I recently came across an article about how art can improve your writing. I was intrigued; as an art lover, I was excited to find out how one obsession could affect the other. Unfortunately, the article didn’t offer anything particularly insightful.
Some of the advice was good, if basic: “Show Don’t Tell,” “Find the Humanity,” “Copy the Old Masters…Then Find Your Distinctive Style.”
Some was puzzling: “Keep it Interesting.” Well, yes, that’s the idea–I doubt any writer is deliberately going for a boring story.
The worst advice, IMO, was this: “Make it Beautiful: This is the greatest lesson to me. Artists – first and foremost – aim for BEAUTY. As a writer, don’t forget to reach for the beautiful in your imagery, language, story, even characters… ”
No. Just no.
Some artists strive for beauty and create masterpieces. Some explore the ugliness of the world and do the same. Never mind the sheer subjectivity of a concept like beauty, if all art were “beautiful,” how dull would that be? And writing is no different. Writers who aim only for beauty not only won’t be able to “Keep it Interesting,” but will also lose most of the humanity they’re supposed to be finding. Focusing on what’s lovely is the best way to miss what’s interesting.
So, can art help your writing? I think so. Creative and artistic pursuits are complementary; the more you immerse yourself in art and creativity, the more inspired your work will ultimately be. I also believe there’s one key rule that applies universally: do it with passion, or don’t do it at all. If you have a burning desire to tell a story (compose a song, sculpt, sew, whatever), then that’s what you should be doing. If you think it would be a neat hobby to try in your free time, then great–have some fun while you pursue your real passion. But if you’re meh about what you’re doing (maybe you’re motivated by ‘should’ rather than ‘must’), the results will reflect that. The people who are great at what they do have passion for it. Find your passion and go be great.
If you’d like to read the original article, you can find it here. What do you think? Do you have any tips for how art can improve writing (or vice versa)? Share in the comments.
Don’t forget to get your free copy of my new short story “Tooth & Claw,” a dark fantasy story about memory and delusion, violence and consequences; inspired by real events in Belle Époque France. Available here and at most online booksellers.
Let me start by wishing everyone the very best in the new year and new decade!
The 2010s seemed to drag by, especially these past couple of years. To be honest, the last decade wasn’t a good one for me. Although some great things happened, I also lost my mom. Longtime friendships ended for no good reason. Things I’d been counting on working out, didn’t. Things I’d been hoping would happen never did. My much-loved car got totalled. And, oh yeah, my house was destroyed (sadly, I’m not being melodramatic– thank you, ice storm of 2013).
But all of that is in the past now and I feel a change in the air. Things are about to get good.
As we look ahead to a (hopefully) brighter future, I’ve put together a quick list of things we all need to leave behind as we start a brand new decade…
Regrets. Unless you’ve got a time machine and can go back and change things, let go of ‘what ifs’ and ‘should’ve dones.’ On the other hand, if there’s something you can still do– go for it. It’s never too late.
Facebook. There are many reasons to quit Facebook (this article goes into some of them). Although the site is helpful in promoting my books, I’m seriously thinking of leaving (or at least shifting my focus to other social media sites).
Outdated thinking. When the wheel was invented, there were undoubtedly people who didn’t see the point of the new invention; those people quickly got left behind (where they were probably picked off by sabre-toothed tigers). Things change, including the way the world thinks. It’s time to reconsider the beliefs we hold on to that are holding us back.
The myth that working hard = success. People who have done well in life like to claim that hard work is what got them there. If you look closely, though, what you’ll find is that they actually owe their success to good connections, plenty of help, and a lot of luck. I mean a lot. Hard work might help you maintain it, but if all you needed to succeed was to work hard, the 1% and the 99% would have switched places a long time ago.
The idea that there’s only one way to live. There is no such thing as one-size-fits-all when it comes to life. What works for you won’t necessarily work for anyone else (and vice versa).
Conspiracies. You haven’t discovered mind-blowing super secret knowledge that everyone else is too blind/asleep/indoctrinated to see– you’re just delusional. Bonus fact: real evidence isn’t found on the internet.
Cats vs dogs. This isn’t a thing. All animals are awesome.
Anything vs anything else. We create artificial divisions to give us a false sense of belonging and it’s stupid. We’re all in this together: it’s time we started acting like it instead of going out of our way to create problems. We don’t have to be identical to get along and work together.
Plastic. The entire planet is choking on the stuff, and recycling isn’t working. There are more and more alternatives to plastic every day, including products made of green materials, and products that come in plastic-free (or no) packaging. Seek those out.
Bizarre humanoid singing-and-dancing CGI cat creatures. Let’s all just pretend that never happened, shall we?
What do you think– anything to add to the list? Share in the comments. All the best in 2020!
Every so often it pays to stop and take stock of how your life is going. Some days (or years) aren’t going to be as good as others, and a lot of the time there won’t be anything you can do about it. Sickness happens, jobs are lost, the world is a mess– there will always be things out of your control that affect you in a negative way. But that doesn’t mean you can’t make your life a little better, no matter what else is going on. Some of these suggestions are small things you can do, some take more effort. Some might not work for you (although you won’t know until you try). Take a look and see what inspires you…
Find a hobby: I read somewhere recently that people don’t have hobbies anymore, which is a shame because hobbies are fun (and sometimes you get a new sweater out of it). Taking time to do something you enjoy, whether it’s knitting, snowboarding, or even raising fancy pigeons, offsets many of life’s stresses, among other benefits.
2. Try something new: There’s nothing worse than getting stuck in a rut. Break out of it by trying something you’ve never done before. If you don’t like that, try something else. The point is to experience as much of life as you can.
3. Take a class: Is there something you’ve always wanted to study? A class will challenge you and keep you on track.
4. Read a book: A shocking number of adults don’t read– do yourself a favour and don’t be one of them. (By the way, I’ve written some books you might like, along with this article on the benefits of reading, according to science 🙂 )
5. Drink tea: It’s good for you (and relaxing). If you don’t like it, you might be making the same mistake I did when I first started drinking tea and steeping it too long (2 to 4 minutes should be plenty). Or it could be that you hate one kind but love another (I finally realized I really don’t like hibiscus). Some of the many types you can try include: black, green, white, red (aka rooibos), oolong, matcha, kombucha, herbal, barley tea (also known as bori-cha or mugi-cha), flavoured and dessert teas…
6. Get out of the house: Go down the street or halfway around the world, but go.
7. Give back: You can donate time or money to a charity, run errands for your mom, or offer to babysit for a friend– whatever you do, just do something nice for someone else.
8. Keep a journal: Whether you go with an old-fashioned diary, a bullet journal, a gratitude journal, an art journal, or even a blog, journalling will help you sort through your day and your life, and has even been found to have multiple health benefits.
9, Pay attention: Also known as being in the moment. Look around, focus on details, notice the world.
10. Be immature: There’s always that person who will tell you that you have to grow up. Ignore them. Be silly, have fun. Finger paint, blow bubbles, laugh at stupid jokes. Wear something age inappropriate. Growing up is overrated.
11. Splurge once in a while: As long as there’s room in the budget, don’t be afraid to treat yourself.
12. Learn to make your favourite food: If you cook only one thing, make it a good one. (And if you have a family member who’s a great cook, take the time to get– and make– their recipes.)
13. Feed your backyard birds: Not only is it helping wildlife, but before long they’ll get to know you. Hearing birds chirp excitedly when you go outside is like starring in a real-life Disney movie. Just a couple of things to remember: seeds not bread; once you start, don’t stop feeding in winter (they rely on your help to survive); feed them away from any shrubs or places where cats and other predators can hide (and if you have a cat, keep them inside).
14. Grow something: It can be an entire garden or an avocado pit in a jar, but take care of something green.
15. Buy flowers: Speaking of something green, flowers or a plant will brighten up a room and your day.
16. Listen to music: Maybe dance a little too, while you’re at it. Repeat often.
17. Use the right toiletries: Even though soaps, shampoos, lotions, and perfumes are all made from the same basic ingredients, the quality can vary pretty significantly. You’ll look and feel better when you figure out your skin type and hair type and use the right products for them (preferably in a scent that makes you happy).
18. Be quiet: I don’t mean talk less (although sometimes that’s good too), but find a way to be quiet within yourself. Meditation is a good way to find your inner quiet, or you can do something as simple as sitting for five minutes with your eyes closed while focusing on your breathing. Meditation can help relax you, ease your pain, and even make you a kinder person.
19. Put down your devices: You’ve probably heard this one a lot. No one’s saying give up your phone or tablet, but do take some time every day to focus on the world around you instead of a screen.
20. Love your people: By which I mean show your partner, kids, friends, pets, family, favourite teachers– anyone who means anything to you– that you care. Ask them how they’re doing, get them a coffee, give them a cuddle. Everyone’s life could use a little more of that.
21. Watch or read something funny: Let’s face it, real life is feeling a little dystopian right now. Give yourself a break.
22. Laugh at yourself: Note to self, life is easier when you don’t take everything so seriously. Or as Maude (Harold and Maude) puts it: “Harold, everyone has the right to make an ass out of themselves. You just can’t let the world judge you too much.” (By the way, consider watching Harold and Maude as the bonus 46th thing you can do to make your life better. Also Amélie.)
23. Don’t read the comments: The internet has become a breeding ground for trolls and they congregate in comments sections. Unless you enjoy submersing yourself in anger, negativity, and outright abuse, don’t read the comments (also keep in mind that responding, disliking, or acknowledging these comments in any way marks them as “popular” and makes them more prominent on the page).
25. Go to the library: Not just a place to borrow books (although that alone is pretty awesome), libraries are community hubs where you can do everything from enjoying art exhibits, to attending author readings, to borrowing musical instruments, and so much more– for free.
26. Play outside: Spend some time in the fresh air. It doesn’t matter what you do, just enjoy yourself in nature.
27. Clean the house: Yes, it’s boring, tiring, and sometimes gross. But it feels so much better to be in a clean space. Do you live with other humans? Make sure they do their share.
28. Make little changes: It can be overwhelming when you’re thinking about starting something new or changing something old. Instead of trying to tackle it all at once, try breaking it down into small, easy-to-manage steps. What do you want to do/change right now, and what’s the first tiny step toward getting there?
29. Walk away: Sometimes there are things, people, and situations in your life that make it worse. They add to your stress, make you feel bad about yourself, or drain your energy. Leave them behind, if you can, and don’t look back.
30. Talk to someone: Whether it’s a friend, a therapist, or anyone else you can open up to, find someone you can confide in.
31. Listen to someone: Let someone open up to you.
32. Take a break from the news: Although it’s good to know what’s going on in the world, watching the news with its 24/7 focus on the negative can be more stressful than informative. It’s okay to ignore it sometimes (same for social media).
33. Vote: Yes, your one vote does make a difference. No, not all politicians are equally bad. People literally fought and died for the chance to have a voice– don’t waste yours (even if you’re not thrilled with the choices, picking one is always better than picking none).
34. Plan a trip: Researchers have found that planning a trip is more satisfying than actually taking one. Even though travel is a worthwhile experience, sometimes it’s better to stay home.
35. Daydream: I’m not sure why anyone ever thought this was a bad thing. (By the way, science agrees.)
36. Don’t wait: If there’s something you’ve been wanting to do, don’t put it off.
37. Take care of your feet: They do so much for us and yet most people tend to ignore them. Show your feet some love by putting lotion on them after every shower, not wearing wet shoes or socks, and gently using a pumice on rough spots. It’s also best to avoid wearing high heels except on special occasions; while the appeal of heels is debatable, the damage they cause is not (oh, and make sure to throw something hard at the next person who tells you beauty is pain).
38. Don’t compare yourself to anyone: There’s no one way to be– you’re doing fine, no matter what anyone else is up to.
39. Take chances: Being cautious is important, but being too cautious can result in a life observed rather than lived. Try something, even if you don’t know it’s going to work.
40. Throw some shade (on yourself): Avoid the sun and tanning beds too. Unless you’re a fan of leathery skin and melanoma.
41. Embrace change: Change happens whether we like it or not– learn to make the most of it.
42. Celebrate: It’s easy to let special occasions and accomplishments go by without fanfare. Don’t let every day feel the same– celebrate whenever you can.
43. Find your tribe: This one isn’t so easy, but it might be the most important. Find the people who get you, who let you be yourself, and who care. If you laugh at the same things, never let go.
44. Be self sufficient: I don’t mean live off the grid and produce everything you need (although if that’s your thing, go for it), but the more you can do for yourself, the better. There’s something extremely satisfying about fixing your own leaking faucet instead of having to pay a plumber (just one example). Bonus: if you’re trying to get away from giving “stuff” for gifts, you can give your skills instead– make or fix something for someone who can’t.
45. Rest: Everyone I know is always busy and usually exhausted. It’s time to prioritize resting. Get a good night’s sleep (if you can’t sleep, don’t try to do anything other than relax), nap, take time off, put your feet up. If nothing else, your brain will thank you (your stressed out body probably won’t complain, either).
Are you already doing these? Do you have others to add to the list? Please share in the comments…
I always find it strange that people need to be convinced to read. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love books. For me, books have always been magic, gateways to other worlds, other lives. They’re adventures and dreams, knowledge and potential, all packed into conveniently portable packages. Forget apps–no matter what you want or need at any given moment in life, there’s a book for it. How could anyone not instantly see the value in that?
(This reminds me of an old Twilight Zone episode where someone was reading a book in parts to their elderly relative, always leaving the story on a cliffhanger to keep the person hanging on well beyond a normal lifespan. #goals)
Successful people read (and they share some of their favourite books here).
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 seventh 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 or anyone else.
Botanical Name:Matricaria chamomilla (German chamomile) and Chamaemelum nobile (Roman or English chamomile).
Common Names: chamomile, camomile, German chamomile, Italian chamomile, Hungarian chamomile, wild chamomile, scented mayweed, Matricaria recutita, Roman chamomile, English chamomile, garden chamomile, Water of Youth, ground apple, mother’s daisy, whig plant, Anthemis nobilis, Anthemis, chamomilla, Flores Anthemidis, Grosse Kamille, Romische Kamile, manzanilla, sweet chamomile
History: Found near populated areas throughout temperate parts of the world, chamomile will grow in any disturbed soil, including along roadsides, near landfills, and in cultivated fields. It has been used medicinally since at least Ancient Egypt, and in beer making (and love potions!) since the Middle Ages. Roman chamomile was thought to be the superior form, hence the use of “nobile” (noble) in its botanical name, although research shows that German chamomile is actually the more potent of the two. Chamomile is the national flower of Russia.
Victorian Language of Flowers Meaning: Patience
Cultivation: Zones 3 to 9. German chamomile is an annual that readily self seeds. Roman chamomile is a perennial. Chamomiles like moist but well-drained soil and full sun (or part shade in hotter climates). Start seeds six weeks before last frost. Seeds need light to germinate, so scatter on top of potting mix, press firmly into the mix, and keep moist. Transplant outside after risk of frost has passed. (You can also directly sow seed outdoors in autumn.) Thin plants to 15 to 18 inches (38 to 45 cm) apart. Blooms June and July. After (Roman chamomile) plants flower, cut them back to soil level to ensure strong plants next season.
Medicinal: Whichever type of chamomile you use, make a tea from the flowers and drink or apply externally, depending on what you’re treating. German chamomile in particular has been found to be antispasmodic and anti-inflammatory, making it ideal for menstrual and intestinal cramps, as well as coughs and colds. Chamomile is calming and has been traditionally used to help anxiety and insomnia. Cooled tea can be applied to skin to calm irritations and help with swelling (it can also be used as a mouth rinse for sores or inflammation). You can make a pot of strong tea and add it to bath water for a healing bath. Chamomile is a mild laxative, but has also been found to help treat diarrhea in children.
Caution: Chamomile can cause allergic reactions in anyone allergic to pollen or plants in the ragweed family. Chamomile may also negatively interact with other herbs and medicines. Avoid using if you’re taking anti-coagulants, NSAIDS, or sleep aids (including herbal kinds).
Caution 2: Pregnant and nursing women are advised to avoid using Roman chamomile. Infants should not be given chamomile, as (like honey) it may be contaminated with botulism spores, which a baby’s immature immune system can’t handle.
Cosmetics: Chamomile extract or essential oil can be added to skin creams as a soothing ingredient. Cooled chamomile tea can be used as a hair rinse to bring out blond highlights. Chamomile can also be added to homemade bath products, such as bath bombs.
Food: Home brewers can use the entire chamomile plant to add bitterness to beer. Chamomile flowers can be used in drinks (lemonade, smoothies, cocktails), in homemade popsicles, or in baking and other desserts. The flowers have a sweet apple or pineapple scent, and are worth experimenting with.
Crafts: Chamomile makes a nice addition to potpourri. You can also scent your home by gently simmering chamomile (fresh or dried leaves and/or flowers) in a pot of water on the stove (do not leave unattended; keep a close eye on water levels).
Gardening: Prevent damping off in seedlings by watering them with cooled chamomile tea. Planting chamomile near sick plants often results in healthier plants.
Mara’s Uses: Mara orders a cup of chamomile tea in Blood Magic (download your free copy here). Chamomile would also be included in remedies she sells via her apothecary business in Love Lies Bleeding, as well as the ones she used to help her fellow passengers in Tooth & Claw (download your free copy here).