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.