45 Ways to Make Your Life Better

45 Ways to Make Your Life Better, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas
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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…

  1. 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.
45 Ways to Make Your Life Better, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas
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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 🙂 )

45 Ways to Make Your Life Better, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas
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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.

45 Ways to Male Your Life Better, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas
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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.)

45 Ways to Make Your Life Better, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas
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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).

45 Ways to Make Your Life Better, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas
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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).

45 Ways to Make Your Life Better, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas
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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.

45 Ways to Make Your Life Better, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas
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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.

45 Ways to Make Your Life Better, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas
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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).

24: Stop dieting: Diets don’t work. Willpower is a myth. Food isn’t good or bad. Unless you’ve been prescribed a specific eating regimen by a doctor or dietitian, skip the diet. If you want to be healthier (note: health is not synonymous with weight loss), cut down on convenience foods, sugar, and salt, and exercise regularly. Stop feeling guilty about what you eat.

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.

45 Ways to Make Your Life Better, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas
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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.

45 Ways to Make Your Life Better, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas
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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.

45 Ways to Make Your Life Better, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas
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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.

45 Ways to Make Your Life Better, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas

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.

side view photography of a woman wearing fedora
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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 Ways to Make Your Life Better, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas
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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…

Cheers,

Aspasía S. Bissas

 

Vampire’s Garden: Chamomile

vampire's garden chamomile, aspasia s. bissas
Photo via https://nccih.nih.gov

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.

Uses:

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).

Cheers,

Aspasía S. Bissas

 

Further Reading:

Flower meanings

Wikipedia: Chamomile

Wikipedia: Roman Chamomile

Wikipedia: German Chamomile

The Flower Expert

German Chamomile

NIH: Chamomile

What Are the Benefits of Chamomile Tea?

WebMD

23 Ways to Use Chamomile

What Is Chamomile?

How to Grow Chamomile

 

 

Can’t Get You Out of My Head

woman reading books
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Almost three months ago I started reading a book series that I’d been meaning to get to for a while. I’d read the first book in the series years ago, but decided to re-read before (finally) continuing with the rest of the books. Although I remembered liking it at the time, I noticed a lot of issues while reading it again. A lot. Still, the main character was a good one, the story was compelling and had promise, and I already had the rest of the books. I was going to read this series.

You may have noticed I’m not mentioning the author’s name, series name, or book titles. That’s because I do not recommend them. I don’t want anyone else thinking they couldn’t possibly be that bad and deciding to find out for themselves. Don’t waste your time on these, guys. I finished the series about a month ago and can’t stop thinking about it–and not in a good way.

I am bothered. I’m bothered on a personal level as a human, on a “customer” level as a reader, and on a professional level as both a writer and editor. That awesome character from the first book? Diminished into mediocrity. It’s six books of her being chipped away at until there’s nothing left. The compelling story? Bogged down in excessive fact spewing and repetition, unnecessary/superficial side characters, and ridiculous/pointless/nonexistent plot lines. The promise the story had? Disappeared without a trace. Besides that, the end of the series was so unbelievably infuriating I still can’t get over it. It actually left me feeling personally betrayed. I’ve never so wanted to contact an author and ask them wtf they were thinking.

What do you do when something you despise gets stuck in your head? As a reader it’s difficult not to get emotionally invested, especially over the course of six 500+ page books, one of which was actually decent. As a human who needs to get on with life, though, that kind of attachment is a problem. How do you let it go?

I’m still not really sure. I can tell myself it’s “just a story,” but that doesn’t help much. It’s a story that was also an emotional investment, time investment, and an actual financial investment too, since I bought the books. But it wasn’t an investment that paid off in any way. Maybe the best thing to do is to focus on the good parts: the character’s strong beginning, the one book in the series I enjoyed, and the intellectual curiosity inspired by the setting. Maybe I should take heart that even though the author gaslit the main character (and, by extension, tried to gaslight the reader), I didn’t fall for it. That might not have been the case had I read all the books when they first came out. Maybe appreciating the little wins in a giant fail is the best–and only–way to move on.

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How about you? Have you ever felt betrayed by an author’s choices? Have you ever disliked a book/series so much that you couldn’t let it go? How did you deal with that? Share in the comments.

Cheers,

Aspasía S. Bissas

Vampire’s Garden: St. John’s Wort

st. john's wort flower, aspasia s. bissas

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 fourth 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.

Latin Name: Hypericum perforatum

Common Names: St. John’s Wort, Tipton’s weed, goatweed, common St. John’s Wort, perforate St. John’s Wort, Balsamo (Greece)

History: Native to temperate Europe and Asia, St. John’s Wort is now considered an invasive/noxious weed in more than 20 countries (it’s also toxic to livestock). Its use goes back to ancient Greece and Rome, where is was used for snakebites, burns, wounds, sciatica, and to treat recurring fevers, among other things. It was also believed to protect against witches’ spells. Later, it was associated with the Norse God of Light and Summer, Baldr, thanks to the plant’s bright yellow flowers and tendency to bloom around the summer solstice (21 June). Eventually 24 June became St. John’s feast day and the plant was renamed. The flowering shoots were hung over doors and stalls to ward off evil spirits, and to protect both people and animals from harm and illness. In Greece it would be hung in homes over religious icons of St. John, which led to its botanical name (hyper, meaning “above” and eikon, meaning “picture” or “icon.”)

Victorian Language of Flowers Meaning: Animosity

Cultivation: Perennial (Zones 5-7). Produces creeping rhizomes and seeds–can be invasive (check with your local authorities before growing St. John’s Wort). Can be easily grown in any reasonable, well-drained soil; tolerates dry conditions. Prefers sun (will tolerate part shade). Start seed indoors and transplant to a permanent outdoor location after all danger of frost is past. Harvest flowering shoots and dry to use later, or preserve fresh flowers and buds in oil (see below). Because it spreads so easily, it can be readily found growing wild in fields, near creeks, and by the sides of roads.

Uses:

Medicinal: Taken internally, St. John’s Wort has been shown to be effective for mild to moderate depression and symptoms of menopause. Be aware that supplements are not regulated and can vary widely in quality, reliability, and efficacy.

Externally, the oily extract is used to heal wounds, bruises, and various skin conditions. It can also be rubbed on sore muscles. Research has found that hypericin, one of the plant’s chemical compounds, has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. Make your own extract by filling a sterilized glass jar with flower buds and flowers. Cover completely with olive oil (or other vegetable oil). Cover the jar and leave on a sunny windowsill for about a month. Wipe away any condensation that forms inside the jar. Oil should turn a deep red colour. Strain to remove flowers. Store extract in a cool, dry place. If mold develops while oil is steeping (usually because the plant material isn’t fully covered or there’s too much moisture in the jar) discard and start over.

You can also make a tea with fresh or dried flowers. Cool and apply the tea to skin with a clean cloth or cotton pad. Use for wounds, bruises, skin conditions, and burns. You can also drink the tea (hot or cold) for its medicinal benefits, although beneficial effects will be milder than from a supplement.

Caution: If you’re taking prescriptions (including anti-depressants, heart medicine, and birth control pills), avoid using St. John’s Wort internally, as it can interfere with absorption and cause interactions. It can also cause photosensitivity–avoid sun exposure entirely or cover up and wear sunscreen if you’re using St. John’s Wort in any form. Don’t use St. John’s Wort if pregnant or nursing.

Caution 2: If you’re taking St. John’s Wort for depression and decide to stop, make sure to wean off it slowly by gradually decreasing the dose. Stopping abruptly can have adverse effects.

Possible Side Effects: Restlessness, insomnia, nervousness, irritability, stomach upset, diarrhea, dizziness, headache, skin rash and tingling. It can also cause vivid dreams.

Crafts: Alcohol extracts of the plant produce a deep red dye. Used with different mordants, it can produce various shades on wool, silk, and other fibres.

Mara’s Uses: Mara mentions Hypericum as a plant worth studying for her blood substitute. It would also be part of her apothecary business, added to tinctures and extracts for other vampires to give their bloodletters (both to combat depression and to heal wounds), as well as for to human customers.

Further Reading:

St. John’s Wort Oil: Benefits & How to Make

How to Use St. John’s Wort

Natural Dyeing with Hypericum Perforatum

Wild Colours Natural Dyes

Briargate Botanicals

Monterey Bay Spice Company

WebMD

Encyclopedia.com

Wikipedia

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.

ball shaped blur close up focus
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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…