World Building

I’m doing double duty this month during the A to Z Blogging Challenge. Here at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker, I will share ways to increase your creativity. I’ll also be doing the challenge at Facing Cancer with Grace, where I will share posts that focus on caregiving. I hope you’ll visit me at both sites. While you’re here, sign up for my email list. Today’s post is W is for World Building.

One sure way to get your creative juices flowing is to create an imaginary universe (and everything in it). This is known as world building. World building is something you do as a game creator and as a writer of fiction. Anytime you write fiction, you should be creating a world that your reader can walk around in. This is true, even if that world is Saint Paul, Minnesota in 2016. A reader from Albany, New York may never have been there, so you need to be just as diligent in laying everything out as you would be writing a fantasy novel.

Other World Building

There are some things that make world building in another time or in a completely made up place more time intensive.

  • Your reader will be coming to it not knowing anything about the world.
  • The social structure, maybe even the appearance of its inhabitants will be unique from our own (presumably).
  • You will have to describe the universe, it’s inhabitants, even the non-living everyday object unique to that universe.
  • What are the rules of the world your reader is peering into?
  • One thing that’s essential is to make your world as multifaceted as our own.
  • Politics and people (human or otherwise) are both complex.
  • Their history is filled with unique nooks and crannies

Avoid making them one dimensional. Here is a great article on the 7 Deadly Sins of World Building from Gizmodo.

Keeping the Details Straight

With so much to keep straight, different world builders have come up with ways to avoid plot holes and missing parts of the picture. Some fill notebooks (paper or digital) with copious notes. Often, they create a template of questions they ask about each character, place, or object of importance.

World Building

Recently, my daughters recommended an awesome tool called notebook.ai. It not only stores all of your information but asks you the questions you need to answer to make your world come alive. Even if the world you are building is grounded in your own place and time, this tool can be a valuable addition to your arsenal. I’ve been working on a mystery. At times, remembering what details I’ve included in my world of Wisconsin can be difficult. I used Notebook.ai to flesh out all of the details, ensuring nothing gets missed.

Notebook.ai ’s free plan is a great way to get started. It includes up to 5 universes and pages for characters, locations, and items. But it’s paid plan is the way to go if you’re a serious world builder. This opens up unlimited universes and all 15 page-types including flora, languages, groups, creatures, magics, races, religions, scenes, towns, countries, and landmarks.

However you go about building your world, you’ll be sure to stretch your imagination in the process.

While you’re here, sign up for my email list to get a periodic email newsletter to encourage your creativity.

What are YOUR thoughts?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

About Heather Erickson

I am an author, writer, and speaker and homeschooling mom of 3. Since doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan with stage IV lung cancer in 2012, I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My books The Memory Maker’s Journal and Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, are available at Amazon.com.

I also blog about living with cancer at, Facing Cancer with Grace.

 


Experiment with variety

I’m doing double duty this month during the A to Z Blogging Challenge. Here at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker, I will share ways to increase your creativity. I’ll also be doing the challenge at Facing Cancer with Grace, where I will share posts that focus on caregiving. I hope you’ll visit me at both sites. While you’re here, sign up for my email list. Today’s post is V is for Experiment with Variety.

Once in a while as a creative, you might find yourself getting into a rut. You can’t bring yourself to write one more page or draw one more portrait. Every song you compose comes out sounding the same.  This is when it’s time to experiment with variety. Variety is the spice of creativity.

Visual Artist who experiment with variety

Visual art offers unlimited opportunities for exploration. John  P Weiss Artist and writer (www.johnpweiss.com) Shares his thoughts on this in his Medium article called, This is the Secret to Your Creative Success.

The flamboyant, Salvador Dali was a skilled painter, sculptor, and draftsman.  He remains the superstar of the Surrealist Movement, even after his death, in 1989. He was always pushing the envelope in all that he set his hands to—and the public loved him for it, much to the chagrin of critics.

Intensely interested in film, Dali also painted sets for plays and ballets. He also worked with filmmakers such as Alfred Hitchcock and Walt Disney.

Destino.- Walt Disney and Salvador Dali (1945-2003)

Speaking of Disney…

There was another man who thrived on innovation and loved to experiment with variety. He worked his way up the ranks of the animation world to become the best of the best. He worked well in collaboration with equally good musicians such as composer Carl Stalling who raised the bar when it came to making the stories as much about the music as they were about the visual aspects.

Dissatisfied with the typical short cartoons, Disney began work on Snow White and the Seven Dwarves in 1934. While many predicted it would flop and Disney would regret going 3 times over budget, the film became the most successful sound film to date. And why not? Disney went to great lengths to make it as realistic as possible, even bringing live animals into the studio.

In 1950, Disney filmed his first live-action feature, Treasure Island. Then, in 1952, the animation artist turned producer began the adventure of building a theme park. He wanted to showcase ingenuity and innovation, as well as cultures from around the world. You can still see that spirit today in Disney Land, Disney World, and Epcot Center.

Musicians who experiment with Variety

In August 2016, longtime Aerosmith frontman, Steven Tyler released his first solo album: We’re All Somebody From Somewhere hitting #1 on the COUNTRY charts. Yes, you read that right. Tyler wrote 12 of the 15 tracks.

“Love is Your Name”

One of the coolest crossover musicians I know of is the Man in Black, himself. Johnny Cash gained popularity as a country Legend (with a capital L). Over the years, he experimented with other genres, most notably as he neared the end of his life.

The variety of genres Cash explored—and excelled at, won him the rare honor of multiple inductions in the Country Music, Rock and Roll, and Gospel Music Halls of Fame. A great article by the Rolling Stone Magazine (1), highlights 11 of these genre-crossing covers, along with their music videos.

“Hurt” (Cover of Nine Inch Nails)

Writers who experiment with variety

One of the writers who experiment with variety in their work is Edgar Allen Poe. You might think of him as solely gothic, but in fact, he has many genres. Would you believe one is humor?

He also wrote hoaxes such as “The Unparalleled Adventures of One Hans Pfaall” and “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket” (1838). “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket” is Poe’s only full length novel.

Poe wrote poetry, mysteries, detective stories, and horror, of course. He also loved cryptography (codes).

Top 10 Authors with Versatile Writing Styles That Write Like Chameleons

What about you?

How will you experiment with variety? So often, we get so comfortable doing the things we are great at, that we forget how good it feels to stretch our creative muscles. What is something you’ve toyed with trying but haven’t yet done so? What’s stopping you? If you don’t like it, you can always go back to your old ways—or you can try something else new! You just might get out of your creative rut.

While you’re here, sign up for my email list to get a periodic email newsletter to encourage your creativity.

What are YOUR thoughts?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

About Heather Erickson

I am an author, writer, and speaker and homeschooling mom of 3. Since doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan with stage IV lung cancer in 2012, I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My books The Memory Maker’s Journal and Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, are available at Amazon.com.

I also blog about living with cancer at, Facing Cancer with Grace.


Up The Stakes

I’m doing double duty this month during the A to Z Blogging Challenge. Here at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker, I will share ways to increase your creativity. I’ll also be doing the challenge at Facing Cancer with Grace, where I will share posts that focus on caregiving. I hope you’ll visit me at both sites. While you’re here, sign up for my email list. Today’s post is U is for Up the Stakes.

What makes a reader keep reading a story, or a viewer binge-watch their favorite series on Netflix? It’s the amazing art of upping the stakes. When you up the stakes, a reader can’t help but turn the page. What does it mean to up the stakes? Simply, you make something mean more for your character.

When You Up the Stakes They are more invested.

A writer might up the stakes in a thriller by revealing that the main character, a female army general, has just found out the man she married two years earlier is an Al Qaeda operative.

A romance author might up the stakes by having the heroine find out that the man she just had a fender bender with is her new boss. And she hadn’t noticed when she was berating him at the accident scene, just how hunky he was.

What about less dramatic stories?

Do you have to have something earthshaking happen when you up the stakes? No. But it needs to be compelling enough to keep your reader interested. In fact, you don’t want to have round after round of upping the stakes in a dramatic way or your reader will grow weary of the comic book-like way of moving the story forward.

Instead, you should have more of an action-reaction cycle. One scene will build to the action. Your protagonist has a goal. It might be to get Billy Bob to go on a date with her kid sister, Marybelle. So she plots and schemes to make everything just right. Then, just as she’s about to achieve that goal, disaster strikes. Marybelle is missing. The protagonist goes to tell Billy Bob, but she has set such a romantic mood that Billy Bob kisses her! That’s upping the stakes.

Now, what is going to happen?

That’s the question that makes your reader turn the page and begin reading the next chapter. The next chapter is where we will deal with the fallout of the action in the last chapter. The characters will react to the misplaced kiss. The protagonist will feel guilty about kissing her sister, Marybelle’s intended, Billy Bob. Billy Bob will fall madly in love with the protagonist, and Marybelle is still missing. What will they do? That decision will bring is back to the action scene, now with the protagonist’s new goal in mind.

Each time you have the action scene, you should find a way to up the stakes, even if it’s something small. Maybe they learn that Marybelle’s true calling is to become a professional square dancer and Billy Bob has two left feet. The possibilities are endless. Just ask your self what the goal of your protagonist is and how you can throw a monkey wrench in it.

While you’re here, sign up for my email list to get a periodic email newsletter to encourage your creativity.

What are YOUR thoughts?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

About Heather Erickson

I am an author, writer, and speaker and homeschooling mom of 3. Since doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan with stage IV lung cancer in 2012, I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My books The Memory Maker’s Journal and Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, are available at Amazon.com.

I also blog about living with cancer at, Facing Cancer with Grace.


Travel

I’m doing double duty this month during the A to Z Blogging Challenge. Here at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker, I will share ways to increase your creativity. I’ll also be doing the challenge at Facing Cancer with Grace, where I will share posts that focus on caregiving. I hope you’ll visit me at both sites. While you’re here, sign up for my email list. Today’s post is T is for Travel & Creativity.

One of the coolest ways to increase your creative thinking abilities is to travel. The distance on the map isn’t nearly as important as crossing the cultural divide.

Creativity is Connection

“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.”     —Steve Jobs

By taking the time to experience a new culture, intimately, the things you think of as normal are suddenly just one way of doing things. I’ve experienced this firsthand many times. The first was when I was 16 and traveled to Spain for a summer. It was an amazing experience that changed my life forever, giving me a broader perspective.

Travel in India

Later in life, I traveled with my husband to do missionary work in India. The modern missionary perspective is less about changing cultures to look like your own and more about seeing the beauty in foreign cultures, crossing the cultural divide and sharing our love of Christ. On that trip, I fell in love with the people of India.

Travel in the Middle East

A year later we traveled to the Middle East where we focused on ministering to the persecuted church. We spent time in West Bank of Israel, where Christians are a small minority in the land where Jesus was born, lived, and was crucified. The Christians there are caught between the cultures of the Jewish Israelis and the Muslim Palestinians. We visited Morocco where it’s illegal to be a Christan. And, just after the “revolution”, we were in Egypt, where my husband was able to smuggle Bibles and we ministered in house churches. In every place we visited, we met incredible people facing things we can’t imagine as Americans. We also saw unique ways of overcoming obstacles.

Honk if you Travel in India

Travel by car in India could be a harrowing experience. The first night we were there we wondered if we would survive the journey from the airport in New Delhi to our hotel. I’d never heard so many people honking their horns. I wondered why they were so angry. When daylight came and we headed off to Chandigarh I noticed the signs on the back of many of the vehicles on the roads. They said, “Horn Please.” I asked about this and was told that many vehicles didn’t have side mirrors or blinkers, so this would warn drivers that you were about to overtake them on the road. Even though having 5 lanes of cars driving on a 3-lane road took some getting used to, we noted that there was always a way out of a traffic jam.

Horn Please

Don’t Honk if You Travel in France

On our way home, we had a 28-hour layover in Paris. The first 4 hours were spent in a cab, driving the 20 miles to our hotel. This cab ride was serenely quiet but amazingly tense. We inched along at a snail’s pace as the meter accumulated charges. Everyone stayed in their own lanes and not a single person honked. I wanted to scream, “Surely you can squeeze between these lanes. Just honk, will you?” I didn’t, but I could see how quickly I’d begun to think like an Indian.

Travel changes you

When you travel to learn about different cultures you are changed. You see new perspectives and new ways of doing things. The deeply ingrained connections in your brain are suddenly rerouted to create new ones. This is how travel makes you a more creative, and often a better person.

While you’re here, sign up for my email list to get a periodic email newsletter to encourage your creativity.

What are YOUR thoughts?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

About Heather Erickson

I am an author, writer, and speaker and homeschooling mom of 3. Since doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan with stage IV lung cancer in 2012, I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My books The Memory Maker’s Journal and Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, are available at Amazon.com.

I also blog about living with cancer at, Facing Cancer with Grace.


senses

I’m doing double duty this month during the A to Z Blogging Challenge. Here at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker, I will share ways to increase your creativity. I’ll also be doing the challenge at Facing Cancer with Grace, where I will share posts that focus on caregiving. I hope you’ll visit me at both sites. While you’re here, sign up for my email list. Today’s post is S is for Senses.

The 5 Senses

Writers usually try to sprinkle each of the 5 senses throughout the story to make it come alive. This gives the reader a more vivid reading experience. Writers often lean heavily on the senses of sight and hearing, while neglecting the senses of taste, touch, and smell. Some writers go overboard, overwhelming readers to the point of distraction.

While balance is the key, once in a while, it’s a good idea to try something different to stretch your writing abilities. One way to do this is to eliminate one of the major sensory abilities. There must be a reason to do this which is integral to the plot. Make sure it’s not contrived.

Bird Box

A year ago, I heard about Josh Malerman’s novel, Bird Box, on The Story Grid podcast. I immediately put it on my “must read” list. The thing that interested me was a change of perspective. Malerman did something most writers would never dream of doing. He eliminated the sense of sight, almost completely from the story.

The premise of the book was that something was making everyone insane (to the point of self-destruction) by just being seen. So the main character was essentially on a quest—blindfolded. This forced not only the main character, but Josh Malerman, as well, to rely more heavily on the other 4 senses.

I recall watching an episode from the series Alfred Hitchcock Presents, called, You Got to Have Luck. An escaped convict took refuge in the home of a deaf woman, not knowing she was deaf and was reading his lips. Eventually he was caught because of this mistake. This concept has been used several times since then, most recently in the 2016 horror movie, “Hush.”  Even if you only do this as an exercise to stretch your writing muscles, I highly recommend playing with the 5 senses in your writing.

While you’re here, sign up for my email list to get a periodic email newsletter to encourage your creativity.

What are YOUR thoughts?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

About Heather Erickson

I am an author, writer, and speaker and homeschooling mom of 3. Since doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan with stage IV lung cancer in 2012, I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My books The Memory Maker’s Journal and Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, are available at Amazon.com.

I also blog about living with cancer at, Facing Cancer with Grace.


Read Books

I’m doing double duty this month during the A to Z Blogging Challenge. Here at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker, I will share ways to increase your creativity. I’ll also be doing the challenge at Facing Cancer with Grace, where I will share posts that focus on caregiving. I hope you’ll visit me at both sites. While you’re here, sign up for my email list. Today’s post is R is for, Read Books, Be More Creative.

You gain knowledge when you read books

People seem to be moving from reading books to reading short pieces on the internet such as this blog. I am by no means advocating unfollowing this blog (heaven forbid that!) but it’s important that you don’t replace reading books with reading blogs. They each serve a different function. Books are built to last. They will give you knowledge on a deeper level. As you will read in this post, when you read a book, you change your mind—really.

Reading increases your vocabulary.

This is particularly true for fiction readers, likely because fiction tends to use a larger variety of words than non-fiction. In fact, in people who already read somewhat, and then increase their level of reading, their vocabulary by 2,000 words. However, when they go from reading “somewhat,” to reading lots and lots of fiction, their vocabulary will jump a whopping 8,000 words! And once you start reading it stays with you. You can find out more about these findings HERE. And you can take the vocabulary survey that has contributed to these finding to see how your vocabulary rates.

Readers sleep better than people who don’t read.

Most people know that reading books is a wonderful escape.  You can be transported to another place and/or time. This has more than entertainment value. It can help you sleep better.  After 6 minutes of reading your heart rate slows and your muscles relax. Fiction, in particular, is a great way to top off the night before going to bed. It pulls your focus away from the stressors of your day and engages your mind in an imagined place.

When you read books, you are able to see the world in a whole new light

Your mind is opened to new ideas and ways of doing things. You can think beyond your normal routine and patterns. Lisa Bu, shares in this short TED talk, how reading books changed who she was by opening her mind, especially when she left China and was able to read books banned in China. Books helped connect her to people from the past and the present.

You gain empathy.

The brain networks that are used for understanding stories are the same ones that are used when interacting with other people.  That same study showed that the more television a child was exposed to the worse they performed on theory of mind tests. There is a lot of speculation as to why this is. Suffice it to say, it’s better to read a book. (1)

Mar states, “Experiences that we have in our life shape our understanding of the world…and imagined experiences through narrative fiction stories are also likely to shape or change us. But with a caveat–it’s not a magic bullet–it’s an opportunity for change and growth.”

Immersive reading can really boost your imagination.

This ability helps us in our daily social interactions, much the way an airline pilot is aided by using a flight simulator. We are able to think of how we would react to various situations. In fact, neural changes that are associated with physical sensations suggest that when you read a novel, you truly are transported into the body of the protagonist. For example, just thinking about basketball activates the same neurons that are associated with actually playing basketball. (2)

For writers and artists in any creative field, is essential to read books in order to enlarge your world, enabling you to reflect it more brilliantly in your creative work.

Unfortunately, too many people don’t read books

Check out these reading statistics from the website, Static Brain. One shocking example: “42% of college graduates never read another book after college.” Why are literacy statistics so dismal? There is a lot of evidence to point to the fact that we are trying to prepare our children to become digitally proficient at the expense of traditional reading skills. We have started putting tablets in their hands instead of books. One study observed more than 300 kindergarteners across the Midwest that had iPads in the classroom. It found that the group of kids who had to share iPads in class scored 28 percent higher in literacy testing than children who had their own iPads or no iPads. (3)

The problem of the internet and other media such as TV

Television during childhood is considered detrimental to intellectual development.(4) It has been associated with lower IQ and higher levels of aggression.  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting all screen time for kids aged two and under, to use for human interaction such as video chatting in moderation. But, what about Sesame Street? Yes, there is a Sesame Street exception for kids ages 2-5, and their parents. At this age, up to an hour of this type of educational programming is okay. Parents should be interacting with their child while they watch, however. Programs should have a Mister Rogers pace.

So, what are we to do?

I’m not saying that you should cancel your Netflix subscription or throw out your IPad. Limiting your use of digital media and increasing your fiction reading will help you to think more deeply and help increase your creativity. I personally know this to be true. I did a month-long digital detox in January and experienced a huge change in my creative and personal life.

We have the ability to learn as much as we want to through books. You aren’t limited to a high school or college education. And books are free at your local library! Read one today.

What are YOUR thoughts?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

About Heather Erickson

I am an author, writer, and speaker and homeschooling mom of 3. Since doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan with stage IV lung cancer in 2012, I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My books The Memory Maker’s Journal and Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, are available at Amazon.com.

I also blog about living with cancer at, Facing Cancer with Grace.

Footnotes:

  1. Raymond A. Mar, Exposure to media and theory-of-mind development in preschoolers. Science Direct, Cognitive Development Volume 25, Issue 1, January-March 2010, Pgs. 69-78
  2. Christopher Bergland. January 4, 2014. Psychology Today: Reading Fiction Improves Brain Connectivity and Function
  3. Chandra M Johnson Published: October 19, 2016. Desert News In Depth, How the digital age changes literacy education;
  4. Ridley-Johnson R Cooper H Chance J. 1983. The relation of children’s television viewing to school achievement and IQ. J Educ Res. 294–297.

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