Writer’s Block? You Need Distractions

Stuck Behind a Writer’s Block

You’re working on a writing project, and it’s had its ups and downs. This time, however, the downs have got you in a trough, and you don’t know how to get out of it. You have writer’s block.

What do you do when writing feels like pulling teeth?

Distract yourself.

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Photo Credit: Martina –

Wait—aren’t distractions a part of the problem? Why should you distract yourself when you’ve got work to do and deadlines to meet? I suggest using purposeful distractions, which is a strategy based on the fact that some of our best ideas, thoughts, connections, and memories strike when we least expect them to: when we’re focused on something else entirely.

Below are some ideas for distractions that will allow your brain to engage in something unfamiliar, which will prime it to create new channels of thought and creativity. Are you ready?

Distracting Your Writer’s Block

  1. Go for daily walks. Do nothing else: no music, no destination, no errands to run. Just walk for the sake of walking. Walk routes you are unfamiliar with, even if it’s in an area nearby. Take streets/pathways/directions (i.e., backwards compared to your normal route) that you have never taken. Bring a notebook with you (actual paper—your smartphone doesn’t count) in case something strikes you unexpectedly and you need to record it. If you’re brave enough, consider leaving your smartphone at home so it won’t disrupt your solitude.
  2. Take daily naps (seriously). Set a timer for 25 to 30 minutes. Don’t sleep more than that no matter how tempting it is. It will mess up your sleep cycle later in the evening. Use this tool to determine the best time to nap (though if you have unconventional sleep habits, it might not help much). Remember that sleeping means more brain activity, not less. While you nap, your brain will hit brain waves that are conducive to creativity without delving into deeper wave sleep that will throw you off-kilter and ruin your regular night’s sleep. The guilt North Americans (and many others) feel about napping is absolutely shameful. It’s time we appreciate its value.
  3. Try free writing. Try writing something completely unrelated to your current project. You either can just sit down and write what comes to mind (no editing, no filters, etc.), kind of like journaling, or you can transcribe something unrelated that you love (a poem, a short story, song lyrics, etc.). The first is a way to get crap out of your brain that you’re thinking about compulsively and/or semi-consciously—the very things that might be behind your writer’s block. Writing things down helps get it out of your brain and out of your way. The second option, transcribing, isn’t just “copying”; it’s a way to engage with a piece of literature in a way that we don’t often do. It makes you see it in a new light. Handwriting is a very engaging practice. If you type a lot, switching to handwriting for these distractions will give your brain a different kind of exercise it likely needs. Like napping, handwriting is an activity we don’t do often enough.
  4. Listen actively to music. The key word here is actively. Listen to music only for the sake of listening to it. Don’t relegate it to background noise, don’t do housework, don’t check Facebook or Twitter, don’t text your friends, don’t play Candy Crush or Pokémon Go. Just sit, relax, and listen to the music with intent. Let your brain process it, and you will see different layers/textures in it that you might have missed otherwise. And while listening to your favourite music is fine, this practice is best done with classical and jazz, as these genres feature a complexity that engages the brain on levels that other forms of music don’t always hit. Other music can be relaxing, mood-boosting, etc., but classical and jazz are that and more.

Why These Distractions Eliminate Writer’s Block

Being so focused on your writing project even when you’re not working on it is exhausting in itself, but it might also be the problem. In other words, being rigidly attached to your work could be at the core of your writer’s block. The distractions listed above, no matter how temporary, will help you replenish and refresh so that you can re-engage with your project with new vigour.

These distractions get you to briefly forget about your work and focus on something unfamiliar. This unfamiliarity kickstarts the brain. It could also help reduce any anxiety you feel about your current project.

Once you realize the value of these distractions, any guilt you feel about partaking in them should fade. People get burned out by always being on the go. We all need balance. Consider making this strategy of occasionally distracting yourself an official part of your workflow. The creative mind craves it.

The 6 Best Sources for Building a Reading List

New Year, New Reading Goals

Now that 2016 is here, many of us are focused on goals. New Year’s resolutions tend to be health-oriented. My own resolutions have focused on that in the past. This time, however, I decided to set a reading goal. I plan to read forty books for pleasure (i.e., outside of work-related reading). If you follow me on Goodreads, you will see my progress there.

Setting reading goals is a great idea to motivate yourself to read more. I know I constantly fall into the trap of aimless “Facebooking” and other “Interneting,” and I know I’m not alone. I made the conscious decision to read more books in 2016 instead of waste as much time as I did in 2015, and I hope others will do the same.

Reading Dilemma: Too Many Books to Choose From

A major issue for me when it comes to reading and motivation is that I get overwhelmed by all the books I want to read (the classic “too many books, not enough time”). There is something to be said about the paradox of choice. This is why I chose to do a specific reading challenge: it creates limitations. Without limitations, I’d likely continue my usual indecisiveness regarding what I want to read and when.

Too many books? You need a reading list.

Too many books? You need a reading list.

If you find yourself facing the same dilemma, I suggest doing a reading challenge like the one I’m doing. If that doesn’t interest you enough, or if you wish to maintain more control over your reading habits, then try to at least impose your own limitations on your reading choices. You can do this by tapping into several sources for suggestions.

The 6 Best Sources for Building Your Reading List in 2016

  1.  Goodreads (Goodreads.com) is a popular site for book lovers. It allows you to build lists of books you’ve read and want to read. It also allows you to rate books and write reviews, among other things. What makes the site particularly useful is that it’s also a great source for finding books to read. But rather than simply browse through the site and still have too many books to choose from, there are a few ways to narrow things down a bit.
    • Friends: Goodreads has a friend system not unlike Facebook’s. This allows you to see what your friends have read, are reading, and want to read. You can also see how they’ve rated books. There is even a tool that lets you compare your books with a friend’s to see your similarities/differences.
    • Listopia: This is a section of the site that allows users to build lists based on various themes. Other users then vote on them. Many of these thematic lists are very popular (having thousands of voters), and they might help you decide on reading certain titles over others.
    • Recommendations: Goodreads has a recommendations tool based on the books you’ve listed and how you’ve rated them. It also takes into account your favourite genres. This tool is a good way to discover books you might never have come across by other means.
  2. Facebook is now home to many companies, organizations, and even celebrities. By “liking” book-related pages, you can get ideas for reading from your feed daily. Pro tip: Organize your liked pages with lists using Facebook’s “Interests” feature; it makes it easier to access specific content whenever you want.
  3. Ask your mentor/boss/role model/hero what they’re reading. Also consider simply asking what books they’d recommend to you. People are often flattered when asked about subjects they’re interest in. You might be surprised by how generous they are with their recommendations. And while you might not personally know your role model or hero, social media is now so mainstream that there’s a good chance yours will discuss what they read, or at least discuss what their personal interests are.
  4. Your local library is an excellent source for ideas. In this age of Internet technologies, smartphone apps, and social media ubiquity, try not to overlook your city’s public library system. Librarians are educated, trained, and experienced in seeking and recommending books and other resources, and they can cater these to your interests. It might seem “old school” to go this route, but this option could become invaluable to you.
  5. Your local bookstore is likely staffed with passionate booksellers with a lot of experience recommending books to readers like you. Indie bookstores are especially good because they tend to be more specialized in their offerings. You might already be used to asking booksellers to help you find a title you’re looking for. Next time, try asking one to help you find an interesting book that you might be unaware of. This is how hidden gems are unearthed.
  6. Are you about to finish reading a fascinating nonfiction title? Be sure to have a look at the bibliography, recommended reading, etc. These are great avenues for exploring a subject further. Also, many fiction and poetry titles contain a list of other titles by the author, and some publishers even list titles by other authors they’ve published that might interest you.

I wish you the best in 2016. Happy reading!

Quote: George Eliot

“The darkest night that ever fell upon the earth never hid the light, never put out the stars. It only made the stars more keenly, kindly glancing, as if in protest against the darkness.”

—George Eliot

George Eliot quote

The Origin of Species: 156th Anniversary

The Origin of Species: 156 Years of Controversy

The title page of the original 1859 edition of The Origin of Species

The title page of the original 1859 edition

On November 24, 1859, Charles Darwin published The Origin of Species (as it’s commonly known). Its publication marks an important point in the development of the biological sciences.

Despite all the decades of scientific discoveries that have occurred since The Origin of Species was published, Darwin’s work remains controversial. The scientific community and many laypeople accept evolution as a scientific theory, which is basically a collection of facts. Regardless, there are still those who criticize it as “just a theory.” The basis for this is often religious or philosophical.

Creationism, the belief that the universe and life were created by a divine being, is still dominant amongst some communities. What’s challenging about accepting evolution as fact is that it’s difficult (though not impossible) to see. The most astounding results of evolutionary change occurred over great periods—millions, if not billions, of years. It’s not easy for the human mind to register this concept, considering that most of us are limited to less than a hundred years of life.

Great Books Change Individuals and Societies Alike

Charles Darwin, circa 1854, author of The Origin of Species

Charles Darwin, circa 1854

Regardless of whether or not people accept evolution as fact, it’s difficult to deny the impact that Darwin’s Origin of Species had on the world. Controversial in his day, and controversial to this day, the book is responsible for generating many ideas and counterarguments. Darwin based his book on his reflections on what he observed in the natural world. He saw it as a means to share his knowledge with anyone willing to read it.

Even if you haven’t read The Origin of Species, you likely know at least a bit of what’s laid out in the text, if not a bit of what others have revealed about evolution since. The main contemporary controversy is that some think evolutionary theory should not be taught in schools. Others think creationism should be taught alongside it as an alternative theory. On the other hand, most scientific professionals know that evolution is an important aspect of modern biology and are unwilling to give creationism any scientific credence, as it’s basically a metaphysical concept. Despite this divide (or perhaps because of it), the controversies show no sign of settling down anytime soon.

All things considered, The Origin of Species is a prime example of a book whose publication changed the world.

Quote: Henry James

“Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind.”

—Henry James

Henry James quote

Top 5 Ways to Avoid a Publisher’s Rejection Slip

Avoid Unnecessary Rejections from Publishers

I’ve read my share of manuscript submissions over the years. Many writers do a good job putting together query letters, proposals, and submission packages. Others, however, make serious mistakes that greatly increase their chance of rejection.

There is no foolproof way of getting a manuscript into the hands of an editor, but the following five tips are ways to avoid turning editors off unnecessarily.

  1. Follow the publisher’s submission guidelines to a T.
  2. Publishers list submission guidelines because they help editors handle submissions efficiently. Failing to follow these guidelines risks giving the impression that you have difficulty following instructions or that you are the kind of person who likes to break the rules. Neither of these will encourage a publisher or editor to work with you in what is essentially a professional relationship.

    Be sure to fulfill the publisher’s expectations before sending anything. Cutting corners in this case may do more harm than good.

  3. Ensure your submission is free from spelling and grammatical errors.
  4. Editors prefer to see manuscripts that won’t require more work than necessary. Spelling errors and rudimentary grammar problems are very discouraging. If an editor reviews pages containing these, he or she may become concerned about more serious problems throughout the rest of the manuscript.

    When you have only a few pages (and sometimes only one or two) to make a good first impression, make sure they’re immaculate. And don’t rely on software spell checkers and grammar checkers—they’re prone to errors. Instead, consider seeking help from others in polishing your manuscript before you send it in. A second set of eyes often does wonders.

  5. Write a professional query letter.
  6. Trying to be funny, cute, or unique in your query letter will usually backfire. Most editors will have seen it all before and are likely tired of it. Unless you have a knack for this sort of thing (i.e., you’re a brilliant comedic writer), avoid this. Trying to stand out by using any of these tactics will only distract from the purpose of your query: selling your manuscript.

    Keep it concise and to the point. Be persuasive, not pushy or flashy. Putting forth a professional attitude in your query letter will tell editors that you are serious about your aspirations as an author. A good resource on this subject (and much more) is the publishing guide Writer’s Market 2016.

  7. Submit one work at a time.
  8. Unless it’s encouraged, avoid submitting multiple works. Doing so can come across as desperation or laziness, as it may seem like you’re trying to dump as much of your work as you can into an editor’s lap. Also, it divides the focus of your query, which will dilute your persuasiveness in getting either of them accepted. Focus on one work for consideration, and give it your best shot.

  9. Submit your work only if it’s a good match with the publisher.

I’ve seen children’s books submitted to publishers who don’t publish children’s books. I’ve also seen submissions of fiction that simply don’t match the style or genre preferences of the publisher.

Submitting a manuscript that isn’t a good fit for the publisher indicates that you haven’t looked into the kinds of books they publish, and the odds of your manuscript being accepted may drop to zero. Research the publisher before submitting to them.

Artistic Merit Versus Professionalism

In a perfect world, the merits of your writing alone would sell your manuscript. Unfortunately, that’s not how it works in the real world. Book publishers often operate on minimal resources, in both finances and labour. As an author, it’s important for you to be professional and to look at your interactions with publishers as a form of doing business.

What Is This Blog About?

Who Am I?

I’m a Toronto-based freelance editor with more than ten years of experience in the book publishing industry. A large part of my work experience has been in the role of managing editor for the general trade publisher Insomniac Press, based in London, Ontario. Click here for a snapshot of some of the book projects I’ve worked on.

I became an editor almost intuitively. Although I enjoyed humanities courses the most while I was in high school, I ended up studying business administration and marketing at St. Lawrence College in Kingston. However, upon moving to Toronto, I discovered that I wasn’t a good fit for that kind of career, so I decided to return to school, this time to study literature at York University. I loved it so much that I ended up with a specialized English honours degree.

After graduating, I was uncertain what I wanted to do. It was then that I discovered Ryerson University’s certificate program in publishing. I’ve always had a knack for critiquing and editing, and I had developed this further throughout college and university. I didn’t end up pursuing the certificate, but taking the copy editing course did give me access to an internship, which happened to be with Insomniac Press.

And the rest is history.

Why Am I Blogging?

Well, I’m quite introverted, which means I spend a lot of time thinking about things and not so much time sharing my thoughts. I often think it’s a shame to keep a lot of this stuff to myself, so I figured that a blog would be a great platform to correct that.

What Is This Blog About?

I will blog mostly about book-related topics, including writing, editing, publishing, and reading. I will discuss books of all kinds, including poetry, nonfiction, and various types of fiction. I will share my work experiences and give insights into the publishing process and book industry.

I will also occasionally discuss other topics I’m passionate about, including games, film, television, music (I’m a guitar hobbyist), and food. And given that I’m a regular practitioner of Muay Thai and hapkido, I will sometimes share my experiences with those.

For Whom Am I Blogging?

This blog is for anyone who shares the same interests as me. Whether you appreciate it as someone hoping to learn more about a topic or you wish to provide feedback as someone who is quite knowledgeable, I encourage you to both enjoy reading and post comments. I’d love to know what you think. Feel free to ask questions or suggest ideas for future blog posts.

Finally, please also follow me on my various social media profiles:

Thanks for visiting.

Blog Forthcoming….

 

A Blog About Books and More

This blog will cover topics relevant to my career as a book editor, including editing, writing, reading, and book marketing, publicity, and promotion. I will, of course, also include some off-topic items of interest on occasion.

Stay tuned.