Virtuosity 11.11

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Archive for the category “Roleplay and Writing”

Thoughts That Go Bump at Midnight

I used to be an avid roleplayer, and have roleplayed for years. In fact, throughout grad school, roleplay and writing were ways to escape the stress of real life for a while, and become the person I wanted to be. Little did I know that all the things I loved about my roleplaying alter ego were things that were already inside me all along. It wasn’t until after I passed my dissertation defense that I realized that I had become the person that I had envisioned — and my roleplaying self sort of…merged with me.

However, this is not the subject of this blog. Rather, it is the background to explain why it’s almost half past midnight and I still haven’t been able to get to sleep. See, after graduation, a lot of my writing stopped. Whether it was for roleplay, prose, or grad school, I used to write every day, and I loved it. No one told me — or I should say, no one could prepare me — for the existential crisis that blindsides you once you finish and they start calling you “Doctor.” For a short, unpleasant while, I was in a space where I had finally become, after all those years of grad school, the person I wanted to be, and now I had to figure out the person I wanted to be next! In other words, I spent seven long years trying to become a “Doctor,” and not that I had received the title, I had to quickly figure out life after. Was I going to be a professor? A post-doc? A researcher? A consultant? For over a year, I had to push back that nagging in the back of my mind that I had to become an entrepreneur. However, once I graduated I knew that the only way to fulfill my life’s goals and dreams was to pursue it and create my own company.

Again, this is more background, and not the subject of this blog yet, but I’m getting to it (I promise that it will be in THIS paragraph). My point being that once I decided to become an entrepreneur, it left me with very little time to do anything else but panic, reach out to any and everyone for help and advice, and to basically get my sh*t together (I can’t curse in this blog, because my mother reads it). So here I am, and on April 5, Qi Learning will be a year old. Tonight, I’ve been reflecting on this, and I realized that in the past year, I really stopped writing. I mean, I write reports, professional papers and blogs, but not writing like I used to — writing with heart and with the “me” of the writing in it. ..and I miss writing this way.

I miss the addiction of staying up late, writing that one roleplaying passage about my alter-ego facing some challenge and somehow conquering it with wit and guile. I also miss writing about theory, staying up late talking and learning about people, and writing to feel free.

Writing, to me, used to be as addicting as coffee, and I asked myself tonight: (because I’m in my head a lot) WHY DONT YOU WRITE ANYMORE? And my answer shocked me. It was because I had forgotten to include myself in that writing. The work I’ve been doing, even though it’s a labor of love and a mission for me, has been missing the ME in it.

Why, you might ask? I think it’s because I’ve spent all this time trying to be an entrepreneur, and trying to be this person that I’ve had little experience being. I thought that I had to act a certain way, and show myself in front of the public in another way, etc. etc. But in doing that, I left out the part of myself that loves to have fun — the person who writes passages to make people smile or laugh. That used to be left for roleplay, and real life was oh, so much more serious. But since I’ve become my alter ego, in a sense, I realize that it’s time to come back to my roots, again. I need to write for myself, and I need to write for fun.

Thank you for staying with me, if you’ve read up to this point. This is my long way of saying that tonight, I stayed awake because I’m starting to grasp an important life lesson. While I’ve been pursuing the things that drive me professionally, I also need to pursue the things that make me laugh and smile. I’m in a whole different place than I was last year. However, in roleplay, in grad school, or here, sitting in a dark room after midnight, I need to remember to write things that make me addictively happy.

What I mean by addictively happy, is that I need to find things to write that make writing addicting, again. That means writing about the things I love to talk about — like theory, education, and crazy things that happen in life (as opposed to my old way of writing about the fictional life). Life has become such and adventure, and while I love it, writing about it will make me love it even more, I think.

It might take me a few tries (well, maybe more than a few) to get into my groove again, but hopefully I will find it soon. Wish me luck, and I hope to be writing with you. Thank you, and write on, everyone! Write on!

Find your inner warrior

Warriors create themselves through

trial and error,

pain and suffering,

and their ability to conquer their own faults.


Cultivating a writing addiction

person-woman-apple-hotelPublish or perish.  In the doctoral world, success is based on written communication.  This writing starts early – the culmination of nearly every course you take in grad school ends with a 25-paged paper.  For the sake of survival, it is important to develop good writing habits – or even better, a writing addiction.

Peg Boyle Single’s blog post addressed two writer’s myths – the belief that one must have large, focused blocks of time and waiting to be in “the mood” to write  – can actually impede the writing process.  Realistically, having several uninterrupted hours to write is a rare luxury in the life of a Ph.D.  Furthermore, impending deadlines do not wait for mood swings.  The solution, Single suggests, is to dedicate a regular time to write each day.  Her article talks about the rationale behind this and offers tips to help cultivate the writing habit.

Although books on the subject offer anecdotal evidence on the benefits to everyday writing, there are several studies that provide empirical evidence that regular writing does, in fact, lower performance anxiety and increase writer proficiency.  A classic case study by Boice (1981), for example, helped six academics get over their chronic writer’s block through the use of scheduled writing days and specific writing activities.  In all six cases, “small but consistent amounts of writing over extended periods of time” (p. 206) minimized anxiety, the need for perfection, and writer’s burn out.  In another paper, Zimmerman and Risemberg (1997) reviewed several empirical studies on the self-regulation strategies of successful writers.  Among the list of strategies was, of course, writing on a regular basis.

It took a series of trials and errors before I was able to establish a fairly successful writing habit.  At first, I started by establishing a word count for myself every day.  This didn’t work, because often my days involved many hours of reading before I had gathered enough information in my brain to synthesize what I’ve read.  By then, the day would be over.  Then, I tried to make myself write for at least 30 minutes a day.  This, too, failed.  Again, it felt as if I did not know enough to be able to write for this amount of time on a daily basis.

Finally, a book called “Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day” by Joan Bolker reframed the way I thought about writing.  In her book, she goes beyond writing as a habit, and talks about creating a positive writing addiction: “Positive addictions can focus us; they have their own built-in motivation, complete with withdrawal symptoms.”  Thus, it was less about what you write, and more about just writing.  A lot.  Periodically!  …and going into withdrawals when you don’t write.

After reading her book, I remembered the habit loop described by Charles Duhigg in his book, “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business,” which can be used to create and/or change the habits that we have.  Duhigg talked about the three parts of the habit loop: the cue, the routine, and the reward (p. 13).  The cue is a trigger – a psychological button that starts the behavior.  The routine is the behavior itself, and the reward comes after you’ve completed the routine.  In order to shape bad habits into positive ones, one had to adjust something in this habit loop.  For example, if a nail biting habit is triggered by an uneven edge on one’s nail, carrying a nail file to eliminate that cue can change the habit.  Similarly, the use of a rubber band to snap one’s hand when they felt the urge to bite their nails reroutes the routine of biting, as well as the reward – a snap to reset the neurons.

In order to cultivate my writing habit/addiction, I had to have a cue, a routine, and a reward.  My habit had to be reasonable (not the 1000 word count, or the 30-minute writing block) and doable, so that I could experience success at it every day.  My habit loop was fashioned after already existing cues in my daily routine – the cue to pee after I wake up (yes, this is funny, I know, but at the same time, it works for me).  After I relieve my bladder, I sit at my computer and write for 10 minutes.  Just 10, because 10 is extremely doable.  Afterward, my writing habit ties into an addiction of mine as a reward – COFFEE!  After I write, I go and get my coffee, because I’m not fully human until I get coffee.  …and you know what?  This habit loop works for me!

Some lessons I learned about creating a writing addiction:

1. Make your goal something you can ALWAYS accomplish, no matter what.
I have, on occasion, brought the laptop into the bathroom with me.  For me, there is no excuse for not making my 10-minute freewrite, and I often go over this time quite easily.

2. It’s about writing.  JUST writing.
Don’t worry about what you are writing.  Just WRITE.  I’ll say more about freewriting in another post, but for now, just stick to writing – even if it’s, “I can’t think of anything to write so I’m going to just list my favorite ice cream flavors.”  JUST WRITE IT.

3. Tie writing to a cue or an addiction. 
This was key for me – because I love coffee so much.  The fact that coffee is a reward for writing makes writing even better for me – and now, it doesn’t feel right to have coffee without writing, first (yes, folks – I have a bona fide writing addiction)!  Perhaps your cue is sitting at your computer, or it’s the notepad you put at your table while you are eating breakfast.  It’s much easier to form a habit when it revolves around your other habits.  I have, before bed, often written writing prompts for myself to address in the morning.  That way, in my groggy before-coffee state, I can still manage to write something (although whether that something is intelligible is up for debate).

4.  Give yourself an incentives and rewards.
I need my coffee in the morning.  However, I also use something else – I put a few of my friends (thank goodness for Aubrey!) in a Facebook group, called, “Write before coffee.”  You are welcome to join it if you like, and you are not required to do any posts if you don’t want to.  Here, I’ll post my freewrites – as terrible and as awful as they are, for personal accountability.  I’m expected (because I said I would) to write each day – so I do!  However, when I talk about my own research in my freewrites, I include only a partial post there –  because I’m bound by ethics.  …but I post each day – because I have witnesses!

5. Make it a habit – periodic, persistence, tenacity
On a blog post in Forbes Magazine, Jason Selk debunks the myth that habits form after  periodically doing them for 21 days straight.  Instead, he claims that a habit doesn’t stick until you face a challenge during your routine that potentially breaks your streak.  When this happens, the act of overcoming these challenges and persisting despite the challenge will help the habit stick.  In his blog, he says that the more times one “fights through” these challenges, the more likely the habit will form and stay.  Be tenacious!

6. Don’t give up.  Find something that works!
It took me almost three years (and a lot of coffee) in order to cultivate my writing addiction.  I had to go through a lot of trial and error to figure out a routine that worked for me.  Don’t give up, but DO change things up if things are not working.  In “Write Good or Die” Kristine Kathryn Rusch says, “No amount of ‘forcing’ myself got me to change my habits.  I had to figure out where the problem started, and nip it in the bud.” Knowing what keeps you from forming a habit is just as important as the habit, itself.  Find out what those challenges are, and strategize on ways to overcome them.

7. Be patient and gentle with yourself.
Habits don’t form overnight.  However, each time you write, spend a moment to say to yourself, “I FINISHED!” and let that glory soak in.  When you don’t accomplish the habit, say, “I will do it now.  Challenge accepted!” or, reassess your goals and see if you need to make them more reasonable.  However, don’t beat yourself up.  You ain’t got time for that!  Success, after all, is a series of failing betters.

What are your habit-forming strategies?  Care to share in comments below?

Happy writing to you!



#writingsprint #amwriting

I work alone on my own schedule. Although there are many perks to working alone, I found out very quickly that finding the personal motivation to put in eight hours of work a day can be difficult.  It is very easy to become distracted, and with doctoral work, you must set aside time to write, read, and think.

Fortunately, a number of my classmates and friends have developed systems for keeping each other accountable and motivated.  For me, I rely a lot on writing sprints to get me by.  A writing sprint is a designated amount of time (usually 25 minutes to an hour) where you work, nonstop, without any distractions.  I do several of these every day!

In future articles, I will share some of my strategies for eliminating distractions during my sprints.  For now, let me explain how my sprints work:


  1. I start a sprint by sending an email blast to people on my email list who have said they would like to sprint with me within the next few minutes.  If anyone is interested, they email me back – usually with goals, and perhaps a time they would like to start.
  2. We agree to an end time (usually a half hour), and sometimes share our goals.
  3. At the start of the sprint, I turn on my Pomodoro timer to keep track of my time and my goals.  My web blocker goes on, my document is up, and I commit to sitting in my seat for that full 25 minutes of productivity.
  4. At the end, I send an email to my sprint buddies, to check-in.  This is a great time to be honest with each other (yes, sometimes we end up in the kitchen mopping the floor, without any recollection of how we got there), but to also offer some motivation and support, too.
  5. If everyone is for it, you start the next sprint and so on.

Because of summertime schedules and varying goals, there are some days when I may have three sprint partners, and other days where I may end up sprinting alone.  I stumbled across an article by Story a Day, which outlines how to host a Twitter-based sprint with anyone using #writingsprint as the hashtag.  The article had a lot of good ideas, which I will be trying.

Are you interested in sprinting with me?  I’ll be posting #writingsprint hashtags on my Twitter when I’m working.  Hope you will join me!

#acwri – hashtag for all you academic writers out there!

Happy Writing and Researching!


Keeping a Research Journal


Art credit to Leo

When I started my Ph.D. program, I kept a research journal as a requirement for one of my classes.  My research journal consisted of a simple Word document that contained all of my daily entries, separated by a series of dashes.  Each day, I would go to the top of this document, enter the date, and then write.  In this manner, my most current entries would be at the top and the older entries would appear at the bottom.

Throughout the semester, my professor had us try different things in our journal, such as: inputting notes from our readings, thinking memos, highlighting important things (through boldface, blinking text, or side comments) that we may want to revisit, and adding daily “to do” lists.  Through my journal, I learned how to paraphrase my readings, and to quickly synthesize several works into one or two paragraphs.  I later found that my notes were incredibly useful to use for later papers – especially toward the end of the semester.

My research journal quickly became a personal repository for processing my thoughts, theories, and experiences in both life and grad school.    Peg Boyle Single, in her blog on developing good writing habits, said that “Motivation occurs when you have done the necessary planning steps so that when you sit down to write prose, you have had time to subconsciously play around with the ideas and you only have to retrieve and type down the ideas, not to think them up.”  The research journal teaches you to do this sort of prethinking every day.

Later, I moved my journal from Word to Scrivener, which enabled me to keep my entries separate within a single electronic “binder.”  Each entry could be tagged, labeled, and summarized so that later, I could go back, search, and even categorize my entries by topic or subject.  This was incredibly valuable to me when I went through my comprehensive exam process, because I could compare my entries side-by-side to the actual working document that I needed to write.

Now, as I tackle my dissertation proposal, I have started a new section of my journal, where I keep my daily 10 minute freewrites.  In addition to developing a daily habit of writing, my journal has also taught me how to think by writing – a necessary skill for navigating through my frequent trips within the cognitive muck of research.

If you are interested in keeping a research journal (it is never too early or too late to start), check out this blog post by Anuja Cabraal.  She outlines the process of starting a journal, and provides suggestions for ways to use it effectively in our work.

Happy Researching!


I had the great fortune of having my blog visited by Kathy.  If you haven’t dropped by her blog, it’s worth it.  She is one of those inspiring people who is living her dream as an artist, and the things that she creates are quite amazing.  In one of the comments she left me on my blog, she said, “…Practice makes perfect and sometimes it takes a long time. Perseverance to become the best is a virtue.


If you do a Google search on “Failure quotes,” you’ll find a surprisingly large amount of them talk about what happens after the failure.  It is a fallacy to believe that successful people have never failed, or that they were simply lucky in all their endeavors.

More often than not, successful people fail all the time.  The difference is that they persevere until they no longer fail.

In other words, failure is just another challenge – and we can either pick ourselves up, or let that failure defeat us.  However, defeat is only a state of mind.  If we persevere, and continue to try harder, wiser, and smarter, eventually, we succeed.  Sometimes, it requires a change in ourselves to get there, but, if you persevere and are determined enough, you eventually will.


Vibrant Academia?

A Ph.D. Student’s Haiku

Can’t remember it
Too much to read and process
Rescue me, post-its!

Weapons of choice

Post-its are a girl’s best friend.  My desk is more colorful than my nails…


Catching Butterflies

She closed her eyesMonarch-butterflies-pacific-grove

and opened her mind;

released her thoughts

and let them find

the fire in the butterflies.

Its seems at the start of every large writing project, I find myself at the edge of a cliff with a large net.  The sky is full of colorful butterflies – their wings dazzle and catch in the light while they fly erratically – teasing, nearing, then flitting unpredictably away, while luring me from my safe space, daring me to step off that safe cliff rock to fall into the dark abyss.  I am mesmerized by their brilliance, as wings collide and dance in front of me.  I only need to catch a few – but they must be specific kinds!  So I watch, and try to shake myself out of that overwhelming stupor – the confusion of having so many ideas and thoughts spiral around me.  I spend days there, focusing, concentrating on that single butterfly that I must catch.  Sometimes, I find them in my net, and am fooled – a stray petal or leaf, but not the butterfly I want.  At other times, I catch so many, and I must only pick a few.  Their brilliant colors confuse me, and before I can get out my collecting jar, they have all flown away.

Find me today, on the edge of the cliff.  I’m catching butterflies, again.  I hold my net and my jar, eyes locked onto the swirls of color… I just need a few.  Only a few.  Just a few to light my way.

Then, I will be ready to jump!


Morning Rituals

15536022860_822668930cShelled pistachios on a porcelain plate – the salt still lingered on my tongue. Sweetened by honeyed kisses with traces of Moroccan mint and green tea, your lips curve into that knowing smile, slightly parted with breath that stirred the steam dragons wafting off of my coffee; you made them dance. They framed your face as you looked at me with a twinkle in your eye – as if you and the autumn morning shared a secret. Indeed, I touched your fingertips across the table, carefully splayed to hide the last answer to our daily Sudoku, and I leaned in, eager to listen. My heart opened to hear you, and with the soft brush of your warm lips against mine, you passed the secret over to me, reaching beyond the framing of simple words so that it could be fully felt and enjoyed. Together, we left the past, let go of the future, and unwrapped the present.

Why research is important.

One lesson that hit me fairly hard when I left the world of roleplay and ventured out into the world of authorship was that you couldn’t make everything up as you go along.  That’s where research comes in.

Don’t get me wrong.  If you’re writing a book about elves in a fantasy world, you can fake a lot.  You can’t really research a race you just created by yourself.  What you can do is read other fantasy books that fit into the genre you are going for to see if your take is unique or if it at least brings something to the table that was not there before.  That’s the fun kind of research.  And really?  If you want to be a better writer, reading and writing more are both the best ways to improve.

Right now I’ve few projects I’m working on, but even the more fantastical required me to do research.  One of my projects is heavily drenched in Norse Mythology.  I’ve had to dive into reading over legends from Scandinavian over and over again, and even though I’ve altered some of that history, I still needed to know my stuff.  It was important to have some understanding of the muddled history of Norse lore, if only so that I knew what changes would work for it.

In roleplay, I play Natasha Romanoff.  She’s a soviet spy from an era long dead.  I am neither Russian nor a spy.  I rely on both google translate and many Russian language sites to help me figure out some basic phrases to use in my roleplays.  I also love comic books, so I have an extensive collection of issues she has been in, both in physical and digital form.  For roleplay, that is the kind of research I love to do.  I adore getting absorbed into 20 issues and binge reading them like there is no tomorrow.

Like most comic books, Natasha’s history has been revised and retconned quite a bit.  Since I have a particular fondness for spies, I’ve also taken up other forms of research.  In truth, this isn’t just to play Natasha.  Right now most of my writing projects are very fantasy based, but the idea of someday writing a spy thriller appeals greatly to me.  So I’ve subscribed to podcasts about spying, I’ve bought books about spying (specifically about the history of the KGB, which so far is fascinating)  and I watch for other reference material about it.

Now for roleplay, not everyone is going to want to go that deep nor might they have the time to.  I’ve met a few RPers who base themselves in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and they have met with people who feel if they don’t read the comics, they aren’t truly playing the character.  I disagree completely.  Though research is helpful and essential to good and informed writing, roleplay is just a game.  Anyone should be able to come to a game, play what they want, and get some fun out of it.  If you don’t like how they play, that is okay, there is a chance there are many other characters to play with, perhaps even a version of that same character.

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