15 Websites for Writers

Writers Logo

What is writing?

Some say, it’s merely the act of putting information into a textual format so as to be understood by another. Do you agree? I’ve always wondered, could it be more? Is it not the coming together of two minds, one active and one passive, as ideas and images are exchanged through the power of words?

It could be time travel, as claimed by Stephen King. Words are bridges from one mind to another, and their power is locked in books in a suspended animation, a lexical and semantic cryogenics that spans the ages.

What of the thoughts of writing as an art form? Tapping the human condition, are those lucky enough to tap the multi-verse of enlightened wit, pomp and vernacular; our writer-come-guides.

But are writers travellers, hiking through the jungle of their imagination? Or are they more wizards, conjuring from nothing? Some might even argue they are alchemists, forging golden words from seemingly worthless parts.

At the moment, the jury is out.

Regardless of your opinion of what makes a writer, do you believe it is possible for anyone to access the vastness of the creative mind and reproduce it in words on a page? I’m an idealist, and a believer in the idea we all originate from one great consciousness. Why shouldn’t artistic ability be a shared trait? Sure, some can alienate their natural talent with distractions and different motivations, but we all ultimately emerged from the same awareness of reality. Why can’t we all be scribes, scribblers and scratchers of the itch?

Whether you write for fun, write for profit, or write because to not write would be akin to stopping breathing or quitting eating, here’s some websites and blogs guaranteed to give you help on your creative journey, from inspiration to tips, grammar help and guides on how to get published!

broad focus

The Write Life

As the tagline of the site itself says “Helping writers create, connect and earn”. Providing a ton of aid to any writer lost in the vastness of the written world, you can expect to find a veritable Santa’s sack of useful information covering literally every aspect of the life of a writer.

Writing.com

A website with 15 years of experience bringing writers together. It’s packed to bursting with tools and opportunities for writers of all levels, from amateur to pro. It acts as a place for established writers to hawk their wares, and for avid readers to seek out the next big thing too, giving it an extra edge on similar help based websites.

Writer’s Digest

Speaking of experience, these folks bring over 90 years of experience creating tools for writers. This website offers a wide range of tools and help for writers of all levels, and is especially useful as the tips are industry specific, with tips and short cuts on all aspects of the publishing and writing world from those who know.

Daily Writing Tips

A great site that offers daily inspiration for all your writing needs, from spelling to punctuation, and from vocabulary to grammar. It also boasts its fair share of prompts and stimuli too.

fiction

Chuck Wendig

TerribleMinds.com is one of my favourite fiction writer websites. The author himself has various published books, and offers some free short stories on his site for you to check out. In terms of tips, his regular blog has many alternative approaches to common writerly questions, but it is the community and flash fiction challenges that really set him apart.

Fiction Notes

Experienced author, publisher and writing coach Darcy Pattison offers a wonderful platform for fiction writers giving extremely helpful blog posts aimed specifically at those putting together their writing. I find her approach to writing both meticulous and methodical, and she does not disappoint either with her approach to writing structure and the drafting process. Offering a very focused and direct view of writing with clear, concise models for you to emulate on your creative journey, it can help you to re-evaluate finished writing, or start off new projects with a much clearer idea in your head. Check out this post on Finding Your Novel Opening and then take it from there.

industry experience

The Renegade Writer

The whole ethos of this website, established by Linda Formichelli and Diana Burrell, is to empower you to live the freelance writer lifestyle on your terms, offering tips and tricks from inside the game.

Jane Friedman

Having over 15 years of experience in the publishing industry, Jane Friedman brings a wealth of expertise to her website, which boasts a blog offering veritable tit-bits of insider knowledge and industry know-how. If you’re trying to get published, or are new to the writer’s life, she’s a great starting point.

published

Writer’s Relief

A great site offering you help with how to submit to publishers. This covers the whole process, from start to finish, and for all levels from short poems and prose to 1,000 page epics. There is also a handy section on book design and e-books, both very useful for those looking to self-publish.

NaNoWriMo

National Novel Writing Month (1st-30th of November) is an annual opportunity for writers from all walks of life to come together and try to bash out a first draft of a novel in a short space of time.

As well as daily motivation and a supportive community of other writers, you will find a wealth of inspiration and information for your writing in their blog. There are also links to help you with what to do after you’ve finished your story, such as publishing and editing help.

prompts and practice

The Write Practice

The emphasis here is on guided practice making perfect. Posts from an assortment of different regular and guest contributors keep the content interesting and varied, and you’ll be hard pressed not to find something here that you can take away with you. Each post is followed by a relevant prompt focused on a sustained writing practice of about 10-15 minutes, with a thriving comments section for scribblers to share their work.

Write To Done

A wonderful site giving budding writers myriad posts to help you learn new skills in writing, and then relevant tasks to help you practice what you’ve learned.

As the Chief Writer Mary Jaksch puts it, “Write to Done is about learning to write better.

grammar

Grammarly

One of my favourite sites to use for checking niggling grammar queries and vocabulary expansion, but also offering a citation suggestion tool, all from it’s rather unique text checker. I discovered it while looking for a plagiarism checking service while marking my students’; another great feature!

Grammar Girl

If you’ve ever found yourself longing for a user friendly website that can cater for all your grammar, word use and punctuation queries, this is it. Chocka-block with helpful info presented in a captivating and concise layout, I thoroughly recommend this site for the budding grammarian!

online

Copyblogger

As Copyblogger says of itself:

“Since January 2006, Copyblogger has been teaching people how to create killer online content. Not bland corporate crap created to fill up a company webpage. Valuable information that attracts attention, drives traffic, and builds your business.”

If your writing needs are of a digital nature, and popularity/traffic/content are your buzzwords, you’d be hard pressed to top this site.

stock images

Not found anything you like? Check out this post on TheWriteLife.com that offers the 100 best websites for writers. If there is a site you know of that is just dying to be on this list, please let us know in the comments below!

Special thanks to stockimages @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2015

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13 Tips for Smashing Writer’s Block

Writer's Block title

You know those moments when you finally get to sit down at your laptop/writing pad/typewriter/chisel and tablet, and you’re so excited to start writing. I mean, it’s coursing through your veins while you try so hard to put it on the page, but then…. nothing.

It’s stressful. The emptiness seems so barren and devoid of life and so empty – purgatory of the page!

It can happen to anyone. Hell, it does happen to everyone! Writer’s or not, we all find ourselves stuck for creativity sometimes. Whether you’re Jones trying to close the Wang account, or the city council trying to think of new ways to encourage recycling, creativity can be a cruel mistress.

That said, it doesn’t have to control you. Blocks are often formed from fears; the fear of failure, of not being good enough, or of not knowing where you are going. Well I say smite that fear! Smite it until it is smitten! Or rather, harness that energy and flip it into something else.

Like any obstacle, it can be beaten, nay destroyed!

I smite thee!

I smite thee!

Switch Subjects

Changing tac is a great way to take some pressure off of you and give your brain a chance to switch gears. Are you a fan of ancient Greek History? Why not summarise a favourite passage of text regarding an aspect of that part of history. If you’re struggling to write a sci-fi story, why not try writing a quick horror piece instead?

The idea is to trick your brain. It will either see how hard something else is and settle into your original topic much easier, or by getting a start on writing something else, you can switch back to the original topic and watch the words flow!

Behold the power of my words!

Behold; the power of my words!

Flex

This can be anything from taking a walk to 100 stomach crunches. The trick is to do something that gets the blood pumping and forces you to focus on something else for a while. Kurt Vonnegut liked to do exercises like push ups and sit ups during his writing time so as to keep himself disciplined. Many authors preach the benefits of yoga on focusing the mind and getting the blood flowing.

According to TheTelegraph.com, Dan Brown likes to hang himself upside down from gravity boots! Go ahead, try it. We’ll wait.

In the end, you just want to find something that gets you moving. Anything. Fencing, amateur gymnastic, pole vault or even sex, find a way of getting your heart rate up.

“Writing really takes it out of you”

Do Something Dull

Wash the dishes, brush your hair, feed the cat, clean the fan, polish your shoes… it could be anything, so long as it’s dull and it’s easy. Some of the best ideas seem to come when you’re in the shower, as that is when your brain runs on autopilot and you can focus on being a little creative, just like the above tasks!

Obviously, don't over do it and bore yourself!

“This is how I get all my best ideas”

Get Your Hobby On

You must find something to do that isn’t linked to writing or reading. I know, I know. What else is there, right? You might enjoy carpentry (or simple whittling), kazoo, lion taming or LARPing. Whatever brings you joy outside of the world of words offers you a great break from your writing, and you should come back refreshed and revitalised, perhaps even with a fresh perspective and a ton of new ideas.

“As long as it’s gnarly, bro”

Change the Timings

Sometimes, it can be a simple matter of trying to write at the wrong time. I am a personal fan of the morning write, and many great authors were too. Hemingway used to believe that writing was the most important task of the day, and should therefore be done first, often rising as early as 5am. Of course, maybe your schedule requires a late night write, or afternoon scribbles. Change it up, check the results.

Harness your early morning energy to reach your peak! (pun intended, lolz)

Harness your early morning energy to reach your peak! (pun intended, lolz)

Freestyle

Literally, write anything. Write new words, structure sentences so they become nonsense, hit the keyboard with different parts of your body and see what words are formed. This is a great way to give you a feeling of comfort and familiarity at the keys, but also so you can see an empty page fill up (and remember that feeling of progress).

I normally sit and write out everything in my head for fifteen minutes straight, and then delete it. Once I’ve cleared the pipes of the mould and mildew, I’m ready for the good stuff to flow!

Plumb the depths of your creativity... (ok, no more puns)

Plumb the depths of your creativity… (ok, no more puns)

Get Superstitious, Baby!

Now, I’m not talking about blood sacrifice or chanting (though, by all means, I’m open to creative approaches to superstition too), but something a little smaller, such as wearing your lucky shorts or drinking a certain drink. According to TheTelegraph.com:

“Some writers find that they can only write in particular circumstances. Philip Pullman needs a ballpoint pen and lined A4 paper with two holes in it. Two. Not Four. Stephen King on the other hand starts his day with vitamins and tea before sitting down to write at exactly 8am. He needs to have the papers on his desk arranged in precisely the same way.”

Sometimes we can train ourselves to be most productive by giving ourselves certain mental cues. It can’t hurt to try.

Whatever gets you in the zone

Whatever gets you in the zone

Read, read, read (and read)

Like an apprentice sculptor watching a master at work, you will get better just by being around such greats. Bury your nose in some classics, or churn through some schlock rubbish; it all matters. Read what you love, read what you hate. Read books by men, by women and by children. Read books about cats and books about dragons. Read in your genre and outside it. Read fiction and non-fiction. Everything will make you a batter writer. Everything. Whether it’s the instinct inside you to try to emulate the legends, or just an annoyance at a story written so poorly it hurts, you will find some form of fuel in there that will help your writing grow.

“See Emma, Gandalf does die”

Copywork

Why stop at reading, when you can full on plagiarise! We wrote before (here) about the benefits of using copywork as a warm up exercise before writing, but it can also be a fruitful way of battling writer’s block.

Essentially, you just copy parts of other’s work (making it gradually more difficult by forcing yourself to remember greater and greater amounts) and see how your remembered sentences compare to that of the original author. Some say it’s outdated, some say it’s fantastic. Whatever the case, it definitely gets you writing! Just don’t actually use other people’s work in your writing as that is stealing!

“Huh?”

Try Short Prompts

Sometimes, writer’s block comes from a place of intimidation at the overwhelming size of a task ahead of you. So start small. Give yourself little prompts that shouldn’t take you more than five minutes. You should write solidly for a short period of time, and then read back through. Some ideas:

  • What went through your mother’s head when she found out she was pregnant with you
  • Explain the colour red to an alien
  • Describe a photograph you have
  • Talk about a time you did something scary
  • Describe the ending of your favourite film

There are lots for you to choose from. WordPress has it’s own Daily Prompt site here, or even this one at Writer’s Digest. For those on Twitter, a simple search will bring up hundreds (literally) of writing prompt accounts to follow.

“I’ll give you writer’s block!”

Look Back

That’s right, stand on the precipice of writer’s block and turn back to look for work from your past. Stare into the eyes of old characters you have and immerse yourself in old scenes you’ve written. Sometimes it can be a cringefest to rummage through writing from your younger years, but sometimes this writing can give you a wealth of stimulus for new scratching. If you’re anything like me, you’ll start editing as you go and voila – you’re writing again! You never know what you’ll find…

“Monsters, Magic and Twinkies”

Change the Setting

I have a writing area set up in my apartment, while some writers prefer the company of others and so set up shop in a cafe or library. Wherever you write, perhaps experiment with writing in an unfamiliar location that has many aspects that are opposite to where you sit now. In fact, just simply not sitting might do you the world of good. You could try converting your desk into a standing desk, as sitting is actually really bad for us. The Art of Manliness has a great post here on how to set this up properly.

“I always stand when I create!”

Wander in Wonderment

This could be in a bookshop, in a library, a museum or even just your local community centre. They key is, you want to go somewhere that has an energy and also a little ambiance, and can give you the chance to occupy your mind with casual browsing.

After you’ve wandered for a time, you should start to feel ideas coming back to you. If this doesn’t happen, perhaps be a little more forceful with yourself and start to look for ideas. The bad ones may come thick and fast at first, but wading through these you will always lead to something better that you can build on. Challenge yourself to have five to ten new ideas before you are allowed to leave. If you really enjoy yourself, perhaps flesh them out with more detail (a character’s appearance, a hero’s monologue, a villain’s trait).

“How many good ideas I’ve had this week”

There are myriad things to try of course, so above is not supposed to be a definitive list of them all. What do you try? I have a friend who is obsessed with silence, and so uses ‘pink noise’ (like white noise but a lower frequency) recordings on YouTube to block her ears. I have another friend who believes in caffeine as the paramount stimulus, and so doesn’t even think about writing before having three cups of coffee…

Special thanks to Ambro, Apolonia, Chaiwat, criminalatt, David Castillo Dominici, imagerymajestic, khunaspix, phasinphoto, photostock, porbital, Serge Bertasius Photography, stockimages and vectorolie @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2015

Defining Gender for an Androgynous Future V; Fluidity

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As most of you regular Itchers will know, recently on IQ we have taken a special interest in the role of gender in the modern world, and how stereotypes and ideas about gender expression are changing in our modern world.

In part 1 we looked at the expectations we place on each other to conform to pre-determined rules about engagement between the sexes, and how we are expected to uphold our gender roles through our behaviour and our activity.

In part 2 the focus was more about what the gender roles are, and how they define what we are ‘allowed’ to be in terms of gender conformity.

Part 3 took a closer look at how appearance has defined gender, and how this is changing now.

In part 4 we looked at the pitfalls of a world obsessed with labels, and how this can be detrimental to gender expression and realisation.

In this final part we will be looking at how some people can change aspects of themselves so as to realign with another gender and realise an existence that reflects how they feel inside. This state is known as gender dysphoria, and though it is becoming more well documented, there is still a lot of confusion around what it represents. A broader term to describe those who identify as the other, neither or both genders would be gender nonconforming, and those who identify as the latter two may also refer to themselves as genderqueer. For more information on the different terms and also more information about gender dysphoria, there is a wonderful explanation here on WebMD.com.

“Never mind male or female; there’s a skeleton living inside you…!”

What are your options?

Ok, so if you do believe that you are born in a different body to the gender you feel, what can you do about it? For a full blown life change, the steps are myriad and often expensive. You will need to start to find peace in yourself, and then share your realisation with your loved ones. After this, it is important to find a therapist to give you the mental support you will inevitably need to work through how this will change your life and to also give you help with the commonly associated distress, anxiety, dissatisfaction and/or restlessness, and then start to look into hormone replacement therapy. This is also a good time to consider changing your name and living as the gender you feel. Eventually you will reach a point where surgery is necessary, and from there you can change your legal gender status, finally making it 100% official that your full transition from a to b is complete.

Sounds easy, right? Of course not. And this list doesn’t reflect the various pitfalls and monsters lying in wake to disrupt your progress, such as ignorance, abuse, bullying, financial implications, societal stigmas, hardcore traditionalists and non-accepting loved ones. For more information, Transsexual Road Map has a much more detailed version of the list above.

Imagine going through all that just to get to a stage where you feel you can truly be yourself! I tip my hate to everyone who is doing, has done, or will do this. It must take a lot of strength.

“Dig deep and find the strength within”

Imagination Station

If you are someone who feels you were born in the wrong body, what would you do? Imagine you’re a little girl. You’re given toys to play with like brushes and dolls, and dressed all the time in pink. But you want to play with the boys, and their soldiers and toy cars. You tell your parents and they laugh, saying ‘no sweetie, girls play with dolls’.

When you start school, the other girls all want to sing songs and comb each others hair, but you want to play football and climb trees. You walk over to the circle where the boys are playing and they all stare. ‘Can I play?’ you ask. ‘No girls allowed’ they shout. Ok…

Now it’s high school and puberty has hit you. Your body is changing in lots of strange ways, but you’ve learned enough about the world to know that you are a boy, not a girl. You know that the only thing that stops you from being a boy is biology. You dress in ‘boys’ clothes, and think and act like one. Literally the only thing that makes you female is your anatomical design. What kind of problems do you anticipate facing? Obviously, there will be the non-acceptance from some strangers, and from the uneducated, naive or ignorant. You will probably by this point have built up quite a thick skin to the sniggers and comments due to the fact you are happier being true to your gender identity than being friends with everyone you ever meet. You wouldn’t want to be friends with someone who didn’t get it anyway. You couldn’t be…

“Later, hater”

The Reality of Normality

A story about this appeared in BuzzFeed news recently, in an article titled Teen Sues School District In Potentially Key Federal Case For Transgender Restroom Rights.

It’s a story about a transgender boy named Gavin Grimm, 16, a resident of Gloucester County, Virginia, in the United States.

The problem he had is essentially this: “Put simply, Grimm was banned from the boys room — where he had been using the restroom without incident for seven weeks with his high school’s permission before fervent religious groups and fearful parents found out.” (BuzzFeed).

According to the article:

‘Last fall, the Gloucester County School Board held two rounds of meetings — packed with students and parents — over a proposal aimed at solely Grimm. While he sat in the room, public testimony called Grimm a “freak” and compared him to a dog, while some speakers debated his anatomy as a transgender boy. … the board passed a policy to prohibit transgender students from using restrooms that don’t correspond to their “biological genders.” ‘ (BuzzFeed)

The result was:

‘“The people of my community had a discussion about where I could use the bathroom — and my genitals and anatomy — that was mortifying and dehumanizing in a way I can’t begin to describe,” ‘ (BuzzFeed)

Now this case is still open, citing certain legislation that has already been used by the Obama administration to make it legally permissible for transgender students to use the facilities that align with their gender identity and not their anatomy.

The argument from Gavin’s attorney, as well as citing the above legislation, is that he has Gender Dysphoria (the incongruence between a person’s sexual anatomy and gender identity) and that a common treatment for that is to live as your gender identity defines before further surgical treatment. The school had been fine about it before. What changed?

Potentially, if this case goes in Gavin’s favour, it would be another huge step for transgender individuals in society. I thoroughly suggest reading the article in full for more information.

Exactly...

Exactly…

The Power of Choice

Do we honestly believe that we should be able to tell someone who they are? A huge part of what makes us individuals is our ability to rationalise our own existence, and analyse the elements of our character that define our identity. If someone thinks they were born in the wrong body, who are we to say otherwise?

Suneela Mubayi identifies as a male-to-female transgender. In a rather powerful article called I claim the right to choose my ultimate gender she wrote for ourbodiesourselves.org, she states:

“I claim the right to choose my ultimate gender beyond my traits, looks, qualities, and features, even if it is different from the sexual organs I possess. And whether that’s feminine or hermaphrodite or my desired blend of masculine and feminine is my choice.”

That’s the whole point; choice. She has chosen to empower herself. Even her name was originally used by a boy in class to tease her, but she took it as her name to take back control of it and disarm the bullies.

For some, being true to yourself can be a lonely experience

For some, being true to yourself can be a lonely experience

Further Choices

We have already spoken in previous instalments about the recent transition of Caitlyn Jenner. However, she is not the only high profile person to make such a change to their life.

A personal hero of mine, Martine Rothblatt, describes herself as a ‘transhumanist’. She lived her life as a man until 1994, aged 40, when she came out as transgender. She is a huge advocate of transgender rights, and one of the wealthiest CEOs in America.

In an interview for TED.com she claims that she ‘always felt her soul was female’ but she didn’t want to show it for fear that she ‘would be laughed at’. As a result, she spent 40 years of her life feeling unable to truly tap into a fundamental element of who she was. In her book The Apartheid of Sex, Rothblatt claims that ‘there are seven billion people in the world, so there are seven unique ways to express your gender’. She is also a stout believer that gender is not defined by your genitals. The book covers how we are forced into categories of male or female, restricting us from the choice of gender expression that should be a given. She says ‘separate male or female genders is a constructed fiction, the reality is a gender fluidity that crosses the entire continuum from male to female’.

See the interview for yourself here.

Is gender a journey not a destination?

Is gender a journey not a destination?

The Backlash

Inevitably, some will find the whole process of gender transition difficult to accept. In rare cases, this can lead to poisonous vitriol on a level far surpassing the language of decency and humanity. The transgender movement has been labelled as sick, wrong, against god and a disease or mental illness by some. What I find interesting is if it is a disease, then people need treatment, not bullying. If it’s a mental condition, people need treatment, not bullying. If it is against God, I’m sure God is more worried about the “2% of priests being paedophiles’ claimed in this BBC article.

If something is ‘wrong’ in the sense that it is a negative action with negative impact, it is normally because it is based on the fact that it harms others. But does being transgender actually affect anyone but the person involved? I’ve said it before, but if we all just forgot about Caitlyn Jenner and let her get on with her life, would it affect us?

Unfortunately, there are some who don’t see it this way. Ian Tuttle wrote an article for The National Review with the rather antagonistic sub-title Do those who voluntarily undergo unnecessary amputations deserve praise and support, like Caitlyn Jenner?

The article goes on to compare Jenner’s desire to transform her anatomy from male to female as being comparable to sufferers of Body Integrity Identity Disorder (BIID) wanting to amputate limbs or become deaf, blind, or dumb. His argument is that if it becomes socially acceptable to align the physical body with the mental identity in such a way, how can you say one is OK and the other is not.

To debate that Jenner was undergoing an amputation is to imply that her standard of living would decrease from such an act in a way similar to losing an arm or a vital sense is ludicrous (unless, of course, you are talking about the affects that being a woman versus being a man may have on salary or job opportunities – but we’ll save that for another post). Gender identity is something that defines us on so many ingrained levels that to deny someone the chance to be what they have always felt is surely a constriction of liberty? If a skinny kid wants to be a body builder, do you go and tell him he can’t be? If a man is born with a crooked nose, is he not allowed the plastic surgery to change it? I mean, does Mr Tuttle believe women shouldn’t be allowed to have their armpits lasered as it messes with their anatomy?

The line, again, comes back to what we said before. If someone wants to do something and it doesn’t affect anyone else, nor put them themselves in serious danger, then what is the big deal? With any such existential question, there will always be the opposite side, capable of creating abstract examples to try and circumvent this idea of liberty and lead us back towards a debate about ‘nature’ and ‘normality’. For every one that they can create, we can create more. The best answer? Ask yourself, as a human, ‘do I want other humans to be miserable?’ If you don’t, then how can you help people feel comfortable enough in themselves to enjoy life? If a celebrity you’ll never meet wants to adjust their anatomy, is it affecting you? Even if that inspires your own child to do the same, is that the end of the world? Wouldn’t you be happier that your child found a way of expressing who they truly were, instead of following a societal doctrine on gender, and forcing themselves to conform to a fiction perpetuated by each generation?

“I just wanna be meeeeeeee”

Reactions of a More Positive Nature

Scruffy yet loveable funny man Russell Brand talked recently about the world’s reaction to Caitlyn Jenner’s transformation on his YouTube Channel. His daily news segment titled ‘The Trews’ claimed, in episode 334, that the overwhelming response to Jenner’s transformation is a reflection of society’s desire for a new goddess. Religion, he argues, is full of androgynous deities. The very nature of gender is fluid, for humanity is united as one by a shared consciousness, and gender is just an expression within that. We all encompass different elements of both male and female traits, and yet by living in a largely patriarchal society we are forced to champion traits deemed masculine such as individualism and ambition, and we often forget qualities that are perceived as feminine, such as compassion and community. Whether you agree or disagree, he makes some interesting points. Is our male dominated society one of the reasons why transgenderism is so vehemently rejected by some? Ideologically, could we benefit as a society en masse from embracing a little more femininity anyway?

Watch the video here.

“Weeeeeeeeeee”

The Trickle Down

So, how can we measure whether this is becoming more of a trend, and if it is changing society at large? Well, let’s welcome back those plucky young things, the generation Z’ers, and their predecessors, the Gen Y’ers. In the article 10 Magazines Agree: Gender Is Hazy For Millenials on doingwhatsgood.us, it is claimed:

“Powerhouse brands such as Bic and Honda are finding that this group isn’t very receptive to tried-and-true male and female societal roles, and even color palettes, long the way to differentiate baby girls from boys in their early years and shape their future aesthetic preferences. And Gen Z, the 5-17-year-olds coming up right behind them, are simpatico; they find gender-specific products a turnoff. ”

We see the two largest generations in the history of planet earth are already moving towards this gender fluidity, escaping the shackles of conformity and gender targeted marketing. If we are already refusing to recognise gendered products, it is another level of the gender construct that is being peeled away. The article goes on to claim that it’s not even a conscious decision, but just a product of the environment.

“A Northwestern University professor attributed the desire to be able to choose gender identity at will to the Internet, specifically playing computer games against competitors worldwide whose gender one doesn’t necessarily know, according to USA Today. And living so much of their lives virtually—gaming, communicating and even shopping—helps explain why nearly two-thirds of Millennials and Gen Zs believe gender lines are blurred, according to a study by the Intelligence Group reported in USA Today.”

Not sure if you believe this? Check out this article about thirteen unnecessarily gendered products, and see for yourself if you feel gender roles forced upon you are not a little bit disconcerting. For example, male sunscreen? Female pens? Any Brits reading this will be familiar with Yorkie Bars – they’re not for girls!

“Whadoyamean not for girls?”

The key point though is that as we move forward, the wheel is already turning. Like it or not, we are heading towards a much more gender fluid and androgynous future. The same article on doingwhatsgood puts it like this:

“Millennials and Gen Z parents are allowing their children to explore their gender identities and not limiting them to traditional stereotypes.”

It’s happening, one day at a time. Each generation more adept at seeing through gender stereotypes than the last. What will it mean for us as humanity? Who knows. The slow march towards AI and the potential end of biological humanity, moving instead into robotic, engineered life feels like one possible outcome that would also render gender virtually obsolete. Is that our destiny? I think gender is one way to aid personality and identity, and your personal expression of whatever you see in you is part of the make-up of who we are. Denying it is pointless, and so any cultural environment that allows for this expression should be celebrated.

What are your thoughts?

Special thanks to chokphoto, Chris Sharp, David Castillo Dominici, imagerymajestic, nongpimmy, pat138241, stockimages and vectorolie @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2015

Things to do on a Sunday (besides troll Facebook)

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Who doesn’t love a day off? The chance to relax, unwind, and tick off many of the items on a to do list that have piled up over a busy week.

For some, it can also be a day of regret, however. Shattered from a long week, it’s not unheard of for the day to whizz by before anything substantial is achieved, leaving a feeling of hollowness in us that can’t be remedied until another day with a blank schedule is upon us.

But Sundays can be relaxing and productive. We all have our Sunday routines, and I’m sure many readers have a tried and tested formula for what makes their Sunday a day to look forward to.

For those looking for a little inspiration, or a break from their norm and an idea for something else, we’ve got your back!

Suuuundaaaaaay

Suuuundaaaaaay

Cook a big meal

Every nation has a national breakfast, though one of my personal favourites is the Fry Up! It is somewhat of an institution on the British Isles, and there is nothing I love more on a day off than to prepare one for myself or friends, from scratch.

If breakfast isn’t really your cup of tea, how about cooking a large batch meal that could save you time during the week for pursuits of leisure? Huffington Post has some great ideas for easy to make batch meals to last seven days. You could just cook an old family favourite such as chilli, or how about finally trying to cook Grandma’s secret sauce?

“I’ve been perfecting the grilled cheese for weeks”

Flaneur

A flaneur is, according to the Oxford Dictionary, ‘a man who saunters around observing society’. The woman who does the same is know as a ‘flaneuse’. It was a popular pass-time in Victorian England; a hobby of the bourgeois.

Essentially, it’s walking. But, it’s walking for the experience of walking, not just to get from A to B! The writer Will Self is a proud advocate of the benefits of walking, often linking the peaceful stroll and it’s opportunity to appreciate his fellow humans in passing, as inspiration for his creative works. He also argues that walking through your town or city is important in the ‘fight against corporate control’ (The Guardian).

Aside from a gentle amble on a Sunday afternoon, there is also the night walk. This affords the walker a great opportunity to see the world around them in a different light, literally. With dim street lamps and eerie moonlight our only guide, we experience much more potently the smells, sounds and atmosphere of our habitat. Under the cloak of darkness, all cities emanate synaesthesia. Give it a try!

Under the cover of darkness, many things happen

Beware of the Victorian tavern wench

Catch up on Correspondences

Do you have an old friend who you haven’t spoken to in a long time? Perhaps you are trying to network and are worried that some of your connections are drifting away? Whatever the case, sometimes it is nice to take the time to re-connect with others via letters or emails. The written form of communication, though on the increase in text message and phone app form, is declining in the classical sense. Our grandparents were often semi-Jedi in regards to their penmanship, and could craft wonderful missives that could be handed down from generation to generation.

Think how much of history we know due to the letters that have been left behind! What legacy are we leaving for our children; sneezing panda videos and Candy Crush high scores? Ok, so society is hardly in decline, and in truth technology has made it easier to connect in simpler terms. That doesn’t take away the sentimental value to others of taking moments from your day to fill them in on your happenings, especially with the effort demonstrated in a wonderfully scripted letter. Thoughtcatalog.com make a compelling argument for letters here.

Dear mum, weather is good. Lots love Jay. PS, send money

Dear mum, weather is good. Lots love Jay.
PS, send money

Practice a Hobby

Juggling? Diablo? Yo-yo? Cross-stitch? Fire-eating? Flea circus? We all have little hobbies we enjoy doing when the time is right, so why not use your Sunday to level up your hobby game and get closer to pro-status!

Never underestimate the benefits of practice

Never underestimate the benefits of practice

Spring Clean

A messy room means a messy mind, or so the saying goes. For those among us who already maintain an impeccable level of cleanliness on a day to day basis, how about a deep clean? Move the furniture and get scrubbing on the hidden nooks and crannies. You could even take the opportunity to de-clutter, and chuck away all the old receipts and paperwork that have been clogging up the house.

For the truly brave, you could tackle the ‘man draw’ – the black hole of used batteries, take away menus and half-empty pens.

Yeah, don't put it off for too long!

Yeah, don’t put it off for too long!

Try Something New

“Life is trying new things to see if they work” – Ray Bradbury.

It could be trying your hand at a new dish in the kitchen, looking for a new park to relax in, or even heading out to a live performance of something you’ve never experienced before; opera, jazz flute, Tibetan dramyin! Other activities worth having a go at include polka dancing, speed dating and orienteering. Challenge yourself to try something you’ve never done before, and just feel the sense of fulfilment overwhelm you as you access a new facet of your skill set!

You might discover your new favourite pass time!

You might discover your new favourite pass time!

Play a Board Game

My favourite thing about Christmas is sitting down with the nearest and dearest to play Monopoly or Risk; the most epic of such memories is of a 36 hour stint of Risk (I defiantly held Kamchatka for the final four hours before succumbing to defeat).

Of course, practice for these epic showdowns is a must, and what better time to do this than on a Sunday?

That said, there is no reason why you can’t just enjoy the feeling of detaching from the TV and other electrical devices and reconnecting with your analogue self. Your eyes and, probably, your mind will thank you.

Be careful with children - they cheat...

Be careful with children – they cheat…

Read

We’ve spoken before about the advantages to reading regularly for pleasure, and also how to find time to do so in a busy schedule (find it here), so why not use your Sunday to get nose deep in a gripping tome, zip through a riveting novella, or even just dip into the autobiography of your hero?

Giving your eyes a break from a screen will do them the world of good, and using a Sunday to reconnect with written text will be an experience you won’t hate yourself for. Plus, who doesn’t love curling up with a good book if the mood is right?

Too many books, not enough time

Too many books, not enough time

Nap

We are very much advocates of napping here at Itchy Quill, and we’ve spoken before about it’s positive effects here. A lazy Sunday is a Sunday well spent, especially if you live a life with few commitments and have the freedom and space to dip in and out of the world of slumber at will.

Not only is there strong evidence that napping is actually part of a more natural sleep pattern for humans, but it also feels darn good in its own right!

“Oi lazy boots, you have to get up before you can nap”

Exercise

This doesn’t have to be an intense two hour work out at the gym, busting sweat and building gains. Why not take a pleasant jog in the park; flaneur on fast forward? Or maybe take a bike ride? If you’re lucky enough to live close to some natural areas such as rivers, lakes or forests then why not go exploring for a day? Any physical activity that raises the pulse is essentially exercise, so use that definition to embrace a healthy day to yourself (or even with others) and explore the wonders of the world around you!

“I prefer the medium of improvised interpretive dance”

Volunteer

Providing a service to your fellow humans is one of the most satisfactory experiences one can have. Knowing that your actions, no matter how seemingly small, have benefited a member of your community, can  really give you a sense of accomplishment and a feeling that your time has been well invested. Who doesn’t love having a positive effect on the people around them?

Suggestions for things to do: go to work at your local soup kitchen, go and walk some dogs at your local animal rescue shelter, or even go and visit a retirement home and play bridge for the afternoon. It doesn’t have to be anything back-breaking or spectacular, sometimes merely spending some time in someone’s company can be enough, or offering to do things for those who cannot help themselves (like tasks around the house for an elderly neighbour).

You’ll make the world a better place! Not bad for a Sunday, eh?

“Pay it forward, you’ll thank the universe later in life”

Learn a Language

Hola! Bonjour! Terve! 您好! здравствуйте! If you don’t understand any of these, perhaps a new language would be a great way to spend this weekend. I’m not talking about total fluency, but learning a few key phrases can benefit you in many ways; for work, for travel, for friendship, for movies, or for the health of your brain. There is evidence to suggest that being bi-lingual can help to stave off dementia in adults, so get a jump-start on your studies now!

Practically, the best motivation many have to learn a language is if they know they are going to be visiting a place where the language is spoken. The way we understand that sentence here at IQ is that we should go and book ourselves a holiday and then use that as motivation to spend this Sunday learning a language. Join us!

“I learned Swedish because, you know, stereotype”

Call Family

The big one; the phonecall to the ‘rents. As time marches on, we still need to reconnect with family as often as possible, no matter how much life tries to get in the way. Maybe you’ve got a younger sibling who’s off in the city and might appreciate a little chat, or a grandparent who’s retired and spending a lot of time gardening but might fancy a little chin-wag. Don’t forget ma and pa, who I’m sure will always appreciate a chance to chew the cud with their spawn.

“Don’t forget all that your family did for you”

What do you like to do on a Sunday besides veg out in front of a computer or TV? Do you feel something essential is missing from this list that you can’t stand? Or is there something here you think is utterly ridiculous. As always, comments are appreciated.

Let us know what you are planning for this Sunday!

Special thanks to anankkml, arztsanui, Feelart, Gualberto107, imagerymajestic, khunaspix, Serge Bertasius Photography, stockimages, tuelekza, vectorolie, vegadsl and Witthaya Phonsawat @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2015

✏Idiomics – The History of More of Your Favourite Idioms 🌏🎓

title version 2I was discussing recently the idea of innate intelligence. As in, what separates us from each other in terms of intellectual ability. I am intrigued by the question of whether there is even a way to truly rank people in regards to intelligence, especially when it often appears that there are so many types of intelligence. As Einstein once said: “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” So imagine my dismay when the person I was discussing this with asked me if I had heard about the ‘super IQ’ test invented by Ronald K. Hoeflin. I, of course, had not, and was perplexed how this was supposed to answer my initial enquiry. My friend then said he knew one of the questions, and so proudly asked me, “Teeth is to Hen, as Nest is to … what?”

“Quick Jerry, hide your fangs. They’re onto us”

I stared at him, baffled. Cuckoo? On account of them not making nests (I was supposing). I was, of course, guessing wrong. “Mare,” he said, matter of factly, before turning to walk away. A mare’s nest, it turns out, was a term common in literature from around 1650 to 1850, and so only those who were well read would be able to know and recognise this. Both ‘hens teeth’ and ‘mare’s nest’ have similar meanings; something is extremely rare (rare as hen’s teeth), or an illusory discovery (a mare’s nest). Essentially, something so rare as to be non-existent. My friend had merely perpetuated an archaic approach to intellectual appreciation, and fallen into the age old trap of undermining another with the use of a tricky, niche intelligence question designed to alienate and promote hierarchy. That said, I wish I’d known the answer… So, proof idioms could save your life? Not quite, but proof they can be very interesting, and could also help you gain a mega IQ score of 180+ without needing to study? Perhaps.

“erm….”

We have already explored the history of some idioms in a previous post, but here we expand on this information with a few more for your reading pleasure, courtesy of recommendations from bloggers such as Quilt Musings.   Dark Horse The word ‘dark’ found a lot of use in Victorian England to describe anything mysterious or unknown, hence it became a popular term used to discuss any outside horse who was able to surprise the order and win a race from around the 1830’s onwards. Interestingly, this idiom translates almost exactly into many languages, from Finnish (musta hevonen) to Chinese (黑馬). Still… horses are not to be trusted, dark or not.

“Always up to something”

Raining Cats and Dogs

This is one of those expressions that people often wish had a literal origin, but alas it does not. The real truth behind this saying is much darker than merely the cute idea of furry rain. England in the 1700s was, to put it bluntly, pretty disgusting. Many houses didn’t have toilets, and you would normally throw your faeces straight out of the window and into the street. After time, as you can imagine, the streets became a place for all kinds of rubbish, and many people would dump many different things into the streets along with the faecal matter. This included the dead bodies of animals! Now, we are all aware that England is a drizzly land of rain. It is often named as the place where rain was invented (citation needed) and this rain would often lead to storms and minor floods. In such floods, it would not be uncommon to see the corpses of pets and animals floating in the street. The earliest reference of this can be seen in the poem ‘A description of a city shower’ by Jonathan Swift, first published in Tatler magazine in 1710, where he refers to dead animal bodies floating in the streets, along with other gross things. Urgh!

Wrong kind of gross but you get the point

Wrong kind of gross but you get the point

To see it in it’s current form, we have to look a little later to a book by Jonathan Swift titled A Complete Collection of Polite and Ingenious Conversation. It was released in 1738 and contains the line: “I know sir John will go, though he was sure it would rain cats and dogs.” See the quote and a picture of the man for yourself here at izquotes.com

Like this but smellier and deader... more aargh than aww

Like this but smellier and deader… more aargh than aww

Turn a Blind Eye

For this particular idiom, we must journey back to the battle of Copenhagen in 1801; a navy tussle between British forces and a combined opposition of Norwegian/Danish ships. Admiral Hiratio Nelson was leading an attack with a fleet commanded by Admiral Sir Hyde Parker. Now, it was common at that point in history for ships to communicate between each other using semaphore and flags. During the heat of battle smoke and general fighting could distract and disrupt messages, and it was not unheard of for some to be misunderstood completely. Nelson, it should be noted, was a man who already contained a rather rebellious disregard for orders when they contravened his innate desire for success at all costs. The ambiguity of flag signals only seemed to play into his already heightened sense of disregard for key orders at key moments. Nelson = Badass.

Artists impression of Lord Nelson at any given moment

Artists impression of Lord Nelson at any given moment

As Nelson was leading a charge again Danish broadsides, his position started to look a little weaker from the distance. Parker, fearing that Nelson was only charging in further to battle to save face and not be seen as a coward, offered Nelson an ‘out’ by signalling the order for retreat. Nelson had previously lost the sight in one eye during a campaign in Cadiz in Spain before, after shrapnel sent sand and stone at his face. Upon noticing the flag command coming from Admiral Parker, Nelson turned to his flag captain (Foley) and said: “Foley, you know that I have lost an eye, and have a right to be blind sometimes.” He then raised the telescope to his blind eye and said, “I really do not see the signal”. Find the quote here. And so a hero and a rather apt idiom was born.

Still turning a blind eye, even now

Still turning a blind eye, even now

The story of words and how they have come to find use is fascinating, and I hope you enjoyed it too. As always, comments are valued and appreciated. Is there an idiom you really wish had made it in this time? Let me know below.

Special thanks to phrases.org.uk for the wonderful information

Another special thanks to Habbick, James Barker, koko-tewan, papaija2008, stockimages, Tina Phillips and vectorolie @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2015

Sci-non-fi; Proof we are living in the future

The future is here. We live in a time of immense privilege, the world being a global oyster waiting to be downloaded and interfaced, the only constraints on our ability to create are the limits of our imaginations. And yet I, like many people of my generation, am still waiting for my hover-board. Or am I…

That’s the thing though; we are living in the future. Things that only a few years ago seemed like the stuff of science fiction are already here! It is an incredible time to be alive. Sometimes, it’s easy to forget this. For those needing a gentle reminder, here’s the Itchy Quill run down of things to make your mind go boom!

Driverless Cars

Google, take a bow. Those of us that remember Logan’s Run or Total Recall have been longing for the day when we would be able to sit back as passengers while a robot took the reigns of our vehicle. Now, that time is here! Though some argue that it will lead to the bankruptcy of many personal injury lawyers (and we wouldn’t want that, would we!), or that it will further the problem we have with obesity and laziness, the obvious upsides are safer roads. In the US alone it is estimated that traffic accidents cost approximately $871 billion a year! That’s almost enough for three missions to Mars!

"Wow, your robot driver looks so real" "Dude, that's my mum!"

“Wow, your robot driver looks so real”
“Dude, that’s my mum!”

 We can rebuild him. We have the technology

Prosthetic limbs have long been inadequate for the use they are designed for. Replicating the flexibility, control and function of a human limb can be ridiculously complex, as Mother Nature is the greatest of all hardware designers. That said, humankind is making humongous strides towards catching up, and recent advances have led to some very realistic and functional products. As an industry currently worth around $24 billion, it is a growing sector that we might say is worth an investment. And as we all know, the more people buy the technology, the cheaper it becomes. With prices high for now, there is an alternative…

"Kinda missing the point of bionic technology if we don't make it... better

“Kinda missing the point of bionic technology if we don’t make it… better”

3D Printing

It’s not just prosthetics and guns; the possibilities of 3D printing are essentially endless. NASA has already managed to successfully send the schematics for a ratchet wrench to the ISS. This, as you can imagine, has opened the door for some serious possibilities in the future.

"Still working out the kinks"

“Still working out the kinks though”

Universal Translation

A lot has been made of the shortcomings of some of these apps, but a particular stand-out would be Word Lens. Arriving in 2010 from a group called Quest Digital, it has since been bought by Google and was recently featured as a flagship app in the iPhone advert ‘Powerful’. This isn’t surprising, as Google Translate is one of the most popular language translation apps on the internet. Google have made no secret of wanting to be accessible to people in all languages. This is essentially the next step of that.

PS - cannot read minds... yet

PS – cannot read minds… yet

Hogwartly Muggled

I have to say, the Potter-mania that has swept the world over the last decade is something I have managed to avoid. That said, there were certain parts of the movies that left my imagination in shivers and fits. One such moment was the moving adverts and the moving photographs. You can imagine my absolute fear and awe at the sight of such a thing in a Stockholm underground station! To the eggheads, it is known as ‘reactive advertising’, an example of phy-gital marketing. This is a movement based on utilising digital technologies and having them interact with the physical space. Physical + Digital = phygital. Easy!  Nobody knows who invented it, but it is a trademark of Momentum Worldwide, and they have linked it to many new trends in advertising from QR codes to Augmented Reality. And don’t forget; Amazon, Google, Yahoo – they are all tracking your movements on the internet to make sure they target their marketing specifically to your tastes too. Yikes!

So you can track me even when I'm in private browsing...

So you can track me even when I’m in private browsing…

Touchy Subject

This reminds me of the recent film The Interview. In it **Spoiler Alert** the main character finds out that a shop he thought was full of food is actually just a façade, full of images and pictures but no actual food. This is just like that, apart from the fact it’s in South Korea (not North) and that the shop is full of food… kinda.

The world’s first virtual reality shop is officially open! All the surfaces are actually touch screens, and everything you press will be waiting for you at the checkout. Who knows if this will catch on, or even if it is financially viable on a bigger scale. But for now, it’s another sign we are in the digital future.

"Oh right, so this is like 'analogue touchscreen?'"

“Oh right, so this is like ‘analogue touchscreen?'”

Invisibility

Hollow Man scared the absolute boohoos out of me when I was a child, and I never could figure out how Wonder Woman never lost her invisible plane. Either way, both the ridiculous and the downright terrifying are now one step closer. Thanks to the folks at Crazy Aaron, you can now hold invisibility in the palm of your hand! That is, you can hold a transparent goo in the palm of your hand… Ok, so we are still a few years away from invisible murderers, but the end is nigh! As for invisible transportation, that’s closer than you think too. Here is just one example from Land Rover, but there are many more in the prototype stage at other companies.

Night... Mare!!!

Night… Mare!!!

Liquid Proof Spray

Some of us love the rain, it’s mystical majesty a comfort. So comforting, in fact, that there is a whole industry of music professionals who record and release CDs full of the sounds of the sky. Nobody, however, enjoys the feeling of being soaked through from head to toe. With that chilling, heavy shiver, your clothes like weights around your neck, your feet numb as breeze blocks, you shuffle like a penguin and ponder your luck, cursing the heavens.

Fear not though world, science (and the future) to the rescue! Currently in production are a number of liquid resistant sprays; chemicals that reject liquid and disrupt them entering and therefore soaking your jacket or shirt. It can stop anything from vinegar to mustard – even chocolate sauce! Check this video for a demonstration. Nifty, huh?

Obviously, there will be some sacrifices...

Obviously, there will be some sacrifices…

The scale of it all

Most of all though, lets not forget the scale of everything. The first computers were as big as rooms, but a computer with the same memory as that, nowadays, “would today take up the same space as the full stop at the end of this sentence” according to Charles Arthur, The Independent,  20 years ago! Now you can fit half a terabyte in your pocket and have a computer on your watch. This is literally bananas. Microchips can only get so small though, as many companies struggle to combat the problem that all those extra heat producing chips can create for a laptop. Still, don’t forget that you can now fit books, a camera, an internet browser, a film camera, a TV and many other things on your phone; something thought impossible only a decade ago!

Esther, cancel my 12 o'clock. There's a cat in the garden and I need to get some crying done

Esther, cancel my 12 o’clock. There’s a cat in the garden and I need to get some crying done

All of this aside, we really are living at the peak of invention. We look back through history, and many great civilisations jump out as ahead of their time; The Ancient Greeks, The Romans, Ancient Egypt, Persia, Ancient China, The Babylons… just to name a few! Where we will rank among the great civilisations of history is anyone’s guess. But for now, we can at least feel wonder at knowing we are living on the precipice.

I know I have missed many remarkable things about the current world. What jumps out at you as being conspicuous with it’s absence? As always, your comments are appreciated!

The fact remains that even with all these gadgets and breakthroughs, we still know so little about our oceans and the solar system around us. We are also still facing potential problems in our future like global warming, a vast animal extinction, and a lack of resources. We are a flexible species, so how will we react to this changing planet?

The future as we know it is ours to mould; what do you want to see next?

"The future's in your hands buddy!"

“The future’s in your hands buddy!”

Special thanks to sattva, Serge Bertasius Photography, Somkiat Fakmee, stockimages, taoty, Witthaya Phonsawat, Vestorolie and adamr @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2015

Getting Lost to Find Yourself; Why You Should Travel Solo at Least Once In Your Life

The journey not the destination matters - T. S. Eliot

The journey not the destination matters – T. S. Eliot

I was in Shimla, Northern India, about five years ago. Sipping a warm Chai tea at a curb-side café and enjoying a glorious sunset over the mountains, I patted myself on the back for completing such an epic journey. It had taken me three weeks to get there from the UK, slowly meandering my way and stopping to see everything that presented itself. I was alone, as I was convinced that I only needed my own company after many trips before with friends and various organizations.

As the sun fully set, and the last dregs of my chai were cooling at the bottom of the cup, I realised that I had nothing to do. All the bustle and excitement of crazy Tuk-Tuk drivers, the double-crossing travel agents, the cramped train carriages – they were all done. Now, I merely had time to sit and relax, and ponder. Is this what I wanted? I didn’t want to admit it, but I was already missing the craziness of my journey. Arriving there, knowing the journey was over, it made me feel… sad? Sad at the end of a journey that was terribly fun. Sad at the end of an experience I hadn’t realised I could have.

After a few more drinks I got chatting to a man, let’s called him Jez, about what it means to travel. He was a well travelled man, a Ramblin’ Man, who’d seen more of the world than most, though he remembered little. He had recently crossed into India from Bangladesh, having spent several months moving around the rural parts of the country. After chatting for a while, I felt my frustrations bubble to the surface, and I admitted to him my feeling of unease at arriving. He just smiled at me and said:

“It’s empowering, isn’t it? Seeing who you really are, when nobody is around to remind you what you’re supposed to be. Why would anyone ever stop moving?”

From then on I realised one thing about myself; I was destined to wander on, possibly forever. Our history is riddled with idioms and tales that have shown us this is the truth. I wanted to be the rolling stone gathering no moss, the leaf on the stream.

I have been very privileged to travel widely in my relatively short life, and I have many places yet to see. The reasons? Why, they’re myriad!

So here’s your Itchy Quill breakdown of some justifications for why you should travel solo at least once in your life!

... it doesn't look that far away Dave

… it doesn’t look that far away Dave

1. The challenge

There is no greater feeling than accomplishing something (well, nothing safe for work anyway), and the opportunities to accomplish while travelling are endless. It could be anything from finding an address in the Souks of Marrakesh to ordering food in rural Mongolia. Whenever new challenges present themselves, you will amaze yourself at how you adapt and survive. It can be hard, frustrating, and sometimes lonely, but it’s not forever. The person you come back as will be far superior to the person who left. Things you never thought you could achieve become commonplace, you just need to show yourself you can do it!

"Make sure you get the view... no, no, get the view... I mean the view behind me... make sure I look dignified... yeah, the view though

“It’s so peaceful, you just forget about the world up here, with no technology or- quickly, this would be a great profile pic!

2. You will appreciate what you have

It’s easy to focus only on first world problems, and forget how good your life actually is. Returning from work, you open the freezer door and see that your house mate has finished the chilli pizza bites. You cry out “why lord, why have you punished me so?!” Equally, running for the bus you see the no. 888 pulling away and cry up to the heavens “my life is ruined!” as you accept you will be ten minutes late for work. Ok, so maybe I’m exaggerating, or maybe I’m not. Either way, after spending a few weeks travelling around a backwater of Peru, you’ll quickly forget about deodorant and shaving, and picky food habits you might have had will soon vanish when you become aware the only thing the tribe you are staying with eat is goose guts and chicken feet.

Hey, water fight! Wait, is that tear gas?!

Hey, water fight! Wait, is that tear gas?! Ruuuuuun!

3. It gives you perspective

Every country teaches it’s children about history from that country’s viewpoint, and the media comments on the present using words sourced locally. This is why travelling is crucial in giving you a better understanding of the world by simply showing you that the way you see things isn’t necessarily how the rest of the world does. Cultural, traditional, economical and historical factors all play a part in shaping national identity, and consequently local worldview. Challenge your idea of the world!

top of the world

4. You can see a new culture from the inside

Speaking of within, as clandestine as it sounds, you get to be ‘behind enemy lines’ and discover from the inside what a country or culture is really like. As ridiculous as it sounds, you will often be surprised at how redundant stereotypes can be, and how wrong your perceptions of the world are. Peel back the surface, scratch underneath and dive right in. Look back on your culture from the outside while people show you theirs from within.

Probably should have mentioned the fear of heights before we left, right?

Probably should have mentioned the fear of heights before we left, right?

5. Your ability to communicate will change

While not speaking any other language than English will not always completely stop you, it can sometimes make things take longer than they would if you were a native speaker of the country you are in’s language. You will pick up local words, often colloquial language that you wouldn’t be taught in schools, plus your ability to read people and understand gesture and intent will sharpen. Your ability to express your feelings and desires will greatly improve too.

I'm so f#cking lost :)

I’m so f###ing lost

6. You’ll have tons of story-topping tales

Nobody likes a story-topper, and yet everyone does it. And while nobody likes people who return from travelling and boast about how amazing their time was, you can be safe in the knowledge that your stories are probably better! Regardless of that, travelling is becoming more and more of a great icebreaker as more and more young people look to faraway lands as the places to spend periods of their early twenties. Join the conversation!

Remember that time I ran away from home?

Remember that time I ran away from home?

7. It teaches you… a lot

The merits of education cannot be taken for granted, but let us not forget that any form of schooling is no replacement for experience. Truth be told, there is a strong argument that the closer you get to education, the further you are from wisdom. I won’t comment, but I will say that some of the skills you will learn from travelling can seldom be learned easier elsewhere. Some learn how to be humble, some learn patience. I learnt how to play Mah Jong and how to spot fake diamonds. The point is, there is a world of knowledge out there. The onus is on you to go and find it.

Who knew I loved sleeping so much?

Who knew I loved sleeping so much?

8. You’ll grow

Now, I’m not talking about the ‘my, haven’t you grown’ kind of growth only grandmothers seem to notice. I’m talking about the undeniable personal growth you will undergo from broadening your horizons. Your mentality will widen, your worldview will expand, and your appreciation of the other will advance. The strength of character and confidence you will gain from surviving on your own will become a backbone to future conquests, and you will have travelling to thank for it all!

Auld map of Africa (pre-1800)

Auld map of Africa (pre-1800)

9. You might find yourself

And this, I guess, is the clincher. It sounds so horribly tacky to say it with a straight face, but it is so true; sometimes you’ve got to get lost to find yourself. I spent my late teens and early twenties wandering the globe in search of god knows what, and I couldn’t find it on the beaches, in the fields or at the end of the camera lenses where I was looking. What I did discover was many things about myself I would probably never have learnt by shaking cocktails or typing in an office.

I am not saying life sucks, and I am certainly not looking down on those who haven’t travelled. We all have our own path, and we are all our own mysteries. I just know that for me, travelling made the difference in my life. And as it did, and continues to do, exactly that, I just want to share it. So what’s stopping you? Book a flight, pack a bag, and see where you end up. It will be the best decision you ever make.

This list is by no means definitive, and I am sure there are other advantages to think of. What do you think? As always, comments are welcome. What would you add/subtract?

Special thanks to PhoTrablogger for reminding me why I love (and dearly miss) India.

taj silhouette

Not all those who wander are lost – J. R. R. Tolkien

Special thanks to africa, graur razvan ionut, khunaspix, taoty, naypong, num_skyman and varaorn @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2015