Tag Archives: Creative 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?

 

The Joy of Writing Six-Word Stories

How many of you have ever written a six-word story, twitterature, dribble, minisaga, drabble, or other piece of flash fiction?

What all of these terms share in common is the idea of fitting a full-formed story in a much smaller amount of space than is generally used for even short forms of storytelling.

It might be six words or a thousand, but it can easily be read in one sitting. Often it can be finished in a minute or two depending on your reading speed and the length of it!

I’m especially intrigued by six-word stories because of how challenging it can be to fit a twist into such a limited amount of space. This is a type of writing I’ve been playing around with as I slowly continue to work on that still-untitled, full-length science fiction novel.

There’s something fascinating to me about writing something this compact. I love the idea of condensing everything down to the bare minimum an audience needs to know in order to understand what’s going on while also hopefully surprising them in some way.

Here are a few famous examples of these types of tales:

 

For sale: Baby shoes. Never worn. —Ernest Hemingway (maybe).

Longed for him. Got him. Shit. —Margaret Atwood

All those pages in the fire. —Janet Burroway

 

In keeping with the spirit of micro-fiction, I purposely wrote this post so that it would contain fewer than 400 words. A 1000+ word post about this sort of topic simply doesn’t make sense to me.

Here are some of the six-word stories I’ve come up with this week.

Lungless? Then how are you smoking?

That door was a wall yesterday. 

The wind whispered until I answered. 

Last human. Lived happily ever after. 

Called my dog. He hung up. 

Sneezed. “bless you,” said my pillow.

Neanderthals survived, but so did humans. 

I hope you all enjoyed them. If you’ve ever written a six-word story or other very short piece of fiction like this, I’d sure like to read it.

An Exclusive Interview with Spring

It isn’t every day that a blogger nabs a chance to interview any of the seasons, much less one as highly sought-after as spring! I hope you enjoy our conversation.

Spring: Sorry for running a few weeks late there. I lost track of time.

Lydia: Welcome! It’s nice to finally meet you. I was wondering where you’d gone. How was your trip?

Spring: Oh, traffic was backed up like it usually is.  I did take notes while reading your rain review, so I wanted to make a few last-minute changes to this year’s itinerary.  I hope you’ll like those extra thunderstorms I squeezed into Ontario’s schedule this month. They’re fussier recipes than regular rainstorms, but I wanted to give you something special this time.

Lydia: Thank you. They look perfect. So let’s talk about your role as spring. What’s it like to awaken the northern hemisphere again every year?

Spring: Well, every season needs to prepare for transitional periods. You can’t exactly switch from winter to spring in one afternoon! My work is especially interesting because it involves waking up all of the plants and animals that slept their way through the cold season, and that’s not something any of the other seasons need to think about. Winter and I have had to learn how to coordinate that process so that no one wakes up too early or too late. It’s a balancing act, and every year I learn a little bit more about what does and doesn’t work in various climates.

Lydia: Speaking of winter, what is your relationship with them like?

Spring: Frosty. Yes, I’m totally joking there. We have a good working relationship. The world wouldn’t be the same place without a period of rest, and I appreciate all that winter does while the rest of us are asleep. The plants sure do appreciate it, and the insects are learning to see the bright side of it as well. Honestly, sometimes I wish my hibernation period lasted longer than it does.

Lydia: A hibernation period? Interesting! I was just about to ask what the seasons do when they’re not currently in use. What is that process like?

Spring: It’s like flopping into a warm, soft bed after a hard day’s work. Occasionally, I might wake up to take over for winter or summer for an afternoon, but I generally like to sleep through my full rest period if possible. Of course, that hasn’t been happening as often as it used to these days.

Lydia: I hear you there. On a somewhat related note, what are your relationships like with summer and autumn?

Spring: Summer and I get along really well. We have such similar goals that sometimes it’s hard to tell where their work ends and mine begins. We’re not technically supposed to have favourite months, but this is why I like June so much. The busiest weeks of my assignment are finished by then and the humans have started to harvest a few early crops like asparagus and strawberries.  I’ve heard nothing but good things about autumn’s work, but I can’t remember the last time we actually met. Our schedules are simply too different from each other for either of us to stay awake long enough to collaborate. I’d love to see what they do with leaves someday, though.

Lydia: Oh, autumn leaves are beautiful. Have you really never seen them change colour?

Spring: No, I fall asleep long before that happens.

Lydia: What a shame. I know you’re currently in your busiest time of the year, so I won’t keep you much longer. One final question before you go – what are your plans for this year? Is there anything special we should be looking forward to other than those thunderstorms you whipped up for me?

Spring: I was feeling extra creative this year, so you’ll probably see cherry trees blooming earlier than usual. I hope you like them.

Lydia: That’s wonderful. Well, thank you for stopping by, and good luck.

Spring: Thank you!

 

 

The Care and Feeding of Muses

Congratulations on being chosen by a muse! With a little forethought, the relationship you’ve begun with your source of inspiration will provide comfort and fresh ideas for your creative endeavours for the rest of your life.

Here are a few tips to get the most out of this relationship. Remember, every muse is unique. It may take some trial and error to figure out exactly what does and does not inspire you to start writing, singing, painting, or otherwise flexing your creative muscles.

The more often you practice, the better you’ll become at it. There is no better time to begin than today.

Caring for a Muse

Luckily, muses are hardy creatures. While mine has temporarily gone dormant when certain circumstances in my life didn’t leave enough time or energy for the creative process, it has always bounced back again once things improved for me.

Be gentle with yourself if you’re not currently able to create new content or if your progress is slower than you’d prefer to see. Think about the cycle of the seasons where you live. You may or may not know winter the way that us Canadians do, but every climate has its own unique pattern of growth, harvest, and rest.There is no such thing as a plant that blooms forever or a tree that creates bushels of fruit without ever needing a break from that process.

The same things happens with creative endeavours, too. Sometimes you will have an abundance of ideas and endless energy to make them come alive as a poem, sculpture, song, or any other number of things. Enjoy these times when they occur and make the most use out of them you can. In other seasons, your mind and muse may need to lay fallow for a short or long period of time before they’re ready to start creating again.

Feeding a Muse

The most important thing you can do for your muse is to feed it a varied diet. Just like a parent wouldn’t allow their child to eat nothing but candy and a pet owner wouldn’t feed Fido fistfuls treats for every meal of the day, your muse needs to be looked after in a similar way.

I can’t tell you what your muse will find useful, but I’d highly recommend giving it as many different types of stimuli  as you possibly can even if some of them might not be what you’d generally be drawn to in your free time. No, these experiences do not have to be expensive or involve travelling far away from home.

In fact, the vast majority of the things I do to feed my muse are free, and the rest often only require a few dollars for a subway fare if I remember to pack a lunch that day!

For example, you could:

  • Visit a local museum on a free or half-price day
  • Go for a walk in the woods or at the park
  • Borrow books from the library
  • Join a community group
  • Explore a new hobby or interest
  • Watch a local baseball game
  • Strike up a conversation with a friendly stranger
  • Go people-watching at a parade, festival, or other event
  • Browse in a store you’ve never visited before
  • Take a day trip to a nearby city, national park, or other imagination-ticking destination

The possibilities are endless. What matters is that you’re exposing yourself to things you might not normally spend any time thinking about during your regular routines.

Inspiration can come from anywhere. Our job is to give our muses a chance to come up with ideas based on the interesting things you’ve done or learned lately and let them do the rest.

Taking Notes and Photographs

I used to carry around a trusty little notebook and write down all sorts of slices of life in it for future inspiration. Sometimes it was a memorable quote from a book and on other days it might have been a funny throwaway comment a stranger made on the bus.

I’ve since switched to taking notes on my smart phone, but the same basic principal remains. If I see something that piques the interest of my muse when I’m out and about, I’ll pause to take a photo or jot down a quick note of it before moving on with my day.

It’s easy to forget these little moments. By recording them for the future, you’ll have a long list of potential subjects to explore when you’re finally ready to write the outline of that book or start sketching.

Balancing Creative Productivity with Consuming Other People’s Work

I’ve found that spending too much or too little time consuming other people’s work has a negative effect on what I’m able to create as a writer.

As Thomas Merton once said, “no man is an island.” Humans are a social species, and this is especially true for us creative folks. The things that your muse comes up with often inspires my own if I strike an appropriate balance between creating and consuming!

Keeping it Useful

The important thing is to keep your consumption useful and to balance it with things that refill your creative tank.

For me this means spending as little time as I can on stuff that I find distracting like celebrity gossip or fear-mongering news stories. (Your mileage may vary on those topics). It also occassionally involves muting my phone and going off into nature for some quiet time.

Obviously, you’re not going to find too many caves or sprawling forests in downtown Toronto, but we still have plenty of quiet green spaces that are great for clearing one’s mind if you know where to look.

I love sitting on park benches and listening to the birds sing in the trees above me. There’s nothing as invigorating as having those experiences without translating them into words until long after I’ve come home again, if even then.

What do you all do to feed and care for your muses?

Blogging Advice: Brainstorming and Idea Management

Welcome back to my series on blogging advice. There were a few reader questions in the first instalment, How to Begin Blogging, about the actual process of creating a blog, so I thought I’d take a moment to briefly address that. I’ll share a link to that post at the end of this one for anyone who would like to read or reread it.

I was originally planning to write a full post about the process of creating a new blog, but the official instructions for setting up new WordPress sites were so clear and easy to follow that I decided to link to them instead. There’s no use in reinventing the wheel when it already exists!

If you’re interested in setting up a tumblr account, check out this tutorial.

If you’re interested in setting up a medium account, go read this post.

Now to move on to what I think is one of the most exciting portions of blogging: brainstorming ideas and creating new posts.

Brainstorming

Today I’m going to assume that you’ve chosen a few topics for your blog. It’s perfectly acceptable if you’re still not entirely sure what all of them will be as long as you’ve made up your mind about at least one of the things you’re planning to write about. Other ideas might come to you as you explore the topic(s) that first came to mind.

Before you write a single word, do as much brainstorming and research as possible. Approach your topic from every single angle you can possibly imagine regardless of how likely it is that you might actually blog about them.

For example, if I were going to start a new site about rabbits, my favourite animal, my list would include lots of typical posts about what to feed them, how to teach them tricks, or when to call a veterinarian if they became ill. Mixed in with those ideas would also be potentially quirkier ideas on this topic like:

  • Famous Stories, Myths, and Folklore About Rabbits
  • Should You Date Someone Your Rabbit Hates?
  • How Rabbit Care Has Evolved Over the Last X Years
  • Human Foods Rabbits Should (or Should Never) Eat
  • Is It Dangerous for Rabbits to Chew on Christmas Trees?
  • What Rabbits Think of Fireworks
  • How to Respond to People Who Joke About Eating Your Pet Rabbit
  • Should You Take Your Rabbit on Vacation?
  • Keeping Rabbits Safe at the Beach/Mountains/etc.
  • Types of Music Rabbits Do (or Don’t) Like
  • Halloween Costumes for Rabbits
  • How to Befriend a Shy Rabbit
  • What Will Rabbits Look Like After Another Million Years of Evolution?
  • What Do Rabbits Really Think of Humans?
  • Where to Find Your Rabbit When He’s Hiding Somewhere in the House and Won’t Come Out
  • Help! My Rabbit Just Ate a Chicken Nugget!*

Yes, some of these titles might sound a little like clickbait, and I certainly wouldn’t use everything that popped into my mind as I was writing. The point of brainstorming is to come up with as many possibilities as you can without worrying about whether any or all of them are actually useful at this point. Instead, follow every single rabbit trail – pun intended – as far as it will go and see what you come up with.

*This was a real conversation I read on Reddit a while ago. The bunny in question suffered no ill-effects from his snack, although no one could figure out why a fluffy little herbivore would want to eat a chicken nugget in the first place. Maybe he or she saw a commercial for their favourite fast food restaurant or something? Ha!

Managing Ideas

Keep Track of Everything

Once you’ve come up with a preliminary list of ideas for your site, it’s time to figure out what to do with them until you decide whether or when to use them.

I highly recommend holding onto every idea that has the slightest chance of being used. There’s a file on my computer filled with potential ideas that I’ve been referencing, taking inspiration from, and adding new possibilities to for years now. It’s an invaluable source of information for me on those days when I have a blogging deadline looming and no clue what to write for that post.

Some of the bloggers I’ve met prefer to write their ideas down in a notebook instead. However you decide to do it, make sure your list is somewhere safe and accessible.

The Sorting and Grouping Process

Once you’ve made your list and checked it twice, start sorting your ideas out into various groups. For example, I’d pick out all of the holiday-themed prompts in my hypothetical brainstorming list above and start tentatively assigning them publication dates on or near those actual events.

  • Should You Date Someone Your Rabbit Hates? (February 14)
  • Can You Take Your Rabbit on Vacation? (June 10)
  • What Rabbits Think of Fireworks (July 2)
  • Keeping Rabbits Safe at the Beach/Mountains/etc. (August 1)
  • Halloween Costumes for Rabbits (October 20)
  • Is It Dangerous for Rabbits to Chew on Christmas Trees? (December 8)

If you only want to publish one new post a week, you’ve just knocked out six of the fifty-two posts you’ll need for the entire year. That’s more than 10% of your goal! In addition, someone who knew rabbits well well could easily come up with another half-dozen topics that are tailored to specific times of the year if they put their minds to it.

It might also be interesting to pick a broad theme like food and spend a few consecutive posts talking about what rabbits should eat daily, occasionally, or never. I might then round off that series with a short and funny anecdote about a rabbit who couldn’t resist the lure of a chicken nugget before talking about the warning signs that your pet bunny has eaten something dangerous and when he or she might need to be medically treated for it.

There’s something fascinating about seeing how many different ideas one brainstorming session can create.

Mixing It Up

With that being said, I’d also recommend mixing up your posting schedule in general. If your last few posts were about heavy topics, it might be time for something lighthearted. Something that clocked in at several thousand words might be best followed by a shorter post if your subject matter allowed for it.

Work Ahead When Possible

The beautiful thing about planning at least some of your posts out in advance like this is that it allows you to work ahead. If you know you’ll be on vacation or recovering from an elective medical procedure at a specific time and already have an inkling of what you might want to say then, why not get those posts written well ahead of time?

When possible, I also like to have a few posts sitting in my queue that could be published at any time of the year. This comes in handy for everything from power outages to illnesses that can make it hard to write new content on a deadline occasionally.

Series, Responses, and Other Renewable Writing Resources

This is where series, response posts, and other renewable writing resources come in quite handy.

To continue with today’s theme, if you’ve already written one post about games to play with domesticated rabbits, you might be able to come up with several more suggestions on keeping rabbits entertained, fit, and mentally stimulated that would work beautifully as a follow-up to the original.

Response posts are another favourite of mine. Occasionally, one of the bloggers I follow writes something that I have the uncontrollable urge to respond to with a post of my own. Not only is this a great way to generate new ideas, linking to the original will give that blogger some new traffic and may encourage them to alert their readers about your post, too.

The possibilities here are nearly endless. They can also include contests, year-end reviews of your most popular posts, blog hops, contests, interviews with people in your field, and so much more. I encourage you to try many different types of posts as you feel out what your audience is interested in and, of course, what it is you actually want to write about.

How do you all come up with fresh content for your sites?

The next instalment in this series will be discussing how to find and photos and other visual aides in your posts, so stay tuned!

Additional reading:

Blogging Advice: How to Begin Blogging

15 Things I’ve Learned From 15 Years of Blogging

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