Writing Trivia: Earthen Floors

I do a lot of research online; sometimes it leads down the oddest of trails, and those are always the fun ones to follow – the road less travelled, and all that.  I keep a storehouse of “odds and ends” information, the trivial bits and bobs that might come in handy as I create a new world for a story.

I was recently writing an article for one of my other blogs (click here to read it), and came across an interesting article on the topic of earthen flooring; such an element could be used in historical fiction, science fiction, or modern eco-escapism fiction.

What I found fascinating is the way the writer describes her first experience of walking on such a floor:  The leathery softness, the warmth, the texture, and the creative possibilities this type of flooring allows.

Such things stir my creative juices, and I have to remind myself to finish my current manuscript before moving on!  But such an element will come in very handy for my next book, which is a science fiction story… and now, because I’ve shared it with you, I’ll know where to find it when I need it!

Click on the image below to read the article, and be inspired.  Keep writing!

Earthen Flooring

 

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Stop Apostrophe Abuse

Back in the summer of 2013, I wrote this article on apostrophe abuse; after having surfed around a few blogs recently, I felt my pet peeve starting to twitch and decided to share it with you again, as many of you have joined me more recently. Enjoy!

Stephanie Huesler

Okay, grammar pet peeve time:  Apostrophe abuse.  It needs to stop.  Now.apostrophe Puppy

There are only two instances in the English language in which apostrophes are used:

1) Contractions, as in:  you are = you’re, or have not = haven’t, or I am = I’m. Just keep in mind that the apostrophe takes the place of the missing letter(s); if you take a letter out to combine (contract) two words together, place the apostrophe where the missing letter would have been written.

2) Possessives, as in:  Steve’s hat (the hat belongs to Steve), or today’s specials (specials on for today)

Apostrophe Tombstone Alway’s there for us. Who is Alway?

Never, I repeat NEVER should an apostrophe be used to indicate a plural!!  Never, EVER.  If you see it used as a plural, it’s wrong – even if it’s on a tombstone (see the image below). Apostrophe Tombstone 2

In the illustration…

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5 Life Hacks for Productivity

Let’s face it… humans are creatures of habit.  That phrase often has a negative connotation; in a conference that lasts several days, people will tend to sit within a few chairs of the seats they sat in on the first day, whether they like the location or not; once a person starts hanging the loo roll on the dispenser either top or bottom, the other way is just wrong.  But habits can also work to our advantage, if we form good ones:  Cleaning up after ourselves should have been a habit formed in our childhoods; brushing our teeth, pushing a chair in after we leave the table, and dozens of other little habits are hygienic, energy-saving, and contribute to more harmonious relationships within our social and environmental landscapes.

Those of us who express ourselves through creative media (such as writing, arts or crafts) might tend to see ourselves or the expression of our craft as outsiders, or at least mavericks, when it comes to business practices.  However, there are many tools (such as the SWOT) and principles for increasing productivity in the business sector that we can and should apply to our creative streaks (if the intention is to take them beyond the level of hobby to a more serious endeavour).  One of those principles involves forming good habits.  Below, I’ve listed five things that I do to keep my creativity fresh, and thus keep the time that I spend writing more productive than it would otherwise be (I know from experience).  For practical purposes I’ll refer to the expressions from the perspective of a writer, but these hacks apply to any creative discipline.

5 Productivity Life Hacks

I’ve taken the liberty of making a “cheat sheet” as a reminder of these principles; if it’s helpful for you, feel free to print it out and hang it up where you work or write.

1)   Find your most productive time.

Are you an early bird, or a night owl?  Or are you a late-afternoon type?  Most people have 9-to-5 jobs that dictate when they have free time; but when you are looking for time to write, try to schedule it in your most productive time of the day.  I am an extreme night owl; I need very little sleep and work at home, so my time is flexible; yet my most productive time of the day is between 01:00 and 04:00, with the second-most productive period being late-afternoons. I know this about myself, so I use the less-productive times to get other things done that are no-brainers (housework, shopping, etc.).

2)  Use time management apps to focus your energy.

I have two (android) apps that I use:  “Clear Focus” and “atimelogger”.  The first app counts down from the time I set, with a five-minute break following; every three sessions, it encourages me to take a longer break of fifteen minutes.  The second app allows me to log how much time I spend in a particular activity; I have added customized activities such as editing and blogging.  I use these apps especially when I’ve got a dozen incongruous tasks on my to-do list – it helps me focus on the task at hand, thus being more productive.

3)  Learn a new skill.

That may sound a bit odd; after all, it takes time to learn a new skill, right?  But bear with me a moment:  The current thinking of today is that one should become a specialist; the thinking goes that if you focus your energy into learning one skill to a high degree, you will be successful in it.  But I have one word in answer to that:  Renaissance.  During the Renaissance it was considered ideal for one to pursue multiple disciplines; a gentleman of the time was expected to speak several languages, be well-versed in various scientific disciplines such as astronomy, botany, or medicine, and be eloquent with words through writing poetry, play a musical instrument, study philosophy, theology, and so on.  The standard was set, and met – think of all that was accomplished, discovered, and invented during that age!  Variety is the spice of life, and I find that iron sharpens iron – that one skill hones another.  So take some time to learn something new; it will stir the creative juices and get them flowing much more productively than if you stagnate in specialization.  And in gathering new skills, you will add to your arsenal of personal experience from which to draw on when fleshing out characters, worlds, scenes and dialogues.

4)  Create a music playlist.

Spotify is a great invention!  I have dozens of playlists, and depending on what I’m working on, I’ll turn on music to set the mood for a scene I’m writing (for me, it has to be just right or it can be counter-productive), or to speed me up or slow me down.  Music stimulates our creative energy, and helps our minds become more curious and more imaginative.  It affects our moods, and thus can influence the way we approach a particular scene or dialogue.  Just for the record, as I write this, I’m listening to the album Grace by Steven Sharp Nelson (of the Piano Guys).

5) Take breaks.

This is another habit that runs counterintuitively to conventional wisdom, but being “so close to the forest that you can’t see the trees” is never a good thing; staring too long at a problem, or a blank page, will get you nowhere fast.  Frustration builds, making any mental block that much thicker.  Set it aside; get some fresh air and exercise, airing both your mind and body.  By putting space between ourselves and the issue, we often gain fresh perspective.  Think of it as a backward approach to moving forward.  As Steven Spielberg advises, contemplation time is essential in the creative process – don’t fill it with brain work that distracts.  Take a bath.  Do the laundry.  Draw; doodle; do a craft.  Some of my best solutions or plot twists have come while doing a craft.  By the way, crafts encourage abstract thinking, problem solving, and creative perspectives.  To apply this, take a 20-30 minute break after you complete a particular element; sometimes it actually helps me to start that new element before taking a break – it gives my mind time to percolate away from the computer, yet gives me a starting point when I return to work.

I hope these hacks encourage you in developing and honing your craft.  Keep writing!

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Just Sayin’

I had to share this!  As Mark Twain once said, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”  In this case, it’s the difference between a home run and a strike…

Right Word

 

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Loops of Life

Sick and AwsomeIsn’t it amazing that the smallest of life forms can upend your life, change your priorities overnight, and put your schedule, and even deadlines, on hold?  Otherwise known as the flu bug.  It knocked me for a loop or three just after the New Year, and I’ve been battling it off ever since.  Everything, and I mean everything, gets put on hold at such times.

I’m sure you all know that there is no convenient time for a flu, but sometimes it’s easier on the schedule than others.   I’m grateful that it was after Christmas, because on Christmas Day I was at last able to complete the first draft of my next novel!  And later this month I don’t need it, because I get to go and stay in a posh resort overnight, also known as a hospital bed, to catch a few hours of sleep while they remove a few plates and lots of screws from one of my ankles, making it easier to get through airport security.  My bone will look a bit like Swiss cheese after they’re done, which means I get a few weeks of feet-up-and-read-lots-of-books time, followed by the ability to walk, exercise, and get a bit of muscle tone back.  Woohoo.

I began thinking about loops, in the wider scope, while I had some down-time this past month:  They come in all shapes and sizes; sometimes they’re hiccups in relationships, jobs, studies, goals or even social or environmental challenges.  Those loops, we can handle; they’re all essentially first-world problems, so I won’t complain; at least my loops don’t include wondering where my next meal will come from, where I’ll be sleeping tonight, or how to find clean water and a safe hiding place from men with guns hunting me down.  Even though my schedule has gotten thrown on its ear, and I feel like something the cat dragged in, I will count myself blessed.

If you’re going through loops of your own right now, look for the things in your life that remind you that you are blessed, and remember that jumping through loops will make us stronger in the end.

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Wassail & Lamb’s Wool

I’d like to depart from my usual, all-about-writing habit, and post something slightly different:  On one of my other blogs, CuppaNatter, I’ve posted the history of,  and the recipes for, Wassail and Lamb’s Wool.  With winter and the Christmas season upon us, curling up with a good book will be an extra special treat with a good cuppa!  The calligram I made for the blog is the text of a typical wassailing song, and was a fun creative writing exercise.

Enjoy!

Source: Wassail & Lamb’s Wool

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December Musings

December means a lot of things to a lot of people:  For some it’s a month for slowing down, or baking, or taking time with family and friends, or cuddling up on the couch with a good book while it snows and blows and freezes outside (for those of us in the northern hemisphere, at least); for others it’s a month of work stress in winding up the year-end’s tasks, or cramming in meetings and project plans that need to take off in the New Year; for others it’s stress due to shopping – either because one has no idea what so-and-so wants/needs yet one must give said person a gift, or because of the crowds that seem to defy population censuses for any given town.

For me, it’s the juxtaposition of wanting to cuddle up with a selection of books on the couch between our three cats, settling in with an Earl Grey tea and a blanket and ignoring the world for a day or two, versus reaching my goal of getting the first draft of my fifth novel done before Christmas.  Said draft goal is only realistic if I keep at it, every day, disciplining myself to ignore the urge to kick up my feet and read, and (I will admit it) even ignoring the urge to write for my blogs, until I’ve written 1,000 words toward the completion of the manuscript.  Once that’s done (or the equivalent in editing and tweaking), other things can be given attention.  Important tasks that come at the right time are “priority”, but when they come up at the wrong time and intrude on my concentration, they are merely distractions.

So here I sit, 2:30 a.m. and finally have time to sit down to write to you.   Whatever your December looks like – whether stressful or relaxed, planned to the gills or with room for the spontaneous – remember that each day we wake up is a fresh opportunity to get it right, and each time we go to bed is an opportunity to take a moment to remember the blessings that came our way that day.

Awkward

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A Page in History

As a writer I’m constantly absorbing information; I never know when something might come in handy!  It may inform my scene with more realism, or infuse a character with a quirk or a background that gives them depth.  History is full of oddities and amazing events that can spark our imaginations; the event below is one such event:  If you ever need to write a scene about an explosion, or the effects of wrong decisions gone awry, look to history to teach you how it’s done (or in this case, how it should not be done).  This story shows the importance of decisions, and begs the question, “What if?”  What if one of those factors had changed?  What if the captain of the SS Imo had given way to the captain of the SS Mont-Blanc?  We’ll never know, but as writers we can use our greatest tool:  Imagination.

This day in history:  The Halifax Explosion

6 December 1917 will live on in infamy in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and in Canada, as one of the worst disasters in history.  On that day, the largest man-made explosion prior to the Nuclear Age occurred, wiping out several communities and reshaping Halifax forever.

The events that led up to the explosion that killed thousands and maimed thousands more reads like a thriller:  The delay of a shipment of coal; the climate of war that complicated the comings and goings from the harbour; an experienced captain now behind schedule who “bent the rules” for once; the captain whose impatience at previous delays pressed him to disregard the harbour speed limits and refuse to give way a third time; the third ship in his path who, because of their cargo (tons of explosives), could not make sudden manoeuvres and was relying on him to give way; a right decision made too late.  Curious onlookers who gathered at their windows to watch the blazing ship in the harbour had little idea that it would be the last thing most of them would ever see; if they were not obliterated in the initial blast, the light from the flash or the window glass shattering [in virtually every window within a 2.6-kilometre (1.6 mile) radius] blinded them; some 5,900 eye injuries were treated, leaving over 40 survivors permanently blind.

Confusion after the initial blast was compounded when people began evacuating thinking that it was a German bomb attack; fires throughout the city (caused by tipped oil lamps and ovens in collapsed homes) added to the confusion and hindrance to rescue efforts,  but within a few hours the true cause had become widely-enough known to calm initial fears.  Rescue teams started arriving from as far away as 200 km (120 miles), their help hampered by damaged roads and fears of secondary explosions from a munitions magazine at the Wellington Barracks.  To make matters worse, the next day blew in a blizzard which dumped 41 cm (16 inches) of heavy snow on the area; this blocked train transport with snowdrifts, and tore down hastily-erected telegraph lines.  Halifax was isolated, though the snow did help to extinguish the fires throughout the city.

Here in Switzerland, the NZZ (Neue Zürcher Zeitung) reported on the 7th of December:

“Zerstörung der Stadt Halifax? New York, 6. Dez. (Havas.)  Aus Halifax wird gemeldet: Die Hälfte der Stadt Halifax sei ein Trummerhaufen infolge einer Explosion.  Die Verluste werden auf mehrere Millionen geschätzt.  Der Nordteil der Stadt steht in Flammen.  Es gibt hunderte von Toten und an die tausend Verwundete.

[“Destruction of the city of Halifax?  New York, 6 December (Havas – a French media group based in Paris.)  From Halifax was reported:  Half of the city of Halifax lies in ruins as a result of an explosion.  The loss has been estimated at several million (unclear whether it means Canadian dollars or Swiss Francs).  The northern part of the city is in flames.  There are hundreds of dead and thousands injured.”]

On the 8th of December, a similar footnote was reported, adding, “Kein Haus der Stadt ist unbeschädigt geblieben…” (“No house in the city has remained undamaged”)

That it even made it into a footnote of the international news section is actually remarkable, considering that Switzerland was surrounded by war at the time and had far more pressing matters on the home front and in neighbouring countries with which to keep abreast.

In the end, it is estimated that over 2,000 people were killed and 9,000 injured (of those injured, it is unclear how many died of the injuries, and how many were permanently disabled in some way).  The blast was so hot that it evaporated water in the harbour, exposing the harbour’s floor momentarily; as water rushed back in to fill the void, the resulting tsunami erased a settlement of  Mi’kmaq First Nations along the shores of Bedford Basin, on the Dartmouth side of the harbour; how many were killed is not known, though around 20 families lived there at the time.

Halifax Explosion, 6 December 1917To read the fascinating history of this event, please click here.

Sources:  Wikipedia; NZZ digital archives

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‘Tis the Season

Sometimes despite the best of intentions real life takes over.  I’ve been silent in cyberspace for nearly a fortnight as real-world events took precedence over the virtual world.  I try to post only when I find something interesting to share or to write about, and can take the time to make it worth my time and yours; but we all know those times when our energy and concentration power are required by more pressing events or situations, and so I hope you’ll pardon me for having been silent.

With Christmas approaching, perhaps your thoughts are turning toward the season of giving, of slowing down to spend time with friends and family, and perhaps it’s also a time of contemplation about the past year and the future:  What would you change if you could?  How can you move forward and learn from mistakes or challenges, and take positive steps to see things change for the better in the coming year?  I don’t mean New Year’s Resolutions; those rarely hold for more than a week or two, because they are purely decisions of the head, and if our hearts are not in agreement with those choices, it’s only a matter of time before they fall flat.  If it’s a decision of both head and heart, why wait until the New Year?  The old adage holds true:  “We cannot be guided unless we are moving.”  The greatest journey begins with the first step, followed by the next, and the next… eventually we’ll arrive at our goal, but only if we step out first.

I recently watched a TED talk by Brother David Steindl-Rast, of the Gratefulness movement; for him one of the keys to finding moments of gratefulness in everyday life is to “Stop. Look. Go.”:  To pause in our hectic lives and take a moment to smell the roses; to open our senses to the world around us and become grateful for the things we take for granted, such as clean, flowing water on tap (even cold and hot), or for the roof over our heads.  The more we look around, the more we’ll find to be grateful for.  The “Go” part of that equation is to act on that gratefulness – passing it on to those around us.  Positivity and smiles are contagious, and they are magnets that draw people; negativity and scowls are also contagious, but they will repel and isolate us.  We all have times of trials, difficulties and challenges; how we choose to face them decides whether they master us, or serve us.  One example from my own life was this past summer, described in the article, “I got Staffa’d“; I chose to be grateful in the midst of it, and it made it much easier to master it.

Whatever you’ve got planned over the coming weeks, I’d encourage you to take a moment to stop, look and then go; become aware of things in your life to be grateful for, look around and see how you can bless others, and move forward with a fresh awareness of the beauty of life.

Ps.  If you’d like some ideas for advent calendar- and stocking-stuffers, click here.Gratitude

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A Grand Life

Many of my followers have joined me here in the past several months; I know that time limits prevent people from delving too far into the past archives, and so I’ve taken the liberty of re-posting an article well worth a read: It’s a memory of childhood, and one that makes me realize afresh to value the people around me – you never know when a gem of a story will come into your life.

Stephanie Huesler

B&B Circus 2What do an old man, a garage, glass picture frames, a basement, clowns, dogs & Dr. Pepper have to do with each other?  Quite a lot, if you happened to be me at the age of 10.

Our dog Muppet had gotten out of the yard.  Again.  How she could squeeze through that narrow crack between two boards in our back yard fence I’ll never know, but she always found a way.  Who knew that one day in the summer of 1978 it would shape my life and my perceptions of people around me for the rest of my life?

Summer holiday found me on my bike most days, cruising through the Riverside area of the town I grew up in, Wichita, Kansas.  I’d hang out at the local golf club selling balls I’d retrieved from the rough for a cold Dr. Pepper, or at Cowtown, the living museum…

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