Category Archives: Writing

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

Person standing in a 6+ foot tall tunnel built into thick walls of snow and ice. 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, I was a little tardy showing up this year. And spring did warn me about you. 😉

Lydia: Heh, I heard a few things about you from spring as well. How have you been?

Winter: Things are changing rapidly for me. I’m sure you’ve all noticed how winter is different than it was in generations past.

Lydia: Yes, we sure have. How has climate change affected your work? It sure seems like your season has changed the most as a result of it so far.

Winter: I’ve noticed the same thing. Of course there have been shifts in our patterns in the past, but never this severe or rapid. It’s one thing to switch off duties with spring or autumn during the transition periods, but now it’s happening in the middle of my shift!

Lydia: That must make managing the weather pretty tricky.

Frozen Rose covered in frostWinter: It sure does. Sometimes I wonder if I’m even finally going to meet Summer one of these days. Spring and summer say we have oddly similar personalities.

Lydia: Hopefully, that won’t happen. Summer has been dealing with extreme temperatures, too.

Winter: What, you don’t want a heatwave and a blizzard in the same day?

Lydia: As tempting as that would be in the heat of August, I think the plants wouldn’t like that.

Winter: Well, I don’t like the plants!

Lydia: Wait, what?

Winter: I’m totally joking there. I forget that not everyone gets my frosty sense of humour.

Lydia: Okay, good. I was quite surprised for a second.

Winter: I’m not actually supposed to know the plants. Most of them die or hibernate by the time I show up, and the few stragglers left aren’t the best conversationalists.

Lydia: Does this mean all of the seasons are able to talk to the plants?

Winter: Yes, but humans weren’t supposed to know that. Forget I said anything.

Lydia: No worries, I won’t press the issue, but I’m going to keep this in mind for my conversation with Summer.

Winter: Just don’t tell them I said anything. Proprietary secrets of the trade and all. So what else do you want to know?

A frosted windowpane. Lydia: What can you tell me about Jack Frost?

Winter: He moved to Alaska recently for the balmy weather, but he’s still keeping his main home in the North Pole.

Lydia: That’s fascinating. Do you speak to him often? How would you describe your relationship with him?

Winter: He’s a serious, hardworking guy, but I know almost nothing about his personal life. You should interview him after you’ve talked to summer.

Lydia: I’ll do that! Thanks for stopping by, winter. This conversation has been very illuminating.

Winter: The pleasure is all mine.

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 by how popular my reviews of various Youtube workout videos were this year. When they were first published, they didn’t get as many hits as I was expecting, but that changed quite a bit over the longterm. Look for some more reviews of free online workouts in 2020.

Interviews with readers and writers of science fiction were well-represented in this round-up, too. I’d love to do more of them in 2020 if anyone is interested. The informational link on how to sign up is included below.

On a silly note, I thought it was interesting to see how many posts that had stock photos with orange or yellow hues made it onto this year’s list. Maybe my readers really love those colours. Ha!

Woman using a cellphone

20. Put Down Your Phone and Pay Attention

Carved and lit Halloween pumpkin sitting next to a calendar that says October 31

19. My Best Halloween Memories

The personification of spring. She's sitting on a swing that's adorned with pink roses.

18. An Exclusive Interview with Spring 

two front doors in a duplex. One door is blue and the other one is yellow

17. 5 Tips to Beat Writer’s Block 

Couple cuddling a dog

16. 3 Fictional Families I’d Want to Spend Family Day With 

Books covered in a thick layer of cobwebs and dust

15. Why I Prefer E-Books Over Physical Books 

Woman stretching over to touch her toes before a run.

14. What to Do If You Missed a Week of Working Out 

Poster for the film The House with a Clock in Its Walls. The three main characters from that film are smiling and looking straight ahead in it. One is holding a book and the other holds a light.

13. My Review of The House with a Clock in Its Walls 

Woman doing an upper body workout.

12. My Review of Fitness Blender’s Toned, Lean Arms Workout 

Athletes laughing and jumping.

11. 4 Things I Love About Fitness Culture 

Science Fiction fan Tammy Schoch posing by the grand canyon

10. Interview with Tammy Schoch 

Stack of books sitting next to a vase of yellow flowers

9. Why Taking Reading Breaks Can Be a Good Idea 

Photo of Berthold Gambrel

8. Interview with Berthold Gambrel 

Woman dancing while using headphones and iPhone

7. 4 Games You Can Play While Listening to Audiobooks

Grapefruit Slice Lying with Lemon Slices

6. Blogging Advice: Finding and Using Visual Images for Your Site 

Photo of author M.H. Thaung

5. Interview with M.H. Thaung 

Group of people networking with their cellphones

4. Blogging Advice: Social Media and Networking 

Person blogging about coffee on a WordPress blog

3. Blogging Advice: Brainstorming and Idea Management 

Blue and Red Galaxy Painting

2. If You Love Speculative Fiction, I Want to Interview You

Woman Performing Deadlifts

1. My Review of Fitness Blender’s Brutal Butt and Thigh Workout 

An Exclusive Interview with Autumn

About six months ago, I sat down with spring to discuss what it feels like to be that season of the year. Today, I’ll be chatting with autumn, and I hope to eventually get ahold of winter and summer, too!

Lydia: Welcome, autumn. I’m glad you were able to make it.

Autumn: Thank you. Was I on time this year? What has spring been saying about me?

Lydia: You showed up exactly when I expected you would. Spring was curious about your work, but she mentioned that your opposite schedules make it impossible for you to meet.  When, exactly, did you wake up this year?

Autumn: It’s hard to say. Summer and I like to trade duties in September, so I had a few short naps while we were in that transitional phase.

Lydia: How is your relationship with Summer in general?

Autumn: Excellent. We both have serious personalities and strong work ethics, so I always enjoy taking over their last few projects of the year. Usually, I need sprinkle some rain and sunlight in that general direction and allow the plants to do the rest.

Lydia: That sounds easy.

Autumn: Well, not so much easy as it is predictable. As long as all of the other seasons have done their part, the process is fairly simple, but it does still require close attention to make sure everything ripens the way it should and everyone is set for the winter. That season can be a harsh one, so I try to make this transition as gentle as possible.

Lydia: I understand. How often do you run into problems with your line of work?

Autumn: Lately, it’s been growing more difficult. My department has noticed warmer temperatures and an increase in violent storms over the last century. We do have some tricks up our sleeves for dealing with unexpected weather, but problems in one season can bleed into the next if we’re not careful.

Lydia: What sort of problems? Also, I didn’t realize each season had their own department! How does that work?

Autumn: Well, too much or too little rain in one season can make it difficult for the plants to grow properly. An unseasonably warm autumn or winter might sound like a nice idea if you live in a cold climate, but those mild temperatures can lead to a higher percentage of insects surviving the winter. Those insects and their descendants may then eat more plants than be replaced that next summer or drain the life out of caribou. It’s a real mess.

As far as our departments go, I have several people on staff who keep track of things while we’re asleep. Summer has about the same number that I do. Winter and spring mostly work alone as far as I know.  My support staff have their own hibernation cycles, so sometimes I do see new faces when I wake up. But they all help us communicate with the seasons we spend little to no time with, and that’s always appreciated.

Lydia: Wow, that is so interesting. I didn’t realize that at least some of the seasons were run by multiple folks.

Autumn: Yes, I’m very lucky. I have no idea how winter does it alone!

Lydia: Not to change the subject, but I do have a few questions about the holidays that are celebrated while you’re in charge. What do you think of them? Do you have any favourites?

Autumn: I hadn’t really thought about that! Most of the time, that stuff is managed by the Department of Human Affairs. It varies so much from one culture to the next that my work only occasionally brushes up against that topic. I will say that I appreciate any human festivity that involves going out into nature and enjoying the change of seasons.

Lydia: That’s wonderful to hear. Would you like to leave my readers with any parting words?

Autumn: Yes, watch out for winter. He’ll be here before you know it, and he might have a few tricks up his sleeves!

 

 

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

I’ll Tell You About My Drafts Folder If You’ll Tell Me About Yours

It’s been a long time since this blog published a lighthearted writing post, so let’s change that.  Lately, I’ve been gently poking my drafts folder and trying to decide which posts in there, if any, are ready to finish and share with the world. On a related note, finding an appropriate stock image photo for… Read More

Put Down Your Phone and Pay Attention

Today I’d like to talk to you about mindfulness, brainstorming, and what house wrens are really capable of. (If descriptions of the non-Disney side of the natural world are disturbing to you, consider this a content warning). No, I’m not anti-technology, and this isn’t a rant. Smart phones have brought many positive changes to modern… Read More

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We Need Movies About Blogging

Today’s post is going to be short and sweet. As I’ve said here before, I don’t believe in stretching out my words if a few hundred of them will suffice. Someone found this site recently by doing a search for movies about blogging. Normally, queries like this happen because of something I blogged about in… Read More