Writers’ Advice on Writing

black cat holding persons arm
Photo by Ruca Souza on Pexels.com

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…

 

Tooth & Claw, free short story by Aspasia S. Bissas

Download your free copy of “Tooth & Claw.”

Mara, Dominic, and their fellow vampires arrive in Marseille, France in 1909, only to find another predator already on the loose. As the city tries to cope with a killer stalking the streets, Mara struggles to separate memory from delusion. Can she find peace when the past is haunting, the present overwhelming, and the future hopeless? Inspired by real events.

Tooth & Claw is a standalone story set in the Love Lies Bleeding universe.

Also available free at Barnes & NobleApple BooksIndigo, and other online book retailers.

Cheers,

Aspasía S. Bissas

How to Move a Book Collection

How to Move Your Book Collection, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas
Hint: Not like this. Photo by bruce mars on Pexels.com

As someone who’s moved enough times that I’ve lost count, I have plenty of experience in the unenviable task of moving a large book collection. It’s easy enough to move books when you have only a few– you can tuck them in with other belongings, or pack a box or two. But what if you have hundreds or thousands? Get ready for a lot of work…

Start Early

Start packing your books as soon as you know you’ll be moving, because it’s a slower process than it seems. You’ll also need time to gather enough boxes and other packing materials.

How to Move Your Book Collection, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Sort As You Go

Normally I would never advise getting rid of books, but when you have to move them, sometimes you can have too much of a good thing. Take a second as you pack to ask whether you really want each book. If you decide you can part with a few, try donating them, giving them to friends, or having a yard sale (a good way to get rid of other stuff you don’t need anymore too). While you’re at it, you might also want to start sorting by size and weight; this is going to come in handy.

Use the Right Boxes

Size: I’ve had movers tell me that bigger, heavier (but fewer) boxes are preferable; others have complained about the weight after the first dozen or so. Ultimately, I think it’s best to stick to smaller boxes that won’t be too heavy– everyone’s backs will thank you.

New or Recycled: Either is fine as long as they’re strong, clean, and dry.

Other options: Some people recommend using rolling suitcases instead of boxes. I disagree. Suitcases tend to have rounded interior corners, which will leave you with a lot of wasted space, while also possibly damaging covers. The wheels might not be able to handle the weight of books, either (and wheels or not, at some point you’ll have to pick the thing up, and carrying a heavy box is easier than trying to hold a heavy suitcase by the handle). Most importantly, you’d need a lot of suitcases for anything more than a few dozen books.

How to Move Your Book Collection blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas
Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

Packing

First, make sure the bottom of your box is taped well (use extra tape if your boxes are recycled). Line the box with packing paper (or bubble wrap if the books are fragile).

Although ideally you’ll keep books from the same shelf together, that doesn’t always work out. You get the best results when you pack the same size books together (you quickly learn how many sizes of books there are once you start packing them). Keep similar weights together too– you don’t want very heavy books crushing lighter books.

You can pack books in three positions: flat on their backs, spine down, or standing up with the spines against the box’s sides. If you’re laying them flat then put heaviest books/hardcovers on the bottom and lighter books/paperbacks as you fill the box. I like to also put a layer of hardcovers on top, if possible, to help protect the paperbacks underneath.

If your books are somewhat valuable, you might want to wrap them individually in (preferably acid free) packing paper. If they’re antiques or very valuable, wrap them individually in acid free paper, place stiff cardboard between each book, and line the box with bubble wrap and paper.

If you have extra space, fill it with packing paper or something light (like clothing).

Label

Use a marker to write the contents on the box (at the very least mark the box as books so you can more easily find them later). Mark boxes of antique or delicate books as fragile. If you have the time and patience you can keep a separate detailed list of specific contents. Number your boxes too– it’ll help you keep track.

How to Move Your Book Collection, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas
Photo by Karol D on Pexels.com

Leave a Few Out

I have an e-reader and a library card but I still need to keep a few books unpacked– just in case. If you’re anything like me, you’ll probably want to do the same. These “survival” books can be tucked into a bag at the last minute so you’re never without something to read.

In the Truck

Professional movers know what they’re doing, but if you’re moving yourself it might not occur to you not to stack boxes of books. Things shift inside trucks and stacked heavy boxes can cause a lot of damage if they fall on lighter or more delicate items. If possible, limit their placement to a single layer on the floor.

How to Move Your Book Collection, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas
Photo by Mike on Pexels.com

Store Them

If you need to put your books into storage, make sure they’re kept in a clean, dry, temperature-controlled environment. You might want to seal any gaps in the boxes with extra tape to give a little more protection against dirt and bugs. If they’re going to be stored for more than a couple of months, use acid free paper to wrap them and line the boxes. And check the tape before taking them out of storage– old tape can dry out.

Tip Your Movers

Moving is hard enough work without adding in heavy boxes of books. In Canada and the US the guideline for tipping is $20 to $25 per mover for a half day, or $40 to $50 per mover for a full day– plus a bit extra for “heavy furniture” (or stacks of books). If you enlisted the help of family and friends instead of pros, don’t forget them, either. While you don’t usually thank friends with cash (although they probably wouldn’t object if you tried), make sure you at least feed them. You might want to give some gift cards too, because friends who’ll help you move are gold, and friends who’ll help you move books are priceless.

Unpacking

Nothing makes your new place feel more like home than getting your books onto shelves. Books should be one of the first things you unpack– not only for the homey feel, but also to get all those boxes out of the way.

How to Move Your Book Collection, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas
Photo by David Bortnik on Pexels.com

Learn from My Experience

In my last move the movers taped the actual shelves from my bookcases together. I guess it was easier to move and store them that way, but after a few months in storage the glue from the tape had melded to the wood. It came off with “goo gone” and a lot of scrubbing, but I had better things to do with my time. If your movers insist on bundling shelves together, tell them to use twine instead of tape (or at least ask that they wrap them in paper or bubble wrap first).

Bonus Tips

A commenter suggests adding silica gel packets to the boxes to help keep moisture levels down. I think this is a great suggestion! You can buy them at craft stores, hardware stores and various places online.

A commenter recommends wearing soft jersey gloves when unpacking books. The gloves will protect books from sweat, skin oils, or possibly blood if you get a paper cut, as well as protecting your hands from drying out or getting cut.

 

Do you have any other tips to add? What’s your experience with moving books? Share in the comments…

Cheers,

Aspasía S. Bissas

 

Further Reading

8 Tips for Moving When You Have a Ton of Books

What’s the Best Way to Pack Books for Moving?

How to Pack Books Like a Professional

How to Pack Books: Tips

How to Move a Large Quantity of Books

 

45 Ways to Make Your Life Better

45 Ways to Make Your Life Better, blog post by Aspasia S. Bissas
Photo by Asa Dugger on Pexels.com

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
Photo by Craig Adderley on Pexels.com

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
Photo by Ylanite Koppens on Pexels.com

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
Photo by Negative Space on Pexels.com

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
Photo by Vaibhav Jadhav on Pexels.com

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
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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
Photo by Craig Adderley on Pexels.com

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
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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
Photo by Seven 7 on Pexels.com

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
Photo by slon_dot_pics on Pexels.com

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
Photo by Daria Shevtsova on Pexels.com

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
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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