Finding Inspiration, A Guest Blog by Laura Mae


One of the most common setbacks for writers is inspiration. I would honestly put it at the top, along with writer’s block; but they seem to be one in the same. Not knowing what to write can be the most daunting feelings and sometimes it feels like it will never go away. But some good news, it will ALWAYS go away. How long it takes, though, is up to you.

There is no “one” or “right” way to gain inspiration to write.

We are all unique, weird, and at times, unstable individuals. If there was one way to get inspiration to write, there would be books getting published every minute of every day. But sadly, this is not the case, I’m here to try to help you in getting back that spark you’ve been missing.


Dreams


If you’ve been following me here for the last few months, you might know already that I value dreams over all others for inspiration. Dreaming can inspire your mind in ways you never thought imaginable. The things you dream of at night can sometimes be alarming on how the hell your brain came up with something like that. But that’s the beauty of it. Inspiration should hit us like a cement truck, and dreams are good at being blunt. You may not think so if you don’t dream much, but for me at least, they have several meanings. pexels-photo-279360.jpegYou just have to look for it. If you don’t remember your dreams very well, take my advice and make a dream journal. Any little sliver of a dream you have, write it down as soon as you wake up. This is when it will be the most vivid in your mind. The longer you wait to write it down, the more the details will just fly out of the window. Plus, it’s not a bad take-a-away, if while you’re writing, you start to make-up things in the middle that help you make sense of what’s going on. The draw-back on relying on strictly your dreams is that they can come far and few between. Or, if you have trouble sleeping, dreams will not come to you as easily. So, onto the second trial.


Do Stuff


I honestly feel dumb that this is something I’ve only recently started doing. If you’re like me, a homebody, you do not go out very much at all. You work, you might have kids, you might have school and homework. Going out to do things besides what you normally do, puts a damper on any kind of new inspiration. If you have the means, go out and do things you don’t normally do. For example, I haven’t gone hiking in a very long time, but I finally had the chance to go and I went somewhere I’ve never gone. The memory of just being there resonates with me and I am able to go back and visit it if I need to. I also did a ‘pay-it-forward’ at a fast food drive-thru and was actually given a free coffee by the cashier; just because. I’ve never done the ‘pay-it-forward’ thing before, but it was cool the way it worked out. My point is, get out of your comfort zone, get off the couch and go somewhere and do something different.


Talk to People/People Watch


Most writers are introverted, which is why I put 2 options on here. If you do happen to be outgoing-ish, randomly talking to strangers could be a good way to learn about others. The way they act, talk, move, ect. I think this is fun to base characters off of if they do something memorable. But if you are introverted like me and can’t imagine talking to random people, go somewhere crowded with people and just watch. Bring a notebook, take notes, learn what people do in “the wild”. This also helps with the “Do Stuff.” Maybe something fun will happen to you in your outings that you can write about later.


Playing Video Games


This may be a tad nontraditional, but I think video games have a tremendous positive impact on us.  Not only are they interactive, but they make you think differently than reading a book or watching T.V.  The way games work have to be different because it’s being controlled by a third person. RPG’s (Role Playing Games) are very story driven, and they are great examples of how stories are different. The immersion of them can force you to think outside of the box, and that’s always a good thing.


Taking Showers


For me, taking showers can spur on a lot of thinking and talking. I’ll be the first to admit, I sing and talk in the shower. A lot. Something about the constant flow of hot water somehow makes your brain work better. Or maybe you have conditioned yourself to brainstorm in the shower, so it’s just used to it by now. If you are needing something to get the gears running, try taking shower. Don’t go in expecting to have a light bulb go off as soon as your feet hit the duck stickers. Just relax, try to clear your mind and take in the hot water and sound of the shower. I also suggest showers instead of baths, but this is just my preference. (I hate baths) But if you like taking baths, try that too. Also, having some herbal scents in the bathroom can trigger more senses. The moisture of the steam activates them and is inhaled into your lungs.


Listen to New Music


Music has a way of seeping into our souls without even realizing it. (Earworms, I’m lookin’ at you.) pexels-photo-374777Listen to songs you’ve never heard of or bands that you think you might like. Pandora is really good for this. If you don’t have them and you want an easy way to get new stuff, Pandora is a quick, easy solution. Otherwise, if you have Spotify, they have a slew of playlists you can search for based on what mood you’re in and discover new music that way.


I hope this can help you get back on track for your writings. There is inspiration all around you; you just have to seek it.

–Laura Mae


Thank you, Laura, for a great guest blog.

Laura’s book is available on Amazon now. Check it out!

fliersreleasead1Follow Laura on Facebook, Google+, Linkedin, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, and GoodReads, or check out her website to get the latest updates on what’s going on with her writing.


 

Stuck

Being-A-Writer-Is-Easy-It-s-Like-Riding-A-Bike


I’m stuck.

Last week I was stuck.

The week before that, I got stuck.

And now I’m trapped in an endless vortex of soul-sucking stuck.

Writing can be fun. It can be really, really fun. The act of putting words where there were no words can divvy out a thrill like no other. The act of reading those words back and realizing they have come together to form a cohesive, INTELLIGENT, eloquently stated thought that no one else has come out with before is fuc@king exhilarating.

And Sometimes Writing Sucks.

I have been editing my book long enough to know that on certain occasions it’s best to walk away. I have also been editing it long enough to know that if I keep walking away it will never get finished.

It’s a double-edged, mother-loving, ambition-crushing, brain-stewing PAPERCUT.

I have a stack of beta-readers ready and waiting to help with my WIP. I have the time I need to attack the thing while the hellions are in school. In fact, I calculated that if I have sixteen good days of editing in a row, I will be DONE in sixteen days.

And I can’t get through a paragraph.

Yesterday I washed the rugs. I cleaned the windows and put the screens back in. I went for a walk. Yesterday, I finished the laundry, and then washed all the winter coats and put them into storage. Yesterday, I didn’t edit a single word. I opened my manuscript, cringed, died a little, and closed it. And opened it. And closed it again.

In truth, I have no idea why I’m stuck. I tried writer’s wine. I tried editor’s wine. And then I realized that if I plan on going to work tonight to earn actual REAL money, and not the theoretical kind that will so OBVIOUSLY come once I finish my brilliant book (if I ever do), I should probably stop drinking.

While writing can be fun, editing can be tedious. It can be really, really tedious. The act of replacing the right words for the wrong ones can suck your soul dry like nothing else. The act of reading those edits back and realizing you’ve made a mockery of the English language that no one will ever, EVER be able to untangle is fuc@king exhausting.

*takes deep breath*

It could be argued that a good amount of wallow is healthy in every activity worth tackling.

So, instead of writing today I’ve decided to do just that.

Wallow.

To everyone out there in the trenches, to everyone killing it, everyone kind of muddling their way through, and everyone stuck in a rut of wallow with me, I salute you.

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*raises writing wine glass*

*sees that it’s empty*

*raises editing wine glass*

*extends toast*

I love you guys.


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.

BW page

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?


 

Split Ends and House Flies


They say you need to write every day. I don’t necessarily believe that—mainly because I can’t write every day.


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Shut up Jean-Luc.

Like most aspiring authors, I have a day job. I have a (very) busy family life, errands to run, a house to maintain, and air to breathe. Writing every day just isn’t feasible at this stage of the game.

And, writing in summer? Impossible.

Taking two months off my WIP was a decision I made to ensure the hellions enjoyed their annual eight weeks of freedom. I’m glad I did. My oldest is eleven. In a few years, he might not want to spend his school vacation camping/beaching/laser-tagging with his parents. Now, he does. And I want to spend time with him, too.

All that said, I am fully aware that maintaining a consistent writing schedule is enormously beneficial to writers at every stage. Perhaps all-too-fully aware of it now, as I sit at my computer trying, trying, trying to get words to magically jump from my fingertips onto the computer screen. Getting back into a regular writing schedule after an extended period of time off is hard as hell. Like any skill, the ability to communicate clearly and concisely degrades without practice. Those who don’t write often risk a dramatic step-back in their very ability to work.


Boo-bloody-hoo.

Writing is hard. We all know it.


Life happens. We all have jobs. We all have bills, stress, and the very human desire to socialize every now and then. What separates an author from a wannabe is the ability to get back on the writing horse and stare at the blinking cursor until it starts to move.
Today, I tried to write for three hours AND NOTHING HAPPENED.

Well, that’s not true. A fly buzzed around me as if willfully trying to drive me insane for an hour and a half . . . until I finally killed it. Has-Only-1-Day-Of-Life-Spends-It-All-Trolling-You-Funny-Fly-MemeThen I ate lunch. Then I divided the splitting ends of my hair for fifteen minutes, thinking about Sean Spicer’s appearance on the Emmys last night.

I finally settled on attacking a blog post, because I didn’t really want to think about Sean Spicer anymore and it was obvious it just wasn’t an Old Souls kind of day.


But you know what? Tomorrow I’ll work on my book again.

One day soon I’ll get back into my writing groove.

A little while after that I’ll finish Old Souls.


And it all will have happened solely because I didn’t give up today.