6 Writing Tips from Writers

One good thing about being a writer is that you can always be better. While it might be a little disheartening to know that you’ll never be as good as you could be, it’s also comforting to realize that no matter what kind of writer you are, you can always improve. That striving to be better is also what keeps things interesting. The amount of writing advice out there can be overwhelming, though, so I’ve gathered a few of the best tips on how we can all keep improving.

Know your characters as well as you know your best friends

Have you ever heard an author say they were going to write one thing, but their character had other ideas? That’s because smart authors know their characters so well, those characters are essentially real people. Knowing everything about a character (including details that will never make it into the story) helps you write about them, adds depth, and makes them more interesting to readers.

Do what works for you

“If you are a writer who thrives under routine, who has their writing time at 6 a.m. or forces themselves to write a page a day, that’s great. But if you write when you feel like it, mull over ideas in your head for days, weeks or even months before putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, that’s just as valid.” –Zalika Reid-Benta

Find the ‘write” time

Everyone seems to have a particular time of day (or night) when they’re at their most creative. Find your creative time and try to arrange your schedule so that’s when you can focus on writing.

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Know when to stop

“The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day when you are writing a novel you will never be stuck.” –Ernest Hemingway

Take Note

If you’re away from your keyboard and come up with an idea or think of something you want to add to your story, write it down immediately. You think you’ll remember that perfect description for the sound of the breeze through autumn leaves, but you won’t (and there’s no worse feeling than knowing you had something great and forgot it). Keep a notebook with you, or take notes on your phone (I like to send myself emails).

Keep at it:

What other writing tips have helped you? Share in the comments…

Looking for your next read? Download my books…

Love Lies Bleeding by Aspasia S. Bissas, Blood Magic by Aspasia S. Bissas, Tooth & Claw by Aspasia S. Bissas, books, free books, vampire, vampires, dark fantasy, gothic, urban fantasy, paranormal, supernatural, strong female protagonist, aspasiasbissas.com

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Tooth & Claw: Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple Books

If you prefer a good paperback to an ebook, order Love Lies Bleeding from Bookshop – a portion of each sale goes directly to independent bookstores, as well as to myself. Thank you for supporting indie! ♥

Cheers,

Aspasía S. Bissas

Mental Health Break: 11 Coping Techniques to Try

Like so many people (especially those of us 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 up in the morning. If you haven’t experienced that kind of bleakness, then consider yourself lucky (and also please don’t give advice on something you don’t understand– it’s never helpful).

The last while has been difficult for me, both on a personal level and because of events in the wider world. It’s no secret that Covid is having a negative effect on many people’s mental health. Just the anxiety of going through a pandemic is enough to cause widespread distress. Add to that economic insecurity; the stresses of quarantine and isolation (or going to work or school when you don’t feel safe); people spreading misinformation and conspiracy theories while displaying zero empathy or intelligence; certain so-called leaders and governments content to let the virus run rampant; and countless other things that are making life scarier and more difficult than it needs to be– and the stage is set for more people than ever struggling mentally and emotionally.

I wish I knew how to break the cycle of depression and anxiety. I do my best to deal by working on it when 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 the U.S., the National Suicide Prevention number is 1-800-273-8255 (find out more here: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org.)

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 having a hard time and need something to help you through it, here are some things that work for me. It’s a good idea to experiment to find what works best for you.
Read a Book: I know, I suggest this a lot. But a book can help distract you, and provides a feeling of accomplishment when you finish it. Make sure to pick one that interests you, preferably something lighthearted or uplifting. If you’re feeling up to it, try a book designed to help people cope with mental illness (there are many to choose from, but Mind Over Mood is one that’s highly praised by mental health professionals.)
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, which isn’t helpful. If you’re isolating due to COVID (or feel like you can’t deal with other humans at the moment), 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). Or, if you prefer talking to writing, give them a call.
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 distract yourself by planning your dream vacation (or research anything else you’re interested in).
Find the Humour: Being depressed, down, or anxious doesn’t exactly lend itself to laughter, but a bit of dark humour can actually help lighten the mood. Try looking up memes about anxiety or depression, or chatting with a funny friend who gets it. Darkly humorous shows and movies can also be good (I like the 1964 Addams Family TV series, as well as the movies from the early 1990s, and the “Adult Wednesday Addams” series on YouTube.)
Mental Health Break: 11 Coping Techniques to Try, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas
Create Coping Cards: This is an idea I got from Unf#ck Your Brain. When you find a technique that works for you, write it down on an index card. When you’re struggling, you’ll have a handy set of coping techniques ready to go. You can even put the cards on a key-ring and keep them with you.
Have you tried any of these? What works for you when you’re having a hard time? Share in the comments…
Stay safe,
Aspasía S. Bissas
PS: Apologies for the spacing issues–they’re thanks to WordPress’s fabulous new editor that no one asked for. Hopefully such issues will be ironed out over time.

What to Do when Your Plot Falls Apart

What to Do When Your Plot Falls Apart, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas
Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

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. 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 isn’t done yet, but at least it’s back on track.

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

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Interested in seeing what I’ve written so far? Download one of my books…

Love Lies Bleeding: SmashwordsBarnes & NobleKoboApple Books, Amazon
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Tooth & Claw: SmashwordsBarnes & NobleKoboApple Books

If you prefer a good paperback to an ebook, order Love Lies Bleeding from Bookshop – a portion of each sale goes directly to independent bookstores, as well as to myself. Thank you for supporting indie! ♥

Cheers,

Aspasía S. Bissas

 

 

Vampire’s Garden: Nettle

Vampire's Garden: Nettles, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas
Photo by Mareefe on Pexels.com

Love Lies Bleeding‘s readers know that main character Mara is both a vampire and a botanist. Trained in botany and herbalism when she was still human, she continues to study plants and have a garden. This post is ninth 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.

Please also note: Nettle is known as stinging nettle for a reason. See “Caution” below.

Botanical Name: Urtica dioica

Common Names: Stinging nettle, common nettle, nettle leaf, stinger, burn nettle, burn weed, burn hazel, feuille d’ortie, slender nettle, tall nettle, wild nettle. (Not to be confused with dead nettle, Lamium spp.)

History: Native to Europe, temperate Asia, and parts of northern Africa, nettle can now be found throughout the world. It grows abundantly in areas that receive regular rain, such as the Pacific Northwest, and locations that have been disturbed by humans (e.g., ditches and fields). The German idiom “sich in die Nesseln setzen,” or to sit in nettles, means to get into trouble. The medical term for hives, “urticaria,” comes from the Latin word for nettle: Urtica (from urere, “to burn”). It has been used as medicine, food, tea, and as a raw material for textiles since ancient times.

Language of Flowers Meaning: Rudeness, coolness, scandal, pain, slander, cruelty, protection (no two sources I found gave the same meaning).

Cultivation: Perennial. Nettle needs moist, rich soil (it’s also an indicator of fertile soil wherever it grows wild). Start seeds indoors about 4 to 6 weeks before the last frost date, or sow seeds directly in spring or autumn. Transplant hardened seedlings in spring, spacing plants 30 cm (12 inches) apart. Make sure to grow nettle away from high-traffic areas in your garden. The plant grows 1 to 2 m (3 to 7 ft) tall in summer and dies back in winter. Harvest leaves in early spring (don’t use once the plants have flowered) and roots in autumn. Nettle spreads easily via rhizomes, so if you’d like to grow it but don’t want it taking over your yard, keep it contained with a barrier around its roots (if it gets invasive, regular and persistent tilling can help get it under control; otherwise, you may need to resort to herbicides). Add nettle leaves to compost as a source of nitrogen (or make compost tea). You can also forage for nettle in green spaces and open woodland (just be sure it hasn’t been sprayed with pesticides or steeped in car exhaust).

TIP: Aphids love nettle. Grow nettle to keep aphids away from other garden plants (like roses).

Uses:

Medicinal: The fresh plant is a traditional spring tonic. Fresh or dried leaves and the powdered root have been used to treat disorders of the kidneys and urinary tract, and for sore muscles, osteoarthritis, rheumatism, and gout. The leaves are also used for skin conditions, to treat anemia, and to reduce hay fever. There is some evidence that nettle lowers both blood sugar and blood pressure. Some folk practitioners still practice Urtication, or flogging with nettles, to treat arthritis and rheumatism, and to increase circulation (although this has been shown to be effective, before you try it keep in mind that Urtication has also been used as a sentence for criminals).

Hair Care: A tea made from nettle leaves can be used as a hair rinse to add strength and shine. Some people believe it also stimulates hair growth, but that is purely anecdotal.

Culinary; Nettles are rich in Vitamins A, B, and C, as well as iron, potassium, calcium, and protein. Use young plants picked in spring (plants that have flowered or gone to seed contain gritty particles that can irritate the urinary tract and kidneys). The sting can be removed by cooking or drying nettles, or by soaking them (I can confirm that cooking and drying works, but I’m hesitant to try the soaking method– please let me know if you have, and how it went). Fresh nettle can be used like spinach or other greens, or made into chips or pesto. Dried or fresh leaves and flowers can be made into tea. You can also brew beer from young nettles.

Fun Fact: There’s a World Nettle Eating Championship, where people compete to see who can eat the most fresh nettles. Those with a low pain tolerance need not apply.

Wildlife: Nettle provides food for the larvae of several species of butterflies and moths. Ladybugs (a beneficial garden insect) also prefer laying their eggs on nettle. When harvesting, watch out for eggs and caterpillars (a curled leaf can be a sign of a resident) and avoid damaging those leaves.

Textiles: Nettle has been used to make a linen-like fabric for at least 3,000 years, and unlike some plants (looking at you, cotton) nettle doesn’t need pesticides. Some modern European manufacturers are starting to produce nettle fabric again.

This short video demonstrates how to make nettle fabric:

And this video shows how to make paper from nettles:

Natural Dye: Nettle produces yellow dye from its roots and a yellow-green or grey-green hue from its leaves.

Caution: The leaves of most nettle species are covered in hollow needle-like hairs that inject histamine and other irritating chemicals into the skin when touched, causing a stinging sensation and contact dermatitis (known as contact urticaria). The sting is removed when nettles are cooked or dried. Wear gloves and use caution when handling the fresh plant. Dock leaves are a traditional remedy for nettle stings, and dock often grows close to nettle (you can also use spotted jewelweed, plantain, antihistamines, or anti-itch creams).

Caution 2: Nettle has been deemed likely unsafe to take during pregnancy, as it could potentially cause a miscarriage. Although it has a history of being used to induce lactation, it is now recommended to avoid nettle while breastfeeding. Nettle can also interfere with some medications; let your doctor know if you are using it.

Mara’s Uses: Mara would include nettle in tinctures and teas to help strengthen bloodletters (human volunteers used by vampires for their blood) and to prevent or treat anemia.

Cheers,

Aspasía S. Bissas

Further Reading

Aspasia S. Bissas's books: Love Lies Bleeding, Blood Magic, Tooth & Claw
Make sure to download your FREE copies…

Love Lies Bleeding: SmashwordsBarnes & NobleKoboApple Books
Blood Magic: SmashwordsBarnes & NobleKoboApple Books
Tooth & Claw: SmashwordsBarnes & NobleKoboApple Books

If you prefer a good paperback to an ebook, order Love Lies Bleeding from Bookshop – a portion of each sale goes directly to independent bookstores, as well as to myself. Thank you for supporting indie! ♥

 

Canadian Wildlife Federation (includes recipes)

Gardeners’ World: 10 Uses for Nettles

Penn State Hershey (medicinal use)

Surprising Ways to Use Stinging Nettles (with recipes)

Stinging Nettle: Useful and Delicious

Tips for Growing Nettle

How to Use Nettle as a Fertilizer

Dyeing with Nettles

Wikipedia

Floriography, Language of Flowers

Meaning of Flowers

WebMD