Category Archives: Writing

An Exclusive Interview with Spring

It isn’t every day that a blogger nabs a chance to interview any of the seasons, much less one as highly sought-after as spring! I hope you enjoy our conversation.

Spring: Sorry for running a few weeks late there. I lost track of time.

Lydia: Welcome! It’s nice to finally meet you. I was wondering where you’d gone. How was your trip?

Spring: Oh, traffic was backed up like it usually is.  I did take notes while reading your rain review, so I wanted to make a few last-minute changes to this year’s itinerary.  I hope you’ll like those extra thunderstorms I squeezed into Ontario’s schedule this month. They’re fussier recipes than regular rainstorms, but I wanted to give you something special this time.

Lydia: Thank you. They look perfect. So let’s talk about your role as spring. What’s it like to awaken the northern hemisphere again every year?

Spring: Well, every season needs to prepare for transitional periods. You can’t exactly switch from winter to spring in one afternoon! My work is especially interesting because it involves waking up all of the plants and animals that slept their way through the cold season, and that’s not something any of the other seasons need to think about. Winter and I have had to learn how to coordinate that process so that no one wakes up too early or too late. It’s a balancing act, and every year I learn a little bit more about what does and doesn’t work in various climates.

Lydia: Speaking of winter, what is your relationship with them like?

Spring: Frosty. Yes, I’m totally joking there. We have a good working relationship. The world wouldn’t be the same place without a period of rest, and I appreciate all that winter does while the rest of us are asleep. The plants sure do appreciate it, and the insects are learning to see the bright side of it as well. Honestly, sometimes I wish my hibernation period lasted longer than it does.

Lydia: A hibernation period? Interesting! I was just about to ask what the seasons do when they’re not currently in use. What is that process like?

Spring: It’s like flopping into a warm, soft bed after a hard day’s work. Occasionally, I might wake up to take over for winter or summer for an afternoon, but I generally like to sleep through my full rest period if possible. Of course, that hasn’t been happening as often as it used to these days.

Lydia: I hear you there. On a somewhat related note, what are your relationships like with summer and autumn?

Spring: Summer and I get along really well. We have such similar goals that sometimes it’s hard to tell where their work ends and mine begins. We’re not technically supposed to have favourite months, but this is why I like June so much. The busiest weeks of my assignment are finished by then and the humans have started to harvest a few early crops like asparagus and strawberries.  I’ve heard nothing but good things about autumn’s work, but I can’t remember the last time we actually met. Our schedules are simply too different from each other for either of us to stay awake long enough to collaborate. I’d love to see what they do with leaves someday, though.

Lydia: Oh, autumn leaves are beautiful. Have you really never seen them change colour?

Spring: No, I fall asleep long before that happens.

Lydia: What a shame. I know you’re currently in your busiest time of the year, so I won’t keep you much longer. One final question before you go – what are your plans for this year? Is there anything special we should be looking forward to other than those thunderstorms you whipped up for me?

Spring: I was feeling extra creative this year, so you’ll probably see cherry trees blooming earlier than usual. I hope you like them.

Lydia: That’s wonderful. Well, thank you for stopping by, and good luck.

Spring: Thank you!

 

 

The Care and Feeding of Muses

Congratulations on being chosen by a muse! With a little forethought, the relationship you’ve begun with your source of inspiration will provide comfort and fresh ideas for your creative endeavours for the rest of your life.

Here are a few tips to get the most out of this relationship. Remember, every muse is unique. It may take some trial and error to figure out exactly what does and does not inspire you to start writing, singing, painting, or otherwise flexing your creative muscles.

The more often you practice, the better you’ll become at it. There is no better time to begin than today.

Caring for a Muse

Luckily, muses are hardy creatures. While mine has temporarily gone dormant when certain circumstances in my life didn’t leave enough time or energy for the creative process, it has always bounced back again once things improved for me.

Be gentle with yourself if you’re not currently able to create new content or if your progress is slower than you’d prefer to see. Think about the cycle of the seasons where you live. You may or may not know winter the way that us Canadians do, but every climate has its own unique pattern of growth, harvest, and rest.There is no such thing as a plant that blooms forever or a tree that creates bushels of fruit without ever needing a break from that process.

The same things happens with creative endeavours, too. Sometimes you will have an abundance of ideas and endless energy to make them come alive as a poem, sculpture, song, or any other number of things. Enjoy these times when they occur and make the most use out of them you can. In other seasons, your mind and muse may need to lay fallow for a short or long period of time before they’re ready to start creating again.

Feeding a Muse

The most important thing you can do for your muse is to feed it a varied diet. Just like a parent wouldn’t allow their child to eat nothing but candy and a pet owner wouldn’t feed Fido fistfuls treats for every meal of the day, your muse needs to be looked after in a similar way.

I can’t tell you what your muse will find useful, but I’d highly recommend giving it as many different types of stimuli  as you possibly can even if some of them might not be what you’d generally be drawn to in your free time. No, these experiences do not have to be expensive or involve travelling far away from home.

In fact, the vast majority of the things I do to feed my muse are free, and the rest often only require a few dollars for a subway fare if I remember to pack a lunch that day!

For example, you could:

  • Visit a local museum on a free or half-price day
  • Go for a walk in the woods or at the park
  • Borrow books from the library
  • Join a community group
  • Explore a new hobby or interest
  • Watch a local baseball game
  • Strike up a conversation with a friendly stranger
  • Go people-watching at a parade, festival, or other event
  • Browse in a store you’ve never visited before
  • Take a day trip to a nearby city, national park, or other imagination-ticking destination

The possibilities are endless. What matters is that you’re exposing yourself to things you might not normally spend any time thinking about during your regular routines.

Inspiration can come from anywhere. Our job is to give our muses a chance to come up with ideas based on the interesting things you’ve done or learned lately and let them do the rest.

Taking Notes and Photographs

I used to carry around a trusty little notebook and write down all sorts of slices of life in it for future inspiration. Sometimes it was a memorable quote from a book and on other days it might have been a funny throwaway comment a stranger made on the bus.

I’ve since switched to taking notes on my smart phone, but the same basic principal remains. If I see something that piques the interest of my muse when I’m out and about, I’ll pause to take a photo or jot down a quick note of it before moving on with my day.

It’s easy to forget these little moments. By recording them for the future, you’ll have a long list of potential subjects to explore when you’re finally ready to write the outline of that book or start sketching.

Balancing Creative Productivity with Consuming Other People’s Work

I’ve found that spending too much or too little time consuming other people’s work has a negative effect on what I’m able to create as a writer.

As Thomas Merton once said, “no man is an island.” Humans are a social species, and this is especially true for us creative folks. The things that your muse comes up with often inspires my own if I strike an appropriate balance between creating and consuming!

Keeping it Useful

The important thing is to keep your consumption useful and to balance it with things that refill your creative tank.

For me this means spending as little time as I can on stuff that I find distracting like celebrity gossip or fear-mongering news stories. (Your mileage may vary on those topics). It also occassionally involves muting my phone and going off into nature for some quiet time.

Obviously, you’re not going to find too many caves or sprawling forests in downtown Toronto, but we still have plenty of quiet green spaces that are great for clearing one’s mind if you know where to look.

I love sitting on park benches and listening to the birds sing in the trees above me. There’s nothing as invigorating as having those experiences without translating them into words until long after I’ve come home again, if even then.

What do you all do to feed and care for your muses?

My Top Five Distractions and How I Deal with Them

Unless you happen to living in a hut in the middle of a forest that happens to be filled with silent animals, you’re eventually going to run into things that distract you as you’re writing or doing other work.

Dealing with these distractions is of the challenging parts of my average day, so today I wanted to talk about my biggest distractions and how I cope – or, in one case, don’t cope so well – with them.

1. Social Media

How I Deal With It: There are so many things I love about social media, from the relationships it’s helped me to form and maintain to the way it keeps me up-to-date on everything that’s going on in the world around us.

I  know some writers who avoid it altogether. While I doubt I’ll ever be one of them, I have seen how quickly it can gobble up time if you don’t keep track of how often you log onto it.

One of the things I do to limit my amount of time on social media is to set reminders for tweeting certain things. For example, every week I nominate someone on Twitter for #FollowFriday, a hashtag that is meant to be used to draw attention to people you think others should follow there.

When that alarm goes off, I write my tweet on that topic and close the app again. There are other points in the day when I specifically open the app to check for messages and scroll through tweets.

It’s not a perfect system, but it has helped me focus my use of social media and save more time for writing.

2. City Noises

How I Deal With It: Toronto is a bustling city that I’m proud to call home. However, there are so many people living here that it’s impossible to avoid all of the noises that come from traffic, sirens, construction, parades, and occasional protests.

I did find all of this background noise jarring when I first moved up here. Every streetcar that rumbled down the street grabbed my attention.

These days, the best way to deal with it seems to be to do nothing to stop it. Often your brain will learn to filter these noises out as unimportant once it gets used to them.

If that doesn’t work, I’ll sometimes turn on a fireplace or rainstorm video to temporarily drown out the noise. I find both of those sounds comforting, and they’re good at cancelling out shrieking alarms or the loud bangs that can happen on certain construction sites in my experience.

3. Email

How I Deal With It: Who else feels the urge to read new emails as soon as they arrive in your inbox? I know I sure want to do that.

The best solution I’ve found to avoid jumping into my inbox so often is to not leave it open all of the time. If I don’t see that notification, I don’t feel the urge to immediately find out what it’s about.

Waiting a few hours to check to see what new messages I might have is much better than jumping every time someone emails me.

4. RSS Feed

How I Deal With It: Honestly, I don’t deal with this one as well as I should. My RSS feed is filled with all sorts of interesting blogs and other sites. It is very tempting to check it more often than necessary, especially if I’m working on a piece of writing that’s tricky in some way.

So far I have had luck with setting an alarm on my phone when it’s time to read blogs as well as with only checking my RSS feed when I’m using my laptop (as opposed to trying to avoid it when I’m on my cellphone).

This is still a distraction that I’m learning to effectively manage, though. I always want to read a new blog post or news article as soon as possible.

5. Youtube

How I Deal With It: Youtube is the kind of site I could spend hours surfing without ever growing bored. Seriously, the rabbit videos alone there could keep me occupied for days on end.

I’ve learned to use this site as a reward to accomplishing certain goals because of this, so I try to confine most of my time there for those occasions.

As an added bonus, the fact that I don’t use it as often as I once did only makes Youtube more interesting to me.

What are your biggest writing or other distractions in life? How do you deal with them?

Picking Character Names Is Trickier Than It Looks

The sci-fi novel I’m currently working on is coming along slowly but steadily. I’m planning to write a full update on those goals later on this spring, but for now I wanted to talk about picking character names.

I find it fairly easy to describe little things like what characters eat for dinner or how they’d react to a beautiful sunset if such a scene were somehow relevant to the storyline.

Picking names for them, though, is tough.

I can’t tell you all how many hours I’ve spent combing through sites that suggest names for human babies, pets, and/or Dungeons and Dragons characters in order to get as many different possibilities as I can. Google is probably thoroughly confused about what on Earth is going on in my household by now!

Names have all sorts of associations with them in general, from the naming fashions of certain decades or centuries to personal experiences a writer or reader may have had with someone who had a specific name.

Naming Trends

If I read a blurb about contemporary characters with vintage names that fell out of fashion a century ago, I’d generally expect their story to be set in an era when those names were more common or for the plot to give hints about why these characters were given such old-fashioned names.

A few years ago, I noticed a surge in young adult novels that gave their protagonists names that are very rare for contemporary teenagers. The plots themselves were well done, but I found myself getting so caught off-guard by teenagers who had names that I’d previously only seen on gravestones or room tags in nursing homes.

With that being said, I have an older relative who was given an old-fashioned name they didn’t like at all when they were young. Skip ahead a few generations, and that name became wildly popular once again. So the fashionability of a name definitely can change.

Personal Experiences

Talking about naming trends doesn’t even begin to take account for all of the positive and negative associations we’ve all formed based on our experiences with people who had or who have certain names. (No, I don’t have any strong opinions about the name Wilbur. I simply liked this stock photo).

When I was a freshman in high school, my district hired a new music teacher whose only previous experience with someone called Lydia had not been a positive one. She didn’t go into detail, but she eventually mentioned something about her opinion of this name improving quite a bit based on her good experiences with me as a student.

There are a handful of names I’ve formed unpleasant relationships with due to past experiences I’ve had with people who had them. I’ve steered away from using them in any of my stories, and I think that trend is going to continue for the foreseeable future.

On the other hand, I’ve met some people who are so lovely that I’m eager to use their names in stories when possible. I still don’t know what the etiquette of this is, but I’ve found myself asking a person or two for permission before using their names even though the characters I’m creating otherwise have little or nothing in common with them.

But Does It Fit the Character?

Even after all of this research, you still have to figure out if a specific name actually fits the character it was intended for.

One of the wonderful things about creating characters is how unpredictable they can be. I’ve had some characters who lean into their names right away and others who don’t quite fit the first half-dozen names I test out on them.

If you’re not a writer, know that these kinds of experiences are common. Just because a writer comes up with a character doesn’t mean that we have control over how that character behaves!

A few times a week I see updates from fellow writers who were surprised by what their creations do. It’s quite common and can be pretty funny in retrospect if you have a good sense of humour about it.

If you’ve ever had to name a character, what have your experiences been?

 

 

Questions That Have Recently Brought New Readers to This Site

This blog has seen a surge in visits over the past two months. Welcome, new readers! It’s nice to meet all of you. I thought I’d answer some of the questions that some people typed into search engines in order to find this site. Hopefully, the things you might have been wondering about will be included in the list below. If not, feel free to leave a comment below and I’ll answer you directly.

Lydia Schoch Toronto

Yes, that is my name and I do live in Toronto. I’ve never met anyone else with this name, so the probability that you’ve found the correct Lydia is quite high.

Lydia Schoch Universalist

No, I am not a Universalist. I’m an Apatheist/Atheist who takes a strong live and let live approach to life, so it’s rare for me to mention it at all. As long as someone isn’t using their beliefs – or lack thereof – to harm others, it doesn’t matter to me what label they apply to themselves. Genuinely good, kind people can be found everywhere.

I’d much rather discuss more interesting things like:

  • Alphabetizing and why it makes lists, and life itself, so much better
  • Anthropology
  • Astronomy
  • Books, especially non-fiction and science fiction
  • Fitness
  • How to properly pronounce the word gif
  • Mindfulness
  • Nutrition
  • Rabbits
  • Reboots and what people think of this entertainment industry trend in general
  • Social justice
  • Writing

Aunt Lydia

I am an aunt, but if you’re a fan of The Handmaid’s Tale I am not and never will be that Aunt Lydia. Based on the fact that I’m also bisexual, the Republic of Gilead would either turn me into a Handmaid or do away with me entirely if they spread into Canada.

Bruce Gerencser

Bruce is a prolific blogger and old family friend.

If you enjoy discussing politics, religion, or photography, his blog might be right up your alley. He’s a talented writer and a good egg.

The ethics of museums

Y’all, I wrote one post about this topic almost nine years ago. I never broached it again, and yet I keep getting hits from people wanting to know if museums should store mummies in them or what these institutions should do when they find out that some of their prize artifacts were stolen from other cultures.

At this point, I’m wondering if I should write a whole series of posts on the topic? People really seem to like it.

The ethics of consuming animal products

This is probably happening as a result of a post I wrote eight years ago about animal products. Once again, it was the only thing I ever wrote on the topic, and I still have all sorts of mixed feelings about what I should or shouldn’t eat.

(I have no opinions about what others do or don’t eat. It’s hard enough to figure out my own diet, so you’ll get no judgement or advice from me!)

While I’m definitely not nutritionally organized enough to claim any sort of label, I do often finding myself choosing bean dishes over meat ones for health reasons.

Beans are full of all sorts of vitamins and minerals that many of us don’t get enough of. Since I have a few food allergies and intolerances to work around when planning meals, this is a nice way to make sure I’m getting all of the calcium and other nutrients I need.

What kind of places are noisy and crowded

  • Anyplace you need to visit quickly to buy or pick up that one thing when you’re already running late
  • Big, urban malls
  • Concerts
  • Emergency rooms, walk-in clinics, hospitals, and medical waiting rooms in general
  • Parades, festivals, and food fairs
  • Service Canada Centres (where Canadians go to renew their health cards, passports, etc.)
  • Some people’s innermost thoughts
  • Sporting events

Is Mama Imelda alive?

This site is spoiler-free, so you’ll have to watch Coco for yourself if you want the answer to that question.

If you’re also a blogger who pays attention to the analytics of your website, what is the funniest or most interesting search term that someone has used to find it recently?

Blogging Advice: Finding and Using Visual Images for Your Site

Welcome back to my series on blogging that Ruth Feiertag asked me to write late last year. This is the third instalment, and today we’re talking about the important of including visual images in your posts. (There are  links to the first two instalments at the bottom of this post). I’m going to be spend… Read More

Blogging Advice: How to Begin a Blog

Last month, Ruth Feiertag  left a friendly comment on one of my posts asking for blogging advice. Not only did I have far more to say to her than would fit into a comment, I thought her question would be an excellent jumping off point for a new series on this site. Today I’m going… Read More