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We’ve talked about getaways and writing retreats and taking time for ourselves as ways to recharge, get back in touch with the muse, and just to enjoy life — because what’s life if you aren’t enjoying it, right?

A couple of weeks ago, I had a fabulous opportunity to join a group of other active older adults who enjoy group outings through Boomerang Adventures. This one involved an island, a ferry, a golf cart, tai chi, yoga, kayaking, walking, cycling, and dining on fresh-from-the-ocean lobster, mussels, and clams.

NightAtTheMuseumHave you ever seen the movie Night at the Museum? It’s from 2006 and stars Ben Stiller. It’s a fun movie about a museum security guard who discovers the museum exhibits come alive at night.

Anyway, back to my adventure weekend. It was on Peak’s Island, Maine (a quick ferry ride from Portland, ME). I’d never heard of the island, yet it was only 2 hours from my home.

The island itself has a lot of civil war history – and at one time it was considered the Coney Island of Maine with hotels, entertainers, amusement parks, and more.

Currently on the island (among many things) are 2 military museums – the Fifth Maine Regiment Memorial Hall and the Eighth Maine Regiment House and Live-in Museum & Lodge. It’s amazing how much history is preserved on this beautiful little (4 mile) island on the Maine coast.

8th Museum and LodgeThe Boomerang group stayed at “the 8th”, and, wow! It’s really a museum! Part of what is preserved is the kitchen and dining hall (both in the basement). The main floor has an enormous fireplace and is open space – it’s where the civil war soldiers gathered (and slept) when they met at the lodge for reunions. Descendants still come and stay at the 8th.

I signed my name in the visitor’s log that dates back to 1924. How cool is that? The building is only open during the warm months, and the log book shows the influx of visitors – when the reunions happened, and now that the museum is open for reservations, it was fun to read the dates people have visited and where they’ve visited from.

8th Dining Hall Thankfully, the museum didn’t come alive at night, but I felt the history and saw it at every turn. Eating is a community event – visitors are assigned refrigerators (modern) and cupboards (original) for their food and tables so they can meet new people. Everyone chooses their own dishware (vintage and old) and silverware from the kitchen, and, most important, everyone does their own dishes! It’s how the soldiers did it, so it’s how current visitors do it.

There is still so much I’m absorbing from the trip. So much I’m writing down so I can remember. So much I plan to write about. So many people whose essence lingers and whose stories I would love to learn!

Peak's Island landingToday, I wanted to share how rejuvenating a totally different type of getaway can be. It wasn’t a writing-related getaway, I’m not a history ‘buff’. The trip was unique – and that attracted me.

New experiences – and sharing it with new friends – can rejuvenate and recharge you in ways you can’t imagine.

If you have a chance to try something new, go somewhere nearby you’ve never explored before – even for a few hours – I hope you’ll do it. An open mind is a great asset for any writer.

And if you can get to Peak’s Island and even stay at the 8th for a night or two – it’ll be a unique experience!

(I’m not a paid sponsor for any of the places mentioned. I just personally recommend them. And I do think the 8th Maine would make for a great unique writing retreat location – as there are lots of places to sit — inside and out — and large spaces to gather and share writing projects as a group.)

Lisa J. JacksonLisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She highly recommends getting a change of scenery now and then as a way to rejuvenate – and if you can turn it into an adventure, so much the better! You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook,  Google+, and LinkedIn.

What if writing is about more than the story?

heart book pagesEarlier this week I published a post called Your Author Brand Needs to Answer One Question. Though the title might make it sound like a piece that’s very focused on the marketing side of your writing life, it’s actually about something much more personal than that. Thinking about it now, perhaps making your marketing personal is the point.

In the post, I write about the importance of really knowing your audience – not just demographics, but psychographics. It’s infinitely more important to know what makes a reader tick from the inside out than it is to know how old she is, where she lives, or what her household income is. I also wrote about the importance of writing for yourself first and then letting what you write guide you to your “tribe,” as Seth Godin calls the group of people who share your values, interests, and inclinations. This will always lead to more enduring work than trying to “write for the market.”

Phil (aka “philosophermouseofthehedge”) and another reader whom I know only as FairytaleFeminista struck up a great conversation in the comments. I was particularly struck by these additions to the topic:

cmnt fairytalefem bubble

cmnt phil true

They got me thinking.

What is a story isn’t just a story? What if it’s a beacon to help us find our “tribe” in the great, wide world? What if it’s another whole language that lets us communicate with our tribe once we find them – a secret language that only we can understand? Or, perhaps I’m just stating the obvious? Maybe you have already figured this out and I’m just finally figuring it out?

Though I haven’t yet finished it, I am fascinated by Jonathan Gottschall’s book The Storytelling Animal. The comments from Phil and the FairytaleFeminista made me wonder if perhaps stories aren’t the truest way to share ourselves, and therefore the most authentic way for us to connect with others. Could it be that the fictions we create and consume might be the most real part of who we are?

In a post on her blog, Lessons from the Flock, fellow Live to Write – Write to Live blogger Wendy Thomas wrote about how stories permeate and even perhaps create our lives. She mentions the movie Big Fish (a favorite that I’ve been meaning to re-watch) which is a beautifully rendered tale about how stories can become reality and sustain and connect us in ways we would never have expected.

I honestly don’t have any answers here. Just asking questions. There’s no question that stories are more than mere entertainment. But now I’m wondering just how deep their influence and magic run.

 

What I’m Writing:

... is it really?

… is it really?

I won’t beat around the bush. I’m writing a lot, but it’s all the stuff that pays my bills. This past week has been the beginning of what looks to be a three to four week stint of excruciatingly busy days. As is often the case, all my clients needs seem to have converged during one, short span of time. More troubling than the weight of the workload (for which I am, by the way, extremely grateful) is the fact that for these next three weeks, my daughter does not have any summer camp plans. What was that you said about work/life balance?

The most painful side effect of being as busy as I’ve been recently is that my morning pages routine has ground to a temporary halt. Between staying up (very) late to meet deadlines and getting up (pretty) early to get my daughter to last week’s riding camp on time, there just wasn’t any time to squeeze in my usual first-thing-of-the-day writing practice. I’ve missed it SO much! Next week, I am looking forward to resuming my daily routine. My fingers are fairly itching in anticipation and my brain feels about to burst with the tension of so many unrecorded thoughts and musings. It’s no wonder I’ve found it difficult to concentrate this week, what with all that extra baggage rattling around up there instead of being spilled out onto the page at the start of the day.

Has the chaos of summertime stolen away any of your writing routines? How are you coping? 

 

What I’m Reading:

book flora ulyssesMy daughter and I finished another fun bedtime read this week, Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo.  I have to admit that I have wanted to read this book for a while. In fact, I’ve picked it up off the “new arrivals” shelf at our local library several times, only to be shot down by my daughter who wrinkled her nose doubtfully whenever I showed her the cover or read her the blurb.

I’m so glad I decided to ignore her ambiguity and just get the book.

In the end, she loved it at least as much as I did. The book is both laugh-out-loud funny (especially some of the illustrations or, as the cover refers to them, illuminations) and extremely thoughtful. It deals with superheroes, child/parent relationships, divorce, and the possibility of the impossible. The story is told via a split narrative – half Flora and half Ulysses, the superhero squirrel. Love courses through the story like a river through a canyon – strong and undeniable, but sometimes zigging and zagging.

Flora and Ulysses is one of those wonderful “children’s” stories that can be enjoyed on several levels, and DiCamillo’s writing is – as always – such a pleasure. to read. Whether you have kids or not, this is a story worth reading. Who knows, you may even discover your own inner superhero.

And let’s not forget the blogs. Here are a few of my favorite writerly posts from this week:

 

Finally, a quote for the week:

pin all that we see

Here’s to creating your own reality and, through it, connecting with others who share a similar world. 

.
Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of the equestrian arts, voice, and – occasionally –  trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.

Friday Fun is a group post from the writers of the NHWN blog. Each week, we’ll pose and answer a different, get-to-know-us question. We hope you’ll join in by providing your answer in the comments.

This week’s question is part of a series based on 100th episode (“Ask The Readers Anything” ) of the UK-based podcast, The Readers. We thought it would be interesting (and fun!) to answer these questions from the perspective of writers who also (obviously) love to read. 

QUESTION: If you could coerce or inspire any retired or deceased author to write again, which author would you choose and what would you have them write?

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon: If I could I would ask Harper Lee to write another novel. I was in an advanced reading program when I was in 5th grade and we read a couple of classics that had children as main characters in them–To Kill a Mockingbird was one of them and I loved it and have never forgotten that first reading of it. I was always sad that Harper Lee hasn’t written any more novels.

.

 

Lisa J. JacksonLisa J. Jackson: I’d love to read more from Shirley Jackson (no relation to the author, although I do have an aunt with that name!) “The Lottery” is the first short story I remember having made an impact with me – I was pulled into the story immediately and didn’t see the ending coming. I think it was my first foray into dark fiction – the dark side of human nature (which scares me more than monsters).

I’d say she could write anything she’d like, short or long. Or if she doesn’t feel like writing something, I’d be happy to sit with her and chat about writing. I won’t be picky!

 

headshot_jw_thumbnailJamie Wallace: I’m going to go with Kurt Vonnegut. I have always loved Vonnegut’s books and have a re-read of Galapagos planned soon. His official bio on vonnegut.com captures beautifully why I am drawn to his writing, “His chaotic fictional universe abounds in wonder, coincidence, randomness and irrationality.” Vonnegut’s writing has a wry sense of humor, a deep intelligence, and a heartbreaking sense of sadness. He is also someone who says what he means and means what he says. And he doesn’t pull any punches. In addition to his fiction, I very much enjoyed his collection of essays, A Man Without A Country. There is nothing particular I would wish Vonnegut to write. I just think the world – literary and otherwise – would be a better place with him in it.

wendy-shotWendy Thomas: Hands down, J.K. Rowling. I realize that she is still writing, but I so want to go back to that whole wonderful world of Harry Potter. It was such a huge part of my and my children’s lives, I feel like it was a real place. I want more, much more of that magic.

 

broken heartYears ago, I read an essay about how a person would make a point of always complimenting each dog to its owner as they passed by.

“What a good dog you have.”
“Such a handsome fellow.”

They did this because after doing so, the owner would often reach down and pat the dog. It was a way to give the dog some love from a stranger.

To this day, I always compliment people on their dogs and yup, those dogs get a little more attention.

Everyone likes to feel that they have something that’s worthy of attention.

Eventually I figured out that if this worked for dogs, it would probably work for other things. There’s not a baby out there that I won’t say to the parents – how strong she looks, what beautiful eyes he has, or simply what a clever looking child you have there.

The parents smile and usually pat the baby or hold it a little closer.

Compliments are a gift, I’m not saying you have to be insincere (that’s not a gift, that’s a scam), what I am saying is that if you can find something positive to say about a situation, a person, or an animal, go ahead and say it.

Yesterday I received this comment on my blog post about telling stories:

The things I love most about your “stories” are that they are so real and believable. They are stories about the simple, ordinary things in life that we often ignore or miss in the hurried-up hustle and bustle of today’s world. They often take me back to the yesterdays of raising my six children and often call up memories of even earlier times when I was growing up in the country in East Texas with my five siblings, in the days of chicken yards, gathering eggs, running from the rooster, or sometimes encountering a long chicken snake in the hen house, one of which didn’t like the fact that I got to the eggs in the nests before him and slithered down out of the rafters as I was stepping out of the little house. He dropped down over my shoulder and into the egg basket. Needless to say, in my surprise and horror, the basket, eggs, snake and I went in all different directions. Before I could regain my senses to run, my dad came running into the chicken yard with his gun, thinking I had encounters a different kind of egg stealing critter that often raided the hen house. When he saw the snake and the fact that it was harmless to humans, except a 9 year little girl, guess who got a spanking for over-reacting and breaking all the eggs. I love your stories because they help me find my way back “home” through my own memories and stories of my own, but also the stories my mom and dad used to tell of their childhood. Keep telling us the stories, Wendy, and God bless you.

You can’t imagine how much this meant to me. When we write, we expose our creations, our babies to the world. We’re nervous and wonder how they will be received. When I sat down to write this morning, it was easy to smile and hold my work a little closer because everyone, myself included, likes to feel that they have something that’s worthy of attention.

 

***

Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.

 

Look out Vermont, the New Hampshire Writer’s Network is coming for a visit!

Don't miss (bottom row l-r) Deborah Lee Luskin, Lisa J. Jackson and Wendy E.N. Thomas as the present at the Bookstock Literary Festival Saturday, July 26

Don’t miss (bottom row l-r) Deborah Lee Luskin, Lisa J. Jackson and Wendy E.N. Thomas as the present at the Bookstock Literary Festival Saturday, July 26

The 2014 Bookstock Literary Festival takes place this weekend in lovely Woodstock, Vermont. This will be sixth iteration of the festival that features, workshops, panels and readings. Panel topics include, How to Get Happily Published, a Young Adult Fiction Panel, and A Story of Writers Blogging Together (more on this in a minute).

There will be food and music and activities for all ages and a used and vintage book sale that runs all three days. You can view an overview of all the events or review the descriptions for each session. All events are FREE and open to the public.

The keynote speakers are novelist Anita Diamont (The Red Tent, Day After Night) and former United States Poet Laureate Charles Simic. But, clearly the highlight of the festival will be the panel at Noon on Saturday A Story of Writers Blogging Together featuring NHNW’s very own Deborah Lee Luskin, Lisa Jackson and Wendy E.N. Thomas*. Here’s the session description:

“Live to Write—Write to Live is a critically acclaimed and highly popular blog about the craft and business of writing. It is written by eight professional writers known collectively as the New Hampshire Writers’ Network, representing a wide spectrum of genres, including literary fiction, mysteries, fantasy, young adult, memoir, marketing, cookbooks, and journalism.Three of the blog’s regular contributors will speak about running a successful blog, working collaboratively, and using the blog to boost their individual writing careers”

You don’t want to miss this!! The panel runs from 12pm to 12:40 pm this Saturday July 26th in the conference room of the Woodstock town hall located at 3 Church St, Woodstock, VT. Most of the events take place on and around the beautiful Woodstock Green. There is limited parking, nearly all of it metered, in Woodstock village. For more information about the event and parking visit http://bookstockvt.org/about/.

If you’re in the area, we hope you’ll come out. Make sure to introduce yourself to Deborah, Lisa or Wendy.

*The rest of the NHWN team will be there in spirit while cursing deadlines and previous commitments.

road questionYou need to know who you’re selling to and why they are buying.

As a marketer, I help my clients focus on the needs and desires of their audience. We spend a lot of time exploring exactly who their customer is, all the way from basic demographics (age, gender, professional role, geographic location, household income, etc.) to psychographics (lifestyles, philosophies, beliefs, values, opinions, etc.). Sometimes, we will develop customer personas – a composite individual who represents the larger group  (kind of like an archetype character). We do all of this because marketing and sales success does not hinge on the latest social media platform or automated lead generation system; it depends on knowing as much as you can about the exact person you are trying to reach. When you can step inside that person’s head and anticipate her deepest needs and desires, it becomes almost easy to deliver the perfect solution to her problem and develop a marketing message that will sing through all the noise and go straight to her heart.

It is the same with art. And writing. 

People (especially artists) often assume that artistic products, from paintings to pottery to the great American novel, follow different marketing rules than other, more commercial endeavors. People assume that art is either held to a higher standard that is less crass, more pure, driven only by the artist’s passion. Idealistic mantras echo around the Internet and through the artist’s head. Creators are encouraged to forget about everything except the art, create only for themselves, and eschew the siren call of commercialization or “selling out.”

I cringe when I hear this kind of talk. It’s not that I think artists should ignore the muse and focus only on turning a profit. Not at all. As an artist myself, I believe with all my heart in creating the work that is the truest expression of yourself. I believe in listening to your instincts, turning your back on the unsolicited input of others, and writing (or painting or carving or whatever) the thing that moves you. Knowing your audience isn’t about conforming to the pressures of an outside group, it’s about finding other members of your own “tribe,” as Seth Godin calls it. It’s about connecting with and serving the people who already “get it,” the people who need exactly what you’re offering (even though, maybe, they don’t know it yet).

I can understand why people get confused. The needs associated with more practical and tangible products are easier to label. A woman buying shampoo needs clean hair. A man buying a truck needs to haul something. A writer buying a pen needs something to write with. However, those are just the surface needs. Even the most mundane products deliver more than just the solution to a problem. There is almost always a second layer of needs to be met – an emotional layer. The woman buying shampoo doesn’t just want clean hair, she wants to feel sexy, beautiful, and confident. The man buying the truck doesn’t just need towing capacity, he needs to feel strong and capable. The writer buying a pen doesn’t just need to scratch a few lines in a notebook, she needs a writing instrument that embodies her commitment to her craft and her creativity.

These emotional needs are what drive people to buy a more expensive brand-name product instead of a generic one. These emotional needs are the ones met by good branding: logos, tag lines, visuals, copy, messaging. We use products for more than their intended purpose. We use them to build our identity, to define who we are to ourselves and other people. The art we buy is no different. Though it does not serve an immediately obvious practical purpose, it does meet a very real emotional need.

What purpose does a story serve?

Stories serve many different purposes. They entertain and distract us, offering much needed escape from our troubles. They inspire us. They educate us. They enable us to live out our fantasies. They offer us a chance to feel awe, wonder, hope, comfort. They provide us with a way to be part of something bigger than ourselves.

Think about why you read. Why do you read (and love) a particular kind of story? What is it that makes your favorite books your favorites? Which of your emotional needs were met by those stories? Did you gain a greater understanding of yourself, the world, human nature, history? Did you get enjoyment from the read – maybe even laughing out loud? Did you feel release, crying or a sense of surrender? Did the book give you a feeling of belonging? Did it make you feel proud of having read it? How did the story serve you?

A story is not just words on a page. It is an experience. The same goes for all art. A person who buys a painting does not usually buy it simply because it’s pretty. She buys it because it “moves” her, it “speaks” to her. The image makes her experience something – an emotion – that fulfills a need. The painting is somehow part of her – a missing piece, if you will. The same is true of a story.

When we surround ourselves with visual art and other beautiful things we are not just creating our living environment, we are creating our world, our lives. Stories, though they are not physically present hung on the walls or sitting on shelves, do the same thing. Each story we read is woven into our psyche, it changes how we see ourselves and the world, it becomes part of our personal history and language.

As a writer, it’s important to be aware of all this. It’s important to know that you are not only creating a world of your own, you are helping your readers create their worlds. You are changing their perception of reality. Think about this when you ask yourself what kind of experience your story creates. Think about the kinds of changes you are manifesting by sharing your story. Do not let these wonderings direct your creative process, but just be aware. Sometimes, the experience readers have with your story will not be what you expected. That’s okay. The experience can be very fluid and is always subjective and influenced by the reader’s personal interpretation and general state of mind. Like a dream, a single story can mean many different things to many different people.

Unlike software or allen wrenches or kitchen appliances, a work of art should not be created to an audience’s specifications. The artist should never try to fabricate a work of art based on what he thinks the audience needs. The artist should create from his own experience and emotions and then find ways to connect with other people who either have already shared or would like to share those emotions and experiences. In this way, the artist’s (or author’s) brand will emerge organically and, because it evolves in an authentic way, it will be stronger and more enduring. This is why a deep understanding of your readers is so important. Get to know them. Learn about their lives. Understand how they are experiencing your work. The more you are in tune with the needs and desires of your “tribe,” the better you will be able to connect with them so that you can continue the journey together.

Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of the equestrian arts, voice, and trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.

Photo Credit: milos milosevic via Compfight cc

Having a plan, goals, and keeping track of accomplishments are all great activities to practice regularly.

As is keeping a gratitude journal.

We’ve talked about all of these things here over the past few years.

It’s something similar to a gratitude journal that I recently discovered and I find it quite powerful.

I do it along with the gratitude journal, but it can be done separately, as part of a weekly calendar, or however you like.

Mantids can turn their heads a full 180 degrees - always keeping their goal in sight.

Mantids can turn their heads a full 180 degrees – always keeping their goal in sight.

It’s a list of items placed under the heading Signs the Universe is Supporting Me Right Now.

A sampling of a recent list of mine:

  1. I have the time I need to work on my business this week.
  2. I have exciting new writing opportunities arriving on my desk weekly.
  3. I have the technology and other resources needed to take my business forward.
  4. I am energized and ready to get my to do tasks done.
  5. My work environment is distraction free so I can focus on my business.
  6. I’m able to connect with the right people who can help me build my business.

That’s easy enough, right? It’s a bit picture way to keep goals in sight.

It’s part “act as if” and part list of gratitude items thought about in a different way.

I challenge you to give it a try — make a list, however short or long, of your proof that the Universe is supporting you with your goals right now.

It’ll be a great way to start your week.

Lisa J. JacksonLisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She believes that keeping the universe ‘in the loop’ is a natural and positive part of life. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook,  Google+, and LinkedIn.

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