How to Wake Up Early When You’re Not a Morning Person

Not a morning person? Join the club. I’ve always been a night owl even when I have a job that requires me at my desk by 7 am. It used to be worse. The way my workplace is structured, I often had to park about a mile away from my job site. This is very hard for others to comprehend when they don’t have to experience it. When it takes a 10-15 minute walk to get from your car to your job site from a good parking spot and you have to get there an hour earlier to get that good parking spot, you learn to wake up early no matter what.

After all, my paycheck depended on me being there at a certain time which meant I had to do whatever it took to get my hind parts out of bed. Even after all these years of waking up early, I’m still naturally inclined to stay up late despite how tired I may be. That, in turn, makes the mornings even harder. It’s a vicious cycle. So how did I learn? Here are several tips and tricks that get me, a night owl, started every morning.

Things To Do the Night Before to Wake Up Early

In order to successfully wake up early, it helps to have your ducks in a row the night before. Set yourself up for success with a little preparation and planning.

Set Out Your Clothing

Setting out your clothing the night before can help your morning run smoother. If you’re minimalists like us, it may not be necessary as your clothing is limited. However, even with little clothing, I’ve noticed how much nicer my morning routine goes if I’ve got one less thing to do or figure out.

Block Out the Light

If you’re like me, it’s difficult to go to bed when the sun hasn’t quite gone down yet. This makes going to bed early in summertime really difficult. Try using some black-out curtains (these are also thermal so they keep the summer heat out) in the bedroom. If I know I need to go to bed early in order to wake up early for something the next day, I make sure to close my blinds and the black-out curtains. If black-out curtains aren’t an option, try a sleep mask.

No Blue Light 30 Minutes Before Bed

Put your smartphone on airplane mode and away at least 30 minutes before bed. The blue back-light from the screen (as well as any TV, computer or tablet screen) can disrupt your sleep patterns. It confuses your body. If you want to read, opt for a kindle (they don’t have back-lights), or a physical book. Reading isn’t your thing? Try meditation or music to soothe the soul.

Note: There are dozens of different Amazon Kindles out there. Find the one that’s best for you. Don’t get me wrong, I love the smell and feel of a book. However, I had so many books and love to travel. My Kindle makes it easy for me to take my entire library wherever I go. And with the Kindle Ink technology, there is no glare from the sun on the screen.

White Noise

If you’re looking to wake up early, a good night’s sleep is important. Personally, I like it quiet. However, other’s sleep better with a little soft noise in the background. One thing we will splurge and spend money on is our health and sleep is important to that. Investing in a white noise machine may be the right thing for you. Perhaps you prefer hearing the sound of rain falling on a tin roof? Frogs in a forest? The distant rumble of a thunder storm? Crickets chirping? The waves of the ocean? The gentle hum of an A/C unit? Cars driving down the city streets? There are all sorts of inexpensive noise machines out there for you!

A Note on Stimulants

Try to avoid caffeine after midday and even alcohol. Yes, even alcohol can cause a restless slumber. It may help you fall asleep but it can inhibit your REM stage (the one that’s really needed) and promote sleep apnea. These aren’t good! So before you reach for the nightcap, think twice. I know it can be tough because I am definitely guilty of it too.

Things To Do In the Morning to Wake Up Early

Daylight Clock

This clock is lifesaver, especially in the winter. When the sun doesn’t rise until NEVER, it’s especially difficult to rise from my slumber. I rely on the light of this artificial sunrise to rouse me. It starts as a dim red and slowly graduates into a bright white to simulate the sun rising. We have this exact model. It also has a dual alarm feature and a handful of sounds to wake up to once the “sun” has risen, like birds chirping. The sound is optional and the volume and time it takes from the sun to “rise” are open to customization.

Philips Wake-Up Light Alarm Clock with Colored Sunrise Simulation and Sunset Fading Night Light, White (HF3520)

Do yourself a favor and set it up on the other side of the room. This way you won’t be tempted to turn the sun off and go back to sleep! Bonus: As far as I know, there is no snooze button!

Don’t Hit Snooze

I always set an emergency alarm on my phone as a precaution in case the power goes out or any other life glitch happens. My phone used to be my only alarm and when I use it, I’m horrible about hitting the snooze on the alarm. I mean really bad – as in, I’ll hit it every five minutes for an hour. (I can’t help that our mattress is so comfy!!) I usually find that after hitting snooze for so long, I’m even more tired than I would have been if I just got up in the first place.

T Minus 5 Seconds

Count down your departure from bed like you’re a rocket ready for take-off. Don’t worry, you can do it in your head so your family doesn’t think you’re a 5-year-old. Starting from a number like 3 or 5, count down and get up!

Turn On the Light

If you don’t have a sunrise clock, turn on your bedside lamp or any lamp. The light will help wake you up. We keep a salt lamp in the living room burning all the time so that when we get up to use the restroom, we can navigate in the middle of the night without having to really “wake-up.” We also have these “dusk-til-dawn” night lights in the bathroom for the same reason. It’s great for staying in sleep-mode when you have to pee in the middle of the night. But when it comes time to wake up, turn on an actual light!

Drink Water

Drinking a glass of water first thing in the morning wakes up your digestive system and helps get that metabolism started. I won’t get into the health benefits here, but do this every day and you will notice changes in your hair, skin, general demeanor, etc. Drinking water not only re-hydrates you after 6-8 hours of sleep, but it provides a serious wake up call. Try it! It can’t hurt.

Have Something Exciting to Do

Remember Christmas mornings when you were a child? Even if you didn’t celebrate Christmas, what about birthday mornings? Or going to sleep the night before with the promise of seeing snow upon waking? The feeling of starting a new job? Waking up and realizing you’re getting married that day? Going on a big trip? We’ve all had some mornings in our lives where we were triggered to get out of bed. We were excited for the day ahead. Find a way to make every day a little exciting.

It can be as simple as making an awesome breakfast or promising yourself a hike or morning run. Soon you won’t be able to stay in bed in the mornings because you’ll know of the reward that awaits. Try it!

I hope these tips help you wake up early and accomplish your dreams. If you have any other tips, please leave a comment and share it with everyone!

Happy waking!

-RB

9 Writing Prompts to Jump-Start Creativity

With the end of Camp NaNoWriMo in sight, some have already reached their monthly goals while others are still reaching for the finish line. Don’t fret! It’s not too late to get some more words in, even if it’s not on your original project. After all, one of the main points of the NaNoWriMo challenges is to get you to write everyday. With that being said, here are 9 writing prompts to carry you through this last weekend and hopefully the finish line.

9 Writing Prompts

  1. Local townsfolk see a witch fly over the moon on a broomstick…literally.
  2. A loved one is reincarnated as their widow’s (or widower’s) house plant. Tell a story from their POV.
  3. Start a new scene by finishing this dialogue: “If we get this money…”
  4. A woman who has been missing for three weeks suddenly reappears with no memory of where she has been for that time.
  5. “Trespassers will be prosecuted.” Local teens wander onto a “vacant” lot.
  6. A woman receives a fortune telling her to be more daring, “Fortune favors the brave.” She takes the advice to heart and shows kindness to a man who breaks into her home. What happens next?
  7. Tell a story from a house’s POV or even just the stories from one room.
  8. “When her head hit the floor, it bounced slightly then came to a halt as her eyes stared blankly ahead. She wasn’t supposed to die. Not like that.”
  9. A person stumbles across a tombstone with their name on it…and perhaps their birth year.

I hope that some of these (at least one) will benefit you and help get the creative cogs turning in your brain. Sometimes when I read  writing prompts, I have new ideas. Did any of these stand out to you? If so, which ones? Did they spark any creative fires? Let me know in the comments below.

Happy writing!

-RB

 

Inspirational Video Games for Writers: The Legend of Zelda

I am a firm believer that inspiration can be found just about anywhere – movies, books, comics, dreams, stories from co-workers, an overheard conversation at Panera, etc. But one place that gets overlooked just as badly as comics is the world of video games. In this series, I’d like to cover a handful of video games that have inspired writing ideas of my own throughout the years. The first and probably most well-known game series that comes to mind is The Legend of Zelda.

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

I came into the world of Zelda late. My first time being exposed to the wonder and creativity of the franchise was in the 7th grade when I received The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time for Christmas. It was released on the Nintendo 64 system, a system which my parents purchased for me at the tender age of eleven and told me that in order to repay them for it, I had to empty the dishwasher for LIFE. It was worth every plate and piece of silverware I had to stash away in a cupboard.

Games such as Zelda, StarFox, Goldeneye, Perfect Dark, Forsaken 64, Hexen, Jet Force Gemini, War Gods, and DOOM infiltrated my childhood and carried me through my teenage years (at least until Harry Potter took my attention away). Nowadays its difficult to find the game system for less that $100 and even harder to find some of these classic games for less that $300 online.

Title screen/loading screen for the original Ocarina of Time released for n64.
The Best Video Game of All Time?

At the time, the Ocarina of Time was hailed as one of the best video games if not the best for the Nintendo systems. Decades later they would vastly out-do themselves with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (more on that later). Looking back at Ocarina of Time, the graphics were terrible compared to today’s standards but at the time, they were awesome!

So what made the game so great and inspiring?

One of the greatest appeals to video games is that they have the power to insert us into new worlds with new sets of rules. Instead of reading a book where we are at the mercy of the author, video games can follow a linear story line while still letting the player make the experience their own. Video games allow the audience to make decisions.

In some instances, those decisions affect game-play but this is not the case with Zelda. However, I discovered elements in the game that I had not yet seen in fiction (at least not as an 11-year-old.) Along with monsters and creatures that I’d never heard of and boss fights that were each unique and rewarding, there was a new set of rules.

Photo credit to cubed3.com
A New set of Rules
  • Players could trap fairies in bottles for life restoration.
  • Dungeons and temples aren’t just buildings in the world. One is inside the belly of a volcano, another is inside the belly of a fish and a third inside of an ancient tree!
  • Monsters came out when the sun went down.
  • A house filled with cursed spider-people awarded treasures to you when you cured them of their spider-ness (seriously the stuff of nightmares).
  • Blue flame and the ability to trap it in a bottle to melt ice later.
  • Music changed the weather, changed the flow of time (Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask) or teleported you across the world.
  • Arrows wielded elemental magic (light, ice, fire, etc.)
  • Special clothing allowed players to endure underwater questing or intense heat.
  • Bombs grew out of the ground as plants.
  • Money and magic were found my destroying things, looking under rocks or cutting the grass.
  • Ghosts could be trapped in a bottle. (Seriously, obtaining bottles was a personal goal in this game.)
  • Masks gave you new abilities, changing your body into something else (specifically in The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask).
  • Secret grottos contained treasure, riddles and puzzles to solve.
  • There is another world at the bottom of a well.
  • There is an artifact that allows you to see through false walls.
  • You can fly while holding onto a chicken…cough… I mean, cucco.
Hidden at “The Bottom of the Well” …Is this not one of the creepiest things? Photo credit belongs to duly-nerded.com.

And those are only to name a few. Though many of these elements are commonplace by today’s video-gaming standards, they weren’t always. Keep in mind that this game was originally released in 1998.

A Magical Universe to Explore

There were all sorts of unspoken treasures and secrets hidden in the land of Hyrule. It was a colorful world and I was also very into the plotline. Having never played a Zelda game before, when I sat down to play Ocarina of Time, I was fully engrossed.

I knew nothing of Zelda at that time and became fascinated by this “Hero of Time,” the Triforce, and characters like the Great Deku Tree and Impa. Speaking of the Great Deku Tree, I would often walk in just to hear the hauntingly beautiful music. Needless to say, this was the first video game that prompted me to buy its soundtrack and still remains to be one of the few. I’m listening to it as I write this post.

Obsessed With the Cultures and Lore of Hyrule

After I defeated The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, I couldn’t get enough of the land of Hyrule. Not only did I replay the game, but I also got a Gameboy Color and games like Link’s Awakening and Oracle of the Seasons. However, Zelda in 2D didn’t provide the same inspiration as Zelda in 3D, at least not for me.

However, I was still inspired by the diverse races and cultures of Hyrule. From the ancient and wise Sheikah to the child-like Kokiri, my mind was racing with all sorts of creative ideas for a fantasy realm of my own. Hyrule’s lore was rich in spirituality and history. To this day I still find myself reading up on it to learn more.

The seven sages.

It wasn’t long after the success of the new Zelda games for Nintendo to release The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. Though I helped my nephew beat it years later, I was never a big fan of the game myself. I’m not a big fan of time limits and the game is one BIG time limit. Time limit quests are one of my least favorite things in video games (right next to in-game rain – cough, cough – Breath of the Wild brought that to a whole new level of hatred). As years passed, my love for Zelda was passed on to my nephew as he grew up playing older games like Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask, Twilight Princess and others.

Will There Ever Be Anything as Magical and Inspiring as the First Time I Played a Zelda Game?

At this point, that first Zelda game was unbeatable in my mind. Nothing could top it and I would never experience that sense of awe, wonder and inspiration again. My memory of the game never faded but my interest moved to others video games, seeking and sometimes finding inspiration in them. This was until another Zelda was released.

The Nintendo Switch and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

No longer the naïve, sheltered eleven-year-old that was playing her first real video game, I’m now a fully-fledged adult who has been exposed to so much fantasy and magic throughout the years (I’m still obsessed with the Harry Potter Series). By this time, I had played World of Warcraft on and off for years, dreamed of becoming a Grey Jedi, played Fable a dozen times, and volunteered myself into the Hunger Games (I’m from District 4). This game had its work cut out for it. And boy did it do an outstanding job!

First of all, let me say that purchasing the Nintendo Switch was no easy decision. After looking at the other games for the system at the time, nothing appealed to me except Zelda and we struggled with the idea of buying a whole new console for one game, especially as minimalists.

But our desire for this game was great. So we purchased a Switch, (along with a larger controller for his man hands) and we purchased the DLC along with the game. It was an investment to say the least. However, the enjoyment that we both got out of the game as well as the inspiration that it reignited in me (giving me at least one novel idea) was worth it.

Relishing in the Breath of the Wild

Not only did Breath of the Wild keep hold of certain classic Zelda elements such as the elemental arrows (adding bomb and ancient arrows), and special garb but the creators expounded upon it. Drawing from other popular RPGs, players were now able to brew elixirs and potions, cook unique recipes for attack and defense boosts, collect multiple armor sets and use items from the world to upgrade their stats – often granting stronger abilities once the complete set was obtained and upgraded. Things like swim speed, climbing speed, lightening resistance and stealth to name a few.

Climbing presented a whole new way to explore the game. Vast canyons and mountain regions were now 100% explorable and filled with unique monsters and puzzles to titillate our minds.

Drawing Writing Inspiration from Breath of the Wild

In a completely open world, anything is possible. Things in this game were unpredictable and largely based on the players decisions. Don’t believe me? Check out this fan made video on YouTube. Seriously, you don’t even have to play the game to find it hilarious.

This video alone provided so many ideas from the game that I could inject into writing. How?

  1. What can go wrong, will go wrong.
  2. Death finds a way.
  3. Anything is possible. Literally.

When writing a story, authors often talk about the slow, sagging middle of the story. What if, like in the video above, an arrow is shot at them from an unseen enemy in the middle of nowhere? The treasure they were seeking kills them? They are able to have one enemy attack another? Video games with such an open world filled with possibilities can open up ideas in your writing.

Magic is Only Science Which Hasn’t Been Explained

The Sheikah Slate, a smartphone or tablet-like device in BoTW,  presented players with the ability to use technology that was “ancient.” Players could not only use it to map the humongous map, but also to freeze time for specific objects, move metallic objects, create ice from water, track resources and create bombs. The so-called “ancient” technology provided a way for advanced science to enter a world of magic. Hey science fiction and fantasy authors, I’m looking at you!

Photo credit: Zeldapedia
Other Inspiration from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
  • Shield surfing
  • Paragliding
  • Having an enemy get electrocuted during battle because he was fighting with a metal weapon in the middle of a lightening storm.
  • Special abilities granted to you from dead friends.
  • Melee weapons augmented with elemental properties.
  • The possibility that your weapon can break mid-battle.
  • A blood moon which when rises, resurrects all the previously defeated monsters.

Players are also introduced to new groups of people like The Yiga Clan and the Rito. Now, the Rito race was featured in another Zelda game that I didn’t play so while this was the first I’d seen them, they weren’t entirely new. I fell in love with the Rito Champion, Revali, and adored the Gerudo Champion, Urbosa. Characters like this, along with the amount of cut-scenes, bring that much more depth and pleasure to an already vast and amazing world.

Photo credit: Zeldapedia

I hope if you’re struggling to find inspiration, you take a look into some video games. Keep in mind that they are another form of story-telling and can be a valuable resource for those who know where to look.

Happy gaming!

-RB

Cover Art from GQ.com

On Poetry (2)

To read the introduction into this series On Poetry, please visit my first post here.

Poetry

So Like a Rose

Her beauty is so like a rose,

Like a rose, fair and pink,

So precious and delicate to the touch.

She flows like the soft hues of the dawn,

As her grace dances through the spring breeze.

Her skin is as snow while her eyes are as crystal.

So like a rose in the gentle rain,

Her laughter sings sweetly as glassy,

Pink tears stream down her rosy cheeks.

 

Her words are so like a rose,

Like a rose, thorny and dark,

So harsh and bitter is the taste.

Her voice stabs like the thunder’s crack,

She screams like the wind’s howl, stinging like a spider’s bite.

Her hair is as night while her teeth are as the sun.

So like a rose in the pounding hail,

Her mournful cry reaches the depths of space,

As she withers away throughout time.

Is it the Diner?

Is it the diner with dim lighting

And bad food?

The one with horrible service,

The waitresses that smoke, sleep around

And wear those ugly mustard yellow

Uniforms over their used bodies?

 

Or is it the diner with bright lights,

Where you take your poodle-skirted

Girlfriend after school for a chocolate malt?

The one where the waiters have a friendly

Smile under those goofy white hats

And the jukebox plays that

Aretha Franklin hit every 2 hours?

 

I always group these two poems of mine together because they both display two distinctly different versions of the same thing. Have any of you tried your hand at poetry? Let me know about your experience in the comments below!

Thank you for reading!

-RB

 

Overcoming Writer’s Block with Automatic Transcription

This article is originally published by Descript.

If you’re a writer — of books, essays, scripts, blog posts, whatever — you’re familiar with the phenomenon: the blank screen, a looming deadline, and a sinking feeling in your gut that pairs poorly with the jug of coffee you drank earlier.

If you know that rumble all too well: this post is for you. Maybe it’ll help you get out of a rut; at the very least, it’s good for a few minutes of procrastination.

Here’s the core idea: thinking out loud is often less arduous than writing. And it’s now easier than ever to combine the two, thanks to recent advances in speech recognition technology.

Of course, dictation is nothing new — and plenty of writers have taken advantage of it. Carl Sagan’s voluminous output was facilitated by his process of speaking into an audio recorder, to be transcribed later by an assistant (you can listen to some of his dictations in the Library of Congress!) And software like Dragon’s Naturally Speaking has offered automated transcription for people with the patience and budget to pursue it.

But it’s only in the last couple of years that automated transcription has reached a sweet spot — of convenience, affordability and accuracy—that makes it practical to use it more casually. And I’ve found it increasingly useful for generating a sort of proto-first draft: an alternative approach to the painful process of converting the nebulous wisps inside your head into something you can actually work with.

I call this process idea extraction (though these ideas may be more accurately dubbed brain droppings).

Part I: Extraction

Here’s how my process works. Borrow what works for you and forget the rest — and let me know how it goes!

  • Pick a voice recorder. Start talking. Try it with a topic you’ve been chewing on for weeks — or when an idea flits your head. Don’t overthink it. Just start blabbing.
  • The goal is to tug on as many threads as you come across, and to follow them as far as they go. These threads may lead to meandering tangents— and you may discover new ideas along the way.
  • A lot of those new ideas will probably be embarrassingly bad. That’s fine. You’re already talking about the next thing! And unlike with text, your bad ideas aren’t staring you in the face.
  • Consider leaving comments to yourself as you go — e.g. “Maybe that’d work for the intro”. These will come in handy later.
  • For me, these recordings run anywhere from 20–80 minutes. Sometimes they’re much shorter, in quick succession. Whatever works.

Part II: Transcription

Once I’ve finished recording, it’s time to harness ⚡️The Power of Technology⚡️

A little background: over the last couple of years there’s been an explosion of tools related to automatic speech recognition (ASR) thanks to huge steps forward in the underlying technologies.

Here’s how ASR works: you import your audio into the software, the software uses state-of-the-art machine learning to spit back a text transcript a few minutes later. That transcript won’t be perfect—the robots are currently in the ‘Write drunk’ phase of their careers. But for our purposes that’s fine: you just need it to be accurate enough that you can recognize your ideas.

Once you have your text transcript, your next step is up to you: maybe you’re exporting your transcript as a Word doc and revising from there. Maybe you’re firing up your voice recorder again to dictate a more polished take. Maybe only a few words in your audio journey are worth keeping — but that’s fine too. It probably didn’t cost you much (and good news: the price for this tech will continue to fall in the years ahead).

A few more tips:

  • Use a recorder/app that you trust. Losing a recording is painful — and the anxiety of losing another can derail your most exciting creative moments (“I hope this recorder is working. Good, it is… @#*! where was I?”)
  • Audio quality matters when it comes to automatic transcription. If your recording has a lot of background noise or you’re speaking far away from the mic, the accuracy is going to drop. Consider using earbuds (better yet: Airpods) so you can worry less about where you’re holding the recorder.
  • Find a comfortable space. Eventually you may get used to having people overhear your musings, but it’s a lot easier to let your mind “go for a walk” when you’re comfortable in your environment.
  • Speaking of walking: why not go for a stroll? The pains of writing can have just as much to do with being stationary and hunched over. Walking gets your blood flowing — and your ideas too.
  • I have a lot of ideas, good and bad, while I’m thinking out loud and playing music at the same time (in my case, guitar — but I suspect it applies more broadly). There’s something about playing the same four-chord song on auto pilot for the thousandth time that keeps my hands busy and leaves my mind free to wander.

The old ways of doing things — whether it’s with a keyboard or pen — still have their advantages. Putting words to a page can force a sort of linear thinking that is otherwise difficult to maintain. And when it comes to editing, it’s no contest: QWERTY or bust.

But for getting those first crucial paragraphs down (and maybe a few keystone ideas to build towards)? Consider talking to yourself. Even if you wind up with a transcript full of nothing but profanity — well, have you ever seen a transcript full of profanity? You could do a lot worse.

This article is originally published by Descript.