging on by my fingernails. Still here and kicking.
Yesterday morning, I woke up from a dream in which I had gone to the Asylum and realised I had completely forgotten to bring the challenges with me. Nothing was ready, nothing was set up; there were a lot of people sitting and looking at me expectantly, and my brain was empty and… then I woke up. Last night, I went through the challenges (I wrote them up a couple of months ago) and they’re fine. They’re actually less sucky than I remember. Just a few tweaks and they’re good to go. It’s going to be fine.
Like I said: it’s a lot of ups and downs, but I’m doing okay. Things are falling into place. The Asylum has a new home. It has couches. The challenges are written. Today, I’m going to schedule all the Asylum posts on this blog, so they’ll pop up on the day in tandem with me reading stuff out to my people in real life. My plans will work out.
And it will all be awesome.
Followers of this blog and of my current web serial may have noticed a somewhat erratic pattern to my updates lately. This particular blog has always been a bit up and down; I have a tendency to post here in spurts, depending on when I have time and impetus. My web serial, though, I have tried to keep far steadier and more reliable.
Not so much lately. Even my precious Starwalker has been impacted by my recent life issues, and I’m here to say: I hate it. It breaks my heart every time I have to go on there and tell my readers that I am letting them down again. They are wonderful and supportive and understanding, and I am grateful for every one of them. I disappoint myself more than them, it seems.
I honestly wouldn’t blame them if they got sick of all the inconsistency there has been lately and stopped reading. I always promised myself that I wouldn’t be that writer, who missed deadlines and was labelled as unreliable because she couldn’t stick to her own schedule. I have always been so determined to stick to my promises and keep the story rolling on the cadence that I’ve set. But I fear I’m failing in all of my promises lately.
My health is the core of the issue. The chronic fatigue syndrome is impacted by a lot of life stuff – stress, change, work, other health problems – and it’s all making me pretty miserable at the moment. For those familiar with the spoons theory, I think I’ve lost a few spoons over the last year or so, and I’m struggling to juggle them effectively. It’s all I can do to get to work most days, and getting home and sorting out dinner sometimes makes me want to cry or scream quietly in frustration. It can all be so hard.
I’ve dealt with CFS for several years now. I don’t think I’ve had it drag me this far down for this long before. I’m fighting with it, and I don’t think I’m winning.
But I didn’t come here just to whine (okay, maybe I wanted to whine a little bit). I despise what this is doing to me. I hate that it’s making it so difficult to write. My usual writing time is on my commute to and from work, and most of the time I just want to rest when I’m on the train. I’m not awake enough to put words together, or I’m too drained after a day of working and need to wind down before I hit the evening chores at home.
No, I am fighting it. I’m also trying to figure out how to manage it so that I can do what I want. That means some changes to my lifestyle, and I’m still working a lot of that stuff out. I’m simplifying things at home a bit, and getting help with the chores and tasks that I just can’t get to (for one reason or another).
I think that was a big step, actually: recognising that it was time to ask for help and actually doing it. Admitting to myself that I can’t do everything. I’m a very independent person. I like to be able to sort myself out, in my own time, be self-sufficient. I am always making compromises, but I like to feel that I’m capable, that I’m able to get myself by. It was a wrench to realise that that’s simply not true any more. Everything costs and I’m too energy-poor to be able to pay for it all.
I had to tell myself that it was okay to ask for help. It’s tempting to feel guilty or shameful about admitting it, but honestly, I don’t have the energy for that either. I’m sick, sicker than I have been in a long time. I’m doing what I can to manage it, mitigate it. And I guess my need to be realistic and practical – and not drive myself into a collapse – won out over my pride and my need to feel like I was whole enough to be truly independent.
I think I’m a little proud of myself for that, because I feel like I’m doing the sensible thing and not hiding behind my fear and pride. Which sounds counter-intuitive, but it makes sense to me.
I don’t know if it’s enough. After all, I’m not feeling – or doing – any better yet. I’m still looking long and hard at the pieces of my life, sizing them up for extraction or adjustment. I went over my priorities recently here on the blog, and they’re still true. I still need to work and I’m holding onto that well enough. I’m about to order the last bit of help for things at home, and that will help. I’m trying to keep the number of running projects to a minimum, even though I get restless and I want to get things moving. I’m also working on some healthy living stuff, to try to bolster this stupid body of mine that doesn’t seem to want to do anything these days.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about Starwalker a lot. Like I said, I hate that I’ve been so inconsistent there. I don’t like missing posts, or delaying things, or being That Author who can’t work to schedule. I’ve been throwing around my options, because clearly what I’m doing right now isn’t working.
I considered taking a hiatus, but I did that recently and it was no help whatsoever. What do I think will have changed when I return? It’s a stop-gap at best; it’s not a solution.
I also considered changing the posting frequency. Maybe shifting it down to once a fortnight rather than once a week would give me enough breathing space. I don’t want to do that, though. I think that’ll just shift the problem from every week into once a fortnight, and I’ll wind up in the same position again: trying to write and edit and post, and finding that I’m too exhausted to do any of it.
I have to change something, so the next thing on my list is when I write. The train was my thing, my office, my writing time. That’s not working any more (now it’s dozing or reading or just zoning out to music), and maybe that’s what I need to change. I need to find a new space in my life to write in. And with my energy levels where they are, maybe every day is just too much. Summoning up the creative energy is a lot harder than it used to be.
Maybe what I need to do now is dedicate some time on the weekends to writing. Right now, my weekends are pretty much like this:
- Saturday: the day I Do Stuff. Run errands, do the chores around the house that I don’t have help with. Once a month, I spend the day at my favourite Coffee Club with my writing peeps and write (the post following this one never misses, because this is where it gets done!).
- Sunday: the day I Rest. I try to do as little as possible on Sundays, because I have to recharge before the new work week. If I try to go out or be all active, I’m usually paying for it over the next week. That’s no fun. Instead, it’s my gaming day. I usually spend a lot of my Sunday time on Guild Wars 2, as that’s when I am able to meet up with friends and run around and kill stuff, and they can’t tell if I’m still in my pajamas and haven’t brushed my hair.
So what would I change? Hard to say. I have to be able to get stuff done on the weekends, and I have to protect my Sundays as much-needed rest time. But could I work writing time in there somewhere? It’s entirely possible. Maybe if I keep Saturday afternoons free, get all my running around done and then settle down with the netbook, that will work. Or figure out how to say no to that last dungeon run and log off a bit earlier on a Sunday. Maybe I should do both.
It’s worth a try. It’s going to take some organisation and conscious effort, but all this stuff does. If it was easy, I wouldn’t be posting this at all, I suppose.
It’s a good place to start. I’d rather try this and see if I can make it work before I go changing things like posting frequency or reader expectations. I guess I’m still too stubborn to give up, and I’m glad of that. This damned sickness will only strip me of my life one thing at a time, and I’ll make it work for each and every one. Somehow, I’ll stay strong and keep pushing, in the hope that one day I’ll get on top of this beast and kick its ass.
You know what frustrates me more than anything? The ideas that pop up into my head, stories that are almost full-fledged, and me with no time to write them in. One day, I’ll make time for them all and toss them out into the world. Because that’s what I live for.
Last year, I ran the first ever Writers’ Asylum. It was a crazy day: 6 challenges in 6 hours, each one to write 1,000 words on the prompt that was given.
Afterwards, I solicited feedback, and got loads of useful input. Big thanks to everyone who chipped in their 2 cents! You help me make this event better and I’m always willing to try something out to see how it works.
I don’t do this stuff for me. I do these events so that people will come and have a good time, and hopefully get something useful or positive out of it. That’s what I like to do. I can take a guess at what people will enjoy but input is always useful.
This year’s Asylum is coming along great. I have most of the details sorted out now! Check out the page for the full run-down.
In brief: it’s going to be on Saturday 12th April, running from 11am to 5:30pm (Brisbane / Australian EST time), at the same on- and offline locations as before.
Changes made for this year’s Asylum:
- It has a theme: Altered Perspectives. Last year was all about a broad spectrum of challenges and subjects. This year, following an attendee’s suggestion, we’re focussing on a single theme: point of view. Each challenge will involve a different kind of POV character, and again the aim is to go for something you probably haven’t tried before. Get out of your comfort zone. Get out of your own head.
- There are 5 challenges, not 6. Last year, the schedule was very tight and very hectic. This was partly on purpose, but it got tiring towards the end of the day. This year, there is a 10-minute break between each back-to-back challenge.
- You’re allowed some lunch. Again, to help our poor, challenged writers, I’ve inserted a lunch break into the schedule. You’re welcome!
And that’s it! Everything else is the same. Listen to/read the prompt, then write 1,000 words within an hour on it.
The page is updated with all the info (including the schedule). The Coffee Club tables are booked. The challenges are drafted (I write the challenges myself).
All that’s left to do is polish up the challenges, get the posts scheduled up and ready to go, and finish off some advertising/coordinating tasks.
We’re almost there. Soon, the Asylum doors will open… and eat you.