Keep Your Brain Intact: Five Ways to Reduce Stress During Finals

By Bailey M. Gamberg

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It’s December. You’re stressed. You’re freaking out. You’re madly calculating what the absolute minimum grade you have to get on your final is. You’re clutching at your hair in frustration at a table in the KC. You’re lying in bed trying to recall vocabulary terms and equations before you fall asleep. Eventually, the stress feels nearly impossible to overcome.

One of the best ways to increase your studying efficiency is to take necessary, relaxing breaks. Most students just open up a social media tab on their laptop or start texting a friend to take a “break” from their work. Although these technological habits can distract you from studying for the time being, they are not the most effective ways to handle the stress. Instead, here are five other options that will take ten-minutes or less.

  1. Eat a healthy snack. Either munch on something that you brought along with you or head over to the coffee shop nearby. While coffee may be your immediate go-to, most locations offer healthy options such as fruit parfaits, granola bars, protein packs, etc. Choosing a healthy snack will provide nutrients for your body and give you more brain power.
  2. Listen to peaceful sounds. Although most people are fans of rock, EDM, pop, and other modern genres of music, sometimes listening to Classical can be extremely calming and focusing. Soothing tunes without lyrics can aid in the relaxation process. For people who really can’t stand Classical music, another stress-reducing option is to Google relaxing sounds, such as a light rainstorm, wind and birds in the forest, or waves on the shoreline.
  3. Look at things that make you happy. Go through that old photo album of your spring break trip or type “cute baby animals” into a search engine. Go ahead and smile at pictures of your friends laughing or a lion cub yawning. These will help serve a reminder that there is light ahead… one week after Dead Day.
  4. Take a light nap. 10-minute power naps can be the most beneficial type of nap in order to improve cognitive performance; however, most people find themselves unable to stick to just 10 minutes. If you believe that you have enough willpower to keep going after being rudely awoken by your alarm, then go ahead and reap the benefits of a short nap.
  5. Perform deep-breathing exercises. One of the most effective slow breathing exercises is the 4-7-8 strategy, which includes inhaling for 4 seconds, holding it in for 7 seconds, then slowly exhaling for 8 seconds. Begin by breathing in through your nose and then breathing out through your mouth. When breathing deeply, try to focus on your core muscles and think about breathing into your stomach rather than your lungs.

Most of all, remind yourself that although finals are important, they are not the pinnacle of your life. You are not a number. You are not the number of credits you’ve taken, the amount of stress weight you’ve gained, or your semester GPA. Just try and stay as calm as possible because your mental health will always be more important than any test grade.

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The End of NaNoWriMo2016

By Ash Thoms

Today is the 30th of November, which means National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) has come to a close. Very early this morning I finished my last sentence, copied all of my text, and put it into NaNoWriMo’s verification system.

I wrote 50,403 words. I was declared as a winner of NaNoWriMo.

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It took a few minutes for this to set in. Even while writing this blog, I still can’t believe I completed this project. I have previously attempted NaNoWriMo, but I never had the drive or inspiration to write 50,000 words.

I touched on little life-lessons I learned throughout this project with my other blog posts, but there’s one life-lesson that isn’t so little that I have yet to touch on.

I am a writer.

I am a writer because I write. Writing feels like breathing to me. It is the one surefire way that I know how to express myself. However, I was cautious of proclaiming myself as a writer because I was worried I wasn’t good enough, thoughtful enough, or driven enough to be considered a writer.

The truth is, I am. Anyone who writes is a writer.

It took me a month of sleepless nights, over-caffeinating, and cancelling social engagements to feel comfortable with saying those words out loud. Let me save you the trouble: if you write, you’re a writer.

When we engage in other activities, there’s hardly ever as much hesitation to identify ourselves as participants in that hobby. If you are enrolled in school, you’re a student. If you play a sport, you’re an athlete. But writing feels so close to identity that proclaiming yourself to be a writer feels like proclaiming something else entirely.

For me, it felt like I was proclaiming a false identity. Yes, I write, but that didn’t make me a writer. I thought writers had to be deeply involved in some sort of creative writing pursuit. I know now that isn’t true. I was a writer when I began this project, just as I am now, because writing is one of my hobbies. Writing is something that makes me feel alive and keeps me sane.

I had a story to tell, and it was a story that I had to get out of my head one way or another, so I wrote it. I wrote it because that’s what I know best. I wrote it because I love a challenge, and I wanted to see myself succeed.

I challenged myself to get out of my comfort zone of spoken-word poetry and academic writing. I challenged myself to write something that mattered to me and something I wanted to bring to life.

Right now, I’m not sure if I will do anything with this completed manuscript. Honestly, if I don’t, I’ll still be content with everything I did this month. I learned so much, and I made something that mattered to me—even if it is just for me.

If you want to be a writer, write. Write for you, and let the rest follow. Practice and learn as much as you can; then continue to learn what you didn’t think you could. After all, as Ernest Hemingway once said,

“We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.”

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NaNoWriMo 2016 Monday Prompt Set #4

It’s the last Monday of NaNoWriMo! You can do it! We’ve got a final set of prompts for you to use to get through these final days. Try using ideas from these prompts (inspired by The Writer’s Block by Jason Rekulak) to help mold the end of your novel!

  • Check today’s local newspaper for a story that might appear in your novel. How would your main characters react to this story? Is it a story about them? Is it about someone they know or someone they love? Write a scene where the character interacts with this story.
  • Write about an incident that could be used against one of your characters if they were to ever run for political office.
  • Write about a character whose life is governed by Murphy’s Law.
  • Write a scene about your main character’s favorite childhood toy.
  • Write a scene where your main character interacts with the devil. This could be a literal or figurative devil.
  • Your main character sees a phone number written on a restroom wall. Describe what happens when he or she dials it.
  • Your main character receives a meaningful and/or important gift. What does it reveal about the relationship between the gift giver and the main character?
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NaNoWriMo 2016 Monday Prompt Set #3

We’re deep into NaNoWriMo now, and you might be struggling to get meet those daily word goals. Don’t give up! Try using some of these scenarios for inspiration.

Write a paragraph about:

  • A stay-at-home parent with crippling debt
  • A teller of secrets who has regrets
  • A reluctant participant who has a fever
  • A person with a tail who has a problem at the bus station
  • A person of a different size than most people who has obvious plastic surgery
  • An interview with a trespasser
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Nouning Your Characters

By Logan Miller

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When writing (say, for NaNoWriMo), do you find yourself thinking predominantly about narrative? Sure, numerous characters populate that narrative, but maybe your thinking tends to revolve around circumstances, events, conflicts, etc. If it does, I’d bet you also sometimes worry about whether your characters feel whole or whether they have a life beyond the confines of the narrative. If any of this sounds familiar, don’t worry. I do these things, and I’d wager numerous writers at all experience levels would confess to the same.

Shelves and shelves of writing guides suggest writing three dimensional characters who are motivated toward some goal, and the deferral and fulfillment of that goal drives the plot. I would never disagree with this idea, but in unraveling why I so often worry about my characters’ completeness, I’ve recognized the following: in focusing on a central goal, I inexorably subordinate the characters to the narrative, as if nothing they might do or think matters, unless it gets them through the narrative arc I’ve laid out.

I fall into this pattern because I consider plots before characters. Maybe other writers don’t do the same, but this is my personal writerly challenge. I bet we’ve all consumed media where it felt like the characters acted odd for the sake of the plot.

If you’ve worried as I do, the following activity might help. I can’t speak to its initial genesis, but I came to it by way of my friend and instructor Christopher Coake.

  1. Pick a character of yours. I’ll refer to myself as the character here for simplicity.
  2. Pick 25 nouns the character would use to refer to themselves. Mine follow.
Writer Consultant Tutor Perfectionist Snowboarder
Procrastinator Romantic Cynic Realist Reader
Doodler Artist Feminist Marxist Student
Brother Best Friend Dreamer Researcher Drinker
Son Talker Overthinker Gamer Fashionista

In choosing nouns, I’ve focused on who my character is or sees himself to be. Why these nouns? Well, they’ve all defined my character in whole or in part at some point in time. Maybe some of these choices relate to motivation, but I can’t say that yet. All we have is a brief portrait.

Remember, you don’t need to feel tied to the number used here; you may need more (or fewer) nouns before you begin to see the outline of a character. With time, I could generate a list of a hundred or more, but I don’t know that I’d need that many.

  1. Now, pick the top five nouns. Mine would probably be:
    1. Consultant
    2. Student
    3. Writer
    4. Talker
    5. Procrastinator

Why those five? My days are largely circumscribed working on schoolwork and at the University Writing Center, but beyond the time commitment, I also identify with the work I do in both venues. My identity as a writer gets edged out primarily because I’ve only been published in smaller venues and because I’ve actively procrastinated on all my creative writing endeavors lately. However, I write for work and school and have numerous projects that I hope (with work) will be accepted for publication. My fourth noun often represents a bigger portion of my time than writing often does, but I place more importance on my writing than on my oration. Finally, I can conceive of the fifth noun in a higher position—it’s a constant challenge—but I like to think that I overcome this identify, once in a while.

What do these nouns tell us about my character? I’m work focused, placing my role there above my role as a student. I have a potentially ambivalent attitude toward being a writer; it’s a comfortable identity, but not a consuming one. Being a talker might be positive, but in this case represents more of a cheeky admission of what I see as a flaw, and procrastination plays such a role in my life that it couldn’t realistically fall lower.

By providing similar justifications for your character’s nouns, you can begin to outline these characters’ competing fears, ambitions, and desires in a way that doesn’t just serve the narrative. Ask yourself, how would this character respond in a situation? Your work identifying your character’s manifold identities can help answer that question.

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Reflections from Week Two of NaNoWriMo 2016

By Ash Thoms

The second week of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) has come to a close! At the end of the 14th of November, the word count for each participant should have been 23,333. It is unbelievable to me that we are almost half-way through November, much less half-way through this writing challenge.

While week one was interesting in its own right, week two had its own set of challenges to address and lessons to learn. Here’s a brief overview of what week two of NaNoWriMo has taught me:

  1. Writing a continuous story is really hard.
    • I am, by nature, a poet. I write short, spoken-word poetry. My poems don’t blend together to create a bigger story; they stand on their own and don’t need external information to make sense. What I’m writing for NaNoWriMo has to be fluid. It has to make sense as one whole and not as individual parts. There has to be continuity. While the outline I mentioned last week has been helpful, I also have to make sure my voice remains the same throughout the work. I have to ensure that my ideas flow in the way I originally planned in the outline. So far, NaNoWriMo has been an exercise in writing something other than what I normally write, and this has taught me a lot about the writing I don’t normally engage in.
  2. Motivation is a finicky creature.
    • Writing everyday has been challenging. Some days I don’t feel like writing, or I don’t think my ideas are as good as they could be. Some days sleep just seems way better than spending two hours writing at the end of my day. What has consistently gotten me through to this point is the idea of NaNoWriMo being a challenge. A challenge proposed by my friends, initially, but now it’s a challenge to myself to see if I can do it. I want to disprove the part of me that says “you cannot possibly accomplish this.” That desire is keeping me going, even when my motivation isn’t as strong as I would hope.
  3. I don’t have to write in the middle of the night.
    • I always knew this. It isn’t new information that I have the capability to write in the daytime. I’m writing this in the middle of the afternoon and nothing bad has happened because of it. However, I have always held myself to the belief that I am a more creative and interesting writer when the moon is out and every other human is asleep. In an effort to address my lack of time management skills that I mentioned last week, I started writing in the morning or when I had short periods of free time during the day. My writing has been just as good and just as creative as it is normally when I write at night, disproving my fear that I am only a conditionally good creative writer.

We’re almost halfway there. As of the time that I wrote this blog post, I had written 24,000 words. I have 26,000 left to write this month in order to complete the challenge.

I know I can succeed, and I am excited to do so.

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NaNoWriMo 2016 Monday Prompts Set #2

We’ve got another set of prompts for you today! We’re drawing from The Storymatic® again to help you make it to your daily word goal!

Include in your story:

  • A cook who can’t cook
  • A person in tears
  • A hypochondriac
  • A person who can’t remember an important word
  • A person who can’t wait any longer
  • A person covered in tattoos
  • A person who has been stood up
  • A person who is locked out
  • A tourist
  • A person who knows that future
  • A thief
  • A person who believes in fairies
  • An astronaut
  • A person who refuses to fit in
  • A person with a hidden talent

WRITER’S BLOCK PROMPT: Make one of your characters an animal–what animal did you choose and why? What does your animal character see and experience? Re-write one of your scenes with your character as an animal.

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Reflections from Week One of NaNoWriMo 2016

By Ash Thoms

The first week of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) has come to a close. While I’m sure many of you reading this know what NaNoWriMo is, I’ll give a brief overview for those who don’t.

NaNoWriMo is an event that occurs during the month of November, in which writers all over the world try to write 50,000 words in thirty days. That’s about 1,667 words a day; on  day 7, all participants should have written 11,667 words by the time the clock strikes midnight.

I’ve attempted this event before (a few years in a row, in fact) but never successfully completed it. However, my friends “gently encouraged” me to join them this year, and I’m not one to back away from such encouragement.

The first week has been full of new experiences for me. Here are some of the lessons that have come from those experiences:

  1. My time management skills need serious work.
    • I know most college students don’t sleep, but in the first week of NaNoWriMo I took this stereotype to a new level. My caffeine consumption increased, and the duration of my sleep decreased by a factor of about three (which, yes, I did calculate for this post). Trying to maintain my normal schedule and write 1,667 words a day is incredibly challenging. I’m not expecting it to get easier, but I’m in the process of adjusting my schedule to figure out how I can get through the rest of the month with a bit more sleep.
  2. Outlining is so necessary.
    • I created the outline for my novel on October 31 (refer to my point about time management above). I knew I needed an idea of what I was going to write about and where it was going to go, but I’ve always been a write-what-I-feel-in-the-moment kind of human. The very basic outline I created has saved me so much time and made my story more readable. Had I not created an outline, there would be no continuity to what I’m writing, and it would have zero chance of turning into a novel.
  3. Snacks? Company? Hugs? Breaks? All great things.
    • Being a participant in NaNoWriMo this year has taught me the value of human connection. I tend to write by myself in the middle of the night, but at the University Writing Center we’ve created weekly write-ins (Wednesdays from 5:30 pm until close–come by!). These write-ins have allowed me to experience community in writing. While writing is still considered a solitary activity, there’s something to be said for being able to bounce ideas off of others. Also, who doesn’t want tons of snacks, hugs, and a few minutes of conversation as a break from writing a novel? Writing’s hard work, and you have to make sure you’re taking care of yourself while you do it.
  4. I have a lot to say, and I deserve to say it.
    • I spent years hiding from myself and everyone else, and this year’s NaNoWriMo has been such an amazing opportunity to make myself write in a way that I have always wanted to. In general, writing for me is an emotional release, but it has also proven to be a healing force throughout this first week. I have found my voice in what I’m writing in a way that I have never previously experienced. In finding my voice, I have also discovered that what I have to say is incredibly valuable—even if only for myself.

One week down, three to go! At the time of writing this blog post, I have written 13,000 words for NaNoWriMo. To complete the challenge, I need to write 37,000 more.

I am more than ready for it.

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NaNoWriMo 2016 Monday Prompts Set #1

Are you falling short of your NaNoWriMo word goal? Try using these story prompts from The Storymatic® to move your plot forward and/or work through some writer’s block!

Write a story about:

  • Something inside the wall
  • A bounced check
  • Homesickness
  • The last day of school
  • Pressure to skinny-dip
  • A motorcycle
  • Your third day without sleep
  • A wig
  • A problem at a bus station
  • Something wrong with the water
  • An aging clown
  • A person who steals cats
  • A person with a toothache
  • A person who says yes to everything
  • A hitchhiker picker-upper
  • A former child star
  • A person who calls talk radio shows

 

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Make Your Paper “Shine”

By Sierra Becze

The film adaptation of Stephen King’s novel, The Shining, is one of the most famous psychological thrillers of our time. For those who haven’t seen it, the movie is about an author who brings his family into an isolated hotel in the middle of winter, gets cabin fever, and then tries to murder them. But what exactly made Jack Torrance go insane in the movie? Was it the haunted hotel that possessed him? Or was it because he was trying so dang hard to finish the final draft of his play without taking a single break? A strong argument could be made for the latter option. If Jack would’ve taken a break from his writing, The Shining probably would’ve ended with the Torrance family building snowmen and living happily ever after. Taking a break during writing may seem counterproductive, but it can actually be incredibly helpful.  If not, you risk axing down a door while yelling “Heeeeeere’s Johnny!”

In the iconic scene, Jack’s wife, Wendy, is roaming around the house trying to escape her crazed husband and stumbles upon his typewriter (the clip can be watched here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jeOevu4zC5o). The old proverb, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” has been typed over and over onto the page. What exactly does this quote mean and how does it relate to writing? If you are continuously working on your paper without giving yourself breaks (to play), your writing becomes dull and boring. It will also be harder to write your paper if you feel exhausted because your creativity and ability to make connections between topics will be hindered. This can ultimately result in writer’s block, making it feel like you’re frozen inside of a maze.

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In the Shining clip, Wendy then sees a box full of additional pages of the play. While there are about 500 pages inside of the box, the old proverb is the only thing written. Sometimes the format of his writing  changes, but it says the same exact thing on all 500 pages. This kind of thing can also happen if you don’t take breaks during writing. While you may come up with 237 pages in one sitting, it will probably say the same exact thing over and over. This will be useless and leave you feeling more frustrated than when you began.

After some consideration, you decide you don’t want to go crazy trying to write your paper in one sitting like Jack; what are some effective ways to take a break? Exercising by going to the gym, taking your dog for a walk, riding your tricycle, or playing with your twin sibling are all great ways to refresh your mind. Try grabbing a baseball bat and playing some ball if it’s a nice day outside. Exercising allows the blood in your brain to start pouring in, which can help get the creative juices flowing and defeat writer’s block or repeating ideas. But what if you’re like Jack and you don’t want to go outside because there’s a giant snowstorm? What other ways can you take a break? One thing you can do is watch a movie (read: The Shining). You could also treat yourself to some ice cream or take a relaxing bath. There are a million different ways to take a break from writing; just do whatever sounds the most pleasing to you!

Writing a paper can make you feel like you’re wandering tirelessly in a maze with frostbite–lost with your brain freezing up on the spot. Sometimes you will want to try to push through it, but that will only lead you deeper and deeper into the maze. Taking a break will give you the ability to see the trail of footprints leading out of the maze and ultimately allow you to survive your paper.

 

References

Kubrick, Stanley. “THE SHINING (1980) – “All Work and No Play Makes Jack a Dull Boy” [HD].”

YouTube, uploaded by Cicoare Studio, 25 Mar 2012, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jeOevu4zC5o.

The Shining. Directed by Stanley Kubrick, performances by Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall, Warner Bros., 1980.

Zadeh, Ulvi. “All work and no play make Jack a dull boy.” Kinozade, 15 June 2015, kinozade.blogspot.com/2015/06/all-work-and-no-play-make-jack-dull-boy.html. Accessed 12 Sept. 2016.

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