Writing Toxins: Optimising A Fully Functioning Mind

Image from Flickr under a Creative Commons Licence. Image from: http://www.flickr.com/photos/-cavin-/

Image from Flickr under a Creative Commons Licence. Image from: http://www.flickr.com/photos/-cavin-/

Like all writers, I have days where I just can’t get work done. I have goals, deadlines and a schedule I try and follow, but it can be easier to plan than to write. If I have failed to nurture my mental energy, I just want to fall asleep on my keyboard, achieving nothing. One of the biggest source of this problem comes from the mind – body connection we all have. Brains need fuel. The most critical components are oxygen and sleep.

We have heard it all before… but it is true. You can’t think if you’re:

  • tired,
  • dehydrated,
  • living on junk food,
  • drunk,
  • drugged (including the damage done by smoking which starves the body of O2),
  • getting by on caffeine,
  • or haven’t moved from your chair for a long stretch.

Sitting at a desk for hours can be as toxic as living on fast food. It is not just your eyes that need a break from the computer screen. You need to get up and move around periodically so that oxygen gets pushed through your body tissues and is able to refresh and power your brain.

Image and great information available from http://www.signs-of-stress.com/symptoms-of-stress.html

Image and great information available from http://www.signs-of-stress.com/symptoms-of-stress.html

The other great killer is stress. It will do harm to your body and your creative mind. Any time we are out of balance, we risk damaging our physical health and our creative minds. I see writers who work all day, rush home to care for families and then stay up late at night writing.

I understand time constraints, however, when you push yourself to do too much on a continual basis, you will run dry both physically and mentally. Ideas will not come; ability to see mistakes when editing will go astray and you will start to feel like a failure.

So take a deep breath; be realistic and work out how to take care of yourself properly. If you aren’t taking care of you, then you won’t be caring for your writing. The body and mind go hand in hand. Love them both.

 


This article / blog post is Copyright Cate Russell-Cole 2013. All rights are reserved Internationally. You may not reproduce it in any form, in part of whole, without Cate’s prior written permission. That includes usage in forms such as print, audio and digital imaging including pdf, jpg, png etc. A fee may be requested for re-using her work if it is for a commercial venture. Link sharing and Pinterest pins are most welcome as long as Cate is the attributed Author.

No images on this blog may be copied, captured, or altered for your own purpose without the consent of the originating owner. 

What is Four Dimensional Characterisation?

Before I began teaching, I became a social worker. One of our lecturers gave us a sound piece of counselling advice that is also a brilliant tool in writing about fictional or real characters. ‘People behave in patterns. Look for the patterns, then you can start to understand what drives them.’ Identifying patterns helps you see their weaknesses, strengths and what genuinely makes them tick.

Characters appear not just in works of fiction. If you are writing an autobiographical or family history piece, describing people you know using characterisation techniques will make them come alive in the reader’s mind, assisting the reader in relating to the person you’re talking about, even if that person is you!

People are at least four dimensional. We have our three dimensional physical form, which you can describe in terms of:

  • How people look: hair, eye colour, height, preferred clothing.
  • Mannerisms such as sitting a certain way, nodding frequently when listening, nervous habits.
  • How they smell: do they regularly use tobacco, cook with garlic or use a signature cologne.
  • What their voice, cough, sneeze, singing or laugh sounds like.
  • Problematic or distinctive characteristics such as oily hair, dry skin or uneven ears.

The fourth, and mostly unseen dimension, is their positive or negative life experiences that replay in their subconscious mind, motivating their behaviour and driving their emotions. This dimension is what produces most patterns and most people don’t even realise that they exhibit these patterns or what is really behind them. As a writer, this gives you a great plot line as your characters can either find themselves or get more lost along the way. You have more room for explorative narratives.

So what kind of patterns can you build into a character, or use to drive a storyline? You have a choice of positive and negative patterns. It is easy to limit your characters and bias your writing by placing the focus on negative behaviours. You can limit them to being the serial womaniser; the bully; the shy person; the issue avoider; the addict; the co-dependent; the unlucky in love or the self destructive. Try and also consider people’s strengths: confidence in their ability in a specific area; kindness towards strangers or animals; a belief one day they will make it no matter what; love of family; strong faith or intuition; determination; emotional stability. What do they value the most? What will they fight to achieve? That way you will have a more balanced personality and more avenues to explore in your storyline.

If your character has been through a particular life experience, do a little research into the psychology behind it. It will assist you in building in personality traits and behaviour patterns which make them realistic. For example, on the My Way Out” web site, Mario is talking about the patterns of behaviour you see in adults who come from families which were neurotic or alcoholic. He identifies six dominant behavioural patterns: the caretaker, people pleaser, martyr, workaholic, perfectionist and stump.

Peace Sign fabric by Alexander Henry

While those roles may look like cliches or stereotypes, many times it is the common attributes of people who have lived through these situations that give rise to those images, so you can’t always write them off as overused. Again, look for positive traits as well. The traits of a survivor pull people through their past and present challenges. They are strong motivators which can fuel heroes and heroines, including the every day kind who aren’t overthrowing evil or slaying dragons.


CRCF4Dim CoverEd2This post was the inspiration for the book “Creating and Resolving Conflicts in Fiction,” the first book in the Four Dimensional Characterisation Series. This book will give you an insight into simple psychology that can be used to build characters and plot lines. It’s an easy, non technical read that will assist you in making your characters realistic, unique and believable. “Creating and Resolving Conflicts in Fiction” focusses on conflict in any kind of relationship. How you can create it, build it, then resolve it throughout any plot line, regardless of the characters or genre.

If you are writing autobiography / memoir it will still help you, as it will make you aware of how conflicts in your life have functioned and why incidents turned out the way they did.

This book is only available from Amazon http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00856U6IC

Thank you too, to Shelly Immel from the Big Life Project, who said:

“I’ve enjoyed Cate Russell-Cole’s posts for writers about character psychology, and here’s more depth pulled together into a book. SWEET! Cate Russell-Cole’s got pyschology chops, which shows in the depth and professional accuracy of the info she presents. And she understands writing, which shows in the useful way she selects and presents psychology to help writers build characters and plot. I can’t wait to read this book! (As soon as I find out how to get it for the Nook…)”

Emo4Dim cover3The second book in the Four Dimension Characterisation series is the newly released, “Building Emotionally Realistic Characters.” Whether you are writing fiction, memoir, poetry, short stories, plays, screenplays or music, the ability of your work to touch others depends on how they relate to the messages you are conveying. What they see and hear must be something they have encountered and can relate to easily; or it must be shared in another way they can grasp. Often that is done through the only common element every human being has: knowing what emotions feel like.

You can read a story about events which have never happened to you, but still laugh or cry over what is occurring with the characters. Why? Because you know what it is to experience pain, joy, fear, rejection, envy, fatigue, laughter, grief, ecstasy or doubt too. This is the magic that makes stories work. The tricky part, is conjuring up the right spell or your reader will not be fooled.

Topics include: change, motivation, healing emotional trauma, post traumatic growth, grief, shock, super-egos and inferiority, escapism, fatal flaws, phobias, shame, violence, character types, suicide prevention, schizophrenia and multiple personality disorder. This is the second book in the Four Dimensional Characterisation Series.

Available from Amazon Kindle.


This article / blog post is Copyright Cate Russell-Cole 2012. All rights are reserved Internationally. You may not reproduce it in any form, in part of whole, without Cate’s prior written permission. That includes usage in forms such as print, audio and digital imaging including pdf, jpg, png etc. A fee may be requested for re-using her work if it is for a commercial venture. Link sharing and Pinterest pins are most welcome as long as Cate is the attributed Author.

No images on this blog may be copied, captured, or altered for your own purpose without the consent of the originating owner. Where images are marked as being iStockphoto.com images, they are paid for and licenced to Cate for use on this blog. If you take them, iStockphoto.com has the right to take legal action against you for Copyright Infringement.

Please see the Blog Content and Image Copyright page of this blog for further information in regards to Guest Posts, other images, Cate’s checks on infringements and Liability.

The Best Kept Editing Secret

BUSIN031In 2000 I published a memoir writing course. It has been revised four times and edited by three trained editors: two at University level. I have put countless hours of work into perfecting it, but guess what? If you read through, you will still find very small typos hidden in it like Easter Eggs. That drives me to screaming point!

It’s not just me. Since I’ve switched to e-books, I am finding frequent mistakes in books from best selling authors, distributed through traditional publishing houses. One mistake was of an unrelated sexual nature and the spell checker, or editor, should have easily picked it up. It looks like the editing monsters are tormenting more souls than mine!

So why does this happen? Let me tell you the secret. When I researched “Unleashing Your Creative Spirit,” I delved into theories on memory and how it functions. Your brain is the busiest organ in your body. It runs your internal organs, all your movements, your memory, computes stimuli from your five senses, logs time, drives your subconscious thinking processes and deals with what you are doing now: reading. At the same time, it makes sure you aren’t hot / cold / hungry / thirsty / tired / in pain, or about to be run over by a bus! It has to compute what is around you, plus predict what to expect next.

That is a massive workload to achieve all at once! So the brain, being smart, has brilliant means of conserving energy. It’s actually very eco-friendly, but that’s sometimes to a writer’s detriment.

Have you ever been to a friend’s place and said, “You’ve repainted,” just to have them look at you strangely and tell you they did if five years ago? Of course, it will be the home of that friend you visit fairly frequently. It’s a common faux pas. We all go to familiar places and say, “I never noticed that before.” It happens because in order to save the energy it takes to log all the details, your brain does a quick scan and just takes in what is the most important. For what it considers to be familiar or non-essential details, it relies on memory, or blocks stimuli out.

How does this work with editing? When you have read the same paragraph ten times, it becomes too familiar. The brain automatically decides that you don’t need to re-log all that, so mistakes go unnoticed. You’ve seen those emails where you can still read sentences, even though the letters in the middle of the words are mixed up? They work because a familiar pattern is identified and you auto-fill the rest.

BUS2So, how do we overcome this? Make your work look new! When I started blogging, I discovered that I would pick up mistakes in WordPress’ preview mode that I couldn’t see in the writing window. In preview, the font size differed and words were in different spots on the page. If you’re working in a word processor, you can try for the same effect by changing fonts, changing margin widths, altering text color, or opening the document in a totally different word processor.

The other lifesaver I use is to put my work aside, wait 48 hours then edit again. That gives my brain a chance to re-set.

So don’t beat yourself up over the occasional small typo. We all make them. Do everything you can to prevent the slip-ups from happening and remember: it’s all because you’re just too efficient!

News just to hand: starting March 1st there is a free initiative running named “National Novel Editing Month.” Your goal is 50 hours in March. Join here: http://www.test.nanoedmo.net/

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This article / blog post is Copyright Cate Russell-Cole 2013. All rights are reserved Internationally. You may not reproduce it in any form, in part of whole, without Cate’s prior written permission. That includes usage in forms such as print, audio and digital imaging including pdf, jpg, png etc. A fee may be requested for re-using her work if it is for a commercial venture. Link sharing and Pinterest pins are most welcome as long as Cate is the attributed Author.

No images on this blog may be copied, captured, or altered for your own purpose without the consent of the originating owner.

 

Essential Story Writing Tips from Kurt Vonnegut

Source: http://www.vonnegut.com “Most readers interested in the fantastic in literature are familiar with Kurt Vonnegut, particularly for his uses of science fiction. Many of his early short stories were wholly in the science fiction mode, and while its degree has varied, science fiction has never lost its place in his novels. 

Vonnegut has typically used science fiction to characterize the world and the nature of existence as he experiences them. His chaotic fictional universe abounds in wonder, coincidence, randomness and irrationality. Science fiction helps lend form to the presentation of this world view without imposing a falsifying causality upon it. In his vision, the fantastic offers perception into the quotidian, rather than escape from it. Science fiction is also technically useful, he has said, in providing a distance perspective, “moving the camera out into space,” as it were. And unusually for this form, Vonnegut’s science fiction is frequently comic, not just in the “black humor” mode with which he has been tagged so often, but in being simply funny.”

John Cleese on Creativity

“If I can get you to laugh with me, you like me better, which makes you more open to my ideas. And if I can persuade you to laugh at the particular point I make, by laughing at it you acknowledge its truth.”

In honour of International Monty Python Status Day, I wanted to re-share this video of John Cleese talking about his experience of the creative journey.

A few odd facts about John, which I hope are correct! Source: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000092/bio

  • When he first started acting his original goal was to be a classically trained Shakespearean actor.
  • Before becoming an actor, Cleese studied to be a lawyer. He went on to play a lawyer in A Fish Called Wanda (1988) and Splitting Heirs (1993).
  • According to Brian Henson, when Cleese guest-starred on “The Muppet Show” (1976), he enjoyed the show very much and became very close with the writers because he wanted to get involved in the writing. When he did get involved with the writing, he and the other writers came up with a concept where Cleese was being held against his will on the show and would try to get off the show while the Muppets were trying to get him to do his scheduled bits. Of course, in this case, life did not imitate art, as a few years later, Cleese appeared again with the Muppets in the film The Great Muppet Caper (1981).
  • Just to see if anyone would notice, during the early 1970s Cleese added one obviously fake film per year to his annual filmography listing in Who’s Who. For the record, these fake films were “The Bonar Law Story” (1971), “Abbott & Costello Meet Sir Michael Swann” (1972), “The Young Anthony Barber” (1973) and “Confessions of a Programme Planner” (1974). Although Cleese confessed to the gag in the 1980s, mentions of these bogus films still appear from time to time in scholarly works on Cleese, including the entry in the Encyclopedia of Television, 1st ed. (1996) edited by Horace Newcomb.
  • Is an Andrew D. White Professor-at-Large at Cornell University.
  • Who’s Who lists his recreations as “gluttony, sloth.”
  • Co-owns the Christine Schell Fine Objects antique shop in Montecito, CA.
  • In 2005, offered a part of his colon, removed due to diverticulitis, for sale on his official website. The proceeds are reportedly to be divided between Cleese himself and his surgeon.
  • A newly discovered species of lemur, avahi cleesei, was named after him in honor of his love of the endangered primates, which figure prominently in his movie, Fierce Creatures (1997).
  • The role of Cogsworth in Beauty and the Beast (1991) was written with him in mind, and no other actor was considered for the role. But he still turned it down.
  • Appeared in a series of educational short subjects produced by the British company Video Arts designed to teach management and trainees how to handle stress and unusual situations. Cleese took advantage of his comic talents and portrayed events as absurd situations so that audiences would better remember their training.
  • Offered to write speeches for Democratic Presidential candidate ‘Barack Obama’. [2008]
  • My original post showing this video has the second highest visit stats of any post. At least my competition is top brass! There are very few other people I’d want to be outdone by… and 8 hours after this post has gone live, he’s overshadowing me again!


This blog post by Cate Russell-Cole is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. You are free to share and adapt it.