The Human Brain – instructions not included

The Human Brain

The human brain is a truly wonderful thing. The most sophisticated computer every devised.

There’s only one thing wrong with it.

It doesn’t come with a set of instructions.

There’s no ‘how to’ or reference guide, quick tips or shortcuts. No undo, delete or escape buttons. No handy little question mark to click, help desk or IT geeky guy to call when you have a problem. No cute plug-ins or apps to cut through the crap. No defragg software and no temporary memory that can be erased just by closing the lid.

Why? Because the mind is so incredibly complex no-one really knows how it works.

This realisation came to me recently when I was describing the reaction of a character in my next book and how she was so overwhelmed by emotion at the disappearance of her daughter. If only she could hit the off button. To power down her mind, to turn off the debilitating thoughts about where her daughter might be and stop imagining what might be happening to her.

And, whilst all humans come equipped with a brain that, to all intents and purposes, is identical in composition, shape and construct, every person acts and behaves differently.

How people react to different situations is what makes us all unique. There is no one accepted/standard way to deal with pain or loss or happiness. We have to work it out for ourselves.

Because of these differences (not to mention the physical differences between us) and the lack of any instructions on how we should behave, think and act, each person’s journey through life is unique.

From a writer’s perspective, understanding these differences is how we create great characters.  Is it easy? No – certainly not for me. But it’s part of my journey to discover how to be a better writer.

Image courtesy of vectorolie at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Debits and Credits and the Great Ledger of Life

The Great Ledger of Life (2) (2)

We all know that life doesn’t always go according to plan. In spite of how hard we try and how much we plan we mere humans don’t have total control over our own destiny. Sometimes things go horribly wrong and it seems that nothing will ever be right again and you’re left with a feeling of deep despair. At other times things work out and you feel a fabulous sense of joy and happiness and all is right with the world.

They say that humans can experience over one hundred and thirty different emotions. These can be classified into six basic emotions – happiness, anger, fear, sadness, disgust, and surprise. Sometimes I feel like I’ve experienced all of them in one day. Life can often be like that.

Emotions help us deal with what life throws at us and is one of the things that sets us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom.  Just as importantly, each emotion comes with a set of physical characteristics – we scowl and shout when we’re angry, smile when we’re happy.

Being able to capture the emotion of a character, what they are experiencing and how they react, so that the reader feels their hurt or pain or happiness is, to me, the hallmark of a great writer. Something I aspire to but struggle with all the time. Being able to draw on my own experience helps make it real but I have so much to learn about how to write convincingly. Feeling depressed and despair are just two of the emotions I feel when I read my own work, interspersed with the occasional sense of elation and pride when I think I’ve got it right.

Which brings me back to the great ledger of life.

Dealing with the highs and lows is something we all have to learn to do in life. And the older I get the more I think about the cycle of life. I think about it in terms of debits and credits. So long as there are more credits in the ledger: happy times, success, achievements, and less debits: disasters, problems, issues, then I think I’m doing OK.

It takes a lot of work to make sure that, over time and on balance, life is more in credit than debit. It’s not always easy and especially at those times when all seems lost.

But remember we only get one shot a life  –  so smile and never, ever give up!

Frog music and the power of ten

Frog Music 31 May 2015.jpg

I went to a wedding recently set in the vineyards of the Hunter Valley. It was a hot afternoon and towards the end of the evening I wandered down to a row of grapevines and looked up to see a black sky full of endless glittering stars. Only in the country can you see the night sky at its majestic best. After a few minutes I noticed something else – the slow steady chorus of sound welling up around me until all I could hear was the throaty croak of frog music from the nearby dam.

I realised then just how important sound is in conveying a sense of place when writing. It’s just as important as the visual picture we draw with words in a scene.  That night made me think about all the five senses we have to work with when writing –  to see, hear, smell, touch and taste.

I’ve added five more to make the magic ten – to think, speak, laugh, feel and love.

Putting the S in Social Media

Putting the S into Social MediWhen I decided to publish my first book, Trinity, as an ebook I spent a lot of time working out how to do it myself. Thankfully, there were a lot of tools, books and resources available that allowed me to do this without too much difficulty. What I hadn’t counted on was the amount of work needed to promote the book and drive sales after I got it up on Amazon.

We all know social media is a great way to generate interest and awareness but the level of complexity can sometimes be so overwhelming it’s hard to know where to start. Social media has exploded around us whilst we slept quietly in our beds.

Every week there seems to be some new app, plugin, widget, website or platform that we have to come to grips with. When once all we had to contend with was Goggle, Facebook and Twitter (as if that wasn’t enough!) now we must understand LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, You Tube, Vimeo, Google+, Neo, Foursquare, Reddit, MySpace, Flicker, Friendster, Yelp, Gypsii, Songbird…

So I went to a course to help make some sense of it – or at least get a better handle on all things social. A few key themes emerged:

  • Don’t even think about social until you’ve worked out the strategy – what do you really want to achieve? Is it referrals or sales, retention, awareness, reputation?
  • It’s got to be sustainable – make sure you continue to invest time and effort once you’ve set your social media programme up.
  • Your website should be the centrepiece of your strategy – you own it and control it. Love it and nurture it and it will pay dividends
  • Content is king. If you don’t have good strong content people won’t engage with your website or blog. But there are ways to borrow and generate content that can make this part easier. You just need to know how. Evergreen content (content that doesn’t have a use by date) is best.
  • Start small – dip your toe into the social media pool rather than dive in.
  • Keep it simple. Don’t wait until everything is perfect – experiment and learn what works best for you and your audience.
  • Write for your audience not yourself to promote engagement and emotional connection.
  • Measure everything you can – there’s no point creating an online presence and not measure if it’s working. 

The main message I took away from the course was just give it a go. If you want to find out more about the course I went to click here.