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‘Book Reviews’ Category

  1. Book Review: Hope and Help for Your Nerves

    December 14, 2016 by Diane

    hope-and-help-for-your-nerves

    I don’t know if this book is still in print, but it’s worth scoping around used bookstores to find a copy so you can underline helpful passages. And there’s much to underline here.

    First, Claire Weekes uses the old-fashioned term “nervous illness,” which sounds more tolerable to me than the word anxiety. She takes the shame out of anxiety by referring to the illness as “severe sensitization” of the nervous system. Nerves become sensitized after a surgery, a major illness, prolonged tension, dieting, and whatever stresses the body. The body reacts with the symptoms of anxiety: a churning stomach, sweaty hands, racing heart, etc. These reactions become a habit.

    Second, the author explains every symptom in her no-nonsense yet reassuring tone, taking the fear out of the experience.

    Third, she encourages the reader to face the fearful symptoms, and not add to them through what she calls “second fear”–those worrisome what if thoughts that keep the stomach churning, the palms sweating, the heart racing.

    She reminds us that overcoming a case of sensitization doesn’t happen quickly, but, like any habit, it can be changed. The sufferer can be cured.

    This book, as well as a steady practice of meditation, helped me kick the panic habit. If I overtax myself, or stop taking my “meditation medication” and start becoming sensitized again, I often reach for this book, and Dr. Weekes’ understanding, encouraging voice, to steady my nerves again.


  2. How to Worry Well

    October 23, 2016 by Diane

    Last weekend, it rained. Hard. And steady.

    When it rains hard and steady in California, we stay indoors. We don’t know what that stuff is pouring down from the skies, and if we can’t go out in shorts and flip flops, we just don’t.

    So indoors I stayed. In my box of a playhouse.

    I felt like a caged animal, which is sometimes how I feel in my head. Imagine my delight when I discovered a program on PBS called The Healing Mind. I tuned in, and although my reception was spotty (because I’ve still got squirrels in the doohickey), I got the gist of what Dr. Martin Rossman had to say about worry. The good, the bad, and the huh? what should I do about it?

    Worry is something we all do, sometimes to the point of driving us squirrelly. But according to Marty, we can learn to worry well.

    A worry well? Where we drop our worries and make wishes?

    No. But that’s an interesting idea.

    Worrying well looks something like this:

    Take a sheet of paper, and divide it into three columns. Label the columns:

    Good Worries

    Bad Worries

    I Don’t Know Worries

    Then list all those nuclear nuggets rattling around in your head, all those worry thoughts.

    Is the worry something you can do something about? Then it’s a good one. Is it something you can’t do anything about? It’s a bad one. The rest go in the “I Don’t Know” column.

    Now, for the good worries, decide on steps you can take to deal with them. Brainstorm. Write down your ideas. Make an action plan.

    For the bad worries, visualize a positive outcome. Visualize what you’d like to have happen. This doesn’t guarantee that it will happen, but at the very least, it will help you feel better.

    For the worries you don’t know how to handle, ask your wise self for advice. According to Marty, we use only a small portion of our brain, thinking. The rest of it, the vast uncharted territory, is where imagination and wisdom resides.

    You don’t think you’re wise? Think again.

    If a friend asked you for advice about a problem, you’d have an answer. Where does that wisdom come from?

    Your wise self.

    So lie down, or sit in your comfy cozy chair, close your eyes, breathe deeply from the abdomen, relax your muscles, and visualize your wise advisor. Ask your advisor what you can do about your specific concern. And listen for the answer.

    I was eager to jot down my worries, and found that most of them fell under the “I Don’t Know” column. Just seeing them written down in their various columns lifted a weight from my soul.

    Our minds are tricky buggers. But, as Marty says:

    You are not your mind. You have a mind, but you are not your mind.

    There’s a part of us that can observe our thoughts. Which means, we have the power to choose what we want to think, or not think. We have the power to change our thoughts, our brain chemistry, and its wiring.

    We have the power!

    Here’s another interesting tidbit:

    Worry is a thinking activity. Anxiety is our emotional response. Stress is our physical response.

    To tamp down our anxiety and stress levels, we need to use our heads. We need to nip it in the bud at the source of the problem: our minds.

    So breathe deeply, relax, and go to your imaginary safe place, somewhere the rain don’t pour. And start visualizing.

    Wanna learn more? Get the book, The Worry Solution.

    Here’s a guided imagery by Marty Rossman.


  3. Book Review: Save the Cat!

    July 31, 2016 by Diane

    Save the Cat!

    As ye who follow this blog already know, I’m rewriting my first novel. It’s a manuscript I wrote one November as part of the National Novel Writing challenge—fifty thousand words in thirty days—all written by the seat of my pants.

    Not surprisingly, it’s fifty thousand words that don’t add up to a solid plot.

    After reading this plotless draft, I knew I had a lot of work ahead, but not a clue as to how to rewrite the mess. It had major problems, but I didn’t know specifically why.

    The ship was sinking, and I was ready to bail.

    Enter Blake Snyder.

    Blake Snyder was a successful screenwriter who wrote Save the Cat!, Save the Cat! Goes to the Movies, and Save the Cat! Strikes Back! If there’s anyone who knows anything about plot, it’s a successful screenwriter.

    “Save the Cat” is a term for the scene in the movie where, as Snyder puts it, “…we meet the hero and the hero does something—like saving a cat—that defines who he is and makes us, the audience, like him.”

    Blake Snyder’s secret to a successful story.

    Snyder realized that every great screenplay can be broken down into fifteen “beats.” These beats set up the story, force the hero to change, and propel the hero to the moment of win, lose, or draw. Without these beats, the screenplay lacks a spine, lacks a character arc, lacks a compelling story.

    Each beat occurs at set points in the script, and Snyder pins it down to the specific pages, starting with the opening image, down to the final moment, with all the turning points in between. He even came up with a beat sheet that we can all use to “beat out” our story.

    But what’s the story about?

    Good question. If you haven’t nailed the answer, you can’t beat out the plot. Snyder gives clues to help writers narrow down the theme and then come up with a solid “logline” that sums up the story in one sentence. Once the writer has a grasp of the theme and the logline, it’s a matter of mapping out the beats, and breaking the beats into scenes.

    At last! A map to the treasure!

    Now I knew what to look for, and where to look. To plot my novel, I asked myself:

    • Is the opening image opposite from the closing image?
    • Is the theme stated on page X?
    • Did I set up the hero’s world on pages X – XX?
    • Is there a moment that changes that world, and a moment when the hero makes a conscious choice to change course?
    • Is there a clear shift into Acts II and III?
    • Do the “bad guys close in,” is there a “dark moment of the soul,” do I reveal a solution to stories A and B?

    And so on…

    I know, sounds like a lot to take in. But Snyder simplifies the process. He gives examples from real movies. I recommend that you do what I did: with beat sheet in hand, and some DVDs of movies in the genre you’re writing, map the beats. They’re all there, just like Snyder promised.

    As I read Save the Cat!, light bulbs went off in my brain. All of this applies to novel writing! Just change the page numbers for each beat to match the number of pages in the novel I’m rewriting. 

    How?

    Enter Jessica Brody.

    On her site, she provides a template you can download for novelists. Fill in the number of words your novel will be, and the template automatically updates the page numbers to correspond with Blake Snyder’s fifteen beats.

    But what if you’re a pantser, not a plotter?

    As a seat-of-the-pants writer, am I selling out by following something that sounds formulaic? Here’s the way I look at it: a jazz musician improvises on a melody in a specific key; a dancer improvises based on the music. The form is the bowl that holds whatever recipe we dream up and whip together.

    Just get the book!

    I can’t recommend Save the Cat! highly enough. No matter where you are in the process of writing a novel or script—from first draft to rewrite—trust me, Blake Snyder is the guide you want for your journey.

    In fact, buy all three books. Save the Cat! Goes to the Movies gives a complete breakdown of the fifteen beats for movies, by genre, for “every story ever told.” Save the Cat! Strikes Back! elaborates on the process of building scenes, and offers a slew of advice for when you get into trouble.