Best books and media I’ve found in 2016 so far

We’re only a few days into 2016 but I have found some AMAZING reads in my first days of 2016, which have also been my last few days of annual leave.

As a writer and editor, my “to read” list is too long for me to ever actually read, if it’s really true that you can only get through about 3,000 in the average lifetime. In my Google Docs “Books” folder, the list of all the books I’ve read in my life (only about 600 that I can remember so far) is far smaller than the list of books I would like to read (about 1 million). So I’ve told you how I chose the books I read last year, and I can definitely say I’m sticking with that strategy in 2016.

If you don’t know what to get yourself in the Boxing Day sales, and you have money left over after purchasing some truly meaningful gifts from Gifts of CompassionTEAR’s Useful Gifts, Christian Blind Mission’s Meaningful Gifts, or some other world-changing charity … then please consider the following reads for belated Christmas gifts to yourself.

Get ready.

They’ll knock your socks off.

Best books made of paper and stuff in January 2016

My January 2016 reads lined up. Image source: My camera.

My January 2016 reads lined up. Image source: My camera.

Continue reading

Advertisements

Why we should get to play jigsaw puzzles at work

Image source: WHSmith 1000 Piece Jigsaw: ‘Hidden Tigers’ by Steve Read

Image source: WHSmith 1000 Piece Jigsaw: ‘Hidden Tigers’ by Steve Read

So where I work, we share a building with a biology research lab. It sounds cool but I never get to see them apart from a shared “hello” in the hallways. But the best part is that the path to the stockroom takes me near enough to see their staff room… which is filled with jigsaw puzzles!

Every morning tea, lunch, and afternoon tea, you can spy them all in there, sitting or standing around a massive boardroom table covered in the latest masterpiece.

Tigers in the jungle.

Castles on the moors.

Uluru at sunset.

I swear I saw a Harry Potter puzzle once.

This is how they incubate their ideas, and I think it’s genius.

“Well, it sounds like we’ve hit a wall. Let’s take a break and come back after morning tea. To the puzzle room!”

But let me tell you, the puzzles have more benefits than just having a nice little break from work.

Continue reading

Creating as an act of worship

Every act of creating is an act of worship because it is an echo of what our great creator did in making us.

This month I’ve had one migraine after another – sigh! For me that’s just the result of stress and being too busy to find true rest. One of the more painful results of that is that I’ve been unable to stay in the room when we’re worshipping together at church or the awesome camps I lead on (SU’s Ubertweak, and Gateway Youth Camp)… because the music makes me feel like a hippo’s jaws are squeezing down on my head.

Photo of fighting hippos from Animals Time

On National Geographic’s TV show ‘Dangerous Encounters with Brady Barr’, Dr Brady measured the bite force of an adult female hippo at 8,100 newtons (enough to crush a crocodile), but they had to give up trying to measure the male’s bite pressure because it was so aggressive.
Image source: Animals Time

I’ve found this time of personal silence challenging, but it’s also brought me back to an old truth – that there are so many more ways to worship God than just singing songs. The method of worship that I’ve found most powerful during this time is creating: every time I create, or write, or paint, or sew, I’m worshipping.

Me painting in 2011 during my ‘A Year on Canvas’ project.

Me painting in 2011 during my ‘A Year on Canvas’ project.

A couple of years ago I ran an activity at Youth called 1:1. The name was a reference to the beginning of the Hebrew poem that tells the creation story in Genesis 1:1: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Over the course of the night, our 150 kids painted canvasses, journalled, made encouragement cards for each other, and made and flew paper airplanes. We revelled in the act of reflecting what God did in creating us.

One of my Youth girls’ talented artist mothers, Tess Geizer, made this cross for me for my birthday. I’ve worn it every Friday night since then for leading at Youth.

One of my Youth girls’ talented artist mothers, Tess Geizer, made this cross for me for my birthday. I’ve worn it every Friday night since then for leading at Youth.

Soul Survivor church in Watford, England, experienced revival in the late 1990s when they did something similar. They cut back their music team from the now-typical rock concert style to the congregation singing with only their voices. Why would they do that when they were already one of the leading worship music creators worldwide?

Continue reading

Happiness and creativity: Why you shouldn’t write a sad song until you’re feeling better

“I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.” ― Anne Frank

 

Happy lightbulb man from Scientific American

Image Source: Scientific American

Do you need to be happy to be inspired? Or do you need to be a tortured artist in order to be inspired? It’s an age-old question, and there’s a growing body of science providing answers to it.

 

I’ve been studying a psychology unit through edX Berkeley online called GG101 ‘The Science of Happiness’, and the experimental studies that have been performed in this area of creativity-and-happiness have been fascinating.

Continue reading

The Dreaded Influenza

I was so excited last week (Brisbane Writers’ Festival!) and honestly had grand plans to post something every day about all the wonderful, inspiring talks I’d heard.

Then I caught the dreaded influenza that’s been roaming the halls of my fair city, and I’ve spent all this week in bed. (Look at me, sitting upright on the couch! Typing on my laptop! Small achievements!)

But even this is an opportunity, folks. Even this has been useful.

It’s been a long time since I was in high school, and I had an illness that produced chronic, endless fatigue that stretched into my uni degree. Sometime during those years, I wrote many story scenes and scribbles whingeing about my illness and imagining how it could be worse (deathbed scenes, etc.). Lots of these scribbles recently wound up in a novel where I cruelly give my main character a made-up alien illness so that she’ll have to make friends and rely on other people instead of just heroically “doing it tough”.

And this week – ugh! this week! – I’ve been rethinking lots of those scenes and checking against the facts of how I feel now. Did I feel this sick then? Is this how I would write that part now? How do I describe her head “swimming” without it sounding like a cliche?

It’s a good reminder of an old trope – to “write what you know”. Use every experience you’ve ever had to make your characters’ sufferings and joys more real.

Famous authors who were sick or dying when they wrote some of their most famous works (yes, I’m very melodramatic when I’m sick):

– Jane Austen worked until her death from a long mystery illness (possible culprits include (most recently) bovine tuberculosis, Brill-Zinsser disease following her child episode of typhus, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, or (according to her 1964 biographer) Addison’s disease);

– Ernest Hemingway gave himself liver disease, then was in two plane crashes that left him in pain and ill health for the rest of his life;

– Even John Green of The Fault in Our Stars says he wrote a book about different types of cancer because he suffers from that most terrible of illnesses, hypochondria.

Portrait of Jane Austen, drawn by her sister Cassandra (c. 1810)

Portrait of Jane Austen, drawn by her sister Cassandra (c. 1810)

 

This post was written by TJ Withers-Ryan © 2014. Reblogging is highly encouraged as long as you credit me as the author.

Sting: overcoming years of writer’s block

StingIn March, Sting gave a TED talk called ‘How I started writing songs again’ (http://www.ted.com/talks/sting_how_i_started_writing_songs_again).

As a youth, he lived by a shipyard, and constantly thought of getting free. As we all know, he did, selling more than 100 million albums and earning 16 Grammy Awards.

But something changed – he got writer’s block, stretching on for years. To overcome this, he recently found himself writing new songs by returning to the stories of the shipyard workers he knew as a boy.

I found his talk incredibly moving, as a creator and as someone who remembers a difficult childhood. In his talk, Sting sings songs from his upcoming musical, as well as my favourite of his songs, ‘Message in a Bottle’.

This ties back to my posts about incubation and writer’s block. I’ve written about how incubation of years has helped me to rewrite stories that I first imagined in high school now, as an adult. In Sting’s case, an unwanted incubation period that stretched for years (the writer’s block preventing creation) was solved by returning to childhood stories that had been incubating from even longer ago, bringing new creation.

Have you ever struggled with writer’s block? How did you get past it?

 

This post was written by TJ Withers-Ryan © 2014. Reblogging is highly encouraged as long as you credit me as the author.

Keep on creating – lessons from the masters 2 – Elizabeth Gilbert

Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the best-selling book / movie Eat Pray Love, has always been a fascinating speaker to me.

For Elizabeth Gilbert, the success of Eat Pray Love meant a form of failure.  Her next book completely bombed because everyone who wanted a sequel to Eat Pray Love didn’t get it, and everyone who hated Eat Pray Love was annoyed that she had written another book.

But what could she do about that?  Nothing.

So she says she had a choice – to retire and move to some gorgeous villa, or to keep writing and see if she couldn’t succeed/fail again.  If she was going to avoid being paralysed as a writer and a human being, she had to get up and get started on her next book.

TED talk by Elizabeth Gilbert: 'Success, failure, and the drive to keep creating'

Continue reading

Does adulthood squash creativity or am I just lazy?

This post will be a rant.  Expect it.  Don’t be too disappointed.

See how I make disclaimers?  That’s because I’m an adult.  And adults have expectations of other adults.

The expectation that I am fighting off by this disclaimer is that I should be able to write a coherent post because I am an adult and I am educated and I call myself a writer and I edit other people’s writing for a living and I got enough sleep last night.

Continue reading

The Power of Procrastination

'Procrastination cat will do it tomorrow' from Lolcat Research

‘Procrastination cat will do it tomorrow’ from Lolcat Research

 

Today we talk about the power of procrastination!  But wait – how could procrastination possibly be a good thing?  I’m so glad you asked!

 

All you ever hear is that procrastination means putting off important (but difficult) things and doing unimportant (but more fun) things instead.  Ecclesiastes says procrastination is for the idle: “If you wait until the wind and weather are just right, you will never plant anything, and never harvest anything.”

 

And that’s definitely true.  But procrastination – if applied in a useful way – is not all bad.  In fact, Dave Windass (of the TED talk “The Power of Procrastination” http://tedxtalks.ted.com/video/TEDxHull-Dave-Windass-The-Power) argues that procrastination is actually the key to being MORE productive, if used *in the right dosage*.

Continue reading