4 Ways Travel Can Help Your Creativity

person pointing at black and gray film camera near macbook pro
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I recently read a great article about how travelling can enrich your writing. In it, the author outlines how travel is unpredictable, fosters empathy and reflection, and creates authenticity in your writing. All excellent points. The article got me thinking about how travelling has helped my writing, and how it can help you with your creative endeavours. Here are four more ways travelling is good for creativity, even if you go no farther than the other side of town…

1. It breaks up your routine. Even the most imaginative person needs inspiration, and nothing is less inspiring than doing the same things and seeing the same few places over and over again, day after day. Going somewhere new shakes you out of your rut, gives you a fresh perspective, and re-ignites creativity.

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2. It helps you learn. If you go somewhere you’ve never been, you’re bound to learn something, whether it’s a few words in another language, facts about local history, or even a new skill (so many places now offer classes and workshops for tourists). What you discover can be the spark you need for your current project, or the impetus for something new.

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3. It gives you the chance to be a different kind of creative. There are so many opportunities for creativity while you travel, and if you can do so in a way that’s not your usual, so much the better (I’ve written before about how creativity begets creativity). Take pictures, write a journal entry (or poetry or even short fiction) about your trip, sketch what you see, take part in a workshop, talk to interesting people you meet along the way. Use it all as inspiration when you get home.

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4. It can help you in unexpected ways. When I was having trouble finding the right image for the cover of Love Lies Bleeding, I decided to look through my photos to see if anything would be useful. Going through shots I’d taken in Paris, I realized the statue at the base of the Medici fountain at the Jardin du Luxembourg was perfect, so I ended up using it:

Love Lies Bleeding by Aspasia S. Bissas

(The statue at the top of the fountain is on the back cover.) Not only that, but another photo I’d taken at the Louvre became the cover for Blood Magic:

BLOOD MAGIC by Aspasia S. Bissas jpg

And I have a third photo in mind for my next book, which I’m currently working on. The point is, I didn’t go to Paris to take photos for my book covers, but my travels led to exactly what I needed. You never know what going somewhere new could end up doing for you.

You don’t have to travel to be creative, but it really does help. Even if you can’t make it to another country or continent, try getting on a bus and exploring a different town, or go for a walk and visit a neighbourhood in your own town that you’ve never been to. The important thing is to break out of routine and try something new. It could lead you to places you never expected.

What do you think? Has travelling helped your creativity? Share in the comments…

When Publishers Pass You By

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When I was much younger and just beginning to realize that I wanted a future as a writer, I had starry-eyed notions of a major publisher recognizing my talent and jumping to offer me a contract (with a generous advance, of course). Yeah, not so much. Instead I have a pile of rejection letters, mostly of the form variety, some with encouraging words about how my writing is good (just not quite right for them). I had to learn the hard way that being a good writer isn’t enough to get published. In fact, sometimes you don’t even have to be able to write at all as long as you have a big enough name to guarantee sales. Depressing doesn’t even begin to cover it.

A recent article in the Washington Post shares how Madeleine L’Engle and other well-known writers have suffered rejection over their careers. So how to deal with it when it happens to you?

Like L’Engle, stick to your vision. Don’t compromise your work to suit the industry’s sometimes narrow definitions of salable. Your readers are out there, even if your book is genre defying and a little odd (something readers are a lot more open to than publishers).

Like J.K. Rowling, keep persisting. Just because 12 publishers reject your book doesn’t mean 13 won’t be your lucky number. [Edited to add: Also like J.K., if you’re a woman, you might want to submit under initials or a gender neutral name instead of an obviously feminine name–especially if you don’t write romance or “women’s fiction.” Sexism in publishing is real, and I wish I’d realized that years ago.]

Like Beatrix Potter, do it yourself. Self publishing has been around a long time and is only getting bigger. When traditional publishers have let you down (or you don’t even want to bother with them in the first place), don’t be afraid to go the indie route (which is what I did with my dark fantasy novel, Love Lies Bleeding–and what I will also be doing with the new novel I’m working on).

Whatever you do, don’t let rejections get to you. They are common, they are inevitable, and they don’t reflect the quality of your work or you as a person. Just remember: a good story will find a way.

How do you deal with professional rejection? Share in the comments.

[This was originally posted on 13 March 2018. Re-posted with minor edits.]

It’s Okay to Hate Your Work

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If you’re creative at all, you’re well familiar with the feeling of hating your own work. At some point you’ll be 100% convinced that everything you’ve done is garbage. It’s not fun. It’s also probably not accurate. More importantly, just because you hate your work doesn’t mean anyone else does or will. Need proof? Here are some famous writers who hated their own work…

Anthony Burgess regretted A Clockwork Orange, claiming the misinterpretation of it (partly from the way it was presented in the film) would “pursue me until I die,” and also calling it his “little squib of a book” in his introduction to a later edition.

Stephen King thought his book Carrie was such a waste of time that he threw the manuscript away. His wife fished it out of the trash and encouraged him to keep trying.

Leo Tolstoy ended his life regretting and being ashamed of having written both War and Peace and Anna Karenina. Tolstoy scholar Pavel Basinsky claims it’s the Russian way to renounce everything they’ve done before. It might also be the writer’s way.

Speaking of Russian writers, Vladimir Nabokov got so disgusted with Lolita that at one point as he was working on it, he fed the pages into a fire. His wife, Vera, saved as much as she could and Nabokov ended up completing the novel.

Peter Benchley so regretted the paranoia toward sharks caused by his novel Jaws that he because a shark conservationist. He claimed in an interview that he could never write a book like that again, having learned about what sharks are actually like. Maybe hating your own work isn’t always a bad thing.

How do you cope when you hate your work? Share in the comments…

To find out more about these and other writers and the books they’ve written and hated, check out LitHub and Goodreads.

[This was originally posted 5 March 2018.]

10 Stunning Writers’ Homes

I love old houses (old buildings in general, actually). While I can appreciate the practical benefits of a new house, they leave me, well, bored. Old houses have style. They have personality. They have soul. Throw in a resident writer and you’ve got a house worth living in (or at least visiting). Here are 10 writers’ houses that are worth checking out…

WH Thomas Hardy

Higher Bockhampton, Dorset, England: The cottage where Thomas Hardy was born. I love the thatched roof and garden.

WH Agatha Christie

Galmpton, Devon, England: Greenway Estate, home to Agatha Christie, was designated a World Heritage Site in 2004. Christie set several of her novels in the area.

WH Eugene Oneill

Danville, California, USA: Eugene O’Neill wrote The Iceman Cometh and Long Day’s Journey Into Night at Tao House.

WH Virginia Woolf

Rodmell, East Sussex, England: Not only is Monk’s House where Virginia Woolf worked on Mrs. Dalloway, it was also where she hosted the Bloomsbury Group.

WH Emily Dickinson

Amherst, Massachusetts, USA: With a house like this, I can understand why Emily Dickinson was a recluse. The poet didn’t spend her entire life at the Homestead, but she was born here, and after moving back as a young woman spent the rest of her life here.

WH Alphonse Daudet

Draveil (former village of Champrosay), France: Can I just go ahead and move into Alphonse Daudet’s home, located a few kilometres south of Paris? Daudet finished Letters from My Windmill here, and also held famous weekly gatherings of the luminaries of the French arts scene (Zola, Proust & Rodin were among the regulars).

WH George Sand

Nohant, Indre, France: More gorgeous French style at George Sand’s home. Sand wrote many of her books here, as well as hosting artists, musicians, and writers (Frédéric Chopin lived, and composed, here for several years). The house has been classified as a National Historic Monument of France.

WH Mark Twain

Hartford, Connecticut, USA: Mark Twain wrote The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in this house’s billiards room, which also doubled as his study.

WH Edith Wharton

Lenox, Massachusetts, USA: Edith Wharton’s grand home, The Mount, was where she wrote most of her novels, and where she presumably implemented the advice from her first book (co-authored with Ogden Codman), The Decoration of Houses. 

WH Louisa May Alcott

Concord, Massachusetts, USA: Orchard House, where Louisa May Alcott wrote Little Women.

What’s your favourite writer’s home? Share in the comments…

Further Reading:

Orchard House

The Mount

The Mark Twain House and Museum

George Sand House

Alphonse Daudet House

Emily Dickinson Museum

Monk’s House

Eugene O’Neill National Historic Site

Thomas Hardy Cottage

Architectural Digest

KQED Arts

New England Historical Society

Air France

Boston Globe

Vampire’s Garden: Comfrey

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Photo via Mary’s Heirloom Seeds

Love Lies Bleeding‘s readers know that main character Mara is both a vampire and a botanist. Trained in botany and herbalism, she still has a garden and studies plants. This post is second in a series exploring Mara’s plants. Are you  interested in botany, gardening, or plant lore? So are some vampires…

Please note: Medicinal uses are given for informational purposes only. Always consult a medical professional before diagnosing or treating yourself.

Latin Name: Symphytum officinale

Common Names: Boneset, Bruisewort, Knitbone, Slippery Root

History: Native to Europe and parts of Asia, comfrey has a long history (at least 2000 years) in healing. It has been used to treat coughs and lung ailments, stop excessive bleeding, treat stomach problems, and to ease joint pain and inflammation. Its most common use, however, has been to heal wounds, bruises, and broken bones; in fact, almost every name (in all languages) for comfrey refer to knitting or mending bones or healing cuts and contusions. “Comfrey” comes from a Latin word meaning “to grow together,” and the botanical name “Symphytum” comes from the Greek, meaning plant that knits bones together. It was once also used as food for both people and animals.

Caution: Comfrey has been found to be toxic to the liver when taken internally in large amounts. It’s generally safe to use externally, but is best avoided by pregnant and nursing women, infants, and by people with liver, kidney, or vascular disease. It’s also toxic to animals, so be sure not to let them eat it.

Victorian Language of Flowers Meaning: Home sweet home

Cultivation: Perennial in zones 4 to 9. Easy to grow from seed, comfrey prefers full to part sun and rich, well-drained soil. It’s quite adaptable and can survive less-than-ideal conditions, including drought. Sow early indoors or outside as soon as soil can be worked. Sow just below surface of soil and tamp down–keep seeds moist (not wet). Sow seeds or seedlings with 2 feet (60 cm) of space around them as the plants get fairly large. Once plants are established in a spot they can live for decades and be difficult to remove, so take care when selecting a site. Comfrey is generally non-invasive, although it can self sow.

Uses: Comfrey is still used externally to treat inflammation, joint pain, and closed wounds and bruises. You can crush fresh leaves to make a poultice, apply fresh leaves to the affected area, use a salve, or apply oil that has had comfrey steeped in it. Treat poison ivy blisters by rubbing a fresh leaf on them. You can also use the chopped roots to make salves, ointments, and oils (or use a combination of leaves and roots). Leaves are best used before the plant blooms; roots are best harvested in late autumn or early winter.

In the garden, nitrogen- and potassium-rich comfrey leaves are used as fertilizer, in compost, and as mulch. Avoid using stems as they can take root and spread the plant where you don’t want it. You can also make a compost tea with the chopped leaves by steeping them in water for several weeks and then straining and diluting the resulting dark liquid 12:1 before applying to the garden.

Mara’s Uses: She makes a poultice of comfrey leaves to help speed up healing of a particularly bad injury. Comfrey would be one of the herbs used to make salves and oils for her apothecary business.

Further Reading:

Permaculture Research Institute

Natural Living IdeasNatural Living Ideas

Comfrey Growing Guide

Mother Earth News

WebMD

Wikipedia