Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

storm moving across a field
Using Light and Shadow to Convey Mood

by Angela Ackerman

haunted conference room

Fun things can happen at writing conferences, especially after hours. In fact, a year ago I was winding up a conference with a drink along with a few others, and as the hour grew late, the interesting stories started to come out. You know, the ones spoken in a quiet voice: paranormal experiences, ghost stories. One writer passed on a bit of lore regarding the hotel we were in: one of the conference rooms was known to be haunted.

I perked up. She was speaking my love language.

And I wasn’t the only one. Someone asked for clarification on the conference room name, and then three of us stood, ready to investigate. We glanced about for staff who might try to dissuade us from poking around, but the common area was suitably quiet for the late hour.

Off we went to meet the mysterious Rundle room ghost.

We found the conference room unlocked and so slipped inside, giggling enough for women half our age. Someone had left the lights on, bathing the rose-cushioned chairs in a cheery glow. A wooden lectern stood at the front, presentation screens to either side, all ready for the next presentation. To all appearances, the room was empty save for us.

Right away I could see a big problem with the mission, so I crossed to the wall panel of light switches and snapped them off.  

A gasp shot out of the dark. Hmm. Maybe someone wasn’t quite as into this experience as I was?

A moment later this was confirmed. One of our trio exited with a, “Nope, I’m out.”

In my mind, my action was logical. What self-respecting ghost would emerge into this bright light? Better to turn those off and sit, breathing in the dark…waiting for the temperature to change…a sound that shouldn’t be there…a touch. Oh yeah. Creepy.

Did I believe in the Rundle ghost? No. But I was setting the mood so this would be more of an experience. And maybe it worked a little too well, because as the minutes stretched, the darkness began to crawl into my head. Every little noise sounded suspicious, and I grew slightly unnerved, wondering if I’d made a mistake.

Just as I altered the mood by flipping light switches, writers can do the same through strategic descriptive choices.

Emotionally speaking, light and shadow influence us, and it can influence both characters and readers. Places that seem familiar and safe by day can feel very different at night. Likewise, the mystery and uncertainty present in a murky locale will dissipate as the sun climbs the sky. When we change the quality and amount of light, we can shift the mood in our scene without changing the setting.

For example, consider a classic, L. M. Montgomery’s description of Birch Path, a recurring location in her Anne of Green Gables series:

It was a little narrow, twisting path, winding down over a long hill straight through Mr. Bell’s woods, where the light came down sifted through so many emerald screens that it was as flawless as the heart of a diamond.

We can easily envision this scene under the trees. The green-tinged sunlight gives the scene a lighthearted, cheerful feel, and though the season isn’t mentioned, late spring or summer is inferred, simply by referencing the light.

But the same path traveled later in the day by a character in another frame of mind can look and feel vastly different. Here is Birch Path again, traveled by a more mature Anne in the third book of the series:

Anne felt lonelier than ever as she walked home, going by way of the Birch Path and Willowmere. She had not walked that way for many moons. It was a darkly-purple bloomy night. The air was heavy with blossom fragrance—almost too heavy.

The darkly-purple light, combined with Anne’s loneliness and the cloying odors, give the scene a heavy, melancholy feel that wasn’t there before.

Because light and shadow lie within the realm of universal symbolism, people tend to respond to them in a feral way: well-lit areas are deemed safer, putting us at ease, while darker spots have more weight and feel heavier both on the body and the spirit.

When setting the mood for your scene, consider the lighting. How much light is there? Where does it come from? Is it hard or soft, comforting or blinding? Is it constant and totally revealing, or does it allow for shadows and hidden places? Questions like these will serve as a guide for how to light a scene to set the desired mood.

You can also draw upon personal symbolism—meaning derived based on a character’s personal interactions and history--if you’ve taken the time to set it up so readers pick up on its significance. Light itself may represent pain, exposure, risk, or danger to a character who lives safely below ground, or by the necessity of survival, is only able to come out at night. We need only look at vampire, werewolf, and demon fiction to see this played out within a story.

When you’re looking to steer the emotions of your characters and readers, use light and shadow, because they will do the work for you. (Weather has this ability, too!)

And what of the Rundle ghost, you ask? Well, after sitting in the dark for a few minutes asking if anyone was with us, we decided our otherworldly friend was a no-show. We left, but on the way out, met a maintenance man. After explaining our after-hours mission, he pointed us to a different conference room where an apparition was known to lurk. My fellow ghost hunter and I zipped up a floor to investigate, but again, it was a paranormal bust.

The tale does not end here, however. In that second conference room we ran into a housekeeper who shared two room numbers where the staff had seen things. But due to the late hour, we decided to call it a night and pick up the trail at next year’s conference.

This will be in two short months, so stay tuned…I may just have a ghost story of my own to share!

Do you use light and shadow to bring forward a specific mood? How did it impact your characters in the scene? 

About Angela

Angela Ackerman

Angela Ackerman is a story coach, international speaker, and co-author of the bestselling book, The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression, and its many sequels. Available in nine languages, her guides are sourced by US universities, recommended by agents and editors, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, and psychologists around the world. To date, this book collection has sold over a million copies. 

Angela is also the co-founder of the popular site Writers Helping Writers®, as well as One Stop for Writers®, a portal to game-changing tools and resources that enable writers to craft powerful fiction. Find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Top image by Writers in the Storm via Canva.

Read More
The Crucial Role of Self-Confidence in Creativity

by Susan Watts

writer and warrior - self-confidence

As an author and a martial artist, I’ve discovered that self-confidence is not just a byproduct of skill but a catalyst for creative potential.

When we have self-confidence, we believe in our own capability, competence, and value to others. In martial arts, confidence comes from mastery and the continuous honing of skills. This self-assurance carries over into various aspects of life, such as creative pursuits.

Creativity thrives in an environment where one feels safe to take risks, make mistakes, and explore uncharted territories. Self-confidence acts as the bedrock of this environment. When we believe in our abilities, we are more likely to venture beyond the conventional, embrace originality, and express our true selves without fear of judgment or failure.

Martial arts, particularly self-defense training, offer powerful lessons in building self-confidence. When you learn to defend yourself, you gain a sense of control and empowerment that transcends physical boundaries.

The lessons learned in martial arts can seamlessly translate to creative endeavors. Just as martial artists practice techniques to build confidence, writers can develop routines and habits that foster self-assurance. Here are a few strategies:

Embrace Failure

In martial arts, every mistake is an opportunity to learn. Whether it's a missed punch, a flawed stance, or a failed defense, each error teaches a valuable lesson. Embracing failure means viewing it as a stepping stone rather than a setback. For example, whenever I would lose a sparring match, I’d analyze my weaknesses to identify areas for improvement. As a result, I went on to achieve future victories. The more you fail and learn, the more resilient and confident you become.

In the creative realm, failure is often a misunderstood companion. Every creative masterpiece has a history of drafts, revisions, and abandoned ideas. Recognizing that failure is an essential part of the creative process allows you to take risks and experiment. For example, a writer might draft several versions of a story before finding the perfect narrative. Each "failure" is a crucial step toward success. Adopting this mindset reduces the fear of failure and builds confidence in your creative journey.

Set Achievable Goals

Setting realistic and achievable goals is essential for building confidence. In martial arts, instead of aiming for a black belt right away, instructors provide students with a belt ranking system to break down training into smaller milestones. Students can then focus on mastering specific techniques and earning the next belt.

In writing, breaking projects into manageable tasks can make the process less daunting and more rewarding. For instance, if you're writing a novel, set goals like completing a chapter each week or writing a certain number of words each day. Celebrate these small victories to build momentum and confidence. Over time, these consistent achievements will culminate in a significant creative output, reinforcing your belief in your abilities. Celebrate each achievement, no matter how small, to create a sense of progress and accomplishment.

Seek Feedback

Feedback is a cornerstone of growth in martial arts. Instructors and peers provide insights that help students refine their techniques and strategies. Regular feedback sessions, such as after sparring or during belt tests, provide opportunities to assess progress and build confidence.

Feedback is equally crucial in writing. Writers should welcome constructive criticism as it offers a different perspective and helps identify areas for improvement. Join writing groups, attend workshops, or collaborate with other artists to gain diverse perspectives. Positive feedback boosts confidence, while constructive criticism provides valuable guidance for growth. Learning to accept and apply feedback fosters a confident and resilient, creative mindset. Knowing that you’re improving based on feedback enhances your self-assurance.

Practice Consistently

Consistency is key in martial arts. But does practice make perfect? Not necessarily—practice makes permanent. I often tell my students if they aren’t trying their best when they practice, they are just reinforcing bad habits. Regular practice builds muscle memory and can enhance techniques and increase overall confidence. Establishing a routine, such as attending classes several times a week and practicing at home, contributes to continuous improvement. Over time, this consistent effort, if performed correctly, can lead to noticeable progress, reinforcing a student’s belief in their abilities.

In creative work, consistent practice is equally vital. Setting aside dedicated time each day or week for your creative pursuits establishes a routine that fosters growth. Whether it's writing, painting, composing music, or any other creative activity, regular practice helps refine your skills and develop your unique style. The more you create, the more confident you become in your abilities. Consistency also helps overcome creative blocks, as the habit of creating becomes ingrained, making it easier to tap into your creativity.

Visualization and Positive Affirmations

Visualization is a powerful tool to enhance confidence by mentally rehearsing success. I often use mental imagery to visualize myself successfully performing techniques, winning matches, or achieving specific goals. 

As an author, picture yourself writing effortlessly, watching your story unfold, or completing a writing project. This mental rehearsal can reduce anxiety and increase your belief in your abilities. Additionally, positive affirmations, such as reminding yourself of your strengths and past achievements, can bolster self-belief and combat negative self-talk. Statements like "I am a talented writer," "My creativity flows effortlessly," or "I have unique ideas to share" can shift your mindset and boost your confidence.

Surround Yourself with Supportive People

The martial arts community is often tight-knit and supportive. When students train with like-minded individuals who provide support and challenges, their confidence can experience a significant boost. The camaraderie and shared experiences within the dojo foster a sense of belonging and mutual encouragement.

The same is true for the creative world. Surrounding yourself with supportive and inspiring individuals can have a profound impact on your confidence. Join creative communities, attend workshops, and connect with fellow artists who understand your journey. Constructive and positive interactions with peers provide motivation, inspiration, and reassurance. A supportive network offers feedback, celebrates your successes, and helps you navigate challenges, ultimately boosting your creative confidence.

Conclusion

Building self-confidence is a dynamic process that requires dedication, resilience, and a willingness to embrace challenges. By incorporating these strategies into creative pursuits, you can cultivate a strong foundation of self-assurance. Embracing failure, setting achievable goals, seeking feedback, practicing consistently, visualizing success, and surrounding yourself with supportive individuals are powerful ways to enhance confidence and unlock your full creative potential. As you embark on this journey, remember that confidence is not a destination, but an ongoing practice that evolves and strengthens over time.

What has your experience been with self-confidence in writing?

Susan Watts

About Susan

Under the pen name Michelle Allums, Susan Watts has authored a young adult urban fantasy titled, The Jade Amulet and is currently writing the sequel. Her short stories are also included in the anthologies Christmas Roses and Forever and Always.

Susan has dedicated over four decades to training in multiple martial arts styles and holds the impressive title of a five-time US Karate Alliance world black belt fighting grand champion. Through her karate school, she is able to impart martial arts and life skills. Susan also incorporates her martial arts knowledge into her writing. An avid triathlete, she keeps in shape by running, biking and swimming. She lives in the country with her husband, where they raise animals and enjoy being outdoors. Susan also has three grown children and numerous grandchildren. In addition, she is a CPA and VP of finance for a company in her hometown. 

You can connect with Susan on social media or her website.

Top image courtesy of Writers in the Storm via Canva.

Read More
Address the Root Causes and Unlock Your Writer's Block
Image is of a orange striped road block barrier with a sign reading Writer's Block in large letters.

There is a great deal written about the malady called Writer’s Block. Most of it is a dire warning that this could happen to you and how it cripples you and your career. It’s frightening. That’s unfortunate because it sets up writers to expect the same thing will happen to them. But writer’s block is a symptom, not a disease. It’s a symptom that something is wrong and you have to figure out what is wrong. Unfortunately, that’s not always easy. 

Writing a story is a complex task. Being a human is a complex thing, too. The number of things that could block you is almost infinite. Not only that, you may have multiple factors causing your creative mind to shut down. Developing a checklist may help you determine what is causing your creative block. 

Your physical health is essential even for the usually sedentary task of writing a story. Folks with chronic health issues are aware of this and often do a better job taking care of their physical health than those in "good" health.

If you’re not getting enough sleep, the right nutrition, enough water, and the right amount of exercise every day, you may not have the energy to write. That is one of many root causes that may cause your writer’s block. 

Symptoms of Lack of Sleep 

  • Daytime sleepiness is the number one symptom (Take daytime to mean when you regularly expect to be up and functioning your best.)
  • Fatigue
  • Mood changes, particularly depression and irritability
  • Trouble thinking, focusing, remembering
  • Slowed reaction times
  • Headaches

Chronic sleep deprivation the symptoms are more severe and can cause long-term damage to your body including stroke, heart attack, high blood pressure, risk of developing diabetes, obesity, obstructive sleep apnea, lower immunity from diseases, lower pain tolerance, depression, anxiety, and it may also play a role in the development of Alzheimer’s disease. In extreme cases, it can cause conditions involving psychosis.

Symptoms of Inadequate Nutrition  

  • Unexplained Fatigue
  • Brittle and Dry Hair
  • Ridged or Spoon-Shaped Nails
  • Poor night vision and white growths on the eyes
  • Cracking or inflammation at the corners of the mouth
  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Unexplained mood changes, especially apathy or irritability
  • Lack of appetite

Learn more at reputable sites like WebMD, Healthline, and university medical center websites.

Symptoms You’re Not Drinking Enough Water  

  • Thirst is the first symptom of mild dehydration.
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness, weakness, and lightheadedness
  • Dry mouth and/or a cough
  • High heart rate but low blood pressure
  • Loss of appetite but maybe craving sugar
  • Flushed (red) skin
  • Swollen feet
  • Muscle cramps
  • Heat intolerance or chills
  • Constipation
  • Dark-colored urine (Your pee should be a pale, clear yellow.)
  • Severe dehydration can lead to serious complications like electrolyte imbalances, heatstroke, kidney issues, shock, coma, and even death.

Symptoms You’re Not Getting Enough Exercise 

You will probably recognize many of these symptoms. 

  • Joint stiffness
  • Muscle Tightness
  • Low energy - you feel sluggish and tired most of the time. 
  • Trouble sleeping
  • You are always out of breath
  • Constipation
  • Moodiness
  • Forgetfulness and difficulty making decisions

Figure out what your body needs. Once you’ve met your physical needs, it’s time to check in with your mental and emotional health.

Talk about complex! If you are experiencing a chronic or acute mental or emotional health issue, it may be what is causing your writer’s block. 

Stress may be the number one cause of a decline in your mental and emotional health. This is another multi-sourced symptom.

Whether chronic or temporary, physical conditions will cause stress. Maybe there are financial challenges that are your source of stress. Other sources of stress can include relationship issues, social or political events, lack of shelter or food or clothing, the illness or challenges a loved one faces, and your own body chemistry.

Good emotional and mental health means that you have at least one supportive relationship, regular self-care habits, and self- soothing tools for moments of increased stress. 

Self-care is proactive.

Self-care includes intentional thoughts and behaviors you do to take care of your mind, body, and soul. Some examples of self-care are regular medical checkups, eating nutritious foods, getting regular exercise.

Self-soothing is reactive.

Self-soothing includes thoughts and actions that get you through the moment. Often self-soothing is sense related: petting your four-legged friend (touch), smelling flowers (smell), listening to calming music or tones (hear), savoring your favorite foods (taste), or watching a sunset (sight).

If you have long periods of feel sad or depressed or if you are or have thoughts of harming yourself or any other feeling that concerns you, seek help. If you’re not sure it’s “worth” a doctor’s time

Call or Text 988 or

Visit the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline website.

They provide free and confidential support and resources for anyone needing help 24/7.

The word spirit refers to your inner self, your heart, and mind. I use that term instead of soul because so many people associate the soul with religion. Religion can be a part of your spiritual care, but it isn’t the whole. Spiritual self-care is about reconnecting and replenishing yourself. 

It is easy to become dispirited, discouraged, and too worn out. Many writers make the mistake of looking outside of themselves for the causes of being dispirited. They think they aren't good enough or have no talent. They think talented writers don't get blocked instead of considering that

Possible triggers for negative feelings:

  • I got a bad review
  • The agent I wanted rejected me with a form letter
  • My writers’ group hated my story
  • I’ve been trying for xx years and no one wants to buy my stories

Those are disheartening things to experience. They will trigger feelings of frustration, anger, depression, and/or dejection. Allow yourself to feel those feelings. They are natural reactions. But give yourself a time limit in minutes or hours, or even days. At the end of that time limit, pick yourself up with some spiritual care. What is spiritual care?

Be aware of your triggers and when negative feelings build. Figure out what is bringing you down. Once you know that, you will know what you need to lift your spirits again. It’s different for each of us.

Ways people find their inner peace 

  • Music
  • Meditation
  • Art galleries or museums
  • Time with family and friends
  • Time with pets
  • Time in nature
  • Community service or activities
  • Giving to others
  • Bubble baths
  • Swimming or other physical activity
  • Poetry
  • Working with your hands

One spirit-lifting tool could be a notebook of affirmations, of quotes you find inspirational, your positive reviews, your acceptances, copies of works you are especially proud of, or photographs of times when you felt like an accomplished writer.

Find the activities and places that restore your sense of wellbeing. That is taking care of your spirit.

Your creativity comes from inside you. Some speak of that place inside as a muse, others speak of a well, and still others speak of a second person/mind/soul/body. No matter how you refer to the writer you, your creative mind needs replenished from time to time. It’s more than your physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual needs. It is your inspiration and motivation to write. 

Unique to you, there is one or more way to refresh your creative you. Many of these things can be the same things that refill your spirit, but some may be specific to your creative side. 

The Three Rs

Perhaps your case of writer’s block is a sign you need to take time to rest, restore, and/or reconnect with your creative side.

Rest.

Stop thinking that because you cannot write what you think you should write right now, you can no longer write or be creative. Give yourself permission to rest for a specific time period. You will return to your writing space refreshed and ready to go to work again.

Restore your creativity.

Some people call this re-filling the well. Other call it feeding your creativity. Positive affirmations, reading, watching movies, visiting art galleries or museums, long walks in nature, and music are some things you can try. Remember that sometimes your growth as a writer changes what you need to consume in order to restore your creativity. Try new things. 

Reconnect to your creativity.

Stop thinking inspiration will come to you. Give yourself permission to write badly. Give yourself permission to just write for fun. Ask yourself a simple question and write whatever comes to you. Draw a four panel cartoon (no matter how poorly or well you draw). Give yourself permission to not get it right. 

Creativity needs exercise to grow strong.  The first time a gymnast walks into the gym, there’s no expectation of a perfect balance beam routine. Even a seasoned gymnast, one who has performed well in the past, has to put in the practice every day (or nearly every day.) Give yourself permission to write as many drafts as it takes. Take a class. Analyze a story you love or a story you think is poorly done. Read a how-to book or blog post (use the Writers in the Storm blog search box to find what speaks to you).

If you still feel you cannot write after taking care of your creative side, it’s time to look at what you are writing.

Stories are complicated. Sometimes, getting stuck means you’ve written something that has taken the story down the “wrong path.” In order to discover the problem, take a few steps backward, maybe even a lot of steps backward.

Ask yourself:

  • Why is writing something you must do? 
  • Why do you want to write this story? 
  • Are writing something that doesn’t make your creative heart sing? 
  • What would make your creative heart sing? 
  • Is your story structure solid? 
  • Are you telling the story from the right point of view?
  • Have you made your character act in a way that doesn’t ring true?
  • What event or action would hurt your character the most at this point in your story?

List five to ten answers for each of these questions. Most likely, that will free your creative side. If not, consider sharing your story with a trusted critique partner. Be open to how the feedback might help you see and fix problem areas.

Close-up photograph of a typewriter's type guide and platen. A piece of paper iin place and the words "happy ending" has been typed on it

Although the cause of writer’s block can be multi-layered, it isn’t a disease or permanent disability. It’s a symptom. Sometimes it takes a lot of work to get to the root cause. Other times you know what has you stressed or distracted. Many times you have no control over the stressors and distractions life throws at you. That’s okay. Have faith. Your writing, your creative side, is waiting for you, will wait for you to reconnect. 

What things do you do to take care of your creative side?

If you've experienced it, please share what helped you overcome writer's block.

About Lynette

Lynette M. Burrows is an author, blogger, creativity advocate, and Yorkie wrangler. She survived moving seventeen times between kindergarten and her high school graduation. This alone makes her uniquely qualified to write an adventure or two.

Her Fellowship series is a “chillingly realistic” alternate history in 1961 Fellowship America where autogyros fly and following the rules isn’t optional. Books one and two, My Soul to Keep, and  If I Should Die, are available everywhere books are sold online. Book three, And When I Wake, is scheduled to be published in late 2024.

Lynette lives in the land of OZ. She is a certifiable chocoholic and coffee lover. When she’s not blogging or writing or researching her next book, she avoids housework and plays with her two Yorkshire terriers. You can find Lynette online on Facebook or on her website.

Read More

Subscribe to WITS

Recent Posts

Search

WITS Team

Categories

Archives

Copyright © 2024 Writers In The Storm - All Rights Reserved