Last Week’s Links

The mind-bendy weirdness of the number zero, explained

Why zero is not at all a simple concept.

The computer you’re reading this article on right now runs on a binary — strings of zeros and ones. Without zero, modern electronics wouldn’t exist. Without zero, there’s no calculus, which means no modern engineering or automation. Without zero, much of our modern world literally falls apart.

Humanity’s discovery of zero was “a total game changer … equivalent to us learning language,” says Andreas Nieder, a cognitive scientist at the University of Tübingen in Germany.

How to Ask Great Questions

Much of an executive’s workday is spent asking others for information—requesting status updates from a team leader, for example, or questioning a counterpart in a tense negotiation. Yet unlike professionals such as litigators, journalists, and doctors, who are taught how to ask questions as an essential part of their training, few executives think of questioning as a skill that can be honed—or consider how their own answers to questions could make conversations more productive.

The fallacy of obviousness

A new interpretation of a classic psychology experiment will change your view of perception, judgment – even human nature

The deep roots of writing

Was writing invented for accounting and administration or did it evolve from religious movements, sorcery and dreams?


when it comes to a teacher’s referral of a student to educational programs, it’s not just learning abilities that play a role in the decision process. Recent research has found that


How to Conquer Writer’s Block

These days, writer’s block is often blamed on depression. Sometimes procrastination and perfectionism are considered the culprits. Whatever the cause, writer’s block has been around for a long time. Samuel Coleridge suffered from it, as did Joseph Conrad, Gustave Flaubert, Ernest Hemingway, Herman Melville, Leo Tolstoy, and Virginia Woolf. The big question is, regardless of where it came from, what can a writer do about it when it strikes?

© 2018 by Mary Daniels Brown


Share Your World – June 26, 2017

Thanks to Cee Neuner for this week’s Share Your World – June 26, 2017 questions.

What goal are you working on now? Your goal can be something fun or extremely serious. Have fun with this question.

At the end of 2016 I decided that 2017 would be the year I focus on my writing. I therefore signed up for the 52-Week Writing Challenge on Medium. But during our vacation I got behind by six articles. Catching up with those six pieces of writing is my goal right now.

What is one thing you’re glad you tried but would never do again?

Funny you should ask. This topic recently came up on my Facebook feed:

My entry in this category: ordered a kit and made a down jacket for [my daughter] when she was about 9. Guess how many sewing machine needles I broke.

Did you choose your profession or did it choose you?

It finally, though late, chose me. I should have majored in English right from the beginning.

Have you ever gotten lost?

Probably not, because that’s something I would remember, and I don’t have any memories of getting lost. But then, as I’ve said many times about many different aspects of life, I’m a Virgo. As such, I’m always prepared. So any time I go anywhere I have in hand a map or list of directions for arriving at my intended destination.

Optional Bonus question: What are you grateful for from last week, and what are you looking forward to in the week coming up?

I’m grateful that the hot weather here only lasted a couple of days and that we are now back to normal temps (mid–70s F.) for the season. And this week I’m looking forward to having absolutely NOTHING on my calendar so that I can catch up on my writing (see first question above).

I hope everyone has a great week!

© 2017 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

Writing Your Way to Happiness

Here’s a summary of scientific research suggesting that “the power of writing — and then rewriting — your personal story can lead to behavioral changes and improve happiness.”

Special Report: Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story? The Magic of Narrative Medicine in the ED

The special report discusses how the use of storytelling in medicine, known as narrative medicine, helps physicians better serve patients.

The Year of Conquering Negative Thinking

Here’s a New Year’s challenge for the mind: Make this the year that you quiet all those negative thoughts swirling around your brain… . constant negativity can also get in the way of happiness, add to our stress and worry level and ultimately damage our health.

This article offers not only scientific research to back up its premise but practical steps you can take to deal effectively with your own negative thoughts.

3 Reasons You Don’t Need Experience to Write a Damn Good Story

The most common advice aspiring writers hear is “write what you know.” I’ve always been suspicious of this admonition, since I believe in the power of research. Here thriller writer Brad Taylor explains how to use research to write convincingly about topics you have no personal experience with.

Infant Brains Reveal How the Mind Gets Built

This article reports on recently published research into how the human brain develops, It’s a long but fascinating read.


© 2017 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

Interesting articles from around the web.

30 Powerful Habits That Encourage Happiness and Mental Strength

Psychotherapist Mike Leary explains that, to create change in your life, you need to fight the three Newtonian laws of motion: inertia, impact, and reaction. But if you’re committed to making some changes, he offers 30 habits that can help you succeed.

And don’t be overwhelmed by that 30, which might seem like a pretty big number. His advice is pretty straightforward, and if adopting 30 habits seems daunting, pick one at a time to focus on for a few days.

21 Amazing Movies That Actually Understand Mental Illness

One of my pet peeves is that books and movies sometimes present mental illness in a whimsical or otherwise inaccurate way. Here Emily Casalena discusses 21 movies that get mental illness right.

Warning: “There are quite a lot of spoilers in this list, so beware!”

The Story of How Handwriting Evolved, and May Soon Die Off

journal_writingJessica Kerwin Jenkins writes about the book The History and Uncertain Future of Handwriting by Anne Trubek. Jenkins concludes:

“We will lose something as we print and write in cursive less and less, but loss is inevitable,” Trubek concludes. Though one technology often supplants another, that doesn’t necessitate concession. Considering its rich significance, instead of hustling handwriting off to the graveyard, perhaps what’s called for is resurrection.

© 2016 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

These are pieces from across the web that caught my eye this week.

How language is processed by your brain

An overview of how our brain processes language, with an emphasis on how learning a new language can help the brain grow.

Four Things To Do Outside The Office To Boost Your Creativity

Aimed at business professionals, this article explains why these four activities may boost creativity:

(1) taking a bath
(2) observing the details of the world around us
(3) working at a coffee shop (or in other surroundings with moderate background noise)
(4) walking

Syllabus: Using Poetry and Fiction to Encourage Experiments in Nonfiction

Writer Chelsea Hodson explains how books that blend or cross genre lines can help writers be more creative and experimental in their own writing. She discusses five books here.

The System I Used to Write 5 Books and Over 1,000 Blog Posts

journal_writingWell known writer Jeff Goins explains his three-step system for discovering ideas and developing them in writing:

(1) collect ideas
(2) write and save
(3) edit and publish

Experienced writers probably have their own ways of following these three steps, but Goins’s system may help beginning writers get a handle on the process.

© 2016 by Mary Daniels Brown

Articles That Caught My Eye Last Week

The Black Dog: 6 Books to Understand Depression

Jennie Yabroff acknowledges that “‘Depression’ remains a catch-all phrase to describe a variety of conditions ranging from the occasional bad day to paralyzing inertia”:

To truly understand the disease, and not just the treatment, you need to look to writers with sensitivity and compassion about the real nature of the self in despair, be they novelists or doctors, contemporary writers or playwrights dead for hundreds of years.

bell-jarShe recommends these books for help in understanding depression, a state commonly known as the black dog:

  • Ordinarily Well by Peter Kramer
  • The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
  • Darkness Visible by William Styron
  • Hamlet by William Shakespeare
  • The Noonday Demon by Andrew Solomon
  • An Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfield Jamison
These Instagrammers’ Bullet Journals are organizational masterpieces

The newest craze for keeping oneself organized is the Bullet Journal. Check out this article for examples of bullet journals as well as some links about how the system works.

Why Handwriting Is Still Essential in the Keyboard Age

Despite our current dependence on keyboards, there are some definite cognitive benefits to learning cursive writing.

‘Pronoia’ and other emotions you never knew you had

Here’s an article about Tiffany Watt Smith, a research fellow at the Centre for the History of the Emotions at Queen Mary University of London:

[It’s] the subjective experience of emotions — that Smith explores in her charming new book, The Book of Human Emotions. It’s a roundup of 154 words from around the world that you could call an exploration of “emotional granularity,” as it provides language for some very specific emotions you likely never knew you had. “It’s a long-held idea that if you put a name to a feeling, it can help that feeling become less overwhelming,” she said. “All sorts of stuff that’s swirling around and feeling painful can start to feel a bit more manageable,” once you’ve pinned the feeling down and named it.

Doctors Say Your Word Choice Can Hugely Change Your Brain

Every word counts:

Be careful because the next word you say could determine how your day is, or the rest of your life might pan out. Doctors at Thomas Jefferson University explained that the choice of our words could actually have more impact on our lives than we actually think.

© 2016 by Mary Daniels Brown

Last Week’s Links

Recent articles on psychology, memoir, and writing

How ‘Mad Men’ Taught Us about Trauma, Shame & Healing

Hilary Jacobs Hendel offers an interesting interpretation of AMC’s hit series Mad Men. She looks at Don Draper as a man injured by traumatic shame:

When someone hurts us, we first react with anger and sadness. When those feelings are not responded to, we withdraw in self-defense. The vulnerable self hides deep inside the mind, much like a turtle retreats into its shell. The sustained and visceral experience of disconnection from other people and from one’s own wants and needs defines traumatic shame.

Believing we are defective, unworthy of love and happiness are signs of shame. Shame causes us to isolate and withdraw from connection with others. Shame causes physical experiences that make us feel we are disappearing, disintegrating or sinking into a black hole with no bottom.

In the final few episodes, Hendel argues, Don embarks on a transcontinental road trip symbolic of the journey of the wounded self seeking healing. She interprets the show’s final scene, Don concocting the Coca-Cola commercial while meditating near the beach, this way: “Landing the Coke account and creating history’s greatest ad campaign, Don’s future looked bright.”

Mad Men showed us the conditions under which trauma and shame are born and what is needed for healing. Don, like all of us, needed to feel safe and accepted by at least one other person in order to heal.

William Boyd: ‘I can only manage three hours’ writing before fatigue sets in’

Every writer who struggles to produce work will be grateful to hear this from novelist William Boyd:

Now, writing my 15th novel, I can only manage three hours or so before brain fatigue sets in. It’s just like a plug has been pulled out of a socket and I have stopped – as if a battery has died.

Read more about his writing process: why he writes a first draft in longhand, how long writing a novel takes him, how distractions affect him.

9 mental health memoirs that have helped me through my own mental illness

As always, you should accept this article for what it is: one woman’s account of her own experience. Her reading recommendations are interesting, but you should not take any book as a substitute for professional advice.

Renee Fabian writes:

Like millions of other women, I struggle with mental illness. To cope when I go through a rough patch, I often read memoirs written by other women about their mental health journeys. These books remind me I’m not alone when I don’t feel up to leaving the house. These books prevent me from giving up. Not to mention, these women are great writers.

I’ve read three of her nine titles (An Unquiet Mind, Lucky, and The Center Cannot Hold), and every one was very well written.

Health and well-being are more than just physical

Mental health factors like loneliness, and sensory factors like hearing loss, can matter more to someone’s well-being and risk of death than traditional measures like cancer and high blood pressure, a new study suggests.

Particularly in caring for older adults, doctors should consider more than just physical health, the researchers say.

Traditional measurement of health and well-being involves a medical model based on physical health and the absence of disease. This article reports on research that adapted the medical model to include medical, physical, psychological, functional, and sensory factors in what the researchers call a comprehensive model.

© 2016 by Mary Daniels Brown

On Writing

The First Time I Got Paid for Doing It

In a terrific essay Linda Summersea describes the night she, a high school junior, received a check for her winning entry in Lions Clubs International’s annual World Peace Essay Contest.

All aspiring essay writers should read this not just for its encouragement but also for its demonstration of how details produce powerful writing.

How Mindfulness Can Transform Your Writing Life

The more I practice mindfulness in my personal life, the easier it is to translate this skill to my writing.

In this short piece Vanessa Carnevale describes how taking a deep breath and writing down an intention (to be deleted later) helps her produce her best writing.

7 Simple Hacks to Get Writing When You Just Can’t

Kellie McGann offers some advice on how to write on those days when you think you can’t. There’s nothing ground-breaking here, but I find it tremendously helpful to be frequently reminded of these approaches to getting words onto the page or computer screen.

Writing as Responsibility

Sara Jones acknowledges that as a writer she has a responsibility to create something for the larger good, “but also – and possibly most of all – for myself. I must own my responsibility in making sure that happens.”

Finding Myself in a Book

Kelly Haworth describes how writing the YA novel Y Negative helped her discover her own genderfluid identity:

Writing Y Negative changed my life. It taught me that these feelings and ideas I had experienced since I was in high school were not me “pretending I was crazy.” They were real and other people felt and experienced them too. Writing this book let me express the emotions of trying to figure everything out – the pain, the awkwardness and the strength – and I emerged on the other side knowing that this pendulum inside me, this duality of male and female was exactly who I was. I identify as genderfluid now… .

On Writing

Soundfuel: Music You Can’t Write Without

Do you listen to music while you write? I don’t listen to what most people would think of as music, but I do use some tracks created to aid focus and concentration.

But if you’re looking for inspirational playlists to hook up with while working, Leah Kathryn probably has you covered. She’s a classical pianist and composer who writes historical fiction and fantasy. She’s created playlists specifically for writing horror, science fiction, westerns, steampunk, even Southern gothic.

Pump Down the Volume: On Writing With Background Music

On The Millions, Jacob Lambert admits that he listens to music while writing:

I’m listening to it because I’m writing — an activity that for me, in recent years, has demanded musical accompaniment. Far from being a background diversion — something to make kitchen chores a little less soul-killing — I’ve come to believe that the music I listen to while writing bears a definite, if ineffable, relationship to the words that wind up on the screen.

Lambert says that he used to write in silence but tried adding music after he read that Chuck Palahniuk had listened to Nine Inch Nails as he wrote Fight Club.

But when Lambert looked at research into the question of whether listening to music improves writing, he discovered that the consensus is that it does not. Most researchers think that music detracts from writing by increasing the brain’s cognitive load: part of your brain power that could be focusing on your writing is instead paying attention to the music.

This is precisely why I don’t listen to ordinary music while writing. I have tried it. But I found that if I listened to music that I know and love, my brain was always waiting for the best parts, paying more attention to the next movement (my music is classical) than to the next sentence or even the next word. When I tried listening to music I didn’t know, I simply listened to the music and did almost no writing. I like music, and it’s hard for me to turn it into mere background noise. This is why I stick to the brain wave stuff, which doesn’t engage my brain in the same way real music does.

But hey, that doesn’t mean that listening to music won’t work for you. Lambert’s solution was to turn the volume down low.


Here are some tips from The Reader’s Brain: How Neuroscience Can Make You a Better Writer (Cambridge University Press, 2015) by Yellowlees Douglas, associate professor of management communication at the University of Florida. Douglas teaches in the schools of business and medicine, whose students typically expect to analyze data and draw conclusions. They found other textbooks on writing frustrating and inadequate.

Douglas based her book on data from eye-tracking, EEG brain scans, and fMRI neuroimaging. The result is a text that tells students how to communicate information that they want readers to remember or to forget. Read the article to see why Douglas’s book offers these six tips for effective writing:

(1) Prime your readers.
(2) Use “recency” to your advantage.
(3) Disappoint without destroying good will.
(4) Bury bad news.
(5) Harness cause and effect.
(6) Don’t let passive voice drag you down.

The One Question Every Writer Has To Answer

The Write Practice focuses on the writing of fiction, but this tip calls itself important for all writers: “It doesn’t matter if you are writing memoir, fiction, non-fiction, or a screenplay, you have to answer this question.”

journal_writingThat question is “What is your writing about?” or, stated another way, “What are you trying to say?” But the real point here is that your answer must be one sentence, just one.

Pamela Hodges, the author of this piece, takes this idea from Blake Snyder’s book Save the Cat. This book focuses on screenwriting, where the one-sentence summary is called a logline. In order to apply the same concept to all other types of writing as well, Hodges refers to the summary as a whatline.

Writing this whatline about your project has three advantages:

(1) Writing a one sentence summary of your writing piece will help you figure out what your story is about.
(2) If you know what your story is about before you start writing it, you hopefully won’t get lost in the telling of the story.
(3) Your reader will appreciate the focused intent of your writing.

Give this method a try on your next writing project. I’ve adopted it for myself. Yes, it’s a hard task, but once you’ve done it and figured out exactly what you’re writing about, you’ve made the rest of the work a lot easier. I liken this process to the writing of a research proposal for a doctoral dissertation: If you do most of the heavy work in the proposal, you’re about 2/3 of the way through the project. Once you’ve figured out what to do and how to do it, which you do in the proposal, carrying out the research and writing up the results, which you do in the dissertation, is relatively easy.

So take the time to write your one-sentence summary. You’ll be glad you did.




Favorite thing to photograph? Write? Or Cook?

Not one of each, I hope, because I’m going with “to write.”

Not just to curry favor or anything, but writing my responses to the weekly Share Your World challenge questions is one of my favorite things to write. I originally started this challenge because I knew that I needed to loosen up my online writing and cultivate a more personal blogging voice. Answering these questions every week has helped me do that because it requires me to just be myself and to explain what I like, think, or value.

Did you like swinging as a child? Do you still get excited when you see a swing?

Oh yes, I always loved swinging. I had the old-fashioned kind of swing in my yard: rope hung from a tree branch with a wooden seat. I used to love to see how high I could get.

I still love a swing and occasionally sit down in one. But, alas, my adult girth often does not fit comfortably in the seats made for kids, so I don’t get to swing very often nowadays.

What has surprised you about blogging?

I’ve been writing a blog post every day this year, and what has surprised me the most is how many topics I found to write about once I started looking for ideas and paying attention to the world around me. I’ve learned a lot about both myself and my world by doing this.

List at least five favorite desserts.

  1. blueberry pie
  2. marionberry pie
  3. creme brulee
  4. birthday cake
  5. anything including or covered by chocolate

Bonus question: What are you grateful for from last week, and what are you looking forward to in the week coming up?

I’m going to have to fall back into my old rut here: I’m grateful for everything about last week and am looking forward to more of the same.

Oh, here’s another thing I’m looking forward to: Our daughter has gotten tickets for all of us to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens on Christmas morning at the swank new theater that recently opened near our house.

I hope everyone has a good week and a festive holiday season.