Month: November 2016

How being pessimistic about writing can make you a better writer

Positive thinking is all over the place and for one good reason – it sells. Telling someone that they can control their own good fortune by simply deciding to think positively is a beautiful idea. And you know what? You think positive – you feel positive. It works, we’ve all experienced it, but isn’t that a little like saying, if you imagine the colour blue you will see the colour blue?

More and more, the evidence is stacking up. Positive thinking can make you happy for a short time, but it can also stop you from reaching achievable goals too.

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Positive thinking alone won’t secure you the job you want that was otherwise unattainable or save a failing relationship. Positive thinking can make you appear to others as a confident and outgoing person, but most jobs and relationships soon dissolve that illusion, leaving positive thinkers in a worse position than they were in originally.

Jeez. It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but one many writers will recognize as true. Being positive about your own writing doesn’t make it good and can lead to the opposite, bad writing. So what the Jiminy are you meant to do about it?

In the BBC Radio 4 mini-series The Power of Negative Thinking psychologist (and hero to pessimists the world over) Oliver Burkeman explores how negativity can be a powerful route to joy, success and satisfaction.

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He argues that people who regularly envisage their own success are less likely to achieve their potential. Why on earth can that be? Surely, these visions make you more ready to accept the path you’ve chosen, they prime you for your success.

Well, apparently not. Have you ever imagined winning the lottery and everything you’ll do with the loot? It felt good, didn’t it, for all of five minutes until you remembered that you hadn’t actually won the lottery. Picturing success has the same effect. You feel good while you picture it and this can make you feel as if you have already achieved it. And unlike lottery money, you can believe the fantasy of good writing longer, perhaps indefinitely. This feeling of success produces endorphins and rewards us with happiness. So the motivation to work harder, longer, and take more criticism is decreased. Why would you listen to negativity when you already know you’re good?

Backfiring Positivity

“When the human mind focuses on a certain thought, for some reason, it has the opposite effect,” Burkeman says. “When someone says, ‘Don’t think about a polar bear for a whole minute?’ Then all you can think about is polar bears.”

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Oh, come on. I just told you not to…

The idea of thought subversion is evident in psychological studies too. “People suffering bereavement, who try not to grieve, take longer to recover”, Burkeman says. And repeating positive mantras and looking for meaning in inspirational quotes and ideas which rely on reversed word order does not help those with low self-esteem. In fact, it often makes them feel worse.

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Come again…. Does that even mean anything?

Again and again, if you try really hard to be happy and positive, the effort backfires. The result is you expect too much happiness and are doubly disappointed when none comes your way. This is an interesting idea to many writers. How many have set the bar to happiness at ‘getting published by a big house’ or selling 100K copies, only to either not achieve this or to realise when they have, happiness has not been achieved?

What really makes you happy?

The things that actually make us happy are much more fleeting, such as getting a nice review from an unexpected corner, writing a chapter which differs from the one we had in mind and is better than the original, and of course looking back on past achievements.

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Most writers get the blues after finishing their umpteenth draft. The closure that comes with a book done and dusted is surprisingly sour. But looking back, at books long finished brings a surprising amount of pleasure…

In closing, Oliver Burkeman’s advice is… stop aiming for happiness and you may find that it sneaks up on you without any conscious effort.

But most importantly, thinking you already are a brilliant writer, or you are an undiscovered talent and all you have to do is wait to be found, is a sure fire way to make sure, you never will be.

6 Hollywood Actors turned Writers Keeping it Real

I once heard someone say that acting and writing were not so different. Both involve imagining a character (or many) and working out through your own personal experiences how to portray this person. Both require a lot of discipline – time wise, friend wise, patience wise… However, as a skill set, writing and acting have nothing in common. Most writers work in a vacuum, a time and place devoid of feedback, praise or criticism, or they did until more recently. See: Twitter, Goodreads and multiple blogs.

Because there’s no way around it, the internet has made writing more of a performance art. Writers are expected to produce much more material and quicker and that means, feedback is instant and acted upon.

So maybe, it’s not surprising that a lot more actors are now branching off into writing. And guess what, some of their stuff doesn’t suck! So who’s at it? Let’s see.

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Steve Martin

The comedian best known for his hangdog lovability and general goofiness is also a pretty damn prolific writer. And you know what? He writes his own stuff. I mean, he writes it, with his own fingers. He doesn’t dictate some ideas into a microphone and then send it off to the Ghost. While he has written some less lengthy pieces like essay collections, plays and children’s books, and less fictional pieces like his 2007 memoir, Steve is also cranking out the real deal. An Object of Beauty was his 2007 book about a business woman in the NY art world and was well received in the ‘middle list’ area. Yeah, so Steve isn’t going to win any big prizes, (but are any of us?) but he is a real writer and not just writing exposes on Hollywood either. Well done that man! I salute you.

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Viggo Mortensen

He writes??? Okay, breathe, breathe. I’m a married woman. I’m a married woman. The Dane best known outside his homeland as Aragorn is otherwise simply an all-round amazing artistic actor. And (I’m fantasizing here, let’s just go with it), when he’s not curled up in front of a roaring log fire in a hand knitted jumper, drinking a glass of Gløgg, Mortensen is a world traveller, prolific poet and photographer. That last bit is real. Works such as The Horse is Good and Linger showcase his photos alongside poetic interpretations. And before we jump at the conclusion that he gets published because he’s famous, we need to step back. The boy sticks to indy publishers. Oh yeah!

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James Franco

Now this one, I read his book and then I Googled him, and then I found out he was an actor. Palo Alto is a proper gritty and insightful collection of short stories in the same vein as Slaves of New York. You can’t really read them individually, there are episodes and each contributes to the mood of the next. The actor slash model slash director majored in English and creative writing at UCLA and he can write damn well too. I love this angle, it’s like, yeah, I’m just doing this heartthrob thing until I can pay my bills from writing. Kudos.

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Hugh Laurie AND Stephen Fry

Honestly, these two deserve their own post each but they have so much in common I need to squish them together. And why not, these two are really, really good squished together. A Bit of Fry and Laurie, Jeeves and Wooster, Blackadder… They were both actors at Footlights together, both suffered from clinical depression in different forms and both have produced seriously good novels. In The Gun Sellers, Laurie does an excellent spy novel spoof and in Revenge, Fry takes on a slow burn tale of a boy kidnapped because he leads a charmed and beautiful life and how he makes his way back to kill off the people who made it happen. Okay – yes, it’s Monte Cristo, but it’s a really good, dark, modern version of the classic and you can imagine Fry in the main role.

And then there’s the other actor slash writers… you know the ones. They get offered the contract and then they write the book. I’m not saying that equals bad, but it more often than not means the ghostwriter was signed up and holding the outline before they even got on the call. So, there are a lot of them and I’m not going there. But just like with ‘real’ writers, there are actor slash writers who might kind of suck too.

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Do you know who Chad Michael Murray is? One Hill Tree Lane? I don’t. It was after my time, but apparently he played a character who liked writing and now he is writing, but by all accounts, he’s writing exactly what he wants to write (can’t knock that) and what he wants to write is travel log/ Army/ romance stuff. American Drifter is about an American soldier backpacking through Rio de Janerio, seeing cool stuff, questioning life and falling in love. Hey, it could be good. We won’t know unless we read it, right! But I probably won’t as he has gone on record saying it is based on a dream he once had and as we all know, the person who finds our dreams the most intriguing is ourselves.

So yes, just as you suspected – writing – everyone is at it so don’t go feeling all special about yourself. But seriously, no. Everyone is not at it and what these amazingly talented actor types show us is that even if you’re a Hollywood star, there can still be something missing in your life that only writing can fill.

 

So, Write On Brothers and Sisters!

Oh and here’s one more Viggo, just because.

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3 Ways to Beat the Nanowrimo Half-Time Funk

Whether it’s your first or your tenth Nanowrimo, the pressure is still the same. In between work, school, homework, housework and crying babies, you somehow need to pump out 1600 plus words of legible, coherent text a day, every day for the whole of November.

It’s not that easy. Things happen, good and bad, that interfere with your schedule. Days pass when your fingers never touch the computer and while that’s okay in the early days, by the middle of the month, these can be disastrous. And for some reason, once you’re 10k words behind, the writer’s block problems start to gather. This story doesn’t make sense. It’s going in the wrong direction. There are too many inconsistencies…. And there’s a party tonight.

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And yes, if you don’t finish Nanowrimo, it’s not the end of the world. But if you do want to do it and you are flailing, I’ve got 3 tips to help you out.

1. You’ve lost the plot
It’s so easy to write when you know where you’re going, but as soon as you go off track you’ve only got two options. One, write around to bring the story back or – heaven forbid – delete. Okay, no one should be deleting more than say, 500 words ever for Nanowrimo. The month is about writing not editing and it’s certainly not about deleting. So what do you do? Simple, jump ahead. If you know your story, jump ahead to the next scene or chapter and leave a big, to be continued hole, in the place where you’re stuck. Next month or next year, you can go back and look at where it went off track. Until then, you can enjoy the sensation of moving through your book towards the conclusion of the story.

2. You’re bored!
Okay, what’s boring, your story or the process. If it’s your story, I’m sorry really sorry and my best advice is…

“When stumped, have a man come through a door with a gun.”

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Okay, that’s not my advice, that comes from Raymond Chandler and while tons of people will laugh at that kind of approach to writing, it fits perfectly to Nanowrimo. This is your one month of hard-hitting, quick-fire writing. If your story sucks, do something dramatic to rekindle your own interest. Let one of the characters be the only witness to murder, break a leg, develop an obsession for one of the others, anything. If your story has turned into a passed out mid-Victoria lady at a dinner party, give her a slap and stick something disgusting under her nose to wake her up.

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However, if the process of writing bores you, I’m sorry, it can be boring sometimes but you just have to get through it. My trick here was Treacle Toffee. November is Bonfire Night season in the UK and Treacle Toffee is made for November 5th. I took a whole tin of that sticky stuff and let myself have a piece only when I was actively writing. The sugar rush is pretty intense, but thinking burns calories really fast (Sure. Whatever you need to tell yourself). And it’s like that gummy bear trick for getting kids to read textbooks. You want the treats, so deal with the boredom!

3. You don’t have time
Really, 1666 words on a subject that you know explicitly because it’s in your head? I’m kidding. I know it’s tough. While some people can do this in about half an hour for others it takes three. But the middle of November is not the time to quit. Why would you? All those positive feelings you’ll get from completing will be turned into feelings of defeat. Instead, you should forget the 1666 number and write to your heart’s content. If it’s a Monday night and you’re on 2k at 10pm, keep going if you’re on a role. It’s an investment for all those days when you can’t get or don’t have time to get past 500.

Bonus point. Forget the idea that it’s meant to be fun.
I’m dead serious here. So many good things are dressed up as being fun to get people to participate, but like the gym or going on a diet, why not fess-up and admit, the fun part is the having done it part.

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Writing is work. Anyone who tells you differently is selling something.

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Dead Memories Blog Tour – Okay Panic

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So the review copies are out and the waiting begins… Okay cue anxiety attack. It’s too late too change anything now. They’ll either love it or hate it. If there was anyway to buy a thicker skin, I’d be out shopping right now.

Because there’s nothing quite like writing in a bubble – The only critic is the one in your head – okay, she’s bad enough. But now the waiting begins. Fingers crossed. Let’s see what they say…

Yeah. November = More Sex … & More Good Books

Okay, the days are drawing in, the mornings are darker, the nights colder and Christmas is a long way off and no matter how many Grinch or Elf quotes I see on FB and Tw, no one is going to convince me otherwise. But never fear, there are some good sides to Fall/ Winter 16/17. I know this, because science tells me it is so. P.S. most but not all of these have to do with sex.

Okay, here we go.

Men find the same woman more sexually enticing as the winter progresses

This helpful titbit comes from the blog The Psychology of Human Sexuality who did a nifty bit of research showing that men who were shown the same picture of a woman’s body throughout the year, were more sexually aroused (no, I don’t know how they measured that. Answers on a postcard please) in December as in any other month. However, the same study found this only applied to pictures of bodies and not faces, so save those smiles for the ones who are worthy.

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Quick turn off the TV… it’s the Dove ladies and Uncle Harry hasn’t had his meds yet.

December is the most sexed up month of the year

According to a study by sex toy firm Lovehoney, people have more sex in December than at any other time of the year. They claim this is because skin is in shorter supply and a small glimpse sets the pulse racing quicker… could be. Look at the Victorians. Legs were banned and they were mad for it. I know, I watch TV! However, I’m thinking, lots of booze filled office parties and get together with old friends might also have something to do with it. And yes, this is subjective antidotal evidence, but … shrug.

Putting on more clothes makes you horny

Say what? Apparently, we’re back to the Victorian’s again here, but wearing layers and feeling well wrapped up is a huge aphrodisiac, or so they say. It’s all to do with how being wrapped up make you take shallower breaths and this sends blood inwards… and downwards. You can ask Jezebel if you don’t believe me.

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No, I have no idea what’s going on here either.

And last but not least…

The books we read in winter are better than our summer choices

This claim comes from the good people at Barnes & Noble who make their money out of knowing such things. The idea is, the books we buy for holiday reading during the summer are selected for their easy pick-up and put-down titles. That way, when we get too hot and need to take a dip, or decide to go off for a lazy 5 hour lunch or just get drunk on white wine at midday, we don’t feel like we’re missing out.

The good books, the ones we’re excited about, that sit on top of the TBR pile, we keep for winter. Christmas holidays, and the long January and February nights are the perfect time for us to indulge in books with great cabin fever fighting capabilities. At this time of year we are more likely to pay attention to the books we read and to concentrate on the storyline. So, if you haven’t stared War and Peace yet, now might be the time… but remember, be prepared to shelve it if your other half starts giving you funny looks last seen around this time last year!

 P.S. Dead Memories. The 2nd book in the Carol Ann Baker series is out December 19th. 

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