Monthly Archives: February 2016

Being Happy as a Writer

6941440367_53fbc30754_zHappy Leap Day! Hope everyone is enjoying their extra day of the year. (My grandma and great aunt get to have a birthday this year.)

Writing is challenging. It’s time consuming and frustrating. It’s also amazing. The feeling of accomplishment you get when you’re finally satisfied with your work can seem miraculous. That feeling can safeguard you against all the ups and downs that are inevitably tied to the writing process.

If you enjoy writing as much as I hope you do, then it can make you happy, whether you’re published or not. However, in order to truly experience happiness and satisfaction from your writing, your work must have some significance to you.

I recently read an article titled How To Be Happy: 5 Secrets Backed By Research. This article isn’t writing specific, but I found it informative and intriguing. Plus, it’s filled with links to other science-based articles, books, lectures, etc. that back the information Eric, the author of the blog, states.14209441301_c2a017cf72_z

The articles delves into five ways to be happy. I’ll briefly include them here, but check out the article for more detailed information.

Five ways to be happy:

  1. Pursuing pleasure in life is not enough to be happy. Your life needs meaning. It’s only when you combine pleasure and meaning that you find happiness.
  2. Write down what you do in a day. It’s easy to lose track of time. You hop on the computer for a quick Facebook check and end up spending an hour scrolling through your feed. Did that hour make you happy? Fulfilled? Evaluate how you spent your time by looking at how it made you feel. You’ll discover which activities generate happiness and which ones don’t. Increase the time spent on activities that make you happy.
  3. Happiness is more than just doing things that make us feel good. We must enjoy the process of doing those things. When we enjoy what we’re doing we create a “flow.” In other words, we’re able to focus on the present, and though we may end up working very hard, the work doesn’t feel painful.
  4. Answer this question: If no one could see what you were doing, and therefore couldn’t judge you, what would you do? By answering this question, you’ll discover which activities you truly enjoy doing and which activities matter most to you, instead of which ones are more impressive or acceptable by your peers.
  5. Similar to saying versus doing, or showing versus telling, it’s one thing to know what makes us happy; it’s another thing to do what really matters to us. Therefore, we must make a habit out of doing what makes us happy.

Here are some habits to help increase happiness:

  1. Physical exercise. It improves both physical and mental wellbeing.
  2. Hang out with friends. Those intimate relationships make all the difference.
  3. Be grateful. Show gratitude to others and yourself.
  4. Meditate. This helps you to focus. No more monkey mind.

One of the most important realizations about being happy is to know that you’re human, and by being human you won’t experience happiness all the time. Without the dark times in our lives, we can’t recognize happiness, gratitude, compassion, love, and all the other wonderful emotions we, as humans, come to understand and appreciate.

What do you think? What makes you happy?

(Photos courtesy of Bob B. Brown and Vladimir Pustovit.)

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Should Author Hopefuls Attend College?

 

Happy Monday, everyone!

6881499716_e8f46fa096_zSo I’m doing a slightly different post today. Over the weekend, I read a blog post talking about how college isn’t necessary. In fact, the post went as far to say that college was a waste of time. (The author of the post received both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Both from prestigious institutions.)

Though the author provided an exhaustive list of careers options that don’t require a four-year college degree, most of those professions require experience. It seemed that the author expected to graduate with her master’s and immediately get a six-figure salary job, while she was still in her twenties and with very little to no experience in her chosen profession. (And she wasn’t too happy about having student loans.)

At one point, she talked about my choice of bachelor’s degree: a BA in Clinical Psychology, stating that you should only get a BA in Psychology, or any sub-set of psychology, if you’re going to get your PhD and become a professor or practicing psychologist. (She went on to state that if you go to a four-year college, you should choose your major based on the level of salary you can get.)

When I was working on my bachelor’s, I fully intended on earning my PhD, however life happened and my interests changed. Now, I work in pediatric allergy and immunology research, and am considering transferring into HR (all the while finishing my master’s in fiction writing). Perhaps, I’ll end up receiving a PhD…in editing. (Or, even better, become a published novelist, who makes enough money to live off her writing.) I’m not sure yet.

What I am sure of is that without college I wouldn’t have the job I do, and I would have missed out on a ton of life experiences.

If you’re more practical and salary-oriented, think of college like this: with so many people having college degrees, in order to stand out, receiving more advanced degrees is even more important. Having a bachelor’s doesn’t hold the weight it used to. Plus, college is a great way to network, and as I’ve gotten older – and I’m betting this is the same for you – I’ve realized how important social networking is. Most of the time you get a job or a promotion, or really any opportunity, because of the people you know. The smallest acquaintance can open doorways.

As for the author’s list of jobs that don’t require a four-year degree, while it’s true that you can enter those professions either with an associate’s degree or without any degree, most people end up earning their degree or multiple degrees while working and gaining experience. That way they can get promoted or switch careers if they so desire.

I’m not saying everyone should go to college. College isn’t for everyone. There are some people in my family who attempted college and realized it wasn’t their path. I am arguing that college can be very important. College has the potential to help you both immediately and later in life by providing life experiences, broader opportunities, flexibility, and increased chances of promotion. It can also help you get your foot in the door. (I worked in a psychiatric hospital for a year, and while I was applying for the job, though the job requirements stated only a high school degree was required, I discovered that everyone who applied had at least their bachelor’s degree.)

I realize my master’s in fiction writing isn’t the optimal choice for making money, but I don’t regret the program. My writing’s improved, and more importantly, I found a sense of camaraderie and support (and some phenomenal critiques of my writing) that I was looking for. It also doesn’t hurt that I enjoy my master’s because I love to write, and I love being around people who are as passionate about writing as I am.

Sometimes, doing something you love beats out earning potential. After all, we only have one life. Ultimately, it’s up to us to decide what’s important.

What do you think?

(Photo courtesy of Tax Credits.)

When There’s Nothing Left to Say

2209664070_045c1d57dd_zSometimes it’s just hard to get started. Whether it’s reading, writing, or doing housework, some days your mind seems to want to remain off. Going back to bed feels like the perfect option, because, on occasion, you just seem to be unable to get yourself motivated.

Why am I talking about this?

To be honest, today was one of those days . I rolled out of bed and started my Monday, getting ready for work, feeding the dog, etc. However, the entire time I was in a trance. Not really present. Which isn’t the best state of mind. But for some reason, everything felt heavy today, even the air.

So, by the time I sat down at my computer to work on my thesis…well, you probably already guessed what happened.

Nothing.

After staring at my computer screen, re-reading words that felt like they were sand slipping through my fingers, I shut my computer and decided that I had to somehow get out of this funk.

What did I do?

I made an edamame chickpea salad with an avocado-lime dressing, which to some may sound disgusting, but it was delicious. And, best of all, easy to make.

Still, after such a tasty dinner, my mind was blank. Even reading a book I’d found enjoyable yesterday held no satisfaction for me today. Playing with my dog, going for a walk (it’s about twenty degrees with snow where I live), doing some yoga, researching for my upcoming trip…nothing pulled me free from the haze I was in.

Which, I realized, was okay. Some days are cloudy. No matter what you do you’re stuck. The important thing to remember is that the daze you’re in is temporary. So, if you have moments, like me, where you find no inspiration coming to you, whether it’s that the main character of your story is refusing to come to life or that you can’t remember what you were doing five minutes ago, this feeling of being unfocused will pass. When it does, you’ll discover a backlog of creativity.

What do you do when you’re in a funk?

(Photo courtesy of tetsu-k.)

Embarrassment: Being an Adult Reading YA (This is Totally Me!)

92800243_463415080d_zI am an avid reader. Well, I go through cycles where I devour book after book, and then I lose the drive to read for a while. Typically in those dry book spells I watch too much TV.

But that’s getting away from today’s topic.

Let’s talk about embarrassment. When I was a teenager, I could get away with reading any young adult novel I wanted without feeling guilty. After all, YA books are meant for the 12-18 year old age range. However, with my teenage years growing further and further behind me, I find myself not wanting to read YA books in public.

Why?

I’m embarrassed. I feel like people will somehow look down on me for enjoying books that tend to not have much depth. (In all fairness, I get embarrassed over reading adult urban fantasy books as well.)

In reality, I realize most people aren’t paying any attention to me. Yet, there are those few who are, and after having some of my professors (I’m currently working on my master’s thesis) proclaim that they have less respect for people who read any sort of YA, fantasy, or science fiction, I’m all the more aware of what I read in public.

When asked what my favorite books are, I have two responses: one for the academic world and one for the social world. In the academic realm, I’ll say Jane Eyre, Beloved, and Dubliners. For friends and the more casual social world, I’ll say the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy, the Abhorsen series, Born to Run, and Into Thin Air. (The first two series are YA, while the second two books are non-fiction.)

I shouldn’t feel this way. I should enjoy what I enjoy. After all, it is my life. And I’m not the only adult who enjoys reading books targeted for a younger audience.

Several years back (okay, a few more than several), my friend convinced me to go see the second Twilight movie in the theaters with her. We ended up sitting between a group of three or four fourteen-ish looking girls and a trio of middle-aged women. When the character of Jacob Black (played by Taylor Lautner) took off his shirt, both the fourteen-year-olds and the middle-aged women squealed in delight. The look on their faces was pure, girlish glee.

Neither group was at all embarrassed at being excited over movies that stemmed from books many people vehemently denounced as an author’s teenage wish fulfillment.

For a moment I found myself relaxing, thinking that it’s okay to enjoy some silly, shallow, and melodramatic things. But, even all those years ago, when anyone asked me what I thought of the movie, I’d say it wasn’t worth seeing again and tell the story of the middle-aged women, as if somehow by shifting the focus onto them no one would notice that during the scene where Jacob Black takes off his shirt, I appreciated his muscles too.

Do you feel embarrassed reading certain types of books in public?

(Photo courtesy of Jimmy Emerson, DVM.)

When Is Harsh Too Harsh: The Need to be Nice in Book Reviews

3328472594_6e128e3016_bSome time ago I posted about whether or not writers should review books. At that time, I wasn’t sure myself, though I do post reviews even if I am conflicted. (Some of the negative reviews I post I do worry about potentially making it more difficult for me to get published…the whole “burning bridges” idea, though I try to be analytical in my reviews and not a rant-fest like some reviews I’ve seen. I also never fangirl reviews (posting obsessively positive reviews due to being a rabid fan of the book and/or author)).

However, recently I read a post titled “Be nice”  by author Becca Fitzpatrick. She discussed how aspiring authors should only post positive reviews because they don’t know who will read their reviews, and so they don’t want to burn any bridges.

While I agree that scathing reviews are not always the most helpful – neither are fangirl reviews – not commenting on any novels you didn’t like skews book ratings.

I hardly ever decide to read a book without first looking at reviews. If all I saw were positive reviews, I’d get excited about the book, purchase it, and then be angry when I ended up greatly disliking the book because it’s something I would have never read if not for the reviews. What would make that scenario worse is if I later found out that many people didn’t like the book, but because they were afraid that by posting a negative review they’d potentially hinder their chances of publication, so they didn’t say anything. I’d feel like I was lied to.

One of the book reviewers I follow, posted a response to Becca Fitzpatrick’s post. I thought it was intriguing and found that I agreed with the belief that while it’s difficult to see people bash your story (by the way, this happens all the time in critique groups and workshops), negative reviews can also be beneficial. They allow authors to know what they may need to improve on, and, also, sometimes people aren’t going to like your story regardless of whether or not it’s well written.

During one workshop I participated in, someone said to me that he hated all fantasy and science fiction writing. Because of that he thought everything in my story sucked. It didn’t matter that most of the class liked the majority of the things that person hated. My story dealt with fantasy and was therefore trash.

It stung that his critique was so incredibly harsh. I showed it to some of my friends and they were shocked at how rude he was, but I eventually shrugged it off. That’s probably one of the most important aspects I learned during workshops…how to strengthen my backbone against negative feedback.

What do you think? Should aspiring authors only share positive reviews or should they be free to express themselves?

(Photo courtesy of Carrie Kellenberger.)