When I first started writing—around the age of eleven or so—I did so for one reason alone: to stretch the limits of my imagination and create something. I never thought about writing as an art form or as a career—those ideas came much later in life. In the beginning, writing was about creating, and if I’m being honest, it still is. Even though I consider my writing today to be more professional and career-minded, at its root, I write out of a need to create. Which brings me to worldbuilding—the act of creating an imaginary world from the ground up.
Before I learned to actually write my ideas down and create cohesive stories, I used the most powerful tool at my disposal to create—my imagination. I’d always had an overactive imagination, and I would spend hours with friends or by myself fantasizing about new worlds, then taking notes and drawing pictures to back them up. As soon as I focused on writing, it was only natural for me to start writing about these worlds I had created, but that didn’t stop me from worldbuilding. To this day, worldbuilding is integral to my writing process.
Worldbuilding is something that comes naturally to me. I usually start with some little bit of science or magic that can do something wonderful or terrifying. Next, I frame a story around my newfound power that explains what it can do and the consequences it exacts. Characters spring to mind, mere action figures in the beginning that interact with this new power. Over time, my characters develop personalities, back stories, dreams, and futures.
But my mind doesn’t let me rest with one simple story, one random occurrence.
Surely this newfound power I had dreamed up didn’t come from nowhere. Questions usually pour from my mind, and my imagination generates the answers. If it was a science-based power, I would explore its roots and determine where it had come from. I always had more fun with magic-based powers though. Did it come from some ancient earth history, or did it come from off world? Is this a new power that’s never been used, or do more people use it than my characters (or even I) suspect? The answers don’t always come right away, but my imagination works in overdrive to find them.
Once I figure out a general outline for my stories, I decide where they will take place exactly. Sometimes our very own Earth is an ideal setting. This is fun because I can figure out ways in which my new power was hidden or discovered, and I can rewrite our own world history to accommodate my stories. Even if my stories take place on some other planet or plane of existence, I am compelled to think about its history. I can’t leap into some unknown world without knowing something about where it came from. This line of thinking often leads into the future of my world, which then generates even more stories.
Before I know it, an entire world has developed. I have a history and a future, and I have a base of characters in which to play with. I have cultures and religions and societal roles to intertwine with my stories.
Most importantly, I have a constant source of story in which to draw from. I can draw from an entire length of history, or I can look to the future or farther into the past where new magics and sciences might be waiting to be realized or unearthed.
Worldbuilding means so much more to me than a simple framework for my stories. It becomes a real world that I can share with others.
Lack of motivation is one of my biggest challenges in my world of writing. Sometimes I call it “writer’s block”. Sometimes I say “I haven’t taken a rest in a while and this is my reward.” Sometimes, I simply don’t care to write. I blame a very small portion of this on the chemicals in my brain that affect my mood, but the rest of the blames lays squarely on my shoulders. I firmly believe that everything boils down to choice, no matter how difficult.
Writer’s block is a legitimate phenomenon. The term gets thrown around a lot, but quite often, it applies to writing of any kind. Writer’s block refers to a writer’s inability to move forward on a project, but that inability can mean different things. Sometimes our muse doesn’t deliver on inspiration. Sometimes we don’t know how to proceed and we get locked out of our own minds. Sometimes we doubt ourselves as writers, and that doubt turns to fear that freezes us in place.
In my experience, writing exercises are the best remedy for writer’s block. Exercises can help us see ours projects in a new light, and we begin to organize our thoughts so we can move forward. Sometimes, we see the flaws and how to fix them. We might even realize how impossible our task is and let it go for a time while we move onto something else. Writing groups, either online or in the real world, are another great remedy for writer’s block. Talking about your projects with others can be a great way to free yourself. But you have to be willing to try, to shut out your doubts and dive in whether its exercises, writing groups, reorganization, or reading.
This has to be my worst excuse, and I use it more often than I’d like to admit. So I’ll admit it. It goes something like this:
“I just spent 6 weeks editing my manuscript in between marketing and blog posts and reading that paper for my wife. Whew! I’m exhausted and I need a break. I’m just gonna take a night or two off from writing so I can recharge my batteries.”
A night goes by. Then two. Then a week. Oh crap! I haven’t written in a week? Holy crap, holy crap, holy crap… I better get some work done tonight. Oh! But I have that thing! Ah well, tomorrow. For sure, tomorrow!
Guess what happens tomorrow? Pretty much a rehashing of what I just wrote. What I’ve learned over the years is that the rest is sometimes needed. It’s a necessary part of any love. Sometimes, you just need a little time away just to gain some perspective. But the trick is to never really leave. You might be spending your evening watching a movie, but take a few minutes to jot down some notes or do some light reading. It doesn’t have to be long, but it has to be enough to ensure that your thoughts stay fresh. Trust me, those thoughts won’t take long to spoil.
This one’s the worst, and honestly, I have trouble knowing how much control I have over this one. Sometimes my mood just doesn’t cooperate. It might be depression. It might be doubt or a lack of motivation, or maybe it’s all of these things. But when I head into the abyss, I see no end in sight, like a black hole that pulls in all of my creative energy and crushes it into dark matter.
But I remain firm in my belief that choice determines our actions. This is the most difficult part for me, but I’ve escaped from the abyss enough to know that it works. No matter how much you resist it, no matter how little you feel it, you just have to write. For me, it’s a journal. When I feel myself sliding into the depthless maw of the abyss, I begin journaling a couple times a day without worrying about word counts or content. I do this because I know if I stop writing, months might go by before I get back on track. The only way out is to write. If someone knows a better way, I’m all ears, because I know I can’t be the only one.
Ha! And blogging. Blogging also helps because I feel motivated again. Back to work!