Fear takes longer to experience in the human brain


I’ve been rereading The Cambridge Companion to Popular Fiction, edited by David Glover and Scott McCracken. I can’t explain why except that the current upheaval in publishing is making me ask questions about the history of the business. In Chapter Six “”Reading time: popular fiction and the everyday,” editor McCracken makes some important points about what happens to readers when they read. Knowing more about reading and how a reader’s experience might affect my writing is definitely a question worth asking. McCracken provided me with a variety of diving boards from which to jump into my own head or other texts. I am drawn to this sentiment from Chapter Six:

The thriller thus allows for different forms of attention, which rely on a comprehensive knowledge of what to expect from the genre, a knowledge culled not just from written fiction, but also from film and television. Yet despite the familiarity of the structure, like the popular song, the successful thriller has to have a ‘hook’, an intriguing element of originality, which draws the reader in (Cambridge 112).

McCracken’s “forms of attention” triggered my curiosity about how I could understand his meaning and apply it to writing romance. While McCracken focuses on thriller novels for this thought, he is really talking about the tension and pacing of a novel. Romance has a sub-genre of romantic suspense, but all romance fiction has some degree of tension derived from the question “will they or won’t they?” The suspense of not knowing the answer and vicariously living the struggles the heroine and hero endure on the way to resolving the question is the same as “will the detective figure this out?”

McCracken emphasizes his premise with three primary examples that thriller novels can/do focus on different forms of attention, and I wondered what that meant in terms of how the brain deals with time (which underlies McCracken’s chapter) during different kinds of stress/excitement/worry/etc. Why does one form of attention in a thriller appeal to readers more than others?

I found a kernel of an answer in  The Secret Pulse of Time: Making Sense of Life’s Scarcest Commodity written by Stefan Klein who says:

The way we judge the length of an interval of time depends not only on the gauge the brain uses to estimate the elapsed time but also on the degree of our focus. If consciousness is occupied with other matters at the same time, we underestimate the time that has passed; if we are hyperalert—for example while watching an act of violence in a film—the seconds expand (62-63).

My interpretation of this is if a reader (or viewer) is thoroughly absorbed by a scene, paying more focused attention, the time will feel longer to them. The less engaging the writing or the acting, time will seem to pass more quickly for the reader/viewer because the brain is susceptible to distraction. It’s the difference between quickly scanning the pages of a magazine (distracted focus) and examining every detail of one particular page for several minutes (deep attention.)

Klein claims that during intense action it is the “sense of dread that makes the scene seem agonizingly long—like waiting in the dentist’s chair in view of the drill” (63) that captures the reader’s brain and holds them spellbound.

Therefore, my writing needs to include more showing and less telling to increase the reader’s vicarious experience with the action, and this will have positive effects on the degree of tension and pacing in my story.

All good things,



Klein, Stefan. The Secret Pulse of Time: Making Sense of Life’s Scarcest Commodity. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 2007.

McCracken, Scott. “Reading Time: Popular Fiction and the Everyday.” The Cambridge Companion to Popular Fiction. Ed. David Glover and Scott McCracken. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012. 86-102. Print.

GUEST POST: Staying Productive in the Cold

Snowy Greensburg J.D. Cook

Welcome J. D. COOK, a fellow student at Seton Hill University. It gets pretty chilly in January during residency in Greensburg, PA, but J. D. sees some benefits. Read on!

“Staying Productive in the Cold”

By: J.D. Cook

This past January the Seton Hill Writers in Popular Fiction Residency reached sub-zero temperatures. There was some delightful snow and ice on top of that. Additionally, my hotel sat on a large hill, the city of Greensburg is filled with hills, and Seton Hill is, obviously, on a hill. Suffice it to say; my car did a fair amount of sliding. I may or may not have seen my life flash before my eyes a few times, but when all was said and done, I managed to make a productive week of it. How is that, do you ask?

Low Temps J.D. Cook

Well, since it was so cold no one wanted to spend a lot of time outdoors. Networking was at a minimum, and I only went out to eat with friends once. So, I did what any writer should do when trapped by nasty weather. I wrote. I didn’t outline any new novels, and I didn’t make any major plot breakthroughs, but I did grind away at some revision ideas. Additionally, I accomplished something I’m not sure I’ve ever really done before.

I wrote, read, and got assignments done while away from the comfort zone of my desk. Most writers should be familiar with the odd sense of Zen that pervades their desk. I’ve taken this to a ridiculous extreme by refusing to part with the desk I’ve written on since middle school. It’s a little beat up, but I’ve done my best work on it by golly. So, you can understand how big of an accomplishment this was for me.

While writing away from my desk was new for me, the wintry weather was not. I hail from the mountain town of Hazleton, which is one of the highest elevated cities in the state. The thing about the extreme cold is that you have no excuse not to hunker down and focus on your writing, or reading. You can’t say, but it’s such a lovely day, and I need to be seizing it. You can’t say that you should be seeing that movie everyone’s discussing. No, you are stuck inside, and as long as you don’t go all ‘Jack Torrance in the Shining’ on anyone, you should be able to get whatever you need to do done. It can be incredibly relaxing just to let go of the outside world for a few hours and focus on a single thing in your house, or in my case a hotel room.  Then, when you come out of your isolation, you’ll leave with a newfound sense of accomplishment.

Overall, the January Residency is usually freezing. It’s a good counterpoint to the June Residency, which is carefree and warm. In January you get to spend more time doing the dirty work of writing. You get to hunker over a hotel room desk doing work. There’s something just as wonderful about that as there is about mingling with my fellow writers, but I could still do without the icy roads.

J. D. Cook Headshot

-J.D. Cook is a Creative Writer in Training. If you are interested in learning more about his journey check out www.jeremiahdylancook.com

Thanks, J. D.

Be well, write well!




Joy E. Held is the author of Writer Wellness, A Writer’s Path to Health and Creativity, a college educator, blogger, and yoga/meditation teacher. Her work has appeared in numerous publications including Romance Writers Report, Dance Teacher Now, Yoga Journal, and Woman Engineer Magazine.

Photo: K. Held

Photo: J. D. Cook

Copyright 2018, Joy E. Held



Am I Meditating?

How Do You Know If You’re Meditating?



There are five primary areas of practice to the Writer Wellness plan. Relaxation/meditation, creative play, fitness and exercise, journaling, and nutrition.

“Success is never a destination—it’s a journey.”                 ~Satenig St. Marie,

Unless we have a homemade brain wave monitoring machine, we usually don’t have the means to measure our level of success with meditation in a scientific sense. We can feel certain changes and measure them to a degree. The average meditation journey should experience three specific measurable stages:

1.Tension-this is where we notice just how tight our jaw bones are, how sore our backs are and how busy our minds tend to be.

2.Letting go-this is when we notice some of the tension releasing and our breathing is slowing down.

3.THERE-this is when we become aware of very few things, less and less bothers us physically and mentally we realize our thoughts have slowed down, and we can control whether or not we want to follow monkey mind down its ragged path. We do not follow monkey mind.

These stages coincide with known and studied brain wave activity.

1.Tension = Beta (busy, busy, busy mind)

2.Letting go = Alpha (focused awareness on our breath and what it’s doing, fewer thoughts)

3.THERE = Theta (just about to cross the hazy boundary into slumber-ville)

Sleep isn’t meditation, and theta is the gatekeeper of sleep, so the goal is to remain relaxed and aware at the alpha level. Regardless of how messy the day has been, a successful meditation session need only give us a conscious pause from the issues we’re dealing with and that’s enough. Yep. It only takes a few minutes a day to meditate successfully. But what does a successful meditation practice “feel” like?


This brings up the question of goals. Should we have goals where meditation is concerned? Is it better to let things take their course and follow along?

Like yoga, meditation is a blend of healthy balance. It’s right to set a goal to meditate for a specific amount of time each day. It’s right to practice particular habits like sitting still and watching breath flow. But it isn’t right to set expectations beyond the realm of the realistic. Why? Because unlike measuring the fact that our brain activity actually slows down during meditation, it creates more stress to attach a measurement or a benchmark for meditation. “If I don’t find perfect peace in my life in three months of meditating, I failed and will give up meditating.” Or “I should notice a major shift in my actions in a set period of time, and if I don’t I will stop meditating because it just isn’t for me.” These are normal examples of our “quick fix”, I-want-it-now mindsets, and this doesn’t work with meditation.

With meditation, the less you expect, the more you receive.


To answer the question of what successful meditation feels like, beyond the physical and mental releases (which may not feel gigantic, but they occur,) the positive results of regular meditation show themselves in our everyday actions.

1.We are more patient.

2.We smile more.

3.We laugh bigger.

4.We appreciate little things more.

5.We share more.

6.We hold the door more often.

7.We focus better.

8.We are healthier.

9.We are brave.

10.We trust more.

11.We think the best first.

12.We are less critical of ourselves and others.

13.We are more accepting.

14.We are more loving.

15.We are more truthful.

16.We are more understanding.

17.We are more creative.

18.We are more of who we were meant to be.

19.We are better drivers.

20.We are better listeners.

It’s a long journey worth every step. Do you have any meditation stories to share from your journey?

Be well, write well.




Joy E. Held is the author of Writer Wellness, A Writer’s Path to Health and Creativity, a college educator, blogger, and yoga/meditation teacher. Her work has appeared in numerous publications including Romance Writers Report, Dance Teacher Now, Yoga Journal, and Woman Engineer Magazine.


Photo: K. Held, 2011

Copyright 2018, Joy E. Held

Creativity Activities To Begin the New Year


Creativity Activities to Begin the New Year

“The creation of something new is not accomplished by the

                intellect but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity.

                The creative mind plays with the objects it loves.”

                                C.G. Jung



Creativity is effort applied to problem-solving resulting in something that didn’t exist before. Creative play is anything that constructively enlivens your spirit while challenging your mind. While the brain helps organize the materials and the process, the mind/spirit supplies the energy and the daring and the questions necessary to find new answers.


Hobbies are also known as creative play. Think you don’t have time for a hobby? Find activities that are creatively productive but that add dimension to your writing as well. However, it is advisable to engage in creative play outside the writing world. Perhaps you will see how writing is connected, even foundational, to all the arts in some way.


Creative Play Tips


  1. Collage: Spend no more than 3 hours creating a collage from magazine cut-outs that relates to some aspect of your current writing project.
  2. Letters: Write a letter, poem, or journal entry as one of the characters from your current work-in-progress.
  3. Positive Affirmations: Use index cards and create a set of positive affirmation cards for yourself that encourage you to stay on task, finish a certain number pages, send queries, etc. Carry one per day in your pocket.
  4. Scrapbook: Create a scrapbook page about some honor or goal for your writing. Put a picture of yourself writing on the page and state the honor/goal.
  5. Contact me: Write a letter to me.
  6. Connect: Attend a writing conference.
  7. View Art: See a play, art exhibit, or a movie.
  8. Exercise & Write: Take a walk with a small notepad and pen. Stop and make notes about anything that pops into your mind.
  9. Gaming the Old Fashioned Way: Play cards or a board game with family and friends.

10. Color: Color in a coloring book. Draw or paint.

What creative ideas are you planning for the new year?

Be well, write well.




Creative Being


Creativity, like beauty, is sometimes “in the eye of the beholder.” A homemade greeting card with hand printed sentiments looks cheap to some people while to others it says the creator means to share a heartfelt idea with more than just a dollar bill. Many, many people are mistaken when they believe they aren’t creative. We are all creative to some degree every day. It’s a matter of how and collecting the ideas into something meaningful to someone else.

“I’m sorry that our country and the people do not consider the arts as vital to our well-being as, say, medicine. Suffering is unnecessary. It doesn’t make you a better artist; it only makes you a hungry one. However, to me the acquisition of the craft of writing was worth any amount of suffering.”

                ~Rita Mae Brown

I wish I could draw more than stick figures. Somewhere in my grade school days, I remember a teacher saying, “Your handwriting is perfect, but the picture of the cat leaves something to be desired.” I didn’t continue to practice my drawing after that.  Today when I journal and want to illustrate my writing, I still feel frozen and hear, “I’m not good at this so don’t try.” And I cut pictures out of magazines and collage instead. It’s another means of creative expression, but I still wish I had been encouraged to continue drawing or at least left alone to discover my limits. Oh, well, onto plan B. Write. The teacher said my penmanship was excellent and that’s where my energies went. Stories, posters, poems, letters, you name it, I wrote it. And then I decided I wanted to be a teacher.

“…the creative process is an artist’s industrial secret. Why clue the competition? When times are hard, the ‘divine flame’ gets one invited to dinner and written about by art historians. Why jeopardize one’s insurance?”

                ~June Wayne

In college for my teaching degree it was important to come up with interesting ways to present the same old information to students. Writing was my go-to option and lo-and-behold, the evaluations and letters of recommendation I received from my college professors said, “Joy is very creative.” It was too vague a statement to me like people who say something is “very interesting.” It’s a veiled meaning for odd. Yep, creativity is odd? That’s one negative message I refused to hear.

“Art does not take kindly to facts, is helpless to grapple with theories, and is killed outright by a sermon.”

                ~Agnes Repplier

Must be time for me to stop trying to justify creativity and just be creative. Do you consider yourself creative?

“Be well, write well.”


Lost On the Treadmill


As is my practice after car trips, I cruise by the fitness center on the way to the hotel room. Good. A treadmill and space for my yoga mat.

Unload the car and change for my workout to release the tensions of getting lost on the way to the hotel. A new highway had been recently changed and the directions we received literally took us into a brick wall. After driving a few miles out of our way because there were no other exits off this highway, we found a parking lot to turn around in and head back. We could see the hotel from the highway, just couldn’t get off the highway to find it. Several miles down the road, an exit appeared and we zig-zagged our way back to the hotel. Nice hotel and not their fault the Ohio road department built a brick wall where their parking lot used to be. Moving on.

I want some cardio first because it serves several purposes. Study after study says it’s the best for chewing up belly fat the fastest, it helps with thinking, and it releases more toxins than any other type of exercise and that is very relaxing. Plus if you don’t focus well during cardio workouts, you will fall off the equipment or stumble on a rock if you’re walking or running outdoors. I chose the treadmill over the elliptical. Ellipticals irritate old ballet injuries in my hips and glutes.

Shoes tied and step on the well-worn rubber band that will hopefully take me to sweat-city in about twenty minutes.


Push start. Nothing. Push every other button on the panel (this is also what I do with my forehead on the keyboard when the computer isn’t responding. My husband loves fixing it when I do that.) Nothing. Try fist. Maybe the buttons are unresponsive because this treadmill shows its age with the wear on the tread, labels peeling. I don’t care as long the damn thing will just come on and start pushing me. Nothing.

I get off and look around the whole machine for a hidden restart button. Kinda like when I have to reboot my computer because I have fifteen or twenty different things open all at once and the system implodes under the strain. I check the electrical plug, thinking it may be so old that it’s a manual. If that’s the case, I’m walking around the parking lot twenty times. Seems to be plugged in alright. Then I direct my attention to the one thing I have intentionally neglected because I don’t know what it is. A silver metal square is hanging from a frayed blue nylon cord. I think it’s the heart monitor which I have no use for because I’m already aware that my heart rate is pretty intense because I got lost on the trip, it was further than I expected, the roads were….. Anyway, I cave and go to the desk and ask for help.

“Did you put in the key?” says the kind young woman behind the counter.

Sigh. The desk clerk returns to the fitness center with me and takes the metal square on the end of the cord and attaches it to a worn down image of a key. The square is a magnet. It is literally sucked into the front of the panel by the power of the magnet. She pushes start and poof, tread rolls. Outsmarted by a piece of equipment again. Such is my existence. But I felt much better after the workout and the writers conference the next day was excellent.

Has a piece of exercise equipment ever gotten the best of you? Do tell.

“Be well, write well.”


You’re Lost-Don’t Panic


Getting lost is a disconcerting sensation. For many goal-oriented people, being lost means something, somewhere broken down along the lines of their motto, “I cannot cope with the worst case scenario, so, I will over-plan to be prepared if the worst happens.” While making a plan, then working that plan is a valid approach to achieving success, the best of us can get lost. Coping with the reality might be easier if we practice meditation because the feeling of being lost in our own minds and bodies but not experiencing panic is possible. Then it’s a matter of transferring that lesson to real life situations.


The key is surrender. The first few minutes of sitting in meditation is normally a challenge almost every time we go to the cushion. That’s because we are so used to holding on to things. It’s a natural sensation to want to hold on. In my opinion, everyone is born with the desire to hold on because our bodies are constantly pulled on by gravity. It makes sense to me to hold on to things, people, and myself simply because it’s how we function in relation to the earth’s pull on our beings. Surrendering to this awareness of being held onto by gravity is the first step when sitting in meditation.

Up to the first ten minutes of meditation practice is basically about noticing gravity’s hold over our bodies, organs, and senses. Simply notice, then intentionally start at the source of the pull and work upwards through the body to relax or let go of the worry about being pulled down all the time. It’s very normal to feel everything settling downward (some people note this as being “grounded”), and it’s at this point of everything being settled down we try to surrender it all to a feeling of weightlessness. We let go of the worry. Surrender to gravity’s pull then allows the anxiety about whether or not it’s working to surface and face it. At this point, it’s possible to get lost in the lightness of being and just breathe until the session is ended.

It’s surrendering to the power of being lost and letting go of expectations that we practice on the cushion then try to recall when we get lost on the highway or in a tricky plot pattern we’re writing. In meditation we keep breathing and follow the breath to the end. In real life, we should apply the breath to keep us calm and working toward correcting the wrong turn or the wrong speech or the wrong choice. Everyone gets lost. It’s easier for some than others to deal with being off-track. A few moments of being lost in your own mind every day and surfacing to a better place, in the end, is one possible way to learn how to deal with the real world situation of losing your way no matter how much you plan in advance.


All the outlines, maps, and global positioning devices in the world cannot teach us how to cope. Those are tools for dealing with and correcting the problem. Applying lessons learned on the meditation cushion to daily realities is one method of coping with being lost along the journey. It happens to everyone occasionally. For those goal-oriented folks like me, the key is adding “get lost” to the plan.

“Be well, write well.”


“What’s at the Library for You?”

Monday Meditation: What’s At the Library for You?


The library is a great place, but not everyone knows what a treasure trove of wonder it is.


Honestly, go to the library and once you get past the humility of the massive collection of knowledge and ideas all in the same place, look around at everything available to everybody from the casual reader catching up on the daily news to the college professor checking on resources for a class he’s teaching next semester.


The point is that EVERYBODY belongs at the library. Everybody, that is, who respects the principle of freedom to access information. Lack of respect for the contents, the people, the equipment, the facilities, or the ideas will get you rightfully tossed out the front door by the gatekeeper known as the Librarian.


It’s a tough job monitoring knowledge, keeping it as safe as possible from abuse, staying on top of current information techniques, and exploding technology. But most librarians are fantastic people with a lot on their plates but always willing to help when asked a question. Granted, we’ve all run into the crusty book warden who is a bit ragged around the edges, but the librarian is a precious jewel and should be treated with appreciation. After all, she opens the doors every day and believes in the same thing writers do: knowledge and ideas are only valuable when they are shared.


I have soooo many great librarian stories to share. So here is a brevity list of all the ways libraries and librarians have been a great help to my careers as teacher and writer.


#A librarian near my hometown helped me access a primary source that inspired my first romance novel. If it weren’t for this particular special collection and this wonderful woman who let me read “The Message to Garcia” by Elbert Hubbard (1899), my novel wouldn’t have the historical accuracies it does.


#When my children were young and learning to love reading and writing, a wonderful junior librarian named Brenda made a point to find out what interested them and ordered books year after year that kept them coming back until they moved away for college.


#My favorite aunt is a school librarian.


#Doug at the college library where I teach never fails to amaze me at how quickly and efficiently he responds to my requests for materials no matter where on Earth they’re located.


#My FAVORITE librarian is my youngest daughter!


I’ll save more library/librarian kudos for later. What’s your library story?


Hug a library and a librarian every day. They are the protectors of one of the 20170311_103909most important freedoms: speech.




There are five primary areas of practice to the Writer Wellness plan. Every other week I will post an idea for relaxation (Monday Meditation,) creative play (Tuesday Tickle,) fitness and exercise (Wednesday Workout,) journaling and misc. (Thursday Thought,) and nutrition (Friday Feast.)


Be well, write well!


Wednesday Workout: The Consequences of Exercise

Wednesday Workout: The Consequences of Exercise


There are five primary areas of practice to the Writer Wellness plan. Every other week I will post an idea for relaxation (Monday Meditation,) creative play (Tuesday Tickle,) fitness and exercise (Wednesday Workout,) journaling and misc. (Thursday Thought,) and nutrition (Friday Feast.)



Lots of people look at exercise as punishment for eating. That’s too bad because the brain can be overwhelmed by the message of payback for the triple cheeseburger and might not recognize the good side effects of the workout. If we regularly view physical activity as retribution for taking in nutrition, then our workouts and mental attitudes about exercise suffer. Eating and exercise should go hand-in-hand, but we taint the value of the workout by viewing it negatively before taking the first step on the treadmill.

Exercise Benefits Your Brain Too

One of the many benefits to anyone who exercises is a positive outlook on life. After an exercise session, the body is pumping all kinds of good stuff around and around inside like blood and oxygen helping revive and cleanse internal organs. The brain is super happy because it’s churning out endorphins and spilling them into the bloodstream contributing in part to the good feeling also known as “the runner’s high.” As an extra bonus, the brain literally grows new cells as the result of a good, heart-pumping cardio session because exercise breeds brain derived-neurotrophic factor (BDNF) which, according to Dr. John Ratey in his book SPARK: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, is like “Miracle-Gro for the brain”.


Happiness, improved muscle tone, weight loss, and cardiovascular support. Why look at exercise as the demon and not the darling? Regular physical exercise isn’t a penalty, it’s a privilege, and the consequences of exercise far outweigh the side effects of avoiding it. But it’s important to go into a workout with a positive mental attitude. The negativity associated with regular exercise could easily negate the benefits.

Try Keeping A Fitness Journal

Keeping a fitness journal for a short while might help when we see the positive results written down. Note these things for a few days or weeks then review the notes. Think about the positive results while tieing on the walking shoes and add extra benefits to those workouts.



Feelings/thoughts BEFORE working out

Describe the workout (i.e., twenty-minute walk in the park)

Note anything interesting that happened during the workout

Feelings/thoughts AFTER working out


Physical exercise shouldn’t be punishment for anything but viewed as a way to stay happy, balanced, and healthy.


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Be well, write well.