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Perception as Reality

By Travis Pawling

5/5/21

I recently discovered a new book at Rolling Hills Library titled Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know by Adam Grant. While I’ve only read a small section of the book, the title made me think about how many people live in their heads and believe the thoughts they have are true. There are several reasons humans tend to do this: to save energy, to feel like we have a good grasp on reality, and to protect our egos. Have you ever noticed how many of the beliefs you form happen without much thought at all? Many of the core beliefs we form about ourselves and the world occur in adolescence. Additionally, all of our thoughts are colored by emotion to some degree because our limbic system evolved in our ancestors long before they developed prefrontal cortexes.

 

Most people don’t even think about changing their thoughts until they realize their thoughts are a problem, ie they have a mental illness. Who has time to question thoughts they have? But don’t people spend a lot of their time on things that don’t improve their lives in a meaningful way? For example, playing video games, watching Netflix, watching random YouTube videos, doing drugs, etc.? Every individual has the freedom to spend their time how they please, and I know it's very nice to have some downtime. However, as a species, I think we should try to eliminate distractions and focus on things that are actually meaningful (either individually or collectively). 

 

Another objection might be “Who cares?” My answer would be, “Can you afford not to care?” It’s likely that carrying around faulty assumptions will come back to bite you at some point. There are a lot of people running around carrying beliefs that they haven’t seriously researched or tested the validity of. If someone is unable to articulate why they believe a certain way, then it’s going to be hard to convince other people that they’re right. The need to always be right or being afraid to fail is something that holds a lot of people back.

 

Ultimately, I believe the goal shouldn’t be to out-smart people on your way to the top, but rather increase the intelligence of society as a whole. Think about how much different our society would be if everybody stopped trying to be right all the time and instead worked together and tried to understand each other.

Virtual Reality Goggles

Eight Ways to Reduce Writer's Block:

#8. Take a Break

By Izzy Barlos

4/30/21

            We can try all we want to force the words to come, but there comes a time when we need to accept that sometimes it is just not right to write. Whether there is a bigger issue that needs to be addressed, or we just are not feeling it, the answer may be to stop writing and take a break.

            As painful as it is to force ourselves away from a project we really want to work on. That is sometimes exactly what we need to do. Recently, I was on a roll with one of my projects when suddenly it came to a grinding halt. What sucked was that, for once, I had the time to write. After trying to force the words, I realized I was doing more harm than good. There was no point in throwing out useless word vomit into the third draft of my novel. It occurred to me that I needed a break.

            When writers need a break there are still some things that they can do. I, for one, often find myself still doing a bit of writing, but maybe writing a poem or two, or a humorous short story. The main thing I do, at the very least, is try to distance myself from my project.  My typical genre is horror, which I find to be easy to become burnt out on.

            While normally I just move to a different project or genre, there comes a time when even that is too much. When that happens, I put aside all writing for at least a day, and focus on my latest drawing, or playing board games with some of my friends, just to get some space from writing.

            As this final blogpost of mine ends, I find myself growing tired of writing, just from the combination of writing blogposts, as well as wrapping up with NaNoWriMo, as well as all the end of semester essays. For once, I feel I need a break from writing entirely, and will enjoy a nice long break where maybe I will finally finish that drawing of a lemur that has been buried under my textbooks all semester. A good break from writing, can do us all some good and leave us feeling refreshed and ready to return after a while.

Casual Meeting

Eight Ways to Reduce Writer's Block:

#7. Make Changes

By Izzy Barlos

4/23/21

After you have been writing for a while you usually start to develop routines: Writing during the day or maybe starting with a cup of coffee. I personally write for an hour or so before dinner, aside from the time of day. I always write on my laptop, and if at home, Waddle, the plush penguin, sits beside my computer whether I'm at my desk, on the couch, or at the kitchen table. These are examples of some habits that I've developed overtime, if you sit back and think of it chances are you have your own writing habits.

            A lot of the time these habits help us get things done. By always writing before dinner, it helps me tackle one of my biggest writing difficulties which was finding time to write. While these habits can help us get things done, sometimes they can hinder our abilities as writers. They turn more into a rut rather than a routine.

            No one enjoys being in a rut, which is a form of writer's block. The one nice thing about routines turning into ruts, is that it is easy to find a way out of that rut. The easiest way to break free from that rut and writer's block is to simply make changes. If you are someone who normally writes at night, maybe try writing in the morning. Some people who typically type could try writing by hand. Maybe if you're like my sibling, who always writes in the same font, you could try what they do, which is to switch to their least favorite font, Comic Sans.

            I encourage you to, next time you feel stuck, try and pinpoint what your routine is, and what changes you can make to break free of the rut.

Change

Failing is Ok

By Travis Pawling

4/19/21

            Shortly after my second blog post I encountered a bout of writer’s block, which my fellow blogger Izzy has a lot of good tips about overcoming. I suspect that my high expectations and perfectionist tendencies are part of what caused it. I want everything I put out there to be really good (at least according to my standards). Having high standards for yourself has its benefits and drawbacks (like many things). It gives you the necessary motivation to achieve great things but it can also stifle you into inaction because it’s hard to live up to the image of you have of yourself.

            Built-in to every creative endeavor is a need to impress, as nobody wants their work to be received poorly. The problem is that performance suffers when you are too highly invested in other people’s opinions. This is not only true in writing, but also in other endeavors that involve other people such as public speaking, socializing, and job interviews.

            The biggest hinderance to people achieving their goals is the fear of failure. Almost every successful person achieved that success by trying and failing many times. Winning is highly valued in our society (and the animal kingdom), while losing is seen as something that is best avoided. Winning and losing directly correlates to our brain chemistry; dopamine and serotonin increase when we are succeeding at our goals and cortisol levels rise when we experience outcomes that are different from what we desire. The problem is that attempting to succeed at most worthwhile endeavors will be met with failure, at least initially. Otherwise, success in that area would come easy to everybody who tried the same thing, and it wouldn’t be as valued or coveted. The notion of always succeeding is very appealing to our egos, but it is as real as a James Bond movie.

            I encourage you to allow yourself to make mistakes, and not attach your self-worth to events which are out of your control. Let’s not sweat the small stuff.

 

P.S. This post bypassed the copyeditors because we aren’t trying to be perfect here :)

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Eight Ways to Reduce Writer's Block:

#6. Writing Sprints

By Izzy Barlos

4/18/21

            The other night I sat down to write and found myself constantly staring at the clock, watching as time ticked away and I failed to get anything written. Then, my sibling suggested one of our favorite ways of mining for words; a trick we learned many years ago when we first started doing NaNoWriMo. The whole idea of this trick is to set a timer and do nothing but write for that amount of time.

            There are variations of writing sprints and for some of them, you try to hit a certain count. One has come to be known as "fifty-headed-hydras" where you attempt to write five hundred words in five minutes. There is not typically a punishment for failing to hit the goal but, personally, I continue to attempt until I either hit the goal or surrender. The other night I focused on trying to write one hundred words in one minute (rather than five hundred in five minutes). While I failed, I surprised myself at the end of the hour by having written about two-thousand words.

            Some people, such as my sibling, choose to highlight all their text black so they cannot see as they sprint, which results in faster typing. In a similar fashion, there are also websites, such as "The Most Dangerous Writing App", that allow you to set a timer and then allows you to type. If you stop typing for a prolonged period of time it then deletes everything that has been written.

            Some variations of writing sprints often cause more typos; therefore, they are not always the best way to produce high quality work. I have found that sometimes all I need is a quick sprint to force myself to write for just long enough to rope myself into the story and cause me to continue writing long after the sprint has ended.

Running Race

Eight Ways to Reduce Writer's Block:

#5. Read

By Izzy Barlos

4/15/21

At one time or another, every writer has heard the standard writing advice: the one thing you must do to write is to read. This is not terrible advice. In fact, I find I personally feel more inspired to write after having read a good book.

            The problem with this advice is when you are in a time crunch. Personally, during the school year, I find I have very little time to read what I would like to read. So yes, reading can be a great way to reduce writer's block, if you have time.

            If you find yourself in the age-old struggle of having barely enough time, how could you ever sit down and read? I personally have found that during the school year I can turn to some short stories, poetry, or occasionally a nonfiction book, which allows me to squeeze in a little bit of reading, just enough to inspire myself to write.

            At the moment I'm currently at that awkward point of the semester where I have finished the nonfiction book I brought from home to read, and thus am without anything to read. Thankfully, I know that on April 27th the 2021 edition of Reach will be launched, which will, hopefully, last me to the end of the semester, giving me plenty to read in short periods which in turn should inspire me to continue to write.

            In the end, we all get tired of the constant advice of, "you should read more." In a way it is the writing equivalent of telling someone to, "walk it off." But before being so quick to dismiss it, it is simple enough just to read a little short story here and there, just to see if it will break you free from the dreaded writer's block.

Reading a Book

Eight Ways to Reduce Writer's Block:

#4. NaNoWriMo

By Izzy Barlos

4/9/21

Because of writer's block, I don’t write half as much as what I want in a year; however, I always get a ton written in April, July, and November. This is due to NaNoWriMo.

            Each year writers around the world participate in what is known as National Novel Writing Month, a challenge to writers to write 50,000 words of a novel in one month. The main challenge occurs in November, but there are two NaNoWriMo "Camps" which occur in April and July. The camps are less strict and allow writers to set their own goals.

            I have personally found that participating in NaNoWriMo helps me break out of the writer's block bubble since it encourages me to get something written. I have participated in NaNoWriMo every year since November of 2014. While I haven’t written 50,000 words each time I have gotten more written during NaNoWriMo than any other time within the year.

            One of the largest impacts NaNoWriMo has on writer's block is the way it encourages you to focus on quantity and not quality of writing. This can enable one to allow themselves to make mistakes. Sometimes writer's block stems from a fear of failure. NaNoWriMo frequently reminds writers throughout the event to focus on getting the words on the page and ignoring your "inner editor."

            Aside from simply getting you into the right mindset, NaNoWriMo also serves as accountability. Some people, like myself, see NaNoWriMo as a competition, even though the only person you are truly competing against is yourself. Each July, when the NaNoWriMo camp comes around, I increase my word count goal from the July before to force myself to reach that. It also connects you to other writers through the forums where you can get to know others working towards a similar goal.

            Overall, I personally find NaNoWriMo to be one of the easiest ways to minimize my writer's block, even if it is only for a month. It sets up the goal and the deadline for me where my only focus is getting the words on the page. If you have not tried NaNoWriMo in the past, I highly encourage you to join in this April.

Typewriter Keys
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The Overton window as it relates to public policy

Lessons of Old Novels: A Review of The Fountainhead

By Travis Pawling

4/3/21

The Fountainhead is a novel authored by Ayn Rand, originally published in 1943. The book focuses on the diverging career paths of the two main characters, both of whom are architects. The book begins with Howard Roark getting kicked out of the Architecture School at the Stanford Institute of Technology because of his refusal to draw buildings in the “classical” form they wanted him to. Roark rebukes the “copies of copies” style of architecture described in the book, in which new buildings are based off of old Greek or Roman buildings, like the Parthenon. Roark’s prickly demeanor, lack of empathy and inability to compromise lead him down a lonely path, and he finds it hard to obtain work. Peter Keating in contrast is the most popular guy at the college, and graduates at the top of his class. Keating’s biggest problem lies in his inability to think for himself and go for what he really wants. Throughout the book, he relies on other people to make decisions for him and often goes to Roark to get help with his work. One of the best examples that showcases Keating’s character is in the beginning of the book when he is set to marry his high school sweetheart Catherine, but doesn’t due to his mother’s objections about her not being good enough for him due to her plain looks and lack of ambition. He follows his mother’s advice despite the strong feelings he has for Catherine. Later on, he marries Dominque Francon who is the daughter of his boss Guy Francon (who he despises but acts friendly with). Despite her fantastic looks she has the same coldness in her character as Roark (who she eventually ends up with), and he goes after her because he views her as a status symbol. I see Peter Keating as a cautionary tale about the price individuals pay for conforming to societal pressure.

This brings us to the qualms I have with the novel. Almost all of the characters that are introduced have very static personalities, almost like they are caricatures to prove points. I also don’t recall the characters ever growing or changing. It’s clear that Rand’s primary motivation behind writing the novel was to promote her philosophy of objectivism. I think happiness comes from doing what you want and being an independent person who thinks for themself. However, it is also clear that individuals aren’t isolated from society. Individuals must do their best to function within it, even though that means working within constraints that you may not like.

Despite these issues, I enjoyed following how the characters in the book interacted with each other, and how their lives unfolded. As one might expect, there are a few radical events in the book. It’s a bit surprising how Rand describes these events in a favorable light. For example, there is a segment where a displaced sculptor, Steven Mallory tries to kill Ellsworth Toohey, who is a writer who uses his position to influence the minds of the public to gain power and influence. I liken the character of Ellsworth Toohey to manipulative politicians who say what people want to hear, while keeping their true beliefs and motivations in the shadows. Anyway, the book paints Mallory in a positive light despite his violent actions. Another event that did not age well comes towards the end of the book, when Howard Roark bombs a structure that he originally designed before it changed hands. With these events, I believe Rand is alluding to a concept that would later be called the “Overton window” by policy analyst Joseph P. Overton. The Overton window refers to a set of beliefs and policies that are “acceptable” at any point in time in a society.

           

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The best parts of the book are these little commentaries on how society operates. Some of these commentaries are more obvious and unnecessarily repetitive (which drives the length of the book to over 700 pages), others are told through implied themes. One example stems from Gail Wynand, who embodies the classic rags-to-riches story. He eventually becomes a newspaper executive, where he panders to the public to sell copies. When Wynand defends his friend Howard Roark and his bombing of the empty apartment buildings, the public turns against him and his paper is ruined. This showcases that creative endeavors for profit can’t thrive purely for selfish reasons they must offer value in some way to customers (Wynand’s demise also shows the dangers of going outside the Overton window). In a sense, your customers are your boss.

            Clearly, The Fountainhead is an ambitious novel. Ayn Rand draws some sweeping conclusions and portrays society as this black-and-white thing (which is not conducive to reality), which brings the novel down. Her obvious and repetitive bias will turn off many readers that she might be able to otherwise reach with a more nuanced approach. Despite all of this, I still think the book is worth reading and will likely cause many readers to rethink beliefs they previously held, or come to new realizations. I believe the main point the book makes about individuals valuing the opinion of others or society too much is an important one, and something that is still very relevant today. I believe other people are important and should be treated with respect. However, people should think for themselves, and be their own strong, intelligent, independent entities.

Woman Writing

Eight Ways to Reduce Writer's Block:

#3. Writing Prompts

By Izzy Barlos

3/30/21

            Sometimes I have a deadline, have the time, and even have the motivation to write, but that sixteen-ton writer's block has robbed me of any idea I might have had.

            While this form of writer's block is just as obnoxious as not having the motivation or time to write, there is at least one basic fix for it: Writing Prompts.

            Some writers object to the idea of writing prompts, claiming that using a writing prompt lacks creativity and that no good writing will come from a prompt, since many believe you must be passionate about the idea to write well. While there is some truth to that belief, does it really matter if writing is good or bad? Isn't it better to have at least written something, rather than nothing? After all, we grow with everything we write.

            I typically use prompts to help me break out of writer's block when I have a project that either I'm currently working on or am getting ready to start. Generally, I find a prompt online, or ask my sibling to give me a random situation to use as a prompt. Then, I would write a short piece of how one of the characters in the project I was working on would react in the given situation. I found this was a great way to break out of a block in ideas, which gave me room to experiment more with writing while still feeling productive as well as working on my project.

            Overall, writing prompts, while some people may look down on them, have benefits. If anything, writing with a prompt is better than not writing at all. I highly recommend giving prompts a try, in fact, here's one of my personal favorites: A rat (or rat equivalent creature) comes across a character's path, how do they react?

Eight Ways to Reduce Writer's Block:

#2. Reduce Distractions

By Izzy Barlos

3/14/21

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For the past twenty-four hours I have gotten only three words written. Instead of writing I have: Fully rearranged my room. Crocheted a three-piece suit for a stuffed penguin. And binge watched three series on Netflix.

    Procrastination and writer's block tend to go hand in hand. When I get writer's block, I often find myself procrastinating by using writer's block as an excuse. I tell myself, "Oh I can't write right now, might as well do something else." This is the problem. People use writer's block to get nothing done and instead watch fifty endless videos of people falling off boats on YouTube. If we can cut off the distractions we might surprise ourselves with how much we get written.

    The hardest part is cutting ties with distractions. Obviously, we can't always disconnect from the world. People have responsibilities, partners, children, and roommates who do not understand that we're trying to write no matter how many times we explain it or the number of dirty looks we give. We can't control all the distractions, but we can turn off Netflix, or our computer's Wi-Fi, or even if we just flip our phone screen down and turn off notifications for anything unnecessary, we might surprise ourselves with how much we get done. This is just one of those things that is simple enough to try.

Phone Call

How I Optimized My Productivity & You Can Too

By Travis Pawling

2/25/21

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    As a non-traditional student, this hasn’t been my first foray into college. In both high school and my early college years, I was an underperforming student. One of the biggest detractors to my scholarly success were my bad habits. Today, I will be providing you with a few powerful tips from books that I’ve read on the subject, in addition to anecdotal tidbits that have worked for me. 

    The book: Atomic Habits, by James Clear talks about habit formation and how we can use it to work for us. Paraphrasing Clear, our bad habits feel good in the short-term, but lead to long-term agony and disappointment. The opposite is true for good habits. In the book, Clear mentions four laws for habit formation: make it obvious, make it attractive, make it easy, and make it satisfying. A chapter is dedicated to each law and explains them further.

    From personal experience, the biggest determining factor in whether I have a productive or an unproductive day is how I start it. I’ve noticed that almost every single day that I don’t take a shower, I end up wasting that day. Additionally, if I start leisure activities before I get my work done, my brain seems to rationalize my laziness and I take on the identity of a lazy person. To rectify this, I moved my recreational activities such as music, video games, and movies to the end of the day. I only indulge after I feel satisfied with what I’ve accomplished that day. This strategy is effective because you reduce the impact of the “pleasure-principle”, which theorizes that humans are hardwired to seek as much pleasure as possible while avoiding pain. Due to this, it takes a great amount of willpower to stop a pleasurable activity once you start.

    The last tip comes from the book Psycho-Cybernetics by Dr. Maxwell Maltz. The book features a series of mental-imagery exercises with the goal of changing behavior. The book is based on the belief that the thoughts you have change your behavior, in addition to how you feel. One exercise that I like involves lying down for 30 minutes and visualizing a day in my ideal life, imagining how everything would be if I had complete control. The idea is that you will automatically start to act like the person you wish to become. Maltz theorizes that all human beings are goal striving machines and have “automatic-success mechanisms” which drive them to their goals. The thoughts you have steer you towards these goals. After thirty days, you are expected to witness profound behavioral change. After doing this visualization, I have become more focused and strict with my time.

By looking ahead to long-term goals and taking on the identity of that person, we can avoid the siren's song of the pleasure principle. A far-reaching vision of a bright future is much more likely to lead to success than a person without a vision or plan. The latter individuals might find themselves in a Silent Hill scenario: walking around in the fog, afraid of what’s to come. 

I hope that this advice is helpful to you and empowers you to live your life to its fullest potential. Now, stop procrastinating and get things done! :)

Working with Mask

Eight Ways to Reduce Writer's Block:

#1. Deadlines

By Izzy Barlos

2/15/21

We've all been there, sitting at your laptop, notebook, phone, whatever you use to write your stories, poems, screenplays, etc. And all of a sudden, a sixteen-ton block falls from the sky, drops onto your head, and squashes any potential idea you had. This is the well-known writer's block.

    There are quite a few people out there that don't believe in writer's block. These nonbelievers likely fall into one of three categories: non-writers, liars, and geniuses who eliminated it before it became an issue.

    If you've ever had writer's block, my guess is you probably envy all those people above. The good news is, while writer's block is a pesky little thing that seems unbeatable, there are ways to reduce it. If you investigate reducing writer's block you'll likely notice trends in the advice people typically dish out. In my opinion, there's about eight great tips for soothing writer's block.

    The first of these suggestions is to give yourself a deadline. Sometimes it seems like just knowing you need to get something done by a certain date is enough to make you get it done. I personally find it even more motivating when I can find a deadline that isn't one that I set. I find it's a lot easier to give up on a deadline when nothing will change if I don't get it done. Like right now with the submission deadline for Reach coming up on February 19th. When there's a deadline, it makes it easier for me to sit down and write knowing that there's something to work towards.

    To anyone out there suffering from writer's block, I highly advise finding a deadline, or setting one yourself, but if that doesn't work, there's about a million strategies out there and one of them is bound to work.

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