Prompt: Brain Scans

Happy Friday!

I find myself often being prompted to write based on a news or newsish story I read. I thought I’d try posting those on Fridays and see if people like it.

Prompt: Brain Scans

Article: Could brain scans determine guilt? from a great podcast that I really enjoy Quirks and Quarks. (The transcript has been included and more information.)

Questions:

What happens if we start to really come to have a solid handle scientifically on who people who will commit crimes are? Who is recidivists? What the trends are? We are a very long way out from being exact. But we might be closer to knowing that someone’s brain has a tendency to quickly anger, to behave impulsively. We might know which brains are more antiauthoritarian, which are more likely to resist, to fight back.

Do we treat people differently? Do we treat? Do we jail? Do we protect people? Do we decide that it doesn’t matter what your intent was? Do we decide that’s all that matters?

What questions come to your mind when you read this? What futures do you see?

Compulsion

I see something come up fairly frequently in conversations about writing, becoming a writing, why you write. Some people talk about it like it is a compulsion. It isn’t for me. I don’t have to write. I won’t die if I don’t write. Writing isn’t like breathing. I have during times of my life not written fiction at all. This is sort of two fold…

Not a compulsion

Compulsion for me is when I stand at the door to my apartment and check the handle for the 4th or 5th or 9th time to make sure it’s locked. It’s when I hit the elevator button and then go back to check anyway. It’s when I get all the way down and out of the building and struggle to not turn around and go back to check one more time. Just one more time. That’s compulsion. The fight with myself to not do the thing that my brain is telling me I HAVE TO DO OR THE WORLD WILL END. For me that’s check to make sure my door is locked when I’m stressed.

Writing is none of those things. I like it, I feel better when I do it, I enjoy it. I get frustrated with it. Sometimes I even stay up to late doing it. But my brain never says the world will end if I don’t do it. I have never had to grab my own hand and pull it away from the keyboard.

I’m not saying this isn’t true for everyone. It might be. But it isn’t for me.

Sometimes I’ve even not written

Gasp to those who say that writing is like breathing. But I’ve gone long stretches in my life where I didn’t write. Where I was convinced that I wasn’t creative. That I wasn’t interesting. That the words I thought weren’t worth the paper. I would feel like maybe I was good at the thing I was good at, but that was it, that was what I got to do with my life and that way that.

I would read things and it was the same thing. I’ve always know I’d write. I’ve written forever. Writing is like breathing. Not a lot of, “Hey, so listen, writing is hard fucking work. It’s not always, or even usually, rewarding. It’s not shiny. It’s not easy. It’s not magic. It isn’t a panacea. It won’t change the way anything happens overnight. But you can do it. Even if you don’t breath writing. You can do it.”

And you know what? It is way more the second than the first. It is much more, in my experience at least, work and hard and not magic. It’s not like fairies and dancing bunnies. Maybe it’s fairies and dancing bunnies for some people. But if it isn’t? And you still want to do it? DAMN RIGHT! Keep putting that pen to paper or those fingers to the keyboard.

So no, I don’t feel a compulsion. I can go to sleep having not written another chapter. (And on a good night without having triple checked the door lock.) But that doesn’t make me not a writer. Or a bad one. And if you are unsure because you don’t feel the same compulsion to write as you do to check to make sure your door is locked (or whatever you may or may not have a compulsion to do) that’s ok. You can still do it.

It’s hard work. But I can do hard work. And so can you.

What’s the point?

I’ve been wondering a little lately what’s the point? Not in general. I mean a little in general. But specifically with intellect. What’s the point in being the smartest person in the room if you never bring anyone with?

At the times in my life I’ve recognized that I’m smart (which are not all the times, sometimes I haven’t been…sometimes I haven’t recognized it) I want to do what it takes to bring everyone else along. I don’t want people to fall behind. I don’t want people to get frustrated, flustered, or hurt because they aren’t able to keep up.

Not My Job

I’ve heard a few people who are smart revel in their intelligence and just let others fall behind.

I feel like this is sort of an idea of bootstraps but in another kind of way. You just have to get yourself there, you have to do it on your own.

But I think that part of being smart, especially part of being the smartest person in the room is helping others. If you can’t explain things to people who don’t already know it…how well do you really understand it. You might not be able to get them up to your level, but you should be able to get people a large part of the way.

Sometimes that means stopping and explaining it in a new way. Use an analogy, a metaphor, a story, anything. Do something to help people. Don’t just keep repeating the same phrase over and over.

It’s So Obvious

I’ve done this. I’m trying to do less of this. Some things are, or seem to be, super obvious to one person and completely obscure to another. I see this when I step into another world. I think other people should regularly step into another world. Do something that is someone else’s expertise where you have to. Learn something and feel a little out of your depth. Or don’t even learn it, but have to deal with something in your world that isn’t your thing. That uncomfortable, lost, frustrated feeling. Remember that.

When was the last time you had to deal with something that was outside your realm of expertise that made you feel lost and concerned?

(By the way. I’m not feeling great, I’ve been sick for the last week plus, really rough shape. Ugh. If I’ve missed contact with you please reach out to me again. Thank you for your patience.)

Time Tracking

Because of a whole bunch of things I’m giving a shot to better time tracking for a little while. Not sure I’ll do it forever, but I’m going to aim for through March. Though March might be a bad month, is there a good month?

Why?

I want to better understand where my time is going. What am I spending time on that I don’t want to. Am I doing the things with my life I want to? Am I putting my energy toward the things that are my priorities?

I also want to try to reclaim some of the writing time and I need to know where that is leeching out, and what I need to cut to get that back.

There is also something to tracking time keeping me more …focused. Like less distracted by random stuff because the clock is ticking.

Tools

I’m using Toggl which is really easy to start using. (It was discussed on several Cortex episodes.) I think a lot of it will be thinking about the structure of what counts for what?

When I’m sending a long email/fb message/twitter dm that is really thoughtful conversation or future project planning or helping someone with something, is that social media? I’m leaning toward no? But I’m not sure.

When I’m writing a blog post (like this one) is that social media? Is it writing? Is it 600 Second Saga? Not sure. (Thank you to Elizabeth for reasons to say goodbye to social media.)

The time I find myself spending fighting with security is that…podcast? Blog? Social media? I don’t know.

They all tie together so it’s kind of hard to draw the lines, but I think that what it is important to group things by is how I feel about them? Maybe?

Do you track your time? How? Why? How do you group things?

Revitalization IWSG

Another round of Insecure Writer’s Support Group. This time I’ve been thinking about revitalization.

The Official March Question

Have you ever pulled out a really old story and reworked it? Did it work out?

Um…yes and no? “Really old” is pretty subjective. I feel like it’s hard to say yes because I’ve not pulled out anything that existed only on paper. (Though my mom did find a story I wrote when I was 5. It was adorable. But I didn’t feel the need to rework it.)

Dangerous Metal was initially a radically different story. I wrote it, tried to go back and edit it, actually went through and changed the tense and POV for about 75% of the book before I realized that the whole story didn’t work. I finally reevaluated what the story really needed to be about, what was the core of it, what was the conflict, what was interesting. So I sat down and wrote Dangerous Metal with the same(ish) cast of characters and what had been barely a side plot turned to be the focus. What had been the primary plot trashed entirely. What had been the genre trashed entirely. And really pivoted hard. Hard.

I think it turned out really well for the most part. Far better than the initial, which had some good moments, but was still really rough. I’m not a great writer now, I hope to always be able to be a better writer and be able to see that I can be a better writer. But wow was I worse then. I’ve learned a lot of stuff since. And that’s continuing to be true.

Hurdles

Pictured…not me.

I feel like I’ve had several hurdles I’ve manage to climb over (because that’s what you do with hurdles, I mean, you’re supposed to effortlessly leap them while staying low to the ground and maintaining an incredible speed… but when I as not a magician try to deal with hurdles I climb over them). Each time I manage to get to the other side I do better, so I look back and go WOW.

First, characters. This was a long time ago, creating characters-for the most part-seems like the natural thing to do.

Then I spent a lot of time, strangely writing …descriptive things? I once write a wikipedia style thing about an alien solar system, including all the math. That was fun. (I’m not kidding, I quite enjoyed the math and structure that came with it.) Then oddly once it came to creating characters or plot I just went…nah! (And more of these hurdles…dot.dot.dot boring!)

I think I’ve come a long way, and I can see that what I go back to redo doesn’t have the benefits that present me brings to the table so it is hard to rework some much older things, or things that are significant hurdles ago. Sometimes it is easier to set things aside. I know the times I struggle the most are when I try to rework something that has real deeply fundamental flaws because I’m simply a writer with more knowledge now than I was before. That’s ok. I’d say that’s great. But it does make it harder to rework things.

How about you? Check out what other insecure writers have to say too!

IWSG

Read what other authors have to say about revitalizing old work or just what other awesome things they have to say!

February Check In…

Time for the February check in and it looks like…failure. Or it feels like failure. I’m not sure it was, just not…what I was hoping.

February

Last check in. I wanted to clean up. Yes, and no. I’ve been dealing with hacked bullshit all month. Trying to secure the site, bopping it over the head when it happened again, and addressing the next exposed nerve. Unfortunately, one of the things I was planning to do (spend my best brain power on writing) got co-opted by spending my best brain power on my website.

The other thing a lot of my good, especially creative brain power went to was a large work project that sucked all the creative out of me. But the good news is that it is like 92% done and will be done by the end of March. Woo. It’ll just be uncreative projects after that…? Something along those lines, but I hadn’t realized how much energy that was taking until I put the doneish stamp on it this week and I felt that terror/relief when you send something out into the world. (I hope I’m not the only one who feels terror/relief.)

More visuals! I actually did pretty well at this. Well enough that I got the scary email from Canva saying, Hey! You’re making a lot a lot of pictures. I have been, I’ve also been liking Canva for making them quickly, I don’t want to start spending all my writing time on this, so being able to easily make them is important.

Audio? I did very well, I finished up another story for the Monsters anthology. A handful of podcast episodes done. (I’m very excited to head into Season 2 with some amazing returning authors and wonderful new ones too!)

Writing. 🙁 I just want to leave this as a sad face and call it a loss. Get internet forgiveness and start fresh in March. Speaking of…

March

Writing. I’m putting it at the top of my list. I really want to get back to Stranded. It’s a fantastic story and it deserves my attention. I’m going to carve out some regular time to work on it and actually put it on my schedule. Turn off distractions and dive into working on it. It’s been easy to push it aside when everything else feels more urgent and pressing, having time actually blocked on my calendar for writing Stranded will help a lot.

Visuals! Keep at it. I’m going to be trying to make sure that all my posts and podcasts for Season 2 have images.

Season 2! Starts the first Friday in April. Prep, plan, get excited! Submit! Listen! Enjoy!

Also working toward more of that fantastic terrelief and need to reach out to my cover artist to start working on the set of covers for the Smoke Jumpers series since the first one of that should be ready in April. I’ll need to get the cover done so when everything is back and ready I can compile and send it out into the world.

Is that enough? How was your February?

Stories

Stories drive everything. One of my day job goals is to do more, and more effective storytelling. Something I feel is lacking in my stories is plot. Just not enough of it. I tend to drive away from conflict personally, so sometimes I do too much of that in my stories. So one of my writing goals is to conflict more. (In my stories…not in my life.)

Stories and Pixar!

Pixar has a class on storytelling at Khan Academy. You can get a free class on stories from Pixar. It’s got a few activities, some videos, I highly recommend it so far. The one for storytelling is out already. There is more on characters coming up.

If you’re enjoying videos there’s a playlist of Ted talks about storytelling.

Science Story

But there were creatures with mouths far more frightening than that of any shark. They lived at a time before fish, even before backbones, and they fed on their neighbors with a nightmare apparatus of moving mouthparts.

That’s good story telling! It’s from Scientific American about this creature.

This is actually one of my favorite written Scientific American articles and I’ve been saving it, go read the whole thing. Here’s another tidbit…

Pamdelurion could push their creepy mouth cone outward into a kind of pyramid before flinging open to present their spikes and close around smaller, softer prey.

Stories at work

Not just our day jobs. Writing is work too. And it is interesting because I think that, at least from what I see, sometimes authors (especially myself!) forget to tell the story to convince someone to buy the story. It’s sort of like how you wouldn’t want a resume from a proofreader littered with errors. That’s literally the tool they are using to sell themselves. Well authors should be amazing at telling the stories to sell our stories.

I feel like I just got too meta.

More from Harvard. (I promise this is the last one for a while! I’m almost at my limit, though I think I could get more through the library!)

Hard Work and Failure

I’ve been thinking a bit about hard work and failure being opposite sides of the same coin.

Birthday wishes

When you do something that requires zero effort, like blowing out the candles on a birthday cake and wishing for something and then you don’t get that thing? It’s not a big deal (or it shouldn’t be). It can suck that you didn’t get it, it can be something you desperately needed, but then it won’t be, damn it wishing just doesn’t work. Because you’re not putting in any effort.

Hard work

Failure (and I’ve heard more than once, and said myself that the only failure is the one you don’t learn from, but setting that aside though I’ll come back to it I think) is a result of trying. Trying to write a book is something you can fail at. Wishing you wrote a book isn’t something you fail at. Sitting down and writing a few hundred, or a few thousand, or a hundred thousand and not quite having a book, that might be a failure. But it is hard work. It only is something that we’d call failure because you worked hard at it.

What have you learned?

What was your last failure? Did you stop and think about what happened? What was your last success? Did you stop to think about what went wrong? These are great questions to ask. (HBR not just for business!)

I’ve failed a lot of stuff and I really do try to stop and learn. Sometimes it is little things (my to-do lists are better if broken down by time of day and with bonus tasks listed that I can knock off quickly/when I’m frustrated), sometimes it is bigger things (Halloween month for the podcast was just a bust, good episodes but not much traction, it is really a month when people are looking for horror so it just wasn’t a good fit). I think I can do better at trying to learn from both success and failure. Why are some things I’m surprised by succeeding? Why are there some things that are failing? Or even not succeeding as much?

But it’s all about hard work. Some things I just don’t feel bad about failing because I put so little effort into them. (I way overbought for christmas dinner, I put very little effort into figuring out what the correct amount of food was for the number of people we were having, I knew that the food wouldn’t go to waste. I failed to get it right, I didn’t care.)

Mostly? Failure means you tried. The solution is to stop, ask what happened, assess the situation, and try again. Keep trying.

Libraries are awesome!

Check out your local library

I was trying to figure out what to post about, I have one that I’ve been working on about unconditional love and my rant about it, that’s not ready yet. But while I was doing it a few things happened. I got a notification that a book I’d been wanting to check out was available, I found a couple of resources I’d been wanting some more information on (audio mixing, I’m trying to get better and faster, and website security), and I looked up and checked out another book.

Check out your local library
Check out your local library

Libraries are awesome!

Seriously, have you checked out what your local public library offers lately? Oh, you think it’s just books and a dusty card catalog? HA! Get with the times, because libraries sure as heck have!

Want to watch movies? Like live music and drinks? Want to have a book club that talks about books? Want a chance to talk about your books? Yeah, they do all these things.

Has classes ongoing on urban homesteading. Want to learn about raising chickens, apartment gardening, or maple sugaring (no I’m not in Canada)? Show up and you can take classes on all of that and a whole lot more.

Things that are really common at libraries:

  • Need help doing your taxes?
  • Looking for a job?
  • Need homework help?
  • Trying to start a business?

Libraries want to help you!

You can, of course, check out books in person. BUT you can also check out books online at most libraries, ebooks, audiobooks, comic books. And movies, music, tv shows. All of these things can be done online. Seriously, your library might not have the same selection as Netflix, but they likely have movies you won’t find on Netflix either.

Your library also likely has tools to help you learn other stuff. My library has Lynda.com available to everyone online. I’m signed in and listening to a course on securing WordPress sites. I did a whole bunch, but I want to see what else I can do.

I also have access to a wide range of journals and magazines that I wouldn’t normally. I use these to research occasionally. (And if I was fancy and dealt better with humans, I’d haul myself in physically and get help from the fantastic librarians in person.)

Also, there’s so much more!, libraries are an amazing resource for understanding what is going on in the political realm. Not just our local libraries but the Library of Congress is a deeply important institution for cultural memory. They have some amazing resources online as well. It has always been important to support libraries, they are one of the best, and often more democratic ways to share information. You can walk down, get a library card, use it in the physical location, use it online, you don’t need all the money to access it. And we need to help make sure it stays that way. So support your local library. Your local library is hyper local politics that really matter. You might know your city council person or mayor, you might be friends, heck you might be related to them. Tell them that the library matters to you. Tell them that it is one of the most important cultural and democratic instiutuions and you value it. Tell them to put dollars into the library to continue to add value to your neighborhood. Keep it in your neighborhood.

And seriously. Go get a library card! It’s worth its weight in gold.

Information and Confessions

Information is critical

You are undoubtedly not surprised by this. If you are, I’m concerned about you. Seriously. Sci Am points out that the free flow of scientific information is critical for democracy. You should also not be surprised by this. But it is a very good article about it. About what is reasonable and what isn’t.

And for sharing that information? The Sunlight Foundation has a list of who is allowed to talk and who isn’t.

It is actually hard to keep track of what is happening today. Which day is today? Something changed. My head hurts.

Information matters. You want a pretty picture of why? Indexed has ALL THE PRETTY

Confessions

I’ve been trying to do the #authorconfession hashtag questions from J M Sulivan every day this month. Take a few minutes and think about your work in progress. Think about it from a different angle, answer a different question. It’s good to keep my brain in the game rather than having it run off screaming which is what it wants to do.