Tag Archives: Reader Questions

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?

Should I Bring Back the Reader Questions Series?

Years ago, I occasionally answered reader questions about all sorts of topics. This is something I originally began doing because a friend of mine started doing it first.

The post that began this series on his site as well as some of the entries in it are no longer online so far as I can tell, but reading his answers to all of the questions people have sent in over the years has been fascinating.

My friend blogs about all sorts of topics: his chronic health issues, raising a (now-adult) child who has Down syndrome, photography, memories of his youth, U.S. politics, and the many theological and other changes his family has been through over the decades. The questions his followers send to him generally fit into one of these buckets, although sometimes people throw wild cards into the mix that probe parts of his mind he generally doesn’t share with the world.

Reason #1

One of the things I really like about my friend is how open he is to discussing just about anything with his readers. While I completely respect the wishes of some bloggers to stick to specific topics or to keep a firm line drawn between their online and offline selves, I think it’s interesting when they’re willing to open up to their audiences and talk about random things occasionally.  This is the first reason why I’m considering answering questions again.

Reason #2

This site has grown and changed so much since the last question in my series was published in 2015.

I know that most of my current readers weren’t following this site four years ago. With all of the new followers who have shown up over the last six months to a year, answering questions you come up with instead of what I think my readers are most interested in checking out might be a fun way for you to get to know me a little better.

What could we talk about?

  • Meditation (and how not to fall asleep during it)
  • Reading habits
  • Genres I love like science fiction
  • Genres I generally avoid and why
  • Stories from my life as a preacher’s kid
  • Life as an immigrant and dual-citizen
  • The writing process
  • Self-publishing
  • Demisexuality
  • Bisexuality
  • Polyamory
  • Fitness for people who aren’t athletic or good at team sports

Or anything else you’ve wondered about while reading my posts.

I’m a little nervous about sharing the link to some of my old reader question posts because of how much my writing style and choice of topics have evolved over the years, but click here or do a search for the term mailbag if you want to look through what people have asked in the past.

Reason #3

Change can be a good thing. As much as I want to go back and revamp some of my old posts, I’m proud of how willing I’ve always been to try new things and see what works. There have been times when certain types of posts flopped when I expected them to succeed. At other times, a post I didn’t think would do well still continues to draw in readers years later.

The Internet can be an unpredictable place at times. I’m ready to roll the dice again and see who is interested in reviving this series with me.

Respond

If you have questions, I’ll have answers. Leave them as a response to this post, fill out the contact form, or email them to interviews AT lydiaschoch DOT com.

Let Me Answer Your Questions About Canada for Canada Day

Happy Canada Day!

Most of my readers do not live in Canada, so I thought it might be fun to answer any and all questions you have about my country today.

Do you want Canadian reading suggestions?

What parts of Canadian history were taught in your country, if any? Is there anything about it that you wish you knew more about?

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to live in a country that has a publicly funded healthcare system for everyone?

Will you be travelling here in the near future and wonder which landmarks a local would recommend visiting the most?

Do you want to know what should and should not be included in a proper poutine?

Have you ever met a really friendly Canadian in your home country and wondered if I know them?

When is the appropriate time to include the term “eh” in a sentence? Do you know?

Are you thinking about immigrating here yourself?

I’m full of answers if you’re full of questions!

Reader Question: Should I Read Science Fiction or Fantasy?

Someone recently found this blog by googling the following question:

Should I read science fiction or fantasy?

I thought it was a great prompt for today’s post. Just like apples and pears are both types of fruit, fantasy and science fiction are part of the wider speculative fiction universe that also includes sub-genres like horror, dystopian, utopian, supernatural, science fantasy, and superhero fiction. Science fiction and fantasy share a lot of similarities, but they aren’t identical by any means.

On the off chance that they ever see this post, I’d be happy to give the person who did this search some personalized reading recommendations if they’re interested in such a thing.

Since I don’t know that person or what their tastes in reading material are like, I’m going to keep my advice as general as possible. The only assumption I’ll be making is that you were interested in exploring both of these sub-genres and are wondering which one you should dive into first.

Like most children in western cultures, fairy tales were my first taste of speculative fiction in general. I quickly developed a preference for the original, and often surprisingly macabre given the age group they were marketed to, versions of classic fairy tales, so I was soon introduced to the horror and supernatural genres as well through my insatiable appetite for as many new fairy tales as I could find at our local library.

There is so much overlap between the science fiction and fantasy, though, that I quickly found myself wandering deeper into the science fiction end of the spectrum. I now have a preference for hard science fiction, but I’ll never forget my love of fantasy or many of the other sub-genres under the speculative fiction umbrella.

The question of whether you should read fantasy or science fiction really depends on the sorts of stories you enjoy versus the ones that you don’t find so alluring. I’m going to be making some broad generalizations here that definitely won’t apply to every book or author out there. They may be helpful in steering the original visitor and everyone else reading this towards a specific section of the library or bookstore as you decide what you want to read next.

Science Fiction tends to be:

  • Realistic.
  • Related to what is, or could be, scientifically possible. For example, the discovery of a vaccine for AIDS or a cure for cancer.
  • Set in the present or future.
  • Rational. When someone weird happens, there is generally a logical reason for it.
  • More political (in many cases).
  • Interested in exploring specific ideas, ideologies, or conflicts. These themes can often be traced back to controversial subjects that are or were hotly debated when that specific book was first published.

Fantasy tends to be:

  • Imaginative.
  • Related to things that will never be scientifically possible. For example, the existence of Hogwarts (*sob*) or a pet dog that suddenly begins speaking plain English.
  • Set in the past.
  • Supernatural and/or magical. When something weird happens, it is not generally explained rationally to the reader.
  • Less political (in many cases).
  • Interested in world-building. You stand a good chance of meeting dozens of characters and many different fictional cultures when reading fantasy, so their page counts can be dramatically bigger than a science fiction novel.

Again, there is a lot of overlap between these sub-genres and these lists shouldn’t be taken as a strict interpretation of what you’ll find in either one. There are many speculative stories out there that combine elements from both of these sub-genres together (along with many other themes), but many of them do tend to lean one way instead of the other.

This isn’t even to mention all of the other genres, from romance to mystery, that are often swirled into these tales as well. Figuring out how to label books these days is so complicated, especially for fans who don’t always enjoy seeing their favourite genre being mashed up with other styles of writing, that I think I’ll save a more detailed discussion of that aspect of it for another day.

Readers, what would you recommend to this person? is there a specific fantasy or science fiction author you think would be a nice introduction to their genre? Which types of speculative fiction do you tend to gravitate towards most often?

Can a Blog Post Be Too Short?

Eliza tweeted this to me last week in response to Why I Don’t Agree with Padding Out Blog Posts. I thought it would make a great idea for a follow-up post today.

In order to answer that question, I must ask you a few more questions first: How short is a poem allowed to be? Is there a specific word count it must have to be counted as a poem?

The shortest poem I’ve ever loved was five words long. I’ve also been thrilled by other poems that are six and sixteen words long respectively.

Despite their minuscule word counts, at least one of them has become so famous that children study it in school because the people who created them spent so much time packing many layers of meaning into every single word.

The same can be said for blog posts. Just like some of them are meant to be thousands of words long, others can be much tinier than you might imagine.

For example, there is a blogger who regularly challenges himself to write 100 word blog posts. He’s written dozens of them so far, and all of them are thought-provoking because of the close attention he pays to making every single word in them has a purpose and can’t be reduced to a simpler, shorter explanation.

When you’re writing something that small and concise, there is no room for error. If you don’t cover all of the material that your post was attempting to cover, your post will be too small. If you’re able to do justice to your topic with your word count, how big it is won’t matter.

What about blog posts that are smaller than 100 words? I have heard of people blogging nothing but photographs, but I have yet to come across anyonewho has tried to limit their post count to less than 100 words. It would be fascinating to see what you came up with if you gave yourself a 70, 50, or even a 10 word limit as an experiment, though.

The Connection Between Poetry and Blog Posts

With that being said, Eliza, I’d strongly recommend reading and writing poetry if you want to routinely create very small blog posts. It’s not easy to condense your thoughts down into such a small amount of space, especially for topics that aren’t clear cut or incredibly narrow.

Figuring out how poets handle conflicting emotions and topics that could easily be expanded into a full-length book will give you all kinds of tools for trimming out unnecessary words, sharpening your vision, and making sure that what you see is also what your audience sees.

If you or anyone else is interested in learning more, start reading as many different types, styles, and lengths  of poems as you can. The hashtag #Haiku and #Poetry on Twitter are great places to start for the contemporary stuff. There are hundreds of amateur and professional poets who use those hashtags to share their work and introduce everyone to other wonderful poems that they’ve discovered.

I’m purposefully not sharing any specific usernames of Twitter poets with you because of how important it is to seek them out yourself. Poetry is a subjective field. What speaks to me might not have the same affect on you, and vice versa. I’ve also found that my favourite poets have shifted wildly over time, so I’d recommend occasionally seeking out new poets and styles of poetry even for people who have been immersed in this genre for years.

Now I will end this post with a picture of cactuses. They were my original metaphor for blog post lengths in my first draft of this post, and I can’t bear to stop typing before I show you just how much they can vary from each other as well.

May your poems, cactuses, and blog posts always be exactly as big as you need them to be.