Tag Archives: Writing

4 Things I Want to Accomplish This Autumn

There’s something about the autumn season that makes me want to write out lists and accomplish things. Maybe it’s because of how much I generally looked forward to school beginning again when I was a student.

A blank notebook can hold an endless number of possibilities. Several months from now they’ll be full of lecture notes, but there might be poems or little drawings scribbled in the margins. The smell of fresh paper is enticing, too.

An unread textbook is often full of interesting things that you never knew about the world before. Sometimes I even read parts of my textbooks – especially the literature ones –  that were never assigned to us for the sheer fun of it.

It’s been well over a decade since I took any courses, but I thought this year it might be helpful to set a few non-academic goals for myself. This post will be shorter than usual. My goals are fairly simple, and I see no reason to pad them out  since they don’t require a thousand words of explanation.

1. Spend One Hour a Week Lifting Weights.

I’m currently recovering from a minor injury that temporarily derailed my normal weightlifting routine. As soon as I’ve healed, I’m going to leap back into my normal routine of lifting free weights. I can’t tell you how much I miss that. In the meantime I’m trying to do some bodyweight activities that don’t aggravate my injury to keep up my strength as much as possible.

2. Meditate for 20 Minutes Every Day.

Honestly, my meditation habits have been pretty erratic these past six months. That needs to change.

3. Join New Social Groups.

One of the downsides of being a writer, and especially a full-time writer, is how much time we tend to spend alone typing on a keyboard. While I’m incredibly grateful for the many benefits of this career choice, I think it would be healthy for me to get out and socialize with other people at times.

Ideally, I’ll find at least one group that had nothing to do with writing so I can meet people from other professions and walks of life. I’m open to all possibilities, though, and hope to blog about my experiences once I find a couple of groups that suit my interests and schedule.

4. Write My Second Sci-Fi Novel.

This is by far my biggest goal for the autumn. A while ago I began a novel that was about a woman living in what used to be Arizona several generations from now after climate change permanently altered the landscape there and North America at large. I got stuck 30,000 words into it and have yet to finish it. I’m hoping I’ll be able to figure out how to do that one if I work on a entirely new story in the science fiction genre.

I’m tentatively planning to check back in with my readers in December to discuss how many of these goals I’ve reached and what’s happening with them in general.  My hope is that I’ll be very motivated to accomplish them now that everyone knows what I’m trying to do.

What are your goals for the next few months?

Why Creative Writers Should Read History Books

The other day I learned something surprising about bananas.

Did you know that bananas were nearly impossible to find anywhere in England during World War Two? As a perishable fruit that had to be imported, it simply wasn’t possible for the government to keep this food source available while there was a war going on.

People improvised all sorts of creative mock banana recipes during those years. One of the most common replacements for this beloved fruit involved boiling parsnips, mashing them, and then adding a little banana essence and sugar. The resulting mixture could be spread on a piece of bread and eaten.

The world changed dramatically between the early 1940s and my childhood. I never would have guessed that bananas had been so hard to find or that people needed to invent replacements for them in the twentieth century. When I was growing up, they were one of the staple snacks in my family due to how inexpensive and healthy they were. I’d often eat a banana after school to tide me over until dinnertime without thinking twice about it.

Study History

True stories like this one are why I think creative writers – especially those in the speculative fiction genre who are often responsible for creating worlds that are very different from the one we live in – should read books about what life was like decades, centuries, and millennia before they were born.

What you and I might consider to be so commonplace that it doesn’t even need to be mentioned was often unthinkable a few generations ago, whether we’re talking about a child’s afternoon snack, a standard medical treatment for a particular disease, a fashion trend, or what the average person might have thought of a specific hot-button issue of their day.

Yes, it’s true that some of these societal shifts are taught in school. There simply isn’t enough time for students to study most of them, though, even if they have a teacher who understands the value of showing exactly how much a society can change in a few short years.

Will I ever write about a world where bananas suddenly don’t exist anymore? Probably not! (Well, unless the Cavendish variety really does go extinct in our world like it was predicted to a few years ago.)

Knowing how a society responds to the loss of a cheap and much-loved type of food can be invaluable, though, if you’re ever hoping to write anything about scarcity or characters whose lives suddenly become slightly worse through no fault of their own.

You never know when a historical anecdote might prove useful. Most of the history books I read tend to be focused on the lives of common folks. That category is broad enough to cover anything from typical diets of a particular age to the evolution of social mores to how different parts of society reacted to certain epidemics, but you can easily specialize in reading narrower slices of history than that if there’s something specific you want to research.

Discover Patterns

Let’s shift gears and talk about Stonehenge for a moment. When compared to what we know about World War Two (and bananas), our knowledge so far of what purpose Stonehenge was meant to fill, who created it, and why they went through all of the trouble of making it could fit into a thimble.

Too much time passed between when it was erected and when future generations developed the tools they needed to study it in depth. The individuals who planned and built it had been gone for so many generations by that point that some of our questions about it will never be answered. All of their knowledge was lost with them.

For example, I don’t think we’ll ever figure out how prehistoric people who hadn’t invented wheels or pulleys yet were able to pull and push such large boulders into place. (I sincerely hope I’m wrong about that, though!)

On a positive note, the cool thing about studying history even casually is that you’ll begin to see certain patterns emerge from one era to the next even if we no longer have all of the details about how something worked. Stonehenge wasn’t the only culturally or religiously significant place that was built and then later abandoned in our world by any means. There are so many other examples of this happening that I can’t possibly list them all.

Extrapolate From the Past and Use It

Our languages, customs, diets, and clothing might have morphed a lot over the course of recorded history, but human beings themselves haven’t changed much at all since we first began writing down our thoughts.

There have been multiple societies who ignored the warning signs of their coming collapse and who crumbled because of that.

There have been many people who were ahead of their time and whose words weren’t taken seriously by most folks until after they’d died.

There have been all sorts of inventions that dramatically improved the lives of the people who adapted it.

There have been diseases, natural disasters, and conflicts that radically altered how a society functioned for as long as humans have been around to form societies.

The more you know about how, when, and why these things happened, the better equipped you’ll be to come up with how similar events could play out in a dragon-infested medieval village or onboard a high-tech star ship thousands of years in the future.

 

Pictures That Need an Explanation

Photo by William Crochot from Wikimedia Commons, license # CC-BY-SA 4.0.
Photo by William Crochot from Wikimedia Commons, license # CC-BY-SA 4.0.

I have a folder full of pictures that I’ve found online at various points.

Today I wanted to share some of the unusual, funny, and unique ones with you.

If you’re a writer and you find inspiration in one of them, feel free to grab it. I’d love to see what story or poem ideas you come up with for it.

All unlabelled images are stock photos and can be used for any purpose. William Crochot’s picture can be used, too, as long as you credit him and Wikimedia Commons as well as include the license number above.

The Statue Guy

The statue guy above has been running through my imagination for months now.

My first thought when I saw him was, “how long does it take to scrub all of that makeup off?”

My second thought was that sniffing a flower just might be the first thing that a statue who suddenly came to life would do!

Everything would be so new and unfamiliar to him that it makes sense for him to stop and marvel at the small things for a while.

pexels-photo-159885-largeThe Abandoned House

Abandoned homes make me sad.

I think about all of the years people spent living in them. There was a time only a few generations ago when many folks spent their entire lives in the same area.

Were they happy years or miserable ones?

Did the people who lived there ever wish to move elsewhere? If they wished for it, did their wish come true?

How many babies were born in that house?

How many people died there?

Why was it abandoned? Are the owners still alive?

If you stepped inside of it, what secrets would the walls whisper to you?

thursday-blogs-2A Woodland Sacrifice

This picture makes me shudder.

There is something unnerving about the juxtaposition between the bare skull and the healthy, young woman who is holding it up that I don’t like to dwell on.

Did she slaughter the animal who once used that skull?

Is this some kind of ritual?

Is she going to be blamed for something that wasn’t her fault?

The possibilities are endless. I haven’t been able to come up with a satisfying story to explain what is going on here, but maybe someone else can.

Sad Cat in a Gift Bag

pexels-photo-141496-largeThis one is just plain silly.

Cat owners, can you explain it?

I would expect a cat to be thoroughly pleased by the presence of a gift bag.

It seems like the perfect place to hide while you’re waiting to swat at anyone who wanders too close to your sharp, little claws.

Why, then, does this cat look sad?

Does she need more tissue paper to cover herself up with?

Has someone refused to give her any treats today?

Or is she actually happy? Is this simply how her face and ears developed?

thursday-blogs-3Lick My Lips

Finally, let me bring you lips covered in sprinkles.

This one makes me feel hungry.

My first thought was, “did the model get to lick the sprinkles off of her lips once the photoshoot ended?” I sure hope she did!

If this were a book cover, I’d expect it to be a young adult romance novel.

The protagonist would be fifteen and falling in love for the first time with a mysterious, new neighbour.

The rainbow sprinkles might be a subtle hint that this story has a lesbian, bisexual, or transgender protagonist. I would not expect her sexual or gender identity to play a big role in the plot, though. She’d be whoever she was, and everyone would be okay with it.

One possibility for the actual conflict in the plot could be the main character conquering an eating disorder. The storyline could open with her trying to eat desserts again without feeling horribly guilty about it.

I would definitely pick this imaginary book up and read the blurb. It caught my eye right away.

Respond

What were your first thoughts when you saw these pictures? How do you think the stories hiding in them should be told?

I Reserve the Right to Write About You

Character Writing Blog PictureThe funny thing about being a fiction writer is how easy it is for your everyday life to seep into your work.

There have been multiple times when I started working on a story with a specific personality in mind for a character. Once the plot starts flowing, though, the character starts shifting into someone new.

Sometimes they’ll say or do something that is eerily similar to stuff that I’ve seen in real life. These scenes don’t always make it to the final cut, but in some cases they turn out to be exactly what the storyline needed to flourish.

Friends, family members, acquaintances, and even perfect strangers can be endless sources of inspiration. Listening to the way they talk has helped me to figure out how to word the dialogue in my stories.  Seeing how people of different ages and from various backgrounds react to the same bad (or good!) news has also been enlightening. You can learn so much about how the average person thinks by listening quietly to what they say and how they say it.

No, I don’t usually borrow full anecdotes from the people I care about when I’m writing. Normally it’s something small like a phrase or a funny, unexpected reaction. Even then, these moments are trimmed down or exaggerated to fit my purposes. Most of them are nearly unrecognizable by the time they’ve gone through the writing and editing processes unless you are unusually observant and happened to be in the room at the exact moment when inspiration hit.

It’s difficult to turn off this part of my mind. This is something I do without thinking about it, just like my mom instantly switches on her medical mode and starts asking specific questions about our health if anyone gets sick.

Occasionally I’ve stopped working on a story because I couldn’t quite make the transition from an interesting observation to the realm of fiction. There is a fuzzy line between being inspired by people and lifting too much from their lives for your own purposes. I don’t always know exactly where that line begins, but I’m careful not to cross it.

I still reserve the right to write about you, though. The people in my life are incredible, and I want to share a small piece of them with the rest of the world.

Cat Identity Theft and Other Misunderstandings

Earlier this week while walking down the street I noticed an odd advertisement on the side of a truck.

Cat Identity Theft

Is what I thought I read.

Toronto is an extremely diverse city.  No matter what your hobby, belief, or identity is, there is almost guaranteed to be at least one business or activity group catering specifically to your subculture. Most likely there will be dozens of places to find likeminded people if it’s something that has ever known even the slightest whiff of recognition by mainstream society.

Most Torontonians seem to be politely uninterested in other people’s predilections – regardless of what they are –  as long as no one is being harmed against their own will or waking up the neighbours. It’s one of the reasons why I love living in this city so much.

Photo by SanGatiche.
Photo by SanGatiche.

But Cat Identity Theft? That’s a new one even for us.

What possible reward could there be for the average human in replacing one cat with another one? The cats would probably find it stressful, and it’s not like you can trust one of them to hack a computer password or rifle through bank documents to see what their humans have been purchasing.

A small camera or other recording device embedded into a cat’s collar might work if you were willing to wait a long time for it to land on the right surface. You’d most likely end up with hours of footage of sunlight slowly creeping across the room as the cat dozed.

I’m no investigator, but this plan sure seemed like it was full of holes to me.

So of course I had to look again. Most likely I’d misread the sign, but if it was real I wanted to google their website.

What did it actually say?

Cut Identity Theft. 

Yes, it made much more sense, but there was a small part of me that was sad to see such a profound lack of cats in their logo. It makes me want to write a short story about my much more interesting interpretation of how this company operates.

How about you? What have you misread or misheard recently?

Beating Back Cabin Fever

Just before the weekend Toronto received 50 mm of rain in less than 12 hours. On top of all of the snow dumped onto us this winter that has yet to fully melt, this adds up to a lot of water that needs to be absorbed back into the ground in a short amount of… Read More

The Shoes

Has there been a rapture for one? Was it faster to run without them? Did he buy a new pair and not feel like carrying the old ones home? Did they walk away on their own? Is an invisible man dancing? Was superglue spilled in the gutter right before he stepped into the street? Have… Read More

The Dying Time of Year

Winter is coming. I’ve blogged before about how that season makes me think of death. No, not in a depressed way. I’m watching the world slowly spin down into the quiet blankness of a three-month stretch in which nothing grows and taking note of all of the small changes around me. It’s hard to imagine… Read More

Where Do You Find Creative Inspiration?

Yesterday I asked readers if they had any questions for me. Beginning today I will be answering them but it’s not too late to add to the queue  – just use the contact form or leave a comment with your questions. 1. Wild Dreams. I always leave a notebook by the side of my bed to… Read More

Grammar Matters

Grammar matters. Fourteen years ago when I first joined in on Internet conversations I was surprised by how often the people I met online ignored basic punctuation, capitalization and spelling rules. Over time this lax approach to the English language has only grown worse. When I read a blog post or article riddled with errors I assume… Read More