Economic Relations Between the Western Balkan Six Countries

Regional cooperation between the western Balkan countries is the key factor that will lead those countries towards the EU perspective. Improving relations of the Western Balkan countries is a goal that should be fulfilled. The improvement of these relations is a commitment made by the countries themselves at the EU-Western Balkans Summit of Zagreb (2000) and Thessaloniki (2003). Regional cooperation is the way towards regional economic prosperity, social and economic stability.

It is very obvious nowadays that the responsibilities and benefits of the western Balkan countries are tied to the development and bilateral cooperation. Cooperation is an issue applied in different fields, the ones of cross-border nature, to political understanding, addressing to a social and socio-economic prosperity.

Regional cooperation is an important strategic approach of building positive relations. The Western Balkan countries should be opened to collaborate towards a sustainable economy, regional collaboration and partnership as factors of vital strategic importance of building positive relations among them.

I will do the analysis of the impact of such collaboration in in the economic cooperation, achieving economic stability and identifying the respective competitive advantages, strengthening regional market integration and mutual elimination of non-tariff trade barriers. In specific, in this paper I will focus on bilateral economic relations between Albania and Serbia in the frame of integration process.


“We note increasingly stronger support among the countries of the region for the development of regional ties. It is very encouraging that the areas of trade, energy and transport are among those where regional cooperation is the most substantial. Economic development is crucial if the region is to produce the jobs needed for its people. Further efforts are needed to increase trust and cooperation between peoples and countries. In the area of justice and home affairs, the countries need to enhance regional cooperation to achieve results.

Extended regional cooperation in south-eastern Europe is essential, regardless of the different stage of integration of the various countries, and an important criterion for the European course of the western Balkan countries. The stability, prosperity and security of the region are of significant interest to the EU. The EU will continue to foster all endeavours to promote regional cooperation.”

Perhaps the most tangible achievement of all lies in the fact that most of the Western Balkan countries are on a path towards European Union accession, something that seemed far off in the 1990s. It is incumbent upon us not to understate the serious challenges that lie ahead, both in terms of macroeconomic stability and even more so with regard to longer-term development. A key contribution of this book is to underscore the incomplete reform process in the region. We should be worried about this, as without further reforms the lackluster growth of recent years could become the norm, imperiling the convergence of living standards towards Advanced European levels, and denying employment opportunities to many in the region.


According to David Lipton, IMF first deputy managing Director, he transition from socialism to capitalism and democracy was less smooth than in other parts of Emerging Europe. But once the war ended and peace returned, these countries did more than rebuild: they began a transformation into market economies, liberalizing prices, privatizing many state- and socially-owned enterprises, and building the institutions needed to support a market economy.

On his report analyses the main economic developments and achievements in the Western Balkan countries, and lays out the key macroeconomic policy challenges for the future. While the collapse of communism 25 years ago marked the start of the transition to market economies for all Emerging Europe, the economic transformation of the Western Balkans really got going only after the conflicts that engulfed the region in the 1990s subsided. Hence, the past 15 years are the main focus of this report. The report is structured as follows. The overview chapter surveys the key findings and policy recommendations. Individual analytical chapters then focus in depth on the following key thematic issues: growth and structural reforms, macroeconomic developments and policies and the role of the IMF in the economic transformation, and the financial sector. Each analytical chapter concludes by outlining the key challenges that the Western Balkans face and suggests possible policy responses. Given that the Western Balkan countries are following the path previously taken by New Member States to become members of the European Union, the analysis relies heavily on comparisons between these two subregions. In compressing the experience of more than 17 countries over 15 very eventful years, the report inevitably focuses on broad themes, and cannot do justice to the nuance and diversity of individual country narratives. While the report highlights the role of the IMF during the economic transition, the Fund is only one of a number of agencies that have supported these countries over the past 25 years. In particular, the IMF may have taken a lead role in the early phases of transition, but for some Western Balkan countries the prospect of accession to the European Union has also been an important catalyst for reform. Other key players include the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, European Central Bank, European Investment Bank, and World Bank, as well as bilateral country donors and private and voluntary sector institutions. But whether external assistance comes from the IMF or others, its impact pales in significance to the importance of domestically-driven reform and development, which is the principal subject of the report. The report was prepared by a team from IMF headquarters in Washington DC, IMF offices in the region, and the IMF’s Joint Vienna Institute (JVI). The views presented are those of the authors.


Regional cooperation is a principle of the highest importance for the political stability, the security and economic development of the western Balkan countries: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and Serbia and Montenegro (including Kosovo, under the auspices of the United Nations, pursuant to UN Security Council Resolution 1244 of 10 June 1999). Many of the challenges facing the western Balkan countries are not only common to them but also have a cross-border dimension, which involves their regional neighbours.

Since the enlargement of 1 May 2004, the EU and the western Balkans have become even closer neighbours, and so the situation in the western Balkan countries, their progress on the road to European integration and their present and future relations with the EU really are of immediate concern to the EU itself. When Bulgaria and Romania become EU members, the entire western Balkan region will be surrounded by Member States of the European Union. This will have important repercussions for both the countries of the region and the EU in a number of areas, in particular where the free circulation of goods, services and persons are concerned. These challenges have to be addressed in the broader context of south-eastern Europe.

The different set of reasons – political, economic and security – for which regional cooperation in the western Balkans is crucial, are closely interlinked: for instance, regional stability and security are needed for economic development, which in turn favours stability and security in the region.

Since the Stability Pact was founded, the heads of state and government of the south-eastern European countries have met regularly for consultation. At the Bucharest Summit in February 2000, they adopted a ‘Charter on Good Neighbourliness, Stability, Security and Co-operation in South-eastern Europe.’ A range of co-operative relationships has replaced bilateralism. Most Stability Pact projects and activities were proposed and are carried out by two or more countries of the region.

Previously every country of south-eastern Europe had a big brother outside, and most of the countries of Europe had a preferred partner in the Balkans. That was the reason for many conflicts, sometimes even proxy-wars, or a reason why conflicts in the Balkans became wars in Europe. The Stability Pact is the political answer to this outdated political approach from the nineteenth century. The Pact has created an upward spiral of mutual trust and practical steps. But both sides are still mistrustful, watching to see that the other side delivers, gives indications of confidence-building and that the conditions are fair. Seems that the region is about to choose a positive and successful path: day by day, the Pact is building the new, wider Europe.

Why did the Western Balkans converge more slowly? One possible explanation is that the closer physical distance of the New Member States to advanced EU economies may have offered advantages in terms of access to markets and investments, and facilitated the transfer of knowledge. These relative advantages are only recently partially offset by improvements in infrastructure links between the Western Balkans and Advanced EU economies. Yet even after controlling for the physical distance, econometric evidence suggests that, except for the postwar recovery period, the pace of convergence in the Western Balkans has been slower than in the New Member States. This is partly due to the absence of convergence within the Western Balkan region, because poorer countries such as Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina failed to grow significantly faster than the richer countries, such as Croatia. What other factors may have constrained faster convergence? There is a growing literature on the impact of structural factors on convergence, though mostly on larger panels of countries. Findings suggest that domestic financial development speeds up convergence and that human capital is more important to growth for countries that are less developed. Better institutional infrastructure and selected labor market reforms have been shown to facilitate convergence at the regional level (Che and Spilimbergo 2012). Reform priorities for sustaining convergence have been found to vary with income levels. Empirical evidence suggests that in lower-middle-income countries, priorities should be reforming banking and agricultural sectors, reducing barriers to FDI, increasing competition in product markets for a more vibrant services sector, improving the quality of secondary and tertiary education, and alleviating infrastructure bottlenecks. In upper-middle income countries, boosting productivity growth would require deepening capital markets, developing more competitive and flexible product and labor markets, fostering a more skilled labor force, and investing in research and development and new technologies (Dabla-Norris and others 2013). Finally, a survey of various studies that focus specifically on the transition process concludes that institutional quality and market liberalization policies to promote private sector growth have a positive impact on economic growth, despite their initially disruptive effect. In line with these findings, the analysis here shows that improving the quality of governance, and developing market-oriented institutions, a strong human capital base, and deeper financial systems help poorer countries catch up. In contrast, the dominance of the public sector in the economy hinders the catching-up process. And the Western Balkans have lagged behind the New Member States in these areas. In light of the critical importance of economic transformation, the next section explores progress to date.

The implementation of the economic collaboration is the way towards progress, standing for a multilateral agreement successfully applied in those countries. This framework should be assisted and monitored. This monitoration should include evaluation of the economic outcomes as far as provide a full vision of the potential benefits and on reducing the trade costs and increasing trade.


Reforms are considered potential drivers to regional market development and integration.

1. Institutional Reforms.

The protection of property rights is a common problem in most of the Western Balkan countries, particularly relative to the EU average, though to a lesser extent in FYR Macedonia. Indicators related to corruption and government inefficiency also point to reform gaps in most countries. Compared to NMS, inefficient government spending appears to be an important constraint in Serbia, Albania, Croatia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. In Serbia, and to a lesser extent in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania, and Montenegro, reform needs are large in areas linked to corporate sector performance. Specifically, this includes the strength of reporting standards, efficacy of corporate boards, and protection of minority shareholders. Encouragingly, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, FYR Macedonia, and Montenegro score relatively well in terms of burden of government regulation, even compared to the EU average. For Croatia and Serbia, however, the gaps in this area remain large.

2. Infrastructure.

The analysis of specific reform gaps within the broader infrastructure pillar suggests that the Western Balkan countries have had a mixed performance when assessed vis-à-vis their peers. In terms of overall quality of infrastructure, Croatia ranks better than its New Member State peers, while the largest overall quality gaps exist in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia. All Western Balkan countries, except Croatia, lag behind the EU by a wide margin. The gap analysis points to important reform potential in railroad infrastructure in Albania, FYR Macedonia, and Serbia. Compared to the average EU country, road and air transport infrastructure gaps are large in all countries, though to a lesser extent in Croatia.

3. Goods Markets Efficiency.

The results of the analysis suggest that the Western Balkan countries impose a relatively low tax burden on businesses. Total tax rates are well below those of NMS and EU average in FYR Macedonia, Montenegro, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Similarly, all countries but Bosnia and Herzegovina perform well or are broadly at par in terms of procedures and time to start a business. Gaps in competition policy, measured by the intensity of local competition and the effectiveness of anti-monopoly policy, point to potential reform needs in this area.

Gaps in trade barriers, tariffs, and impediments to foreign ownership and foreign direct investment (FDI) are relatively moderate in most Western Balkan countries, but almost always negative. Rules on FDI and foreign ownership seem to be stricter in Croatia and Serbia. Agricultural policy cost seems to be a significant burden for the economy in Croatia and Serbia, and to a lesser extent in Albania.

Labor Market Efficiency Performance of regional labor markets, when benchmarked against New Member State peers, is relatively mixed, as measured by indicators on the flexibility of setting wages, flexibility of hiring and firing, and redundancy costs. All of the Western Balkans lag behind their peers in at least one of these three areas. Croatia has relatively more inflexible hiring and firing rules, and stronger tax disincentives to work but relatively more flexible wage setting. The labor tax wedge is also relatively large in Serbia. In contrast, Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina score lower in terms of flexibility of wage setting. Most of the Western Balkan countries (except Albania and Montenegro) compare less favorably to the New Member States in terms of retaining and attracting talent, contributing to skilled labor shortages. In these areas, as well as in professional management and cooperation on labor-employer relations, gaps tend to be larger vis-à-vis the EU. In other areas, differences with respect to the EU are less important, reflecting significant labor market rigidity in both sets of countries.

The economic development is certainly tied to the political stability which make the direct approach to the regional cooperation. This kind of approach builds strong relations between the western balkan countries. The non-tariff trade is a way of having a sustainable future not only for the country itself, but even for the region. Accompanying that to the other key factor of political stability, sees to be the right way of non forced, natural cooperation towards the bright economic future of these countries.


The event on February 24th – the first all-inclusive Western Balkans summit at the EBRD – will provide an ideal opportunity for business leaders and international companies to learn more about the countries and the Bank’s role in them.

“The idea is to present this region as a whole as an investment destination,” said the EBRD’s Senior Political Counsellor Oleg Levitin. “We hope that this conference, besides facilitating much needed foreign investment, will send a very strong political message about the maturity and stability of the region.”Regional integration through road corridors, gas pipelines, expansion in the manufacturing sector and other projects will be at the top of the agenda.”We believe that regional integration needs to be made a priority,” said Claudio Viezzoli, the EBRD’s Director, Western Balkans.

The EBRD sees supporting and promoting the Western Balkans as particularly important to foster the region’s development by strengthening its potential. The countries benefit from the IFI Joint Action which includes more than €30 billion of joint commitments for the period 2013-2014 in Central and South Eastern Europe as a whole.In the Western Balkans and Croatia alone the EBRD invested in more than 80 projects totaling more than €1.2 billion in 2013. This was a new record. Over the years, the total of EBRD investments in the region has reached €10.5 billion.

The Bank is active in all sectors of the economy but has a targeted approach in each country, based on the individual country’s needs and priorities as defined in the respective country strategies. A major goal of the EBRD’s increased engagement in the region in recent years has been to support the countries in their response to and overcoming the financial crisis which had hit the region hard.

After a protracted period of contraction, in 2013 the countries again registered growth of 2 per cent on average and prospects for growth in 2014 are similar. Particularly interesting for investors are the significant catch-up potential and the efficiencies of increased cross-border economic activity.

The attractiveness of the region for foreign investment has increased thanks to improved political stability and progress in the Euro-Atlantic integration in recent years. Croatia became a member of the European Union in 2013, and Montenegro and Serbia are in the process of membership negotiations. Other countries are continuing on the course of EU approximation. At the same time intensified regional cooperation has significantly brightened economic prospects and the region’s stability.

The EBRD sees itself as a supporter of these processes, a promoter of the interests of the Western Balkans and a door-opener for international and regional investors contemplating an engagement in the region.The countries have a lot to offer: from fertile soil to a strong industrial tradition, from vibrant entrepreneurship to a proud history of innovation, from rich natural resources to a skilled and educated labour force and to stunningly beautiful landscapes – the Western Balkans have it all. The Western Balkans investment forum offers a unique opportunity to learn more about the countries and the region and to get in touch with key decision-makers and business representatives.

Having a stability in politics and regional cooperation make the Western Balkan countries interesting to generate new employments as a result of positive impact in the economy. The gain in this case will be more collective than individual. Negotiations should be strengthened. There are lakes and rivers shared by these countries, therefore specific regional cooperation is needed.


Free trade

Regional trade liberalisation is progressing. A network of bilateral free-trade agreements among the countries of the region, including Romania, Bulgaria and Moldova, has been established, thus creating a free-trade area of 55 million consumers. This sends an important signal to the investor community, which will find a market of high absorption potential for industrial and consumer goods. To reap the full benefits of trade liberalisation in the region, the free-trade agreements need to be fully and efficiently implemented. The countries of the region committed themselves to complete the network of free trade agreements. Regional trade across south-eastern Europe is fully in keeping with the EU perspectives of the different countries in the region, independently of where they stand on their way to membership. Trade liberalisation and facilitation is one of the pillars of the stabilisation and association process (SAP): a main instrument of the SAP is the autonomous trade measures that the western Balkan countries enjoy – free access, without quantitative limit, to the EU market for practically all products.

Energy and transport infrastructure

Significant progress is being made on forming a regional energy market and rebuilding infrastructure. The projected south-eastern Europe regional energy market, which should provide modern and liberalised gas and electricity systems, will be key to a regional energy market based on European standards, transparent rules and mutual trust, and it will set the right environment for the optimal development of the energy sector. The agreement governing energy trade will substantially contribute to attracting investment into this strategic sector. Where transport infrastructure is concerned, an integrated regional transport strategy, consistent with the trans-European networks and taking into account the pan-European corridors, is a high priority. The EU also supports projects of regional significance and regional initiatives in the areas of environmental protection, science and technology, information and communication technology, and statistics.

Fight against organised crime and corruption

Organised crime and corruption are threats to security and democratic stability, and obstacles to the rule of law and economic development in the region. Combating organised crime and corruption is a key priority for the governments of the region. Particular focus is being placed upon fighting all forms of trafficking, particularly of human beings, drugs and arms, as well as smuggling of goods. Strengthening the regional operational cooperation for police and prosecution is considered a key priority for the countries of the region.

EU assistance

To promote regional cooperation in priority areas, the EU is providing political support, practical/technical guidance and financial assistance through the CARDS programme (Community assistance for reconstruction, development and stabilisation), which is one of the main instruments of the stabilisation and association process.

Priority areas where regional CARDS assistance will be focused for 2005-06 are listed below.
• Institution building: this priority focuses primarily on strengthening the administrative capacity of the countries, and support to public administration reform, through instruments implemented regionally.
• Justice and home affairs: actions in this field have a special focus on the fight against organised crime and corruption, and include enhanced police regional cooperation and judicial regional cooperation.
• Cross-border cooperation: by promoting economic and social cooperation of border regions, including support to networking activities and the involvement of civil society. The EU supports the development of cross-border cooperation between the western Balkan countries, as well as between these countries and EU members, acceding and candidate countries.
• Private-sector development, by facilitating foreign direct investments in the region.
• Infrastructure development, through initiatives in the sectors of transport, energy, environment and information society.

Considering that in the Balkan countries exist multi-ethnic societies, should be a positive thing in terms of trade, because minority groups should be seen as an added value for the implementation of the non-tariff trade. The elimination of the barriers is an important factor that is representing the approach of positive relations between those countries.

Cross-border finance is the future of Western Balkan countries. Although traditional trade barriers such as tariffs have come down, and innovations in transportation and communications technology have shrunk the distance between nations, trade costs remain high, particularly in developing countries. High trade costs isolate developing countries from world markets, limiting their trade opportunities and impeding growth. High trade costs also appear to disproportionately affect small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), time sensitive products and goods produced in global value chains. Trade procedures that are more cumbersome than necessary and delay the movement, release and clearance of goods constitute a significant part of these trade costs. Trade facilitation is intended to relieve these bottlenecks at the border. The WTO’s Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) represents an important milestone by creating a multilateral framework for reducing trade costs. While changes in trade procedures can be implemented unilaterally, a multilateral agreement on trade facilitation brings added value. It provides greater legal certainty to the changes in measures. It helps reforming governments to marshal support from domestic constituents. Finally, it helps with the adoption of similar or compatible approaches to trade procedures and coordinates the provision of donor support for capacity-constrained developing countries.

Cooperation in the region represents a key element for the development of the Western Balkan in general, and a powerful collaboration towards an integrated market. Stability Pact has played an important role in the cooperation between the countries of Western Balkans. It is obvious that it many initiatives in order to promote democratic stabilization and economic development in the Western Balkan countries.


The Western Balkan financial systems need to deepen further and broaden access to financial services while preserving and enhancing financial system stability. Reforms are needed to reduce market imperfections and information asymmetries, and to allow for efficient intermediation of credit to finance investment. While Western Balkan countries have done relatively well in providing the infrastructure necessary for financial development more generally and credit deepening in particular, they have lagged their New Member State counterparts in strengthening the foundations of financial stability.

By intensifying cooperation between Balkan Countries,can turn into an element of integration, progress, stability and cooperation in the region. The European perspective of both countries will be a common good and cooperation factor for both countries. The two countries seem determined to cooperate in terms of economic exchange and cooperation as part of the new EU perspective on the Western Balkans (launched in Berlin by the German Chancellor in August 2014) and the South-East European Cooperation Process (SEECP).

They should have some common priorities that will guide them to a successful economic perspective besides the clear EU path that have towards. Strengthening their trade dynamics is an ambitious cooperation framework.

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I’m Not Writing About You – Am I?

Often people tell me that they read my articles and wonder how I know what they are going through. They think that perhaps someone has told me about their situation or that I have some kind of magical powers that gave me insight into their troubles.

Well, you can relax. I have been writing articles for this column for almost twelve years and have never based any article on one person. In fact, most of them were written without me having any particular person in mind.

After having seen over 7,000 clients, though I have found that there are some recurring themes in human nature.

1. Communication – It doesn’t matter whether you are a person who writes thousands of pages of policies a year or contacts others with abbreviated words in 140 character text messages – communicating effectively is difficult. Each of us has different values and assigns meanings based on our experiences. What means one thing to one person can mean a totally different thing to another person.

2. Relationships – Your relationship with others and with yourself can be wonderful or horrible. Sometimes we don’t have the skills to deal with others and can be abused or neglected without knowing how to resolve the issues that haunt us. You might have problems starting, maintaining, enhancing or ending relationships.

3. Parenting – Anyone with more than one child understands just how different personalities can reside in the same environment. It takes more than love to raise children. You need skills, patience, resources and support!

4. Money – Some have too much and others don’t have any. Some people hold onto it while others can’t spend it quickly enough. They say that money makes the world go round but sometimes it stops people in their tracks!

5. Sex – Too much, too little, in the wrong place, with the wrong person or can’t. Sex is always an interesting activity to ponder. And it certainly isn’t what everyone expects or hopes for.

6. Responsibilities – Perhaps you can manage a large company with ease but have arguments at home about who is going to take out the garbage. The concepts of can or can’t, will or won’t are what determine how things get done in the world.

7. Personal Issues – I can see five people who have exactly the same thing happen to them and each will have a different reaction. One might get drunk or high. A second attempts suicide. The third might run away or move while a fourth turns to another person for support. The fifth didn’t even notice that something important happened. People are interesting.

So, the next time that you read one of my articles and think that it is about you – perhaps it is! You see, I write about the complex and interesting situations that humans find themselves in.

And that’s what also keeps me working as a Registered Psychologist. You see I just love helping people to navigate their lives and problem-solve!

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Female Detective – Personality Traits of Female Amatuer Slueths

A cozy mystery is not interesting without a powerful and intellectual amateur female detective. Such fictional detective characters are known as sleuths. The amateur sleuth in a cozy mystery typically has no official association with law enforcement agencies; she may appear at crime scenes, but she’s not paid for her services.

There are certain qualities which a female sleuth must possess. These personality traits make her distinctive; they set her apart from the rest of us mere mortals.

Let’s have a look at the incredible qualities of a female detective.


A female detective has to be witty and clever, using her brilliance to carve out minute details which are often ignored. She sorts through all kinds of clues and suspects in a case, using her sharp intellect to consider all possible solutions. She’s adept at questioning suspects, frequently proven to be better than police inquirers and crime personnel. She remembers details, often overlooked or considered insignificant, which lead to solving a case.


Being a detective requires skill in various arenas. Not only must a female sleuth have to overcome the stigma of being a woman, and thus, weaker than her male counterpart; she must appear rational, courageous, daring, independent, and in possession of special skills.

Apart from being a detective, the cozy mystery sleuth typically owns her own business or is employed in a profession which allows her to interact with many people.

In addition to her professional skills, her other roles may include being, a wife, a mother, a daughter, or a sister.

The Power of Intuition

A sleuth without the power of intuition cannot be completely successful. This quality is especially relevant in light of women’s natural intuition. They are more vigilant in seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching; and their sixth sense is more active than men.

Their critical thinking and intuitive sense helps them understand people better. They are more logical and reasonable, embodying psychological acuity useful in their interrogation of suspects.

Inquisitive and Sneaky

Without meaning to offend, we can’t neglect the inquisitive nature of women. When a female detective feels something is not right, she pursues until her curiosity is satisfied.

A female sleuth possesses the power of questioning. If she does not understand something, she asks what, when, how, why, where, and who, making sure there are no details she has missed.

Justice and Integrity

A female sleuth is typically known for an inborn sense of justice and fairness. She displays a sense of sympathy without letting a culprit make a fool of her. She sides with empathy over vengeance; humiliation over pride.

In spite of these superior skills, the female amateur sleuth is still vulnerable. She has weaknesses, obstacles to overcome, and challenges to face. These may be the qualities more than all the other traits which make her endearing; someone we want to spend time with.

Rayna Morgan is an Indie author. She loves all things motivational and inspirational, animals (especially border collies and golden retrievers), yoga, meditation, travel.

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Why Readers Read: What Every Writer Needs to Know

Why do we read? I hadn’t really thought about this question in any depth. Sure I could tell you that I do it because I love to, that those stolen hours lost in pages are exciting, exhilarating escapism. But I’d never considered – and as a psychologist with my theoretical roots firmly embedded in science and evolution I should have – that story is actually a powerful part of our lives.

Think about it, unlike other pass times – like quilting,croquet or gambling – everyone does story in one form or another. I devour books, my husband loves to watch TV, my son absorbs himself in games of breeding dragons or building pixelated forests. Children take plastic My Little Pony’s and build families and plan great adventures. Adults take little painted figurines and build empires and plan their enemy’s defeat. Gossiping is story, seeing a psychologist is all about telling your story, marketers know that a good story will invest you in their product. I realised that story is EVERYWHERE.

Which means escapism isn’t a good enough reason for story to be with us. It’s true, getting lost in a story isn’t smart: from centuries ago, when keeping an eye out for sabre tooth tigers was pretty essential for survival, through to modern times, where paying your mortgage keeps food in your fridge. Story has been so pervasive and universal that it’s survived the ruthless mill of evolution, that unrelenting process that screens out anything that doesn’t ensure our species will be here to produce future generations. If it’s not securing our survival, then its cut. Gone.


Why then? Why is story still around? Why is it woven so tightly into the layers of our life?

Essentially, story was, and continues to be, our first virtual reality. Just like it’s much safer for pilots to learn to fly in simulators, we get to learn the complicated lessons of life through the experience of others. In the same way pilots prefer to make their mistakes much closer to the ground, we get to see what could happen if our baby sitter didn’t turn out to be who we thought they were, how to take down a zombie, what a serial killer is capable of, how to navigate a dystopian world, what the ripple effect of having an affair with your neighbour is. In real life, mistakes can be devastating for pilots and us alike. With story, we get to do all of this and more, all without the deadly crash landing.

Evolution thought this was so important that it actually wired us for story. In fact, it thought it was so important, it deeply embedded it into our grey matter it in two significant ways. The first has us probing right down at a cellular level. Neurons are the spindly, spidery cells that make up our brain matter. They’re the little suckers that zip information all around our brain and body. A relatively recent discovery was that of mirror neurons, cells that fire both when you do something but also when you see someone else doing it. Oh, like hear a story, watch a movie… or read a book! Mirror neurons are why we get just as excited watching sport as playing it, why we scrunch up in our seats and turn our eyes away from a horror film.

Or why we have a physical, visceral response to a great book.

Pretty cool, huh?

Another is in the chemical communications that happen in our head. Namely dopamine, the little molecule involved in pleasure and reward. Food, sex and cocaine all trigger the release dopamine in our brain. And so does devouring a good book.

In the case of reading, dopamine is your brains way of rewarding curiosity, so you can learn the hard-won lessons the character is enduring (in the safety of the library or your lounge room). Interestingly, the more dopamine is released, the more of a high we get, the more we want to keep doing what we’re doing. Most importantly, if the brain anticipates doing that activity again, like reading, it will release dopamine accordingly. Think about it, we’ve all been there when our favourite author releases a new book. When that book finally rests in your palms, that happy, heady feeling has you diving into the first page no matter where you are. It’s the brain’s way of encouraging you to go for it because it felt so good last time.

When I learnt all this, as a reader I felt validated. I finally figured out why I turn up to work gritty eyed and wishing I drank coffee because ‘just one more chapter’ turned into ‘there’s only a hundred pages to go, I might as well finish it’. It’s not about poor self-control, an addictive personality or a belief I can function on three hours sleep. My brain is wired to want this! (Okay, fine… maybe self-control got skipped in my DNA… )

But as a writer I was fascinated.

I realised all this knowledge is the foundation of what readers are unconsciously looking for in a story. Why some books are ‘meh’ and why some will be OMG IT’S PHYSICALLY IMPOSSIBLE FOR ME TO PUT THIS DOWN!

If you capture your reader, give them a character they care about as they fight, fail but ultimately learn, if you swallow them whole with your words and your wit, you’ve done it. You’ve got them. They’ll connect with your protagonist, your story…

Your book.

And if it’s really got them hooked, the ones on your backlist, and the ones yet to come.

What writer doesn’t want that?

In future posts I’ll start teasing apart what the parts of our craft that will fire a readers’ mirror neurons, spark that rush of dopamine, so check out the PsychWriter blog: where psychology meets writing.

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Spam in Your Comment Section

Everyone who writes online does so because they love to write. Some have pictures they want to share. Some share therapy. Some thoughts. Most everyone writes from experience, sharing what they’ve learned with others who want to learn. Those who share on social media also enjoy the responses and interactions with those who have read their writing. This is where friends are made, ideas are shared, where we feel good about what we do.

Then there are the spammies.

Spammies attack all sorts of social media — emails and blogs in particular. Lately it has been open season to those with nothing else to do than create chaos.

Here is a real comment from a real follower:

Very nice! I hear you on the “creaks from my joints and the squeals from my muscles.” I definitely want to work on those this year, too. Happy New Year, Claudia! I wish great things for you in 2016!” Maddie

Some how I missed the yellow brick road last time — I loved your story! Thank you for repeating… Deb

Subscribers and non-subscribers alike usually refer to something specific in your writing. There are times when you do get “I really like this!” or “Great post!”, but usually those are from followers you already know. (I know — sometimes I use less than 5 words too).

But a spammy is always from someone you don’t know, usually has no image or legit link, and often talk about things that have nothing to do with your post. It’s usually generic praise for you to keep doing what you’re doing. For example:

Your writing is certainly extremely persuasive and that is probably the reason why I am making an effort in order to opine. Secondly, even though I can easily notice the jumps in reason you make, I am not really sure of exactly how you seem to unite the ideas which produce the actual final result. For now I will, no doubt subscribe to your position but trust in the foreseeable future you connect your facts better. Tata


Thanks for the comment and sharing this story. Somehow when this stuff is going on, I tend to attribute also and to myself. Like I’m a faulty adult or something. But having done workplace advocacy for a long time and so to I’ve come to realize just how often what this is to be only by simply ignoring a co-worker they don’t like is so acceptable… Roman

Those are just a few. You can see right away they have nothing to do with what you’ve written. I’ve seen tons of others where some nebulous person says, “Your blog is very helpful. I am grateful you are writing these things.” They are generic and aimless. They usually pick older blogs where no one goes anymore. I’ve seen conversations go on between two different people about a totally different subject right in my comment section.

I don’t know how they get in there or what they want in there. I don’t know if they are just messing around or if they’re pulling information from my site or just trying to get me to respond so they can continue to fool around. But I don’t trust any message that doesn’t come in the front door. I don’t appreciate invasion of my personal space by people who are playing in my back yard without my knowledge.

Strangers stop by all the time and comment and go on their merry way. But if you keep an eye on how many people comment on your posts (I think everyone does to one degree or another), be aware that not every comment is a true comment about you. Most of these spammies just sit in your e-mail notifications as someone who commented on your writing. Who knows if they have viruses or attachments?

There’s nothing wrong with taking the extra step of approving your comments before they get posted. Anyone can type anything anywhere, and anyone can type your email address into anything. So keep your eyes open. If it’s too incredible, it’s not. If you’ve received a ton of comments on your offerings and you usually get a half dozen, sniff around. Something’s up.

Filter your enthusiasm with a bit of caution. That way you can take your comments for what they were meant to be – responses to your hard-earned efforts.

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My Reflections – My Present Perception on the Surroundings

The great Trinity God seems to have stopped watching us
The revered mountain God too is not looking after us
The holy water has stopped caring for us
The great temple authorities do not watch us any more
Our fellow beings aren’t watching
Our secret society hardly care for us
Those who have been watching, I consider them as my loyal natural friends
Those who have not been watching, I look up to them as my esteemed divine friends
I am coming across towards the very methods
I am coming across towards inward
I feel I have lived my life in full
I don’t feel hunger anymore
I don’t feel thirst anymore
Yes, I’m eating food
But honestly, I have no understanding on what food means to me now
Do you think you are courageous enough?
Well, I feel I boast certain degree of systematic courage
What I feel is that, it’s the mighty sun who makes hunger & thirst
Both my thirst and hunger are uneven now
I don’t wish to survive sans food & water
It’s true yet then if the situation demands, I am ready to compromise

It implies that the sole way to survive on our plant would be extremely tough
I know that I deeply feel to help everybody
However, the problem is that people seem to be reluctant towards my visions, feelings and words
I understand people today are only ambitious to make pots full of money
Adwaita is the key to inward nature
Today success is only gauged by how smooth one’s words are
Today failure defines a natural outcome of disturbing words
Yes, I am confident about my knowledge about every art
I am positive about my awareness of every cat
I know of every animal
I am familiar with every human
If anybody throws a challenge at me, he would survive
If they care to listen to my words, they won’t survive
I am positive that I am actually mastering
I am confident that I am actually reading
I am pretty sure that I am steadily galloping
I also know that I’m withering
I know the moon & sun aren’t actually listening
The Mars and Earth have been quiet for far too long
The Venus and Jupiter seem to be weeping
The Neptune & other planets seem to be trembling
The big universe is actually withdrawing
The creation has started to become imbalanced
Nature seems to be withdrawing
The sun seems to be withdrawing
The moon looks like as if it is steadily dissipating
And, here I am continuously listening
Yes, I’m listening
And, if this goes on
The whole creation would soon collapse
No, I won’t survive
But then, the people, the others, would survive
I am fully aware that my understanding does not exactly align to people’s understanding
Yes, I am full aware that I am a reluctant leader
Very honestly speaking, if anyone feels that he deserves my very presence, he is lucky
I am rightly moving towards righteous justice
If anybody raises any obstruction, he would certainly lose
The whole creation is on its way to collapse
Yes, I am very much listening
But then, no, I won’t continue
I won’t bring
Nor I would handle
I would surely bow my head down to the mighty sun
I would certainly bow my head to the great earth
Very soon, many would suffer from loss of vision
Very soon, disharmony would start to creep into many lives
It is the natural result of their lack of understanding in paying heed to my words
I’m always listening to our world
Nature is always attentive to me
The cremation isn’t far, it’s already present
I’m neither going to die nor live
According to me, there is just one single proportion
The result, still, is not actually given
In fact, we have a generic result here
But preparation isn’t exactly generic
I am firmly holding
I consider myself as the revered queen of a palace
Io also consider myself as the great king of a palace
I don’t support anybody
No, I won’t support a single soul
The day seems to be progressing towards final judgment
Our humanity seems to be living to the very eventuality
Once again, yes, I am actually listening
I’m truly listening
But do you care to listen to my very voice?
Do you care to listen to my very breath?
I am actually mastering

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