Soul Vitamin: Idle Brain Time

Neuroscience rebuffs long-held prejudices against idleness and play. In Autopilot: The Art & Science of Doing Nothing, scientist and engineer Andrew Smart explains that focus actually suppresses our hippocampus and medial prefrontal cortex.

This means that when we focus, we decrease blood flow and oxygen to our brains. But when we “space out”—yes, daydream—blood and oxygen supercharge those parts of our brain.

Idle brain time refuels the Default Mode Network (DMN). How important is our DMN? This network gives us our “aha moments.” Consider how vital ideas are in creative work.

So, if we as writers require such moments, how can we have healthy DMN?

1. Allow yourself time where you stare off into space, nap, walk, paint a wall or shovel manure.

2. Give yourself a union break, a sabbath and/or a good night’s sleep.

3. Cultivate solitude.

Excerpt from Creative Juices: A Splash of Story Craft, Process and Creative Soul Care. Available at cynthiabeach.com.

Why Journaling & Mentors Matter in the Writing Life

Joining me today is memorist Laura Hartema talking about how journaling and mentoring helped create her book, Bering Sea Strong, a story about lessons gained while on a fishing vessel.

Q: You write in your book, Bering Sea Strongthat you often journaled. What role did journaling play in supporting your desire to write a book? What benefits did you find in journaling? Any tips or preferences?

A: Journal writing is our most sincere, raw, and vulnerable. It represents our truth, who we are, what we feel, and how we see the world and our experiences. Our journal is our friendly audience, our best friend, in full support, so we pour “us” out unguarded and uninhibited. It is how our rough drafts should be, without self-criticism and regard to who reads it. Journaling will help you develop that one thing that only you can bring to audiences–your voice.

My book started with me rereading my Bering Sea experiences in my journal. The ink was blurring, and I didn’t want to lose those memories. So, I typed the pages of my time at sea. The scenery was vivid. The dialogue was real. The details were captured in the moment. I started sharing these bizarre, humorous and challenging experiences with people. I kept hearing messages, “Wow, you should write a book.”  So I did. I didn’t know how to write a book, but I learned.

When we journal we may begin writing about one thing, and in the end, it’s about something else. Let your drafts flow like that, not knowing where it leads. You won’t use most of it, but oh, ten percent will be the magic. What you cut isn’t wasted. It is part of the process in pulling out your fantastic story.

Q: You also mentioned in your acknowledgments writer Leslie Leyland Fields and instructor Theo Nestor for their role as mentors. What did having mentors give your writing journey? How did you find these mentors?

A: Mentors will come. It will be a teacher. Someone in a critique group. A writer you admire. You will want a lot of their time, but often their valuable advice will come in nuggets when you yearn for the entire gold bar.

You have to stay determined. Put the energy out there. The further you go down your writing path, the more you will learn and grow, and the more people you will encounter–lovely, gracious folks who will inspire you and help you. I sought out Leslie after reading one of her books. Theo led a critique group of mine. I paid each of them at different times to critique my work. I gained valuable nuggets from both of them. Today, Leslie and Theo have authored multiple books and are successful teachers. Writing felt like a solo journey to me, but they inspired me to keep trudging along. And you must. Keep trudging until you write, “The End.”

For more information on Laura Hartema, author of newly released memoir, BERING SEA STRONG:

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Book Trailer

Valuable Tools: Old-fashioned Journaling

Journal? I grumbled. Me?

I was stuck. My subplots were knots where I needed lines. But how could I get going again? An answer haunted my mind: Journal! That familiar tool? How about a magic wand instead?

Of course, I knew journaling’s benefits. Writing theorist Peter Elbow has long promoted prewriting exercises like brainstorming or listing. These approaches do for us what we, from northern climates, do to our car on a winter’s day: we run the engine while in park. And though our car only sits in one place in those few moments, something important happens.

Another expert, Dr. James Pennebaker, cites research that connects physical health with expressive writing, i.e. journaling. And creativity guru Julia Cameron compares morning pages—again journaling—to a spiritual alignment.

Me journal? For figuring subplots? I eyed my resistance. “You should journal every day,” a voice said. Fingers had wagged at me over journaling, and now shame cooled my desire.

Bah-hum-bug.

I overrode my resistance, though, and reached for a pen. I dug out my long-neglected notebook and wrote one paragraph.

Something within me loosened. An idea arrived and brought along an idea’s best friend, energy. The knot slipped loose. I opened my manuscript document and wrote.

Excerpted from Creative Juices: A Splash of Story Craft, Process & Creative Soul Care (2019)

 

Gold Stars & Other Fine Rewards

Miss Sorenson had me at “Hello, class. Welcome to fourth grade.” She was kind, not like that other one, who had once rapped my knuckles at recess. Even more importantly to my nine-year-old values were Miss Sorenson’s suede pumps. These pumps were the color of a purple crayon.

Her glamour fascinated me. But Miss Sorenson motivated me another way: her glittering gold stars. Like many teachers, she topped good homework with a five-point sticker. Was her approach original? No. Thousands of elementary teachers place gold stars on noteworthy assignments. Why? Because it works. Think B.F. Skinner.

This spring, I purchased a packet of gold stars from Spring Grove Variety. Now these stars glimmer on scene cards that hold good writing and on book titles I’ve read for class. Each time I award myself a star, positive memory surges through me. Fourth grade accomplishments. Miss Sorenson. Those purple suede shoes. Well done, I think. You did it!

My reward system isn’t limited, however, to literal gold stars. An ice cream cone, a walk, a day off will do. Giving me a gold star helps quiet the Critic’s voice and keeps me heartened. I achieved my goal. And I notice.

And what will be my gold star for getting a book contract? I have no doubt. Purple suede shoes.

Excerpted from Creative Juices: A Splash of Story Craft, Process & Creative Soul Care (2019)