Weekly Writing Inspiration–Week 13, 2015

written down

“Don’t get it right—get it WRITTEN!”
~Lee Child
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Your Brain on Classical Music

classical music violinIf you grew up with music in your life, then the findings of a study by the University of Helsinki probably won’t surprise you. Researchers found that listening to classical music enhanced gene activity that affects the brain in a positive way.

Gene Activity Effects

Researchers worked with a group of 48 individuals with varying degrees of music background. Blood samples determined what differences in gene expression occurred listening to the 20-minute long, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 3 in G major, K.216.

The effects involved both up-regulation and down-regulation of genes. Genes that were up-regulated included those involved dopamine secretion and transport as well and memory and learning. The down-regulated genes included those involved in mediating neurodegeneration. In short, listening to classical music positively affected brain activity.

Ubiquitous Music

Several of the identified genes also regulate song expression in songbirds. The researchers surmised that these findings may indicate a common evolutionary background. It’s worth noting that the effects in gene expression occurred in individuals with some music background.

I grew up with music. I played the organ, clarinet, violin, and now guitar. My sisters and I sang. They performed in theater; I preferred the organ bench. Even today, I see the effects of music on us. One of my sisters insists on “tuneage” when we go boating.

For my part, I constantly listen to music. It is part of my environment. As I write this, I am listening to Focus@Will because I can’t concentrate without music in the background. But don’t get me wrong. I’m not blaring music all the time. Rather, it sits quietly in the background as part of the mood of the moment.

Listening to Classical Music

The choice of Mozart in this study is interesting. Some put it down, calling it old people’s music or referring to it as old-fashioned. I can tell you one thing that truly amazed me about classical music. I was listening to some while writing one morning.

A piece that I’ve heard before played. Never before that moment have I ever been so caught up in music to cry. Yes, as I listened, tears streamed down my face. The music was the most beautiful thing I ever heard. The piece was Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings, Op. 11.

We all know that music adds something special to our lives. Now we have more evidence to support this idea. I could use a nice shot of dopamine right about now.

http://mystery.weborglodge.com/By Chris DR
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Weekly Writing Inspiration–Week 12, 2015

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“It took me fifteen years to discover I had no talent for writing, but I couldn’t give it up because by that time I was too famous.”
~Robert Benchley

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Dumbing Down with Smartphones

smartphoneIf you suspected the irony of a smartphone being called a smartphone, you’re not alone. The device that promised to change your world does so by creating an addiction, and hence, dependence on it. In fact, it may do its job too well. Researchers at the University of Waterloo studied the influence that a smartphone may have on your thinking. The results may surprise you.

Smartphones and Intelligence

The researchers found that an association between using a smartphone for simple tasks and lowering intelligence. The effects are more pronounced in intuitive thinkers who rely on their gut instincts. It seems as if some take the concept of a personal assistant in the smartphone to the extreme.

They explained that it fuels a mental laziness that prevents some for thinking for themselves. The researchers specifically identified tasks such as doing searches for information as having the main effect. They didn’t find a significant link with either social media use or entertainment (read: stupid human trick videos).

The findings make sense. Think about it. Do you know the phone numbers of your family or friends? How often do you use a smartphone for simple math problems like conversions or tips? The allure and convenience of technology apparently comes at a price.

Use It or Lose It

Your brain is like the rest of your body. Use it or lose it. Your smartphone may not always be there to bail you out. Batteries die. Phones die. And a good connection is sometimes fleeting or non-existent. It pays to do some tasks the old fashioned way.

Don’t get me wrong; smartphones are great things. I’m rarely without mine. It’s important to understand that the power of smartphones extends beyond a DuckDuckGo search for good chicken recipes. Remember that smartphones can increase your stress level by being too connected to work or keeping you up too late at night playing Frontiers.

The takeaway is this: use your smartphone, but unplug now and again to stay in touch with your intelligence and reality. Take time to enjoy the signs of spring showing up now.

http://mystery.weborglodge.com/By Chris DR

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Weekly Writing Inspiration–Week 11, 2015

Oxford dictionary

“Never use a long word when a short one will do.”
~Louisa May Alcott

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Biases for Verisimilitude

wine price biasesWe all have them. They drive our thoughts, our motivations, and our actions. Oftentimes, we don’t even know that they are there. They are the biases we all carry when we interact in our world. Sometimes, we make bad choices because of them. For the writer, they are a potent source of verisimilitude.

Biases in Everyday Life

I have a friend who likes wine—but only expensive ones from California. Forget Oregon or Washington wines. Only California will do. And it can’t be cheap. Cheap means bad. You could say she has a price bias.

That bias leads her to spend some good money on wine. And I’m sure the wine is good too. She’ll talk about the money she dropped as she engages in post-purchase rationalization. I’m not a wine expert, but I’ve had some nice albeit cheap wine from Spain, Chile, and yes, California. Price doesn’t make the wine.

These types of biases exist everywhere. Often, they keep us from confronting certain aspects of our lives. And, in the process, prevent us from enjoying some very pleasant things—like cheap wine.

Truth in Actions and Words

As a writer, these quirks of human nature provide an effective means of adding verisimilitude to your work. They don’t have to make sense. They often don’t in real life. That’s where their beauty lies.

We’re all quirky, dysfunctional human beings with our own biases and living with our own fallacies. We like things because we associate quality with price, something that isn’t always true. We like things because they fit into our perception of the world. We dismiss things and facts that do not.

The underlying motivations can follow political, religious, or familial ideologies.  Other times, we might not a clue why we believe something or act a certain way. These sometimes strange behaviors make your characters come to life. We don’t always make logical choices. Tapping into our raison d’etre is a fascinating journey.

http://mystery.weborglodge.com/By Chris DR

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Weekly Writing Inspiration–Week 10, 2015

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“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
~Ernest Hemingway

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Calling the Muse with Daydreaming

daydreamingAs we writers know, the Muse speaks to us in mysterious ways. One of the most pleasurable occurs while daydreaming. And now there’s some science to back it.

Researchers from Bar-Ilan University studied the effects of external stimulus via low-level electricity. They observed that external stimuli can affect our tendency to daydream or mind-wander, as they called it. They were surprised to learn that daydreaming can improve task performance.

It seems that a mental escape from boring tasks can put you on the right track again. While the researchers concentrated on the physiological implications, the findings suggest that using productivity techniques like the Pomodoro can help you focus.

Your daydreaming engages the larger neural network of your brain. This effect could in turn affect creativity, and hence, task performance. It’s not unlike the difference between focused thought and diffuse thinking.

When you work on a task, you may use a specific part of your brain to get the job done. When you leave it and do something that encourages mind-wandering, you can tap into other neural networks that may help you complete the task at hand. The findings from the Bar-Ilan University study provide the neurological basis for what is occurring in your brain.

Another thing to bear in mind is that daydreaming isn’t a bad thing. Your mind needs downtime to operate at peak efficiency. You probably know about some people who routinely work through their lunch hour. They rarely, if ever, take breaks. They say that they have to keep working to get a project done.

This mindset falls under the same category as multi-tasking. It doesn’t work like they think it does. Sure, they’ll finish the project, but it could have been easier. They may have tapped into some new ideas had they taken time for some mind-wandering.

That’s what makes this study so exciting. There is a better way to do things. And it applies to writing too.

http://mystery.weborglodge.com/By Chris DR
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Weekly Writing Inspiration–Week 9, 2015

journalism and truth

“Most writers regard the truth as their most valuable possession, and therefore are most economical in its use.”
~Mark Twain

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Lessons Learned from Writing

lessons learned writing e-booksLike any skill, writing has much to teach you. It isn’t just a matter of picking up a pen or turning on the laptop. There are many lessons to learn on the job. You may not always appreciate the lessons learned. There will come a time when you thank yourself for paying attention.

It might not go as smoothly as you’d like at first. That’s okay. The Muse is a good teacher. Here are a few of her valuable lessons that I have learned on the way.

  • Use Microsoft Word for writing your manuscript. I love Libre Office, but headers and footers are a major pain. Word makes it ridiculously easy. Save yourself the headache. Pony up and subscribe to the software.
  • One and only one copy of your work draft. Date the others if you want the older versions.
  • Save a copy before messing around with headers and footers.
  • Read the guidelines for publication first, especially before you start working with your images.
  • If you’re going to do your own cover, do some research to see what makes a good one.
  • Don’t worry about font choice when writing books for Kindle. Amazon has readability covered.
  • Preview in every format possible: Kindle Preview, Calibre, your own phone/tablet, including the proof copy of your written book.
  • Don’t be afraid to update an e-book or CreateSpace file. That’s the advantage you have when you self-publish.
  • Keep your draft on your local drive and copy the file to Dropbox for safe keeping. A wonky Internet connection shouldn’t keep you from writing.
  • Keep one notebook to record musings and ideas. Find something you like and use it. And keep it with you always.
  • Don’t rely on your memory for writing ideas. Get it down on paper or on a digital platform.
  • Don’t forget that completing a book is one of life’s great pleasures and accomplishments. Give yourself credit for making and sticking to the commitment.

http://mystery.weborglodge.com/By Chris DR
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