Writerly Recklessness #10: The Secret Life of Maladaptive Daydreaming

DF-11070-Edit - Ben Stiller in THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty: I love this film. For obvious reasons.

LJ and I sometimes have conversations that go like this:

LJ: Tomorrow morning I’m going into town to look for shoes – if you want to come?

Me:

LJ: PJ?

Me: Yeah

LJ: I’m going to leave about ten. And then I thought it might be nice to have coffee and cake. There’s a new café that’s opened on the high street. They do coffee with a free cookie. Supposed to be really nice. But only if I find shoes – or I’ll have nothing to go with my work outfits…  listening

Me:

LJ: PJ?

Me: Mmmm…

LJ: Are you listening to me?

Me: What’s that?

LJ: Is ten tomorrow ok?

Me: What’s ten tomorrow?

LJ: Going to town.

Me: Oh! Are you going to town tomorrow? What for?

LJ: To buy shoes!

Me: Just asking..!

LJ: *lunges for my throat*

Me: *spluttering* What…?

Apparently, people deliver entire monologues without me hearing a word they’re saying. I have also been known to ask someone if they want a cup of tea, pop out to the kitchen and then return a minute later to ask the question again because I didn’t really listen to the answer the first time round. And I never remember the names of people I’ve just met.

This isn’t because I have a hearing problem – my ears work perfectly well. But I do have a ‘listening’ problem. Sometimes I don’t hear what people are saying to me because I’m actually in the middle of doing something else (writing, reading, watching a film). In those instances I only have one attention mode: Completely Absorbed. That means all other functions are non-operational until the occupying task is complete.

But sometimes I don’t hear what people are saying to me because I’m actually dreaming something else. This is the mode I enter when I’m doing something that doesn’t require a concerted effort of the brain to complete: cooking, gardening, painting, household chores, walking around town, group meetings or being present at social events consisting of more than four people. There are certain practical tasks I’m capable of physically completing without having to be 100% present mentally. I’m pretty sure this is true of all people. We all daydream.

But some of us daydream a little more than others.

When I started learning to drive, my dad’s anxious advice to me was: ‘Remember – you’re driving. Just focus on driving and nothing else’. None of my other siblings were given this rather obvious instruction. Just me. Because, basically, whilst everyone else was concerned about their teenagers consuming vast amounts of alcohol before they got behind the wheel of a vehicle, my parents were more worried about me drifting into some fantasy land at the traffic lights. ‘Don’t Daydream and Drive’ was a genuine campaign in my house.

So, naturally, I was curious when LJ sent me this link ‘The Daydream that Never Stops’: http://bbc.in/2y49Mtf about maladaptive daydreaming. As well as being a fascinating article, it’s also a brilliant piece of multimedia storytelling.

Anyway. Daydreaming. When does it become maladaptive? daydreaming 3

Professor of Clinical Psychology, Eli Somer, who coined the phrase ‘maladaptive daydreaming’ defined it as ‘extensive fantasy activity that replaces human interaction and/or interferes with academic, interpersonal, or vocational functioning.’ Those who suffer with the syndrome are not just your average daydreamers; their daydreaming inhibits their ability to function in everyday life – not because they can’t tell the difference between fantasy and reality – but because they prefer their fantasy world to the real one. For many, this causes them great distress. The fantasy world itself (which tends to be incredibly complex and detailed) isn’t necessarily distressing, but the inability to ‘switch it off’ is. And it is this which causes those with MD to feel stressed and isolated.

At the moment, MD isn’t officially recognised as a mental disorder – though there is research being done on it: what causes it; how far is it pathological; can it be cured; does it need to be cured or simply managed; is it actually a symptom of another disorder; what are the key differences between ‘normal’ daydreaming and maladaptive daydreaming? Much of the developing understanding of MD actually comes from peer support groups on the internet – such as The Wild Minds Network.

This website offers a list of symptoms common to maladaptive daydreamers. You might have MD if:

  • You daydream more often than you think is normal.
  • You’ve built up a character(s) that’s an idealized version of yourself
  • You feel more empowered in your daydreams.
  • You’re starting to enjoy daydreaming better than the real world.
  • Daydreaming is starting to interfere with your day-to-day activities.
  • You might enact some movement, like pacing or moving your hands, (though not everyone does this).
  • Some people make facial expressions, talk, and/or act out their daydreams.

I’d like to clarify now that I learnt to drive just fine. Okay – I learnt to drive just fine eventually. My struggles in learning to drive were largely to do with my lack of hand-eye coordination; inability to judge speed, distance and time; and total confusion over how a car actually worked. Daydreaming had nothing to do with it, because I do have the ability to close the door on the daydreams for a while in order to engage with and enjoy real life. I am not a maladaptive daydreamer.

I’m a writer. Daydreaming 1

Or – more accurately, a story-teller. Most stories I only tell to myself, some of them make it on to a page, and even fewer of those become completed works that I’m happy to share with others. But none of these cause me distress or prevent me from living a relatively normal life – or at least one that I’m mostly happy with. I do identify with quite a few ‘symptoms’ on the list – I admit I have caught myself making faces or mouthing dialogue from a fantasy scene whilst washing the dishes… and only sometimes is this related to a plot I’m intending to write.

But I also know how to be present in the moment of the real life I am living: when I’m at a family meal, or tramping through the countryside, or at a music concert, or giving LJ advice on shoes, or having a heart-to-heart over coffee and a free cookie. Yes, background daydreaming still occurs in some of those moments – but it stays in the background with a ‘re-visit later’ post-it note on it. At some point I know I’ll be cleaning the bathroom, doing the dishes, or sipping a drink in a corner at a party (ha-ha – only joking – I don’t get invited to parties) and free to daydream.

Most importantly I know that, at some point, all my daydreaming will come together to take on a form and purpose – to go through a process of alchemy and transform from the plotting of the mind in to words on a page. Because, at some point, I will absolutely settle myself in a quiet place, rip off the ‘re-visit later’ post-its and write.

Daydreams 2

Who knows – perhaps writing is what keeps my daydreaming from becoming maladaptive? It’s important to note that most maladaptive daydreamers don’t actually want to lose their daydreaming or their fantasy world – they just want to manage how much of their time and attention is consumed by it so they can enjoy real life just as much.

A world without daydreaming? Sounds as horrifying as a world without music. Is that yet another dystopian plot idea that’s just hatched? Just kidding… but not really

This is also a very informative article on maladaptive daydreaming: http://theatln.tc/2zJrpxq

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Ready, Stencil, Go…!

IMG_20171018_144853_947Here are my recent attempts to create graffiti stencils for some The Divinity Laws (http://bit.ly/TheDivinityLaws1) artwork. Clearly I am not Banksy. Or an artist. Or someone with a steady hand. Though I have only managed to stab myself a couple of times – so far.

Things I’ve learnt:

  • Always stencil at a desk and not on your lap – even a thick piece of cardboard is not protection from an over-enthusiastic jab of the craft knife…
  • Best to move the material you are stencilling around and not your wrist – or you’ll cripple your radiocarpal joint and have nurse it with a heat pack for the next two days.
  • Angular designs are much easier.
  • Curves are hard/impossible.
  • The letter ‘S’ should be avoided at all cost.
  • The more ambitious the design, the more stencils you need to create the necessary layers.
  • Think carefully about what you’re doing or you’ll just end up with… well… confetti.

Writerly Recklessness #9: ‘If music be the food of… INSPIRATION, then playLIST on…!

mocha-dad-shakespeare-blog-cartoon1Worst. Shakespeare. Pun. Ever.

I’ve been thinking a lot about music.

In fact, I currently feel like some sort of music addict:

  • Working? Spotify.
  • Driving? Album – currently Rationale’s eponymous debut, on its 8th? 9th? Okay – probably 12th round.
  • Cooking/Washing up? Radio.
  • Ironing? Music channel.
  • Lying in bed after lights out? MP3.
  • In the bath? Spotify again.
  • Food shop? Whatever’s playing on the supermarket sound system.
  • Out and about in public? Humming/Singing loudly (and unrecognisably) the tune that last got stuck in my head.

It’s a good thing music is a legal drug, or I’d be selling my left kidney or pimping out the cat (who’s been insufferably fat and fluffy today) for poggles, just to hit the next score off some indie-alternative-rock-track dealer. A world where music is banned? *shudder* Just had an idea for another dystopian story though… hands off – it’s mine!

Music is like a drug though – it has an actual physical effect on your brain for a start. That’s not me exaggerating – that’s SCIENCE. Tons of research has been done on how music can affect your mood, concentration, productivity, intelligence and memory. Recent studies show that music can increase brain connectivity, and ‘musical intonation therapy’ is a treatment that has been successful in restoring speech functions in patients who have suffered some sort of trauma to the brain.

p04kthzq

Music can also increase certain chemicals in the brain, such as dopamine (makes you happy*) and oxytocin (makes you sociable*) – which, particularly in a communal setting, can lead to a type of heightened emotional, almost spiritual experience. If you’ve ever been to a live music concert or festival, you know what I mean. And there is a reason for an entire genre of music being called ‘Trance’…

It’s a fascinating topic, which plenty of experts have explored, tested, theorised and written lengthy theses on. Being naturally self-absorbed though, I’ve mostly been thinking about the influence of music on me as a writer.

I think Shakespeare recognised something significant about music when he wrote the opening lines of Twelfth Night:

‘If music be the food of love, play on….

… That strain again, it had a dying fall.

Oh, it came o’er my ear like the sweet sound,

That breathes upon a bank of violets,

Stealing and giving odour.’

It’s fairly obvious, from his monologue, that Orsino is in love with feeling in love – and that music is ‘feeding’ this elevated emotion. Shakespeare highlights the power music has to evoke in us a particular mood or feeling. Centuries later, the philosopher Susanne Langer echoed this idea when she wrote that music has the ability to create in us ‘emotions and moods we have not felt, passions we did not know before.’ 3139f44f7ba6db20dc8ee7f9b01f02dd

Personally, this is what music does for me, as a writer: it brings a particular tone, mood or emotion to what I am writing. Or it brings the story itself. I’m especially drawn to music that has an epic, narrative quality to it, and, sometimes, a particular piece will create a new unexpected aspect to a current plot or create its own independent story.

Susanne Langer also stated, in her book Philosophy in a New Key: A Study in the Symbolism of Reason, Rite, and Art, that:

‘The imagination that responds to music is personal and associative and logical, tinged with affect, tinged with bodily rhythm, tinged with dream, but concerned with a wealth of formulations for its wealth of wordless knowledge, its whole knowledge of emotional and organic experience, of vital impulse, balance, conflict, the ways of living and dying and feeling.’

531ec22ef33b52a635127b926a1f735d.jpgEssentially – music (and art in general) is a way of expressing human experience and feeling that cannot be expressed by ‘discursive symbols’ (science and language). And it’s odd, because, as a writer, I’m using the non-discursive symbol of music to facilitate my efforts to express that ‘wordless knowledge’ Langer mentions  – in the form of the ‘discursive symbol’ of the written word. Isn’t this what all fiction writers are trying to achieve? An expression of the ‘knowledge of emotional and organic experience, of vital impulse, balance, conflict, the ways of living and dying and feeling’ – in words, black and white, on a page? We want our work to inspire in the same way music does – to make the reader feel something they perhaps haven’t felt before.

This is where I paused to google the effect that reading fiction has on the brain. Findings? imagination_by_akiraalion-dawk529

  • Reading fiction improves connectivity in the brain.
  • Reading fiction enhances both Embodied Cognition (putting yourself in the protagonists shoes to the extent that motor and perceptual systems in the body are stimulated*) and Theory of Mind (the ability to understand that other people’s minds exist as distinct and different from our own – allowing the development of empathy and compassion*).

So…

Writers.

Muscians.

We’re alike, right? We do the same thing! That’s a logical conclusion… isn’t it?

Either way, I have a serious writerly addiction to music. I don’t necessarily absolutely need music to write – I would survive without it – but I want it when I write: I want to put on my headphones, plug myself in to a playlist, and immerse myself entirely in the soundtrack of my WIP (yes, I have a playlist** for each novel I write – did I mention I’m addicted to music?).

As music does seem to be the food of inspiration, I will continue to playlist on… and on… and on – probably until that music-less dystopian future arrives. Or I at least write that particular novel. What would a playlist for that sound like? Would the irony be too much..? e22b7e37b4ce39c016d88762a95c4f4e--music-life-my-music

 

*scientific definitions

**if you’re interested, this is the playlist for The Divinity Laws #1: http://bit.ly/TDL1PLYLIST

 

 

 

Writerly Recklessness #8: Rejection, Rejection Everywhere!

Rejection635970309801330829-46564799_rejection.jpg

Not a pleasant word.

Just look at the synonyms: denial, refusal, exclusion, repudiation, dismissal, rebuff.

And then in more colloquial terms: turndown, cold shoulder, brush off, kick in the teeth, slap in the face, thumbs down, nothing doing.

Ah, yes. Kick in the teeth. That pretty much sums it up.

And then look at the official definition (Oxford Dictionary)

  1. The dismissing or refusing of a proposal, idea, etc.

Not so bad. Not so personal.

But then, this:

  1. The action of spurning a person’s affections.

Ouch. Much worse. About as personal as it gets.

I would say that writerly rejection falls somewhere between those two camps – the dismissing of an idea, yes – but the dismissing of MY idea – and the suggestion that someone else’s idea is better than mine and therefore, they are better at having ideas than I am. I am not a good ideas person. I am not a good person. Even worse, I am a bad writer. And WHY IS EVERYONE REJECTING ME?

*Ahem*…. Just me?

Either way, the dictionary defines it as an act – but it doesn’t take much to turn it into a rather over-whelming and very, VERY personal feeling.

ValentineReject_005-500wNo wonder why we fear it so much. We fear it in our jobs, our relationships, our social status, and even on the internet (ever been ‘unfriended’ or ‘unfollowed’?). No wonder we try to avoid it – if we can.

And here is the problem with those who work – or, more precisely, are trying to have some small glimmer of success – in the creative industries: rejection is inevitable. It’s going to happen. For the luckiest ones, it will happen for a short while and then suddenly there will be that wonderful antonym of our soul’s worse fear: acceptance! A foot in the door, an opportunity to prove your talent. That’s all any of us really want, isn’t it?

For the majority, however, it will be one soul-crushing rebuff, refusal, and repudiation after another. In theory, it’s the idea, proposal or work that is being rejected, not the person. Employers, for example, haven’t even met you before they decide whether to give you an interview or not. Their decision is mostly influenced by the appeal of the other candidates – perhaps someone happened to have experience in an area that you didn’t. Or (apologies for the cynicism) perhaps the other person was just that bit cheaper. It’s not you they are rejecting – just your C.V.

It’s not personal.

Or is it?

Because after a while, it starts to feel like it is.

‘WHAT’S WRONG WITH ME?’ you cry.

And if you’re me, you literally cry – ugly, snotty-face-cry – into a pillow or sharing-size packet of crisps.

Maintaining a positive, objective perspective on rejection is hard. It’s hard for anyone, any time, in any circumstance. Rejected-5-Reasons-Why-Your-Small-Business-Wont-Get-Financed

But it feels even worse if you’re a writer, musician, actor, dancer etc. I can’t imagine the level of rejection experienced by anyone who has to actually physically leave the house in order to be rejected. You must have to develop a very thick skin and highly elevated self-esteem to get over the rejections of numerous auditions. At least as a writer you get rejected in the safety of your own home and via an electronic device or letter (do people still do letters now?). No matter how hard you try to keep hold of that rational, objective perspective, it does feel that your affections are being spurned rather than simply the premise of your book. Especially if you are particularly fond of your work and have poured all of your affections into its creation…

There is a plus side though.

Really there is.

I’m not being sarcastic.

Here are the positives:

1.  If you’re going to get rejected at all, you can’t be rejected in a nicer way than by a literary agent.

They’re lovely.

rejection-690x175I open most email responses from literary agents with one eye shut and skim quickly for the line beginning ‘Unfortunately…’. But once I’ve abruptly closed the email, digested the news, had five chocolate biscuits and then re-opened the response, I generally find a rather sweet, kind message – sincerely apologetic and encouraging.

For example:

‘Thank you for giving the [NAME OF AGENCY] a chance to consider your work. And for your patience in waiting for a reply. Unfortunately [TITLE OF WORK] is not right for us. The result is that we have to be incredibly selective, so please do not be too disheartened. Another agent may well feel differently.  We wish you the very best of luck in the future.’

Or

Thank you for sending us your work, which we have read with interest.  Although we did enjoy looking at your material, in the end we felt it wasn’t quite right for [NAME OF AGENCY]. We have to feel absolutely passionate about a new project before taking it on and we didn’t feel strongly enough in this case.  Please do not be discouraged by our response and we hope you find an agent with the right amount of enthusiasm for your work. We’d also like to thank you for thinking of [NAME OF AGENCY].

Or this:

‘Thank you for sending us your work and for your patience in waiting to hear from us, we really appreciate this. We have read this submission with great interest, but we are really sorry to say that we are not able to offer you representation for this work. We very much enjoyed your writing style and the characters that you created, but unfortunately we didn’t fall in love with the story in the way that we would need to. As we are receiving a very large number of submissions at the moment, we have to be extremely selective with the work that we choose to represent. We apologise for the disappointing response and as this is such a subjective industry we would strongly recommend that you send your work to as many other agencies as possible. We wish you every success with your writing.’

Yes, I still feel crap for about an hour afterwards (this is progress – used to be days – got it down to about an hour of self-pitying – aiming for ten minutes eventually), but I also feel someone has shown me some compassion and empathy. They know what it is to be rejected and have tried to soften the blow a little. I actually well-up a little looking back on them – with a genuine feeling of gratitude and fondness that someone didn’t just stamp on my heart, laugh in my face and tell me ‘never to darken their inbox with such a load of trite ever again’. Not that a professional would say such a thing these days, I’m sure…?

PeanutsCartoon01

Errr…

Anyway – the general tone of these emails restores my faith in humanity a little. And my faith in myself.  And my book. Which is important, because you’ve got to have faith in your book to get back up on the computer, click the ‘compose new message’ button and try again. And again. And again. And again…

So, thank you, literary agents everywhere, for your rejections. They are the nicest I could ever hope to receive. Honestly.

4aa5831adf2a5f5e38ad57adeb605e5d--paperback-writer-writer-quotes2.  Every rejection is evidence that you tried.

I’m pretty sure there’s only one feeling that is worse than rejection – and that’s regret. And I have a whole catalogue of rejection that I will NEVER regret.

3.  Every rejection is one rejection closer to an acceptance.

Sending out submissions is a bit like setting your book up on lots of dates. It will certainly never fnd THE ONE sitting at home feeling sorry for itself. One day, someone, somewhere, will love your book as much as you do. Probably.

Who knows..? Only those who DON’T GIVE UP.

 

Writerly Recklessness #7: Edit me this, edit me that…

Things I learned learnt from my editor:

  1. It’s impossible to edit your own work thoroughly. Even if you are used to editing other people’s work, writers have a MASSIVE blind spot when it comes to their own work.
  2. The English Language has an awful lot of words that must be hyphenated.
  3. American: learned, burned, leaned. British: learnt, burnt, leant. Sorted. Directors-Chair-616x313
  4. I have an inner Obsessive Compulsive Director who insists matter-of-factly on carefully and wryly telling characters exactly how they should constantly act and dryly speak – or shrug. Mostly shrug.
  5. There is no synonym for the verb ‘shrug’ in the English language. WHY?! I think this needs rectifying. Any ideas? I’m going to suggest ‘shraise’. ‘He shraised his shoulders’.    Gramatica-para-tontos
  6. Inside of me, lives a little Yoda, who sometimes likes, with my phrasing, to screw around.
  7. Who knows what other repressed personalities are waiting for their time in the writerly limelight?
  8. Interesting debates can arise from editorial notes: What defines a hiss? How similar is dialogue to tennis? Why is there a hair colour defined as ‘mousy-brown’ when mice come in a range of colours? Are Americanisms permitted in a British text just because the author ‘really, really likes them’?
  9. I secretly enjoy treading the thin line between respecting the rules of grammar and maniacally shouting ‘sod the rules!’ as I throw them out of the window.
  10. I really, really, really have an irrational aversion to exclamation marks!!! editor
  11. Editors are tough. But fair. Generally in equal measure.
  12. Writers are stubborn. And reckless. Recklessly stubborn. But only about 80% of the time – on a good day…
  13. I am an awesome writer. I have no justification for this statement. I just got immense satisfaction from writing it.
  14. A good editor is invaluable to a writer, and should be rewarded with supplies of post-it notes, rainbows of coloured pens and bags of gratitude.

But until I get round to putting those in the post… mine’s getting a silly cartoon instead:

obsessive-compulsive-editing

 

 

Writerly Recklessness #7: Battling the Beast

Rey-with-Lightsaber-627Every day, I do battle with the same monster.

Some days, if I’m feeling strong in the forces of discipline and determination, I defeat it pretty easily.

On others days, I’ve lost before I’ve even got out of bed: the beast already has me in a headlock and I completely fail to wrestle my way out of it. On those nights, as I go to bed way past my bedtime, I vow to be victorious in the morning. I basically make the same vow every night.

This persistent, ugly, sniggering creature has one name but many faces. It’s called DISTRACTION and it’s a sneaky, shapeshifting menace that doesn’t play fair.

It comes in many forms. Here are a few: mass-distraction-rrv33n

  • The Internet: like, EVERYTHING out there in cyberspace.
  • Mobile phone: Way too much texting/Whatsapping about: being hungry, what the cat just did, what’s new on Netflix, random song lyrics, pictures of the cat sleeping, the lack of chocolate in the house, a new song on the radio, questions about whether there’s anything edible in the house at all, and what has the cat brought in this time?  days4
  • Food: does this need an explanation?
  • Housework: As I sit down to write, little niggling thoughts poke at my brain – such as: ‘Just give the place a quick hoover’; ‘You only have to tidy that one overflowing drawer in the kitchen’; ‘Ten minutes to file paperwork’. All of these are lies. There is no way my perfectionism is going to let me not spring-clean the entire place from top to bottom.
  • Cats: both real and on Youtube. Cat doing a somersault, cats playing patty-cake, cats in boxes, real cat freaking himself out over nothing…   561-author-writing-a-book
  • Memes/ecards/cartoons: Mostly about felines. Sometimes about writing.
  • Things other people send or give you: emails, articles, books, leaflets, ‘read this’ links, ‘watch this’ videos, ‘listen to this’ podcasts, text messages checking you’re still alive…
  • Social life: Just kidding. I don’t have one of those.
  • Binges: A side-effect of my writerly single-mindedness (honestly, it’s really not a major personality flaw!). A tendency to binge on things that trigger my interest/curiosity/enthusiasm/nerdism. This might be films, television series, music, authors, art, artistes, history, psychology, social studies etc. The result of this trigger is spending an excessive amount of time (anything from a day to a month) ‘binging’ on that particular topic.
  • Books: That seductive mountain of unread books that beg for just a little attention – ‘Just one chapter,” they whisper. “Come and read us… it’s all right – you can say it’s part of your ‘creative process’. We won’t tell anyone…”
  • Research: Amazing how doing a quick search for ‘parts of a skateboard’ can find one reading, several hours later, a Wikipedia page on the parietal lobe.
  • ALL the stories: Trying to write a novel is like being a parent to a hundred children and having to neglect ninety-nine to get just one through to adulthood. Generally, my offspring are pretty well-behaved, but you always get a few who just won’t sit down and shut up.

bca3a1bc0edfdc50370deab662ed1e7cc2c91199468cdeca90e939fa4a6496e6

That’s just a small sample of the dastardly forms that the DISTRACTION beast takes. I can be very good at recognising a DISRACTION ploy and clamping down on it hard and fast. However, just recently, the Look!-Over-There! master-mind caught me at a particularly vulnerable moment and completely derailed me from writing TDL#3. It was a two-pronged attack, which followed up a binge with a new story idea.

Low, DISTRACTION monster. Really low – even for you.

Being caught utterly off guard, I woke with a Short Story Idea in my head. Not one that was just content germinating quietly in the background, but one that jumped to the front of the queue and waved a hand vigorously in my face. So low was my resistance that I had a pathetic ten second struggle:

SSI: WRITE ME!

ME: I’m busy.

SSI: Go on. You know I’m a good one.

ME: Maybe later.

SSI: I’m short. It won’t take long.

ME: I shouldn’t.

SSI: Instant gratification.

ME: *opens new word document*

So. I wrote it. I never write short stories. But now I have a smugly, self-satisfied one and I don’t know what to do with it.

Trying to figure out where to put this new fidgety fledging is a whole new dilemma I’ve not had before. giphy.gif

Well played DISTRACTION beast.

Well played.