Cultivate your curiosity

Me hard at work in the new Canstar office in Brisbane CBD. I took this photo using my new Windows phone.

Me hard at work in the new Canstar office in Brisbane CBD. I took this photo using my new Windows phone.

I’ve been thrashing out the articles for my current contract employer, Canstar Blue. You can view all of my articles at this link, and I’ve compiled a ‘Best Of’ compilation at the bottom of this post…

Have I mentioned lately how amazing it is to be writing for a living? I am thoroughly enjoying every day. And thankfully they like me, too, so I get to stay on for another 6 month contract. So thankful! Praise God.

So here’s two of the things I’ve been thinking about this Friday…

Every morning at 9am we start our day with an editorial team Brainstorm Meeting. Depending on what day it is, 3 to 7 of us get together in one of the meeting rooms and say, “Tomorrow’s product releases are 4WDs and pharmacies. What are some articles we can write today about that?” Then we chat about it and get a list of 5 to 10 ideas, divide them among us, and report on where we’re up to with our other article lists that we’re each responsible for.

I love these meetings because writing is largely a solitary task, but for 15 minutes every day, we’re all part of a team working together. We’re all having our work and our ideas acknowledged and validated. Team managers, take note of the first thing I’ve been realising:

Short, positive team meetings more often make for happier staff.

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Taste: Inspiring the senses for readers

Our amazing wedding cake was created by Allana Rowan and decorated by Kathryn Ryan, both very talented creators.

Our amazing wedding cake was created by Allana Rowan and decorated by Kathryn Ryan, both very talented creators.

Today’s post will make you drool. Be warned.

I was looking up recipes for a dairy-free, gluten-free cheesecake today and stumbled upon an idea. (The idea sounds ridiculous but the recipes I found look amazing and I simply cannot wait any longer! I have lived for three and a half years now without cheesecake and it is lame.)

But while I was looking at those recipes, I found a link to ‘best recipes in literature’. It brought back the best memories ever!

Taste is one of the most powerful memory-making senses. A good meal can make a day; a bad meal can break it. And when we read about meals in books, it brings us into the story in a powerful way.

Below are some of the most memorable food recipes I found in beloved storybooks, but first, here’s the writing tip for today.

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Quick quiz: What instrument would play the soundtrack of your story?

Headphones on soundtrack score. Image source: Rain Dance

Image source: Rain Dance

I made a quiz using ProProfs!

A great story needs a great soundtrack, and a great soundtrack sings with the voice of one heroic instrument telling the story. What instrument will play the soundtrack for your story?

Go here to take the quiz: https://www.proprofs.com/quiz-school/story.php?title=mta4njgwnw==4txq

Then let me know in the comments what result you got! 🙂

This post and the quiz were written by TJ Withers-Ryan, (C) 2015. Reblogging or sharing of the quiz as long as you credit me as author.

Narrative Therapy: Hear from the author of ‘How I rescued my brain’

At the Perth Writers Festival THIS SATURDAY (21 Feb 2015), you can hear David Roland speak about his book How I Rescued My Brain (Scribe) and how structured life writing (and narrative therapy) can lead to emotional resolution by turning subconscious memories into conscious concepts.

I’m still learning about this topic, but I’m reading a psychology book at the moment about it, Narrative Therapy by Gene Combs and Jill Freedman, so this post will have a follow-up post once I’ve really got my head around it. Normally I wouldn’t post about a topic until I’d done my research, but I figured if you want to go to his event and find out more, you need to know it’s happening now!

Narrative therapy is when you write about an event that has happened to you so that you can see the whole “story arc” of what happened for yourself and gain a better understanding of why it happened, how it came about, and what the resolution of it is.

I picked the Combs/Freedman book up for the concept itself. Closure! Resolution! A better way to think about ourselves and our life events. It’s useful for lots of things. Trauma patients, depressed patients, or people who want to write so they can see the bigger picture they want for their life – e.g. when they’re going through a big change like changing careers or having kids.

For us creators, it’s important because narrative therapy helps us to think outside the box of our own circular thinking, and that thought-stretching can give us better neural plasticity, as David Roland’s book (below) tells us. And neural plasticity means the ability to think of new ideas and be more creative, so it’s worth finding out more about… (Plus narrative writing therapy is good practise at writing a cohesive story!)

David Roland says “life writing” (narrative therapy) enables us to do lots of different useful things, from moving through difficult times, to heightening positive experiences, to learning new things. In his case, Roland had to relearn things his brain already knew, but had forgotten, after he had what doctors assumed was a “stroke-like” event. He was a forensic psychologist who ended up in the emergency ward one day with no idea how he got there.  His book is the story of his neurological breakdown and how he made his remarkable cognitive recovery. You can read more about the book here and buy tickets to his talk here.

Image source: Caroline Leaf

Image source: Caroline Leaf

And for a distinctly Christian perspective on neural plasticity, check out Switched On My Brain by Caroline Leaf PhDhttp://www.koorong.com/search/product/switch-on-your-brain-caroline-leaf/9780801016240.jhtml  According to researchers, the vast majority (about three quarters) of the illnesses that plague us today are a direct result of our thought life and the toxins that are caused by negative thinking patterns. What we think about definitely affects both our emotional and our physical health. Dr Leaf tells us how to think positive while keeping mindfully focussed on God, not just “empty” meditation. This book has been highly recommended by a few people now, so it is next on my to-read list!

 

This post was written by TJ Withers-Ryan, (C) 2015. Reblogging is always highly encouraged, as long as you cite me as the author.

Writing the next chapter: What story will you tell in 2015?

Image source: ‘English girl riding bike’ from Riding Pretty blog

Image source: ‘English girl riding bike’ from Riding Pretty blog

My first post for 2015 is bike-themed, because Tim and I went for a bike ride this morning to kick off the new year. No need to peddle old ideas when you can pedal into the future!

There are always endless possibilities for New Year’s Resolutions. Finish your novel. Lose weight. Find The One. Change jobs. Get to Mordor and drop the ring in Mount Doom. The usual.

As Dave Beck, NaNoWriMo Technical Director, puts it: “In the end, isn’t everything—from relationships to careers to geopolitics—about the narratives we choose? The narratives we write?”

So here’s what my resolutions are all about:

Write a good story with your life. A true hero need only be a person who sets goals and overcomes conflict to achieve them.
(paraphrasing Donald Miller in A Million Miles in a Thousand Years)

Image source: Our wedding photos by Kyle and Elissa Johnson, Slade Portraits

Image source: Our wedding photos by Kyle and Elissa Johnson, Slade Portraits

Last year I wrote my story as well as I could. I had goals, and I overcame obstacles to achieve them. After the usual stresses of preparation, I married the right man for me and enjoyed decorated our new home with the artworks I made with my own hands. I left a job I didn’t enjoy and worked hard at building my editing business so I could continue to do the editing work that I love. I made time to do some of the adventures I enjoy like bushwalking and beach trips, both with friends and by myself for much-needed and much-appreciated “God dates”. Halfway through the year life got really difficult for a time as I found I had some severe struggles to work through, so I asked for help when I needed it and I trusted God to get me through. I began submitting one novel to publishers, entered as many short story competitions as I could, and completed NaNoWriMo again. And I showered as much love as I could on the people I care about.

So here are the few things that I felt went into writing a good story with my life in 2014, and what I’ll be trying to seek out again in 2015.

Image source: Sarah Killey Photography

Me and Tim holding hands at the altar.
Image source: Sarah Killey Photography

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Music to write by

Music to write by - typewriter treble clef. Image source: Scores for Writers

Image source: Scores for Writers

 

Ever wondered what type of music will help you to focus when writing in different genres? Here’s what’s worked for me in the genres in which I’ve written or edited.

 

Okay, NaNoWriMo is nearly over, with only five days until the end is declared. So if you’re nearly there, here’s some final inspiration, to give you the last push you need to get that baby out (what a gross analogy, seriously). And if you’re boycotting NNWM and you’re kind of sick of hearing about it, soon we’ll be back to awesome posts that are not all about how to write a novel in the shortest possible timeframe.

Why does music help you write?

Studies have consistently shown that classical, Baroque era music can help students study things they’ve already learnt once, and can help workers to concentrate better during long or repetitive tasks. For those in a busy study or work environment, music has also been proven effective for blocking out distracting background noise. If you’re writing, editing, or creating art, music can help you stay focused and be more creative and open to new ideas.

By contrast, if you’re trying to learn new information that requires your full attention, music can distract you from what you’re reading. So if you’re doing research about historical methods of leather tanning for a new book, you might want to turn the stereo off and focus on the history.

Listening to lyrics can be distracting from writing, so most of the music I’ve featured in this post is purely instrumental. This is because lyrics are words and you’re already trying to think about other words when you’re writing. (People in other disciplines like maths, science or IT have no trouble with listening to lyrics while they work – in fact it helps, since their domain is largely numbers and code (Lesuik, 2005).)

So what can you use to inspire you when writing in different genres? Read on to find out!

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Commiserations over the struggle of writing, and how to keep going!

‘Mimi Does NaNoWriMo’ Image source: InkyGirl at http://inkygirl.com/wwfc/2011/11/9/mimi-does-nanowrimo.html

‘Mimi Does NaNoWriMo’
Image source: InkyGirl at http://inkygirl.com/wwfc/2011/11/9/mimi-does-nanowrimo.html

Today I’ll be talking about my two favourite web comics that provide inspiration or commiseration for writers – yay! And how to keep going when you feel like giving up (“halfway through NaNoWriMo” blues, anyone?).

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Being a promiscuous reader: Brisbane Writers Festival

Stack of books with spines open

Image source: Resource Freak

“I’m a very promiscuous reader; I believe we should take all kinds of genres to bed with us.” ― Lauren Beukes

Lauren Beukes

Lauren Beukes
(pronounced something like “Beeyohkes”)
Image source: The Audio Bookstore

Today I went to my first Brisbane Writers Festival session and thoroughly enjoyed it!  Lauren Beukes, South African author of science fiction and crime noir novels, says we should read everything we can get our hands on, no matter what genre we write for ourselves.  Here’s why…

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Go where you find inspiration: Part 2: Real live animals that should be in fantasy novels

Go where you find inspiration, and go there often

 

My previous post was about the Art Gallery Museum and the intriguing characters I uncovered in the old portrait paintings there. Now let me tell you about the incredible animals I discovered, many for the first time, at the South Australian Museum.

The Mouflon, found in the Caucasus, northern and eastern Iraq, and northwestern Iran

The Mouflon, found in the Caucasus, northern and eastern Iraq, and northwestern Iran

Some of these guys really look like they should be in a fantasy or sci-fi novel, not in the real world. For that reason, I found these animals awakened in me again the desire to write fantasy, a genre I’ve spent many years in but often abandon for “more grown-up” genres like science fiction (haha) or drama.

I spent a few hours over three days walking through the ‘Mammals of the World’ taxidermy exhibit, because I just loved it the first day, but there was so much that I just felt I hadn’t taken it all in, needed another hit.

I was pacing back and forth behind the glass, getting a bit upset that these gorgeous things were dead, just carcasses posed for my viewing pleasure, and most of the living versions were endangered anyway, when it hit me. I wanted to write fantasy animals based on these real animals. Think about it – if I describe an animal to you just using the description, not labelling it by the name we know it, it would be harder for you to imagine, wouldn’t it? You might even think I was making it up.

My first mammal looks like some medieval fantasy writer got really tired of writing ad nauseum about wolves howling at the moon and running in packs and chasing our heroes through the woods, so he elongated the nose and tale of a fox and gave it giant ears, then shrunk it to cat size, and…

The Fennec Fox, found in the Sahara of North Africa

The Fennec Fox, found in the Sahara of North Africa

BAM! Fennec Fox. (Seriously, what’s with these adorable little guys? They’re so darn cute!)

Here are some of the other animals that inspired me:

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Go where you find inspiration: Part 1: Intriguing characters found in portrait paintings

Go where you find inspiration, and go there often

 

I’m in Adelaide this week, and while I’ll save my excessive raving about how beautiful it is for later, I have to tell you about where I went yesterday.

I went to the South Australian Museum and the Art Gallery.

Sounds a little boring, maybe, if you hate animals or history or art. But I have to tell you, I found myself absolutely, 100% inspired there – the most inspired, in fact, that I’ve felt in months.

This first post will be about the South Australian Art Gallery and the beautiful portraits I admired there; my second post will illuminate the incredible animals that I discovered at the Museum.

Ever just see someone on the street and their face just tells you a story that you want to write instantly? They’re such a clear picture of a character that you can imagine. Maybe they look like a character you’ve already begun writing, or maybe they’re one that you’ve never considered before. You can almost hear their voice in dialogue before they speak.

That’s what the art gallery was like for me. I wandered the halls snapping shots of nearly every portrait – faces old and young, faces wise and bewildered, faces engaged and closed-off.

Because of the age of the paintings, and the gorgeous fashions on display, I couldn’t help myself – suddenly I wanted to write a history novel again! Someone asked me just last week to look over their historical romance novel (fun!), so it’s been on my mind. I also wished I could have taken my dress-maker friend through the halls of the gallery, just to gaze at the fabrics and dream of ways to make modern dresses based on these opulent draperies.

Here are some of the faces that inspired me…

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