Top 5 Lessons From Bad Writer

I’m proud to call Allison Maruska one of my writerly besties.

She writes YA Urban Fantasy, and Adult Mystery & Suspense stories. Her first novel, The Fourth Descendant, has rocked Amazon bestseller lists for the last THREE YEARS.

You can check it out here:
https://www.amazon.com/Fourth-Descendant-Allison-Maruska/dp/1507809840

Her sense of humor is dry and witty, and her Twitter alter-ego is a truly special brand of cut-throat hilarious. This post had me in stitches.

Allison Maruska

I have an alter-ego on Twitter. Her name is Bad Writer.

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She doesn’t have a million followers or viral tweets or anything like that. She exists merely to be the public face of my sarcastic side. And since I talk to writers a lot on Twitter, she focuses on writing.

Since her creation in July, she has tweeted 643 times, according to that screenshot. That’s a lot of bad advice being doled out. Some of those are quoted Retweets from Nat Russo’s #HorribleWritingTips, Sam Sykes’ joke tweets, Tweeps who reply, and other parody accounts, but most are her own content based on things that I read she reads. Sometimes, the content overlaps a little. I thought we could use those instances for learning. And since Bad Writer says the opposite of what a writer should do, the lessons will be actual constructive things with her non-examples.

Lesson 1: Stop abusing…

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Writing: 7 Ways to Cure the Dumbs

Recently I’ve been experiencing a pretty extreme case of the dumbs. man-869215_1920People battling the dumbs often have a difficult time performing ordinary tasks: like replying to emails, speaking in full sentences, or remembering that their spouse asked them to pick up that thing at that place for an immediately forgotten but very, very important reason.

Writing has been painful this month. And, when I say painful, I mean that writing has been like pulling teeth. If the teeth were attached to my eyeballs, and my eyeballs were on fire, and I was being dipped slowly into piranha infested lava.

Despite the leaps and bounds made in today’s technological age, the dumbs are hitting people harder than ever. Information is readily available. Forget the name of your hellion’s teacher? Look it up on the school website. Want to learn how to cook the perfect scrambles eggs? Watch a Gordon Ramsey tutorial on YouTube. Need to know the name of the song playing over the radio? Shazam will tell you.

Retain much of that information?

Forget it.

A wide number of independent studies led by psychologists, neurobiologists, and educators have found the web is actually changing our brains. The online world promotes hasty reading, hurried and distracted thinking, and superficial learning. Yes, the Internet opens access to an unfathomable amount of information, but it’s also turning us into shallow thinkers with less of a need to exercise our brains by storing the information we seek for use later.

And don’t get me started on shows like The Bachelor and Keeping Up With the Kardashians, which make society dumber as a whole.sub-buzz-2156-1484677751-3

A recent study done in the University of Texas actually found that the mere presence of smartphones where we can see them — regardless of if they’re ringing or on silent mode, facedown –dramatically reduces brain power.

The dumbs can hit working authors harder than anyone. When we aren’t allocating large portions of time to surfing the web for research on our current WIPs (or watching the Kardashians while we’re supposed to be), the very act of sitting in front of a monitor all day to write can be damaging to our brains (and eyes) all on its own. Not only that, it increases your risk of heart disease, diabetes, depression, and obesity.

So, how do we beat the effects of extended computer use?

How do we overcome “the dumbs?”

1. Eat Properly

Eating too much junk food affects the way you think, negatively affecting brain synapses and several molecules directly related to learning and memory.

Increase your brain function by adding these “smart” foods to your daily eating regimen: Blueberries, wild salmon, nuts and seeds, avocados, whole grains, beans, pomegranate juice,  freshly brewed tea, and dark chocolate.

2. Get Plenty of Rest

The need for sleep can vary between individuals, but most people require between 7 and 8 1/2 hours per day. 

People who are exposed to sleep loss can experience a decline in cognitive performance and changes in mood. Sleep deprivation can often lead to a rise in blood pressure and a decrease in things like metabolism and immune response.

Side note: the proper amount of sleep can help the way our bodies respond to stress.

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Writers? Stressed? Never.

3. Take Breaks

A five minute break every hour to throw in a load of laundry, walk your dog, or toss some food in the slow cooker will improve your brain function and general well-being. Unsure whether Harry and Melinda end up together or Melinda runs off with Ricco? Making decisions like these all day can wear down your ability to reason, leading to simplistic decision making and procrastination (not to mention bad books). Breaks can restore motivation for long-term goals, productivity and creativity.

Which is great, especially for authors tackling an entire book.

4. Get Plenty of Exercise

Hellions 1 & 2, working it out.

The benefits of physical exercise, especially aerobic exercise, range from the molecular to behavioral level. Exercise releases endorphins and makes people happy.  Exercising for as little as twenty minutes per day improves information processing and memory functions.

On Sunday I opened my WIP to find myself incapable of editing a single word. I removed a word here, added another one there, and immediately erased all of the changes. My brain was peanut butter. A large part of the problem is getting the right amount of exercise in winter. I have an active job, but it’s not the same as flat-out, heart-rate topping, good old fashioned exercise. So, I went online to find a human hamster wheel, and two hours later I was setting up a brand new elliptical in my basement. Having only gone on it twice, I can already felt the effects of working out reinvigorating my brain. Writing a blog typically takes me three hours. (I’m slow, I know.) This one was finished in an hour and a half, after I had already achieved my goal of editing Old Souls for four.

5. Fuel Your Creativity

Your creativity is a living organism. If you don’t nourish it, your ability to think creatively will whither. If you find yourself incapable of working on your writing project, try passing a little time on something else. Meditate. Write something by hand. Paint. Listen to music. Daydream. (Shower daydreaming is ideal — just keep a pen nearby because you WILL forget all of your brilliant ideas the moment your hair is dry.) Laugh. Sit in a coffee shop. Drink writing wine. Loosen the hell up.

6. Talk to People

Yes, yes, we all know the vast majority of writers are introverts. But a conversation that lasts as little as ten minutes can actually increase your brain activity. In fact, simply looking at someone activates the brain’s language system. 

Keep in mind, not all conversations are beneficial. When you talk with someone you’re competing with, the cognitive benefits disappear.sheep-2372148_1920

7. Read

Reading a novel you enjoy enhances connectivity in the brain and improves brain function.

It can drastically boost a writer’s vocabulary: a good novel is a dictionary and a thesaurus crafted with the express purpose of being interesting. Novels teach a writer how to develop tension, write dialogue, and create engaging characters. They offer writers inspiration. Writing is often hell, but reading is almost always fun, IF you find the right book.


We did it! 7 Ways to Overcome the Dumbs. Now we’re all just a little bit smarter.

Do YOU experience winter dumbs? What are your best tips and tricks to rally cognitive function?


Author Alter Egos and the Future of Scribbles

interscope-records-eminem-new-albumI watched a video on Facebook the other day chronicling Eminem’s rise to superstardom from the trailer park. (Yes, I WAS avoiding work on Old Souls, thank you SO  for pointing that out.) I planned to link the video to this post, but like so many other things on Facebook, it seems to have fallen into a rather unfindable abyss. The video detailed the struggles the rapper endured throughout his childhood: his mother’s abuse, and the bullying he was subjected to as a white kid in a predominantly black community.

He began rapping as a means to cope. He memorized the dictionary. He entered rap-battles.


And he lost.


It wasn’t until Eminem adopted an alter ego that he became a household name. Slim Shady was the man who made us all stand up. He took hold of the rap scene in 1999, and held on with murderously tight death grip for years afterward.

The narrator went on to allege Eminem would not have risen to the success he achieved if not for the invention of Slim Shady. Is that true? Maybe. And, Marshall Mathers III’s alter ego wasn’t the only one to peak public interest. So did Lady Gaga’s. Where would Sean Combs be without the media firestorms incited by the billion times he’s changed his name over the years? That said, not all alter egos work well. Garth Brooks is a country super star. Chris Gaines? Kind of a schmuck.SCHMUCK.png

In any event the video got me to wonder, could authors benefit from having alter egos?

In today’s day and age, writers have to do pretty much everything. They have to write books (already very hard) and they have to promote themselves. YOU want to be a writer? You’re going to need to get on Goodreads. You need to blog, tweet, Flipboard, stumble and Facebook. You need to appear at Writing Conferences and book signings. You need to have Swagger in the Age of the Author Brand.

Authors have a reputation for being *cough* slightly introverted. The other thing we’re known for? A little thing called Impostor Syndrome. “Impostor syndrome refers to the feelings of fraud and self-doubt often experienced by high-level achieving individuals.”


The unfortunate news for WRITERS is that we don’t have to achieve high levels of success to feel like impostors. The mere admission that we’re *gasp* WRITING can cause us to break out in a cold sweat.


That means that in the age of the author brand, introvertism (I don’t think that’s a real word) and Impostor Syndrome have a very real shot of crushing our writerly careers before they even begin.

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It might also be a picture of me trying to get upstairs on my birthday. Who’s to say, really?

I chose to use the moniker J. A. in place of the words people usually toss my way (Jenny, why are you late again) for two reasons. One: so that I could protect my real identity when I rocketed to superstardom — an obviously very likely scenario — and two: so that it would take people a little bit longer (like a half a second) to figure out I was a woman when they picked up my book.  At the time I believed the general public preferred male fantasy writers over female ones. While planning to write this blog, I held a Twitter poll.

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The results were eye-opening. To me, anyway. I was surprised even further when some Twitter followers (men included) commented on the poll, saying that for various reasons, they would actually be more likely to purchase a book written by a woman than a man. Which makes the 12% of people who said they would be less likely to purchase a book written by a woman virtually obsolete.

Which in turn, led to my next Twitter poll.

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I was baffled. When I shop for books in a bookstore, I look at the covers. If the cover looks good enough, I’ll pick up the book to read the blurb. IF I make it past the blurb, the book gets opened, and the author bio gets studied. Only after the author bio passes the test will I CONSIDER flipping through the pages.


Is this because I’m a writer? I don’t know. Many of the people who follow me on Twitter and participated in the poll are writers. I think. Well, they say they are. The majority could very well be robots.


OR, is it because we writers have a FALSE perception that people are thinking about our PERSONAL worthiness before examining the quality of our work?

Wait a minute . . .

Is that where our impostor syndrome comes from?

*pauses*

*clears throat*

The polls seem to suggest that who the writer is is becoming less important than ever before. Yes, we’ll rush out to buy a book by the authors we love . . . but, their accomplishments? Whether or not they have a master’s degree in English? Whether they’re male of female?

Not important.

Because Old Souls is not quite finished, I wondered what this information means to me as a blogger. Which (of course) led me back to my new favorite obsession: Twitter polling. screenshot-2018-01-08-at-12-54-19-pm.png

Hardly anyone participated in this poll, which was too bad because the results were the most interesting to me, personally. Seeing that this was my third poll in three days, maybe people were tired of all the questions. Or, maybe this particular poll didn’t ruffle as many feathers as the male vs. female question. In any event, based on these stats it would seem that people pick up books based on the appeal of the content. People follow blogs to get to know the author.

I’ve been considering changing up the format of Scribbles on Cocktail Napkins for some time. Outside of the summer Scribble Challenges, the theme of the site has generally revolved around my writerly insecurities and attempts to get over them. The problem is I’m getting kind of tired of writing about that. That means, YOU’RE probably getting kind of tired of reading about it. Which is WHY I’ve been considering an author alter ego to go along with my authorly moniker, J. A.

(By the way, J. A. is always on time for everything.)

That said, I’m not about to tie you to the bed and set the house on fire. My alter ego will not be all that different from me. I will still be Mother of Hellions, Hater of Spiders, and Drinker of Wine. I’ll still be an aspiring kicka$# author.


But I will also be confident.

Because writers need to be confident.


41% of voters admitted they don’t follow author blogs, eliminating the necessity of including their feedback in this change to Scribbles — which is a blog. (Haters gonna hate.) But, a whopping 39% of voters said they follow blogs to get to know more about the author.

Bearing that in mind, Scribbles on Cocktail Napkins will likely get a little more personal.GIVE THE PEOPLE WHAT THEY WANT


But not too personal.

Nobody wants to hear the nitty gritty.

Think: late night talk show personal.


I’ve also been considering adding a writer interview series to the site. Why I Write would be a more INTIMATE look into the forces driving individual authors to create, and the influences that helped mold their perspectives on life and the world today. The authors would (of course) have an opportunity to promote their work, but the bulk of the interview questions would take a more personal approach.

Depending on interest, this series of interviews might begin as early as February.

So, if you’re a writer interested in being featured on Scribbles on Cocktail Napkins, shoot me an email!


ScribblesonCocktailNapkins@gmail.com


And hey, if you’re a blogger, I want to know, what do YOU blog about? How do you keep your readers ENGAGED? What do you think about the necessity of author ALTER EGOS?


 

Present Presence

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Well, it’s happened again.

Another year has gone by, proving the adage true: time moves faster with age.

According to my (beloved) hellions, growing up takes “forever.” And we’ve all been there.  We remember a time when age only served as a boundary sectioning us off from accomplishments like staying up till 8 o’clock, watching scary movies, and getting our license — and when the only way to achieve our goals was to simply to wait.

To age.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, I feel like the hellions grow out of shoes overnight. They begin their school week and come home for the weekend in the same breath. They need haircuts in what seems like every time I turn around.

But, it isn’t just the boy’s lives that seem to be moving so quickly. Mine is too.

My new year resolutions have remained fairly consistent over the last few years: all aimed toward the completion of Old Souls. And yet, the bane of my existence *ahembook remains irritatingly unfinished.

I find myself asking, where the hell is all the time going?

I recently realized that this swift passage of time may partially be my fault. I am wishing time away, frittering it away, and in general, not paying attention to the time I have.

I’m easily distracted.

As it is with many working parents, to suggest I am “busy” would be an understatement. I don’t mean to say that the hellions themselves are distracting.c8b22e03af860900d35b8325a15b4ade But, the boys need help with homework. They require chauffeuring to music lessons, sports, and friend’s houses. They like being fed occasionally — roughly fifteen times a day — and usually return the favor by leaving towering piles of dishes, laundry, and Lego in their wake.

When I’m not dealing with that (or working), I’m editing Old Souls.

I manage the bulk of my daily tasks begrudgingly, consoling myself with the promise that one day when I quit my day-job to focus on writing, or I hire someone to help with the cleaning, or the kids move out, there will be magically be more time. In the throes of endless to-do lists, I’m often thinking of the million other things I should be doing, wondering whether I’m spending my time efficiently enough, and berating myself for not utilizing my time properly in the past, putting myself in the situation of having to complete whatever task I’m doing . . . now.

In all this running around, in all this doing while distracted, and planning for future success and mumbling about past failures, I’m missing opportunities to be fulfilled, and to recognize the success in the moment I am in.

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My 2018 mantra.


I live for summer heat. The beaches on Prince Edward Island are the main reason I moved here in the first place. But, to live on the island means to accept the good with the bad. And the bad? (In my my mind, anyway.) Maritime winters. I hate Maritime winters. No, I abhor them. I hibernate. I sulk. I suffer. I wish all of the gray slushy days away. And here on PEI, winter is the longest season of all. Which means effectively, I’m wishing 1/3 of my life away every year. I’m missing the opportunity to be happy.

It’s something I’ve resolved to change, which means purposefully acclimating to winter in 2018, and choosing to be comfortable in the cold by spending time outside, throwing snowballs, and going for walks, because I don’t want to wish 1/3 of my life away.


I want to THRIVE in the in the moments I’m in.


I’m going to choose to be mentally present in whatever task I’m working on. I’m going to weed out distraction. I’m going to stop, and be present in the present tense.

When I’m with the hellions, being mentally present will mean making an effort to transform time spent en route to basketball, futsal, and music, or even *shudder* while helping with homework, into quality time. Because, I want to be a witness to their lives. I want to experience their hell-raising. And when they move out one day, I want to know in my heart that I soaked up every ray of sunshine the little monsters wreaked through my house, and in my mom-van, and wherever the hell it is we’ve been.

Being mentally present means paying attention, so that while I’m writing or editing, I’m actually writing or editing, and not flitting time away doing something else that simply does. not. matter. Like watching people fall off hover boards.

What was I saying?

I’ve come to believe that when we allow ourselves to be distracted too often, we risk losing sight of our goals. We risk ours lives slipping away unnoticed by ourselves.

We’re missing the moments we have: the very lives we’re building for ourselves.

So, in 2018, I’m going to be present in the moment I am in. I’m going to pay attention the the task I’m tackling instead of thinking about the billion other things I could be working on.

I’m going to make an effort to appreciate daily life, the good and the bad.


I’m going to finish Old Souls.

And I’m going to do it by accomplishing MORE in the time I have.


A while ago, I purposefully stopped blogging, and cut back on Facebook And Twitter in an attempt to propel my Old Soul writing project to its final conclusion. A week went by without a blog post. Then two. Three months have come and gone since then, and interestingly enough, I’ve found that my Old Soul output is more consistent while I work on the blog on the sidelines.

So I’m back. Once again, I’m going to actively participate in the platform that has been so fun to build, because I love it, and because it works to actively fuel my creativity.


If you want something done, ask a busy person to do it. The more things you do, the more you can do. –Lucille Ball


All that said, Old Souls IS almost done. I’m going to be looking for beta readers sometime in March. If you’re interested in becoming a Old Soul beta reader, contact me directly at:  

Scribblesoncocktailnapkins@gmail.com


It’s been a long time since we’ve talked. I want to hear from you! What are YOUR resolutions this year? And, how do YOU stay present in the present?