Monday, April 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.

“I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living.” - Dr Seuss

Hopefully, you know a bit about Dr Seuss.  His full (real) name is Theodor Seuss Geisel.  He was a writer, poet and cartoonist.  He is especially known for his children’s books, including The Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas!.  He also worked as an artist for advertising campaigns and as a political cartoonist.  Some of the images from these works later found their way into his children’s books.    

Friday, April 27, 2012

What Resistance Means

Wednesday I talked about losing your will to write.  On a slightly related note, today I want to touch upon the subject of (seemingly) perpetual loss of will.

A lot of people have a seemingly natural affinity for writing, in which they can’t wait to get in front of the computer (or paper) to write again.  Others have to tear the words from their guts.  What does this mean?  Does it mean that some writers are doing what they’re not supposed to be doing?

I have found that there are two causes of this internal resistance to doing things.

One, you are doing something that you don’t like or are not good at.  Sometimes this can be because you’re trying to prove something or make someone happy or proud or impressed.  You attempt to convince yourself that you do like it, but your head knows differently.

Two, you are doing something that you really want to do and succeed in.  If something is very important to you, your mind will try to protect you from possible failure and subsequent emotional torture.  If you never attempt to succeed, you will never fail.  Not a very good plan, I’d say.

Some people have pushed past the resistance of the second cause and now it comes easy to them.  Maybe some of them just have a hardier personality.

The important part here is that before you give up, look again, and see if you can’t maybe push through the barrier that is blocking the way to your success.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Getting Your Mojo Back

You know the time when your muse (or whatever kind of inspiration you have to keep you going) seems to have gone for a perpetual holiday?  When going to write feels like going to the dentist?

If you’re feeling this change, fear not, for one of these solutions might get you your mojo back.

1) First and most important, read.  If you haven’t had the chance to read anything lately, grab a book of your favourite author and get to it.  Or, if you have been reading, but nothing that excites you (Jane Austen in my case), try shaking it up and grabbing an old favourite from the shelf.

2) Next, it might be a problem related to what you’re writing.  Try writing something else.  Say you’re busy with a novel and you’ve had an idea for a short story for a while now, get busy doing that, at least until you’re back on track.  Alternatively, try something new with your current project.  It might be that you’re bored with the current scene or chapter, and you know what they say, if you’re not interested in what you’re writing, no one else will be either.  Change something and go on.

3) Take a break.  Give yourself a week or two in which you do no writing whatsoever.  Maybe deadlines, family crises or world apocalypse is getting you down.  Sort out everything and recover, then go back and see if your mojo has returned.

Monday, April 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.

"There are days when the result is so bad that no fewer than five revisions are required. In contrast, when I'm greatly inspired, only four revisions are needed." - John Kenneth Galbraith

Galbraith was a Canadian-American economist.  He wrote a few books on economic topics and they were bestsellers.  He served under Presidents Kennedy, Truman, Roosevelt and Johnson.  He received a Medal of Freedom and a Presidential Medal of Freedom for his contributions to economics.

Friday, April 20, 2012

How to be a Good Listener

Do you want to be a good listener?  Well, for starters, stop talking.  That much is obvious, I hope.  However, being a good listener is more than just hearing.

First, don’t be that guy who keeps taking over the story or correcting the other person with minor details.  In fact, try not to interrupt at all.  You can add your comments later.

Second, encourage the speaker to continue by nodding and saying things like ‘okay’, ‘I see’ and so on.  However, please don’t say it continuously.  Use sparingly, or it will sound like you’re not listening.  Also, encourage further explanation by asking for confirmation of certain things or questions about small things (but no aggressive questions).

Lastly, listen to what the person is saying and actually take it into consideration.  A lot of times, especially if the speaker is taking a side we disagree with, we tend to write off any information they’re saying out of prejudice.  In other words, listen to what the guy is saying and try to see it from his point of view before you compare it to your own views.

These three things are important even though they seem quite fundamental.  Sometimes you might have to interrupt to correct a huge error, especially if the speaker is already being aggressive (be it against you or someone else).  If you want to be a good listener, all you have to do is listen.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Reader/Writer Mastermind

Copyright Nintendo
If you’ve ever heard of barbershop quartets, you might know the effect known as ringing chord.  It is a so-called fifth voice that is created by the effect of the four voices singing in harmony.  Though this is a fascinating concept by itself, in this case I use it only as a comparison.

Like four voices creating an additional one, two minds create another, third mind.  This is also known by the word “mastermind”.  By brainstorming and discussing ideas, two or more people gain more understanding and/or meaning than the sum of their parts.  In this respect they ‘create’ a third mind that they all have access to.

Now, to get to my point, reading a book is kind of a long distance mastermind.  How, you ask?  Well, though the writer and reader can’t discuss the ideas (well, they could, but the fact is that they don’t), the former shoots ideas at the latter and the latter then attaches meaning to it.  In other words, the two create a bigger meaning for ideas and concepts than each could do on their own.  There’s a quote from Neil Gaiman that I have to find quickly.  Here it is:

"If you are pointing out one of the things a story is about, then you are very probably right; if you are pointing out the only thing a story is about you are very probably wrong - even if you're the author." - Neil Gaiman

The very fact is that there are a great number of meaning anyone can attach to any story.  Both the writer and the readers attach meaning according to their own experiences, thus each will be somewhat unique.

But every reader’s meaning would have been impossible without the writer’s contribution.  So in actual fact, the writer and reader are working together (long distance) to create a meaning that none of them could have created without the other.

Monday, April 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.

"Style may be defined as the proper words in the proper places." - Jonathan Swift

Swift was an eighteenth century Anglo-Irish writer.  He is known for works such as Gulliver’s Travels and A Modest Proposal.  A lot of his books were published under the pseudonyms Lemuel Gulliver, Isaac Bickerstaff and M.B. Drapier.  He was also the Dean of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Ultraviolet Sight


The spectrum of light that we and most mammals can see is called visible light.  There is, however, one mammal that can perceive more than that.  They can see ultraviolet light.

The animal in question is a reindeer.  Because of the snow they must spend so much of their time in, they seem to have developed the ability to see the ultraviolet light that reflects off the snow (and cause the effect known as snow blindness in humans).  Not only does this prevent them from being blinded, but they also use it to spot things other animals would miss.  For example, urine and fur of other animals appear as black on an ultraviolet camera, thereby highlighting it against the background.

Snow blindness is caused because the human eye is not equipped to deal with UV light.  So when an overdose of it does occur, the cornea and lens take the damage and causes the (mostly) temporary effect.

However, reindeer seem to somehow prevent the damage to the eyes that humans would take.  And if they can somehow stop it, perhaps we can replicate it.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


From GameSpy.  Copyright Ubisoft.

Life is a scale that hangs in balance.  For everything in life, there is an extreme left and an extreme right.  Don’t take in too much starch, don’t take in too little starch.  Don’t focus too much on work (and thus neglect your family), don’t focus too much on your family (and neglect your work, leading to financial troubles).  Don’t spend all your time alone, don’t spend all your time with other people.

The list goes on, but you get the idea.  Everything is on a scale and we’re battling to get the balance just right.  The same goes for writing.

I could talk about balancing planning too much and planning too little, but what I’d rather touch is writing too much and writing too little.

You’d think there isn’t such a thing as writing too much, but there is.  And with all these ratios, the amount of weight needed per side to get it into balance differs for each person.

The main point is, don’t neglect life in order to write.  Find an equal balance.  Stephen King says in On Writing, “Life isn’t a support-system for art. It’s the other way around.”  Henry David Thoreau said, “How can you sit down to write until you have stood up to live?”

Writing is an odd practice, for it feeds off the other activities in life.  If you make your life’s work chess, you can concentrate solely on chess every day (but you should, of course, balance out chess with relaxing and family etc.), but with writing, you need other experiences to write.  You have to live before you can write about living.

Monday, April 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.

"In going where you have to go, and doing what you have to do, and seeing what you have to see, you dull and blunt the instrument you write with. But I would rather have it bent and dulled and know I had to put it on the grindstone again and hammer it into shape and put a whetstone to it, and know that I had something to write about, than to have it bright and shining and nothing to say, or smooth and well oiled in the closet, but unused." - Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway is a fairly known writer, having published classics like The Old man and the Sea and For Whom the Bell Tolls.  He is also known for his drinking (and apparently he frequently embarked on “alcoholic sprees” with James Joyce).  His writing style is very heavily ice-berg based, meaning that very little is said explicitly, but a lot is going on under the surface.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

What Motivates You?


Writers are mostly self-employed (excluding journalists and the like), so self-motivation can be a problem.  There are a number of theories on the motivation in the workplace, but I’m going to look at the cognitive-choice theory.

According to this theory, there are three factors which affect motivation in work.  Here they are:

This is the value of the outcome that the particular activity will give.  If you work at a diner for a salary, the outcome is money in your hands.  If you’re a paramedic, the outcome can be saving people’s lives.  Every person attaches different values to different things (i.e. money can be very important for one fellow, but not at all important for another).

This is the possibility that the activity will lead to more desired outcomes.  So if you’re a waiter at the diner, and you see that the manager is getting old, being a waiter as an additional outcome of giving you further beneficial outcomes (i.e. getting more money, working less).  Or, if you’re an accountant, working as a clerk gives you experience which could open doors for you later, i.e. more desired outcomes springing from the first (in addition to your salary).

This is how attainable the outcome is.  If you’re a freelance writer and a magazine offers you a lot of money to write a 8000 word article on a subject you’ve never heard of in two days, the attainability of the lot of money falls, and so does your motivation to accept the offer.  If you are offered a job as an announcer and public speaking scares you, then it is not very attainable.

These three factors form a combined measurement of motivation.  I.e. if the valence, instrumentality and the expectancy is high, you’ll go for it.  If all of them are low, probably not.  But when they have different values, say working on an oil rig, which gives you a lot of money but doesn’t have a lot of possibilities for future desired outcomes, each person will decide differently.  Everyone assigns different values to different things.  If the valence is high enough, some people might go for it even though the other two are close to naught.

When writing and having to motivate yourself, it might be helpful to look at these three things and ask yourself which is lacking (and then maybe you can push it up a bit).  

Monday, April 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.

"Justice to my readers compels me to admit that I write because I have nothing to do; justice to myself induces me to add that I will cease to write the moment I have nothing to say." - Charles Caleb Colton

Colton was an English writer, as well as a cleric.  In 1828, he left the church, and was believed to be running from creditors.  He spent some time in the US, then settled in Paris, France, where he accumulated and subsequently lost a fortune, both through means of gambling.  His literary work included collections of aphorisms (much of which is still used in quotation books today) and Lacon, or Many Things in Few Words, addressed to those who think..