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?


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?


 

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.


Falling into Gear


The rain is falling outside my window, and for what seems like the first time in months, I can hear it.


Two hours ago I dropped the hellions off at school.  Today my sons head to grades six, five, and two. It’s been a busy eight weeks, filled with days of trampoline parks, camping, laser tag, mini-golf, water-gun fights, and theme parks.


I love summer. I’m not going to lie.


walkway-2030319_1920.jpgI love watching the hellions play soccer and baseball, seeing their hair turn bright blonde and their cheeks become freckled and tanned. I love heat, and Prince Edward Island beaches, and sprinklers on lawns, and the smell of freshly cut grass.

I love everything about summer. Even the storms. Especially the storms, even though they can be hard to hear over the gentle roar of every neighborhood kid in a ten block radius descending on my kitchen to raid the cupboards like a swarm of locusts attacking a crop.

But, I have to admit that fall isn’t so bad, either.

Near the end of every summer I get the same old itch. A creative current seems to electrify the air. And, even though I enjoy spending summer vacation with the boys, every night for the last two weeks I’ve been fantasizing about what life will be like when they head back to school. This morning I woke up up early to go for a run. The sun wasn’t up, so I promptly threw that idea out the window. (Maybe tomorrow?) I got the hellions ready for the day and out the door. Soon, I’ll take a shower, begrudgingly devote an hour to housework, and finally sit down to work on Old Souls.

The goal is four hours a day six days a week of writing, one hour a day five days a week on social media–including the work I put into Scribbles–and, at least a half hour every day of reading.


A couple exciting things are set to happen in the next two months.


I’ve contributed a story to an anthology, The Box Under the Bed, that will be released on Amazon October 1st. (It’s available for pre-order now, btw.) My submission, Cassie, will be featured alongside the spooky stories of twenty spectacular indie authors, just in time for black cat season. The anthology has been compiled and edited by best-selling Amazon author Dan Alatorre, who many of you will recognize as a regular here on Scribbles on Cocktail Napkins.

Shortly after the book’s release, I’m heading to Altamonte Springs to present two workshops at the Florida Writer’s Conference. (And hey, you can register for that here and find out more about my workshops here.)

But, even more exciting than that is while the boys take their hell-raising act to school, Old Souls will once again receive the attention it deserves. The characters will come back to life in my imagination, and soon, they’ll be living and breathing in the imagination of others, too.

Because the book is nearly ready to slip back into the trusted grip of my critique partners. And you know what happens after that?


Publication!


(JOKING.)being-a-writer-its-easy-its-like-riding-a-bike-men-s-t-shirt

There are still a few steps to go after that. But we’ll get there.

Until then, you can expect a more consistent posting schedule here. I’ll be uploading more short stories this year than in previous years. And, as Old Souls becomes tighter, I’ll be able to release a few more deleted scenes. I’m hoping to host quite a few guest blogs too, so: if you have a piece you’d like to share, shoot an email to me at scribblesoncocktailnapkins@gmail.com.

I’m excited to kick the upcoming writing year into full gear.


As always, thanks for coming along for the ride.


J. A.


Big News


No, Old Souls isn’t finished. Because c’mon. It’s summer.

But THIS is pretty cool too.


One of my partners in googling things like:

Weird ways to die, how to get away with murder, what it feels like to stab people, how to get over the Canadian/American border without a passport, time travel . . .

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Oh wait, can they send you to jail for googling that stuff?

*ahem*

One of my WRITING PARTNERS came up with a great idea a while ago. It’s an anthology. A compilation of short stories bound together with a theme. Now, this idea has been shelved a while, but it’s close to happening now.

This anthology will feature stories written by a select group of authors, and PUBLISHED by best-selling Amazon author Dan Alatorre.

And hey, receiving publishing help from a best-selling author is pretty cool.

The anthology could even be tied together with a Halloween theme and released before October 31st.

I’m definitely going to be a part of it.


But the best part? YOU could be a part of it too.


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Check out the benefits of participating in an anthology:

  • 20 or so authors all contributing to and helping market a short story anthology. That’s 20x the marketing you’d have to do yourself.
  • 20 authors posting about it on their blogs.
  • 20 authors asking for blog tours and interviews to promote a book YOU are in means 20 times the number of people discovering your work!

And oh by the way, for some of you that’ll be your first published work, so there’s that. Ammy fame awaits.


Do we have your attention now?

Check out Dan’s site for more information.


Hit that reblog button! Let’s give this project the best start we possibly can.


 

 

Sarah Brentyn – Guest Post


My life as an Introverted Writer


coffee-1848899_960_720.jpgI’m an introvert. Always have been.

I need time to recharge after major events. Hell, I need time to recharge after answering the door. (When I do. Sometimes I hide.)

I’m definitely not a people-person. It’s not that I don’t like people, just that I wish they wouldn’t come near me. Or talk to me. Or look at me.

Personal space, you know?

I’d say, instead of a social butterfly, I’m more of a social spider. Creeping away from commotion, scrunching into dark corners, hiding behind a web. (I completely just grossed myself out. I’m wicked arachnophobic and compared my people-skills to those nasty 8-legged critters. Now I’m itchy. I hope the analogy was worth it.)

When I was little, people used to be nice about my introverted nature and call me a “homebody.” Now it’s like, “Holy crap, woman. When’s the last time you left the house? You need to put your books down and GET OUT.” A bit rude but, alas, they’re not wrong.

Once upon a time, I had a friend who consistently told me how much happier I’d be if I went drinking and partying with her. I wouldn’t have been.

However, heading for a walk, strolling through a cemetery, watching the ocean…these things make me happy and I don’t indulge in them nearly enough.

So, we’ve established I’m a loner. And that’s okay. Really. It is.

But.

You knew there was a “but,” right?

Here’s where, as a writer, I get into trouble.

I can go from hermit to recluse in 60 seconds flat. I know. It’s impressive. One minute I’m an introspective introvert, the next I’m a shut-in.

Writing is a solitary pursuit. It lends itself to introversion.

I live in my head, constantly writing, narrating, and stowing away encounters for future plotlines or dialogue.

I can bounce ideas off other writers, get beta feedback, and network all I want but, in the end, it’s me and my laptop.desk-602975_960_720.jpg

Though my characters are hanging out here keeping me company, they never ask me to get a beer or tell me to go outside for some fresh air. Never suggest I leave the keyboard to see the sunset.

While I’m content with who I am and love what I do, this life can be isolating. Writing doesn’t force me to leave the comforts of home. So here I stay.

Writer. Introvert. Recluse.

With this combination, I need to be careful. It sucks. It literally sucks the life out of me and my writing. Because leaving the house not only helps your mental health but gives you fodder for stories. Both of which I need.

I have to work a little bit harder than my extroverted friends to get out of my world, into the one outside, have some adventures, and return a little richer in all the ways that matter. Like Bilbo Baggins: There and Back Again.


Author Bio:


sarahbrentyn profile picSarah Brentyn is an introvert who believes anything can be made better with soy sauce and wasabi.

She loves words and has been writing stories since she was nine years old. She talks to trees and apologizes to inanimate objects when she bumps into them.

When she’s not writing, you can find her strolling through cemeteries or searching for fairies.

She hopes to build a vacation home in Narnia someday. In the meantime, she lives with her family and a rainbow-colored, wooden cat who is secretly a Guardian.
She is the author of Hinting at Shadows, a collection of short fiction.


Hinting at Shadows_COVERContact Information (blog, website, etc.):


Amazon: Author Page

Amazon US | Amazon UK

Blogs:

Lemon Shark

Lemon Shark Reef


Twitter, Google+, Website


Guest Post by Allison Maruska


The Biggest Killer of Creativity


First, I want to thank Jenny for hosting the Sunday Scribbles Challenge and for opening up her blog space for wee scribblers like me. I hope I can do this awesome blog justice.


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Now, let’s talk about creativity – and specifically about what kills it (for the purposes of this post, creativity refers to both the act of literally creating something and to sharing our already-created work with the outside world). As creative types, we need to know what hazards lie ahead so we can avoid them.

Unfortunately, this killer isn’t something we can avoid entirely. In fact, it’s one we likely face on a daily basis.

I’ve recently started reading Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. In it, she outlines qualities creative types must have in order to create, including enchantment, trust, and persistence. But the first quality she discusses is courage.

That means not being afraid, because as she says:


…when courage dies, creativity dies with it. We all know that fear is a desolate boneyard where our dreams go to desiccate in the hot sun.


She goes on to list 27 fears we face as we strive to live more creative lives, including fear of rejection, fear that we don’t have enough training, and fear that our work isn’t important enough to put out there. The easy advice would be to simply say everyone has fears so either suck it up and create anyway or go do something else.

Here’s the thing, though: Fears are real. They aren’t silly, irrational things we’re taught to ignore (for the most part). Fears keep us alive – we don’t run into traffic because of the fear of getting smashed by a MACK truck.


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Beep Beep!


But fear can also be paralyzing if we let it.

My bestselling novel was *this close* to being shoved under a mattress because of fear. After I got some bad feedback from a critique partner, I knew if I let anyone read it, one of two things would happen: 1. They would hate it and ridicule it mercilessly, or 2. No one would read it at all.

That’s right. I was afraid people would read it or not read it.

It took another, much wiser writing partner to talk me back off that ledge. I went on to self-publish the book and it sold twenty thousand copies in its first year.

And it wasn’t ridiculed mercilessly.

In her most recent flash fiction challenge post, Charli Mills says this (emphasis mine):


It’s not that fear itself is so bad. Fear is a warning — proceed with caution; be safe. Entrepreneurs and artists take calculated risks — they strategize to overcome doubt and fear to do or create something new. Fear is best acknowledged, not justified. It’s fear justified that skews thinking and actions.


Acknowledgement says, “Yes, this is a real fear that I have.” Justification says, “And because of it, I will or won’t do this.” Justification gives fear more credit and weight than it deserves.

I published my novel while carrying the fears that it would be poorly reviewed or not read. My wise writing partner even said, “Yes, those things could happen.” We acknowledged those fears and proceeded anyway. And you know what? Those things did happen! It got some bad reviews and I can’t get most of my own family to read it (among many others, I’m sure). But it also has lots of good reviews and fans anxiously waiting for the standalone sequel, which is now in revisions.

Fear is part of the creative process. Hell, it’s in every freaking step of it. If creativity is the Yin, fear is the Yang.

That doesn’t mean fear gets to kill our creativity. In fact, pressing on after acknowledging our fears makes having created and shared our work that much sweeter.


What fears do you face when creating? How do you overcome them?


0ec5e6b6a9fd960893ba80993bf75090.jpegAllison Maruska is the author of mystery, suspense, and YA novels, a humor blogger, former teacher, mom, wife, coffee and wine consumer, and owl enthusiast. Find her on her blog, Facebook, Twitter, and Amazon.