Category Archives: Writing

6 Weird Things About Writing

person wearing a white sheet over their body and sitting on a couch. they are also wearing sunglasses and a hat.Have you ever taken a moment to think about how weird the writing process can be?

When it’s done well, the end result can be characters and settings that were so well-developed it’s hard to remember they don’t actually exist in our world.

That in an of itself is just a little strange (in a delightful sort of way) if I spend too much time pondering it, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg once one digs their way into the process of writing itself.

I know some of my readers are fellow writers, so you’re probably going to be familiar with at least some of what I’m about to say.

 

Googling Bizarre Things

Person's hand holding a sketch of planet earth. Below this image is a search bar.

That is to say, topics that aren’t actually connected to my daily life whatsoever.

I’m not pregnant or planning to adopt, but I still spend an inordinate amount of time on baby naming websites.

I have no interest in being one of the first humans to live on Mars or any other non-Earth destination, but I read every scrap of information I can find about space travel and what humans can realistically expect to happen when humans start sending people to Mars or the Moon to establish permanent or temporary homes there. This includes everything from how they’ll dispose of human waste to possible burial practices when someone dies during one of these missions to what the dust on other planets might smell like.

These are two of the tamer things I’ve searched for online. Here’s hoping no one looks through my other searches and assumes that all or any of them are based on what my actual plans are for the near future.

Eavesdropping

A stone sculpture of someone eavesdropping Some people might eavesdrop for juicy gossip or to learn things that they know others wouldn’t want them to hear.

I’m not one of them.

When I overhear other people’s conversations, my brain immediately jumps into dialogue mode.

How are their sentences structured? Which dialect(s) are they using? How often do the speakers interrupt each other, if ever? Do they stick to one topic or jump around?

Only then do I think about what they’re actually saying. Some people reveal a great deal about their lives from the conversations they have in public, while others remain closed books at least in the short amount of time I spend listening to their portions of the conversation.

Gaining Unusual Knowledge

man holding book that has sparks of light coming out from it.The upside of all of this research is that I’ve studied all sorts of topics that most people with similar backgrounds probably wouldn’t know.

For example, I can tell you what the odds are of surviving the various types of smallpox even though that disease was eradicated years before I was born.

I also know what cyanide tastes like, how to cauterize a wound, and a few different methods to cure the hides of large animals after a big hunt.

(Here’s hoping this blog post won’t get me put on any watchlists. Ha!)

Talking to Characters

nails and other small pieces of metal arranged to look like a human face and shoulders. The metal figure is staring straight ahead with a serious expression on their face. There’s something about talking to your characters that makes it easier to iron out plans for plot twists or future character development in my experience.

Yes, sometimes I even talk to my characters out loud and wait for a response. No, I don’t expect them to literally respond.

It’s simply a way to sort out my thoughts and figure out which ideas, if any, actually fit that particular character at that particular moment in their life.

A moment of silence helps me figure out where to go next. Does idea X or Y makes more sense? Or maybe I should try idea Z first even though it’s newer and needs more development?

Forgetting to Eat

An empty white plate on a blue background Sometimes I get so wrapped up in what I’m writing that I forget what time it is.

This includes the typical times of day when I have my next meal.

There’s something about getting that next scene sketched out or blog post written that makes it easy to lose track of time like that.

Who wants to stop writing in that moment? Certainly not me!

Although my growling stomach eventually reminds me that writers aren’t machines and it’s time to stop and grab a plate of something.

Taking Breaks Feels Bizarre

A bulldog lying on the ground while looking up expectanctly at the viewerLast month I took a two week break from any sort of writing at all.

It was weird to spend those days doing things that were in no way to related to any step of the writing process, but ultimately I know how important it is to step away from a project and let one’s mind rest for a while.

This technique also works for much shorter breaks. Sometimes I’ll go take a walk when I’m struggling with how to phrase a particular blog post or passage in one of my stories. There’s something about stepping away from the issue that makes it much easier to resolve when walk or vacation time ends.

Don’t let this section make you assume that I write thousands of words every single day. My output does vary from one day to the next, but not having any of it at all is something I need to adjust to every time another break come up again.

Fellow writers, what would you add to this list?

My 20 Most Popular Posts of 2020

A green olympic typewriter that has typed out the number 2020. Every December I make a list of my most popular posts of the year. This is something I first began doing in 2017 with a roundup of my 10 most popular posts.

In 2018, I decided to double that number in response to my blogging buddies Terry Tyler and Tom Williams doing the same thing. I continued that tradition in 2019 and am back again today with this year’s entry.

The first two times I wrote this post, WordPress gobbled them up when I tapped the Schedule button. Talk about frustrating! Let’s cross our fingers and hope the third time is the charm.

Each year there are surprises in these roundups. It’s not always easy to predict which posts will do well immediately, take off months later, or occasionally never garner as much interest as I thought they would.

This year I was a little surprised by how many bookish posts made it to the list. In the past, those topics generally didn’t garner as much interest as they did in 2020.

It was awesome to see so many of my entries for Vintage Science Fiction month be so popular as well. I will be participating in that blogging event again in January, so stay tuned.

I also liked seeing some film and indie book reviews included in the top 20 list. These are topics I could talk about all day.

Fitness was something I blogged about less often than usual this past year. I am hoping to blog more about it in 2021, especially once all of us who can be vaccinated against Covid-19 have been vaccinated and it becomes safer to go places again.

Thank you all for reading what I’ve written this year! Without further ado, here are the top 20 posts of 2020 beginning with #20 on the list.

Winter Blogfest graphic on a blue background with white snowflakes dotting the top and sides. The graphic reads, "Long and Short Reviews Winter Blogfest. A Prize on every post! December 21-January 1."

20. A Free Author Promo Opportunity at Long and Short Reviews 

A girl with a bored expression on her face reading a book.

19. 4 Creative Ways to Overcome a Reading Slump 

Black and white photo of a pug tilting its head in confusion

18. Why Writers Should Eavesdrop Regularly 

Nichelle Nichols as Uhura. She is holding her brand new tribble.

17. Vintage Science Fiction Month: The Trouble with Tribbles

Person standing in a 6+ foot tall tunnel built into thick walls of snow and ice.

16. An Exclusive Interview with Winter 

Film poster for Jumanji. image on poster shows four main characters standing at the mouth of a cave looking out onto a jungle with mountains in the distance.

15. A Review of Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle 

A Bit of Pickled Pumpkin and Other Short Horror Stories by B.A. Loudon book cover. Image on cover is of a pile of pumpkins.

14. A Review of A Bit of Pickled Pumpkin and Other Stories 

A city park landscape. The grass is green and covered in blue flowers. The bushes are just beginning to turn green, and the trees still look bare.

13. A Photo Essay of Toronto in April

gibraltar point lighthouse on Toronto Island in Toronto, Ontario

12. 6 Toronto Urban Legends for Halloween

Child running up a flight of steps

11. 3 Reasons Why You Should Try Mall Walking

Nine speech bubbles in a variety of shapes and pastel colours.

10. Why I Blog About Multiple Topics 

Photo of person's legs and orange shoes as they climb a flight of blue stairs.

9. 3 Reasons Why I Take the Stairs Instead of the Elevator 

A dead tree. The top half has been shorn off and is lying on the ground. Was it damaged in a storm?

8. A Photo Essay of Toronto in March 

Second Variety by Philip K. Dick book cover. Image on cover is of a stylized, human-shaped flame holding the Earth.

7. Vintage Science Fiction Month: Second Variety by Phillip K. Dick

Bananas that are submerged in a bright yellow landscape.

6. On Finding Scope for Imagination During Uncertain Times 

six clouds digitally altered to spell out the word dreams.

5. Let’s Talk About Vivid Quarantine Dreams 

 

A toy apple sitting on three textbooks in front of a blackboard. The toy apple has a window and door painted on it so it looks like a little house.

4. 5 Homeschooling Tips from a Homeschooler 

Book cover for 1NG4. Image on cover is of a metal structure that has been photographed just after dusk.

3. Military Science: A Review of 1NG4

a room filled with levers on its wall

2. Hopeful Science Fiction: Move the World 

Women doing yoga

1. 3 Things I Like About Yoga

A Free Author Promo Opportunity at Long and Short Reviews

 

Winter Blogfest graphic on a blue background with white snowflakes dotting the top and sides. The graphic reads, "Long and Short Reviews Winter Blogfest. A Prize on every post! December 21-January 1."

Long and Short Reviews is a large, well-respected book review site that has been around since 2007. They are currently seeking out guest bloggers for their Winter Blogfest which is scheduled to run December 21 through January 1.

This is an amazing free opportunity for authors from any genre to meet likeminded writers and introduce yourselves to new potential readers.

Here’s what you’ll need to do to participate:

  • Write a 250-500 word guest post that is holiday or winter themed
  • Offer a small prize (for example, a free copy of one of your ebooks or anything else you choose to offer)

It’s that simple.

The Winter Blogfest is open to everyone and every winter holiday. You could write about Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Christmas, the Winter Solstice, New Year’s, other winter holidays/celebrations, or the winter season in general.

In past years, they’ve published guest posts about special holiday recipes, people’s favourite memories of the season, funny stories about celebrations that maybe didn’t turn out the way the author thought they would, the history of certain holiday figures, foods, songs, etc., and so much more. As long as it’s not pure promo, let your imaginations run wild.

Participants also have the option of including links to their website, social media accounts, etc. if they wish.

Go to Long and Short Reviews for instructions on how to submit your entry and for more information. I look forward to reading your entries if you decide to join in.

The deadline to submit a guest post to this event is December 11. Spread the word!

On Finding Scope for Imagination During Uncertain Times

“Isn’t it splendid to think of all the things there are to find out about? It just makes me feel glad to be alive—it’s such an interesting world. It wouldn’t be half so interesting if we knew all about everything, would it? There’d be no scope for imagination then, would there?” – Anne of Green Gables by Lucy M. Montgomery

Anne Shirley has been on my mind recently. When I was a kid, I only ever read the first three books in the Anne of Green Gables series. It wasn’t until I became an adult that I discovered what happened to her in Windy Poplars and beyond, so her childhood to teen years made the biggest impression on me.

She was an imaginative girl who often flipped between bubbly enthusiasm and being in the “depths of despair” depending on what sort of trouble she might have accidentally found herself in.

stylized black and white drawing of woman in white dress touching butterflies the size of large owls. the blue, green, orange, and pink butterflies are the only splashes of colour in this scene.
This isn’t Anne, but I think she would have found scope for imagination in this sketch.

I’m fortunate to live in a walkable neighbourhood, so I can get nearly anything I need here without stepping onto the subway. This has been wonderful during the pandemic as I can walk by a nearby shop and see how busy it is before deciding whether I should buy groceries and other necessary supplies now or wait a day or two when there are fewer people there. photo of man walking down steps. Upper half of photo shows him walking upside down and up a pair of steps. image might be mirrored or something?

It also means that the days bleed into each other. I’m being so conscientious about where I go that I tend to see the same trees, shops, strangers, and even pigeons that I did last week, last month, and approximately a million years ago in March when the first wave of this pandemic hit Toronto.

(No, I’m not joking about the pigeons there. We have a flock of them that has chosen a specific area as their home and always returns to it after foraging elsewhere. I affectionally refer to them as our “pet” birds).

I used to find scope for imagination in things that I only saw and heard occasionally like attending specific street festival or planning an afternoon trip to a park in a different part of the city that requires one to ride the subway or take a streetcar with a multitude of strangers.

Now the only differences are changes in the weather and maybe the occasional new coat or pair of shoes a neighbour might want to show off if we pass each other on the street.

Like most of you, I’d imagine, my world is small, yet there is still scope for imagination here. The outside world might remain more or less the same from one day to the next, but that doesn’t mean your mind must do the same.

Even the smallest changes in a community can be attention grabbing now. The first autumn leaves that peeked out from a sea of green were prettier than they’ve been in years.

Bananas that are submerged in a bright yellow landscape.There are books to read and movies to watch that will take you anywhere you want to go, including places that weren’t accessible to mere mortals at all except through our imaginations!

Art museums themselves might be closed or scratched off many of our visiting lists, but art itself remains.

This is our new normal.

Someday future generations will ask what this time period was like.

I’m taking notes of my experiences. Some of them end up as blog posts here, while others have been scribbled down into a private journal I may pass down to my nephews someday.

Pretending to be a time traveller is another way to find scope for imagination. What is perfectly ordinary to us may be fresh and interesting to someone a century from now.

How would you explain the idiosyncrasies, irritations, and immeasurable moments of our era to them?

That one question in and of itself makes my mind tingle with possibilities.

Where have you all found scope for imagination recently?

4 Creative Ways to Overcome a Reading Slump

A girl with a bored expression on her face reading a book.Today I wanted to share some tips for overcoming a reading slump and (hopefully) finding the joy of losing yourself in a story once again.

Most readers have probably experienced this phenomenon at one point or another.

You slowly, or maybe quickly, shift from your regular reading patterns to no longer feeling anticipation at the thought of picking up another book in your preferred genre(s).

Maybe you’ll start one book only to grow bored and wander away from it after a chapter or two. This can happen again and again during a slump.

I know I’ve sure found it harder to stay focused since this year began.

Stop Reading

Drawing of a perturbed black cat. The phrase "not entertained" is written next to and underneath it.I’m totally serious about that, too. It feels obvious to me, but so many lists on this topic seem to skip over this solution.

How long should this break last? That’s up to you. I think about my interest levels in reading in general instead of how much time has passed.

Generally, my breaks last between a week and a month, but I’d have no problem going much longer than that if needed.

The thing about being an avid reader is that you often eventually begin to see the patterns in the genres you read. It’s harder to surprise someone who has been reading the same genre for years or decades.

Reading also isn’t so much fun when one can predict what will happen next in a story, especially if you’re already feeling tired of this hobby in general.

Sometimes the best way to react to this feeling is to stop trying to make yourself enjoy reading and find something else to fill your free time.

What else can you do? Well…

Get (More) Active

Reading can be like exercise for your mind. Books can teach new words (or even entire languages),  challenge your pre-conceived notions of the world, and introduce you to sorts of people and situations you might never come across your daily life.

There’s definitely something to be said for switching between activities that challenge your brain and activities that challenge your body, so stay with me here.

Depending on your current fitness level, interests, and what equipment you might have access to, this could take a wide range of forms:

  • Jogging
  • Dancing
  •  Swimming
  •  Playing sports
  •  Hiking
  •  Weightlifting
  • Taking a long walk

If you’re already physically active, now could be a good time to increase the length of your workouts or try a form of exercise that isn’t part of your regular routines.

Try Something New

White rabbit wearing yellow sunglassesNo, I’m not referring to trying a new genre (unless you already have the urge to do so). It’s been my experience that this technique works best if it has nothing to do with books or reading at all.

There’s nothing like tasting a new food, buying something small you’ve been wanting for a long time, or visiting an autumn forest so filled with brightly-coloured leaves that it almost seems as if all of the trees themselves are glowing.

Sometimes the “new” thing I try is as simple as walking down a street I don’t normally visit to see what interesting landmarks might exist there or crouching down on the ground to observe a plant I’d normally walk past without a second thought.

This can take many forms, and it can be as thrifty as you’d like it to be. Honestly, most of my favourite memories in life involve intangible things that no store can ever box up for sale.

Perform an Act of Kindness

A rock painted orange that says "stay safe be kind." It is lying on a much larger, lichen-covered rock. It’s been my experience that reading slumps are often tied into how I’m feeling in general. I’m much more likely to have them when I’m dissatisfied with other aspects of my life.

There are many things that are out of our control, and many more that can only be changed after months or years of effort and a great deal of luck.

That’s part of the reason why I think that performing acts of kindness are so effective. For that moment, I’m pulled out of whatever is going on in my own head and only focusing on making someone else’s day a little bit brighter.

A random compliment for a stranger or a quick text to a loved one about something you know they’d love only takes a few seconds to accomplish.

That instant mood boost might eventually trickle over into other parts of your life as well. It often does for me! Even if it doesn’t work right away or at all, you’ll still have the satisfaction of knowing you had a positive impact on someone else’s day.

And who knows how far one act of kindness can spread?

One of my high school English teachers always paid the fee for the car behind her when she drove on toll roads because she wanted to make strangers smile. She once pulled up to the teller only to learn that the car ahead of her had already paid her fare, so she paid for the next two people in line after her!

I’ve often wondered if they kept that chain of kindness going. It’s nice to think that they did.

How have all of your reading habits been this year? What do you find effective when you’re in a reading slump?

An Exclusive Interview with Summer

Over the past year I’ve interviewed  spring, autumn, and winter. Today I’m back with an exclusive interview with summer! Lydia: … Summer: … Lydia: So about the pineapple head. Didn’t we agree that you’d show up in human form today? Summer: Technically, yes. Since pineapple heads are more interesting, I decided to improvise. Lydia: Okay, will… Read More

Why Writers Should Eavesdrop Regularly

Incidentally, I’ve also pick up some fabulous ideas for poems and stories as well by watching people! You’d be surprised by how much you can learn about writing dialogue as well as human nature in by quietly observing how they interact with each other in public. Perhaps this should be the topic of a future post? What… Read More

An Exclusive Interview with Winter

Last year I interviewed spring and autumn. Today I’m back with an exclusive interview with winter! I’ll conclude this series with an interview with summer later on this year…that is, assuming winter eventually decides to concede their post. Winter: Hey, I heard that! Lydia: My apologies. I didn’t think you’d join us quite so soon. Winter:  Well,… Read More