This week: Messing With Your Brain
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“The two most engaging powers of an author are to make
new things familiar, and to make familiar things new.”
— Samuel Johnson
Trivia of the Week: Since this week’s issue deals with psychology, here are a few other mental tricks you can try. These don’t always work, but they do work more often than you might expect. If you’ve got a song in your head, try thinking about the end of the song (there’s a good chance it’ll “close the loop” on your brain trying to repeat the song over and over and trick your brain into thinking the song is over). You’re statistically more likely to have someone believe your advice if you tell them it was something your father told you (most people have a positive association with paternal wisdom). If you’re anticipating a bad confrontation with someone – like perhaps getting yelled at in a meeting – try sitting right next to that person (most aggressive people prefer to put distance between themselves and their target, feeling awkward and backing down from confronting someone physically near them). When playing Rock Paper Scissors, ask a question or find some other way to make your opponent feel rushed, then throw Rock (people are statistically more likely to throw Scissors when they’re rushed or feeling defensive).
MESSING WITH YOUR BRAIN
I think we can all agree that our brains are pretty impressive organs. They can do all kinds of stuff… including being our own worst enemy when it comes to procrastination, self-doubt, and generally convincing ourselves not to write. Have you ever had the experience of knowing you should be writing, maybe even really wanting to write something, and then convincing yourself that you have something better to do? Maybe you even talked yourself into feeling sleepy or hungry so that you’d have a reason to take a trip to the fridge rather than putting words to page/screen.
Writing is really, really tough. And like many tough activities, it can be really hard to motivate yourself to get started, especially when the inertia of whatever you’re currently doing (or potential fun of whatever else you can think of) has such a strong pull. Is there anything we can do to help combat this tendency to self-destruct our own writing goals?
Author Shauna Niequist (who I’m sure isn’t the first person to offer this advice) suggests tricking your brain by still giving it either-or options, but limiting those options so that they both result in a positive outcome. Psychologically speaking, we want to feel like we’re in control; like we have complete authority over our destiny and no one can tell us what to do. So when we try to force ourselves to write by thinking, “You should be writing, you should be writing!” or even pressure ourselves into completing a task with feelings of guilt, it’s a very combative, confrontational kind of relationship. Instead, try giving yourself options that all result in writing. For example, you can give yourself permission to write anywhere (coffee shop, any room of the house, library, etc.), as long as you’re actually writing. Or you can let yourself choose when during the day you’re going to write (when you first wake up, on your lunch break, just before bed), as long as you don’t actually go to sleep until you’ve written something.
I don’t have kids of my own, but parent friends of mine say a similar approach works with children. You don’t ask IF they want vegetables for dinner, you tell them you’re going to have vegetables for dinner, then give them the choice… would they like broccoli or carrots? If they’re being disruptive, you don’t simply demand that they stop, you give them options… they can either stop, or they can get a time out.
Yes, I’m saying that you should treat your brain like an impetuous child. (It really is kind of like one when you think about it!) Don’t let your brain get away with flat out refusing to write or letting you think you have better things to do. If writing is really important to you, you need to make the time to write… and if necessary, you might have to mess with your brain a little, play a few psychological games, and give yourself the impression of controlling your own destiny within the confines of the schedule you’ve committed to.
Next time you find yourself going for long stretches of time without writing, try setting a schedule for yourself. It doesn’t have to be every day, but it should be regular and consistent. Then, figure out what your compromise is going to be… the thing that you will allow yourself some control over as long as you’re writing. Maybe it’s the “where” you write. Maybe it’s the “when.” Heck, maybe it’s even the “how.” The important thing is that you do give your mind that discretion to mix things up when it wants. As long as you get the writing done, it doesn’t matter if it was done on Saturday mornings sitting on the couch in the living room, or even weekday morning at a Starbucks. The important thing is that the writing gets done, and you don’t allow anything to get in the way of your productivity… even your own brain.
Until next time,
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Feedback from my last newsletter about outrage culture:
writes: “Excellent points about Outrage Culture, Jeff. Unfortunately, that’s where we are with just about everything…the internet is the new “word of mouth”, and writers need to understand that opinions of all kinds (good, bad, or otherwise) are so much easier to come by. The first prerequisite of being any kind of writer shouldn’t be talent level or educational standards, but whether or not they’re going to be able to withstand that first negative review or response. Thank you for opening up a conversation about this…it’s good for anyone- especially someone just starting out- to know.”
I totally agree. People always encourage writers to develop their craft… to practice writing over and over again until the words are good. And while there are a host of opinions on how much it takes (ten thousand hours, a million words, etc.), I think it’s equally important that we tell writers to also develop their ability to process and respond to criticism since that’s such a big part of the experience of putting their work out there in the world.
writes: “I’ve been aware of these extreme reactions and nit-picking for some time. This is the first time I’ve heard it labeled. “Outrage culture” nails it. Thanks for summing it up so well. You’re right about adjusting to it.”
I appreciate you taking the time to send in a comment! Glad you enjoyed the NL!
writes: “Jeff’s article on OUTRAGE CULTURE was eye-opening. Thank you.”
You’re very welcome. Thank you for writing in!
writes: “The info about banned books alone make this a fine News Letter. The rest of the info was interesting as well Jeff.”
Glad you liked the trivia!
writes: “Truthfully, Outrage Culture is not a new phenomenon. Comedians have been getting it since they started standing on a stage. And over the past few elections presidents, senators, and congressmen/women have been receiving it. Film and theater have been receiving open critiques on TV, radio and press for several years which have often caused uproar among people with differing opinions. Perhaps this is what’s truly started the “Outrage Culture”. That and the idea that we must be “Politically Correct” most of the time so if we see someone who’s not we can then point to them and say, “They’re not one of us.” But comedians make all kinds of racial, political, sexual and other sorts of jokes. It’s their job. Shouldn’t we expect to be able to laugh at the absurdity of what’s become known as “Politically Correct?””
Yeah, I suppose you can probably trace “outrage culture” all the way back to the first time a mob mentality swept through a town square. The Salem witch trials, unrest in the streets after a decree by the Roman government… anytime you’ve got someone putting something out there in the world, I think there have probably been a group of people who have loudly complained about how it offends them. Social media just makes it easier and faster and more widespread than ever before when people want to air their grievances.
writes: “Your article on Outrage Culture was great! It’s sad but true that these are the common reactions now. I especially loved the joke from Patton Oswalt. Fantastic!”
Thank you! And yeah, Patton Oswalt is pretty fantastic. Very clever while still managing to be funny.
writes: “Ah, the anonymity and instantaneity of the Internet. It’s easier to find your herd these days, and nobody is holding you accountable for what comes out of your mouth – er, fingers. It’s hard not to take it personally when a reviewer is downright nasty, but you really can’t. It’s not personal, because the reviewer doesn’t know you. It may or may not even be about your work. It may be about the need for attention or anger issues on the part of the reviewer.
Let’s be honest. As writers, we want more than just publication. We want celebrity. We want people to buy our work, read our work, talk about our work, and ultimately, talk about us and how great we are because of what we do. And one of the side effects of celebrity is being targeted by trolls.
But we are artists, and as artists, we are lifelong students. We have to read the reviews with some humility and try to find the opportunity there. So part of our job is to search through the brambles, painful as it may be.”
Taking criticism is definitely part of the job description when it comes to writers. We all choose to handle it in different ways, I suppose.
Feedback from a previous newsletter about ebooks and self-publishing:
writes: “Thank you for your insightful newsletter on EBooks & Self-Publishing. It’s often something which crosses my mind and you’ve definitely shown a light upon its many different aspects.”
Thanks for writing in with your comment!
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