Moving to a different site

Attention, my beautiful readers!

I have some exciting news, my blog has moved to a different website: Please follow me there for any news and updates about psychology and writing. This blog will become inactive as of July 19, 2014. 


Cheers, Shadow  


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5 steps to overcome writer’s block

Hello, beautiful people!

Today I will share some secrets I have learned to overcoming writer‘s block. They have been extremely helpful to me and I hope that you will find them helpful as well.

  1. As a novice who still has no idea what I’m doing, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and nervous about what people will think about you or feel under pressure to write up to  a certain standard. Sometimes I would even find myself imagining what someone might say about my work. I found that this not only made me more anxious, but actually made me resentful and made me not wish to continue or make changes for other people (e.g. taking out adult language for the fear of what my mother will think if she actually reads it). Clearly, the story was no longer mine, I was a prisoner of pleasing my imaginary readers. Once I reverted back to the story I wanted to tell, I felt that I got my voice back and the story flowed more naturally and felt much less forced. I know that letting go of expectations or comparing your work to the works you admire is harder than it sounds but I promise you that once you stop paying attention to those internal hijacking voices and begin moving in the direction of your values (e.g. writing, creating, etc.), you will find yourself much more fulfilled. Here’s a helpful video analogy, which helped me overcome my internal hijackers (i.e. my insecurities): Remember, that only you have the ability to tell your story and if you don’t believe me, ask Neil Gaiman
  2. When I first started writing I felt completely alone and obviously, very scared, which prevented me from writing. What really helped me get through that was meeting other writers on social forums, such as Twitter, reading inspiring quotes, especially those published by Jon Winokur (@AdviceToWriters), if you’re a writer and are on Twitter, you need to follow this man! He’s brilliant. Lastly, interviewing people whom you admire is also extremely helpful. For example, I’m a fan of Michelle Muto’s work, especially her book Don’t Fear the Reaper. I began to follow Michelle on Twitter (@MichWritesBooks) and then asked her for an interview. She agreed and the advice she gave me was extremely valuable, providing me with a lot of useful information regarding Indie Publishing, which greatly reduced my anxiety. You can check out the interview here:
  3. Next, is a writer’s circle. At first I was extremely nervous about attending one and about presenting my work to others. However, the critique, the suggestions, and the abundance of peer support cannot be compared to anything else and I’m so glad I did it. Many times we are unable to see our story from another person’s perspective. Peers are able to let you know if something wasn’t clear and needs to be explained more, catch an inconsistency in the plot that you missed, or provide invaluable suggestions and support (as well as cookies!) 🙂
  4. When I’m writing a specific story (usually fiction), what really helps me get into my writing groove is to try to match my environment with the mood in my story. I try to provide as much sensory input as possible to truly experience the emotion that my character is experiencing. This might involve lighting candles, playing certain soundtracks (e.g. rain soundtrack for particularly sad scenes), or watching relevant TV clips. Lately I have been working on a story where the leading character is a villain, so what has been really working for me is listening (and often rewatching) the super awesome Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog with Neil Patrick Harris, Felicia Day, and Joss Whedon. I printed out the lyrics and I have to say that singing along with the soundtrack (especially “Brand New Day“) makes writing much more fun for me and allows me to get into the right mindset. photo
  5. The final step in overcoming writer’s block for me is intrinsic motivation/reinforcement. I’ve read many suggestions for overcoming writer’s block, which suggest that you should reward yourself (i.e., use extrinsic reinforcement) after you have fulfilled your writing requirements by indulging in a treat or allowing yourself to catch up on your favorite TV show. That might work for some writers. I personally did not find this useful, quite the contrary. If I rewarded myself or promised to reward myself for writing, then it became a chore, something to get “done with” and move on to the good stuff. What helped me was the application of the “Tom Sawyer effect.” If you remember Mark Twain‘s famous novel, a little boy, Tom Sawyer, was punished by having to paint his aunt’s fence. He tried getting out of it by offering some of his possessions to his friends in exchange for them doing the work for him. His friends refused because it sounded like an intolerable chore. Then Tom decided to use another strategy, he told a different set of friends that he enjoyed painting the fence because it made him feel like an artist and that there wasn’t anything in the world they could offer him to let them paint the fence. Soon boys were lining up to paint the fence and offering him everything they had. In reality, if we are rewarded for something we love doing anyway, we might not like doing it anymore, this is called the overjustification effect and it occurs because we no longer experience the intrinsic pleasure of doing something we love and are doing it for the reward. What I do instead is use writing as a reward for chores, for example, if I finish writing  a research grant or finish the dishes, I allow myself to indulge in writing fiction. I have to tell you, I treasure my writing time, I love it and as a result of it being intrinsically motivating to me, I always yearn to do it instead of dreading it.

These are my secrets to reducing writer’s block. I hope they were helpful to you.

Wishing everyone a wonderful Solstice and Merry Holidays!


Shadow Quill

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What if Joker was a science teacher? More on character development

As a writer and as a scientist I’m always asking “what would happen if…” Today I am wondering what would happen if Joker was a science teacher. What if instead of having students carefully place tiny sodium chips in a beaker of water in a chemistry class, Joker would teach his students how to make real explosions? What if in the physics class, Joker would not only explain how electricity works but also how to use it to gain power (pun intended).

What if instead of dissecting the brains of dead frogs in biology, Joker taught how to split open the skull of a live human with a pair of scissors? If Joker taught my neuroscience class, he would probably have figured out how to intimidate those without the functioning amygdala and he would probably find a way to use Capgras syndrome to his advantage.

Sometimes asking such “what if” or “what would happen if” questions, as extreme or nonsensical as they may be, we can get a great idea for a story or character or serendipitously solve a problem we have not been able to solve for another story. When creating characters or plot, ask as many “what if” questions as you can, they can greatly help you guide your story. Also, you can use “what if” questions in a writing circle or by yourself for writing exercises. These can greatly improve your writing and allow you to take a tour of your imagination.

Happy writing and spooky Halloween!




Filed under Fantasy, Horror, I have no idea what I'm doing, NaNoWriMo, Science Fiction, writing help

A little bit of magic

When writing fantasy, it’s always exciting to use magic. Magic allows us to escape reality and do the kind of things we never thought were possible in real life.

The trouble with magic, just like the trouble with time machines, is that you should use it sparingly. If everything can be changed using magic, then there might not be any negative consequences for misusing it. If you use magic, create rules and limitations of when magic can and cannot be used and why. Is there a price for using magic or is magic a continuous resource?

The more the characters have to struggle to be able to use magic, the more valuable it will become. This applies to most extraordinary activities as well. While it might complicate things a little, setting restrictions on magic use will make it more interesting for the readers.

How do you feel about limited vs. unlimited magic use in stories?

As with any other writing, you should do research before writing fantasy stories that use magic. Notice when magic use is interesting and when it isn’t. What loopholes does magic create and how can you overcome them?

To write great stories you should first read the books you’d want to write and then write the books you want to read.

Love to hear from you,



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A little S&M with your characters: the cruciality of villains

With Halloween and NaNoWriMo upon us, I thought it would be appropriate to discuss ways to build plot points using your characters. In one of my previous posts, I advised having tea or coffee with your characters and getting to know them.

Once you know your heroes and villains, that’s when the fun begins. According to most writing books I’m reading, it is important to give your characters clear goals (what do they want), motivation (why do they want it), and conflict (what is standing in their way of getting it). While many of us remember to provide these for our protagonists, we often forget about our villains. Villains drive the story and as such drivers they too require clearly defined goals, motivations, and conflicts. The most interesting villains are ones that are multidimensional, ones you as a reader can almost identify with and sometimes even relate to.

Greatly developed villains cause extreme pain to the protagonists. Do not spare your hero’s feelings here. Push every button you can find. Torture them. If your audience loves the hero, they will form an alliance with them and that bond will keep the reader motivated to keep going. Think of your favorite book. Recall the moments when the characters endured pain and when they were able to overcome it. How did you feel when you were reading it?

Pain should not be uniform either, the pain that the hero endures should ebb and flow, it should come from multiple directions. For example, one of the reasons why Harry Potter books are so popular, is because Rowling was not afraid to torture Harry, and his friends as well. We immediately feel sympathy for Harry for being an orphan and having awful relatives. We also feel bad for him for having to face an awfully sadistic villain all by himself. But Rowling doesn’t stop there. She also throws in heartbreak, being teased at school, fights with friends, worries about grades and school Quiddich matches, the list goes on. By really torturing Harry, Rowling cleverly raises the stakes, causing the audience to form an alliance with Harry Potter.

However, Rowling doesn’t stop there either. She also tortures Hermione (recall the times she was called a mudblood, for instance), and Ron, as well as characters who are not the primary or secondary heroes/villains, such as Neville, Lupin, Snape, etc.

In order to torture the heroes well, the villains must be sadistic. Most writers do a great job of creating vicious killing machines, who will stop at nothing to get what they want (goal). However, what is often missing is the motivation. In order to make your villains as believable and as 3 dimensional as possible, they too need to have a motivation. Why do they want to hurt the protagonist? Why do they want to take over the world? Why is it that this particular person is in the way?

In my opinion, the greatest villain ever created is Joker. Joker is about as sadistic as they come, he is resourceful, and does not mind enduring pain. His goal seems to be to cause chaos but it’s really his motivation that is crucial here. His motivation appears to be not much different from Sherlock Holmes, at least as portrayed in BBC’s Sherlock, and that motivation is boredom. For sociopathic characters boredom can be very aversive, and hence, trying to escape boredom becomes extremely satisfying, and being that sociopaths tend to be stimulation seeking, they will do almost anything for self gratification and to avoid boredom. For Joker, this becomes an especially interesting task, since on the one hand, the main person who is standing in his way (conflict) is Batman, hence he needs to be stopped. However, if Batman was to be stopped permanently then Joker would be back where he started. Hence his plan of attack is not to kill but rather the opposite, to cause as much chaos as he can with Batman watching but not dying.

The point of this is that a villain should not be evil for evil’s sake. If you want to make your villain socio or psychopathic, then it would need to be clear why they behave this way and who is standing in their way. Their motivation should not simply be to just wipe out the entire world for no reason. Give your villains something they desperately want but cannot have, have the villains torture the heroes, but spend at least some time torturing the villains. This will allow them to come to life and become better at their job. I suggest giving them performance reviews throughout your writing. Did they accomplish their job as a hero/villain/supportive character in this chapter? Is it consistent with their character? What were they trying to do? Why did they want to do it? Is anything in their way? Did they succeed? What’s next for them?

I hope you find these useful. Please feel free to share your own methods of villain development.



PS: I’m very excited to be participating in NaNoWriMo this year and I will be implementing these techniques in my own writing. I’m very nervous as this will be my first NaNo experience. My goal: finish the book by the end of November. My motivation: my love for writing and story telling. My conflict: not knowing what the heck I’m doing. I’ll keep you updated on my progress.

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Filed under All Hallows Read, Creative writing, Fantasy, Horror, Humor, I have no idea what I'm doing, Magic, NaNoWriMo, writing help

Interview with an amazing writer

Today I’m honored to be interviewing Michelle Muto, the author of Don’t Fear the Reaper and Lost Souls, both perfect for Halloween and All Hallows Read.

Michelle, you published 2 books, which seem to be doing very well, and are making great progress with your next book. I’m sure this was not an overnight process. How long have you been writing and what did it take to get to where you are now?

I’ve been writing on and off since I was a kid. With the indie revolution, I didn’t see any reason not to publish two books I’d already written (The Book of Lost Souls and Don’t Fear the Reaper). Writing takes a lot of time and determination. It takes putting my butt in a chair and ignoring the internet at times.

So many people are choosing to go the indie publishing route instead of traditional publishing. What are your thoughts about this and based on your experience, what advantages or disadvantages do you see with indie publishing?

It was bound to happen. Look at film and music. Both of my current books garnered a lot of praise from agents, and The Book of Lost Souls was with a super agency for a year. When another more well established author decided to write a teen witch story, I was back to square one. Without a day job, I had no reason not to try it. I’m glad I did. I think indie a great platform for writers who are dedicated to the craft. Advantage? You choose your own editor and cover art. You don’t share your earnings with publishers and agents who take the lion’s share. Downside? So many people assume that indie means poor quality and for so many of us, that’s not true. We pay professional cover artists, editors, proofreaders, often the same ones who work for or used to work for large publishers.

Your books have a wonderful sense of macabre about them, while also containing a great amount of humor. Can you please talk about what horror means to you and how easy/difficult is it to integrate horror and humor together.

Horror isn’t easy to write, but then, neither is sex or humor. I like interspersing humor with horror because I think it gives the reader a chance to breathe. Horror can be a lot of things to a lot of people.While to some, horror might usually mean something supernatural, like ghosts or demons, but it can also be an unusually bad situation (loss of a loved one, natural disaster, psychos). For some, a good horror scene is based on a phobia such as spiders or clowns. Horror is the reaction to the human emotion of fear. It’s effectively writing for the emotion that elicits the reaction. You can’t write a good horror scene without it. That said, even the most well-written horror scene won’t resonate or elicit the same reaction in everyone. The same rule applies to humor.

You’re not only a writer, you’re also a photographer, an awesome geek, a wife, and dog lover. How have these multiple roles affected you as a writer?

Every writer brings a piece of themselves and their life experiences to their books. Photography has always allowed me to write richer descriptions. The geek wants me to pay attention to research and details. My dogs and husband are my support system.

Can you please talk about your next book?

It’s an upper YA novel set in a very haunted house in Savannah. Four older teens take part in an experiment in the paranormal and things soon get out of control. It’s like The Shining meets The Haunting of Hill House.

Can you please describe your writing process? How do you start out, plan, overcome barriers, stay on track, etc.

All good questions. I’m still working on ways to better my workflow. I do outline, but revisit that outline every five chapters to see what needs to change – the story, or the rest of the outline. Everything else I’m still figuring out.

Looking back at what you have learned and accomplished so far, what advice can you give to novice writers who aspire to become published authors like you. If you looked back, what do you wish you knew before or what messages do you wish to share about starting out a writing career?

First and foremost, whichever route you choose (trad or indie), write and read. Keep writing. Keep reading. Keep striving to improve your writing skills. Always respect other writers. It doesn’t matter which route you take as that’s a personal choice. There’s no one right way or wrong way, as long as you remain professional. Looking back? Find some way to write faster. I would have not worried so much about promotion and reviews and just focused on writing the next book. There’s only so many hours in a day, and when it comes down to it, writers need to write if they want to make it their day job.

Thank you so much, Michelle, and best of luck with your new book. I’m sure it will be a great success. If you guys would like to follow Michelle Muto on Twitter, her Twitter name is @MichWritesBooks and she always has great advice for writers and news about her books.

I wish everyone a wonderfully scary All Hallows Read.


Shadow Quill


Filed under All Hallows Read, Creative writing, Fantasy, Horror, Humor, Magic

National Novel Writing Month

National Novel Writing Month is almost here. This is the first time I’m planning to participate. NaNoWriMo is a terrific opportunity for novice and expert writers alike because it provides a a supportive environment for fellow writers while providing just the right kick in the butt to get your novel off the ground and flying. It’s especially great for people who are looking for some structure but not as much pressure as hard deadlines from publishers would require. NaNoWriMo website provides some suggestions such as crating your main characters, conflicts, etc.

So far, I have the outline and I am starting to work on my character bios. I would like to hear what you do to prepare or if you have not or are not planning to participate in NaNoWriMo, I want to hear how you normally prepare for a big writing task. Any and all feedback is welcome from everyone (experienced writers, novices, bloggers, readers, fans, cats, owls, sky is the limit).


Can’t wait to read your responses.



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Filed under Fantasy, Fiction, I have no idea what I'm doing, NaNoWriMo