Tag Archives: Writing

5 Tips to Beat Writer’s Block

Happy Independence Day to all of my American readers! The Fourth of July is an ordinary day here in Ontario, so I’m back to blogging about the sorts of topics I generally discuss here. If you haven’t already checked it out, why not go ask me a few questions about what it’s like to live in Canada?

Writer’s block is a topic I’ve been meaning to discuss on this site for quite a while now. I’ve had my own trouble with it in the past, up to and including brainstorming for something as simple as a blog post topic. Today I wanted to share a few techniques that I use to deal with this problem when it happens. If you have anything else to add in the comment section below, do speak up!

Balance Multiple Projects

On any given day, I’m brainstorming, writing, or reworking blog posts, my latest novel, future social media posts for myself, future social media posts for the organizations I volunteer for, book reviews, and more. If one of these writing styles isn’t working for me, I’ll switch to another one.

There is something about asking your brain to transition from one project to the next that can really get the creative juices flowing.

A tweet requires brevity while a chapter of a book might need me to dig deeply into the details of what is going on in that particular scene so that my audience will know exactly what is going on in it.

Do Something Unrelated to Writing

This is not my dog, but I wish it were.

And when I say unrelated, I mean it! Pick an activity that you enjoy but that has nothing at all do with your current projects.

Go swimming or buy a ticket to the latest summer blockbuster you’ve been meaning to watch. Fly a kite, take your dog on an adventure, or have dinner down at the local pub. Book a weekend away at local campground or check out a special event in your neighbourhood that you’ve been meaning to attend.

Do these sorts of things without any sense of guilt or expectation that they will lead you to the next plot twist in your writing. Just enjoy those hours or days away without any thought of what’s going on with your characters at the moment.

Once you get back, there’s something interesting I think you should try.

Have a Conversation with Your Characters

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve talked to my characters. No, I generally don’t speak out loud to them, although more power to you if that works.

One visualization technique that I really like is imagining that I’ve sat down with my characters to have a cup of tea together. The conflict and tension in their storyline is nowhere near us, and we have all the time in the world to talk about what’s going on with them and how they want to react next.

Don’t ask me why this works, but I’ve found it very helpful in figuring out why I’m stuck on a particular piece and what sorts of things I should think about trying with the plot in the future.

Write Scenes Out of Order

For example, I generally find it much easier to write the middle of a story or novel than I do the beginning or ending. Beginnings need to draw the readers into the plot quickly while at the same time developing the character’s personalities and giving a good overview of what the world they inhabit is like.

As far as endings go, I always want to know what happens next no matter how long a story is or how well it fleshes everything out. This is a good thing as a reader, but as a writer it can make it tricky for me to know when to wrap things up.

Middle sections are my sweet spot, so they’re often the portion I try to work on if I get stuck. There are so many opportunities to foreshadow the ending or make more references to things I’ll put in the first few scenes when I’m writing this part.

Interestingly enough, this also works just as well for blog posts and tweets! Can you guess which section of this post I might have figured out first?

Pick a Different Genre

No, I’m not saying you need to publish what you write or that you need to start an entirely new project altogether. I’ve written plenty of scraps of things that will never see the light of day.

Here’s the thing about picking a different genre: it can often require you to use a different set of writing muscles. A romance novel is usually nothing like a poem about a rainy day. A short horror tale has a completely different feel to it then an autobiographical essay.

If you can, choose a genre that is something you’d rarely to never read, much less write.

It’s been my experience that attempting to write a hardboiled detective story is a great way for me to start coming up with ideas for the genres I actually have experience writing. No sooner does my detective stumble upon the crime scene then he or she realizes that this isn’t the only genre going on in that snippet of a tale.

What are your favourite tips for beating writer’s block?

 

Update on Autumn Goals

Last autumn I blogged about four goals I wanted to accomplish. Originally, I was planning to revisit it in the winter, but it turned out I needed more time than I originally thought for a wide variety of reasons.

So much has happened in my life since last year. I’ve finally had the chance to sit down and write a proper update for all of you.

For anyone who hasn’t read that post yet, these were the goals I set then:

 

 – Spend one hour a week lifting weights. 

 – Meditate for 20 minutes a day.

 – Join new social groups.

– Write my second sci-fi novel. 

  So how did I do? Let’s go through the original goals one by one.

Spend One Hour a Week Lifting Weights.

Progress: Accomplished.

While I did need to take a few temporary breaks from weightlifting for medical reasons, I have been lifting weights for an hour a week as often as I could. I count this as a success!

For those of you who haven’t met me in real life, know that I’m a short, petite woman. People have often assumed that this means I’m not physically strong. There have been a few times over the last nine months when folks were surprised when I didn’t need help lifting something up or carrying it.

I do appreciate friendly offers of assistance. With that being said, there is something amusing about seeing the way people react when they realize that I’m stronger than I look. Their eyes grow wide for a split second, and they don’t know what to say next.

This definitely wasn’t my original reasons for getting into weightlifting, but the feeling of accomplishment and independence that comes from being able to rely on yourself to lift heavy stuff is a real perk of it.

 Meditate for 20 Minutes a Day.

Progress: Modified but accomplished.

Sitting meditation was a good idea during some of the medical stuff I dealt last year and this year. Walking meditation was more helpful at other times.

I have not been keeping strict tabs on how often I meditate, but I am doing it much more regularly and for longer periods of time these days. The only caveat to this is that much of it involves me going for a walk and drinking in my surroundings instead of sitting perfectly still every single time.

There’s something about the act of walking that makes it much easier for me to acknowledge and then release my thoughts as they bubble up.

 Join New Social Groups.

Progress: Accomplished and still ongoing.

Based on everything else that happened in my life over the past year, I’m proud of myself for working on this goal as much as I did.

I have checked out new social groups since last September and had a good time getting a feel for who they are and what they’re about.

There are other groups I still want to visit, so this goal is something I will continue to pursue in the future.

I believe in in taking your time when getting to know any group. Not every organization will be a good fit for everyone, but it’s also not always possible to know immediately if you should keep attending or find a different social outlet.

So I will continue to dip my toes into various meetings and events to see what I think of them.

  Write My Second Sci-fi Novel.

Progress: Ongoing but looking good.

Why is it so easy to knock out a 1,000 word blog post but so much more time consuming to write a novel? I mean, other than the fact that novels are generally at least 70,000 words long and sometimes much lengthier than that. Ha!

My second sci-fi novel is a work in progress. I did not mention the subject matter of it in last autumn’s post and will continue to keep most of it under wraps until I’m further along in the process. It’s been my experience that writing is easier when I don’t reveal too much ahead of time.

Let’s just say that it’s set somewhere other than Earth. If you recognize the red planet in this section of the post, you’ll have a clue about the setting.

I love all things connected to NASA and space exploration, and  I want to do as much justice to this story as someone from a non-technical background can do. There is a lot of research involved behind the scenes, so that is why it has taken me much longer than I originally thought it might.

Respond

What goals have you set over the last year or so? How are you doing with them?

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

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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… Read More

Beating Back Cabin Fever

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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