Monday, January 30, 2012

Quotation of the Week

Every week, I’ll put up a quotation related to writing or creation and tell you a little bit about the person who said it.  I’ll try to vary the speakers as much as possible.

"Writing is the hardest way of earning a living, with the possible exception of wrestling alligators." - Olin Miller

For some reason, I can’t find information on this guy, even though his quotes are on a billion different sites.  But this quote was just too cool not to put up here, so there.

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Mob Mask

"Kill the pig.  Cut her throat.  Bash her in."  Source

In 2001, a woman contemplated jumping off a bridge.  During these moments, traffic was held up and motorists started yelling for her to jump.  She did.

Horrible, no?  Well what if I told you that, were you there, you might have yelled “Jump!” with them?

During Halloween (in USA anyway), people like to dress up.  They put on costumes and, for one night, shed their identity to become someone else.  But with costumes come an interesting twist.  While wearing the costume, you make yourself more anonymous.  By increasing your anonymity, you lower your inhibitions.

An experiment let children play games while either in costume or not.  Some of the games were competitive and not aggressive, with others were, such as extracting a beanbag from a tube.  During the time they wore costumes, the children played the more aggressive games twice as much as they did when they were unmasked.

Putting on a mask is not the only way to achieve this kind of anonymity.  When people gather in groups, something happens to the individuals.  Deindividuation.  What this means is that people start to lose sense of who they are, and what they stand for.  Your own right and wrong dissolves and is replaced by the group’s right and wrong.  You are essentially putting on the mask of the group, and shedding your identity and replacing it with ‘member of <group>’.

Three factors contribute to this effect.  First, anonymity.  If the entire group is wearing masks or standing in darkness, the effect becomes that much more devastating.  In another experiment, a group of kids with Halloween costumes are told to take only one piece of candy, and then the researcher left them alone.  Sometimes they were asked for their names.  When identified, being in a group increased the likelihood of them breaking the rules a little (from 10 to 20 per cent), while the incognito kids had a big jump in breaking rules when they were in a group (from 20 to 60 per cent).

Second is group size.  The bigger the group, the more anonymous the individual, the greater the effect.  Third is arousal.  Listening to a moving speech, chanting, singing or other ritual-like activities can stir this in you.  Anything that grabs your attention and holds it.  The pressure builds and builds until you lose your sense of self and merge with the group.

Being in a mob is like being possessed by something other than your own mind.  Afterwards, people will be ashamed or even horrified by what they did, as if they didn’t choose it.  (In a sense, they didn’t.)

I don’t know if I would have yelled at that woman to jump.  I certainly hope not.  But mob psychology is a powerful thing.  Terrifying, in fact.

Two books that contain good examples of this phenomenon are Xenocide by Orson Scott Card and Lord of the Flies by William Golding.  I got most of my information here.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Don't Let Your Cup Overflow

Copyright Nintendo.  Source

In a book by Lloyd Alexander (The Remarkable Journey of Prince Jen), someone says, “You must know nothing before you can learn something, and be empty before you can be filled.”  Are you empty?  Should you be?

Often when I’m in the middle of writing a story, I will learn something or get an opportunity to learn about something (say, tips on how to make your dialogue better, or exercises to improve your description).  When this happens, I freeze.  I have a moment where I consider scrapping my entire project and starting over when I’ve learned the said something.  Sadly, after this moment, I usually go, “Self, you are right”.

Why?  Because I don’t want to waste the idea.

If I wait like my subconscious wants me to, I will be able to use the idea (which I believe is pretty good) when I’m better and thus have an actual use for it.  If I write the story now, I will use up the idea on a mediocre substructure.  If you will, I don’t want to put my new wine into old wineskins.

That kind of reasoning is based on one assumption or maybe even a fear.  That there is a scarcity of ideas, and that nothing should be wasted.  While this is good advice for most things, ideas aren’t one of them.

Ideas are a scarce as sun in South Africa.  Ideas are everywhere.  Someone once said that everyone walks past a thousand story ideas every day, and that the good writers see maybe five.  But I think if you don’t let go of the ideas you’re keeping for later, you’ll be so preoccupied that you don’t see any new ones (which then aggravates the condition and starts a perpetual cycle).

Don’t save your best for later.  Never hold back on what you can give.

Empty everything on the page, and more will come to take its place.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Quotation of the Week

Every week, I’ll put up a quotation related to writing or creation and tell you a little bit about the person who said it.  I’ll try to vary the speakers as much as possible.

"Before you begin to write a sentence, imagine the scene you want to paint with your words. Imagine that you are the character and feel what the character feels. Smell what the character smells, and hear with that character’s ears. For an instant, before you begin to write, see and feel what you want the reader to see and feel." - Othello Bach

There isn’t an article of Othello Bach on Wikipedia that I could find.  But I found a website of an author/songwriter, so I assume this is the same person.
Othello Bach is an author of three novels (the first being the bestselling House of Secrets).  She then turned to writing children’s books.  Her most famous is Whoever heard of a Fird?  She is also a certified hypnotherapist.

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Ten Happiest Jobs

Somewhere near the end of 2011 (I think) Forbes released a study of the 10 happiest jobs.  Herewith the list in order of happiness.

Copyright Konami
1.  Clergy
2.  Firefighters
3.  Physical Therapists
4.  Authors
5.  Special Education Teachers
6.  Teachers
7.  Artists
8.  Psychologists
9.  Financial Services Sales Agents
10. Operating Engineers

Six out of the ten make very small amounts of money.  With the exception of Financial Services Sales Agents (??) and Operating Engineers, all these jobs have to do with art or helping people.

The average human spends 97 760 hours working (taken for an 8 hour, five day work week from 18-65).  So I think one should take care in picking what to spend almost 100k hours on.

I am really lucky to have the possibility of working for a living as an author.  Those that already do are lucky too, even if they only scrape over the top of the budget.  All the other jobs on the list too (except maybe Financial Services Sales Agents).

Given the choice between happiness paired with poverty and medium-happiness paired with money, there is no contest for me.  A few years ago, I might have wavered or argued that money would make me happy, but not anymore.

If you had that choice, which would you choose? (Then again, if you’re an aspiring or published novelist, you already chose, didn’t you?)

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Branch Out


I remember that Livia Blackburne once explained in an interview that there are two paths of thinking, the deliberate path and I think the spontaneous path.  The deliberate path is when you focus your mind on something (i.e. sitting in front of the blank page) and the spontaneous is when you don’t focus on anything specific (i.e. performing an automated skill like showering).

In the same manner, there are also two approaches to thinking called convergent and divergent thinking (whether there is a link with the paths, I don’t know, but probably).

Convergent thinking limits options, i.e. taking available options and whittling them down to one.  E.g. Choosing a colour for a wall from a catalogue.  You cut out any colours you don’t want until you find one that you do.  All your thoughts converge on one location.

Divergent thinking expands options.  E.g. Choosing what to do with your wall.  You churn out the maximum number of possibilities.  All your thoughts move away from one location (you could paint it, or draw on it, or plaster it with pages from the Lord of the Rings).

As you might have guessed, creativity is divergent thinking.  Thinking outside the box.  Though the convergent path is important in some instances, thinking of a story is not one of them.

It is very easy to fall into convergent thinking.  The problem is that you are only using available ideas instead of creating new ones.  To be a divergent thinker, you must put your mind to it.

However, there are a lot of times when we get stuck in convergent thinking (which is possibly one of the causes of the so called “writer’s block”).  If you’re in there, try branching out.

By branching out, I mean change your medium.  Write poetry (like a lot of novelists do).  Change from novel to short story for one tale.  Paint.  Write the storyboard for an indie RPG.  Knit.  Whittle wood.

Branching out forces your perspective to shift and your mind to start thinking divergently (because you have no or little ideas to limit).

Paint, even if you can’t.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Quotation of the Week

Every week, I’ll put up a quotation related to writing or creation and tell you a little bit about the person who said it.  I’ll try to vary the speakers as much as possible.

"Every writer I know has trouble writing." - Joseph Heller

Joseph Heller was a satirical writer who authored 7 novels, a number of short stories, 3 plays and 3 screenplays.  He is most famously known for his novel Catch-22, the story of a group of US servicemen.  The title has since evolved into a phrase to describe a no win situation where no matter which choice you make, you end up with the same negative outcome.  The example used in the book goes like this:  To get sent back home (from the war), you need to be insane and ask to be sent home.  But if you ask to be sent home, you’re not insane, because only sane people would ask to be sent away from war (i.e. to a place where people aren’t shooting at you).  But if you don’t ask, you can’t get sent home.  Therefore, no matter what you do, you have to stay in service.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Why Willpower Wanes


Ever wonder why sometimes you cannot avoid giving into temptations?  Or why shops always put the candy/chocolate near the checkout?

Willpower is like a mental muscle.  It tires and it grows.  In simple terms, willpower depletes with use and gets stronger the more you use it.

Ergo, if you are tempted multiple times throughout the day, you will most likely give in eventually.  More importantly, if you spent the day resisting temptations and then come to another, you’ll have a hard time resisting it.

Let’s say you spend the first half of the day at home and there is leftover cake that you wanted to save for later.  But you really want to eat it now.  Therefore, every time you walk past, you’ll be depleting some willpower by resisting the temptation.  Now, say you go to work for the other half of the day (after having successfully not eaten the cake) and your boss is away, leaving you alone.  It is Friday and it’s half an hour before your normal leaving time.  No one will notice that you’re gone.  Because of your depleted willpower, you give in and go home.  However, if the cake hadn’t been at your house, you would probably have been able to resist the temptation to leave work early.

Now, more interestingly, making decisions also drains willpower.  Or rather, excluding options (by choosing others) take willpower because people don’t like losing options.  Regardless, this affects how people make decisions.  Like, say, the supermarket candy.  They put it at the checkout, after people made a lot of decisions, thereby lowering their ability to resist taking a chocolate.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Like You


I very recently read Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, and one of the characters said something that was, to me, very interesting, so I decided to make a post of it (also, I’m very lazy today).

Here’s the quote:

“Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you're there.

It doesn't matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that's like you after you take your hands away. The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching, he said. The lawn-cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime.”

I talked before about leaving behind a legacy, and this sort of adds to the point.  When you create something, make something that’s like you when you take your hands away, you’re leaving yourself there.

If you’re lucky, that part of you will spread into the world and build and grow until it has become a part of society (e.g. Bram Stoker’s Dracula or Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein).

But even if you’re not lucky and all you made was one shoe, you will still be living in the world for longer than you would have (except if someone burns it to ashes).

Monday, January 9, 2012

Quotation of the Week

Every week, I’ll put up a quotation related to writing or creation and tell you a little bit about the person who said it.  I’ll try to vary the speakers as much as possible.

"For a man who no longer has a homeland, writing becomes a place to live." - Theodor Adorno

Adorno was a German philosopher, sociologist and musicologist.  He is known especially for his critical theory of society.  He was born in 1903 in Germany and he passed away in 1969 in Switzerland.  Around 1932, Adorno was exiled by the Nazi regime because he was not an Aryan.  Presumably he said the above quote while in exile.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Let Your Nose Do the Leading

Memory and sensory perception go hand in hand.  If you think of something that had happened to you in the past, you’ll likely recall the sensory experience, i.e. sights, sounds and smells.  Though we are primarily visual-based beings, the sense that is most connected to memory is the sense of smell.

Apparently, the olfactory system detects an odour in your nose, then sends the signal to your olfactory bulbs which then sends it to the rest of the brain, but first the limbic system and in particular the amygdala—the part of the brain involved most in emotion.

A study done showed that the amygdala lighted up more when a nostalgic smell was presented to a participant than when they presented the object as a visual.  I.e. the smell made the participants more nostalgic that the sight.

Let me give you a clearer example.  I don’t like soup.  Especially not chicken soup.  Every time I smell it, I feel sick.  I can’t remember whether I was given this soup when I was sick or if I just made that connection after watching too much television.  Regardless, I can make this connection even before realising what it is I’m smelling.  I.e. I smell something and start to feel sick.  What is that? I might ask.  Chicken soup.

There will be certain smells that you will associate with certain things, be it Old Spice with your father or ginger bread cookies with your grandma’s kitchen.  And nothing will succeed more in bringing back the memories and feelings than smelling that thing again.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Make a Plan (Not Excuses)

Copyright Natsume.  Source

This is my first (if you don’t count the quotation on Monday) post of the year and today I’m going to talk about excuses.  This may or may not be familiar, but I think it is a fairly common problem (especially with writers).

It is a form of procrastination and it took up a hell of a lot of time for me in the beginning of last year.  I made excuses.

There is a saying in Afrikaans that goes like this: ‘n Boer maak ‘n plan.  It translates to “A farmer makes a plan.”  (I don’t think the farmer part is there to specifically point out farmers, but rather because the majority of the Afrikaans speaking people at the time this saying was created relied on farming as their source of living.  And it became a sort of an unfortunate nickname for Afrikaans people.)

Anyway, what it means is that there is an alternative plan can be made.  In one word, adapt.  If something goes wrong, find a way to fix it.  Make use of what you have to fix the problem.  I’m not sure what the American or UK equivalent is, but I’m sure the Great Depression folks followed this philosophy.

Back to writing, I often made excuses as to why I couldn’t write.  For example, in my brief stint as a plot-card-guy, I didn’t want to start until I got cards that were the EXACT right size.  I could’ve written on pieces of paper or post-it notes, but I wanted it to be perfect before I began, and that really slowed me down.  (Eventually I got over myself and wrote on post-its.)

My point is that we often try to find crutches to support our writing.  Like saying that you’ll write later when you can afford to buy Scrivener.  But the actual fact is that you don’t need it.  Stephen King wrote his first stories with a drum print for which he had to buy stencils at 19 cents apiece.  Hemingway wrote on paper and on a typewriter (apparently he wrote descriptions longhand and dialogue with a typewriter).

If you have fancy things and they help you, great.  If you don’t, maak ‘n plan, make a plan.

Don’t make excuses not to write.  Write.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Quotation of the Week

Every week, I’ll put up a quotation related to writing or creation and tell you a little bit about the person who said it.  I’ll try to vary the speakers as much as possible.

"A book should serve as an ice-axe to break the frozen sea within us."- Franz Kafka

Kafka was a German-speaking writer in the late eighteen hundreds and early nineteen hundreds (he passed away in 1924).  He is most known for his novels The Trial (Der Prozeß) and The Castle (Das Schloß).  Apparently he was also the founder of the genre magic surrealism.  He made use of a characteristic in German to have very long sentences that sometimes filled an entire page.