Looking after my brain’s reward system

As someone who’s used to receiving regular rewards through a reward system of milestones via the education system and then the corporate ladder, it’s been hard to feel valuable now that I’m no longer in either of those systems.

Left to my own devices for more hours of the day than I’m used to, I’m often contemplating my next move.  Without regular stimulation to my reward system, I wonder if I’m spending today productively, or if I’m being lazy or stagnating.  I spend a decent portion of the day working, but I still feel lazy.

Every day, I reach a different conclusion about my next move:

  1. Writing is something I’ve always wanted to pursue.  Through blogging or self-publishing, I will be able to try my hand at a lifelong dream.
  2. Writing is something that I’ve always wanted to pursue.  I should try to make writing my day job by finding related employment.
  3. I’m wasting years invested in a corporate career.  I should return to the corporate ladder and keep striving to climb.  Even though it made me miserable and fat.
  4. I’m wasting years invested in a corporate career.  I should return to the corporate world but find a job that just pays the bills.  I can stop climbing for the rest of my life, as long as I’m not stressed and fat.  But what if one day I get made redundant?

 

After contemplation, I’ve realised this exhausting loop of settling on different conclusions daily is a lack of stimulation to my brain’s reward system.

I used to be motivated by an award from my teachers, a pat on the back from my parents, or a promotion from my boss.  Nowadays, it’s up to me to do that for myself. Admittedly I should enforce more clear structure and goals to my days.  But even when I do, nothing I achieve feels like it was challenging enough or worthwhile enough.  My brain’s reward system remains woefully unstimulated.

I used to be motivated by an award from my teachers, a pat on the back from my parents, or a promotion from my boss.  Nowadays, it’s up to me to do that for myself.

It makes me crave a reward, the type that I’m used to, an acknowledgement from a formal system that I’m valuable as a human being and evidence of my continuous self-improvement.
It makes me want to rejoin the corporate ladder and work long hours and climb climb climb, so someone can give me a good performance review, a promotion, a small bonus, or something that makes me feel valuable.

This is completely irrational too, as my personal experiences in the corporate ladder have taught me that my insatiable desire to please others left me vulnerable to less scrupulous colleagues.  I traded my physical and mental wellbeing for a pat on the back, and by the end I was a fat, stressed, anxious husk of a being who lived with my family yet managed to not see them for weeks on end.

Yet the tumultuous waves of logic and emotion keep tumbling through my mind, and every day I have a different conclusion and a different goal.  It’s exceedingly tiresome and I’m getting sick of myself.

Dear friends, how do you keep your brain’s reward system stimulated and motivated?  

 

 

(Featured image source: PourquoiPas on Pixabay)

 

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Social anxiety and the shut-in writer

My last day job often required to talk and collaborate with people all day, face-to-face.  Whilst I could do it if I required, it always left me with the feeling of having ‘lost’ something.

Before I joined the workforce 7 years ago, I was an anime-loving, website-building, games-playing nerd (and I say that with pride!), who made a good portion of her friends online via the big beautiful World Wide Web.  Friendships were easy to form from the safety of my bedroom, without a set of eyes staring and scrutinising me closely.

Naturally I loved to read.  Reading was another way of making new friends and going on exciting adventures from the safety of your bedroom.  To write is also to meet your own characters and visit any number of worlds and alternate universes, without the scrutinising eyes of a real human being.

Is this a simple personal preference, or a reflection of social anxiety or low self-esteem?

I think it may be the latter.

In me, it also translates to a fear of failure and a fear of criticism or not being good enough.  As a writer, it also meant I wrote:

  • Half-hearted drafts, before they were abandoned for not being good enough to continue with (never mind the fact that that is the exact point of writing drafts!)
  • Unpublished blogs and entries (they might be completed but they’re also my creations, my ‘babies’.  Afraid of critical feedback and disagreement, I kept them tucked safely in the ‘unpublished’ section forever)

But today, I want to stop being a shut-in writer!

I want to put my words and thoughts in the world, and I’m ready to hear what you think!  I want to know if you think if my writing is amazing, absolute crap or somewhere in between. I want to hear your suggestions for my improvement or any experiences and advice to share.

I want to stop being a shut-in writer, and I want to become a writer.

You’ll never get anywhere if you don’t try, and that would be worse than failing.

Dear shut-in or formerly shut-in writers, please let me know if your concerns, fears and your journey so that we can learn from each other.

 

(Image source: bLaugh)

A Muse returns

Hi friends,

I talked before of being stuck in an accounting job for so long that my brain had finally lost all ability to create and invent (which no ethical accountant should do, haha 😝), only able to add, subtract, debit and credit.

It seems 6 months away from accounting is the magic milestone, where my brain started to flow a little more again.

Whilst I completely failed to try and write every day, there were days that I did write and bounce around with ideas (mostly silly ones) and short narratives (because my lack of discipline never brought me to anything longer). And it was one day whilst playing with an idea about a story of penguins, a surge of newfound inspiration and interest hit me for an earlier idea I had been unable to develop.
It seems like just purely trying to exercise my writing muscle was what I really needed, even if the whole time I felt like I was making no progress at all:

I’m so grateful that somewhere a Muse has returned to bless me with a small trickle of creativity.

When you’re experiencing a creative block, what’s your go-to to get out of it?

(Picture credit: Jim C Hines)

6 years late in chasing my dreams 

Today WordPress sent me a congratulation message on the 6-year anniversary of this WordPress page. As you may notice however, the first published blog entry is only from a few weeks ago!

This was a poignant reminder to myself to get off my ass, push my sleeves up and get to work!

Six years ago I thought I would give a proper try at pursuing writing and maybe even one day lucky enough to call it my profession. I created this blog to share interesting and meaningful thoughts and hope to see it gain traction with an audience. Fear of failure, fear of criticism– in the end I left a bunch of stale essays saved in draft mode, never to be posted publicly.

In the end, I sat on my hands and didn’t pursue writing any further. I took up my day job as an accountant and that was that for the next 6 years.  
This reminder from WordPress comes at an opportune time for me. Progress is stagnating (procrastination my old friend, did you have to return so quickly?) as I begin working on a new idea. This reminder is the prod I needed to remember to not let another 6 years go past!

You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take right? Even if my final work sucks, at least I’ll have finished writing it and given it a real try.

Flexing the writing muscle

To be honest, writing is hard.  Creating a brand new world is hard.  Creating characters who are almost living, breathing, changing creatures is hard.  Creating and maintaining a narrative that brings the reader on a breathless and captivating journey is hard.

I’ve never managed to maintain a long narrative.  The best I’ve done is a 40k word short story for my HSC major work (part of Australia’s university entrance assessments), and I never did love that piece of work too much either.

Now I think I’ve bitten off more than I can chew.  As I try to plan, all I’ve managed to do is find gaping plot holes in own proposed narrative.  The temptation to procrastinate is strong (I acknowledge I greatly lack discipline.)

Since I’ve never managed to finish more than a short story in my life and I’ve not actually written a short story in the last 4-5 years anyway, I thought I might be better off flexing my writing muscle by returning to short stories before trying to write a whole novel (or, gasp, trilogy!)

My plan of approach is to set myself a genre, use a random image generator to help that spark of inspiration, and try to write a couple of short stories.

Hopefully that exercise will help get my writing muscle going, and hopefully I’ll produce a few gems through this exercise too!

The most common advice I hear/read for aspiring writers is “write everyday, anything, something.”  What are your tips or tricks to try and improve your writing capabilities? 

A little trope never killed nobody

Continuing on from my last post, World Building Fears, I’ve decided to stop illogically fighting my mind’s natural inclination to borrow from tropes simply for the sake of fighting it.

Trope exists because it communicates a familiar and known set of information to the reader.  It is a useful tool that communicates more than just the words you have written on a page.  As I’m writing, tropes sometimes comes to mind at times because they are what I have learned and absorbed as a reader.

Just because something is trope doesn’t make it bad, just as being original and different from trope doesn’t necessarily mean good.  After all, there are countless stories set in good ol’ medieval Europe, telling stories of romance, politics, warfare, treachery, and the like.  Why some achieve success and others don’t is because of how the world, characters and stories can engage a reader.  

For example, George R R Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire– he does not shy away from trope, such as the sexualised wicked woman trope in Cersei or Melisandre. These characters remain powerful, interesting and vital to the story because they are well-written and complex.  Just because the sexualised wicked woman is a well-known trope doesn’t automatically make the characters two dimensional and flat.  When he goes against trope, such as the invincible hero, his character deaths makes an impact to the story, not just an arbitrary event for the sake of denying trope. 

When I contemplated writing a concept borrowed from medieval European folklore in a medieval Asian world setting, this was not for a meaningful reason.  I just wanted to lean away from the medieval European tropes that kept coming to mind for no reason other than that.  It would not have improved the quality of writing.  Likely the opposite as I would be writing a poorly explained world and story which mismatched against the expected assumptions both I and a reader might apply from internalised understanding of tropes. 

Hope my blathering about tropes hasn’t bored you!  This was the closure I had finally reached regarding my fear of tropes since my last post so thought I should share my thought process.  

What have your own experiences with tropes been as a reader, and particularly a writer? 

World building fears

Today I’ve started putting earnest thought into world building.  The mood of the world is so important not just as a reader but also the writer.  How to be engaged in your writing otherwise?

I started off finding myself assuming my world should be a certain way because that’s the common trope world for the fantasy element my story centres on, and feeling bored and uninterested in it.  It is not a world that at this moment I feel drawn to, to live in, to place my consciousness within.

And then lo and behold, silly me realised that no, if you are world building from scratch, what on earth means you need to apply a trope or anything against your own preference?

I’m now trying to determine if I can apply a Medieval Asian world to a mythical element drawn from European folklore, and still create a believable story.  A part of me says, “yes this is my story so I’ll do what I want.” Another part of me says, “it just feels a little funny against a reader’s expectations.”

Tropes do after all also serve a purpose.  Assumed information can allow a reader to understand more than is immediately said.  

If I’m careful about how I draw in the European folklore into an Asian setting, perhaps it won’t create a jarring experience……… and certainly there may be parallels in Asian folklore that can be applied.

To be honest too, I’m just intimidated by the task of world building.  There have been some truly great fantasy worlds created by talented authors that I could not seek to equal. As I try to create, I constantly find gaps, flaws and inconsistencies in my own logic, things that don’t make sense in the world I’m creating.

The last fantasy book I read (or re-read for the millionth time) was by Jacqueline Carey set primarily in an alternate medieval France.  She has created worlds so rich and vibrant and broad that I could almost reach out and touch those worlds.  As I try to create, I can’t help comparing what I have on a page in front of me to her glowing complete worlds.  It makes no sense I know to compare my incomplete draft chicken scratchings to a published work, but I still, stupidly and irrationally, do.

Now I’m leaning away from recreating my own medieval European world and try to find another place that I might be able to better create from scratch, not having something so close to mind for comparison……..

In terms of action plan, I think I might create a rough framework of a world first and try to start writing a first chapter and at least see how it feels.  Does it feel right and bode worth investing more in?

I’m sure I sound quite asinine right now.  Any advice on defeating that voice in my head that constantly reminds me that I’m hopelessly incapable and leaves me muddling around indecisively is very much appreciated.