Association Inspiration – The Power of Tea

A couple of weeks ago a friend posed a question on Twitter to those writers who have other jobs or an otherwise limited amount of writing time. The question was in two parts – the first was where do you fit in writing time and the second was how do you “change gears” from not writing to writing.

I squeeze in writing normally in the evenings and occasionally during lunchtimes while at work. For the second one, apparently I use something called Classical Conditioning (which didn’t actually twig until said friend pointed it out). I write using the almighty power of tea.

I love tea, but the only time I ever actually drink tea is while I’m writing. This isn’t deliberate, it’s just how things turned out. I don’t eat or drink in the morning because my stomach says no. I don’t trust the hygiene of any of the facilities at work. I never have tea on the go because it’s never right unless I make it myself (I, like many others, am very particular about my tea). I don’t drink tea while I’m gaming or drawing, as I always end up letting it go cold – something all my fellow tea lovers will agree is a horrendous crime. As a result, the only time I drink tea is while writing.

My writing hiatus ended in the middle of 2012 and thus began the tea conditioning. An accident? Yes. One I would change? Not a chance. Three years later and now just the smell of tea makes me think of writing and gets my fingers itchy. It helps me focus, helps me switch off from the other things that loudly scream for attention in life. A bad day at work can be difficult to shrug off, and it was something I used to struggle with far more than I do now. Now, I make myself a nice cup of tea and let that writing feeling come.

Obviously this isn’t perfect. It doesn’t always work, some days there’s just no helping being unproductive. It also does not cure writer’s block – but it can help keep me wanting to stick at it until I hit the break through. There’s no ultimate fix to make you super productive all the time, but if something helps a little then why not?

Of course some people simply can’t live limiting their tea intake per day – and it would be cruelty to suggest! – but there are lots of cues that can be used to train the brain. It could be a different beverage, a particular scented candle, a genre of music – whatever works for you! It’s not a quick solution and takes time for the association to stick but if you, like so many others, have a hectic life and have trouble shifting into writing mode then I’d recommend giving it a try. It’s definitely worked for me.

And if anyone already uses a similar method, I’d love to hear about what you do in the comments below!

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Goodbye Sir Terry

I’m not one for public mourning. Relatively recently, a lot of celebrities who have been close to my heart have passed away and I have, for the most part, remained silent about it. This is not because they were not special to me and certainly not because I did not think they were beautiful, wonderful people in need of praise. I just tend to be more private with this type of thing.

Today however, is the exception to the rule. There are dozens, even hundreds of people who inspire my writing in one way or another. Writers, actors, artists, loads of them. They all inspire my words and my worlds, my characters, my plots. They inspire it all.

But Sir Terry Pratchett is the reason I write.

I cannot remember how old I was when my older brother forced Guards! Guards! into my hands, but I was barely scraping double digits. It blew my mind and, without wanting to sound too dramatic, changed my life. I didn’t know books could be like this. I didn’t know stories could be so utterly ridiculous yet so magically real. I’d written before, frequently, and I loved it. Stupid little short stories, creative writing in school. Then I read this amazing book and I wanted to write one like it. The rest is history.

The news of Sir Terry’s passing has made me very emotional. I’m sad, yes, so sad that this world will see no more of his wonderful stories. Sad that I never had the chance to meet him. Sad for his family and his friends who will all be mourning the loss. It’s more than that though. I’m so incredibly grateful. Without him and his novels, I don’t know if I would be the person I am today. I feel like he is the person who gave writing to me.

So thank you, Terry Pratchett. Thank you, and I hope you are now somewhere as wonderful and wacky as you are.

Organisationing

Today I’m going to talk about organising projects. Now, if you’ve ever looked over at my Other Projects page, you’ll see that I’m terrible at sticking to one thing. I get all these shiny ideas and run off plotting them. Meanwhile, I’ve got a bunch of half written, half edited manuscripts laying all over the place! Y’know, figuratively.

In the computer

It was for this reason (and nothing to do with the fact that I have a massive deadline a week from today that I’m avoiding) that I decided to make a spreadsheet. I started by trawling through my writing folding, ditching the half baked ideas that were terrible and I no longer have any interest in, and sticking all the rest into a list.

Next, they have to be organised and prioritised. I decided to come up with three groups: Active, Queued and Not Active. Only a certain number of projects can be Active or Queued, and the only way to move up a priority is dead man’s boots. Or, stage completed man’s boots. That sounds less perilous though. Anyway, once a project has been moved into “Active,” it stays there until the stage it is currently in is completed (or goes up a level, eg first draft –> second draft). I’ve given myself three Active slots, so that I don’t burn myself out on a single work, though one of those slots will ALWAYS be Twyned Earth, until they are done. And as you can see, I only have two at the moment, until after the 28th!

I definitely should have been working instead of making this.

I definitely should have been working instead of making this.

The reason I’ve chosen multiple Active slots is because sometimes project hopping is good for you.

Sometimes you just don’t have the inspiration for a certain project. You have the desire to write, but can’t even look at the story you’re supposed to be working on. The advice online quite often tells you to just fight through it, sit down and power on. I’ve done it and sometimes it works. When I’ve got a deadline, or it’s a NaNoWriMo project, I just sit down and force myself on that project. The thing is though, I’ve found that if I’ve hit a block, stepping back and looking at a different story entirely can help lift that. I know I have a problem as a serial project cheat, but instead of letting it be a problem, I’m letting it be a solution. Sometimes the brain needs a reboot, and what better way than focusing on something else for a while? Similar to how other hobbies are good, for people like myself other projects can help kick writer’s block to the kerb.

I’m taking control of my constant hopping, but at the same time giving myself room for flexibility, because without it I don’t know how much joy I would find in writing. And without that, what’s the point? I’m narrowing my hopping down because I’ve gone too long without finishing anything, but I’ll never give up totally. I love all my stories and they will all receive love!

What about you guys? Are you a project hopper? How do you keep it under control?

Thursday’s Children: Gardens

A weekly blog hop where writers come together to talk about whatever inspires them. Join us!

On Sunday, I went to a garden centre with my father to buy a huge bag of bird seed. Now, this might not sound particularly inspiring but it lead to me spending a good hour pottering around my own garden taking pictures in a flurry of world building inspiration. I’ve always had a keen interest in plants as I was pretty much raised as my dad’s gardening apprentice (I was once sent home with a note from my teacher for arguing that it wasn’t a Daffodil, it was a Narcissus and proceeding to list the different types). The garden has always been a place I loved to be and, especially as a child, a place where my imagination went rampant. I discovered on Sunday that this had not changed.

Already feeling rather inspired and uplifted as we perused the plants, when I came upon the following (which a snapped a sneaky picture of)  I felt the sudden pang for some major world building. World building is one of the reasons I love fantasy so much. I adore being able to completely create a world from the races, religions, economics all the way down to something as simple as unusual flowers. I don’t know why I particularly fell in love with these flowers but something about them just jumped out at me.

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Sneaky garden centre shot.

So, when I got home I went around my garden and ended up with 76 different pictures from around my garden. Once I had done one complete lap I went back inside and looked through them all on the computer. From this short escapade, I found world building ideas just jumping into my head – and that is the wonderful thing about world building. All it takes is a little bit of inspiration toward one direction and then the ideas branch outwards and upwards (not unlike a plant) and from a picture of a bluebell I find myself developing a whole set of social etiquette for an invented race.

So, I thought I would share a couple of the pictures I took of my garden with you! Please excuse the quality – they were taken on my phone and I’m not exactly a photographer as it is. Still, I think they get the point across. Obviously I can’t bombard you with them all (as much as I’d like to) so here are a few that lead to a LOT of ideas.

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A trillium by the steps.

Short cut to the pond.

Short cut to the pond.

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Gorgeous and vivid Japanese maple.

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Bamboo sun shield.

As usual, click the linky and find awesome posts! You know you want to. Go! Steal their inspiration and do something creative.

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Thursday’s Children: My Fan Art

A weekly blog hop where writers come together to talk about whatever inspires them. Join us!

Hello all! I’m finally back for another go of Thursday’s Children, a weekly blog hop in which writers share the things that inspire them. After a long and stressful couple of weeks, today’s post is going to be short and sweet. The inspiration that I’m writing about today comes from a single item – my first and so far only piece of fan art (which, considering the number of people who have read my work, is pretty good). Needless to say, I was so excited by this that it became a source of massive inspiration for me.

On the NaNoWriMo forums, I found a thread where people were asking about each others ‘writing totems’, something that until last year I had not heard of before. From the Wikiwrimo entry, a writing totem is “an item (or several items) that helps inspire, get one in a writer-like state of mind, and help battle writer’s block” which can be anything that inspires you and your story.

At the time I couldn’t think of anything that fit the bill but I loved the idea of a writing totem. And then as a Christmas gift, my best friend and beta reader gave me a crochet doll of one of my characters. To say that I was absolutely delighted was an understatement. It made me so happy to think that one of my characters stuck with her enough that she knit him to life. Whenever I see it, I remember how I felt when I first saw it. Inspired.

So here is Tony – gangster, vicious, crocheted. Fear him in his adorable glory!

The Notorious Tony Cantsayhisname

The Notorious Tony Cantsayhisname – Cute Edition

Now here is the linky you’ve all been waiting for! Go forth and read some awesome posts!

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Thursday’s Children: NaNoWriMo

First of all I would like to thank all of the other Thursday’s Children bloggers who dropped me a line last week! You guys are great and I felt so welcomed! If you missed last week’s post, Thursday’s Children is a weekly blog hop where writers share the things that inspire them. If you haven’t already, you should check out the link a the bottom to find all the other blogs that participate – you won’t regret it.

This week myself and a whole bunch of other writers are preparing for the madness of CampNaNoWriMo. This is a spin off of the yearly NaNoWriMo event, also know as “Month where several thousand crazy people try and write a novel.” These events inspire me to write for a few reasons (not including the fact that it is ridiculous fun) and are probably the only reason I have actually managed to complete two novels from start to finish. Okay, the deadline might not be for the finished article but getting 50k of the way through a novel is a damn good incentive to keep on going.

So why would I call it ‘inspiring’? For one thing, it’s a major kick up the arse. You have a day to start and a deadline. You can faff all you like before and after but when the month starts it is GO time. Write, write, write! There is something so freeing about having an excuse to just spew your imagination onto the page and not worry about the editing or anything. The freedom to just push forward with a story while knowing there are a few thousand other people doing exactly the same thing is a fantastic feeling and results in me getting stuff done! Having said that, the anticipation helps as well. I’ve been so excited for this to start that I have been meticulously planning every aspect of my story so that come April first I will be able to jump right in and go for gold.

Then there is the competitiveness. When it isn’t a NaNo month, I find my writing is greatly interspersed with internet breaks, unnecessary snack breaks and just general faffing about. But when the crazy starts again I have a goal and the competitiveness in me just drives me to write and write and write. If you ask anyone, they would probably tell you I am the least competitive person they know. It would probably be true as well. I despise competing against other people. Absolutely detest it. Competing against myself? Now that is a different story!

Of course, the community is also a great inspiration. There are all of these other people all going through the same crazy experience as you and they are all helping each other out through it. Between writing buddies, writing sprints, idea bouncing and critique swapping there is a lot to keep you going. What’s better as a frantic, sleep deprived, barely sane writer than more frantic, sleep deprived, barely sane writers? Exactly!

That’s it from me today. As I’ve already said, NaNo has been eating all my time and that will continue for the next month so my blog may seem a little quiet until May. In the meantime, why don’t you check out these awesome blogs in the link? You know you want to.

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Thursday’s Children: Music

This weekend was I invited to join a blog hop called Thursday’s Children where writers share the things that inspire them. I love this idea and am excited to participate so here is my first contribution. The first thing that jumps into my head where I hear the question: “What inspires you when you write?”

Music.

The very first thing that jumps into my head about what inspires me has to be music. Stories are inspired by a multitude of things – other books, films, the news, all sorts but when it comes to actually writing things down it has to be said that music really gets me going.

A lot of people think I’m very odd because I thoroughly enjoy long car or bus journeys. I don’t talk to anyone else unless they speak to me first and even then I will generally work to make the conversation short. I don’t read. I don’t play car games. What I do is put my headphones in my ears and stare contentedly out of the window. And that is me set for the next several hours. I love music and travelling feels like one of the few times when I can completely submerge myself in it without feeling guilty for not doing anything else. And as I look out of the window, I don’t really see anything that is going past. What I see are scenes inside my head, scenes whose pace and emotion are influenced by whichever song is currently on.

Music has such a strong ability to invoke emotion. I adore the way it can make your back tingle and your stomach squirm. So many of my most beloved scenes have been written after being imagined during such a journey. Once I get home, I’ll put that track back on and find myself back in that moment, back within that rush of feeling and the words just come pouring out. The thoughts come faster than I can type them.

It can be any music as well. I have quite a diverse taste and my playlists tend to be very “let’s take all of these genres and mix ’em about a bit!” Different genres allow for different emotions, different types of scenes, even different characters. For instance, I’ll take an example from each of my two favourite novelling albums at the moment – John Powell’s How To Train Your Dragon Soundtrack and Devin Townsend Project’s Epicloud.

John Powell’s Forbidden Friendship evokes a strong sense of peace and joy in me. It is a song I listen to and stresses seem to fall away. When I hear it, I can imagine characters coming together to find a closeness they never thought could be there before. I can imagine a character finding a new found strength or acceptance within themselves. When I hear it, I can imagine a sense of blissful understanding, a character having an epiphany. As I listen to it now, I can’t help but close my eyes and sway with it, smiling as I do so. I listen and tense as it builds up and up until that final gentle peak leading onto a harmonious and soothing end, bringing to my characters some sort of resolution.

Devin Townsend Project’s Kingdom strikes quite a different chord but the emotional and inspirational response is just as strong. The music itself is hard and fast and oh so easy to work yourself up with. Great action, battle, a chase, it’s all already forming in my head. There is desperation here. A struggle. A need. And if that wasn’t enough, at around forty five seconds in Devin Townsend’s voice bursts into the song with such force and vigor that I swear I stop breathing for a moment each time it happens. That right there is a voice that makes every hair on my body stand on end. It makes my stomach knot. It makes me want to instantly stand up, clenching my fist as I sing along badly and off key. And then, once I’m hooked, that’s me for the next five minutes as characters swarm about my head in great peril or smashing victory. And while my poor characters might get dragged through hell and back in this time, whatever just happened to them, it can’t be described as anything less than thrilling.

So there you have it, one of the things that inspires me the most. I hope I didn’t ramble too much, I was desperately trying not to. I now feel the need to go and listen to some amazing music. Also, you should follow the link and check out the other Thursday’s Children bloggers. Do it.

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