10 Tricks to Try – Writer’s Block

Over the last six months, I’ve been dealing with the worst writer’s block I’ve ever experienced. At times it’s gotten so bad that I’ve considered quitting writing all together. I’ve thought that maybe the universe was trying to tell me something, that it was time to give up on old dreams and find some new ones. But it’s just no good – no matter how many times I try to walk away from writing, I always come back to it. I think writing and I are stuck with each other, even if we’re not on the best of terms at the moment.

I’m still struggling, but things have gotten better during the past few weeks. The road to recovery has been long and painful, and I’m far from done treading it, but I thought I would share a few of the things that have helped me out along the way.

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Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash

10 Tricks to Try – Writer’s Block

  1. When you don’t feel like writing, be kind to yourself.

Don’t beat yourself up for having writer’s block. It’s not some personal failing, it’s not some punishment from God, it’s just something crappy that’s happening to you right now. Do you beat yourself up every time something bad happens to you? If you’re me, the answer is yes, and you need to knock that off right now.

If you’re not me, the answer should be NO. When something bad happens to you, you should try and be kind to yourself. Do something for you that makes you feel good. Whether it’s watching your favorite flick, playing with your dog, indulging in a bubble bath, talking with a friend, doing some meditation, whatever – just take care of yourself first before becoming obsessed with the problem. Because you’re the most important tool you have in your quest to becoming a good writer – don’t run yourself ragged.

 

  1. When you don’t feel like writing, write anyway.

In his book On Writing, Stephen King dishes a lot of great advice about being an author and about being a human being. One thing he expounds upon is the importance of a daily writing routine. “Don’t wait for the muse,” King writes. “As I’ve said, he’s a hard headed guy…Your job is to make sure the muse knows where you’re going to be every day from nine ‘til noon. Or seven ‘til three.”

Now, this act of writing daily is something that I’m still struggling to master. I think it must be like exercising daily. When you first start out it’s the hardest thing to do in the world. You’re going to ‘fail’ a lot – miss a lot of days, start over a bunch, etc. Right now, I’m not focusing so much on sitting down and writing from a set time to a set time or even writing a certain amount of words; I’m focusing on every day, whether I feel like it or not, sitting down and writing something. Anything. It can be a sentence. It can be a sentence of absolute, unconnected to anything, weirdness. Just as long as another day doesn’t pass with me having written nothing, I consider that a win.

 

  1. When you don’t feel like writing, go for a walk.

I hate exercise. With a fiery passion. But even I know that my body needs it. And if my body isn’t in a good place, my brain certainly won’t be. If you’re suffering from writer’s block, your body might need some re-calibrating. Take it for a walk around the block – get your blood pumping, some sweat flowing, breath in some fresh air and remember that you are a beautiful mind inside a beautiful body. Regain some perspective.

 

  1. When you don’t feel like writing, read.

This can be painful. Like looking through a candy shop window while you’re on a diet. I’d recommend not going to your go to favorite books, the ones that made you want to be a writer in the first place – put those to one side. Chances are you’ve already read them a hundred times anyway and reading them again isn’t going to help. Pick-up something new. Pick-up something weird. Pick-up something you’re pretty sure you’re not even going to like. Give it a read. Like #2 above, I’m trying to make sure I read at least one new thing a day. It doesn’t have to be a whole book, or a full hour of reading, it can just be a page or a quote from something, as long as it’s never entered my brain before. Read widely and weirdly.

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Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

  1. When you don’t feel like writing, don’t isolate yourself – seek others out.

A lot of these tricks are hard for me, but this one might just take the cake. As an introvert, my instinct is to retreat into a personal bubble when I’m having a hard time. But with writer’s block, you’ll want to do the opposite. Getting outside of yourself is a difficult process and it’s almost impossible to do alone. You’re going to need help from others if you want to get out of this hole that you’ve found yourself in.

 

  1. When you don’t feel like writing, critique others work.

You know that old adage, “Those who can’t do, teach”? Well I like to think that “Those who can’t write, critique”. If you’re finding putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) particularly difficult at the moment, take the pressure off yourself by reading someone else’s work and offering feedback. Just because you can’t currently write doesn’t mean you’ve forgotten what makes good writing and doesn’t mean you can’t help someone else hit their writing peak. You’ll feel productive and be reading some interesting new work, both of which will help start to shake the cobwebs out of your head.

 

  1. When you don’t feel like writing, talk about what you would be writing.

This gave me a lot of relief in my darkest moments of writers block. My husband would sit at one end of the couch as I was stewing, waiting for me to quite literally toss the computer away and tell him, “I can’t write anything.”

“Well,” he’d say to me, “what are you trying to write?”

And I’d tell him. It’s amazing how good it feels to talk out your ideas to somebody you trust; to give your thoughts life, even if it’s not on paper, but at least in words. If you don’t know where to go next, talking through the last thing you wrote can help generate ideas, and asking somebody else for help is never weakness, only a strength. Often times, others will think of some avenue you’ve yet to explore, or pose a question you hadn’t thought to ask that takes the story in a new direction.

 

  1. When you don’t feel like writing, do everything up until writing.

We all have our writing routines. Me, I make myself a cup of tea, put on some KT Tunstall, get cozy on the couch and then get to it. Try doing everything you’d usually do up until the moment you’d write. Sometimes just going through the motions of the routine can help shake something loose. Sometimes not. If it doesn’t work, but only frustrates you, try varying a part of the routine; make yourself a cup of tea but put on some totally different music, or work in silence; choose a different location to write in; etc.

 

  1. When you don’t feel like writing, create something new.

Lately, when I haven’t felt like writing, I’ve turned to adult coloring books for a creative outlet. I still get to exercise certain artistic decision making skills, but without using the same ‘muscles’ that I do when I write. I end up with something unique, something that only I could’ve made. Often times, the meditative state of coloring is a great place for ideas to pop up as well!

 

  1. When you don’t feel like writing, WRITE ANYWAY.

That’s right, I’m putting this one on the list twice. It’s one of the first things you should do when you have writer’s block and the last thing you should do when you have writer’s block. It’ll hurt like hell. You’ll want to curse. You’ll want to throw things. You’ll wish you could quit and never do this again. After you write a little, maybe you’ll tell yourself you have quit. But this is the job. It’s every day and it sucks. But if you’re like me, you’re writing because you have no other choice – to not write would be to be someone else, someone who you don’t know and don’t want to know. So if you’re going to write, damn it, be serious about it and write every day. Even when you don’t feel like it. Slowly, very slowly sometimes, it’ll get easier.

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Photo by Angelina Litvin on Unsplash

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Getting Back in the Game with Scribophile

Did you think I was gone for good? Never. Some exciting things have been going on in my life since the last time I posted on this site:

  • I moved to a new state (Oregon)
  • Started a new job
  • Got married
  • Won my first writing contest
  • Got a puppy
  • Got paid for my writing for the first time
  • Moved back to Washington
  • Started another new job
  • Stayed married
  • Got accepted to a journal for publication for the first time

And now, here I am again! I’m hoping to revamp this site, change things around a bit. Starting now, every Wednesday I’ll be posting about my writing process. These will be my personal thoughts on the act of creating the written word, my struggles, my successes, tips and tricks that have worked for me and hopefully others can use. I’m hoping this kind of disciplined writing schedule will help keep me on track in my other projects as well as give y’all a little insight into what it’s like to write the kind of stuff I do while being me.

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Me at Emerald City Comicon 2018, Living My Best Life

A big part of my new writing process has been joining this site called Scribophile. For those of you who don’t know, Scribophile is an online, members-only critique site. I like to think of it as a virtual writers circle. When I was an undergrad at UW, I had a weekly writers circle that I was a member of that helped my writing immensely. After I graduated, I stayed in touch with a lot of those people during my grad school time and continued to workshop pieces with them. But then the big move out of state happened and I lost my writing support structure. For awhile I thought I was fine. I knew enough about writing at this point, right? I could edit my own stuff.

WRONG.

I felt lost. I still had friends and family who would read and give me feedback on my work, but it wasn’t the same. I missed reading others work, missed the chance to learn from others’ successes as much as their mistakes. I missed the sense of community, of working towards a common goal. My own writing floundered and stalled. I felt stuck, like I had gone as far as I could go.

And then I found Scribophile.

I’ve only been a member for a few weeks now, but in those few weeks I’ve workshopped three pieces and had one of them accepted for publication. The community I’ve found there has been supportive, fun, and just my speed. You can get as involved as you like (which for an introvert like me is key) and the way the system of critique is set up, you are guaranteed to get feedback. So far I’ve yet to have a bad experience on the site.

I promise that Scribophile isn’t paying me to say all this stuff either. Just a really big fan of it right now. Seriously, if you’re feeling stuck and alone in your writing world like I was I’d highly recommend giving Scribophile a shot. In fact, I’m going to go right now and do some more critiques. It’s kind of addictive.

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Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash

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The Lady

Good Luck Gong

There are already hundreds of stories, legends, and anecdotes out there about how, sometimes, getting what you want can be the worst thing to ever happen to you.

This is not one of those.

Getting what you want, what you wished for, can cause its complications. If you’re not a well-balanced person, it can mess you up big time.

But can we talk, just for a moment, about how amazing it is to get what you wanted? What you worked for? Sometimes for years? Sometimes without any hope that it was ever going to happen? When the universe, that you’ve cursed and wailed at for so long, finally seems to notice that you exist, and, instead of shitting on you like it usually would…smiles.

Just for a moment, sometimes. Just a passing fancy the powers of fate have taken to you, a crush, that works to your advantage for just long enough to give you what you’ve tried so hard to get on your own.

Maybe it’s God. Maybe it’s just a random, happy accident.

But it’s those moments, those victories that can only be fully realized by a lucky break, that truly make life worth living.

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The Tragic Hero: Oedipus the King

oedipus the king

In Sophocles‘ play Oedipus the King, the title character fits all aspects of Aristotle‘s formula for the characteristics of a tragic hero. Oedipus fits the six qualities laid out by Aristotle perfectly, as if they had been molded for him. This is as it should be, given that Aristotle based many of his arguments as to what a true tragedy and tragic hero should be on Sophocles’ plays.

Oedipus is a morally good individual, even though he commits certain acts that a modern audience might find troubling. In the beginning of the play, when the people of Thebes are suffering, Oedipus makes it clear that the pain felt by his people is also felt by himself, and that he will do anything to alleviate their unhappiness. He is willing to do the right thing and help his people, rather than turn a blind eye to them. Also, Oedipus has a deep belief in justice. It bothers him to know that Laius’ murderer has gone unpunished all these years; indeed, it is the fact that justice has not been served in this matter which agitates him into action. A strong commitment to justice reflects a belief in the moral structure of right and wrong. Finally, at the end of the play, after Oedipus has discovered that he is the one to blame for all the cities troubles, instead of begging for mercy or forgiveness, he immediately demands that the curses he laid against the murderer should be inflicted upon himself. He shows that he acknowledges that the laws he has set down apply to everyone. Through his repeated shows of respect towards the laws of his society and his willingness to suffer under the penalties of these laws, clearly Oedipus does possess a deeply felt sense of morality.

Moral Compass

Oedipus is faithful to many character types. In trying to help his people, he fits the type of the good kind (i.e. he cares nothing for himself, just his subjects). There is a line where Oedipus expresses his respect and devotion to his wife, Jocasta, for being true to a loving husband. On the other hand, he is ready to take physical action against those who threaten him. When Tiresias suggests that he is the cause of the blight, Oedipus does not hesitate to threaten him with death. Aggression in the male type is expected. Also, he fits the character type of father. Even amongst all of his own pain, his greatest concern is for his children. A ‘father’, in the opinion of society, should be interested in his children’s well-being above his own at all times. His actions support the labels of all these character types, portraying him as a recognizable character to the audience.

Jocaste tries to calm Oedipus

Oedipus can easily be seen as a real person. Most of his speech is similar to how others speak, and he exhibits all the normal human emotions, including fear (when he begins to think he is the murderer), anger (when the prophet accuses him of the killing), and agonizing depression (when he finds the body of his wife/mother and stabs out his eyes). These acts are uncensored and gut reactions to the events happening around him. He responds with a human-like disregard for the distant future. These aspects of emotion and speech make it easier for the reader to accept the character as an actual person and invest themselves in what happens to him.

There is a definite consistency to Oedipus’ actions and motivations. For example, Oedipus is very quick to anger; first, at the blind prophet and then at Creon. Also, even with all the family turmoil that happens between him and Creon, when it is dying down he still wants to discover the identity of Lauis’ killer, just as he did before the argument. His response to these situations mirror earlier responses, making his actions steady and predictable. This predictability helps move the plot. As Professor Barbara McManus tells us, “In a perfect tragedy, character will support plot, i.e., personal motivations will be intricately connected parts of the cause-and-effect chain of actions producing pity and fear in the audience.” Oedipus’ consistent actions steers him towards his inexorable fate, while creating the necessary pity.

Oedipus is logically constructed according to the perimeters the play itself sets. In the beginning, even before anyone has spoken, the audience is told he has a tell-tale limp (as he would if he were the son of Jocasta and Laius). For an audience who was already expected to know the story of Oedipus, they would be looking for this physical deformity, which they already know he received as a child. Jocasta herself says how similar Oedipus is to her husband, a logically believable statement as Laius is his father, another fact the audience would have expected. These reasonable character traits reinforce the audiences’ belief that what is happening on stage really did happen, that Oedipus is a, or was a, real person.

Finally, Oedipus, while undoubtedly human, is idealized in the play. By past events, the audience is told how clever Oedipus has been, more so than anybody else, to have answered the Sphinx’s riddle. It is an amazing feat that no other ‘normal’ person was able to perform; only Oedipus had this ability. Also, Oedipus is held up by the people of Thebes to be their savior, a demigod practically. They revere him as they venerate no other person in the city’s history. These feats and admiration clearly show him as a unique and remarkable individual, making his fall from grace all the more shocking.

Aristotle

As the above examples have shown, Oedipus as a character is a perfect fit for Aristotle’s formula of characterization. As Oedipus the King was one of the world’s first tragic plays, it seems fit that all of our definitions of tragedy should come from this work.

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Moon

Three birds is getting back to Super Moon

My family volunteered for the moon depopulation program when I was nine. The newspapers compared it to Westward Expansion and a war crime all at once. We were refugees at the same time that we were pioneers.

To me it was just another move. You get used to that sort of thing quick as a military brat. At first it seemed like every time I crossed stateliness, I was on a different planet. But after a while all the suburbs, all the cities, all the landscapes of the Earth look the same. Trees with thick lower branches are still the best for climbing, country roads are always empty at two in the morning, and every house has one squeaky floorboard that you discover only when you’ve broken curfew.

I was thirteen when we left, in the throes of those terrible teenage years. At a time when I wanted nothing more than to be alone, I was packed into a sweaty cargo ship with two hundred other families and pushed away from home for four long days.

It wasn’t until we got there that I realized how much space we really had. There were thirty acres separating each homestead from the next. The houses themselves were extensive, each coming with it’s own web of interconnecting tunnels and a greenhouse for the necessary air. After the shuttle dropped us, mom went inside to start unpacking and Dad went to survey the plot. I stood on the front porch and stared out over the scarred, chalky ground, up into the ink black sky, and observed for the first time the pale, blue dot that had been home.

I felt a pang inside me, a deep stabbing pain that I could not define. I stayed there for a long while as the Earth spun around me, a slave to the pain in my chest, my eyes dry and throbbing, trying hard to blink as little as possible, lest the Earth drop from the heavens while I wasn’t looking.

When the pain subsided in intensity, I stepped down into the regolith covered structure that was now home, frightened to tell anyone about what I had felt. Like a woman hiding a black eye with flaky foundation, I buried myself in my books for days and days, hiding away the pain, filling the loss with other people’s words.

A few weeks later, the pain a distant, but no less potent, memory, I discovered what I thought to be the cause of it. The Hobbit had been left behind. It was my most precious belonging, a tattered, worn thing, its pages so old and ill-used they were practically pulp. My father had bought it for me, from a second-hand bookstore. The store had smelled of cat and damp and the book had always smelled of dust.

How many times I had read The Hobbit I couldn’t be sure, but enough times and with enough love to be able to recite most of it by heart and still find delight whenever Bilbo beat Golem’s riddle game with ‘What’s in my pocket?’

I must have taken it out of my suitcase the night before we left, to fondle it as I slept. I could see it clear in my mind’s eye, the faded emerald-green cover sitting forlornly beside the bench at the embarking station.

I told my mother about it at once. The tears in my eyes moved her to hold me close with her dirt-stained hands as we stood in the greenhouse, but she was wise enough not to lie to me. We couldn’t go back.

You never can.

It’s ninety-five years since that day and I have never gone back. Many others have stopped on this moon and looked back at the bauble that was home. They have gone much farther than me. The depopulation program was, of course, an unparalleled success, so much so that there’s not a soul left on the Earth today.

The house has become mine, my parents having passed away some twenty years ago; I’ve never wanted another. I still come out on the porch and look up at the Earth, only now it looks like an abandoned house, with its windows busted in with stones, its door gaping, like a toothless mouth. The place that had once been the ultimate definition of home is empty of people and empty of me.

I’ve gotten a new edition of The Hobbit. It sits on my bedside table, tattered and worn, just like it’s predecessor and yet, very much nothing like the one that came before. I’m glad that I left the old totem behind. For in time, I would have found that it was not the same book; because I was not the person who left the earth all those years ago.

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The Children of Moll Flanders: Infanticide Run Rampant

The original title page for Daniel Defoe's Moll Flanders

The original title page for Daniel Defoe’s Moll Flanders

When reading through Defoe’s Moll Flanders, one thing that struck me as a reader was the complete disregard Moll had for all of the children to which she gave birth over the course of the novel. While Moll takes pains at every turn to account for her stock of money and goods, she doesn’t bother to keep count of her offspring, let alone give any sign of concern for their well-being. Recognizing that this isn’t a focus of the overall narrative and that views towards children varied greatly in the 1700s from our views and beliefs today, I was willing, somewhat, to give Moll a pass for her laissez-faire approach to child-rearing.

Willing, that is, until I began to browse through the Old Bailey Session Papers, which are available online. I thought it would be interesting to see if any papers came up under the search for “offense: infanticide” and “verdict: not guilty”. I didn’t expect to find more than four of five instances of this, so on can imagine the shock I felt when 46 cases popped up under my results. I was astounded, that within the span of 30 years, over 46 cases of infanticide had been brought to court in which the defendants were acquitted. Upon further examination, I found that of these 46, only 4 of the cases involved the death of an infant that was not designated by the court as a “bastard”.

Old Bailey Microcosm edited

A painting of the interior of the Old Bailey, London’s court.

From looking over the transcripts of these cases, it’s clear that the main reason all of the accused ended up being acquitted is because there were no “violent marks” on the body of the infant, with the mother usually claiming that the baby had miscarried and was born dead. It was so hard to prove whether or not a child was born alive that it’s apparent that many women ‘got off’ of such charges, when, in all likelihood, the actually did murder their children. I understand that at the time in question to give birth to and keep a bastard child was to guarantee an end to a woman’s respectable life – but for all intents and purposes it seems that society-at-large felt that it was okay to murder these children. It is true that the ‘sanctity of childhood’ was not what it is today, but these were still human lives, thrown away with very little concern being shown by the legal system.

Widows had special status in 1700s Britain and the status afford to them would have served someone like Moll very well indeed. (Portrait by Josef Franz Danhauser, The Widows Offering)

A woman in mourning – a common sight in the 1700s.

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Lost/Found

Lost/Found

They tell me I lost my mind.

Somewhere between the moons of Argos and Hotep, buried away in the freight hold, crushed between two boxes of dried proteins, I apparently went mad.

They tell me they’re relieved I’m feeling better now. That I was scaring them.

I laughed a lot, so they say. I find it hard to remember. There’s a sound I hear in my sleep, a rasping roar, the sound of twisted iron, of silences in between so loud that I think I’ve fallen into the black inkwell that is the space and then I wake up.

I think this was my laugh. But I can’t be sure.

They tell me they’re glad I’m back to my old self again. I find this phrase as confusing as the pats on my back and the sandpaper kisses that get stuck on my cheeks. They call me by a name that is not mine. But they tell me it used to be.

The thing is, I remember this old self they mention, the laugh, my name which is not my name, and the moons of Argos and Hotep as much as I remember going mad; which is not at all.

This worries me. If I was sane, and then mad, and then sane again, at least I would have some context for how I’m feeling now. But I remember being sane as much as I remember being mad. Which is not at all.

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I. Shall. Return.

Winter is ending - RETURN TO NORMAL

Watch this space tomorrow for the return of the Robin Jeffrey Flash Fiction Wednesdays! That’s right, folks – I’m back and better than ever. New Job, New House, New Me. Let’s shake things up a bit and see what falls out…

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A Message from the Author

Going Home

Gentle readers,

Reality does, despite my best efforts, occasionally intrude on this carefully constructed digital world of mine. This week I find myself moving to a new state to start a new job, one that I hope will be fulfilling in ways of which I’ve only dreamed. This blog will be going a brief hiatus until my life settles down again and the fictional is allowed to exist uninterrupted.

Take care!

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“Taking a Drink from a Fire Hydrant”: How Do We Find Information? (Part 4 of 4)

Google Classic: Please Allow 30 Days for your Search Results (Original artist unknown) #Google

As you can see, the interpretations provided by Wilson’s First Model and the Leckie Model are different in several ways, despite the fact that they are both meant to serve as the step by step methods of how an individual searches for information. The first difference that is apparent is that the Leckie Model does not provide for any kind of search for information that is not driven by a logical, work-based need. It could not help me work through my search for information about my desires and ultimate plan, unlike the Wilson Model, which allowed for the fact that some searches of information may not be based on strictly formal sources, but may also use important non-formal sources for non-formal needs.

Another difference between the two models is that the Leckie Model includes a feedback loop during the information search, whereas the Wilson Model does not. This places the Leckie Model at a distinct advantage over the Wilson Model when it comes to accurately portraying the way a user searches for information. In the Wilson Model, if the appropriate information is not found, it would seem that the user is expected to give up on their task. However, most of the time, an information search is such that one either cannot give up (the need for the information is too great) or one does not wish to give up (curiosity is too great). In the Leckie Model, the user compares the outcome of the information gained from the information search, as well as several other factors, to their information need and can continue the search if they deem it necessary.

Fall down seven times, get up eight

Of course the two models also shared several similarities. Both models acknowledge that the choosing of sources is an important step in the information seeking process, and that the sources of information that are consulted will affect the outcome of the search. The Leckie Model goes into greater detail about the way in which outside factors can influence which sources are being chosen (demographic information such as race, age, gender, etc.), but it lacks the explicit equality given by the Wilson Model to informal and formal sources. Both models also made note, in different ways, of the fact that successful knowledge, once gained, does not stay with the user, but flows back into the larger system of information.

These models affected my interpretation of my information behavior by showing me a pattern where I had first thought there was only chaos. While searching for information, it can often feel like you are not following a process, like you are just jumping from node to node without a plan. It is comforting to see that even though I might not have been aware of it, I was following an information seeking pattern that would ultimately lead me to success. These models also revealed to me the truth that an information search does not happen in a vacuum. There are motivations, which may vary in kind from search to search, but which always affect the way in which the search is carried out. Wilson’s First Model showed me that informal sources of information are just as much a part of the information seeking process as formal. I would not have considered the way I consulted my mother and advisors for their opinion and knowledge to have been part of this process before, but now I see that these steps were just as important as consulting the ALA website.

Two young boys, seated with books, in the children's department of a Toronto public library, Toronto, Ontario / Deux jeunes garçons lisent dans la section pour les enfants d'une bibliothèque publique de Toronto (Ontario)

I found both of these models helpful in explaining my information behavior. While not every single step I followed fit into or was represented by these two models, I found that I had followed models like these closely enough to prove that there is some merit to their processes. By being aware of these models, perhaps in future my information behavior will not feel so random and be even more successful. In turn, I hope to be able to apply these models to helping others understand and mold their information behavior to ultimate effectiveness.

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Works Cited

Case, Donald Owen. “The Concept of Information.” Looking for Information: A Survey of Research on Information Seeking, Needs, and Behavior. London, U.K.: Academic, 2007. 39-67. Print.

Case, Donald Owen. “Information Needs and Information Seeking.” Looking for Information: A Survey of Research on Information Seeking, Needs, and Behavior. London, U.K.: Academic, 2007. 68-83. Print.

Case, Donald Owen. “Models of Information Behavior.” Looking for Information: A Survey of Research on Information Seeking, Needs, and Behavior. London, U.K.: Academic, 2007. 119-140. Print.

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