Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Your Mental First Aid Kit

A Tweet-mate and fellow author got stuck on something. He knew what he wanted to do, but it just wasn't happening. Much sorrow and frustration followed.

I understand. I've been there. I've learned a few tricks over the years.

In every craft, in every skill set, one of the most necessary tools for the professional is their First Aid Kit. These are the tools necessary to fix something when it goes snafu. A violinist has spare strings and a second bow*.  Every car should have a spare tyre and the tools to change it. Every hospital has a crash cart. Every mother has a box of bandaids and an ice pack or three. These are the items of their First Aid Kits.

For those of us who use our brains in creative work, we need a Mental First Aid Kit for those times we get stuck in the mud.

They include (in no particular order):

  1. Sleep.  This is at the top of my list for so many reasons.  Sleep resets the brain chemistry. Sleep also turns off the busybody conscious and lets the pure subconscious get to work without interference. Regardless of what you do, music, writing, calculating, your performance will be better after some good sleep.
  2. Do something else. Anything else. If your brain is fatigued in one direction, move it in another. this is the equivalent of stretching. Draw, dance, sports, mathematics. I'll work out astrophysics equations to give my brain a break.
  3. Eat. Low blood sugar does nobody any good. The human brain requires sufficient glucose to function. If it doesn't have this, it will slow down and even stop working in higher functions in an effort to conserve the glucose for necessary stuff. Like breathing.
  4. Read for pleasure. Now, this is more a writerly thing, but also works for everyone else. Sometimes you've just gotta chill out. Try reading outside yr preferred genres so you don't fall into a familiar rut.
  5. Meditate. Slow your body and brain down. Let it catch up. Shut all words out of your head and Just Be.
  6. Service to other human beings. I really should list this as #2, if I was going in order of importance. Go do something kind for someone. As a Relief Society sister, I can't tell you just how powerful helping someone else is in putting your life and soul back into its proper place. When you forget yourself, that is when your self finds you. Go mow a neighbor's lawn. Offer to take your elderly neighbor shopping. Babysit for a single mother one afternoon. Bake cookies for the lonely kid down the street.
  7. Change your outfit to something fancy. Sometimes we get so stuck in one identity that we need to literally change our clothes so we look different. Remember the old "Hello Dolly" song "Put on your Sunday Clothes when you feel down and out"? There's a reason it works.
  8. Don't force yourself to do something you can't do at the moment. It's like forcing a cat to cuddle you. They simply won't. Sometimes you've got to relax, sit back and let the cat come to you. Whatever it is you need to do, let go for now and it will come back to you. Be patient in this thing.
So when you get stuck, don't let your brain freeze and the Dementors to fly in. If you have a Mental First Aid Kit, know that you can get unstuck. It might not be this very moment, but it can happen.

*Her Grace has a story for you:

Once upon a time when Her Grace was a mere Ladyship, she had to play the violin for exams. Every performer worries about their pieces--are they playing them well, will they remember how to play the piece, will they remember how to play the violin, will they remember how to breathe?

But nobody ever expects their equipment to fail on them.

That's what happened to Her Ladyship. In the middle of the piece, the head mortise of her bow fell out, sending horsehair flying everywhere. Technical difficulties. To her dismay, she did not have a second bow with her. Fortunately, she had an audience of about a hundred other violinists, one of whom was more than happy to lend her one.  She finished the piece and earned a Superior rating.

Moral of the story: never hurts to have your first aid kit well-stocked.

Saturday, 26 December 2015

Merry Christmas!

Romance Spinners wishes you and your family a very...
and a Happy New Year!

Friday, 11 December 2015

Interview - Lauralyn Aaron

Today's Friday Interview features NaNoWriMo winning author Lauralyn Aaron. 2015 was her first year attempting NaNoWriMo. Lauralyn is also the mother of emerging storywriter Felicity Aaron who inspired her to sit down and write her NaNovel.

Author bio: Lauralyn Aaron proves her insanity by homeschooling her five children, who fortunately seem to be turning out to be decent human beings despite their crazy mom. She studied Political Science at the University of Utah back in the dark ages (or at least the '90's), where she met her husband, Norman. Since then, she's been busy dealing with all the fun of motherhood from diapers to chauffeur duty to trying to convince her daughters that algebra will actually be useful to them someday. In her spare time (ha), she loves to read anything she can get her hands on, resorting to the shampoo bottle or cereal box if there's nothing else handy. Of course, smart phones have made that kind of reading fairly obsolete these days as there's always something better on Facebook than what's on the back of the cereal box.

Yes, she's all that and more. Lauralyn was kind enough to share her journey and thoughts with me for Romance Spinners. 

HWK: Congratulations, you won your first NaNoWriMo! What motivated you to give it a go?

LA: Well, I've had an idea (my only idea for a novel) in mind for a few years. My brainstorming process has been lengthy to say the least. What finally got me to do it was teaching a literature and writing class for homeschooled students. Since I was encouraging them to do NaNoWriMo, I needed to lead by example. We had several write-ins at my house, which made it all more fun for all of us.

HWK: What would you like to tell us about your novel? What inspired you to this story?

LA: Like I said, this idea has been floating around for a while now. One thing I suggested to the homeschooled student was to use a classic story or fairy tale and retell it from a different point of view. With that in mind, the trusty "brainstorming in the shower" scenario came into play.

One day I just started thinking about Sleeping Beauty and how everyone in the castle fell asleep with her, but not everyone in the castle had their whole family there. What about families that were split with some working at the castle while others lived elsewhere? So that's where it started. If I'm honest, I felt inspired to write this story because it was the first time I had a viable story idea, but I've always wanted to write a book.

HWK: I love that idea because it touches upon the human experience of those who were left behind. Can I convince you to let me read it some day?

You've always loved literature, especially classics like Anne of Green Gables. What draws you to these books?

LA: I learned to love reading from my mother, who has been known to read while washing dishes, while folding laundry, while walking--basically any repetitive task is an excuse to read.

As a reader, I'm very character driven. A book doesn't need to have a super exciting plot for me to love it as long as I love the characters. I will say that writing does matter to me, but if the characters are relatable and the writing is good, that's all I need.

Older books like Anne of Green Gables are great because the slower pace often allows for the reader to feel close to the characters. Anne, in fact, was my best friend in seventh grade. Socially, those middle school years were rough, and Anne went everywhere with me. I think I read the entire series five or six times in one year. On the flip side, a book like Divergent, which was an absolute page-turner, was not a favorite for me because I didn't like Tris much.

I still love classics. Jane Austen and Charles Dickens are amazing. When it comes to mysteries, Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, and Rex Stout are favorites. The only genre that I think is better in more modern reading is fantasy/sci fi. You may want to unfriend me on FB for saying this, but I've never been a big fan of Tolkien or Asimov.

HWK: Fear not for abandonment. I prefer a lighter style of fiction.

LA: Incidentally, I'm impressed that you remembered this about me after so many years...unless you refreshed your memory by Facebook stalking me, in which case, I'm not so impressed.

HWK: (I thought it was you stalking me…) Actually, my remembering that detail is a bit convoluted. I once wrote (and subsequently had published) a story where a couple met through an online group called “Kindred Hearts”. I got the name of the group from a similar one you once belonged to. Every time I glance through that anthology, I sometimes think of you.

How do you believe reading benefits the human race?

LA: Other than the obvious fact that we can pass on knowledge through reading, there are a couple of major benefits:

When we read, we learn that we're not alone in our experiences. Every time a character in a novel goes through an emotion or experience that we relate to, we feel that someone understands how we feel.

At the same time, reading helps us understand experiences and feelings that we haven't gone through. It gives us the chance to see the world through a different point of view. For me, part of being a more mature person is realizing that I can like someone even when we don't agree on things, even when they do things I honestly disapprove of. That is a gift that stories can give us because in real life, we rarely get to see things so thoroughly from the other person's point of view.

LA: 5. Preach it! If you could convince the world of ANYTHING, what would it be?

LA: Be nice.

That's it. I am so tired of how angry and judgmental and critical the world feels. If we would all just try to be a bit kinder instead of being so worried about scoring a witty comment or convincing someone of our political views, things would be better. We don't have to always agree in order to be respectful to each other, so...let's just be nice. (Says the political science major.)

HWK: Normally I post links, cover art and a blurb to an author's book. As you're not marketing at the moment, is there any other web site that you would like me to link to instead?

LA: One person who has been really inspirational to me in writing is my daughter, Felicity. She has loved writing stories since she was ten or eleven. She won her first 50,000 NaNo at the age of thirteen. Dealbreaker is a story she wrote a couple of years ago based on the prompt "In 1500 words or less, write a story in which love is dangerous." 

HWK: [reads...]  Ohmigosh! You guys have got to read this.

No, seriously. Stop right now and go read this story. It's only a thousand words or so. You will not regret reading this beautifully bittersweet tale.

Many thanks to NaNoWriMo-winning author Lauralyn Aaron for being suckered into willing to be interviewed for Romance Spinners. Remember folks, it doesn't matter if you're published or not. If you're writing novels, you're an author.

And a quick mention for Friday Interviews starting in January and February: The Candy Hearts Romance series is coming out from The Wild Rose Press and I've got a handful of my fellow Candy Hearts authors lined up for your edification and entertainment.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

But That is Real Life, Honey -or- Stop Your Whining, Valedictorian

You don't see successful clip artist
Philip Martin whining about his education.
It is the end of the school year here in Australia and I've got a young graduate. Yay. She's done well and aims to keep doing well in the continuation of her education.

Recently I saw a few links to valedictorian speeches come through one of my social media scrolls. Every once in a while you find a brilliant speech (wear sunscreen). However, most tend to be the usual inspirational claptrap full of cliches and then there's the requisite "trying to be different but really just venting" angry ones.

One particular speech caught my attention. It was one of the latter. In this valid-dictator-ial speech  (which I will not be linking to because she doesn't need the additional audience), she whined about the fact that the only reason she was valedictorian was because she got really good at completing assignments and taking tests. She said she didn't get a real education but merely learned how to play the system.

Guess what, honey, you did get an education! You got a brilliant preparation for what the 99% call "The Real World". (Granted, you are from the American Empire, who failed to upgrade their educational and medical systems sufficiently during their evolution, and that does give you a disadvantage compared to the rest of the First World. Heck, it might give you a disadvantage compared to certain parts of the Third World.)

But yeah. Real Life in the Adult World is all about playing the system. I don't know what sort of job/career you were planning on, but I can guarantee you pretty much all of them involve completing assignments (ie meeting sales targets, adhering to guidelines, upholding service catalogues, quality control, etc) and taking tests (delivering a satisfactory product and/or service).

It doesn't matter what field you're in. Accountant?  Better get your maths correct. Fast food worker? Better meet quality control targets. Ballet dancer? Precision and focus are mandatory. Scientist? Professional development is an ongoing thing. Secretary? Speed and accuracy. Attorney? Research and fact memorisation. Author? Self-starter skills and long hours of repetitive tasks.

Whatever it was you were thinking you failed to learn in your mastery of assignments and test-taking, that sort of stuff doesn't come along until after you've gained practical experience in the entry levels. Creative Consultants, Decision Makers, CEOs... none of this stuff will come to you for at least another twenty years. Stop worrying that you're not ready now.

So if you were looking for something that would "tap into your potential" because "we can do anything we want" and "the sky's the limit" and all the other cliches with which your valedictory speeches are rife, you're in for a dreadful surprise.  There is absolutely no difference between your teacher telling you "Your fifteen questions on page 87 are due on Monday" and your manager telling you "I need this spreadsheet analysis done by Monday."

The only two differences you will find between an education and a day job is this:  When you do your job well (ie complete your assignments and get a good grade), you get paid. When you  don't do your job well (ie keep failing your tests), there's a good chance you can get fired.

Welcome to the Real Life in the Adult World, padowan. Let's see if you can keep up with the big dogs.  Oh, and I need that spreadsheet analysis done by Monday.

Her Grace, who has a BA in Music and Film from the UofU, a CertGr6  in Piano from AMEB, an MFA in Creative Writing and a PhD in OB-GYN from SoHK and soon to have a MSc in Astronomy from SwinU.  All this wouldn't have happened if it wasn't for the support of a Day Job full of assignments and tests.

Monday, 7 December 2015

Someone gave me Chicken Poop!

So what arrives in Australia Post today?

Why, a lovely tube of Chicken Poop lip balm, courtesy of Regency Romance author Carolyn Jewel.

I'm a sucker for lip balm and I'm rather fond of chickens. Fortunately, Chicken Poop lip balm doesn't actually contain any chicken poop. Instead, it's got a beautiful lavender scent.

I won it in a contest on The Risky Regencies blog, which also included a copy of their summer anthology Dancing in the Duke's Arms, which I've devoured and must post reviews on Goodreads soon. I'm a sucker for Regency Romance and I'm a sucker for dukes (having married one).

Thank you, Carolyn, for the fabulous prizes and the addiction to more authors who've been added to my TBR pile.

Her Grace has happily scented lips. Who knew Chicken Poop could smell so nice?