Avoid creative block

It’s funny – just this afternoon I was feeling an urge to be creative – I just didn’t know what I wanted to create.  I still don’t, actually.  But I thought opening up my WP dashboard (for the first time in weeks, admittedly) would be a good place to start.

I figured, “Why don’t I type my way through?”  And then on my Dashboard I saw that I had this draft sitting around, with a link to a Reddit post from /r/Blogging called “How to Avoid Creative Block and Have A Good Supply of Writing Ideas”.   It’s been a while since I read it, so I had another go.

So, go on and read the article below.  I hope that it helps or inspires you!  I can’t say exactly that it’s helped me, but I’m going to take some ideas from it.

(Oh – and the image I uploaded for this post?  I was going to create a graphic using Canva and a creativity-related quote, and one of the templates I found I just happened to like.  So I didn’t even create this one!)

How to Avoid Creative Block and Have a Good Supply of Writing Ideas from Blogging

Usefulness of Medium

I really like Medium.com.  There’s a wide range of articles available on virtually ANY topic – from the trivial to the very important.  And if I were feeling lazy, I’d end my post right there – those are reasons enough for me to publicly state my fondness for Medium.  But I’m not (too) lazy.

View story at Medium.com

I recently read the above article, which is what prompted me to start writing about a website.  If for some reason you can’t see the link, it’s an article called “This Is How Your Fear and Outrage Are Being Sold for Profit: The story of how one metric has changed the way you see the world“.  To give you a brief summary, it talks about how journalism has changed for the worse because of online metrics.

What struck me about this article, and others like it that I’ve read, is the simple fact that articles and reading such as this exists in the first place on Medium.  I think that it’s important that different viewpoints exist and are easily read, especially when more and more news feeds are curated to show you what YOU want to read, and often give you a skewed world view.

But on Medium, there doesn’t seem to be any particular algorithm (that I’m aware of, at least) that aims specific content your way.  Their main page starts with a series of article suggestions, which as far as I can tell, is based on a combination of what you’ve read previously + content categories you’ve identified as what you’re interested in reading.

 

View post on imgur.com

It then goes on to suggest articles that are specifically found in your categories of choice.  OK, so it is curated, a little bit; but the fact that the “you might like” choices are based on what you’ve already read is still leagues better than news articles who change their headlines and content based on what people are more likely to read.

With Medium, I have a choice of what I want to read.  The articles that are submitted here aren’t done so in order to increase precious advertising revenue or clicks; they’re on the website because somebody wanted to write that particular article and wanted someone to read it.

I was about to call it ‘one big letter to the editor’ – but that’s the thing; while there ARE opinion pieces on the website, there are also some well-researched journalism pieces that are more about facts than opinion.  And then there are some nice stories to read as well.

Given the state of current journalism, we need a website like Medium to continue to thrive.  I myself need to make a more conscious effort to read it on a regular basis.  You should, too.

I’ve Had Enough of You, Yoast SEO

When I started this new blog in January, my number one goal – and today it’s still the number one goal – was to engage readers.  That hasn’t exactly happened.  But that’s okay, and I’m still working on it.

But one of the reasons I pushed forward and bought a domain name with a WordPress installation was because I kept getting told I needed to be able to use plugins!  And that I’d never get anywhere without a domain name!

Sadly, I think I was oversold on the domain name.  Nonetheless, one of the plugins that kept getting pushed over on Reddit’s blogging subreddit was “Yoast SEO”.  The long and short of it is that Yoast SEO is designed to help you craft your posts to optimize them for SEO (Search Engine Optimization).

I’ve had enough of Yoast SEO intruding in my writing.

I’ve definitely noticed since activating the plugin that I’m changing the way I might traditionally write a post, and that my own personal voice is marginalized.  I don’t like it anymore, and tailoring my posts to perform well with search engines isn’t doing me any favours, anyway.

So I’m ditching it, officially.  Consider this a negative review, and not just a pat on my own back.

If you’ve never used it before, Yoast SEO prompts you for a keyword (apparently several keywords if you have premium) and scans your post for SEO efficiency, giving you a red, yellow, or green light based on what you’ve written.

You get more points for adding images, headings, etc.  Some of it makes sense to me.  But some of it absolutely doesn’t – and maybe that’s a fault of my not understanding SEO, but I can tell you with certainty that I don’t feel like searching for or creating a random image to insert just because it increases my Yoast rating.

I think this is just my personal use-case showing through here; I believe that for people with focused, niche-oriented blogs, Yoast SEO might in fact be extremely beneficial for them.  It’s just not for me.

If you’ve had better experience with Yoast, let me know in the comments!  I’d love to be proven wrong, and given a lesson or two on how to use it and avoid losing my writing voice.

Story Idea Up For Grabs

I got a story idea a few weeks ago, but I haven’t really bothered to put pen to paper to develop it at all.  So it’s now up for grabs!

Take them.
Take them.

I was listening to Almost Educational Episode 131 about time travel.  At some point while I was listening, the idea for a piece of flash fiction popped into my head.  Unfortunately, as is usually the case with my ideas, if I don’t act on it fast, the motivation to do it fades pretty quickly.

The main premise is this: The phenomenon known as “frequency illusion” (also known as the “Baader-Meinhof phenomenon”) is actually a ripple effect caused by some kind of change to the timeline in the past.

That’s about as far as I got with the idea, so I’d love to see what someone can come up with here.  If it’s already been done, point me in the right direction!

Flash Fiction Prompt

I was listening to Episode 35 of Anthology yesterday which covered the topic of genies.  It got me thinking a little bit about something to write, but as usual I was on a walk while I was listening to this is all based on memory!

Anyway, I thought I’d provide everyone with a Flash Fiction Prompt.  If you’re not familiar with the term “flash fiction”, you may want to familiarize yourself with the Wikipedia entry.  The short version (or “flash” version, if you will) is that Flash Fiction is really short, usually no more than 1000 words.  The shortest most-known story is of course The Six Word Story.

Flash Fiction Prompt

All I remembered from my walk was this prompt:

A genie grants you three wishes.

And that’s it.  Run with it!

Short Story: The Wrist Watch

The Wrist Watch - Short Story by Stephen Gower
The Wrist Watch – Short Story by Stephen Gower

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that I had a short story I wanted to share with you, and that it needed some work.  Well, I decided to abandon that story (for now; it needs a lot more work and I didn’t leave myself enough time).  However, I did find a mostly complete version of another story that I can totally share.

It’s not 100% finished; I made a few tweaks but there’s a major change that should happen with this story that would completely change it (for the better, I hope).

I can’t remember where the original idea came from, but I think it started life as a novel.  I have a memory of writing this for one of the National Novel Writing Months (NaNoWriMo) a few years back.  I think rather than keeping it a stretched out mess, I turned it into a more manageable short story.

The result is The Wrist Watch.  I’ve got it available in DRM-free ePub format that you can download directly.  There’s no way this is good enough to be sold!  But if you decide that you really, really want to contribute some funds, contact me privately and I’ll send you a donation link.  But trust me you don’t need to.

Without further rambling, enjoy The Wrist Watch (ePub)!

Story Update

I don’t have a big post for you today, but instead a story update.  In one of my recent goal update posts I mentioned that I wanted to get back to writing some more fiction.  I had the idea that I was going to share an original piece with you today, but due to time constraints that’s just not happening.

My thought process shifted to posting an older story, from one of my Google Drive folders.  I have a few sitting in there, but to my dismay – they’re not really ready.  There was one story in particular I was thinking about sharing, but when I opened it, I realized that I left it unfinished.  There are some comments on it that I got from a writing group but I never went back to it.

I’m going to update the story in the next few weeks, and create a cover art for it and release it as an eBook.  Actually, as I typed this I also found what looks like a pretty complete draft of another short story.  I’ll have to read it over but I think I’m going to give that one the same treatment.

I haven’t decided whether I should try to put them up for $1 on Amazon or something; or if I’d be better off just throwing them online in a pay-what-you-want format.  Either way I will make the stories available to readers of the blog in some form.

And so that I make sure the work gets done, I’m giving myself a deadline: Tuesday May 9th.  If you don’t see something from me by that date, yell at me!  I’m on Twitter at @stephen_g.

Update on 2017 Goals

Back in January, I set some goals for 2017 and thought that since we’re now three months into the year (and my birthday is this weekend), I should leave a little bit of a progress update. I didn’t intend to do this until April, but like I said – my birthday is this weekend so it felt like a good time to give the year a quick assessment.

Remain Organized

This is going pretty well, I think. At this point I’m not really worried about my level of organization – I just did a little bit of a purge of my work space at home, and my journal is updated mostly every day (weekends tend to be the exception, which I’m perfectly fine with). The fact that I’m concerned with making my journal look nice as opposed to keeping up to date with it tells me I’m fine here.

Be a positive example

This is probably going to be the toughest one to judge progress. I think I’m doing okay here. I haven’t done a lot of venting anywhere.

Lose the weight.

It’s going, and that’s about all I can say about it right now. I’ve written more about it recently though.

Learn more about driving social media engagement

Right now this is taking the form of figuring out “how to blog”, sort of. One step has been to buy a domain name.

Write more.

Middle grade on this one. Technically I am writing pretty frequently on the blog, but not feeling as productive as I feel I should be. Objectively though, I’m doing great.

Read more.

As overall progress goes, this is fine; however I’m still stuck on a book that I should be finished by now. I just haven’t been making much time for reading novels, but if you want to talk comic books I’m your guy!

In conclusion…

I think I’m plodding along quite well with my goals for the year. I’ve picked some pretty tough ones to assess, which means I think I should do a formal draft of the goals + measure of success for these. I’ll do that in April, when I originally intended to do a follow-up post.

Freelance Writing

I’m always trying to think of ways to earn extra money – my goal for things like my podcast is to be able to run it without spending any of my own money.  So far, I haven’t been able to do that.  At most, I’ve been able to pay for my Netflix subscription and 1 year of hosting for www.alternativeairwaves.com with proceeds from SwagBucks (I typically get ~$25 a month, but it’s slow, grinding work).

One thing I used to do – and I honestly can’t figure out where I found the work before – was freelance writing.  The stuff I was doing, I really didn’t like that much.  But it was relatively easy work, and got me I think $20 for 5 articles (which in retrospect, was not very good pay).  I should probably dig up what I wrote to put a portfolio together, even though I have no idea where the things I wrote showed up online.  This was probably 9-10 years ago, too.

But writing is just about the only marketable skill I can think of to sell online.  I wish sometimes that I just had something I could do in 5-10 minutes and sell for $10 a pop.  But I just don’t have the creative, physical skills.  I’ve considered audio-related things, but sometimes that takes longer than what it’s worth.  If I applied myself, I could probably put together a podcast editing portfolio.  I just don’t usually have the time to provide the turnaround some podcast hosts require.

What kind of things have you done online to generate some extra cash?  Or in the parlance of the Internet, “beer money”?  Any suggestions for what I could do?  Just looking to find work to generate $25-50 a month that isn’t so tedious as surveys and offers that pay cents at a time.

Looking Back at Old Reviews

For some reason while writing yesterday’s post, I went looking at older posts from my old blog.  One thing that struck me immediately was that I wrote very prolifically, and with just about the same enthusiasm as I am with this blog.  A lot of the early posts are reviews of different pieces of media I’ve consumed recently, and my overall thoughts about them.

With one of my goals for 2017 being to read more, I thought I would have a look at some of the things I’ve read over the years.  I’ve identified a few things that I want to have another look at, based on my original reactions and the fact that I don’t remember what they’re about anymore.

Hunter by Wil Wheaton.  This appears to be an eBook that Wil Wheaton originally released as a pay-what-you-can title.  You can pick it up from Amazon for 75 cents, and apparently I really liked it the last time I read it, so that sounds like a steal.  According to this post, I originally paid $1.00.  Well worth it.

I, Robot by Cory Doctorow.  From the same post I reviewed Hunter, I reviewed I, Robot as well.  These two stories sound like they would make a good sci-fi double-header and darn it all, I wish I knew what twist I was talking about!

I wasn’t getting why it was titled “I, Robot” until the payoff at the very end.

World of Wonders by Robertson Davies.  I don’t think I ever finished this novel, the third and final piece of the Deptford Trilogy.  In fact I might want to re-read Fifth Business and The Manticore before I come back to World of Wonders.  This might be on the back-burner, as I have several other novels I want to read through this year.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.  I read his latest novel Armada last year, and liked it a lot.  It’s been in the back of my head to re-read Ready Player One for a while, so maybe I’ll do that at some point.

I think that’s all I need to revisit for now.  I thought there might have been more, but I don’t have time to read through all my old posts at the moment.