Fall Flash Fiction Winner Announced!

Hey, everybody! I’m excited to announce the winner of this year’s Fall Flash Fiction Contest! Congratulations to Charlotte Anderson for her piece, “Wolf Bit,” a tragic story about a young girl searching desperately for a way to make herself a hero to her mother and sister without realizing her value.

“Wolf Bit” by Charlotte Grace A. 

The hard, plastic chair had stuck to my legs, and I shifted uncomfortably, waiting for my number to be called. The air in the room felt tense. My breathing felt short.

“Two-three-two.”

“Am I REALLY an Artist?”

Have any of you ever asked that question before? I won’t ask for a show of hands because I’m pretty sure most of you have. If you haven’t, you probably will. Being an artist is hard. For many of us, it’s a constant battle between wanting to create wonderful things for people and wanting to hide from the world in an indestructible fortress equipped with bullet-proof glass and motion-detectors that will trigger if someone sneezes. It’s easy to get discouraged and find yourself asking whether or not the life of an artist is really for you.

For the past several weeks, I’ve been struggling with my career as a writer. I’m not talking about writer’s block, however; I’m talking about the whole enchilada. We all have times when things aren’t going well, but this was different, and I found myself questioning my identity as a novelist. I mean, who was I kidding? Writing is hard. It takes more time, energy, dedication, and patience than a lot of other jobs. And usually, the returns are slow in coming. I’d reached the point where I was standing on the edge of a black abyss called Despair. Some of you have been there too, asking, “Am I really an artist?” So what do you do?

The Two Most Important Things About Finding Creativity – Guest Post by Ellie DuHadway

Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.

–Pablo Picasso

Every artist has a different recipe for finding creativity in the mundane.

And, most people have really great ideas for staying creative and establishing a routine of disciplined and organized work in the creative arts. Create something every day, even if you don’t feel inspired. Write a piece of prose a few different times and wait to see what comes out of those three different versions. Write short stories. Doodle. All of those things work well for getting the creativity going.

But what inspires creativity in the first place? I want to backtrack to the initial problem: finding creativity in the mundane.

What makes life mundane for you, exactly? What is it about your surroundings, the people you interact with, and the things that you do that make life so unexciting for you that you are consistently bored, consistently writing or creating the same things (whether that’s inside your stories or outside of them), and consistently talking about the same things?

In college and among the other creative folks in my life, I’ve sometimes noticed a plateau in people’s creativity, and I believe that it comes from an illusion of mastery.

I’ll explain. We all start out as knowledge less, correct? We arrive into the world just learning how to breathe the air itself. We learn rapidly from there – we learn how to eat and do the essential-for-living things, but as we grow, we learn SO MUCH about the world and what we are to be doing in it, and the world is still new to us and there’s still so much to be discovered.

Artists may recall drawing everything all the time when they were little, whether things were real or imagined. Writers may recall starting epic and adventurous novels with high ambitions of becoming the world’s youngest writer. We were so inspired when we were little. There was no shortage of creativity to be had.

What happened?

There are two things that kids are really good at, that I think we as artists and creative people need to bring back in order to revive our creativity (and really, our hearts along with).

Wonder and curiosity.

Wonder is your excitement about life. Wonder is when you collected autumn leaves as a kid because you thought they were beautiful. Wonder is the feeling you’re supposed to have whilst stargazing or ice skating or standing on top of a mountain. Wonder is, simply, our inborn recognition of the Lord’s beauty, power, and love in the world we live in. We’re naturally drawn to it. Wonder is easier when you’re small, and everything holds potential, and you’re free of a little thing called preconceived notions.

But when we grow older, we start to choose what we like – and more dangerously, what we don’t like – and we tend to stick to those things without allowing for new people or new experiences to fill us. We are content to be vaguely pleased with the things we’re pleased with, and content to be unhappy and complain about the things we aren’t pleased with. That is the easiest way to kill wonder – to basically say about your life, “Well, this is all there is and this thing is good and this thing is bad and that’s all I’m going to live by.” Run away from that. Run away from your life revolving around one thing, person, or idea.

C. S. Lewis explains the sense of wonder in The Great Divorce, when an angel tries to convince an artist to come with him to heaven:

“When you painted on earth–at least in your earlier days–it was because you caught glimpses of Heaven in the earthly landscape. The success of your painting was that it enabled others to see the glimpses too…Light itself was your first love: you loved paint only as a means of telling about light.”

And David Crowder explains why we are supposed to stay in a state of wonder in his book, Praise Habit:

When good is found and we embrace it with abandon, we embrace the Giver of it…Every second is an opportunity for praise. There is a choosing to be made. A choosing at each moment. This is the Praise Habit. Finding God moment by revelatory moment, in the sacred and the mundane, in the valley and on the hill, in triumph and tragedy, and living praise erupting because of it. This is what we were made for.

When you belong to God, the world opens up for you because you don’t have to fear it or find your source of hope in it. You’re allowed to explore and enjoy and adventure with God on your side, and that makes for the very best creativity.

Curiosity is our innate desire to learn things. I have no idea how we get to a point where we think we don’t need to learn things anymore, but we do and it is the saddest thing I think we can encounter as creative people.

We live in a world where we can feel like we need to prove ourselves right, and sometimes the desire to be right can override the desire to learn. Admitting that we don’t have everything figured out is a humbling thing. It kills the pride of knowledge, the pride of being above others because you know more than them. When we get into that mindset of being superior in knowledge, then our personal desire to learn new things is silenced. And that’s not only kind of a hideous thing to happen, but if you don’t learn new things, you cannot create new things. Only God has the ability to continue to make new things even though he knows everything.

Wonder and curiosity both include a difficult concept that we may have trouble embracing – smallness. To open ourselves back up to a sense of wonder and a desire to learn, we must put down our pride and say that we have not yet discovered everything, and we have not yet learned everything.

This is hard. It just is. There is a certain power in feeling that you have figured out life. But we were not meant to be big. When we let go – and thus, let God and the world he’s created become bigger – your creativity will return to you in an overwhelming way.

Never lose the wonder, friends.

Friend and fellow OYAN alumni, Ellie is an artist, writer, photographer, musician, and hard-core Instagrammer. A freshman at Christopher Newport University, she is a deep thinker with many beautiful things to say. You can find her blogging at The Restored Artist

How to Read With a Purpose – Guest Post by Braden Russell

No two writers are the same. Some chug their stories out on laptop keyboards, some prefer the stark fluidity of pen and paper, and there are always the zealous few who swear by the adventurous medium of one’s own blood on dungeon walls.

Serious male student reading a book

There are coffee guzzlers, tea sippers, cigarette smokers, and those of us who can only write while listening to track four of that obscure indie album. But even with all the differences in daily routines and workflow, every writer shares two core similarities.

We love to write books. And we love to read them.

A Tribute to Conveniently-Placed Propane Tanks

On Sunday evening, Sam and I went to see the new Left Behind movie with my parents. We were curious to see how it did, and it actually did pretty well…until the end when a few random propane tanks ruined the climax. After seeing so much of this, I’m starting to think that Hollywood must just keep spare propane tanks on hand. You know, in case of an emergency. Like maybe the climax isn’t good enough to hold it’s own without an unrealistic explosion, or the threat of one.

Movie-Explosion

This is what I call conjured suspense. It’s different than “contrived” suspense, but in some ways, similar. But wait, as writers, aren’t we supposed to manufacture suspense? I mean, what good is a story without any suspense? It’s part of our job. I’ve talked a little bit about suspense before, and there are many ways to write it well without conjuring it up like its some magic spell.

Why I Stopped Wearing Pajamas to Work

It’s strange, I know, the question going through a lot of your minds; “Why would you wear pajamas to work?” And that’s kind of the point. You wouldn’t.

pjs-lazy-motivation (1)

A lot of people see artists as incompetent and silly, living in a fantasy world, built on fool’s hopes. Dreams backed by nothing. If you’ve ever told someone you’re a writer or an artist or a musician, you’ve probably been scoffed at a few times. I know; I’ve been there too. And it’s frustrating. Why can’t people just take us seriously?

3 Ways You Can Beat Procrastination

You know those days where you need to finish a project, but feel practically no motivation to do so? We all know what it’s like. Even if you have a great idea, maybe you don’t feel as excited about it today as you did yesterday. The poisonous thought of, “Ah, well, I can do it tomorrow” strikes and before you know it, you’re procrastinating.

There’s a fine line between being stuck and legitimately needing a break,  and just getting plain lazy. And I’m going to be honest: a lot of times I’m just lazy. I don’t feel like expending the brain cells it’s going to take to finish whatever it is that needs finishing. There are times when you’ve got to learn to beat procrastination instead of using it as an excuse for a break.