Mental Health Break

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Like so many people (especially the ones in creative fields), I struggle with anxiety and depression. Usually it’s manageable (I’ve actually found that some mild anxiety helps me write). Every so often, though, for reasons that aren’t always clear, the scale tips from manageable to overwhelming. If you’ve ever had severe anxiety or depression you know the feeling of deep despair that leaves you searching for a reason to get out of bed. If you haven’t experienced that kind of bleakness, then consider yourself lucky (not blessed, or motivated, or magically able to control your emotions–just lucky).

This past week has been difficult for me, both on a personal level and because of events in the wider world. One of the events that made the week so bad (for countless people besides myself) was the tragic suicide of Anthony Bourdain. I didn’t know him, but he’s been part of my life for a couple of decades now. He was an inspiration, something of a kindred spirit (other than that time on No Reservations when he decided hipsters were okay), and a truly decent human being. I’m not exaggerating when I say we’re all worse off without him.

I wish I knew how to break the cycle of depression and anxiety. I do my best to deal by working on it as best I can and trying to work around it the rest of the time (with varying levels of success). If you’re suffering from any kind of mental illness or distress, the first thing you should do is see a doctor and get a proper diagnosis. Don’t be afraid and don’t be ashamed–there is help, from support groups to therapeutic techniques to medications, and more.

If you’re in crisis, you can get help right now (always keep your local hotline number nearby). In Canada, the National Suicide Prevention hotline is: 1-833-456-4566, or text 45645. You can also chat here: http://www.crisisservicescanada.ca/

There’s also good info here: https://suicideprevention.ca/need-help/
If you’re not in crisis but are struggling, here are some things that work for me. It’s a good idea to experiment to find what works best for you.
Shower and Get Dressed: It might not seem like much but it can make a noticeable difference to your mood. And if nothing else, you can say you got up and faced the day. On bad days, that’s a major accomplishment.
Leave the House: Many people (myself included) withdraw when they’re depressed. If you feel like you can’t deal with other humans, then go for a walk on your own. Somewhere green and peaceful is ideal.
Get Something Done: Pick a task to complete no matter how small, and do it. It can be anything that makes you feel like you’ve achieved something. To avoid being overwhelmed, keep a short and easy to-do list handy for times like these.
Indulge Yourself: Do something you enjoy (as long as it’s nothing harmful). If you have a tendency to feel guilty about “doing nothing,” then try interspersing the fun with simple, but productive, tasks (see above).
Spend Time with Pets: You’ll both feel better. If you don’t have a pet, try hugging a plushie. Don’t underestimate the therapeutic value of a soft doll or pillow.
Avoid Things (and People) that Make You Feel Worse: This won’t work long term, but for a day when you’re already feeling crappy, it’s a necessity.
Write a Letter: Sit down with pen and paper and write a letter to someone you like but haven’t spoken to in a while. Think of some positive things you can share (they can be as simple as a great movie you saw or your thriving houseplant).
Plan a Trip: It doesn’t matter if you can’t go because it turns out planning trips makes people happier than actually going. So have fun planning your dream vacation (or  research anything else you’re interested in).
Have you tried any of these? What works for you when you’re feeling depressed or anxious? Share in the comments.

What to Do when Your Plot Falls Apart

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Imagine this: you’ve written the first (or second, or third…) draft of a novel and it’s going well. You’re editing and rewriting at a good pace, happy with your progress. But suddenly the realization hits you that a major plot point of your book is all wrong. For whatever reason a part of your story–maybe even one the entire book hinges on–no longer works. Now what?

This happened to me recently. I wasn’t happy with the ending of my current book and I wasn’t sure why. Then the crushing awareness that it was all wrong and had to go. Not only did I have no idea how to change it, but any changes I did make would have major repercussions for the next book too. Cue the panic.

I think it’s safe to say most writers experience this situation at some point, but if it happens to you it can be disheartening to the point of making you want to give up. If you’re suffering a plot fail, don’t worry. Despite the initial panic and frustration, there are things you can do to help you through it.

Take a Break: It doesn’t need to be a long break. Spend a few hours or a few days focusing on other things. Give your mind a rest from writing while your subconscious keeps thinking about it. Before you know it you’ll be coming up with new ideas and solutions without even trying.

Brainstorm: If the thought of ignoring your writing (even temporarily) stresses you, then brainstorming might be more your style. Try these brainstorming techniques for writers and keep working on the issue until you figure it out.

Think About It: Is there actually a problem with your story? Sometimes writers are convinced their book is terrible when the real issue is anxiety or insecurity. Maybe your plot needs only minor tweaking–or maybe it’s fine as is. Take a deep breath and a step back before considering whether the problem is your plot or your perception.

Talk it Out: Find someone you trust and tell them about it. Explain your concern with what you’ve already written and see what they think. Getting a second (or third) opinion can be really helpful, and sometimes simply saying things out loud is enough to trigger solutions. Don’t forget writers’ groups and forums–they can be invaluable sources of advice and support.

Hire an Editing Service: Editors can do more than check your spelling. Many offer services such as story consultation or manuscript critique. If you’re stuck and nothing else is helping, professional help might be the key.

As for myself, a combination of taking a break, thinking about it, and talking it out helped me overcome my plot issues. My book is still a long way from being done, but at least it’s back on track.

How do you get through when your plot is causing you problems? Share in the comments.

 

Writers’ Advice on Writing

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As with so many of my posts, this one is inspired by an article I read. In this case, the article shares advice on writing from famous writers. I don’t know about anyone else, but what I find most valuable about advice from other writers isn’t necessarily the advice itself (although it’s often helpful) but the chance to bond over writing, and to affirm that I’m doing something right. Whether you enjoy the advice, the bonding, or the affirmations, here are some of the best tips from other writers, as well as a couple of my own…

Get a Cat (Muriel Spark via her character Mrs. Hawkins, from A Far Cry From Kensington)

As someone with three cats, I can’t argue with this advice 🙂 Cats are a source of joy, laughter, and purrs (and my lap cat makes sure I sit and focus). If you’re not a cat person, you might want to consider bunnies or small pets (rats, mice, hamsters…) They’re equally good company and shelters always have many available for adoption.

Stop While the Going Is Good (Ernest Hemingway)

Stop while you’re on a roll and let your subconscious keep working on it until you start again. The best way to write is to not force it.

Writing Anything Is Better than Nothing (Katherine Mansfield)

Just write. The more you do it, the better you get, even if what you’re writing will never go further than the paper/screen it’s on.

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Some advice of my own:

Keep the TV, music, and internet (if you can) off. Some people can work with distractions; I’m not one of them. But even if the noise doesn’t bother you, words, phrases, storylines, and even rhythms can burrow into your subconscious and end up in your work. That can happen anyway (it’s just part of the fun of having a brain!) but why increase the risk?

Take up needlepoint. Or any craft you can easily do while staring at a computer screen. Crafts that occupy your hands while your mind is free to focus elsewhere are great for writing.

Take an editing class. Not that you should edit your own work, but you should be able to polish it before submitting it anywhere. No publisher is interested in a manuscript full of errors (it’ll also help with other things, like work emails and social media posts).

Do you have writing advice to share? What tip has helped you most as a writer? Let me know in the comments…

 

BLOOD MAGIC by Aspasia S. Bissas

Download your free copy of “Blood Magic.”

On the run from both vampires and hunters, Mara and Lee are forced to confront the bleak reality of their future together. But an unexpected turn of events offers Mara the chance to shift things in her favor–at a cost. Will she walk away or will she embrace the magic?

Also available free at Barnes & NobleiBooks!ndigo, and other online book retailers.

Art and Writing

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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 “Blood Magic.” Myth and magic collide in this story about choices, transformation, and retribution. Available here and at most online booksellers.

Why You Need to Read Books

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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?

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And yet… According to the Pew Research Center, 26% of American adults have admitted to not reading even part of a book in the last year (and I’m sure the numbers are similar in Canada). Clearly a lot of people don’t realize they’re missing out.

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If magic, knowledge, and adventure aren’t enough to get you interested, maybe I should also mention that:

Yale researchers found that people who read books for 30 minutes a day live longer than those who read magazines or who don’t read at all.

(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).

People who read short stories are more open-minded and creative, according to a University of Toronto study.

Need a short story to get you started? How about “Blood Magic,” available free here, and at other online booksellers!

BLOOD MAGIC by Aspasia S. Bissas

You can read more about the benefits of reading books here, or you can just pick up a book and find out for yourself.

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Today is also World Book and Copyright Day! It’s the perfect day to start a reading habit or to encourage others to start one. How will you be celebrating? Share in the comments.

Lastly, the Copyright Act is under review in Canada. The current Act has allowed copying of copyrighted works to the extent that Canadian creators and publishers have had their royalties decline by 80% since 2012. I urge everyone to read more about it here, and to show your support for Canadian writers and creators (like me) by sharing the message on social media using the following hashtags: #IValueCdnStories #CreativeCanada #ValueGap #INDU #cdnpoli #WBCD2018 #worldbookday2018 #worldbookandcopyrightday