Writing Advice

Bullet Journaling

3 January 2019

From The Wall Street Journal:

Bullet journaling is an organizing strategy developed several years ago by Mr. Carroll [Ryder Carroll, The Bullet Journal Method] that has attracted something of a cult following. It involves writing out tasks and daily events by hand, which helps you think about whether they’re worth doing. A table of contents or index in the front of a bullet journal allows you to include everything from exercise logs to project plans and to find notes quickly. There are different types of “bullets” for events and tasks, and tasks that aren’t completed in one daily log are moved onto the next day’s roster.

All of this can read like “stereo instructions,” as Mr. Carroll jokes. (“When you notice a Master Task is spawning a lot of Subtasks, it can indicate that this Task is growing into a project.”) Yet the point is to de-clutter your mind and make life more organized than it would be with mere to-do lists.

Bullet journaling is a serious system that takes itself a touch too seriously. Mr. Carroll notes that detailing how you spend your time helps you remember that life includes more than daily drudgery: Drinks with old friends, dinners out with spouses and other pleasures are more common than we recall at first. But it’s hard not to laugh when, as an example of the range of bullet journaling, Mr. Carroll tells of a guy who used his journal entries to figure out why things didn’t work out with his girlfriend. (She was distant, apparently.)

A common criticism of bullet journaling is that, with its emphasis on hand-written entries, the journals themselves can begin to look like adult coloring books, and a cursory search online reveals devotees who have spent hours curling bubbly letters and other adornments. What a waste of time for a method aimed at making the most of your time! Credit to Mr. Carroll for assuring his readers that you don’t have to be an artist to reap the benefits of bullet journaling.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

PG is engaged in an attempt to become more efficient with his time after realizing that some parts of his working day are extremely efficient, but other parts are inefficient.

He’s pretty certain that he’s not going to write anything down on paper because one of his inefficiencies is not processing the paper which enters his life with any pretense of efficiency. He believes he needs less paper, not more.

A bit of online research disclosed that (surprise!) there are a lot of Bullet Journal apps. However, at the moment, PG is deapping his phone and tablet. His winnowing method is very simple – if he doesn’t immediately know what an app is used for by looking at its icon, he’s not going to use it and it’s going into the bitbucket.

However, during his brief look at bullet journaling, PG discovered a couple of articles about using Evernote for bullet journaling (here and here).

Since PG does use Evernote on a regular basis and has done so since the program was in beta, he’s going to go that route.

He thinks.

At present.


My Life As a Psychopath

2 January 2019

From The Cut:

The word “psychopath,” like many words associated with mental and personality disorders, is used broadly, and often incorrectly — colloquially, we might call someone who lies a lot a psychopath, just as we might call someone who texts us more frequently than we want “crazy.” The word “psychopath” is also routinely used to describe serial killers, though not all serial/mass murderers have psychopathic personalities. And while “sociopath” is sometimes (mistakenly) used interchangeably with psychopath, only the latter is rigorously defined and clinically accepted, says Craig Neumann, a professor of Clinical Psychology at the University of North Texas whose singular research focus has been the psychopathic personality and its traits.

According to Neumann, the true definition of “psychopath” is actually pretty narrow: “Broadly speaking, psychopathy refers to a pathological personality style that is interpersonally deceptive, affectively cold, behaviorally reckless, and often overtly antisocial,” he writes. To qualify, he says, a person must possess traits pertaining to each of four “domains”: Interpersonal, Affective, Lifestyle, and Antisocial. The corresponding traits are as follows:

Interpersonal: They’re manipulative, deceitful, and/or narcissistic.
Affective: They lack remorse, are callous, and may take pleasure in hurting others.
Lifestyle: They’re impulsive, may use illegal substances, and may have disregard for the consequences of their actions.
Antisocial: They are physically aggressive and may have a history of or tendency toward criminal behavior.

Importantly, Neumann notes, psychopathy is a scale. “It’s not that you’re either a psychopath or not,” he says. “In the same way someone can have severe depression but it’s also possible for someone to have mild or moderate depression.” Neumann uses the example of professional poker players: they might be deceitful, and narcissistic, but they’re (probably) not psychopaths. Similarly, he takes issue with neuroscientist James Fallon’s calling himself a psychopath because his brain imaging profile matched that of psychopathic individuals.

“Just because the amygdala shows hypoactivation does not make you a psychopath,” says Neumann. “This is a characteristic that’s associated with psychopathy, but biology is not destiny. We believe that the syndrome, the personality disorder, is a coming together of these four major domains.” While certain people may possess a few, or even most of the psychopathic characteristics (like superficial charm, sexual promiscuity, and early behavioral problems, to name a few) listed on the Psychopathy Checklist(the PCL-R) — another tool used in the diagnostic process — unless they fulfill each of the four domains, Neumann doesn’t consider them truly psychopathic.

“The max score on the PCL-R is a 40, but to reach 30 is really going to be up there,” he says. (Most people score between a 1 and a 3, he adds.) “But the point I’m trying to make here is that even people who are 25, 26, they don’t quite reach the diagnostic threshold. Even people who are 16, 17, 18 on the PCL-R are nasty sons of bitches. Do they meet the diagnostic threshold of what we would call meeting a diagnosis of psychopathy? No.”

. . . .

Neumann hasn’t met or spoken to the subject of the following interview, but he did offer some potential disclaimers when I described the nature of our conversation. “These people dissimulate, they lie quite regularly, so it’s a challenging interview to do,” he says. “And most individuals at very high levels of psychopathy are not going to submit to an interview.” He’s also insistent that psychopaths are inherently and evidently unpleasant to be around. “One of the essences of personality pathology is you usually feel it in your gut first. Would I get in a car with this person and drive across the United States? And if you say ‘Oh, hell no,’ that gives you a clue that there’s something off in terms of personality,” he says.

The woman I spoke to, who will remain anonymous, says she was diagnosed as a psychopath in her mid-20s, and the diagnostic process she describes appears to be in line with what Neumann says is required. That said, our conversation was under an hour, and I am not a psychologist. That conversation, which has been edited for length, is below.

. . . .

 When were you diagnosed as a psychopath?
From age 26 to 27. I went through the whole diagnostic process over several months. There were a certain number of doctors that were involved, and a lot of testing: neuropsych testing, personality testing, brain scans, a lot of different interviews and going through the history of my childhood. It wasn’t a quick snap diagnosis. It was something that was arrived at over a decent period of time.

. . . .

Let’s talk about what people get wrong about psychopaths, in your view. Especially now, when there’s this huge cultural true-crime obsession, I think we have this very particular understanding of what a psychopath means, and it’s almost universally someone who’s very violent. 
It’s actually not an unreasonable thing — not because it’s true, but because of what they’re presented with. Most studies done on psychopaths are done [on men] in prison or in forensic hospitals, so everything you’re going to hear is going to come from a criminal. It’s always going to be painted against the backdrop of someone who has committed crimes. They’re only out for themselves, they don’t care about anyone else. If you interviewed any walk of people, and based their entire profile based on [the institutionalized] version of that person, like neurotypicals or autistic people, bipolar people, you get a very different picture than if you interviewed them in their general lives.

There is also this mistaken thinking that all serial killers are psychopaths, which is just not even remotely true. It’s just a myth that won’t die. There’s a phrase: “Not all psychopaths are serial killers, but all serial killers are psychopaths.” It’s just incorrect. But people hear this, and they associate [us with] serial killers. For some reason, people think we want to kill people. And I think that probably comes from the lack of empathy. People believe that if you have a lack of empathy, that automatically opens a floodgate of antisocial behavior. That’s not really how it works. I may not care, I may not have an emotional reaction to someone’s pain, but that doesn’t mean that I’m going out of my way to cause pain. It just means that I don’t have that emotional response.

In a day to day sense, or in your interpersonal relationships with people, is empathy or attempted empathy something you’ve had to teach yourself in order to relate to other people? How does that work? 
Well, we have cognitive empathy. So if your mother died, I can look at you, I can see that you are in pain. I may not feel the same pain, but I can understand you feel pain, and that series of behaviors usually warrants a certain response: comfort or interaction, engagement. And so it’s a matter of honing that over time, and also making sure that I can continually consider that my reaction to things is not how other people experience things. Which is hard, because you sort of go through life with the assumption that everybody experiences it like you do.

Do you ever feel afraid? 
We don’t feel fear. We get adrenal responses. When you have adrenaline responses to a car accident, or bungee jumping, or what have you, we’ll still get that, but for us, we don’t feel the fear, which can be obviously dangerous if you’re a little kid, and you don’t know you’re supposed to be afraid of stuff. We don’t process the emotion of fear. It doesn’t occur to us. And we can’t understand it, either. I mean, we get that you feel something, but we don’t get it.

How do you perceive it when you hear someone expressing their fear of mortality, or says they’re afraid to die someday? That always baffles me, because I can’t comprehend why it matters. For me, life is very much in this immediate moment. This moment is all you have, and the fear of it going away is just nonsensical. This is a huge disconnect for me. People explain it in ways that they very much understand: they’re afraid of dying, they’re afraid of not being important, they’re afraid of being forgotten. And none of those things are important to me, so it’s sort of like saying I’m afraid of not being the color blue.

. . . .

When you say cognitive love, does that mean you don’t feel that sort of romantic roller coaster feeling that other people describe to you? 
Well, no, I don’t. Certainly attraction. I feel attraction, and he’s very attractive. But psychopaths don’t process oxytocin like neurotypicals do. What oxytocin contributes to in your brain is chemical love, so that feeling of a roller coaster. Bonding is another one we don’t have. You bond to your significant other, you bond to your children, you bond to your pets. There’s also trust, which is a weird one, because I didn’t know oxytocin had anything to do with trust. Most people feel trust as an actual emotion. I never knew that. To me, trust was always: You show me how you’re going to behave, and I will determine whether or not I want you around. I always knew I didn’t trust people, and I always had a disconnect, because I didn’t know it was a chemical reaction for most people. I didn’t have an explanation as to why I didn’t trust people, but then I started digging into oxytocin. It made sense.

A lot of people think of psychopaths as having a very flat emotional affect, and I know we haven’t talked for long, but that’s not my impression of you. You obviously have a personality, and a distinctive way of speaking, and so I wonder what your experience is with that perception. 
People think we have no emotion, which is absolutely not true. We just feel them way turned down. If most people feel an emotion between seven and eight on a dial of ten, I feel it between zero and two. Negative emotions are background noise. We can’t tune into that frequency because our brains just don’t process enough information for them to ever be loud enough to feel or direct behavior. We enjoy things, get excited about things, like adrenaline — that’s great. I laugh with people, I enjoy intellectual discussions. A lower functioning psychopath probably wouldn’t enjoy intellectual conversation. They’d rather go and rob a liquor store. But that’s why they spend most of their lives in prison.

Do you feel at all that your psychopathy is an advantage to you? Do you feel lucky in any sense? 
No. It’s not an advantage, because all neurotypes come with limitations, don’t they? With psychopathy I constantly have to figure out people, and why they do what they do, and how to respond to them. Normal people have to deal with grief and loss and pain and heartbreak, but they also have things to make them happy. I think people are pretty wired the way they’re meant to be. I don’t know that it’s necessarily an advantage or disadvantage, it’s just what you make of it. I could easily take psychopathy and make it a terribly negative thing for both me and the world, because I could make bad choices, and do terrible things. I could do that, but that’s not who I have any interest in being. Anyone can make bad choices for themselves.

. . . .

 Online you’re very out as far as being a psychopath but is it something that a lot of people in your personal life know? Or your family? 
No. They have no idea, and I’m going to keep it that way.

. . . .

When you meet new people, whether professionally or personally or whatever context, do you present them with the version of yourself that fits the situation? 
Absolutely. Why tell them anything that they don’t need to know? They just need to know what they can expect of me.

Do you think it’s something that people suspect about you? Or do you think people’s perceptions are so off that they wouldn’t really know what psychopathy looks like? 
No. Psychopaths use what we call a ‘mask.’ It’s basically an entire affectation of being like everyone else. We learn at a really young age that if we respond to things the way that we naturally respond to things, people don’t like that. So you just learn how to affect the behavior and how to appear like everyone else, and that’s just what you have to do.

There’s a very different version of me that goes out of the house and interacts with the world from the person who’s home with people who know how I actually am. And even with the people who do know me, and do know how I actually am, there still has to be a mask. If somebody’s spending time with me in a room, I won’t give them the impression that they’re welcome. They might say something to me, and I’ll answer them back, but I’m not going to look at them, there’s no feeling of being welcome. But to me, unless I tell you to leave, you’re completely welcome.

I have a friend who will feel like I resent her spending time with me. She’ll be like, “I’m bothering you.” You’re not bothering me. Why do you think you’re bothering me? She’s like, “Well, I just get the impression you don’t want me here.” Did I tell you to leave? “No, but are we okay?” We’re fine! You’re fine. I have to make that connection. So if I don’t do that, people feel like there’s something profoundly lacking, and they feel uncomfortable. It’s very disquieting to them.

Link to the rest at The Cut

PG found this fascinating (no, he’s not a psychopath) because he doesn’t believe he’s ever met anyone who is a psychopath or close to one.

In olden days, prior to public defenders being available almost everywhere, when PG was occasionally assigned by a court to represent a criminal (technically, a defendant charged with a crime, but most defendants PG encountered professionally were, in fact, guilty of some sort of  crime), they mostly struck him as pretty stupid people without much impulse control.

PG also did a lot of voluntary Legal Aid work and encountered low-functioning people who got tangled up in legal matters, often divorces where the children were placed in foster care while custody issues were litigated. In such cases, PG represented the children and, on occasion, could not recommend that custody be granted to either parent even though the foster care system was not ideal. Still no psychopaths (he thinks) among those folks.

He’s not a frequent reader of novels depicting the inner lives of psychopaths, but doesn’t remember reading any in which the psychopathic character sounded a lot like the subject of this interview.

This is your brain on solitude: Why alone time is what you need, now

29 December 2018
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As PG has mentioned before, 99% of the publishing world checks out over the Christmas holidays, so he wanders a bit farther afield on TPV than he might at other times.

However, this article may be a bit more relevant for introverted authors who are exposed to many social situations during the holidays that are better suited for extroverts.

From The Chicago Tribune:

The holidays are full of great moments, if we’re lucky. And one of the greatest is the moment you realize that, yes, it really is all over with. Dinner is eaten, presents are opened, guests have gone home and you can feel that delicate, delicious lag — time, unaccounted for, stretches like a dog in the sunshine.

You’re alone at last.

“Holidays are all about togetherness,” says Suzanne Degges-White, “and it’s wonderful — people are piling into your house, you’re talking and being together and doing the things we love to do because we’re human. But we also need to retreat, and there’s nothing wrong with it. We need to carve out solitude; we need to find it.”

Degges-White, a psychology professor at Northern Illinois University, says that the need for alone time is as present and prevalent as ever — even though satisfying that need has gotten more confusing in modern society. The constant use of technology has caused growing concern over social isolation and lack of human interaction. Yet, it also has fostered a sense of endless, limitless connectivity. We are isolated, yet we are always on. “Even though we may think of it as mindless entertainment, we’re using our brains constantly,” says Degges-White.

. . . .

Which is why being alone with a tiny glowing screen might remove you from the company of others, but it doesn’t feel the same as a walk in the woods. When it comes to the alone time your brain is asking for, phone time doesn’t count.

“Our brains were not meant to function at this high level that we insist on all the time,” Degges-White says. “We feel like we’re multitasking, but really we’re just constantly putting our brains into overdrive.” And brains, of course, are ancient machines that were not built to function that way. “The brain, unlike our devices, can’t be plugged into power and recharged. And sometimes I wonder when we are supposed to get our own processing, our own backing up done? Technology is great, but human evolution hasn’t caught up yet. We need a chance to reset.”

. . . .

Alone time also improves other brain functions, including decision-making and creativity, Degges-White says. “You can’t make good decisions if you don’t ever give yourself time to reflect.” And “if you’re constantly engaged in the world, it’s harder to make space for those moments of genius.”

Link to the rest at The Chicago Tribune

The Writer’s Vision for 2019

23 December 2018
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From C.S. Lakin:

As 2018 winds up, I’m revisiting an in-depth look at strategic planning for writers that I published six years ago. It’s all still perfectly relevant. In last week’s post, I introduced the four things we need to look at when planning our writing careers: visionstrategytactics, and action. Rather than have a nebulous idea of what we want to achieve as writers, it’s helpful and wise to think about the goals we want to reach.

Then we want to take our vague vision and form it into something not only specific but laid out with reasonable milestones to reach at certain steps along the way.

By transforming our vision into doable steps, we can measure our success, reevaluate the milestones and goals as we go along, and hone that vision into a reality with its resultant rewards.

The first thing we need to explore regarding strategic planning is our vision. That equates to a clear mental picture of what you want your career to look like by a certain date, such as the end of one year, two years, and even five years. If you don’t have any long-range goals for your career, then you may not achieve much, and your efforts to succeed as a writer may be haphazard and scatter-shot

. . . .

Last week I encouraged you to freewrite some of your dreams—imagine what your ideal successful writing career looks like in specifics. When you take time to dream, you can be as ambitious, outrageous, or ridiculous as you want. This is your dream. We all know the truth of these famous quotes:

  •  “All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.” (Walt Disney)
  • “A dream doesn’t become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work.” (Colin Powell)
  • “There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why . . . I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?” (Robert Kennedy)

. . . .

Now, fill in these blanks by answering this question (compliments from Randy Ingermanson, who has such great resources at his blog www.advancedfictionwriting.com): In ____ years this is what I want my life to look like: (Do this for each period of time for which you are setting up your vision.)

  • I will be having a wonderful time writing ___________________________________________ (What do you want to be writing about/what kind of writing?)
  • I will be earning $____________ from my day job each month, working _________ hours per week doing ____________.
  • I will be earning $____________ from my writing job, working _________ hours per week.
  • I will also be doing these fun or cool or worthwhile things: ______________________________________________________ (because you also have a life and other things are important too).

If you are going the indie publishing route, you will want to add these:

  • I will have ___________ ebooks for sale by this benchmark date.
  • Each ebook will be selling ____________ copies per month and earning me $______________ per month.

If you are looking to get traditionally published (or have more books published via this channel), you may need something like this in your vision:

  • I will have landed an agent contract by this benchmark date.
  • I will have gotten a publishing contract for this novel ______________ or this many novels ___________________.
  • I will be selling _________________ copies per months of my published books and will have earned $ ________________ royalties by the end of this benchmark date.

Link to the rest at Livewritethrive.com

and thanks to Joel for the tip.

Can a sleepless night awaken creativity?

15 December 2018

From The Guardian:

A bad night is not always a bad thing,” wrote the late science fiction author Brian Aldiss. A long-time insomniac, he appears to have been searching for the silver lining of a condition that, in chronic form, can suck the lifeblood from you.

One does not have to try hard to build the case against insomnia – the way its vampire clutch leaves just a hollow shell of you to ghost walk through your days; the way it trips you up and compromises your cognitive integrity. But Aldiss was after compensation. The “great attraction of insomnia”, he observed, is that “the night seems to release a little more of our vast backward inheritance of instinct and feelings; as with the dawn, a little honey is allowed to ooze between the lips of the sandwich, a little of the stuff of dreams to drip into the waking mind.”

Before I began writing a book about my own insomnia, I wouldn’t have paid Aldiss any heed, much less the id that seemed to hold sway over my darkened bedroom. Whatever wisps of a dream managed to seep into my conscious brain offered nothing in the way of solace. Instead I felt enervated and defeated. My bad nights came with no honeyed sweeteners.

Insomnia’s symptoms will be familiar to anyone who has been forced into an intimate acquaintance with the witching hours. Awake all night, I feel saturated with dread, with a gut-churning queasiness stemming from an all-pervading sense of doom. As the minutes and hours tick by, I squirm and thrash and toss, trying not to look at the clock, until, giving up on sleep altogether, I get up.

So it goes, night after endless night. Like Wordsworth, who complained of not being able to win sleep “by any stealth”, I have long been exasperated by sleep’s refusal to visit me, no matter how avidly I court it. My mind will not quieten, will not release my body and allow it to sink into sleep, obeying the gravitational pull of the unconscious.

. . . .

Mathias Énard’s extraordinary novel Compass, shortlisted for this year’s Man Booker international prize, is a conscious homage to Proust. The book is set during a single sleepless night, when Énard’s largely auto-fictional narrator, an Austrian academic and orientalist, pines for the unrequited love of his life – a one-time protege who overtook him. As he tosses and turns, frustrated by his enduring pent-up lust, he wallows in recollections of their many encounters at conferences, their late night tête-à-têtes in restaurants, their mutual passion for the literature and music of the Middle East.

Énard conjures very well the exquisite torture of having nowhere to hide from your failings in insomnia, of having to sit with those agitated, uncertain, spiritually naked thoughts for as long as it takes for them to leach away. At one point he bemoans jolting awake from fevered dreams without ever having slept, before trying to convince himself that “a man trying to fall asleep turns over and finds a new point of departure, a new beginning”.

. . . .

The question for any artist or writer is whether the insomniac mind, forced to confront its deepest fears, groping here and there at the veiled world, might offer insights as well as torments. Famously, there are writers who have trained themselves into night-time productivity and considered their wakefulness a gift. Vladimir Nabokov, for example, likened insomnia to a “sunburst” – its blast of light standing as a symbol for inner illumination. Sleep, he said, was “the most moronic fraternity in the world, with the heaviest dues and the crudest rituals … [a] nightly betrayal of reason, humanity, genius”. Like other famous literary insomniacs, Elizabeth Bishop, Franz Kafka, Robert Frost, he wanted to be an all-seeing witness, a solitary watchman perpetually vigilant over the sleeping masses.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

5 Ways Meditation Can Help Authors

3 December 2018

From The Creative Penn:

I have been a long-term meditator, but I never clicked together how my meditation practice served my writing practice until ten years ago.

It took me going through a ten-year writer’s block, then training as a clinical hypnotherapist to get it. I did not train as a clinical hypnotherapist to unblock myself. It was just one of those wonderful unexpected side effects. It helped me to understand how the mind works.

Until we understand how our minds work, we are slaves to our thoughts. Meditation is one of the paths that can help us become aware of what is going on in our heads. Writers spend a lot of time in their heads and maybe that is the reason why, they have more risks of getting stuck in there.

. . . .

1. Meditation helps you become aware of your thoughts

It might seem insignificant but until we become aware of the constant stream of thoughts that populate our minds, we tend to believe everything we think.

Only by doing a regular meditating practice can we become aware of this constant stream of thinking and detach ourselves from the content of our thoughts.

It is estimated that we have an average of 3,000 thoughts per hour. This is a dense thinking background that can lead us to believe that every thought we have is actually us.

I like to compare it to clouds in the sky. If each thought is a cloud and the sky is full of clouds, then it is easy to forget that there is a blue sky behind all those clouds. We need a reminder that the clouds are not actually the sky. They only pass through.

2. Meditation helps you train your ego

This is a vital part of meditation. As authors, we can only improve our skills if we are open to constructive criticism. If our ego is wounded, and a lot of authors have wounded egos, then the smallest criticism about our work can send us into a spin.

This is what is holding a lot of writers from publishing their books, sometimes even from getting started in the first place. “What if my mother does not like it?” “What if my first-grade teacher ridicules it?”

Ego does not only come out as an aggressive overconfident energy. It often manifests as doubt and fear. By observing our fears and not getting sucked into the drama, we slowly put the ego back into its place.

By doing so, we open the door to improving our work by plucking the courage to write and then when the work is done, to submit it to an editor or a friend and get the feedback that we need.

The more we meditate, the easier this process will be, as the ego will lose its strong grip on our lives.

Link to the rest at The Creative Penn

Da Vinci Code’s Dan Brown on how to write a bestseller

19 November 2018

From The Guardian:

The piano music is insistent, melodramatic. The scene begins under a vaulted ceiling and medieval candelabra reminiscent of the Great Hall in Game of Thrones. The camera pans across a vintage typewriter, intricately sculpted animals, antique bowl, statuette of a monk and relief carvings of knights. It roves around a dimly lit, dark wood library. Suddenly, unexpectedly, a bookshelf swivels on its axis to reveal a secret passage.

Out steps the master of the page turner in blue shirt and jeans, his sleeves rolled up. He settles into a chair, leans against a red cushion, crosses his legs and smiles. A screen caption says: “Dan Brown Teaches Writing Thrillers.” Brown, who has shifted 250m copies of his novels and seen them translated into 56 languages, is the latest big name to join MasterClass, the online celebrity tutorial company (he is donating his fee to charity).

Despite the distinctly old-fashioned format – middle-aged white man dispensing wisdom direct to camera – this is Brown’s love letter to the creative process. The 54-year-old can’t tell you what idea to have, he says, but hopes to provide a roadmap on how to turn it into a story. His class includes chapters on finding that idea, choosing a location, creating heroes and villains, doing research (but not so much that it’s an excuse to procrastinate), creating suspense, writing dialogue and editing and rewriting.

The good news, Brown assures writers staring at a blank page, is that your idea does not have to be startlingly original. Ian Fleming’s James Bond, for example, always defuses the bomb and gets the girl. The key question is how he does it. “Every single idea has been done over and over and over,” Brown explains in the film. “You don’t need a big idea. You need big hows.”

Like parts of a car engine, the key elements of a thriller include a hero, a goal, obstacles that seem to make it impossible and, of course, a moment when the hero conquers the villain. Don’t get overcomplicated, Brown urges. “Build the foundation of your novel with a single brick: make it simple, make it easy to follow. Will Robert Langdon find the virus and save the world? Will Ahab catch the whale? Will the Jackal shoot his target?”

Among his first lessons are the three Cs: the contract, the clock, the crucible. “These are the elements that not just thrillers have but all stories have,” he explains at his publisher’s offices in New York. The contract is the promises made to the reader that have to be kept, so earn readers’ trust.

“The idea of a ticking clock: you go back to even something as gentle as The Bridges of Madison County. Her husband’s coming back in a few days and these two people have got to figure out if they’re going to be together. If they met in a town and there’s no husband coming back, and there’s no ticking clock, it’s not an interesting book.”

And the crucible? “That’s one of my favourites: this idea of constraining your characters and forcing them to act. If you look at the end of Jaws, you’ve got these people sinking on a boat and a shark’s coming toward them. The ocean’s their crucible: they can’t go anywhere, they have to deal with the problem. If they had a perfectly healthy boat and some big engines, they could just outrun the shark and the book’s over. But they’ve got the crucible.”

. . . .

His early books made little impact and he began to question whether he could make a career of it. But then he came up with The Da Vinci Code – in which Harvard code specialist Robert Langdon discovers a series of cryptic clues in the works of Leonardo – and thought it the exact book he would like to read; millions agreed. Published in 2003, it became one of the bestselling novels of all time and was turned into a film directed by Ron Howard and starring Tom Hanks.

Does success like that become a burden? “I definitely had a number of weeks when I became self-aware. You type a sentence and say: ‘Wait a minute, how many millions of people are going to read that?’ And you read it again and see the word ‘there’. You suddenly say: ‘I didn’t even spell that right.’ You become the guy trying to swing the baseball bat who’s thinking of how to move the muscles and you’re crippled.

“I think that’s very common across many disciplines when you have success. I was fortunate pretty quickly to be able to say: ‘Wait a minute, you just need to do what you did the last four times, which is to write the book that you’d want to read and if you read this paragraph and you’d like to read it, you’re done.’ I was able to move on from that and write The Lost Symbol, which I was thrilled with and did great and a lot of people like it better than Da Vinci Code.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian

 

What kind of self-destructive perfectionist are you?

12 November 2018

From Fast Company:

Perfectionism is on the rise in younger generations, according to a study published in the Psychological Bulletin. Researchers from the University of Bath and York St. John University in the U.K. measured three types:

1. self-oriented, the irrational desire to be perfect.
2socially prescribed, perceiving excessive expectations from others.
3. other-oriented, placing unrealistic standards on others.

Between 1989 and 2016 self-oriented perfectionism increased by 10%, socially prescribed increased by 33%, and other-oriented increased by 16%.

“Perfectionism is a pretty rampant problem,” says time management expert Julie Morgenstern, author of Never Check E-Mail In the Morning: And Other Unexpected Strategies for Making Your Work Life Work. “It may be worse in an era of social media where everybody’s posting the most curated, best, perfect lives and achievements. We’re constantly [surrounded] by the best way, the perfect way, the right way in our personal and our work lives.”

Seeking perfection can create paralysis that hurts productivity, says Morgenstern. “You procrastinate to distract yourself from a big scary task,” she says. “You can end up wasting so much time, beating yourself up later. That insecurity undermines your confidence.”

. . . .

“The biggest obstacle for the perfectionist is letting good enough be good enough,” she says. “A perfectionist doesn’t even know what it means to not be perfect. They don’t know what good enough is. It’s an all-or-nothing way of evaluating things. Work is amazing or a disaster.”

Link to the rest at Fast Company

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