Broadening Your Brain Pool

Broadening Your Brain Pool

Shelf of non-fiction books

You’re never going to find a writer that doesn’t read. It’s completely impossible. Writers come from readers. The desire kicks in when we fall in love with the written word, discover our own inner worlds and characters demanding breath, or find out the book we WANT to read doesn’t exist. Enter a writer’s house, and you’ll find a library somewhere. (And usually see books here and there, as well as the obligatory notebooks needed for when ideas strike out of the blue) We’re the literary squirrels of the world. Which is fine – even encouraged. You need to know what’s current in your genre – WHO’S current in the genre – if you have any chance of surviving the publishing industry.

But there’s another category of reading out there.

If you’re not drifting into the various non-fiction sections in the bookstore, you’re doing yourself a disservice. Those books are research GOLDMINES. You can find ANYTHING. And while some are easier to get through than others, they offer foundations in everything. It’s a necessary exercise for any writer. But freelancers? You should have shelves of non-fiction books (that you’ve read – I hope that’s understood) at your work station. Because over half of your work day is what? Research!

No one knows everything about everything. No one knows everything about anything. You have to tease and pull apart details in order to provide a coherent argument. And that means digging into a topic. There’s so much garbage on the internet it isn’t funny. I spend WAY too much of my time gritting my teeth and shaking my head when I dive into research about animal-related topics. Anyone who’s owned or loved a pet declares themselves an expert and runs off with the bit in their mouth. But the information they share is usually skewed – or 100% wrong. And how do I know?

Research.

I spent a year-and-a-half in school to get my veterinary technician degree. Then I worked in the field for over ten years, where I needed to obtain continuing education to maintain my license. I attended conferences and sat through hours and hours of lectures by doctors and other technicians from around the world. I filled pages and pages with copious notes and tucked away USB drives with the complete presentations. I asked questions when I didn’t understand something. I read the proceedings. I worked every day with doctors with DECADES of experience. I asked them questions every day and added those notes to notebooks. I made my observations and had genuine experiences and cases embedded into my brain. And THAT’S the information I carry forward when I write an article now. Oh, sure, I own and adore my Minions, but my expertise? It comes from SO much more than that.

You have to invest your free time into reading non-fiction. Look up the credentials of the authors. Make sure they know what they’re talking about (because plenty of people land a publishing deal and are idiots), and then settle in to add their brilliance to yours. It’s research you’ll carry forward into your writing career. Because when you freelance, you KNOW the general subjects you tackle. They’re things you ENJOY talking about. That means learning about them WON’T end up as a chore.

You don’t have to pick up books on organic chemistry – unless that’s your thing. (It’s not. Like Skyler from Good Will Hunting, I’m going to call your bluff, “Yeah, it’s SO much fun studying organic chemistry. Are you mad? Have you completely lost your mind? Nobody studies it for fun. It’s not a necessity.”) I read books on animal intelligence, animal emotions, real-life cat stories, and, yes, shark books. They give me new perspectives on how to see the natural world. Have I yet quoted from one of them in an article? No. But have I noticed them influencing my writing on certain topics? Yes. Because I gained new information. They weren’t direct research on an article, but they gave me information.

Open brain – insert knowledge.

Research – and a drive to continue learning – is what sets you apart from the thousands (millions?) of other freelance writers out there. Some people prioritize quantity or quality. They slap an article together in a few minutes and pat themselves on the back. Is the information correct? They don’t care. As long as they fulfilled the minimum requirements of their contract, they’re satisfied. But people on the internet believe ANYTHING. And it’s unfair for incorrect information to start circulating.

Take a stand to be BETTER. Do your research. Improve your knowledge. Expand your mind as much as possible. You’ll start to appreciate things in a new light. And those non-fiction books help in the speculative writing, too. Nothing makes you sound sillier than when you try to describe something mundane and get it wrong. (And you can’t dismiss everything as “magic” and get away with it) There are shelves and shelves and SHELVES of non-fiction books out there. And you have plenty of topics that interest you. Look into the writer’s background, and then bring a few home. Your writing will improve. And your audience will appreciate it. Not to mention your clients.

Just maybe not the organic chemistry.

Tonks vs. Mini-Tonks

Tonks vs. Mini-Tonks

Crocheted Antihero Kreative logo

While I admit I’m not one for celebrating or making a big deal out of my birthday, this year saw the arrival of one of the best presents. If you’ve visited my Heroes page, you know my extremely talented sister designed the logo for this site (and my freelance writing business). And I love it. It came out exactly the way I pictured it. And, yes, it’s based on Tonks. So when I opened the present and found a crocheted version of the logo, I was over the moon. It was the perfect replica – and the perfect size to sit in front of my computer screen.

For those who HAVEN’T skipped over to that page (for shame – those people are amazing and the reason my world runs as smoothly as it does), Tami is a genius. She CREATES her own crochet patterns out of her brain. And then she sells them in her Etsy store for people who want to recreate the same pieces (so sorry, but my logo isn’t up there – that’s a one-of-a-kind piece). How she does it, I’ll never know. And she never told me she was planning to make my cute little Antihero. It captures everything, right down to the card suites on the butt. And once I’d snapped the requisite pictures (and bragged on social media), I set it on my computer stand – right where it belonged.

Of course, Tonks felt a need to check it out while everyone admired it on the coffee table. But I didn’t think anything of it at the time. She poked her head into every box and bag. It’s what she does. (And she usually claims the bags as her own) Nothing seemed out of the ordinary in her exploration. Sure, we laughed that she was interested in her little mini version, but then we dropped it.

Until things changed.

It didn’t take long before a new pattern emerged during her “Assistant” duties. Allow me to clarify. A typical morning starts with her “helping” me get dressed and brush my teeth. Then she jumps on the desk, surveys the monitor stands to decide what she wants to mess with, and plops her butt in front of one of the screens. The biggest distractions used to be my shark teeth, followed by my mini How to Train Your Dragon stuffed dragons. And, of course, my pen is always up for grabs (though that happens less often now that it sits in a tray on the second monitor stand). If she felt particularly adventurous, she’d jump onto the lowest book shelf and knock down one of the tiny stuffed cats, Zoidberg, or the Tentacle Kitty. If I had a sweatshirt on, she’d finish by coming over to chew on the drawstrings. And when she finally moved to her chair (or went to spy on the neighbors in a window), I’d straighten everything again.

Tonks with Antihero Logo

Now, though? Now she goes straight for the Antihero Kreative logo. She ignores EVERYTHING else on the desk (with the exception of drawstrings – those remain a popular distraction). She doesn’t chew on it, but she HAS to sniff it and knock it over. And this remains a daily ritual. Nothing else gets touched anymore. And the dragon she’s leaning over? It stays upright! She’ll step carefully around it without toppling it in order to reach the crocheted logo.

Of course, she obscures the computer screen the entire time, which is one of the most helpful things she’s done as an “Assistant.” (Good thing I have two monitors and can move the window over) I’ve tried reminding her that she isn’t see-through, but she doesn’t listen. She’s too busy carrying out her investigation of mini-Tonks.

I finally sent my sister the photo and shared the story. She laughed and complimented Tonks on her good taste. And I have to admit, it’s true. The logo’s astounding. And since it distracts that little demon from her USUAL routine of destruction, there MUST be something to it! (It’s a working theory, anyway)

People (non-animal people, mostly) like to argue that animals have no sense of self and other garbage. No one’s EVER going to convince me that Tonks doesn’t know that little figure isn’t modeled after her. Not with this kind of response. She knows the logo came from her pictures. And she checks on the crochet version every morning, without fail. I KNOW it’s her way of saying, “Yup, mini-me is still here and still looks awesome.” (You won’t convince me otherwise) How else to explain why she’s abandoned everything else? Including new additions since then? (So no use trying to say it’s a novelty thing)

Tami’s right – she has the best taste. And, honestly, if it keeps the desk destruction down to minimum, I’m okay with that.

House Arrest

House Arrest

No one enjoys the lockdown process. And now that we’re “celebrating” the one-year anniversary of the first lockdown orders, it’s hitting home with a lot of people. We’ve spent one year donning masks, focusing on washing our hands, and avoiding contact with our human beings. For some people, that’s an endless lifetime. For those of us of the introvert persuasion, it’s more like business as usual (more or less). And while I won’t admit to being a FAN of everything, I haven’t hated it as much as other people.

Until last week.

I’ve been battling issues with my sinuses…well, since I moved to Virginia. As anyone who isn’t a native will tell you, this is the state you come to to develop allergies. I have no idea WHY that’s the case, but you’ll find stories from one end to the other. And I’m no exception. My ENT has changed my medication routine so many times I can’t remember what we’ve tried and what we haven’t (short of injections, where I draw the line). Finally, we decided to run a CT of my sinus passages to check for potential problems. Considering my neuro issues were also undergoing changes – and the fact that the trigeminal nerve sits near the sinuses – it made sense to cover the bases.

Surprise! Turns out my sinuses aren’t normal. (If you know me, this isn’t much of a surprise. Very little of my anatomy is normal) My turbinates were out of alignment AND overly large, I had air trapped within them, and my concha were too big. It led to a natural environment for trapped inflammation – and made me a perfect candidate for a balloon sinuplasty.

(So much for my plan to avoid surgery this year)

If you haven’t ventured into an OR in the past year, there’s a new test required – even for inpatient procedures. That’s right: the COVID test. As someone who hasn’t needed one this entire time (not counting the antibody test they perform each time I donate blood), let me say one thing: that test fucking HURTS! I’ll concede it may not be so bad if you have normal sinuses, but I don’t. I handed over a bloody swab to the nurse who looked at me sideways. And then she dropped the hammer: I wasn’t allowed to set foot outside until my procedure. Which happened to be TEN DAYS away! No one warned me about THAT fact!

Granted, I wasn’t going out a ton. But the weekly trip for groceries let me BREATHE! To suddenly end up trapped in the house, with no chance to shop for the new curtain rods, or pick up my own medications felt like the worst kind of house arrest in the world. I hated it. I’d stand in the window and watch my husband drive off on our basic errands and grumble under my breath. Maybe they were tiny (necessary) trips, but they were my lifeline to the outside world, and now they were gone. I felt like a criminal. Ten days was the worst life sentence. And my mental health took a major hit.

You don’t know what you have until it’s gone.

I was MISERABLE! No walks around the neighborhood. I couldn’t even set foot in the backyard since our neighbors were outside working in their yard (couldn’t risk the possible “contact”). Ten days in the same walls. I didn’t want to do anything. I mean, I did (I needed to write), but I didn’t WANT to. It was a rebellion against the confinement. All I wanted to do was go to the stupid grocery store! My one little outdoor venture! I never thought I’d look FORWARD to a surgery!

Of course, then the procedure happened, and I got a new shock. I knew it was inpatient. I also knew I’d stay awake the entire time. (For the record, listening to your sinuses crack and pop is a level of disturbing I don’t have words for) But they assured me I’d go home and be back on my feet by the next day. So I planned accordingly with my clients.

Never trust doctors.

Within 20 minutes of hitting the recovery room, I knew I was in trouble. The “pain medication” they prescribed may as well have been Tic-Tacs. I almost broke my husband’s hand, and I couldn’t stop the tears. As the staff are using that half-laughing soothing tone that indicates they don’t believe your face was just smashed in with a boulder. It took me more doses than I care to admit (when I got home) to reach a point where I didn’t want to actually bang my head into a wall to make everything stop. And I realized there was no way I could sit at a computer the next day. (Balancing a laptop over my head while reclining sounded a little risky) I had to swallow my pride and send messages to my clients, requesting a “day off.” (Remember, freelancers DON’T get sick days)

Recovery presented a new “normal” for me to cope with. By Monday, I had no choice but to work. I didn’t feel 100%, but I had assignments. If I didn’t get writing done, I’d have no paycheck coming in. Not to mention that I’d end up letting clients down. I had to find the balance between feeling like someone ran over my face and concentrating (it’s fun – I highly recommend it).

As the week progressed, I felt better and better, but things weren’t “normal.” I’ve been exercising five times a week, but my post-op instructions said not until my recheck. And while my body was dragging (it DID just go through an ordeal), I noticed the lack. My legs started cramping in the middle of the night, and my foot would twist – issues I haven’t had in MONTHS. (Not to mention my FitBit giving me crap) I struggled to sleep through the night (part of which, I admit, was due to the fact I couldn’t breathe through my nose).

I felt like shit.

Now, I’m sitting at the beginning of a new week. The majority of the packing has dissolved, letting me breathe like a normal human being again. I’ve got the all-clear to return to exercising, and I’m starting a new program this afternoon (we’ll see how well I do). I’m back to sleeping again – though I still spent most of the weekend unconscious. And I’m allowed to venture into public again (as little as we do that). I’m starting to feel like a human being again.

It’s strange how little it takes to erase those feelings of “normal.” We take them for granted. And I’m not about to say the restrictions need to get lifted (that’s stupid – people are still dying). But I finally understand what the extroverts feel. It was a new perspective on things. Which is never a bad thing. Though I’m still glad to get back to my “normal.”

Rabbit Food

Rabbit Food

Typical healthy meal
Photo by Brodie Vissers from Burst

Before you break out the pitchforks and torches, take a deep breath. I am NOT going to advocate any crazy diet out there with this discussion. I’ve already gone on a rant over the stupidity of meal-planning, remember? (I also went to some lengths on the joys found in cake-tasting, so that should clue you in on the fact that I’m not some diet-Nazi) Every diet fad that’s broken from the surface of hell has peaked and crashed under the burden of scientific evidence. Also, not one works. The best these psychotic crazes manage is to dump any excess water you’re lugging around. You WILL lose weight, but it’s not exactly the fat you were looking to get rid of in the first place.

That said, you DO need to take a look at the food you’re putting into your body. Which is difficult for writers (or any freelancer, really). Why? Because when you get wrapped up in whatever you’re working on, you can’t be bothered to put together something from the…however many food groups the food…I think there’s a pie involved now instead of the pyramid they had when I was a kid. Nope, you grab whatever’s quick. Assuming you grab anything at all. I’ve gone an entire day without food or water because I zoned out completely. My writing brain took over and informed my stomach (and the remainder of my organs, I suppose) that they weren’t vital.

Awesome for the novel I was writing; terrible for my health.

So I graduated to the junk food routine. Mindlessly picking up chips or cookies while I typed? That didn’t require a ton of neurons. The package sat beside me on the desk, and any time I paused, I’d snag something. You know what that diet gets you? Fat. It gets you fat. It also makes your brain feel like crud, which interferes with the creative process. Of the two, when you’re a writer, let me assure you the second is the worse of the two. But it’s so much EASIER than:

  1. Pausing your writing brain
  2. Getting up from the computer
  3. Walking into the kitchen
  4. Putting together even a semi-healthy meal
  5. Attempting to eat and type at the same time

Who wants to go through all of that trouble?! No one. But if you want your body – and brain – to stay healthy and productive, it’s the only answer. (Trust me on this one) Which is why I grumble and fuss and complain EVERY day, but I make myself do it.

But it’s NOT a diet!

Okay, so there’s no junk food in the house in the first place. (There hasn’t been for years) So that eliminates the snacking temptation. I eat breakfast before work starts. That means I can sit down and break out utensils. When I hit the computer, I force myself to watch the clock while I work. When mid-morning comes around, I go back myself a protein shake. It’s a compromise between convenience (I can type with one hand and drink with the other) and health. It also doesn’t take very long to finish, even if I can’t chug the thing. And I’m usually at a place where I’m editing by then, anyway, so the typing’s minimal. It’s a perfect compromise.

A few hours down the road, and I’m ready for lunch. Yes, I have to MAKE lunch. If we don’t have leftovers (a rare occurrence), I have a few easy standbys. My personal favorite is rice cake sandwiches and celery with peanut butter (because I am an adult). Again, I can eat one-handed and type with the other. It’s a balanced diet, complete with protein, carbohydrates, fruit, and vegetables. But it doesn’t slow down my writing process. And my afternoon snack? A granola bar. (Yes, I focus on protein, but I also work out 5-6 times a week, so I’m feeding my muscles) Then my wonderful husband makes us a balanced dinner.

No junk, no AVOIDING meals, and my work doesn’t suffer in the process. I still think it’s annoying, and I complain that I have to GET UP and grab food. But my body likes me better. And I’m eating food I LIKE. Which is probably why I’ve maintained this so-called “diet” and haven’t others I’ve attempted in the past. You better believe I have chocolate now and then. On bad days? When everything falls apart and I want to hide? I have dessert. I refuse to deprive myself. Nothing gets cut from my world. Because as soon as you execute something, you make yourself feel miserable.

There’s a difference between dieting and eating healthy.

And that’s where all of those diet fads miss the message. They pick something out there in the world and condemn it to the depths of hell. And it’s usually something your body NEEDS! You NEED carbohydrates! They fuel your body. Protein rebuilds the muscle you break down every day. Do you need a ton of sugar? No. But is it going to kill you to have a reasonable amount? NO! It’s called a BALANCED diet for a reason. Fruits contain nutrients and vitamins your body needs – and they bring sugar with them. Maybe you need to take it easy if you’re diabetic, but you shouldn’t eliminate them from your life for good!

Diets are stupid. But eating HEALTHY isn’t. And you have to eat healthy when you’re a writer. You have to take the time to pause your brain, get up, and get the food. It’s HARD! You never want to do it. There are a MILLION reasons to avoid those meals (you can eat when you finish – in three months). But your body will HATE you. It devises revenge – trust me on this one. But if you put the proper fuel in the tank, it works happily, and your work improves as a result. It’s kind of a win-win situation.