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Posts tagged ‘writing exercise’

Flexible thinking tips: emotional health boosts at your fingertips

For me, emotional health is something that needs attention during the pandemic arrangements. We’re fortunate here in Australia to be comparatively low in infection rate, with few deaths and relatively relaxed restrictions. That doesn’t mean that world-changing times aren’t tough to deal with, from social distancing and home schooling to serious economic consequences for many people.

I’ve whittled my thoughts  down to the three top considerations that support my emotional balance: flexibility, empathy, and creativity. Today I’m going to unpack just one of these a little in case something is useful for you too. You may have your own go-to places that give you comfort and strength. I’d love to hear your tips!

Disclaimer: despite my excessive education, I am not a psychologist. These tips are from lived experience – age and the school of trial and error – plus a few years of studying psychology, communication, management and history…

Clare’s Flexible Thinking Tips

This year, we are all travelling in a vehicle that hasn’t yet been fully described, let alone having a user’s manual. That makes it even more important to be flexible. Rules change more often than I find comfortable, and that can increase my anxiety. Without certainty about what will happen next, it’s easy to become stuck in my thinking.

Stuck thinking increases anxiety – you know that feeling when your usual chair in the lecture theatre is already taken? – while flexible thinking entertains the possibility of difference without stress.

You may have heard my long-time mantra: I can’t do everything, but I can always do something. These days, many of my usual activities and routines are no longer possible or are radically changed. I try to cultivate a flexible mindset to help deal with the frustration and sadness about what we’ve lost. Here are four strategies I have used lately to promote and strengthen my flexible thinking.

I hope you can share some others to build my store of healthy thinking habits.

  • Ask what if?

    This is a regular trick of writers: what if someone ordered a coffee and found a tiny poodle in their cup? That’s OK for stories, but for everyday we need different what ifs. I use this these days with cooking ingredients (what if I use peanut butter in this cake instead of marmalade?), household chores (what if I don’t iron anything?), desk work (what if I turn off emails until after lunch OMG!!!), exercise (what if I walk anti-clockwise around the block today?). What if we have our main meal in the middle of the day? What if we eat on the verandah? What if I read a story to the dog? What if I move that painting into the other room? I like the way this activity changes up my mind set.

  • Say there might be another way.

    And then look for it. Of course, this depends on the task that you are tackling. In writing, I sometimes get out of a stuck place by leaving a large blank space and creating a “final” sentence, and later trying to make the two ends meet. Putting a task aside and doing something different for a while helps too. It’s also helpful to ask for a second opinion when something isn’t working out right – another brain will probably have another mindset. I also like to think about the past and the future – history and possibility – by wondering how this task was done in the old days, or how it might be tackled next century, or on another planet (yep, too much imagination!).

  • Take a breath and think what’s the worst that could happen?

    This can seem a dangerous ploy, but often I find myself stressing about something that, in the bigger scheme of things, just isn’t all that important. My sense of perspective can get seriously askew when I’m trying to do something that needs concentration and keep getting interrupted (EG: self-imposed writing deadline + barking dog). Breathe IN-2-3-4, HOLD-2, OUT-2-3-4, HOLD-2. I do that a couple of times. That gives me space to recalibrate. In my example, the worst that could happen is that I miss my home-made deadline. The best that could happen is that I actually get a new storyline out of the situation: hmm, busy writer ignores barking dog and misses the moment when the zombie breaks down the door…

  • Deliberate sabotage.

Weird, I know. This is related to the ‘what if?’ strategy, but uses a physical cue to change up my mindset. It’s kind of like playing a prank on myself so I get jolted out of my usual thinking rut. I have often used this trick in the past to mix up my routine thoughts on purpose. For example, I used to deliberately choose the longest queue in any circumstance, telling myself to use the time for taking notice of where I was, the people around me, and the mood of the place – all useful exercises for writers at any time, and quite good mindfulness exercises for anyone. These days I avoid queues completely, so I try other things like putting my phone at the other end of the house, taking the long route anywhere, reading and writing in unusual places like the garage or the back garden, and changing my furniture around. I do that quite a lot, actually! Last week, I turned my desk 180% so that I now face the door not the window. Is it better? I wouldn’t have thought so, but for the first time since the pandemic was declared, I wrote two new pieces of fiction. Was it the desk move that sparked me? Just maybe!

And I can’t wait to change my desk back again. 🙂

I hope some of these crazy ideas make sense and are helpful. In the meantime, stay safe and wash your hands. Next week, Last Word will return with another author Q&A. See you then.

 

 

 

LJ Evans’ Life as a Country Album

LJ Evans, my guest on today’s Last Word of the Week, is an award winning author who lives in the California Central Valley with her husband, daughter, and the three terrors called cats. She’s been writing compulsively since she was a little girl and will often pull the car over to write when a song lyric strikes her. While she currently spends her days teaching 1st grade in a local public school, she spends her free time reading and writing, as well as binge watching original shows like The Crown, Victoria, and Stranger Things. 

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If you ask her the one thing she won’t do, it’s pretty much anything that involves dirt—sports, gardening, or otherwise. But she loves to write about all of those things, and her first published heroine was pretty much involved with dirt on a daily basis. Which is exactly what LJ loves about fiction novels—the characters can be everything you’re not and still make their way into your heart.

LWOTW: Welcome, LJ, it’s such  pleasure to meet you! Can you tell us about when you first realised that you are a writer?

LJ Evans: This question always has me stalling out. I mean…I’ve written since I was a little girl. Stories by myself. Stories with my sister. Novels. Screenplays. I published my first book, MY LIFE AS A COUNTRY ALBUM, because my sister “made me.” It even won an award, and the first 3 books in the series were nominated for and won some awards, and yet I still didn’t feel like a “writer.” I didn’t feel like I deserved that “tag.” Then, I joined a group of other writers online in December who were talking about all the same things as me. Plot problems, inspiration problems, publishing dilemmas, and it finally clicked. I am a writer. I am an author. It doesn’t matter what happens with the books I write (even if no one reads them). I love to create worlds and characters and stories, and that’s all it takes to be a writer.

You are SO a writer! Do you rely more on dreams, imagination, and planning?

Imagination. I get a LOT of inspiration from music. I’ll be listening to a song and the lyrics and I’ll see a whole scene or a whole novel plot including the characters and sometimes even their names. Is that a little bit of dreams and imagination? I don’t know. I do know that I’m not a planner. I don’t plot out stories before I start, so sometimes that means I have to start over or do more rewrites, but for me, I have to just learn the characters and the story as a I go. I’ve also learned that this is okay. To not plan. There is no one way to write just like there is not just one book that fits everyone. Be you as you write, and that will shine through.

All my books have playlists…in fact, music is so entwined in my books that each chapter starts with a song title. My latest book has over 30 songs tied to it.

Playlist: https://spoti.fi/2W5cesF

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That’s completely inspirational. I love it, thank you! What’s the highlight of your writing career so far?

Having my first book win the Independent Author Network’s Young Adult Book of the Year was pretty cool. Having no idea, but being nominated for an UTOPiCON Award was huge. But really, the true HIGHLIGHT of my career has been when people I don’t know reach out to me and tell me that my book impacted them in some way. I’ve had lots of parents of Type 1 diabetes children reach out to me, and it makes me realize that I’ve brought attention to a disease that is often overlooked because a lot of people don’t get that Type 1 is NOTHING like Type 2 diabetes. People don’t understand that Type 1 can kill you in a heart beat or slowly and painfully. I love that my story has reached a community of people and wound its way into their hearts. That for me, is the best gift that I can ever have been given back.

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That is wonderful. To touch other lives in such a positive way must be very rewarding. Congratulations! What are you most looking forward to at the moment?

Summer. With time to cuddle the cats, time to see my girlie who is on her own creative writing journey at college, and time to read and write.

Oh…did you mean writing? 😉I’m definitely looking forward to writing some spin offs to my last book with characters that people have been asking for. Mac Truck to the rescue!

Well, writing and life are intertwined, aren’t they! If you could say one thing to aspiring writers, what would it be?

Don’t get hung up on how others are telling you to write. Write your way. Write your thoughts. Let “you” shine through. But do it a lot. Practice a lot. Write a lot. That doesn’t mean it has to be every day or a certain word count. It’s okay to ebb and flow in the volume of your writing and what you write. Just do it with your own authenticity. Then… TAKE THE RISK to put it out in the world. It’ll be worth it. I promise.

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And finally:Who would you be if you were a fictional character?

I WANT to be Jenny Weasley. She was cool, quiet, and powerful. If I can’t be her, then I’ll be Veronica Mars. Do you have the Veronica Mars show in Australia? It has been “off” for several years, but has a new season coming out on Hulu in July! Veronica is played by Kristen Bell, and she’s like a modern-day sassy, bada$$ Nancy Drew. I’m not sure I’ve ever been that sassy, and I’d love to be.

Great choices there. And isn’t it wonderful how writing allows us to let out our sassiest selves?

Thank you so much for speaking with me today. A truly inspirational interview. Plus music! What could be better?

Find out more about LJ and her books at www.ljevansbooks.com

AUTHOR SOCIAL MEDIA SITES:

Bookbub https://www.bookbub.com/authors/lj-evans

Amazon https://amazon.com/LJ-Evans/e/B071R365YK/

Goodreads https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/16738629.L_J_Evans

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/ljevansbooks

Facebook Group https://www.facebook.com/groups/LJsMusicandStories/

Twitter https://www.twitter.com/ljevansbooks

Instagram https://www.instagram.com/ljevansbooks

Pinterest https://www.pinterest.com/ljevansbooks/

Writing exercise: back stories

Here’s an exercise that can help you get from an idea to a piece of flash fiction, from flash fiction to short story, and from a short story to a novel (or trilogy!).

I am often asked how I got from the short story “Man/Machine/Dog” to the novel The Pale, and this is one of my favourite techniques.

It also works to reduce writer’s block and start your imagination. All you need to start is one word. Give yourself a minimum 10 minutes to try this exercise, and let me know what you finished up with.

Step One:

Come up with a name. Just one name. [Betty or Blip or Foxy or Xianny, Miko or Tehuano or Dot. It doesn’t matter.] Write it down.

Step Two:

Give me FIVE adjectives to describe Blip. Just five, and as quick as you can. Don’t over work this part. [Blip is old, crabby, tired, inventive and smart.]

Step Three:

Answer these four questions:

  1. WHEN is Blip?
  2. WHERE is Blip?
  3. WHAT is Blip doing?
  4. WHY is Blip doing it?

[Blip lives in the twelfth century. She’s in a monastery. She’s trying to steal a scroll. She wants to learn to read.]

Step Four:

Who are Blip’s parents? Give me two more names. [Betty and Nomo.]

Step Five:

You have created a character and you know quite a lot about that character. Now write FIVE sentences to create a small story about your character.

Step Six:

Have a look at your five sentences. Now decide what, if anything, you as a writer can do with the results of your exercise.

For example, do your five sentences already form a piece of flash fiction? Do you want to write more about this character and her situation? Can you fill in more details about her parents, using the same technique? Can you create another character, using the same technique, and join their stories? Do you want to ditch the character, but work on the situation? Can you use what you’ve written as a back story to ground another idea?

Writing, for me, is a bit like creating an iceberg, that thing that you only see the top bit of. There’s a lot more backstory than ever appears in the final piece of work that is presented to the reader. Even if you never use the work you have done today, at least you have exercised your imagination and your writing skills. The best way to write more is to, um, write more!

Today’s great photo is by Ian Myles, from Flickr at
https://www.flickr.com/photos/imphotography/6953920766/