Author: Tucker

Born and raised in the mountains of Truckee, California. Educated in San Diego, CA and Fort Collins, CO for undergraduate and graduate degrees, respectively. I have a passion for writing, reading, and adventure. Most of all, I want to live sustainably and find small (or giant!) ways to make the world around me a better place.

Anywhere That Is Wild John Muirs First Walk to Yosemite Featured Image

Anywhere That Is Wild: John Muir’s First Walk to Yosemite

My Mom gifted me this short book for my 29 birthday earlier this year. Although John Muir never personally published his journal entries from his first walk to Yosemite and across the fertile valleys of California, Peter and Donna Thomas took the time to comb through the Holt-Atherton Special Collections at the University of the Pacific in order to compile the story. This is my review of the story that John Muir never wrote, Anywhere That Is Wild.

Anywhere That Is Wild John Muirs First Walk to Yosemite - front book cover

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If you’ve never heard of John Muir and you don’t feel like this article applies to you, don’t worry! I’m not offended. But don’t leave so quickly! I’ve got plenty of other content you might enjoy, including Book ReviewsWriting Tips, and My Books! If you’re looking for a freelance writer to contribute guest blogs or ongoing paid content, please read through my Services and shoot me an email detailing your project!

How The Story Was Compiled

Because there was never a formal narrative from this earliest of Muir’s journeys, the Thomas’ did some painstaking work to track down and piece down the journal entries that made it possible for this book to come into form. For that, we should all be eternally grateful. While I mentioned their source at the University of the Pacific, they did not find an exact account of the trip there.

In fact, they used 13 different sources in which Muir made mention of his first trip across California. These sources include The Life and Letters of John Muir, “Rambles of a Botanist Among the Plants and Climates of California”, and Muir’s book, The Yosemite. The Thomas’ were kind enough to include a full list of their sources at the back of the book so that one might add to his or her reading list after finishing this short story, which is actually presented in the form of a letter to anyone who might be considering a visit to California.

The Opening Quote

To set the tone for the letter, the Thomas’ chose a quote from Muir’s A Thousand Mile Walk to The Gulf:

“When at last, stricken and faint like a crushed insect, you hope to escape from all the terrible grandeur of these mountain powers, other fountains, other oceans break forth before you; for there, in clear view, over heaps and rows of foothills, is laid a grand, smooth, outspread plain, watered by a river, and another range of peaky, snow-capped mountains a hundred miles in the distance. That plain is the valley of the San Joaquin, and those mountains are the great Sierra Nevada.”

If you’re unfamiliar with Muir’s writing style, this quote gives you an idea of the eloquence of his prose. Maybe it doesn’t effect you quite so much as it does me. But he strikes me as the ultimate wordsmith, at least in terms of his ability to take an image of the natural world and paint it (in words) on a piece of paper for others to see.

Getting to California

Muir’s first walk to Yosemite started in San Francisco, but his journey just to get to California took a circuitous route indeed. Keep in mind that the Transcontinental Railroad through the Sierra Nevada had only just been completed one year prior to Muir’s first walk to Yosemite, but he didn’t elect to come to California via that route. Indeed, he actually began his journey in New York and started by making his way south to Florida, where he contracted malaria and was laid up for several weeks.

His initial intention was to continue into South America, build himself a raft, and set off the explore the length of the Amazon River. But his illness caused him to change his plans (fortunately for all of us conservationists out there!) and he decided to make his way to California instead. But he did so by boat, first hopping down to Cuba and then down and through the Panama Canal before making his way back up to San Francisco.

The First Walk to Yosemite

anywhere that is wild john muirs first walk to yosemite - john muirs route
John Muir’s 1868 Route

From San Francisco, Muir made his way across the bay to present-day Oakland before turning south. His route progressed south for a considerable distance as he wandered Santa Clara valleys and past the cities of foothills of Hayward, Fremont, Santa Clara, Milpitas, San Jose, Morgan Hill, and Gilroy.

At Gilroy, he got directions to Yosemite and made the turn east and started towards Pacheco Pass. Crossing over the pass, he dropped into the San Joaquin Valley, which he described as a “grand level ocean of flowers.” After crossing the valley, they progressed through Snelling and Coulterville and, finally, up into the Yosemite Valley. The trip continued in circuitous fashion through the valley and down into Wawona before turning back westward and coming through Mariposa before rejoining their original route back in Snelling.

It wasn’t the most friendly time of year to make the trip up into Yosemite and Muir’s journals tell tales of wading through six feet of snow at some points. Nevertheless, this journal compilation is a telling account of Muir’s first experience in Yosemite, the place he is so largely responsible for protecting. While Muir might lament some of the developments that have occurred in the valley since his time, some of his favorite sights (i.e. Bridalveil Falls, Half Dome, and El Capitan) still endure for the delight of all Yosemite visitors.

Go ‘Anywhere That Is Wild’!

This journal account concludes with Muir’s plea to anyone interested in visiting California and/or Yosemite:

“Just come and see what you can make of these great lessons of mountain and plain. Yosemite alone is worth the expense and danger of any journey in the world. It is by far the grandest of all the special temples of Nature I was ever permitted to enter. It must be the sanctum sanctorum of the Sierra, and I trust that you will all be led to it.”

I hope you enjoyed this brief review of John Muir’s Anywhere That Is WIld!

Anywhere That Is Wild John Muirs First Walk to Yosemite - back book cover

I loved reading this book and imagining how the central valleys of California must have looked to John Muir compared to how I’ve witnessed them in my lifetime. It’s hard to read anything from Muir without feeling inspired to put the book down and go for a walk outside, but this short book is great to digest while traveling, as I blew through it on a short flight from Reno to San Jose, CA recently.

As a published writer who aspires to create more works of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry in the years ahead, I’m constantly in search of new ideas that help me hone my writing skills and get thoughts on paper. But I also recognize the importance of writing like there’s no one watching (or like no one is ever going to read it). This process helps us get our sincerest thoughts out there and to remain passionate about writing as a hobby.

Please leave a comment below if you are inspired, perplexed, saddened, or angered by any of the stories presented above. I welcome any and all comments and will do my best to respond hastily. I’d also encourage you to share this with others if you found it particularly insightful or helpful. Be sure to tag @ballisterwriting on Facebook or Instagram if you do!

Get Wild!

Tucker Ballister

tucker@ballisterwriting.com

Writing For Fun Follow Your Passion Featured Image

Writing For Fun: Follow Your Passion

As a freelance writer, I spend a lot of time creating content for other people. Whether it’s for their blogs or websites, it keeps me busy and focused on what my clients need. While I’m extremely grateful for all the opportunities in my life, I recognize that writing for fun is something I need to take more time to do. Because, if I don’t I risk this hobby becoming a profession and a job that I feel dragged to do, rather than getting excited about it every day.

Surprisingly, writing for fun hasn’t always been the easiest habit for me to maintain. I’m easily distracted by catching up on the latest sports news or checking social media. Instead, I know I should create space where I can just write about whatever I’m passionate about. In this article, I’ll explore some ways in which you can follow your passion to make writing for fun an easy, sustainable habit.

If writing for fun is what you do best and you don’t feel like this article applies to you, don’t worry! I’m not offended. But don’t leave so quickly! I’ve got plenty of other content you might enjoy, including Book Reviews, Writing Tips, and My Books! If you’re looking for a freelance writer to contribute guest blogs or ongoing paid content, please read through my Services and shoot me an email detailing your project!

Morning Meditation, Then Writing

writing for fun follow your passion - morning meditation

I’ve known about the benefits of meditation for some time now. According to Mindworks.org, meditation can help with stress management, anxiety reduction, decreasing the likelihood of depression, increase immune function, lowering blood pressure, improving sleep, relieving symptoms of IBS, and increasing happiness and general well-being.

That’s a host of benefits I’d like to take advantage of, but how does it apply to a writing habit. As I write this today, I’ve recently found more success with a daily meditation habit than ever before. I’m going on 26 days in a row meditating in the morning, and one of the additional benefits I’ve found is that it gives my mind freedom in the morning to go where it chooses and think about what it wants. In doing so, I sometimes feel that the urge to write down those thoughts immediately upon completing my meditation.

This leads to intense sessions of passionate writing about a variety of subjects. But without the meditation to start things off and allow my mind the freedom to wander, I start thinking about all the tasks that I’m going to accomplish that day and I can’t clear enough mental head space to make writing for fun a regular habit. Of course, it’s important to set aside enough time after your meditation to allow you to put thoughts on paper. Otherwise, you’ll get up and immediately move on to the next task that has to happen before you go out the door.

Writing to Friends and/or Family

writing for fun follow your passion - writing to friends and or family

Once in a while when I realize I haven’t talked to a friend or family member for too long, I like to sit down and write that person a letter. It’s all for fun, of course, but it’s a great way to practice that specific type of communication, which I feel is quickly becoming a lost art with how easy it is to communicate over the Internet today. Handwriting letters makes you slow down and more critically evaluate what you truly want to say. Unlike typing out an email, the flow of handwriting somehow makes me craft messages that are much deeper, more emotional, and, ultimately, more truthful.

I can’t quite explain why there’s such a difference between handwriting and typing, but I suppose it’s all in the process. Because handwriting simply takes longer to put each letter and each word down on paper, it gives us more time to think things through so that we ultimately say something that we’re truly passionate about saying.

If there’s someone you’ve lost touch with for a while, write them a handwritten letter. Explore a mutual memory that you both shared (and that you both probably haven’t thought about for a while) or simply craft a letter that updates them on where you are in your life, what’s going on, and what you’re looking forward to. In addition to helping you reconnect with a loved one, this will also give you great practice sharing your stories!

Writing a Letter to Your Future Self

writing for fun follow your passion - write a letter to your future self

Many of us did this practice when we were in grade school. We wrote a letter to our future self and then placed it in a time capsule for our future self to discover 5, 10, or 20 years down the line. Wherever you are in life, this practice is a way to write for fun and share some recent lessons you’ve learned so that your future self doesn’t forget them.

Choose the ‘future self’ that you want to write to. Are you writing to yourself just one year in the future or 10 years down the line? What challenges do you foresee for your future self? What words of advice can you give your future self to overcome those challenges and stay happy and healthy?

This practice will innately make you evaluate your passions and form a vision of where you want to be in the future. If your version of your future self isn’t following those passions, how will your letter impact him or her to get back on track? If you ARE following your passions, but struggling to make ends meet, how can your letter offer that extra bit of motivation that your future self needs to stay the course and keep moving forward?

It can be a powerful exercise, especially if you set up a system so that the letter comes back to you when you are that future version of yourself you once wrote to. Maybe you can find a friend who will mail the letter to you down the road. Or maybe you can simply put it in a lock box and remind yourself to look at it again in a few years!

Crafting Your ‘Dream’

writing for fun follow your passion - crafting your dream

Have you ever sat down and wrote out your dream? No, really! This would include everything you want your life to look like if you had everything you wanted. Don’t be shy. You can dream as big as you can imagine. In fact, your imagination is critical to your ability to dream big. According to some researching, dreaming is important for both memory consolidation and conflict resolution.

In other words, dreaming can help us resolve past conflicts while also helping our subconscious brains reorganize memories so that we have space to create new ones. Think about this: if we don’t have space to create new memories, then what are we doing? Well, we’re probably just living a monotonous life in which each day looks eerily similar to the past. Ever heard of the movie Groundhog Day?

Writing about your dream will help you come up with tangible steps you need to make to actually bring that dream into reality. It will help you better understand the challenges you may face so that you can tailor solutions to those challenges. And, if anything needs to be laced and laden with your sincerest passion, it’s writing about the future you want to create for yourself and for those you love.

Exploring an Alternate Universe

writing for fun follow your passion - explore an alternate universe

Have you ever wished you lived in an alternate universe? Well, writing for fun is a great chance to explore that universe. What would our world look like in that universe? Who would be President? Would there even be a President? What would your parents look like? How would you dress and act in that alternate universe?

These are just a few examples of the elements to consider when constructing your own alternate universe. Your creativity can really run wild with this one, and your passions are bound to show. If you want a world in which everyone perpetually has ice cream stocked in their freezer, you can create it. If you wish your world had literal money trees lining the streets of suburbia, have fun exploring what those trees would look like!

The practice of exploring an alternate universe is a definite way to write for fun. If it’s not fun, then you’re probably not creating a universe that you’d actually enjoy living in. And even that could be an interesting exercise in and of itself. What challenges would you overcome as the hero in an alternate universe where humans are on the brink of extinction?

Are You Writing For Fun?

I hope you enjoyed these brief ideas designed to help you follow your passion and make writing for fun that much easier. These suggestions are merely data points to start from. The real exploration begins after you finish this article and you pick up pen and paper. I can’t wait to see what you come up with!

As a published writer who aspires to create more works of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry in the years ahead, I’m constantly in search of new ideas that help me hone my writing skills and get thoughts on paper. But I also recognize the importance of writing like there’s no one watching (or like no one is ever going to read it). This process helps us get our sincerest thoughts out there and to remain passionate about writing as a hobby.

Please leave a comment below if you are inspired, perplexed, saddened, or angered by any of the stories presented above. I welcome any and all comments and will do my best to respond hastily. I’d also encourage you to share this with others if you found it particularly insightful or helpful. Be sure to tag @ballisterwriting on Facebook or Instagram if you do!

Have Fun With It!

Tucker Ballister

tucker@ballisterwriting.com

5 Talk to Text Apps Shortcuts to Get Thoughts On Paper Featured Image

5 Talk to Text Apps: Shortcut to Get Thoughts On Paper

While developing and maintaining a daily writing habit is what I strive for, I often find that the feeling of “just not enough time” creeps in toward the end of every busy day. As such, I know that I don’t make enough time to work on my creating writing projects. But there must be those in-between times when I could be putting thoughts on paper without having to block out a bunch of free time, right?

Enter talk to text apps, a simple shortcut to get thoughts on paper. You can use these apps to create notes while you’re cooking, walking, driving, or doing other tasks that make it difficult to write formally. Today, I’m going to research and share what I learn about five talk to text apps that you can use as a shortcut to get thoughts on paper!

If you feel like your writing practice is dialed, don’t worry! I’m not offended. But don’t leave so quickly! I’ve got plenty of other content you might enjoy, including Book Reviews, Writing Tips, and My Books! If you’re looking for a freelance writer to contribute guest blogs or ongoing paid content, please read through my Services and shoot me an email detailing your project!

Google Docs Voice Typing

Google Docs Voice Typing is an all-around tool that all writers can use to make voice notes, transcriptions, and more. It’s available via Google Play and allows users to collaborate with others and format their notes easily. Grammar sticklers will appreciate this app’s attention to detail, especially if compared to another popular application like Word. Users report that it functions well in deciphering spoken words and its dictation feature is currently available in at least 43 languages. In addition to its basic talk to text functionality, this app also gives users the ability to add formatting, make selections, and navigate through the use of simple spoken phrases.

Evernote

Just like the previous app, Evernote uses Android’s built-in Speech Recognition software, so it’s only available to Android users. The app does require you to have a solid network connection when in use and it features an in-app chat feature that allows you to connect with other Evernote users. When you finish a dictation, the app saves the audio and text file together so that you can keep track of your notes more easily. Evernote is available on Google Play, where it currently has been downloaded by more than one million users, which is quite telling in and of itself.

ListNote

This is another app specifically available to Android users. ListNote Speech-to-Text Notes is produced by Khymaera and currently has been downloaded on Google Play more than 16,000 times. As you make dictations in this app, it creates an index of notes that can then be easily searched later on. This makes it easier to find notes as you go, and the app also gives you the option of backing up notes to an external SD card. It also offers a number of features that allow you to customize it to your preferred manner of speaking. ListNote is a great option for anyone dictating sensitive information, as the app can also be password protected. Specific notes can also be encrypted with the AES standard after the first twenty characters.

Dragon Dictation

Dragon Dictation is an app best suited to iOS users. Although the app does require a network connection in order to function to the best of its ability, Dragon Products have been leading the speech transcription industry since they introduced some of their earliest desktop products. Dragon Dictation makes it easy to record your thoughts with the press of a button. After you’re finished recording, the app displays the text transcription, which can then be copied into other applications.

Voice Texting Pro

The last app we’re going to mention is designed for iOS users (had to give our iOS friends a little more love). Voice Texting Pro is offered by Sparking Apps and is available in the App Store. It does require that iOS devices have been properly updated, so make sure to research current specifications before installing. Like many iOS apps, Voice Texting Pro prioritizes an easy-to-operate user interface. Users are able to view all the app’s features from a single screen and some examples of in-app purchases available include voice texting and the addition of languages other than English.

Are There Other Talk to Text Apps You Use?

I hope you enjoyed these brief summaries of a few options for talk to text apps. As an avid traveler, I find the need for one of these apps to be growing in my personal life. My current manuscripts don’t make progress if I don’t get time to sit down and work on them with intense focus. These apps give me a way to put thoughts on paper wherever I am and whenever a new idea pops into my head. That can be invaluable when the alternative is losing those thoughts and trying desperately to get them to come back the next time you sit down with pen and paper in hand.

As a published writer who aspires to create more works of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry in the years ahead, I’m constantly in search of new ideas that help me hone my writing skills and get thoughts on paper. There are so many options out there to choose from and I’m sure that I’ve left out a few apps that provide ample use in this space. If I didn’t mention your preferred talk to text app in this article, let me know about it!

Please leave a comment below if you are inspired, perplexed, saddened, or angered by any of the stories presented above. I welcome any and all comments and will do my best to respond hastily. I’d also encourage you to share this with others if you found it particularly insightful or helpful. Be sure to tag @ballisterwriting on Facebook or Instagram if you do!

Happy Transcribing!

Tucker Ballister

tucker@ballisterwriting.com

Writing Practice 5 Exercises to Improve Writing Featured Image

Writing Practice: 5 Exercises to Improve Writing

For me, writing practice isn’t the easiest habit to sustain. Doing exercises to improve writing can often feel like a waste of time when I can’t stop thinking about the impactful content I want to create. For sports fans out there (or those simply looking for a good chuckle), Allen Iverson furnished us with one of the funniest quotes about practice and its importance when he said this:

“We’re sitting in here, and I’m supposed to be the franchise player, and we in here talking about practice. I mean, listen, we’re talking about practice, not a game, not a game, not a game, we talking about practice. Not a game. Not, not… Not the game that I go out there and die for and play every game like it’s my last. Not the game, but we’re talking about practice, man. I mean, how silly is that?”

Now, for superstar athletes who play an 82-game regular season prior to multiple rounds of playoffs (if they’re successful at the highest level), there could be some merit in skipping a few practices here and there in order to rest and recover. But for the rest of us, the old adage that “practice makes perfect” pretty much invariably holds true. In this article, I’m going to outline 5 exercises to improve writing that will give you the structure you need to make practice a fun habit.

If you feel like your writing practice is dialed, don’t worry! I’m not offended. But don’t leave so quickly! I’ve got plenty of other content you might enjoy, including Book Reviews, Writing Tips, and My Books! If you’re looking for a freelance writer to contribute guest blogs or ongoing paid content, please read through my Services and shoot me an email detailing your project!

Design The “World’s Simplest” How-To

As a blogger, I write how-to articles like they’re my job (because they are!). Usually, however, these how-to articles cover topics that many people don’t have daily experience with. They are designed to help folks learn how to enjoy the outdoors, improve their organization, or try a new recipe in the kitchen. But for this writing practice exercise, you’re going to write a how-to article that’s a little different.

Think of something that you do every day. Make that something one of those daily tasks that you complete almost on auto-pilot. For example, activities you might write a how-to on include, but aren’t limited to, tying your shoes, waking up in the morning, turning on your shower, or getting into your car to head to work.

The point of this exercise is to make you critically think about how to break down what can be very automatic, mundane activities into small action steps. You’ll be surprised at how hard this can be! Your how-to should be detailed enough for someone with no knowledge of how to wake up in the morning (for example) to be able to accomplish this task without any prior experience.

This writing practice exercise will teach you how to break a large task into smaller action steps. It will then help you organize those steps into a logical order so that they make sense to readers and they can be followed to perform the larger task successfully!

Explore a Memory

This writing practice exercise will help you create vivid imagery that brings your readers into the story and captures their imagination. This exercise starts with two simple words: “Remember when…” From there, it’s up to you to fill in the blank. Ideally, you should choose a fictional memory to explore for this exercise, but if your intent is to refine your non-fiction writing, choose a real memory from your past and explore that!

Here are some examples of memories you might ‘create’: “Remember when . . . you discovered the oldest archaeological ruins in human history?” or “Remember when . . . the dust from the explosion of the atomic bomb finally settled?”

Whatever memory from your past hits you (or whatever fictional memory you create), run with that and write a 1,500-word monologue from the first-person perspective. Describe what happened in great, vivid detail to draw your reader in and make them feel the emotions you felt in those moments.

If your memory takes a frightening turn, go with it and make sure your reader can feel the psychological terror you experienced in that memory. If you decide to explore a happy memory, write vividly enough to make the reader visibly smile as they read through your account!

Create A Structured Summary

Learning how to create a structured summary is a great exercise for all writers. At one point or another, you’re going to have to write a brief summary of something! So, when you do this exercise, sit down and think of the last book you read or movie you watched. Whatever comes up is what you’re going to summarize. To do so, you can use this structure: “[Somebody] wanted…but…so…”

Let me explain. There are four elements you’re going to cover in your summary. The first is the [Somebody] that the book or movie is about. It is the main character of the story. Then, you’re going to discuss that somebody’s motivation. What is it that they wanted to accomplish in the book or movie?

Next, you’re going to describe their biggest obstacle. What was keeping them from realizing that goal they want to achieve? Finally, you’ll summarize what happened in the book or movie. So, how did the main character overcome the obstacle and achieve their desire?

If you want an additional challenge, you can also include a ‘Then’ section after the ‘So.’ In this section, you’ll describe how the entire book or movie is resolved after the main character overcomes their biggest obstacle. Using this method, you’ll be able to summarize just about anything, which is an extremely useful form of writing practice.

Craft A ‘Four & 10’ Conversation

This is an excellent exercise to improve writing for anyone that needs help with dialogue. In this exercise, you’re going to write out a conversation between two people. One of the biggest challenges in creating dialogue lies in understanding how people speak differently. By doing this exercise, you’ll obtain a better idea of how to give voice to different characters.

This writing practice exercise is very simple. Your two characters will be speaking directly to one another. It doesn’t particularly matter what they’re speaking about, but the format for how they speak to each other is more important. One of your characters will speak using only four-word sentences. For example, “How are you, Dave?”

The other character (who we presume is a bit more of a chatterbox) always responds in 10-word snippets. For example, “I’m great, but I can’t seem to find my car.” If you’re struggling to write dialogue, this exercise will help you ensure that readers can distinguish your characters from one another.

Write a Vocabulary Story

This exercise is ideal for anyone looking to perfect a set of new vocabulary terms. If you’re trying to learn a list of 10-20 new vocabulary terms, this technique will give you writing practice while also cementing the proper way to use those new terms in context.

Start by defining your list of vocabulary terms. If you’re searching for a list, this resource will give you a place to start. Once you have your list, sit down and write a story using as many of the words on that list as possible. A good goal when starting out is to include somewhere between 10 and 20 words in your story. Better yet, accept the challenge of creating a story that actually makes sense!

This exercise is particularly useful for anyone looking to learn how to write in a new language. It will help you understand how to use the vocabulary terms in a sentence and will help you remember those words when you see them in different contexts later on. It will also help with memory retention, as writing things down ensures that we’re more likely to store them in our long-term memory. Perhaps the best side effect of this exercise is that you can share your finished story with others and get feedback on your writing style, tone, and use of your new vocabulary terms.

What Techniques Do You Use for Writing Practice?

As a published writer who aspires to create more works of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry in the years ahead, I’m constantly in search of new ideas that help me fine-tune my writing skills. I believe that every skill requires patience and diligent practice if we are striving for perfection. As such, I’m interested in any exercises to improve writing that you use. If I didn’t mention your preferred method of writing practice in this article, let me know about it!

Please leave a comment below if you are inspired, perplexed, saddened, or angered by any of the stories presented above. I welcome any and all comments and will do my best to respond hastily. I’d also encourage you to share this with others if you found it particularly insightful or helpful. Be sure to tag @ballisterwriting on Facebook or Instagram if you do!

Happy Writing!

Tucker Ballister

tucker@ballisterwriting.com

Listen and Learn The Benefits of Audiobooks Featured Image

Listen and Learn: The Benefits of Audiobooks

It’s tough to find a quality substitute for a good paperback book. But as a traveler, being able to take more books with you in either digital or audio form is a must. While I dream of one day having a sizable library on my retreat center property, I’ve learned that I can’t bring all of my favorite books with me everywhere I go. For this reason, I like to keep a few selections in digital form so that I can listen and learn on-the-go. In this article, I’m going to outline a few of the benefits of audiobooks.

If you prefer a good hardcover to audiobooks, don’t worry! I’m not offended. But don’t leave so quickly! I’ve got plenty of other content you might enjoy, including Book Reviews, Writing Tips, and My Books! If you’re looking for a freelance writer to contribute guest blogs or ongoing paid content, please read through my Services and shoot me an email detailing your project!

Faster Consumption

Listen and Learn The Benefits of Audiobooks - faster consumption

Although I’ve been experimenting with some speed reading techniques I outlined in one of my previous articles, I’m still a relatively slow consumer of books. I do like to take my time to make sure that I’m understanding and absorbing what I’m reading, but I find that my reading list grows frustratingly fast. At this rate, there’s no way I’ll ever get through my entire list in a single lifetime.

That is unless I start checking off some of them in audiobook form. Listening to books on tape allows you to consume them at a faster rate. This is especially beneficial if you’re reading a long book series where following the larger storyline is important. If you have to remember a detail from Book One when it’s revisited in Book Seven, for example, it’s going to be tough to do so if you read the first book several years ago. One of the benefits of audiobooks is that you’ll be able to move through your reading list at a quicker pace.

More Multi-Tasking

Listen and Learn The Benefits of Audiobooks - multi-tasking

I don’t know about you, but I find it pretty impossible to multi-task when I’m reading a book. I often sit down and start to read in the morning while my partner is making breakfast. Even her gentle movements in the kitchen behind me are often enough to distract me from what I’m trying to understand. When I try to read in this setting, I rarely get very far.

With an audiobook, however, you can listen to your latest selection while doing laundry, commuting to work, or gardening around your property. As we’ll talk about in the next benefit, our brains surprisingly retain much more audio content than we might imagine while we’re also performing other tasks. One of the benefits of audiobooks is that you can continue to get things done while listening to stories from your favorite authors.

Improved Reading Comprehension

Listen and Learn The Benefits of Audiobooks - improved comprehension

When conducting my research for this article, this was one of my most surprising finds. Studies have shown that listening to audiobooks can actually increase reading comprehension by as much as 76%. Among students surveyed, results also showed that students were able to comprehend audiobooks up to two grade levels above their current reading level.

The underlying reason for these results stems from the progression of our biological development. Listening is the first language skill that we develop when we are very young. We actually acquire much of our knowledge by simply listening to others and by listening to our environment. In fact, studies have suggested that 85% of what we learn is learned by listening!

Less ‘Summer Learning Slide’

Listen and Learn The Benefits of Audiobooks - less summer learning slide

Students of all grade levels experience this phenomenon to some extent. The ‘summer learning slide’ is the regression that happens from one school year to the next while we’re engaged in other summer activities. Getting most kids excited to read when the weather outside is at its best is a tall task. But listening to audio books might be the perfect solution.

Audiobooks are the perfect solution to keep students’ reading skills from regressing over the summer. In some cases, it can actually continue to improve those skills. Since listening is widely known to be the most effective way to grow vocabulary and fluency up until late middle school, finding a series of audio books for kids to listen to over the summer will not only keep them from getting bored, but it will also set them up for success when school resumes in the fall.

Increased Literacy

Listen and Learn The Benefits of Audiobooks - increased literacy

When my brother and I were young, my parents read stories to us on a daily basis. My Dad constantly tells stories about how we both started speaking before we were a year old and that it didn’t take us long after that to start stringing together full sentences. As an adult who has grown into an intense passion for reading and writing, I largely attribute this passion to the amount my parents read to us when we were young.

According to The Report of the Commission on Reading, “The single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children.” In other words, listening helps students improve their reading ability. Studies have proven that listening to audiobooks can improve reading accuracy by as much as 52%. Additionally, because 27% of K-12 students are auditory learners, test scores have improved by as much as 21% when students are exposed to multi-modal learning (i.e. audio and visual) versus just being exposed to a single mode (i.e. audio only or visual only).

They Can Be Group Entertainment

Listen and Learn The Benefits of Audiobooks - group entertainment

In addition to all the individual benefits of audiobooks, there are also a few that can apply to group settings. If you’re lounging around with a group on a relaxing afternoon and looking for some entertainment, why not turn on an audiobook? They’re just as entertaining as turning on the television and, in many cases, they’re much more educational.

One of the fun parts of listening to audiobooks in a group is learning the other people’s senses of humor. What makes you giggle might not tickle the others, and vice versa. Once you’ve turned the book off for the day, it’ll also be insightful to talk about how the different members of your group visualized different scenes from the book. Our imaginations are incredible tools. And they are also muscles that should be flexed regularly. Keep in mind though, that our imaginations are all unique, and that this diversity is essential to our evolution.

They’re a Road Trip Remedy

Listen and Learn The Benefits of Audiobooks - road trip remedy

Even a good playlist can get stale on an especially long road trip. My partner and I love listening to podcasts while we drive, but there are only so many short stories out there and, sometimes, we don’t have the Internet to download new episodes when we’re on the go. In these instances, we really feel like we could use a more in-depth audiobook to keep us intrigued and entertained.

Audiobooks are a great way to dive into a new story and engage your imagination as you check off the miles from destination to destination. If you’re heading out for a road trip soon, take some time to download a few audiobooks to your phone or preferred device so that you’re ready when the moment arises.

They’re Relaxing

Listen and Learn The Benefits of Audiobooks - relaxing

Personally, I like to listen to meditations or talks on certain topics as I’m working. I find that having someone else’s voice in my head as I’m focusing on another task to be soothing. In some ways, it also helps to stimulate my creative energy. There’s also something about being read to that takes us back to childhood. If you’re driving, however, just be careful not to get too relaxed!

They’re Cost-Effective

Listen and Learn The Benefits of Audiobooks - cost effective

Audiobooks are generally much more affordable than their paperback or hardcover counterparts. I use Audible to find new audiobooks that I’m interested in. It makes it easy to download files to my phone or computer and save to listen when I’m ready. In addition, if you sign up for a 30-day Free Trial of Audible now, you can get two audiobooks for free.


Try Audible and Get Two Free Audiobooks

Do You Enjoy the Benefits of Audiobooks?

Do you like to listen to audiobooks? If so, what was the last audiobook you listened to and where were you as you were listening?

As a published writer who aspires to create more works of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry in the years ahead, I’m constantly in search of new ideas that help me cultivate writing motivation and fine-tune my writing skills. I believe that reading and consuming the works of other writers is one of the best ways to improve those skills and stoke my inner fire. As such, I love to promote their work and I do receive a small commission on every purchase that is made through my site. These commissions allow me to continue to create useful content and resources for you!

Please leave a comment below if you are inspired, perplexed, saddened, or angered by any of the stories presented above. I welcome any and all comments and will do my best to respond hastily. I’d also encourage you to share this with others if you found it particularly insightful or helpful. Be sure to tag @ballisterwriting onFacebook or Instagram if you do!

Happy Reading!

Tucker Ballister

tucker@ballisterwriting.com

A Simple Book Review Template Featured Image

A Simple Book Review Template

People have started to ask me how I got into writing book reviews. The simple answer is that I just started writing down how books made me feel. Eventually, though, I started to develop a simple book review template that I use to convey the most important information to interested readers.

For years, I’ve annotated my favorite quotes and excerpts in the books I read and then gone back and typed out those excerpts so that I could save them for future reference. This means I have easy access to my favorite quotes from books when I go to review them down the line. One of the additional benefits of doing this is that it frees the physical copy of the book up to be donated or gifted to others, in essence passing along its lessons to those that I come in contact with.

I highly recommend this practice. It’s also a great way to revisit some of the most important lessons from your favorite books and really “drill” those lessons into your subconscious mind. For aspiring book reviewers, I’ve outlined this simple book review template that I invite you to use to review your favorite selections!

If you don’t find this simple book review template useful, don’t worry! I’m not offended. But don’t leave so quickly! I’ve got plenty of other content you might enjoy, including Book Reviews, Writing Tips, and My Books! If you’re looking for a freelance writer to contribute guest blogs or ongoing paid content, please read through my Services and shoot me an email detailing your project!

Brief Overview/Summary

Here’s where I provide a summary of the book’s major plot line. Readers want to know what they’re getting into and this is an opportunity to do so in more detail than what you’ll typically find on a book’s back cover. The trick is giving readers enough information to make them interested while avoiding giving away any major twists or plot developments that the reader should get to navigate on his or her own.

Important Themes

I like to tease out at least one of the book’s most important themes when I review it. Many of the books I read have multiple important themes. And the importance we place on each will vary based on our unique experiences and interests. The idea of this review section is to give readers an idea of the morals or lessons from the book that resonated most profoundly with you.

The Main Character(s)

For me, the characters in a book are just as important (if not more so) than the book’s plot or conclusion. I am drawn to books that feature characters with which I can resonate; those characters that have real human flaws but the ability to overcome them and change their lives or make a difference in the lives of others. This section gives you a chance to summarize the main character(s) of the book and convey to your readers why those characters are worth investing in.

Favorite Quotes

This is one of my favorite sections to put together. And, if you use the practice I mentioned above of annotating as you go and then typing out those annotations once you finish the book, it’s also a really easy section to write. Typically, I like to include anywhere from 2 to 5 of my favorite quotes from the book. This gives readers an opportunity for a “sneak preview” of the book’s contents and the author’s writing style before they make a purchase decision.

Additionally, I like to use this section to explain WHY these quotes resonate with me so powerfully. I think about how the underlying message can be applied to my life, how my life might change once those lessons are applied, and how the world will change for the better if we just listen to the words of some of our favorite authors.

Final Verdict and/or Your Rating

And this is where you really bring things home. At the end of your review, people want to know how you rate the book. If you like, you can use this section to compare it to others or simply to highlight the major reasons why you recommend this book to others. In general, I actually try to shy away from making comparisons, as I feel that books are, in many ways, like people. Each is unique in its own right and interacting with one can teach you something very different than interacting with another.

If you do decide to recommend the book to others, this is also the perfect place to guide them to an online store or marketplace where they can purchase their own copy of the book. If you’re an affiliate for websites like Amazon or Barnes and Noble, for example, this is a great place to include links to their online bookstores. (see what I did there?)

As an affiliate marketer myself, I do receive a commission on sales that I drive through this site. The money I earn goes directly back into me purchasing new books to review or new training that allow me to share more in-depth writing tips with my audience.

That said, my purpose for creating the content on this site is not to earn money. I truly believe in the lessons contained in the pages of the books I recommend and I believe that, when more people read these books and incorporate those lessons into their lives, the world will continue to become a better and better place.

Will You Use This Simple Book Review Template?

Do you find this template for writing book reviews useful? If you decide to use it for your own book reviews, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below. While I don’t stick to this format for every book I read, it’s an easy method for giving your readers more information about some of your favorite reads. Sometimes, I just decided to go chapter-by-chapter to provide a little more in-depth overview, but information about the plot, themes, characters, quotes, and why you liked it are great inclusions to any book review.

As a published writer who aspires to create more works of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry in the years ahead, I’m constantly in search of new ideas that help me cultivate writing motivation and fine-tune my writing skills. I’m also very interested in the stories of successful authors, as they provide insights into the creative journey and lessons that I would only learn the hard way without reading about them first.

Please leave a comment below if you are inspired, perplexed, saddened, or angered by any of the stories presented above. I welcome any and all comments and will do my best to respond hastily. I’d also encourage you to share this with others if you found it particularly insightful or helpful. Be sure to tag @ballisterwriting on Facebook or Instagram if you do!

Happy Reviewing!

Tucker Ballister

tucker@ballisterwriting.com

The Best Science Fiction Books of 2019 Featured Image

The Best Science Fiction Books of 2019

As I continue to wade through my most recent read on topics such as waking up to potentials in the quantum realm, the power of our minds to heal our bodies, and how our thoughts create our reality, I’ve been thinking that, although it’s devoted to how we can change our lives in this reality, it often feels a bit like science fiction. In anticipation of some new reading material in the year to come, I’ve put together a list of 10 of the best science fiction books of 2019 that you should be ready for when they are released!

If none of these books interest you, don’t worry! I’m not offended. But don’t leave so quickly! I’ve got plenty of other content you might enjoy, including Book Reviews, Writing Tips, and My Books! If you’re looking for a freelance writer to contribute guest blogs or ongoing paid content, please read through my Services and shoot me an email detailing your project!

Motherland by Lauren Beukes

best science fictions book of 2019 - motherland

This book will bring us the tale of a mother who will go to great lengths to protect her son from the realities of a hostile new world that has fallen into chaos resulting from the absence of men. The tale is set in a futuristic America in which a super-virus has decimated the male population. New traditions, customs, laws, and punishments mean that hiding a living, breathing male is now one of the most heinous offenses in the country.

As the mother and her son move from a commune in the Rockies to a high-security laboratory in the redwoods of Northern California, they negotiate the challenges of living on the fringe of the new American society. Can they achieve their dream of escaping to a better life in South Africa? Or will they be caught and punished by a mysterious ex-boyfriend who is hell-bent on justice? Motherland was released at the beginning of the year and is now available on Amazon.

Here and Now and Then by Mike Chen

best science fictions book of 2019 - here and now and then

This book will bring us the story of a time-traveling father who will go anywhere, or any “when,” to save his daughter from the fragility of her own existence. The father, Kin Stewart, used to be a time-traveling secret agent from the future (2142, to be precise). Then he botched a mission and found himself stuck in suburban San Francisco in the 1990s. Life wasn’t bad there. He was married and had a beautiful young daughter.

Then, out of nowhere, his “rescue team” arrives from the future. They’re 18 years too late but in the future, he has only been gone for weeks. They insist on bringing him back with them, and back to another family that Kin has no memory of. He finds himself torn between two lives, one that he knows and one that he should know, but can’t remember. As he grapples with his dilemma and tries to live in both worlds, but his decision puts his agency, his daughter’s existence, and history itself in peril. Here and Now and Then was released at the end of January and is now available on Amazon.

Vigilance by Robert Jackson Bennett

best science fictions book of 2019 - vigilance

This book is set in a future American in which the country’s towns, cities, and communities have completely and permanently surrendered to gun violence. The year is 2030, not too far in the distant future. The main character, John McDean, is the producer of a reality game show with the objective of keeping the American people alert to foreign and domestic threats.

In each episode, a handful of shooters are introduced into what viewers believe is a “game environment.” Survivors receive a cash prize. As the book moves along, McDean slowly realizes that the American public isn’t the only audience tuning in, and he soon finds himself in an uncomfortable position on the other side of the cameras. Vigilance was released on January 29th and is now available on Amazon.

Do You Dream of Terra-Two? by Temi Oh

best science fictions book of 2019 - do you dream of terra-two

This book is set in a world where a habitable planet in a nearby solar system was discovered more than a century earlier. Studies of the planet and its ecosystem have been thorough and, now, the very first team of astronauts is about to embark on a mission to explore the planet. The team of 10 consists of four decorated veterans of the 20th century’s space race and six students who have been training for this mission for most of their lives.

The kicker is that the journey from Earth to the other habitable planet will take 23 years. So, for 23 years the crew will have to live in close quarters. For 23 years they will have to rely solely on each other without the possibility of rescue. For 23 years they will have only the 10 of them to solve problems if anything goes wrong. And, of course, “something always goes wrong.” The anticipated release date of Do You Dream of Terra-Two? is March 7th, but you can now pre-order on Amazon.

Permafrost by Alastair Reynolds

best science fictions book of 2019 - permafrost

Blending time travel with the all-important subject of climate change, this book follows two timelines. One is set in the year 2028 and the other is set in the year 2080. In 2028, we follow a young woman heading in for a “routine” brain surgery. In 2080, we are introduced to a group of scientists studying at a remote site on the edge of the Arctic Circle.

The scientists are making a last-ditch effort to save humanity by making a tiny alteration to the past. It’s an alteration they hope will leave the rest of recorded history intact. When the woman in 2028 wakes up from her surgery, she begins to hear a voice inside her head. It’s a presence that seems to have its own will and purpose. Her struggle is whether to resist or collaborate, with no knowledge that her decision could impact the entire future of the human race. The anticipated release date for Permafrost is March 19th, but you can now pre-order on Amazon.

A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine

best science fictions book of 2019 - a memory called empire

The Teixcalaanli Empire is the stage for the unfolding of this story, and Ambassador Mahit Dzmare is the main character. Dzmare arrives in the center of the multi-system empire to discover that her predecessor has passed away unexpectedly. It is a time of political instability in the imperial court, and no one around the death will accept the evidence that it might not have been the accident that they’ve been led to believe.

Dzmare must work to discover the culprit behind the murder while she protects herself from becoming the next victim. All the while, she must keep the best interests of her small mining station from succumbing to the unceasing expansion of the empire. The anticipated release date for A Memory Called Empire is March 26th, but you can now pre-order on Amazon.

Perihelion Summer by Greg Egan

best science fictions book of 2019 - perihelion summer

This book takes the potential effects of climate change to a science fiction extreme. The inhabitants of our planet struggle to adapt to a suddenly alien environment when they find out a black hole one-tenth the mass of the sun is approaching our solar system. The potential effects are set to render our maps and systems meaningless.

Matt, the main character, and his friends decide to board a mobile aquaculture rig to wait out the event. The rig is self-sustaining in food, power, and fresh water. But as the black hole approaches, everyone soon realizes that the initial predictions for its trajectory were way off. Once the black hole has moved through the solar system, the conditions of life on our planet will be changed forever. The anticipated release date for Perihelion Summer is April 16th, but you can now pre-order on Amazon.

Emily Eternal by Mark Wheaton

best science fictions book of 2019 - emily eternal

Emily is a robot equipped with the most advanced artificial intelligence technology the world has ever seen. She’s capable of solving advanced mathematical problems and unlocking the mind’s greatest secrets. Unfortunately for the inhabitants of the Earth, she’s not sophisticated enough to find a solution when our sun begins to die 5 billion years earlier than anyone anticipated.

But, as an intelligence system initially designed to assist in the processing of trauma, Emily is in a unique position. She wants to find an answer for the survival of the human species, and she thinks she’s uncovered something. But not everyone is convinced that she’s right, or that she has the best intentions. In order to save the world from extinction, Emily will have to go on the run with her two human companions and, in the process, discover what makes us most human. The anticipated release date for Emily Eternal is April 23rd, but you can now pre-order on Amazon.

The Last Astronaut by David Wellington

best science fictions book of 2019 - the last astronaut

Sally Jansen’s final mission in space was such a disaster that she left NASA convinced she’d never leave the earth’s atmosphere again. Now she’s living her retirement days in depression, haunted by the memories of her past failures. Luckily, as the book progresses, it starts to look more and more likely that Sally is going to get another chance, but it isn’t necessarily for all the right reasons.

There’s a large, unidentified flying object hovering above the Earth. It has made no attempts to communicate with us and hasn’t responded to any of our attempts to communicate with it. Determined to redeem herself, Sally accepts the responsibility of leading a mission to explore the object and discover its purpose. Some unexpected competition turns Sally’s mission to make the First Contact into a race against time to secure the fate of humanity. The anticipated release date for The Last Astronaut is July 23rd, but you can now pre-order on Amazon.

The Future of Another Timeline by Annalee Newitz

best science fictions book of 2019 - the future of another timeline

In this story, time travel is as normal to humanity as driving a car. It has existed since the earliest times and, despite the ease of jumping into the past in this alternate reality, scientists have become convinced that altering the timeline in any way is impossible. That’s where our main character, an ideological geology professor named Eliza, begs to differ.

Eliza believes in historical change. She keeps going back to the Columbian Exposition in 1893, trying to undo a horrible injustice that is still having effects on the present moment. On her way, she makes a stop in 1992, where she attempts to save a high school punk rocker from a terrible fate. Their lives become intertwined and they soon realize that they are part of a hidden war that has been waged for millions of years. With a little help, the two embark on a journey to save each other and build a new future. The anticipated release date for The Future of Another Timeline is September 24th, but you can now pre-order on Amazon.

Read (and Dream) On!

I hope you’ve enjoyed these brief biographies of some of the best new science fiction authors to follow in 2019. Keep an eye out for their work to be published and make sure you pre-order the selections you’re interested on Amazon or at Barnes and Noble. Of course, if you decide to purchase any of these books, I’d love to know how the one you choose changes your life!

Also, I’d love to hear what other types of books or authors you’d like to see reviewed on this site. I’m always looking for new opportunities to read and review. My only regret is that my reading list tends to grow much faster than I’m able to check items off of it, so if you do leave me a suggestion, I appreciate your patience as I dive into the many books on my shelves!

Please leave a comment below if you are inspired, perplexed, saddened, or angered by any of the ideas presented above. I welcome any and all comments and will do my best to respond hastily. I’d also encourage you to share this with others if you found it particularly insightful or helpful. Be sure to tag @ballisterwriting on Facebook or Instagram if you do!

Happy Reading!

Tucker Ballister

tucker@ballisterwriting.com