Being Thankful – Writer’s Edition

Being Thankful – Writer’s Edition
Terry Odell

Here in the US, tomorrow is Thanksgiving, a day where families often gather around a groaning table, eat way too much, and maybe watch a little football. At one point during the holiday, most people share something they’re thankful for.

In her post on Monday, Kay asked readers what they were thankful for. While we routinely mention family, friends, health, creature comforts, and maybe a pet or two, I thought we could lighten up and look at things less lofty. Little things, “writer-specific” things.

Here are a few of the little writerly things I’m thankful for, in no particular order

  • No work wardrobe
  • No commute to work
  • Post-it notes and foam core boards
  • Legal tablets, red pens, and highlighters
  • Red squiggly lines
  • Word’s Read Aloud
  • Indie publishing
  • Critique partners
  • Draft2Digital’s free conversion software
  • My editor
  • My readers
  • Books

What about you? What writer-specific things are you thankful for?  (Note: TKZ is a given!)

And Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!


Now Available: Cruising Undercover
It’s supposed to be a simple assignment aboard a luxury yacht, but soon, he’s in over his head.


Terry Odell is an award-winning author of Mystery and Romantic Suspense, although she prefers to think of them all as “Mysteries with Relationships.”

Give Yourself Permission

Give Yourself Permission
Terry Odell

There have been several posts recently about how to motivate yourself to write, how to increase productivity, how to “do the job.” I’d like to take a moment to look at the other side of the picture.

(Disclaimer: I’m an indie author and am not on deadline at the moment.)

Recent events—both positive and negative—have pulled me away from the current manuscript. I had a short visit with my mother, followed by a planned week’s vacation which was an organized tour, and we were on the go all the time. When I returned home, ready to tackle the WIP, my mother’s failing health had taken a rapid downturn, and I dropped everything to return to LA. My brother and I spent two weeks dealing with the funeral and trying to get her house cleared out enough to put on the market. She’d lived in the house since 1958 and apparently threw nothing away.

At any rate, all the sorting and wrapping, bagging, and packing was both physically and mentally exhausting. Although I’d intended to use “down time” to work on the manuscript (even brought my regular keyboard), there wasn’t any.

I did have one pleasant break—I met with JSB for lunch one day, and it was nice to talk about writing, and a glimmer of a spark to get back to the book flashed for a moment or two.

At first, I told myself that I had reached a “need to do some research” stopping point before I left, but I faced reality. Even with that information I wasn’t going to be able to write. Constant interruptions, distractions, and the pressure to get everything done wasn’t conducive to productivity—at least productivity that wouldn’t end up being the victim of the delete key.

I gave myself permission to set the manuscript aside and not feel guilty about it. The same went for a presence on social media. I checked emails, but set most of them aside to deal with when I got home.

While writing every day is part of the “job”, there are legitimate reasons for taking a leave of absence. When life intervenes and you have to step away, accept it. The manuscript will still be there.

Now that I’m home in my familiar writing environment, I’ll be catching up with all the “life” stuff that accumulates while you’re away, but also with easing back into the writing. I wrote a post some time ago about getting back in the writing groove, but I thought it was appropriate to repeat my tips here:

Get rid of chores that will nag.
If you are going to worry about cleaning house, paying bills, going through email, take the time to get the critical things dealt with. Otherwise you’re not going to be focused on your writing. If you’re a ‘write first’ person, don’t open anything other than your word processing program.

Do critiques for my crit group.
This might seem counterproductive, but freeing your brain from your own plot issues and looking at someone else’s writing can help get your brain into thinking about the craft itself.

Work on other ‘writing’ chores.
For me, it can be blog posts, or forum participation. Just take it easy on social media time.

Deal with critique group feedback.
Normally, I’m many chapters ahead of my subs to my crit group. If I start with their feedback on earlier chapters, I get back into the story, but more critically than if I simply read the chapters. And they might point out plot holes that need to be dealt with. Fixing these issues helps bring me up to speed on where I’ve been. It also gets me back into the heads of my characters.

Read the last chapter/scene you wrote.
Do basic edits, looking for overused words, typos, continuity errors. This is another way to start thinking “writerly” and it’s giving you that running start for picking up where you left off.

Consult any plot notes.
For me, it’s my idea board, since I don’t outline. I jot things down on sticky notes and slap them onto a foam core board. Filling in details in earlier chapters also helps immerse you in the book.

Figure out the plot points for the next scene.
Once you know what has to happen, based on the previous step, you have a starting point.

Write.
And don’t worry if things don’t flow immediately. Get something on the page. Fix it later.

What about you? Any tips and tricks you’ve found when outside world distractions keep you from focusing?


Now Available: Cruising Undercover

It’s supposed to be a simple assignment aboard a luxury yacht, but soon, he’s in over his head.


Terry Odell is an award-winning author of Mystery and Romantic Suspense, although she prefers to think of them all as “Mysteries with Relationships.”

Reader Friday: Favorite Summertime Treat

The nice weather has finally hit New England. Yay!

As soon as the sun’s warmth spawns new life, the grass greening, trees filling in with leaves, flowers blossoming, it triggers me to crave seafood, ice cream, and burgers on the grill.

What’s your favorite summertime food, beverage, or treat?

Bonus points if you include a recipe. 🙂 

A New Trick for an Old Dog

A New Trick for an Old Dog
Guest Post from Joe Hartlaub

As you read this, I was supposed to be somewhere in Antarctica. However, the best laid plans … (Details at the end of this post, if you’re interested.) I’m delighted that Joe Hartlaub had agreed to cover one of my scheduled posts, and I’m not going to cdeprive you of his words of wisdom simply because I’m in town. I hope the arm I twisted to get him to appear has healed by now. To regulars here at TKZ, he needs no introduction. Joe, the stage is yours.

Photo by Jakob Rosen, Unsplash

Good day. I am, thanks to Terry Odell, momentarily back on the side of the TKZ equation that I inhabited for quite some time. Terry graciously asked me to perform the nigh-impossible task of filling in for her while she traverses the Antarctic. I hope you’ll join me in wishing Terry a safe journey and return.

I am writing this during the early days of 2022. My practice when I transition from the end of one year to the beginning of another is to take stock of myself by deciding what the best thing was that I did during the preceding year. It is a subjective call, of course. Sometimes it takes me a while to suss it out, and not always because there are a plethora of choices. 2021 was different.

I have for several years told S., my granddaughter, that if she ever found herself in a bad situation and could not reach her father she should call me 24/7/365. I promised her that I would either do a “one riot, one Ranger” act or send the cavalry if I could not come myself. She called me in 2021, a few minutes after midnight on Sunday, September 12. She had gone to Cincinnati with the family of one of her girlfriends. I won’t go into great detail other than to say that what was supposed to have been a fun weekend at a Dead & Company concert and a night at a downtown hotel went FUBAR. S. instead found herself sitting in a van on a concert facility parking lot after midnight in a city she had never previously been to, about two hours away from home. Her dad was working and couldn’t be reached. She accordingly called me.

I was backing out of my driveway a few minutes after receiving her call. I hadn’t gone to bed after having been up since 5 AM the previous morning taking happy birthday calls and answering good wishes. A quiet internal voice of self-doubt asked me if, having just turned age 70, I was up to the task.    It had been quite a long time — years, decades actually — since I had been pulled an all-nighter for any reason. Another internal voice —this one much louder — quickly reminded me of some wisdom imparted by Brother John Gilstrap in this space several years ago: when failure is not an option, success is guaranteed. The voice of self-doubt slipped away, though it still muttered in the background for a few miles.

A number of scenarios of the “if this, then that/Plan B” sort kept skipping across my imagination as I drove south on I-71. Staying awake and attentive was accordingly not a problem. Keeping to the speed limit was, but I forced myself to utilize cruise control. Traffic on the interstate was almost non-existent and there was little to distract me otherwise.

I arrived at a parking lot at the outskirts of the Queen City — just a few miles from the house where my father was raised in Covington, Kentucky  — two hours and an eternity later.  S., looking all of fourteen going on twenty-seven, was standing under a light looking a bit stunned but okay. I got out of my car and we looked at each other for a moment. I don’t think that anyone in my entire life had ever been happier to see me. I embraced her as she sobbed and said, “You came.” “Of course,”  I said. “I promised I would.” The individual responsible for the situation was standing nearby, wisely out of arms-length. He looked surprised as well. I think he was under the impression that I wasn’t coming.  I learned then that I had finally reached the age where wisdom had taken hold, a new trick for an old dog. Twenty or even ten years ago I might have administered some swift and rough justice. The present me simply glared at him as I held the car door for my granddaughter. A couple of minutes later I started to retrace the trip I had just made, leaving the instigator standing in the lot like the lost soul that he was and is.

Photo by Adam Mescher, Unsplash

Ohio is almost entirely rural for eighty miles or so between Kings Island Amusement Park north of Cincinnati and the lights of the warehouses and auto malls in suburban south Columbus. We were blessed with a dark but clear night. A sprinkling of stars lit the way through what looked like an endless tunnel. S., a city kid, had never seen a sky tableau that black. I alternated between pointing out some constellations and listening as she told me everything that had happened and what had led to her calling me. It was frightening for her, but the worst of it was some emotional damage inflicted by an adult she had trusted. Her account of the night was soundtracked by Alice in Chains, The Police, Nirvana, and a bit of Slipknot as we repeatedly passed and were passed by a three-car convoy, the drivers eyeing us suspiciously each time we went by each other in the very early morning as the pitch-colored sky ahead became lighter by minute degrees.

I asked S. as we approached the lights of Columbus if she were hungry. “Yes,” she said, “but I can wait until we get home.”

I let a beat go by. “Sheetz (a chain of fast-food restaurants disguised as gas stations) is open.”

“It IS?!” she said. Her excitement was a good sign. We drove to the one closest to my home and spent a half-hour inside before exiting with a large bag full of goodies, none of which will ever be found on a list approved by WW. Sheetz, let it be known, makes everything better. By the time we got home around 6 AM, everything was either good or getting there.

So. I had the opportunity to keep a promise and kept it while stopping a bad situation from possibly coming much worse, perhaps irrevocably so. I was able to exercise good judgment and made a nodding acquaintance with its cousin restraint. S.  learned several lessons, chief among them being that there are people in her life (in addition to her father) who will keep their promises to her, just as she needs to be dependable and keep her own promises to herself and others. She also received a couple of instructions in astronomy. I learned for my part that a promise kept to a loved one is not an obligation, a duty, or a requirement. It’s a privilege. An act of love may not make up for a legion of sins committed over the course of a lifetime but the multitude it covers will make a dent.

Lessons here? Sure. Show up every day, every minute. When you make a promise to write and you don’t do it you are letting yourself down, not to mention whoever would have benefited in however many ways by reading your efforts. You’re never too old to start until it’s too late. It’s not too late today.

Thank you for reading this far and not turning away when you realized that Terry would be absent. In the meanwhile…what is the best thing that you did in 2021 that you care to share?

Why is Terry in Colorado, not Antarctica? Read it here.


Joe Hartlaub is a contributor emeritus to The Kill Zone. He is an attorney, author, actor, consultant, and raconteur with over forty years of experience in causing and solving problems. Joe lives in Westerville, Ohio, where he rattles with purpose around his house.

 

Reindeer Fun

The holiday season is a hectic time, with planning the perfect family celebration, shopping for gifts, decorating the house, inside and out, and mailing cards.

Many have stopped the tradition of sending holiday cards. For me, there’s something so special about peeking into the mailbox to find a card. It means someone took the time to wish you happy holidays, trekked down to the Post Office, or raised the tiny red flag on their mailbox to signal outgoing mail. It’s a beautiful tradition that I fear new generations will let slip away (along with cursive handwriting). I love the holiday season, the frigid temps thawed with magic, possibilities.

With the frenzy of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, I thought I’d share 10 fun facts about reindeer, originally posted on my blog in 2018.

1. A Reindeer By Any Other Name is Still a Reindeer

In some regions of the world, Reindeer are called caribou. In North America reindeer refers to Eurasian populations and caribou refers to wild populations

2. Reindeer Belong to the Cervidae Family

Reindeer — aka Rangifer Tarandus — have 14 subspecies, including deer, elk, moose, and wapiti. All Cervidae have antlers, hooves, and long legs.

3. Girls Can Do Everything Boys Can Do

Reindeer are the only species of deer in which both males and females grow antlers, and they grow a new set every year. Male antlers can grow up to 51 inches long and weigh up to 33 pounds. A female rack can grow up to 20 inches long.

According to the San Diego Zoo …

Antlers are the reindeer’s most memorable characteristic. In comparison to body size, reindeer have the largest and heaviest antlers of all living deer species. All antlers have a main beam and several branches or tines that grow from the frontal bones of the skull. Sometimes little branchlets or snags are also present. The tip of each antler is called a point. Unlike horns, antlers fall off and grow back larger every year.

As new antlers grow, the reindeer is said to be in velvet, because skin, blood vessels, and soft fur cover the developing antlers. When the velvet dries up, the reindeer rubs it off against rocks or trees, revealing the hardened, bony core.

 

4. Santa’s Reindeer Must be Female

Since males grow antlers in February and females in May, they both finish growing antlers at the same time. But male and female reindeer shed antlers at different times of the year. Males drop antlers in November, leaving them antler-less till the spring. Female reindeer keep antlers through the winter months. They’re shed when calves are born in May.

Thus, since Santa’s reindeer all have antlers, he must have an all-female team. ?

5. Males are From Mars, Females are From Venus

Male and female reindeer use antlers in different ways. Males wield them as weapons against potential predators. They also showcase impressive racks to woo females. Although females also war with these handy weapons, they mainly use antlers to clear snow while foraging for food.

6. Reindeer Come in a Variety of Colors

Depending on the subspecies, region, sex, and even the season, reindeer fur ranges from dark brown in woodland subspecies to nearly white in Greenland. A reindeer’s coat is dark in the summer, light in winter.

Reindeer have two coats:

  • an undercoat of fine, soft wool right next to their skin
  • a top layer of long, hollow guard hairs

The air trapped inside the guard hairs hold in body heat to keep the animal warm against wind and cold. The hollow hair help the reindeer float, which aid them in swimming. Did you know reindeer could swim?

7. Adorable Furry Hooves

A reindeer’s furry hooves give the animal an advantage when walking on frozen ground, ice, mud, or snow. Spongy footpads help them strut through marshy fields. In the winter, the hooves harden to dig into ice or snow while anchoring the reindeer from slipping.

When a reindeer swims, their broad, flat, two-toed hooves allow the animal to push water aside. They even have a dewclaw which acts as an extra hoof to assist in climbing rugged terrain.

8. The Nose Knows

A reindeer’s specialized nose helps to warm incoming cold air before it hits their lungs. Like dogs, their super sniffer can find food hidden under snow, locate danger, and recognize direction. Reindeer are the only subspecies of deer to possess a furry nose.

9. Herd Life

Reindeer hang in herds. Not only are they safer from predators but they’re social animals, chatting among themselves with snorts, grunts, and hoarse calls, especially during mating season. Calves bleat to call their mother.

Reindeer travel, feed, and rest in a herd of 10 to 100s. In the spring, reindeer may even form super herds of 50,000 to 500,000. These super herds follow food sources, traveling up to 1,000 miles during harsh winters.

10. Catch Me If You Can

During migration, reindeer cover 12–34 miles per day and can run at speeds of up to 50 mph. Even a day-old calf can outrun an Olympic sprinter!

Hope you enjoyed these reindeer facts. Which one is your favorite?

Monday Tips and LOLs

I should’ve had a first page critique for you today, but it’s my birthday, you see, and I gave myself the gift of time. By that I mean, rather than juggle nine million tasks, I spent an uninterrupted Friday, Saturday, and Sunday morning inside my fictional world (except for a quick trip to TKZ to read Rev’s top-notch advice about agents and JSB’s superb first page critique). Sunday afternoons I reserve for football. 😉

Most of last week I spent redesigning my website and Murder Blog. Then tweaked it to death in between working on the WIP, engaging on social media, marketing, newsletters, virtual events, updating email subscribers and SEO, etc. etc. etc. So, allowing myself to pull away from it all, crawl into my writer’s cave, and block out the world freed my soul.

Today’s dedicated to birthday shenanigans. If the sun parts the storm clouds, Bob and I will head to one of my favorite places—Squam Lakes Natural Science Center—for a relaxing stroll through the wildlife trails. It’s the simple things in life that bring the most joy. Don’t you agree?

I’ve got two writer tips to share, then let’s party with a few Monday morning laughs. Sound good? Cool, let’s do this…

NEWSLETTER TIP

If someone Unsubscribes from your email list, be sure to Archive their name. Mailchimp and other email providers still charge you whether or not that person ever receives another newsletter. You’re billed for Contacts, not Subscribers. Technically, the person who Unsubscribed is still considered a Contact. They can’t charge for Archived Contacts.

WEBSITE/BLOG TIP

Poor SEO (Search Engine Optimization), an outdated design, lost backlinks, broken links, and/or a slow or unresponsive website theme murders organic traffic. If bot crawlers aren’t happy, they might skip your site, and all the years you’ve spent writing content will be wasted. Did you know most people read blogs on handheld devices? I am not one of them, but the experts swear it’s true.

ZOOM TIP

HOUSEHOLD TIP

Umm, about five minutes ago. Did you know this?

UNEXPECTED OBSERVATION

SAD, BUT TRUE

WRITER PROBLEMS

I plead the fifth, Your Honor. 😉

AND MY PERSONAL FAVORITES

Who can relate?

Feel free to steal any of these for your social media. Hope you have an amazing week!

via GIPHY

What Do Apes, Humans, and Koalas Have in Common?

While researching an unrelated topic last year, I found a cool tidbit and tucked it away (as I often do) to use in a story someday. Since I doubt I ever will, perhaps one of you can put this research to good use.

First, a question.

What do you think is a forensic investigator’s worst nightmare?

Did anyone guess a cute ’n cuddly koala? No? I didn’t think so. In all fairness, I would never have guessed it either, but the koala could keep investigators on their toes. I’ll tell you why in a minute.

Apes & Chimpanzees

As children, we’re taught apes and chimpanzees are our closest living relatives. The similarities are obvious. No one can stare into the eyes of these gentle beings and deny their humanity. Both animals also have astonishing intelligence.

Remember Koko?

Koko, the western lowland gorilla that died in her sleep in 2018 at age 46, stunned researchers with her emotional depth and ability to communicate in sign language. She garnered international celebrity status with her vocabulary of more than 1,000 signs and the ability to understand 2,000 words of spoken English.

National Geographic magazine featured Koko on its cover twice. First in October 1978, with a selfie Koko snapped in a mirror. Then in January 1985, when National Geographic ran a story about Koko and her pet kitten.

“Because she was smart enough to comprehend and use aspects of our language, Koko could show us what all great apes are capable of: reasoning about their world, and loving and grieving the other beings to whom they become attached,” Barbara King, a professor emerita of anthropology at the College of William and Mary

In addition to language, Koko’s behavior revealed human emotions. She also seemed to have a sense of humor, and even a bit of playful mischievousness, as portrayed in this video of Koko and Robin Williams.

There’s no denying the human qualities of apes and chimps. But did you know a koala’s fingerprints are so similar to humans the Australian police once feared they’d cause confusion at crime scenes? It’s true.

Similar confusion occurred in the UK during a time when unsolved crime was at an all-time high. In fact, in 1975, British police raided the ape houses at London and Twycross Zoos. According to The Independent, the police targeted “Half a dozen chimpanzees and a pair of orangutans.”

The objective was to fingerprint these animals, partly because the UK police referred to smudged or unclear fingerprints as “monkey prints.”

“If you passed a chimpanzee print to a fingerprint office and said it came from the scene of a crime, they would not know it was not human.” Steve Haylock, City of London Police fingerprint bureau

The chimpanzees and orangutans didn’t mind being fingerprinted. If you’re curious, none of the prints led to solving the string of unsolved crimes. All the furry suspects appeared to be upstanding members of society. 😉

Meanwhile, in Australia

Police feared koalas may have contaminated a criminal investigation. Why? Because like apes and chimpanzees, koalas possess freakishly human fingerprints. The deltas, loops, and whirl patterns of a koala’s fingerprint are as individual as our own. Yet most tree-dwelling mammals don’t possess humanlike prints.

“It appears that no one has bothered to study them in detail,” said Macie Henneberg, forensic scientist and biological anthropologist at the University of Adelaide, Australia. “Although it is extremely unlikely that koala prints would be found at the scene of a crime, police should at least be aware of the possibility.”

Some researchers believe that even after closely inspecting the fingerprints under a microscope, investigators would not be able to distinguish a human print from fingerprints left by a koala. Even their closest relatives—kangaroos and wombats—don’t possess fingerprints. The weird part is Koala prints seemed to have evolved independently, and much more recent than primates.

Can you guess which print is human?

Photo credit: Macie Hennenberg, et al. and naturalSCIENCE

Click the image to enlarge.

Top row: Standard ink fingerprints of an adult male koala (left) and adult male human (right).

Bottom row: Scanning electron microscope images of epidermis covering fingertips of the same koala (left) and the same human (right).

 

 

What do humans, apes, chimps, and koalas have in common?

The need to grasp. Yes, it could be that simple.

Researchers at the University of Adelaide discovered koala prints in 1996 and wrote a paper on their findings:

“Koalas … feed by climbing vertically onto the smaller branches of eucalyptus trees, reaching out, grasping handfuls of leaves and bringing them to the mouth… These forces must be precisely felt for fine control of movement and static pressures and hence require orderly organization of the skin surface.”

Makes sense, right?

But wait—there’s more!

I discovered one other fascinating tidbit about fingerprints that I never knew.

Genetics form the base of a fingerprint, but they are personalized when the baby touches the inside of their mother’s womb, resulting in unique whirls, deltas, and loops. Hence why identical twins don’t share identical fingerprints. Each baby touched the womb wall in his or her own unique way, swirling and drawing like finger paints on a bathtub wall.

Maybe it’s me—I do tend to get overly sentimental around holidays—but I find it heartwarming to think the tips of our fingers forever preserve the unbreakable bond between momma and baby, imprinted for eternity.

I hope my discoveries kickstart your creativity in new and unsuspecting ways. Happy Labor Day to our U.S. readers! May your burgers be sizzlin’, the buns toasted to perfection, and your beverages be cold. 😀 

Reader Friday – Holiday Weekends

Reader Friday – Holiday Weekends

Labor Day Weekend

Image by Hai Nguyen Tien from Pixabay

We’re heading into the Labor Day weekend. As a writer who’s retired from the traditional workforce, one day is like the next, and many holidays simply slide on by. What about you?

Do long weekends make a difference in your routine?

(For the record, our Monday celebration will be a traditional Rosh Hashana dinner with family up here on the mountain. Happy 5782, everyone.)

 


Terry Odell is an award-winning author of Mystery and Romantic Suspense, although she prefers to think of them all as “Mysteries with Relationships.”

Be the Mouse

A recent exchange with the hubster went something like this.

Him: What’d you do today?

Me: Same as yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that.

Him: You’re a persistent little bugger, aren’tcha?

Me: *shrugs* I’m a writer.

But it’s not as simple as that, is it? Persistence can be grueling at times.

If someone told me ten years ago that in 2021 I would stumble across a true story that’s so meaningful and important it might forever change my writing trajectory, my first reaction would’ve been: Ten years is a lifetime away.

But the truth is if I found this case ten years ago, I wouldn’t know how to do it justice. Today I do. 🙂 This narrative nonfiction/true crime project has so many parallels to my own life, my passion is at an all-time high. Which brings me to persistence. Persistence while researching. Persistence while re-investigating the crime. Persistence while interviewing witnesses. Persistence while submitting the proposal.

The Big Dream

When I wrote my first novel—longhand, by candlelight—the Big Dream was all I could think about. I remember searching for other writers’ interpretation of success and how long it took them to “make it” in this business. Most said a new writer won’t make any money until they’ve written five novels. If they’re lucky, they’ll sell a few hundred copies of their debut. That’s the last thing an aspiring writer wants to hear.

The aspiring writer thinks: If you build it, they will come.

Which isn’t necessarily a bad mindset if it drives the writer to the keyboard. I’m a dreamer. Always have been, always will be. As long as we offset the dream with a dose of reality, I say dream big, dream often, dream without limits.

Now, with a backlist of 17 titles and 5+ trunk novels, I look back on that early advice and it means something completely different.

Writing five novels isn’t only about building an audience. It means the writer has honed their craft. They’ve let their passion lead them on a journey of self-discovery (Think: Who are you as a writer?). It means the writer never gave up. Or quit. S/he continued for love, not money. S/he kept her head down, fingers on the keyboard, butt in chair, and created, edited, rewrote passages, scenes, or whole chapters, and finished five manuscripts.

What else happened?

S/he learned the business side of writing—found an agent, publisher, or learned the ins and outs of self-publishing. Lastly, it means s/he learned how to market a product, build a brand and an audience. S/he persisted, even though the odds seemed insurmountable. S/he leaped out of the nest and learned to fly.

Sometimes this biz can be disheartening, other times it’s super exciting. The ups and downs are all part of this amazing journey. The minute we stop trying to achieve future goals, we’ve already lost. Aside from creatives—writers, singers, artists, actors, musicians, etc.—I can think of no other field that requires as much persistence.

What is persistence?

The dictionary defines persistence as:

  • continuing firmly or obstinately in a course of action in spite of difficulty or opposition
  • continuing to exist or endure over a prolonged period

The definition clarifies how difficult it is to persist.

What happens in the brain during the act of persistence?

Serotonin is a neurochemical in the brain important for feelings of happiness. It’s also known for:

  • promoting good sleep by helping to regulate circadian rhythms (a 24-hour inner clock running in the background to carry out essential functions like the sleep-wake cycle)
  • helping to regulate appetite
  • promoting memory and learning
  • helping to promote positive feelings and behavior

If you have low serotonin, you might:

  • feel anxious, low, or depressed
  • feel irritable or aggressive
  • have sleep issues or endless fatigue
  • become impulsive
  • have a decreased appetite
  • experience nausea and digestive issues
  • crave sweets

Scientists have studied serotonin levels and persistent behavior in mice.

During foraging, all wildlife explores an area for food and/or water. But at some point, they must move on to a different area. Thriving animals exhibit patience and persistence before exhausting their search at each location.

In the study, researchers required water-restricted mice to “nose poke” while foraging to obtain water as a reward. The probability of obtaining water in each area lessened with each nose poke. The higher the number of nose pokes equaled more persistence in that individual mouse. Scientists also used video tracking to measure how long it took for the mice to switch to a different foraging area.

Mice exhibited optimal foraging behavior. Meaning, they optimized the trade-off between time spent searching an area for water and leaving to find a water source in a different area.

The mice who received serotonin neuron stimulation performed a greater number of nose pokes compared to mice who didn’t receive stimulation. They also took longer to leave an area, suggesting they were more persistent.

This is the first study to show a correlation between serotonin neuron firing and active persistence. Previously, scientists hypothesized that serotonin was involved in patience. We now know a rush of serotonin is involved in persistence, as well.

If our persistence starts to wane, we need to increase our serotonin level.

Here’s how:

  • Eat healthy
  • Exercise
  • Bright light
  • Massage

The list is almost meaningless without more explanation. So, let’s dive into each tip.

Healthy Snacks

We can’t get serotonin from food, but we can get tryptophan, an amino acid that’s converted to serotonin in the brain. High-protein foods contain tryptophan. For example, turkey and salmon. But it’s not as simple as eating tryptophan-rich foods, thanks to the blood-brain barrier—a protective sheath around the brain that controls what enters and exits. Isn’t the human body amazing?

Like with most life hacks, there’s a shortcut around the blood-brain barrier.

Research suggests eating carbs along with tryptophan-rich foods pushes more tryptophan into the brain, thereby raising the serotonin level.

Some tryptophan-rich snacks include:

  • oatmeal with a handful of nuts
  • plums or pineapple with crackers
  • pretzel sticks with peanut butter and a glass of milk

Exercise

Exercising creates an ideal environment for serotonin by triggering the release of tryptophan in the blood and decreasing the amount of other amino acids. Thus, more tryptophan reaches the brain.

Aerobic exercise of any kind releases the most tryptophan. Don’t fret if you’re unable to do aerobics. The main goal is to raise the heart rate. This can be accomplished by:

  • a brisk walk
  • a light hike
  • swimming
  • bicycling
  • jogging
  • blaring the music and dance

Bright Light

This surprised me, but it makes sense when you consider seasonal affective disorder. Serotonin levels dip in the winter and rise in the summer. What should we do? Spend 10-15 minutes in the sunshine. Or, if you live in rainy climate or can’t get outside, use a light therapy box. Both will increase serotonin levels.

Massage

Massage therapy increases serotonin and dopamine levels. It also reduces cortisol, a hormone produced when stressed. If paying for a professional massage therapist isn’t within your budget, ask a friend/spouse/partner to swap 20-minute massages.

Be the Mouse

Writers cannot achieve goals without some form of persistence. Be persistent, dear writer. Be the mouse.