The End Is NighTier Than The Words: A Few Ways To End Your Story

Sunset Title

All good things must come to an end. We learn that as kids. Whether it was your Summer Holidays, a massive bucket of ice cream, or living in a house and not having to pay rent; all of these wonderful things, at some point, have to finish.

Stories are no different. How many times have you been getting lost in a book, turning each page in desperate anticipation, only to find yourself die a little inside as you feel the pages in your right hand get thinner and thinner. It creeps up on you, and eventually you’ll start to ask yourself “how’s it going to end? It can’t end like that! Not to them! I must know. I muuust!”

Equally, how frustrating is it to get to the end of a story you’ve really enjoyed, and invested hard earned money and time into, only to find out that ‘it was all a dream’ or that the hero never actually went to the moon after all.

Bloody Off Pissing. That’s what!

And yet as writers, so many of us don’t give our stories the endings they deserve. This could be from ‘writer’s fatigue’, where we’re so desperate to just be finished with the damn thing that we’ll write any old dot-connector if it will mean we can go back to procrastinating. It might also be down to a feeling that the story only really needs to be finished, not completed. And that is another missed opportunity!

The ending is the grand finale, and as such is the culmination of everything that’s happened. Imagine if Lord of the Rings stopped when Frodo throws the ring in the lava of Mordor. OK, fine, he’s finished the quest. But where’s the sense of finality? Where’s the closure?

So what can be done about it? Fear not! There are myriad ways, and they’re all outside your window, trying to help you…

graur codrin

“Come Eeeeeen”

The Ol’ Switchemaroo

If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading – Lao Tzu

Some stories make use of tropes and cliches to make a story easy to follow. Though these will achieve that (a real selling point for casual readers who may want to read and unwind, not face confusing or non-conforming alternative texts) it can also make them predictable or repetitive. So why not confound your genre and throw a twist or two in ther?

Books to check out for inspiration: The Other Hand by Chris Cleave or The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henríquez (we hope you like crying, ‘cos this book’ll give you a bout of the ol’ face leaks). I’d love to recommend Fight Club too but, by this point if you haven’t already heard about this one, then chances are you’ve been frozen at the North Pole since the end of WW2. And in that case, welcome back Captain America. I’m still team Stark, but whatevs…

artur84

We don’t have a budget for pictures of Hollywood films. So instead, enjoy this postbox. It’s made of iron, man! (and it’s red)

The Sequel Setter-Upper

Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end – Seneca

Of course, closure isn’t for everyone (we’re looking at you Hollywood), and sometimes it’s nice to leave a story open, at a point we can always revisit later on; whether this be done as a cliffhanger, or more of the feeling of the end of a chapter setting us up with a taster of what’s coming next.

Maybe you’ve already thought about the next installment in your head, and want to establish a story but haven’t got the time / word count left to put it all into this story. No problemo! It may end up spawning a multi-book story (such as Harry Potter) or even a whole universe of linked stories (such as the Discworld series).

Books to check out for inspiration: Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig, Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series, or A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin are all a good start. For our younger readers, I recommend the Hunger Games trilogy.

photostock

Not those kinds of hunger games you pervert!

The Character Piece

Some people like you, some people don’t. In the end you just have to be yourself – Andres Iniesta

Often we’ll read a story where we just fall in love with the character. Perhaps we see ourselves in them, or perhaps we admire that they do what we wish we could do ourselves. Whatever the reason for our adoration or enjoyment, we connect with these characters. And more times than not, seeing them reach a conclusion that befits their personality or personal growth feels like the only way to end.

Books to check out for inspiration: Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger or To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Fancy something a little deeper? Give Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig a go.

vectorolie

Like your own children, some characters are easier to love than others…

The ‘Giving the Reader What They Want’

I am extraordinarily patient, provided I get my own way in the end – Margaret Thatcher

Like Ramsey Bolton (formerly Snow) getting his face chewed off by his own hunting dogs (oh wait, umm, I meant to say SPOILERS there but, if we’re honest, anyone who cared about that GoT fact would already have seen it, right?), sometimes getting what we want from our books and stories is that much more delicious because we’ve had to wait for it, even if we saw it coming a mile off. This covers the ‘classic stories’ such as The Odyssey, but also more contemporary tales too.

Books to check out for inspiration: Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons, or A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare. For something from the canon, the subtlety of Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë has stood the test of time.

Graphics Mouse

How readers probably want to feel after a book. Or something…

The Journey

I seldom end up where I wanted to go, but almost always end up where I need to be – Douglas Adams

Concluding a story isn’t always about the characters, or even the plot, but sometimes it’s about the journey; both spiritual and physical. Whether it be from boy to man, border to border, or escaping Samsara, there’s plenty of places for our characters to end up.

Books to check out for inspiration: On The Road by Jack Kerouac is a classic for a reason, or The Alchemist gives you a taste of both the body and the mind’s journey through life.

For something a little different try Siddhartha by Herman Hesse. Written in 1922, this books was ahead of it’s time and still rings true to this day. It’s a book I’ve read over and over when travelling through South East Asia.

khunaspix

Lead the way little man…

The Darkness

A real failure does not need an excuse. It is an end in itself – Gertrude Stein

All this talk of happy endings and completion has averted from the elephant in the room; the sad or at least the unhappy ending. Sometimes the emotional weight we carry through a story can overwhelm us when we reach its completion. And like life, it won’t always end with rainbows and butterflies, no matter how much we want it to.

I have a secret hunch that some people enjoy this feeling of loss and or emotional dejection. Me? Hell no. I’ve dated enough banshees to get my fill of emotional heaves and hos from the real world. But if this is your flavour, fill yourself up. There’s plenty of these particular barracuda in the literary sea…

Books to check out for inspiration: Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Next by Ken Kesey, or A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara.

Theeradech Sanin

Lip up Fatty. It’s only a story (about real life. The long, painful, lonely, depressing march from the freedom of youth to the painful, aching loss of death). *sigh*

The Payoff

The end crowneth the work – Elizabeth I

This is no depressing novel, so let’s end on something a little more upbeat. That’s the stories that finish with a main character getting their just desserts! Whether it’s all the pieces of their plan falling into place at the right time, them figuring everything out and seeing the results, or just them getting what they’ve spent the whole story working so hard to achieve, these stories tend to leave a long lasting glow in the reader.

Books to check out for inspiration: Any of the Philip Marlowe books by Raymond Chandler (or a lot of other detective / private eye novels, for that matter). Alternatively, give Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts a look. Though this book falls into many of the categories mentioned above, I feel it’s ultimately seeing the main character get to a point where it all pays off that is one of my favourite things about the story.

 

kittijaroon

“Who’s a good boy?”

 

Something missing from this list? Let me know your favourite type of ending in the comments below. Got a story to recommend too? I’m all ears!

 

Special thanks to artur 84, Graphics Mouse, graur codrin, khunaspix, kittijaroon, photostock, Theeradich Sanin and vectorolie @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog. Also, an extra special thanks to PC Chen for her photo too.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2016

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1,2,3,Go! The Keys to Writing a Good Story Beginning

Beginning Title

Starting a new story is one of the best feelings you can have. It’s that wonderful moment before your insecurities and paranoia kick in and tear your creativity apart from within.

It’s also exciting not knowing where your characters are headed – at least, not finally. You may have some idea. But it’s not set in stone.

The scene is being set, the characters introduce themselves, and the world you have crafted launches into the imaginations of the reader on it’s maiden voyage. You cast them off into the abyss of your mind, the rough seas of your passions and noticings, and the wonderment you’ve constructed out of your skills with craft and narrative.

However, a poorly written introduction can quickly alienate a reader. It’s much easier to quit a book on page 1 than it is on page 100. As Kurt Vonnegut famously said:

“Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.“

No siree. This is very important. Reading is a commitment. It could take a few hours to read, or a few months. Either way, it’s going to be valuable time to someone. Cherish it, and respect it.

So, below are some tips to help craft a strong story introduction.

Of course, these should be taken as a guide, as you can’t use all of them at once. There is no definitive way to craft a perfect introduction, as you can’t please everyone. But, with a bit of thought and a lot for practice, utilising some of these will help push your story to the next level.

"Go on..."

“Go on…”

Get Straight To It

“As my cab pulled off FDR Drive, somewhere in the early Hundreds, a low-slung Tomahawk full of black guys came sharking out of lane and sloped in fast right across our bows.”

Money by Martin Amis

Get stuck in. Right away. Don’t worry about building up to something. If anything, get to the thing then build backwards. The mystery of being thrust into the action is much more compelling than “so he woke up and stretched. ‘Yawn’ he said, then made his way to the bathroom to blah, and blah, and blaaaahhh”.

Much better: “The gun went off. That sound of metal exploding, cracking the air like lightning, shook him. He’d never imagined he’d be shot.”

The longer you linger, the more of your precious words are wasted away and lost forever. Trust your reader, and reward them for taking the time to check you out. Jump in two footed, and go from there…

Chop them in the face if you have to

Chop them in the face if you have to

That Said, Don’t Rush Ahead

Obviously you don’t want to chuck them into a situation that will need certain aspects established. If you start off with something too confusing, it will be a struggle for the reader to invest in the story. If it’s too confusing, you may lose your reader.

That’s not to say you can’t leave breadcrumbs in your opening that will make more sense upon reading further, but a good opening will contain both elements for now, and elements for later.

"So that's why the dinosaur had the painting. He's Da Vinci's grandad. Of course!"

“So that’s why the famous dinosaur had the painting hidden on his spaceship. Now I get it!”

Draw the Reader In

“If you’re reading this on a screen, f**k off. I’ll only talk if I’m gripped with both hands.” Joshua Cohen, Book of Numbers.

Yeah, so you don’t have to be as aggressive as the above example, but the point I’m trying to get across is that you want your reader to stand up and pay attention. One way of doing that is to engage with them directly, so long as it fits with the theme of your story.

For example, if you choose the above style of introduction, don’t then segue into a world of daisies and polka dots. It will feel forced and inappropriate, and the reader will likely feel alienated and confused. But if your character, or the tone of your story warrants it, there is no problem at all with using a little bit of fire and fury.

Of course, you don’t have to be rude. you could relate to the reader, or buddy up to them, or even flirt with them. Let the narrator’s voice gudie you.

"This narrator would like some tuna. Lot's of tuna."

“This narrator would like some tuna. Lot’s of tuna.”

 

Introduce Your Hero

“If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.” — J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

The above intro is a great example of a hero introducing themselves, and giving you plenty of evidence of their character. We all know that Holden Caulfield is a sour lad. We know this because from the very first sentence he utters, he sets himself up as thus.

Your audience want to know who to root for, and know why. If you introduce a character who isn’t very compelling, or don’t give them someone to cheer for, chances are you’ll lose the interest of a reader.

"Oh yeah, they loved your story"

“Oh yeah, they loved your story”

Create a Mini-Mystery

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” George Orwell, 1984.

Unless you live under a rock (and apologies if you do), you should be well aware of the dystopian bleakness portrayed in George Orwell’s (arguably) most famous work, 1984. This opening line establishes right from the get go just how surreal this alternative future is, and the mystery of something we know so well being changed in this way creates all kinds of questions: Why not o’clock? Thirteen, like, bad luck thirteen? What time is thirteen? Is the day still the same length? How would this work with the Gregorian calendar? Does it? Why is there an extra hour in the day?

And it is these kinds of questions, often raised by a sense of unease, that can keep us reading on.

"What does it all mean!?"

“What does it all mean!?”

Set the Scene

“There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.” — Raymond Chandler, Red Wind

This is one of my favourite opening paragraphs in all of literature. Raymond Chandler has a very distinct style, and was well regarded for his gritty tomes set in a crime-riddled LA. This establishes that world perfectly, giving you not only the place but the mood, the people, the atmosphere, and even the opinion of the narrator about all of these things.

See, a setting can be just as important as a character. Some would even argue that the setting is a kind of glorified character in its own right.

 

"Yeah, don't forget about me!"

“Yeah, don’t forget about me!”

Murder Mundanity

All this happened, more or less.” Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse Five.

In the above quote from Mr Vonnegut, we are confronted with the fact the upcoming narrative is probably going to be unreliable. Those that have read the story will know that as the story progresses, this unreliability is what lends so much charm to the overall tale, and this in itself represents Vonnegut’s own ideas about the ridiculous and unreliable nature of wars, and the men who fight in them.

Many authors would be tempted to write an account of what they saw in a war with a solemn and powerfully intense manner. By not starting his story in this way, we already know we are in for something different, and this intrigue alone makes us want to read on.

By subverting convention, Vonnegut captivates the reader from the very first sentence.

If you haven’t read this classic, I absolutely recommend it. It was one of the first ‘adult books’ I read as a young boy, and it is still one of my favourites.

"It's great!"

“It’s great!”

 

Consider Forking

Call me Ishmael.” Herman Melville, Moby Dick.

There are a lot of different options above, so using this technique will help you figure out which work and which don’t work with your story.

There is more than one way to cross the ocean, and forking is the process of writing out several different ideas that all lead to the same point. So, you may choose to write three different story beginnings which all lead to the same ending, then show these to people who have opinions you trust, and ask them to choose their favourite.

This way, you can know that what you’ve written is something that has appeal, and that captured another person’s imagination (and didn’t just reflect your own). Obviously, make sure you choose people who will give you constructive and useful feedback. Not just flat criticism.

"I don't like any of your s**t"

“I don’t like any of your s**t”

A Word to the Wise

Of course, it’s not always as easy as what you should do. Sometimes, it’s as much about what to avoid. So, here are some quotes from industry insiders about things they don’t like to see in story beginnings:

I dislike opening scenes that you think are real, then the protagonist wakes up. It makes me feel cheated.”
Laurie McLean, Foreword Literary

Characters that are moving around doing little things, but essentially nothing. Washing dishes & thinking, staring out the window & thinking, tying shoes, thinking.”
Dan Lazar, Writers House

I hate reading purple prose – describing something so beautifully that has nothing to do with the actual story.”
Cherry Weiner, Cherry Weiner Literary

A cheesy hook drives me nuts. They say ‘Open with a hook!’ to grab the reader. That’s true, but there’s a fine line between an intriguing hook and one that’s just silly. An example of a silly hook would be opening with a line of overtly sexual dialogue.”
Daniel Lazar, Writers House

Many writers express the character’s backstory before they get to the plot. Good writers will go back and cut that stuff out and get right to the plot. The character’s backstory stays with them — it’s in their DNA.”
Adam Chromy, Movable Type Management

One of the biggest problems is the ‘information dump’ in the first few pages, where the author is trying to tell us everything we supposedly need to know to understand the story. Getting to know characters in a story is like getting to know people in real life. You find out their personality and details of their life over time.”
Rachelle Gardner, Books & Such Literary

 

All above quotes were taken from the article The Worst Ways to Begin Your Novel: Advice From Literary Agents on thewriterslife.com

 

Of course, there are many different opinions on this argument, and (once again) as Kurt Vonnegut said:

“Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.”

Learn how to use these tools to your advantage, but don’t let yourself be restricted by them.
Be different. Be brave. Be you.

 

ID-10092796

 

So what’s your favourite opening line in a story? Get the conversation going in the comments below.

 

Special thanks to Ambro, Carlos Porto, imagerymajestic, kanate, patrisyu, Photokanok, photostock and stockimages @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2016

The Death of a Bookshop

title bookshop copy

It’s a sad truth about the world we live in that the beautiful bookshop is slowly becoming a thing of the past. It is going the way of Woolworths and Blockbuster, totems of times gone by and technologies redundant.

If it hadn’t been for a combination of the library and of local independent bookshops I would never have developed the love of reading that I have. Even as a young child I’d enjoy running my finger along the spines, imagining the adventures and wonders within. I’d scan the covers in the crime section and immerse myself in the names and titles, then duck into the fantasy aisle to assess the latest dragon/knight/princess story.

Doing it online just doesn’t have the same appeal.

I’m no technophobe mind. In fact, I love my Kindle reader and I’ve filled it with some of my favourite books. But you can’t beat the feel of a worn paperback, especially one you picked up from a local second hand bookshop at a steal. I loved going into a shop and not knowing what I was going to come out with. I’d then spend hours lost in words, until I emerged from the temple of books with a new scripture under my arm; a baptism back into life with a key in my possession to unlock some new realm.

Living in Taipei, there isn’t a huge range of English language bookshops for me to explore. Don’t get me wrong, we have a fair amount, but there obviously isn’t the same wealth of options as I had back home. When you do find a shop you love, its value becomes magnified.

Recently one of the larger shops has finally closed down after months of discounts and clearance sales. I’m not complaining too heavily at this point as I, like many, have been picking the carcass absolutely clean and benefiting from absorbing a small army of new books into my personal library and saving the equivalent of a king’s ransom. For the short-term, its closing has been something to enjoy. Longer-term though, I can already see a huge whole in my reading experience.

Every time I’ve been in there, I’ve tried to savour the experience as I know it is not something that I will have for much longer. It’s hard though. The once packed shelves, so densely lined with books on every subject, are now just discount bins where books have been shoved and trapped, penned in and away from the world they want to be part of. They are calling out for a new home, like puppies in a pet shop. The once calm ambiance that I found so intoxicating is now filled with the faint hum of discount shoppers, and greats such as Tolkien, Wodehouse and Vonnegut find themselves shoehorned into the same sections as Meyer and E. L. James.

In the end, death can be ugly.

The shop in question had a good life. It opened in 2004 in the (at that time) recently finished Taipei 101 mall. It’s scale was massive, offering a variety of English language books unparalleled in Taiwan. Everything from art and design to history could be found, all sitting in a stylish and comforting space that drew you in and kept you browsing for hours on end. I have spent many delightful evenings getting lost in fiction, perusing the wonderment on the shelves.

Now it’s all gone.

That’s the nature of the world we live in. Books are not cheap, and electronic ones are cheaper. Some people don’t have the time to browse for books any more, and instead rely on being able to order them from the internet. Some just don’t have the time to read at all. How can anything work against market forces? In the end, the world keeps turning and new competitors come in to replace the old ones. It’s the circle of life, Simba.

For those of us that love the bookshop, I guess we are destined to watch our close friends close down, one at a time, as we age into a world where books and reading try to adapt with the times, and we try to adapt with them.

Like the VHS, the Beatamaxx and the SNES, are books finally having their day? Only time will tell. We had best enjoy them, and their homes around the world, for as long as we can.

So long Page One, you’ve been great.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2015

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

Things to do on a Sunday (besides troll Facebook)

title

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

Too busy to read? Here’s how to make more time for reading in your day.

reblog reading This is a re-blog. To celebrate 6 months of ItchyQuill.com, here is the first post we ever did! Enjoy 😀

Haven’t finished a book since you graduated? Keep making excuses about not enough time and being too tired? Reading has been shown to reduce stress levels by up to 68%, and it could lead to a significant reduction in your chances of developing dementia in later life, not to mention the advantages it gives you in terms of ability to communicate, understanding of new concepts and cultures, and countless other problem solving, intellectual and communicative advantages. Reading is an almost essential part of getting a higher wage and personal advancement, and yet nearly half of British and American adults no longer read for pleasure.

We’ve all been there. It could be that you are a lover of fiction, but every time you finish work you are too tired and would rather veg out in front of the TV/Netflix than get your nose in a novel. In the UK, nearly 4 million adults work 48 hours a week or more. Things such as this extended work schedule could be to blame, but reading is a fantastic use of your time, no matter who you are. If you are an up and coming exec, there are plenty of non-fiction tomes to rifle through for tips and information, and plenty of fiction to help you relate to other’s experiences or escape completely from the busy week. If you are a budding writer, there are tons of books to get you inspired. If you merely want to find another way to relax, fear not! There are myriad stories out there waiting for you to find them.

It’s ok world, itchy quill has your back!

1. Maximise your time (duh!)

The first thing to consider is all that micro time you have. By this I mean the time that you have between other activities; the gaps and cracks in your schedule where minutes are not used to their full potential. It might be the ten minute bus ride to work, it could be the five minutes while the kettle boils in the morning, or it could even be the fifteen minutes on the loo. Who knows. But making a rough list of how your time is used during the day can give you an idea of where you can utilise your time better. On average, most of us have about 1.5-2 hours of micro time a day. That’s crazy, right?! Imagine if you spent an hour of that a day reading your book? If we assume that your reading speed is equal to the average, then you could read Great Expectations by Charles Dickens in just over ten days using this method. Or, if you fancy something a little more contemporary, how about reading all three of the Hunger Games books in seventeen days? Using this otherwise redundant time is a great way to increase your reading. But trust me, it gets better.

But this is my thinking time

But when am I supposed to find time to wear my hats?

2. Leave yourself reminders

Some people are list people, some people are doers, some are just plain happy to wander through life confronting things as they arise. I am a bit of a memory jerking kind of person. This basically means I have to leave myself clues and visual prompts to remind me to do something. I like to leave a stack of unread books on my coffee table, so whenever I look at them they remind me that I should pick up my book and read. This works especially well with library books, as the challenge of trying to read them all before they are due back motivates me too. You could just as easily set a reminder on your phone, just like you would for a meeting or a doctor’s appointment. The biggest struggle for many of us is finding routine, and sometimes activities that are not habitual can be hard to make time for. To stop reading being another big plan that falls by the wayside, why not set goals, like finishing one book every fortnight (which translates to 24 books a year)? It’s easy, right?

Note to self: remember to write a reminder

Note to self: remember to write a reminder

3. Spread your interest

Scattiness can often be a problem for me. I have a mind that likes to race off on tangents, and my attention can be easily caught but, alas, easily lost also. I often keep two books or more on the go at once, normally of completely different style and genre so as to avoid confusing plotlines and characters. Some books, such as non-fiction, may be more suitable for the morning time, as they require a little more alertness to process, while a steady paced novel can be more suitable for pre-sleep reading. Don’t overload yourself though or you could lose track of what you have read. Speaking of which…

I really don't want to take these back tomorrow

Right, so Frodo killed Aslan with his horcrux. Got it.

4. Bookend your day

Make time to read when you wake up, and before bed. The benefits of reading before you sleep are well documented, the greatest in my opinion being the fact it forces you to put the day behind you and escape from cares or troubles, but it is what it stops you from doing that is more important. A lot of us are guilty of checking emails, Facebook and other social media and distraction apps like Buzzfeed and Instagram in the moments before sleep. Though it might seem fun to read these before we sleep, we are actually forcing ourselves to confront innate insecurities, worries and negative emotions in a time when we should be dumping the day’s detritus and preparing to reset. Reading forces your brain to train itself on a continuous narrative, not just a random assortment of scattered information, and this hypnotises us into a sleepy state, channelling all emotion and feeling into that of the characters we are reading about, and deflecting the minor antagonisms of the self.

There isn't a Playboy tucked behind this novel. This isn't Back to the Future

There isn’t a Playboy tucked behind this novel.

5. Arm yourself

Ok, not literally. By this I am of course saying that you should never been found wanting for something to read. I keep a book on me at all times, but I also have my kindle by my bed for am/pm reading, and a kindle reader on my phone in case I end up in some unforeseen circumstance where I cannot reach either of the former (such as a nuclear disaster or, more likely, a queue for a sandwich).

Say hello to my little friend

Say hello to my little friend

6. Join others

The internet is the greatest resource in the world for most things. One such area it exceeds in is uniting us with others of a similar mindset. There are countless websites dedicated to bringing together readers of a similar taste, where novels can be read at a pace everyone can follow and then reflected upon in open discussion. This gives you the polite pressure of needing to stay on pace so as not to fall behind, but also gives you the chance to discuss techniques and characters and really get to grips with the book you are reading. If you prefer to be a little less social, why not try an on line reading challenge? This gives you the deadline without the social aspect.

I can't even read but damn this whole book thing looks good on me

Chicks dig dudes who can read

7. Keep it interesting

I know we all wish we could finish the classics like War and Peace and Ulysses, but the truth is they aren’t fitting for everyone’s tastes. To really get into the habit of reading, and find the motivation to read at all, you need to be reading things that grab your attention. Make sure you seek out authors who write books that you are drawn to, or that you read non-fiction books about topics that actually mean something to you. I wish I could read up and become an expert in stocks to make a bit of money, but I have such little interest in how the system works that it would take me the best part of a century to finish the book.

Equally, you should stick to books that are of a length that won’t scare you off. Start small, and work your way up. Challenge yourself, sure, but be aware of your own attention span. You may discover a fantastic Russian author from the turn of the century, whose 1,000 page epic fully explores the state of humanity and the notion of the self, but will you be satisfied chipping away at it in fifteen minutes slots over the course of three months until you finish it?

John snow did whaaaat?

John Snow did whaaaat?

8. Practise speed reading

This is a much easier skill to pick up than many realise, and even a little practise can increase your reading speed significantly. Are you willing to put in the time to practise, however? When studying at college, speed reading was the only way to finish the tremendous amount of titles we were expected to read. In my first semester alone I read around 30 novels in six weeks. When I graduated, I made a promise to myself to relax more and take my time with reading to fully immerse myself in the text. For some, this is what reading is about. It is not the desire to finish as many books as possible, but to enjoy the escapism and journey of a story. It is important to remember this. It is also crucial to remember that even though it can be a lovely feeling to finish a hundred books a year, it is even more fun to be able to discuss them and remember them. Never sacrifice your understanding for speed, or they will merely become titles and summaries, and you will miss the very point of reading in the first place, and gain nothing. Over time, you will naturally get faster, so just stick to a pace that you are comfortable with.

It's supposed to go blurry at this speed, right?

It’s supposed to go blurry at this speed, right?

That said, there are currently apps in development that could increase the world’s reading speed by as much as 600%! In theory this should increase our ability to fully digest books and by extension, information. Whatever happens, starting reading today can greatly enrich your life. Words, and their use in the hands of authors, can be powerful in many ways. Don’t let yourself miss out on these experiences.

Now, no more excuses. It’s time to get yourself a book, figure out what works for you, and get reading. Enjoy!

Special thanks to adamr, Goldy, marin, duron123, photostock  and imagerymajestic @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for use of their photos in this blog.

© Itchy Quill and ItchyQuill.WordPress.com, 2015