Friday, March 30, 2012

The Consequences of Fear

Copyright Square-Enix

Fear is, if I can paraphrase Roosevelt here, something to be feared.  Fear kicks in when our body thinks we are in danger, resulting in a switch to a heightened mode in which small motor functions are decreased and bigger motor functions are increased.  The implications?

1)  If you are facing down a bear, you will probably not be able to tie your own shoelaces (even if you could normally), not fit the key in the lock or fold an origami crane.  Why?  That is fairly obvious.  It’s not really important at that point.

2)  If a guy is pointing an AK-47 at you, you will probably be able to run a lot faster than you normally would have, as well as react faster and lift heavier objects.  Why?  Because these actions are necessary for your survival.

3)  When you’re in danger, your sense of pain will mostly disappear, meaning that you won’t notice if you injure yourself (as was the case with a man who clenched his jaw so hard that he broke a few teeth without realising it).  Why?  Because pain is the body’s way of telling you to stop what you’re doing, as it could be doing you harm.  So in a situation where your life is in immediate danger, possibly doing you harm takes second boat.

Interestingly, the normal fight or flight reaction has recently gotten a new addition, freeze.  This happens when the threat is not immediate, therefore your body hopes to avoid it entirely.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

3 Ways to Integrate Writing with Your Life

Copyright Nintendo

Sometimes life and writing clashes and you find yourself having to give up something you love doing to make some time.  However, this is not necessarily needed.  Here are three ways to integrate writing into a busy life:

1)  Write for short times
When you have a gap of five minutes, write.  Take the opportunity to write a paragraph or two while the spaghetti is cooking.
In the same breath, I should mention that it is good to have longer stretches as well, because getting into the ‘zone’, as they say, requires about twenty minutes of uninterrupted writing.  Even so, every few minutes will help you get down the words before they slip your mind.

2)  Make notes
Make (either mental or physical) notes on what happens to you.  Write down the complicated emotion you’re feeling or a snippet of dialogue that you found interesting.  Pick out little details during the course of your everyday life and make note of them.  That way, you’re constantly writing without actually writing.  (These notes will come in handy later when you write.)

3)  Extend your day
Depending on whether you’re a night or morning person, add a few minutes to your day by going to sleep a bit later or getting up a bit earlier (writing before you go to sleep is a good way to let your subconscious work things out, and writing in the morning normally allows for clearer thinking).  I’m talking about ten to twenty minutes here, nothing that will mess up your routine too much.

Monday, March 26, 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.

"One forges one's style on the terrible anvil of daily deadlines." - Emile Zola

Émile Zola was a French writer, born on the 2nd of April 1840, who was important in the literary school of naturalism.  Naturalism is a movement that moved around the axis of realism.  The stories of this type often included the dark aspects of life and the characters’ personalities are much affected by their environments.  He was also involved in the political liberalisation of France as well as the exoneration of a falsely accused officer.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Finish What You Start


How often do you give up on a project when it’s 75-99% done?  Me, very often.  There are a number of reasons for this fear of finishing.

Very often, it has to do with fear that the quality isn’t going to be what you want it to be.  Other times, you might be afraid of feedback or criticism.  Truman Capote, a short story writer said, “Finishing a book is just like you took a child out in the back yard and shot it.”

Interestingly enough, most of these fears don’t show themselves overtly.  In fact, most of the times, there will be another excuse that your mind makes as to why you are stopping.  I.e. the story is stupid, not interesting any more etc.

So what can you do?

Write.  Just keep going.  If you can’t, get someone to report to so that you will feel obliged to continue.  Once the draft is done, all will be better and you can edit it into oblivion.

Just write.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

From Head to Paper

Copyright Konami.  Source

Someone (a hobbyist composer) recently said to me that it is extremely difficult for him to get the song he has in his head onto the computer or the piano.  That got me thinking about the same problem I have.

It seems all creatives have a problem of interference or distortion on the path from the brain to the paper/canvas/computer etc., wherein the result is not exactly the way they imagined it.

So the question is, how do we minimise the effects of this interference?  Let me give you an analogy.

If a sculptor or wood whittler starts out, the first thing they do is find a piece of stone/wood that is roughly the shape of the thing they want.  After that, they go a little more detailed and then a little more, until they finally have the thing they want.

With writing, revision is the key to minimising interference.  Every time you redo the piece, it will be closer to what you imagined.  Though, I suspect, it will never be exactly as you wanted it.  It’s like the tortoise/hare philosophical problem.  If the tortoise is in front of the hare, the hare can never catch up.  Why?  Because to reach the tortoise, he first has to cover half the distance to it.  After he did that, he has to cover half the rest of the distance and so on and so on, resulting in an ever decreasing distance, but an ever present amount that can be halved.

The point is, your work will probably never be as good as you want it to be, but repeated revision will minimise the problems.

Monday, March 19, 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.

‎‎"Having imagination, it takes you an hour to write a paragraph that, if you were unimaginative, would take you only a minute. Or you might not write the paragraph at all." - Franklin P. Adams

Franklin Pierce Adams was a columnist for newspapers like New York Evening Mail and New York Post.  He was best known for The Conning Tower, his newspaper column.  He also wrote some light verse and often included parodies in his columns.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Dream On

Thomas Harris, author of the Hannibal Lecter novels, said this: “I'm doing one of three things: I'm writing. I'm staring out the window. Or I'm writhing on the floor.”

Apparently, staring out the window can be very useful.  A study at the University of British Columbia found that the parts of our brains associated with complex problem solving become active when we daydream.

So the point is that daydreaming might very well be a function of the brain that allows us to concentrate on matters that are more important, rather than focussing on the task at hand.

Daydreaming also count as part of the spontaneous path (as opposed to the deliberate path), thus the time in which we leave our brains to create new connections.  The spontaneous path is normally active when we do tasks that require little attention or that is mostly automated, such as sharpening pencils and showering.  Daydreaming, I would assume, comes in when a task is seen as unimportant or unchallenging, therefore our brains switch to concentrate on a more important subject, perhaps leading to an overflowing cup.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Tasting Words and Hearing Colours

Synaesthesia.  Some of you might recognise the word from high school English classes.  It is a poetic device that combines senses, such as ‘cold music’ or ‘loud shirt’.  But it also refers to a neurological condition in which one concept is involuntarily associated with another.

A common form of this is associating numbers with colours.  For example, a lot of synesthetes see the number five as inherently red.  So when it is another colour, it seems weird.

Another type of synaesthesia connects visual movement with sound.  These people here certain sounds when they see visual motion or flicker.

Other types include seeing colours when hearing sound (particularly music) and personification in which letters and numbers are associated with personalities.  Another quite interesting form is tasting words, wherein words leave a taste in the mouth of the synethete.

Apparently, five per cent of the population will see red when seeing a five or hear a C-sharp when seeing blue.  But the number is higher among artists, ranging at about 25%.

Is synaesthesia a trait of a creative?  Not necessarily, but there does seem to be quite a number of creative with it.  Me, I just see a 5 when I see a 5.

More info is available here, here and everywhere on the internet.

Monday, March 12, 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.

"One of the things we feel after reading a great work is 'I have got out.' Or from another point of view, 'I have got in'; pierced the shell of some other monad and discovered what it is like inside ... In reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like the night sky in a Greek poem, I see with a thousand eyes, but it is still I who see. Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do." - C.S.Lewis

Clive Staples Lewis was an Irish writer known for his fiction, including Chronicles of Narnia and the Space Trilogy, as well as non-fiction such as Mere Christianity.  He was a good friend of J. R. R. Tolkien.  He died on 22 November 1963, the same day Aldous Huxley died and President JF Kennedy was assassinated.  Oddly, C. S. Lewis was known to his friends and family as ‘Jack’.

Friday, March 9, 2012


What are schools teaching children?  Useful skills?  Important knowledge?  Maybe.
Copyright Capcom

Peter Gray, a research professor of Psychology at Boston College, mentions that school is not as useful as one may think.  As Peter Gray mentions, school is a place where children are forced to learn things.

First, forcing people to learn will – in most cases – make them associate learning with something bad.  Then they will supposedly spend a long time avoiding learning.  But apparently most people grow out of this frame of mind.

Second, children are principally, through use of tests with correct and incorrect answers, to figure out what the teacher wants them to say and then say it, as opposed to critical thinking and understanding the subject thoroughly.

This is just a very quick look at this, for more info, read the Psychology Today article here.

Now take a moment and consider that.  Now, imagine a world without any schooling whatsoever.

Maybe after a few years, people will start to realise that they have to learn something or the human race will die out, but at first, in this age, I imagine that not a lot of things will get done.

Within in this paradox we live.  Schooling inhibits critical thinking and discourages learning, while no schooling would certainly lead to disaster and increased levels of worker-class people (thus slowing down technological development).

To combat this, a lot of teachers try to introduce critical thinking into their lessons and stimulate discussion, though it’s not always possible.

Meanwhile, Fairhaven School has another approach:  Let the children do whateverthey want.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Writing Habit

Copyright Nintendo

If you haven’t been writing enough and you think that it’s time to cultivate a writing habit, you should get started right away.  To change a habit, get a habit or improve something, you need 4 things.  Clear goals, feedback, reward and a start.  The same applies to writing.

Clear Goals
Know what you want to achieve.  If you want to pull a Stephen King and write 2000 words a day, do so.  If you want to make room for emergencies and busy days, set up a word count for the week.  Or you could write for a set time every day.  But make sure your goal is measurable, i.e. amount of words, amount of time.  Don’t just think that you will write every day.

With this, I don’t mean people telling you if your writing is any good, I mean that you need feedback on the completion of your goals.  If you have a word count limit for day, get a word processor that can count your words.  Or if you have a time limit, get an alarm clock.  If your goal longer, such as words a week, set up a table or spreadsheet in which you calculate your total.

You can give yourself a reward every time you finish a goal (like watching TV after you finished your daily words), but with this, I’m specifically referring to the end-goal.  I.e. the reason why you’re doing this.  You need to ask yourself, why are you spending hours every day to write down things that you thought up?  Once you have that answer and it’s satisfactory, it will motivate you to come back every day.

The key to forming a habit is to get started.  If you just keep planning and never start, you’ll never get anywhere.  So if you want to start a habit, start now.  If you don’t, you’ll just keep putting it off until never.  Go.  Start.  Now.

If you have these four ingredients in order, it shouldn’t be too long before you’ve gotten into a habit.

If you’re having trouble getting started, you might want to review your goals and make them easier.  Going from 0 to 2000 words a day is pretty tricky.  If you’re still having trouble, make the goal so easy that you cannot possibly come up with an excuse to skip it.  Make it, write for two minutes.  Still too hard?  Take a lesson from Zen Habits and make it 20 seconds.

Once you have the habit, you will get closer and closer to your reward.  And when you reach it, it’ll be worth it (if it’s even reachable…).

Monday, March 5, 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.

"Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught." - Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde was a 19th century Irish writer and poet.  He was especially known for his plays, such as The Importance of Being Ernest and wrote only one novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray.  He was arrested for gross indecency with other men and was sent to prison with hard labour for two years.  After his release, Wilde moved to France.  There he died at the age of forty-six.

Friday, March 2, 2012

A Core Concept of Psychology

Psychology is a huge subject with a lot of different fields of study (like social psychology, personality psychology etc.).  However, there is a basic concept that is relatively easy and can help a lot in your psycho-analysis of people.

People leak.

People, in most cases, reveal their thoughts by doing things they are sometimes not even aware of.  Say, lying.  People who lie often touch their ears, nose or mouth after or during a lie.  Mostly, they aren’t even aware that they’re doing it.  You can also get an idea of the person’s state of mind and feeling of social hierarchy by what he or she is doing.  If you feel threatened, you will make yourself smaller by holding your limbs closer to your body.  Also, you’ll likely lower your chin or raise your shoulders and put objects between you and your supposed opponent (even something as small as a glass).  You are doing this to protect yourself if the situation comes to a fight (even if it is a situation which would never go there, your body still reacts in this way to a perceived “danger”).
If you’re feeling superior, you will be relaxed (i.e. leaning back, with relaxed shoulders and loose muscles etc.) and likely you will expose your throat to show that you are not afraid.

There is a whole range of studies on this very subject, including micro-expressions and other body language things.  However, the main point to remember is that minor behaviour is very often key clues in what a person is thinking.  Look especially at the eyes, the face and the extremities (i.e. feet and hands).  You can figure out what a person is thinking not by what you know, but by what he's telling you.