Category Archives: Writing

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  springautumn, and winter. Today I’m back with an exclusive interview with summer!

pineapple wearing sunglasses and a party hatLydia: …

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 I be talking to a pineapple for this entire interview?

Summer: Maybe, maybe not. But at least I’m not perpetually late like spring is! I even showed up early this year.

Lydia: I can’t even argue with that. You made your presence well known in May and June. What have you been up to?

Summer: Growing and stuff.

Lydia: Yes, that is what you’re known for. Can you tell me more about how that process works? Spring and Autumn have both talked about how much effort you three put into the growing season.

Summer: The plants are the ones doing most of the heavy lifting there. We mostly just need to keep them on task. Jack Frost and Mother Nature used to help us set the schedule there. It’s gotten trickier now that the climate is changing so quickly, but at least some of the plants like heat waves.

Lydia: You don’t seem very concerned. I’m surprised. Some of your coworkers had a very different approach to this problem.

Summer: I’m concerned about my heat-sensitive plants and animals, but I can’t fix anything. It’s up to you humans to figure out how strong you want your summers to be. You do seem to be improving lately, though.

Lydia: Yeah, we’ve been staying home more as a species.

Summer: Well, that’s good! I hope it lasts. Winter hasn’t been looking too good these past few decades. I work better when I have a stronger foe.

Lydia: Is that how you think of the other seasons?

Two pineapples floating in a poolSummer: Obviously. Isn’t this all a contest to figure out why summer is the best season of them all?

Lydia: Yeah, I don’t think that’s how any of this works.

Summer: Okay, so we grow food, too. But mostly it’s a contest and I’m winning. That’s all that matters.

Lydia: Don’t you ever think about the paperwork or logistics involved? Do the other seasons know this is how you act?

Summer: What’s understood doesn’t need to be explained.

Lydia: Wait, why are there two of you now?

Summer: Technically, you’re not talking to a pineapple anymore. You’re talking to two of us which means I’m following the rule.

Lydia: You like to look for technicalities, don’t you?

Summer: It’s by far the best way to spend your summer. I mean, how else are humans going to count ice cream sandwiches as dinner or decide they don’t need to wear sunscreen at the beach after all?

Lydia: I don’t even know anymore.

Summer: Now you’re getting the spirit.

Lydia: This wasn’t what I was expecting, but somehow you’re exactly who you needed to be.

Summer: Thank you.

Lydia: No, thank you. This interview has been very illuminating.

Summer: I aim to please.

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 do you think?

From What Is the Difference Between Mindfulness and Meditation? 

A few years ago, I mentioned wanting to blog about eavesdropping as a tool for improving your writing. Today I’m finally digging into this topic in the form of telling a few true stories!

Man in red polo shirt sitting in front of chalkboard and holding his hand up to his ear as if to eavesdrop. One of my college professors sent us out to eavesdrop as part of a creative writing assignment. We were instructed to write down the conversation and then analyze the flow of it in order to make the dialogue in our stories more realistic in the future.

I shared no hints about the identities of the people I eavesdropped on in my assignment in order to protect their privacy. It was only about listening to the way people really speak in casual conversations.

For some reason, there weren’t a lot of talkative students at my college when I ventured out to work on this assignment. It took a few tries to overhear anything useful, and the conversation I eventually found myself listening to involved a date a fellow student had recently been on and how it had unfolded.

If only I could have heard his date’s version of their time together! He seemed to take the entire experience very lightly, almost like a joke. I still wonder if she reacted to it the same way.

What I remember the most about that experience was how fascinating it was to only have pieces of the story. I could certainly extrapolate all sorts of things about how he spent his free time and where they might have met, but the nature of human conversations means that all sorts of questions will go unanswered if you drop into the middle of a story.

Shot of people's legs and feet as they sit on a busListening to the way people really speak was also incredibly informative. The conversation I overheard was filled with friendly interruptions and all sorts of detours into other, mostly-related topics.

After turning in my paper, I quietly decided to continue eavesdropping over the years.

A few years after that I was taking a bus trip and happened to sit next to two young girls who seemed to be pretty unfamiliar with rural life.

One of them spotted a house in the distance. She hadn’t realized that people lived “out in the middle of nowhere” (read: not in a city or town) and wondered how they managed to keep food in the house without any stores around!

Her friend was just as puzzled as she was. There was no resolution to be had for them that day in how “those poor folks” managed to stay fed.

I gently bit my lip to avoid publicly reacting in a way that might cause her any embarrassment at all. Like I said, they were quite young and may never have thought about these things before.

Several years ago, my spouse and I decided to grab lunch at a local outdoor burger joint that serves amazing french fries. Our fry order was ready before our burgers were finished, so I carefully carried them over to a nearby table and sat down to wait for my spouse the rest of the food.

A preschooler suddenly zoomed over and sat in the chair next to me, a perfect stranger. His mortified mother called him back over again.

He refused to budge. There were enough french fries there for more than one person, so of course the nice lady would share with him! (Actually, I would have been happy to share a bite or two if I’d known his parents and had their permission).

She called him over again, telling him it was rude to interrupt someone else’s date. I chuckled as he admitted defeat and slunk back over to her without a single fry for his efforts.

Had she already ordered fries for him? Did he grow up in a family where all of the grown ups shared their food with him? I have so many unanswered questions there, but it made for a pretty funny moment.

Black and white photo of a black pug tilting her head in confusion None of these anecdotes have made it into one of my stories (yet?), but they have taught me about the ways people think and how many different ways the same tale can be told depending on whose perspective you look at.

Humans are delightfully unpredictable creatures.

Your interpretations won’t always match mine and vice versa. I’m sure that all of these folks would remember details of those days that I’ve forgotten or that I interpreted in different ways.

The beautiful thing about listening is just how much it can reveal.

How to Clear Your Thoughts Before Writing

The idea for today’s post came from a comment from Elda:

First off I would like to say excellent blog! I had a quick question which I’d like to ask if you don’t mind. I was curious to know how you center yourself and clear your thoughts before writing. I have had a difficult time clearing my thoughts in getting my thoughts out. I truly do enjoy writing however it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes are generally wasted just trying to figure out how to begin. Any recommendations or hints? Thanks!|

 

An opened laptop sitting on a wooden desk. There is a blank notebook and pen sitting on the desk beside it.Thank you for asking this question, Elda! I always enjoy hearing from my readers.

Yes, it can be tricky to settle down into a writing session when you first begin one. I’ve had that trouble at times, too.

Here are some things to try in order to make better use of those first 10 to 15 minutes of writing time.

My first several tips will be for short term relief. The last few are focused on how to improve this issue in the longterm.

Short Term Strategies

Clear Out Distractions

I work best in a quiet, calm environment, so for me this means turning off music, closing the blinds, muting my cellphone, and reducing or eliminating any other distractions I notice as well.

Your mileage may vary there depending on how your mind reacts to music, birds chattering outside of your window, relatives or pets interrupting you, etc., but do try to create the ideal writing environment for your personal preferences.

Two overlapping speech bubbles that have orange outlines Talk to Your Characters

This can be accomplished by writing down your conversation or speaking to them out loud and imagining how they’d respond to your questions.

It might sound silly, but I’ve had all sorts of breakthroughs with my own stories when I take a few minutes at the beginning to chat with my characters and see how they’re feeling.

Write the Most Exciting Scene First

Endings are my favourite parts of stories whether I’m writing, reading, or watching them. Often I’ll write that section first and then backtrack to previous scenes that foreshadow or refer to it in some way.

What strikes me as the most exciting scene does vary from one session or project to the next, but this is a pattern I repeat until the entire tale is written.

Go Off on a Tangent 

One of my favourite techniques for those days when I’m having trouble getting into the the rhythm of writing is to work on a different project for a little bit. It could be a blog post, an idea for another story, a poem, or something else entirely.

There’s something about the act of getting into the flow of writing on one topic that can bleed over into other writing projects if you allow it to.

Asian woman holding up a drawing of a lightbulb while sitting next to a white wall filled with sketches of various ideas.Describe the Setting or Backstory in Vivid Detail

That is to say, write about things related to your story that you don’t actually intend to include in the final project.

You could describe every nook and cranny of the room the scene is currently taking place in, talk about your character’s first childhood memory even if it’s not at all related to their current conflict, or discuss what happened in that time and place five or fifty years ago.

While these adjacent writing projects sometimes do lead to the inclusion of details in my actual work-in-progress, I don’t consider it a waste of time if I write something that’s ultimately left out of the final draft.

The better you know your characters and their worlds, the better your audience will know them, too.

Longterm Strategies

A black and white drawing of a black fist holding a pencil Take Notes After Each Writing Session

You can take note of all sorts of things:

– An idea for a future scene

– A plot hole that still needs to be addressed

– Thoughts on how your session went. Does your environment need to be adjusted? Do you want to schedule more or less time for your next session?

If it’s something you’d be sorry to forget about, jot it down.

Plan Ahead

While I do tend to fly by the seat of my pants when I’m writing, there is something to be said for having a general outline of where you want to end up in case you get stuck if you’re not already the sort of writer who plots everything out ahead of time.

The note-taking and planning processes don’t have to be extensive. My outlines and notes are usually pretty basic, but they do leave room for me to know where to begin or what to alter in my writing space during my next session.

The more preparation you do ahead of time, the easier it will be to jump back into the rhythm of writing whenever you return to it.

Meditate

Black woman closing her eyes meditatively while standing in a forest. What does meditation have to do with writing?

This is a topic I should cover in full in a future post sometime soon, but for now I’ll say that how you respond to stray thoughts during the rest of your day strongly influences how you respond to them when you’re writing.

Meditation is sort of like strength training for your mind. The process of sitting down to write and struggling to clear your thoughts could be made a lot easier if you practice that skill regularly just like carrying a few bags of heavy things home from the store is easier if you’re already accustomed to lifting weights.

 

Respond

Readers, what other techniques would you recommend to Elda? What are your tried-and-true ways to centre yourselves and clear your minds before you start writing?

8 Tips for Developing a Social Media Calendar

A few weeks ago, I blogged about a list of things I could give impromptu speeches on including developing a social media calendar. Several of my readers showed interest in that topic, so this is what I’ll be discussing in today’s post.

Twitter and Instagram are the social media sites I’ll be focusing on since they’re the two I use, but rest assured that much of this advice can apply to any social media account you may be managing.

Why Develop a Social Media Calendar?

The Twitter logo. It's blue and of the outline of a flying bird. Why is it important to develop a social media calendar? Well, there are a few reasons why this is a good idea.

One, posting on a schedule helps you to attract new followers and readers. For example, I know that my friend April Munday always tweets about her new weekly post on Sundays.

Two, you can write and schedule content ahead of time if you use one of the many platforms out there that were created for this purpose. While this should probably be a post of its own one day, pre-scheduling posts can come in pretty handy in case of illness, travel, or an Internet outage.

By developing a social media calendar ahead of time, you’ll still have something to say even when life reduces how much time and energy you have for coming up with new material.

8 Tips for Developing a Social Media Calendar

Tip #1 Stick to a Schedule

No, developing a social media calendar does not mean that you have to come up with something to share every hour of the day. I generally aim for three tweets set to go out per day.

If I have a post going live that day, the link to it tweeted out first thing in the morning. If not, it might be a funny story from my life or some other lighthearted conversation starter.

Three blue bars of varying heights against a black and grey background.A little before lunchtime, I share something like a quote, link to an interesting news article, or photo.

The final tweet is always my question of the day in the afternoon.

Tip #2: Post at High Traffic Times

For Instagram and Twitter, high traffic times seem to be 8-9 am before people start work or school, lunchtime, and about 5-6 pm once they’re winding up their days.

Obviously, the precise times will vary depending on which time zone you’re in and when your followers are most active. These are only general guidelines to get you started until you’ve figured out the unique rhythms of your audience.

Tip #3: Mix It Up

Yes, consistency is important, but you don’t want to post the exact same sort of material every single day. That can get repetitive after a while.

Here are a few of the many different types of updates you could share:

  • Quotes
  • Polls
  • Questions
  • Updates
  • Relevant Articles
  • Jokes
  • Photos

Tip #4: Ask Open-Ended Questions

Ask “what is your favourite colour?” rather than “do you prefer purple or yellow?” It leaves room for improvisation and for answers you might never have expected to receive.

Drawing of two heads facing each other who has speech bubbles on their heads. One head has question marks floating out of their speech bubble, and the other has bright lightbulbs signifying ideas floating up.Tip #5: Keep a File of Ideas

I kid you not, I have a file of stuff to share on social media that stretches out through summer of 2021. It’s organized by month for this year and season for 2021. Some of it is season or holiday-specific. Other ideas are simply things I’ve jotted down but haven’t yet used.

Each month I look through the material that I’ve already gathered for that time period and decide what to share and when.

Tip #6: Check Idea-Generating Places Regularly

Obviously, idea-generating places are going to vary quite a bit from one person to the next depending on the topics you plan to post about.

I generally discuss sci-fi/fantasy, mindfulness, food, fitness, and all sorts of random bookish stuff, so the following sites give me plenty of material to work with:

National Day Calendar 

The Quotes, Discussions, Events, and New Releases sections of Goodreads

And relevant subreddits like:

If I find something in February that would be perfect for a Halloween post, I’ll squirrel it away in my ideas folder until then. It’s a great way to make sure I’ll have things to share weeks or months from now.

A collection of the word "like" written in many different colours. They are arranged in the form of a hand giving a thumbs up. Tip #7: Engage with Your Followers

As far as more immediate ideas, talking to your followers can be a good way to come up with them.

This really should go without saying, but if someone asks a question on your site or social media page, answer it if at all possible!

Not only is it good for your brand and reputation, I’ve gotten ideas for future tweets, blog posts, and stories from interactions with folks online.

Tip #8: Keep Experimenting

One of the things I love about developing and cultivating a social media calendar is how often it can be improved upon. What worked last month might not be as effective now. There is always room to try something new and see if it works better.

If you’ve developed a social media calendar, what other tips would you give?

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

My 20 Most Popular Posts of 2019

Every December I catalogue 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. Last year, I decided to double that number in response to my blogging buddies Terry Tyler and Tom Williams doing the same thing. I was surprised… Read More

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Harry Potter Characters and Socks

Happy Labour Day to everyone in Canada and the United States. Most schools here in Canada reopen after Labour Day weekend, so thoughts of making lists and cracking open books are bouncing around in my head. This is the time of year when I’d try to squeeze the last bit of fun out of the… Read More