According to a BBC article, recent research has confirmed that alone time is good for your concentration, health, and creativity. Is anyone else not remotely surprised? Any introvert can tell you that spending time on your own is a necessity, particularly when it comes to creative pursuits.
As much as I enjoy spending time with friends, I seem to never be able to get any writing done when I do. Even if it’s only for a couple of hours, socializing drains me, leaving no energy to think, let alone create. I’m not advocating for isolation (unless that’s your thing), but the more time I spend being social, the more appealing the hermit lifestyle starts to look.
I’m always a little skeptical of people in creative fields who are extroverts. The extroverts I know are constantly on the run, always social, always busy. When do they find time to create? How do they focus? I’m not saying it’s impossible, but it’s difficult to picture someone coming home from a party and feeling inspired to do anything other than sleep it off.
I’m still trying to find a balance between spending time with the people I care about and getting the necessary solitude I need to create. Sometimes I wish texting counted as socializing, or that I could carry on a conversation while mentally working on a chapter or two. How about you–are you an introvert or extrovert? What helps or hinders your creativity? Share in the comments…
Toronto is going through its usual series of summer heat waves, where temperatures reach well into the 40s (104F+). It’s hot, it’s sticky, it’s miserable. There’s an inescapable burning orb in the sky, buzzing insects in your face, and a pervasive smell of fake coconut (AKA suntan lotion, which is actually one of the pleasanter smells one encounters at this time of year). Summer can be rough, even intolerable, for a lot of people. Being of Greek descent you’d think I’d love the sun and heat. You’d be wrong. Born and raised in Canada, I’m far more tolerant of low temperatures than high ones, but even my ancestors had a word for people like me:
Ancient Greek Word of the Day: κακοθερής (kakotherēs), unfitted to endure summer heat (via Tumblr)
So what do you do when you and summer just don’t get along?
stay inside as much as possible during the day
when you have to go out, hats, parasols, and sunscreen are your friends
if it’s hot and you can’t cool down at home, the library is perfect (by the way, Love Lies Bleeding is now available at the Toronto Public Library! If your local library doesn’t carry it, ask them to start 🙂 )
movie theatres, coffee shops, museums, and art galleries are all good places to cool off for a few hours
look for nighttime entertainment and activities, such as concerts and festivals
reading is always a good (and portable) option. You’ll find endless articles about beach reads, but check out this article on alternatives to beach reading for sun haters.
Are you looking for books featuring characters that avoid the sun as much as you do? I’ve got you covered:
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 sixth 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:Achillea millefolium
Common Names: Common yarrow, sanguinary, bloodwort, plumajillo (“little feather”). nosebleed plant, old man’s pepper, devil’s nettle, milfoil, soldier’s woundwort, thousand-leaf, staunchweed, arrowroot, field hops, woundwort. An old name for Yarrow is herba militaris.
History: Native to temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere, yarrow has now spread around the world, growing freely along roadsides and coastal areas and in fields and meadows. It’s been used medicinally since prehistoric times, including by Neanderthals. Ancient Hellenes (Greeks) used it to stop bleeding from wounds (the name Achillea comes from the hero Achilles, who supposedly took yarrow into battle to treat his soldiers). Indigenous tribes throughout North America used the herb medicinally for pain relief, fever reduction, and as a sleep aid, among other things. In the Middle Ages it was used along with other herbs to flavour beer before hops became prevalent (it’s still used in beer-making in Sweden). In the Hebrides it was believed that holding a leaf against the eyes would bestow second sight. In China the dried stalks have been used for centuries in divination.
Victorian Language of Flowers Meaning: Healing, protection
Cultivation: Perennial in Zones 2 to 8. Yarrow is ideal for native plant gardens, drought tolerant gardens, and wildlife gardens. Prefers full sun and well-drained soil, but is tolerant of many conditions. Can grow up to 1 metre (approx. 3 feet). Seeds require light, a moist environment, and cool temperatures to germinate, so sow outdoors, barely covered by soil, after the last frost date; or start indoors 6 to 8 weeks before last frost date and keep moist but not wet (it might be easier simply to buy plants or propagate by division). Spreads via rhizomes and can become invasive. Plant (or thin seedlings to) 30 to 46 cm (12 to 18″) apart. Once plants are established they need little watering and no fertilizing, although they can be prone to powdery mildew (giving plants adequate space around them for good air circulation will help prevent this). Flowers from May to July, and sometimes into autumn. Divide plants every other year in spring. Yarrow is considered an excellent companion plant, repelling pest insects while attracting beneficial insects, like predatory wasps, lacewings, and hoverflies.
Medicinal: Astringent, anti-microbial, and anodyne. Drink tea made from the flowers to stop bleeding, for muscle aches and cramps, to reduce fever, for an upset stomach, or to help you sleep. Cooled tea makes an astringent facial wash (good for oily skin and skin infections/irritations). A salve or balm made from yarrow is useful on wounds, bruises, swelling, and various skin problems.
Fresh leaves can be crushed or bruised and applied directly to wounds. For nosebleeds, pick a few leaves, rub between your hands to bruise slightly, roll into a plug, and insert gently into the bleeding nostril. Leave in place until bleeding stops.
Culinary: Yarrow leaves and flowers have a flavour reminiscent of anise or licorice, and are somewhat bitter. Use fresh or dried as a herbal seasoning for food, or mix with other culinary herbs like tarragon and parsley. Can eat the greens fresh (use like sprouts or baby salad greens). Steam or blanch leaves and enjoy like other cooked greens. Don’t cook yarrow for long or at a high heat, as cooking destroys its delicate flavour and brings out the bitterness (especially when boiled). Yarrow is a nice addition to desserts, in sorbet and ice cream, or sprinkled over fresh fruit. Yarrow is also used to make some liquors and bitters.
Environmental: Can be planted to combat soil erosion.
Caution: Yarrow is toxic to dogs, cats, and horses. Do not let them consume the plant in any form. In humans, yarrow can cause allergic skin reactions and photosensitivity (avoid sun exposure when using yarrow). Avoid if you’re pregnant or breast feeding.
Wildlife: Many insects feed on yarrow, including nearly 50 species of moths. Several species of cavity-nesting birds use yarrow to line their nests (possibly because it inhibits the growth of parasites).
Mara’s Uses: Mara mentions Yarrow as a potential ingredient for her theoretical blood substitute: “Bloodwort, Sanguinary–that’s Achillea…” (Love Lies Bleeding, p. 156). Yarrow would also be included in the remedies she sells via her apothecary business.
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.
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.
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.
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:
(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:
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…
I have a theory that people who don’t read aren’t happy people. Or at least, they’re not as happy as they could be. It’s a highly unscientific theory, and maybe a little unfair, but think of some famous readers you know, then think of someone who famously doesn’t read, and decide for yourself whether I might have a point.
Actually, it turns out that I’m not entirely wrong. Science is discovering that to be a happier, healthier, and overall better person you do need to read…fiction.
Apparently (and unsurprisingly) reading fiction teaches empathy, provides a sense of belonging, and relieves stress. It helps with cognitive and social skills–it might even help you live longer. And it offers a healthy escape from a not-so-healthy reality.
Anyone who reads both non-fiction and fiction will recognize the difference in the two experiences. Much as I enjoy non-fiction, it’s rare to get lost in facts. Non-fiction is interesting, it can make you excited about learning–but it doesn’t capture you. Fiction makes you part of the story, it lets you live another life. A good work of fiction will lead you to happily blow off everything else you had planned for the day, just so you can keep reading. For me, fiction shows the possibilities of what could and can and does exist. Fiction is proof of the power of imagination. And it’s good for you too.