Perceiving the Wind: Finding Magic in the Mundane

by Austin Conrad

As advice, “write what you know” is nearly as hackneyed as “show, don’t tell.” Both pieces of advice are essentially correct, but writers hear them so often we don’t really process either recommendation. This is doubly true in speculative fiction. After all, very few of us have ridden on the back of a dragon!

My experience is that speculative fiction authors tend to see “write what you know” as guidance on emotional content. Write conflicts you’re familiar with, emotions you’ve experienced, and so on—this grounds our story in emotional reality. We overlook our day-to-day perceptual experiences because, well, they’re mundane. How can my experiences be relevant for writing about life on a spaceship or in a murky goblin warren? Yet by being attentive in the right way to the world around us, we acquire perceptual data which enriches our descriptions of the impossible. This type of “paying attention” or “being present” is often called mindfulness.

My familiarity with mindfulness exercises largely comes from the mental health industry. Religious traditions worldwide teach similar practices. The goal of these exercises is to be present in the moment, quieting our mental voice to simply experience the here and now through our perceptions. Because these exercises help return my mind to my senses—rather than spiraling off into anxiety (or plotting problems)—I find they help me recognize strong perceptions. As a fantasist, this helps me burrow deeper into a character’s worldview and strengthens my descriptive writing.

Utilizing mindfulness

For the purpose of descriptive writing, I typically draw upon mindful moments I’ve experienced while walking around town or hiking at a local nature park. Living in the American Midwest, unending winds blow across the cornfields, which now cover the prairie. Upon reaching the top of a hill, the wind grasps at you, as if it were alive. When strong enough, the wind seems like it could pull the breath out of my chest. I breathe deep, and pay attention to how it pushes against my skin, tugs against my shirt, my shorts, my hair. There’s more than just the tactile sensation; there’s also sound, vision. Branches scrape against one another, and trees creak. Leaves flicker with color as they twist overhead.

My fantasy work typically is set in Glorantha, the setting of Chaosium’s tabletop roleplaying game RuneQuest. This mythic world emphasizes the reality of the gods as the daily experience of the player characters. Orlanth, the Storm King (kind of like Thor or Zeus), doesn’t merely send the wind. He is the wind. Mindful moments draw me closer into the worldview of this fiction.

I’m better able to understand the subjective worldview of RuneQuest characters because of my experiences perceiving the wind. Using mindfulness exercises to slow myself down, to simply feel, perceive, helps me notice how I’m experiencing the world. Orlanth isn’t real. Glorantha isn’t real. But by focusing on my perceptual experiences, I can make them seem real in my writing. I find mindfulness, in a sense, reifies the perceptual world. It helps me experience the mundane as the fantastic.

Being mindful

Mindfulness exercises sometimes sound strange or difficult. There is a tendency to make what people experience seem dramatic, even mystical. (Even I slightly fell prey to it above!) The mental health field uses mindfulness and other meditative practices and concepts in a secular context without reference to the spiritual or the religious. It’s a cognitive tool that is useful for returning to the moment when a person is experiencing stress, anxiety, or other forms of psychological distress. Honestly, I suspect one reason mindfulness sometimes receives excessive praise is because it is cousin to more complex religious practices. When a tool is very simple, people have this tendency to enlarge it, glorify it. We struggle with simple solutions.

And mindfulness is simple. You just pay attention. The world doesn’t change—you just pay more attention to it.

There really isn’t more to it than that. Figuring out how to do mindfulness exercises isn’t about learning some “special trick.” It’s about figuring out what method of being attentive works for you. For me—and most people—intentionally slowing down my movements helps me begin to pay attention. Taking smaller steps, more slowly. Looking, really looking, at the pattern of a tree’s bark. At the texture of a dirt path, or concrete. Once I’m slowed down, I shift between different perceptions, and between seeing wholes and seeing parts. Hearing everything all at once, rather than picking out a single engine or birdsong. Even alone in the park, the world is so loud.

Don’t try to think about writing while in the moment. The goal of mindfulness is to simply be present, to be seeing, hearing, smelling, feeling. If we bring other thoughts into that moment, we lose track of the physical experience. Indeed, that’s why it’s a useful mental health tool! When connecting mindfulness to my writing, I instead reflect backward on my exercises while writing a scene. Rarely, I’ll go in search of a particular experience that I think might be helpful. For example, going on a hike to feel the wind. If I do so, my goal is still to be mindful in that moment. Not plotting, not thinking about the character’s subjectivity, not pondering the chimera’s history. Simply experiencing the windy day.

Take the moment. Embrace it. Perceive the wind. And then, when you return to the desk, then you can think about the words.

Austin ConradAustin Conrad is a full-time writer and game designer. In a prior life, he was a counselor at a residential treatment center for seven years. He is best known for his indie publications for RuneQuest. His work for other systems has been published by EN Publishing and Menagerie Press.

Austin’s most recent release is “Treasures of Glorantha 2,” a compendium of magic items from an age of god-manipulating sorcerers and imperial dragons. You can learn more about Austin’s work on his website,