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I bet you'll be grinning like me if you watch the video.

I bet you’ll be grinning like me if you watch the video.

Sometimes being a writer can make you crazy. I mean, it’s bad enough that we hear voices in our heads, but when we start arguing with those voices, we know we’re in trouble.

Last week I had the delightful pleasure of seeing Livingston Taylor perform at Rockport’s beautiful Shalin Liu Performance Center. Though a longtime fan of Liv’s brother, James Taylor, I knew little about Liv or his music and wasn’t sure what to expect. The show unfolded on an intimate stage with the Atlantic ocean (viewed through, as one of Liv’s guest performers put it, “the cleanest windows I’ve ever seen”) as a backdrop. Despite the dramatic setting, the stunning view was forgotten once the performers began weaving their tales with music and humor.

Joining Taylor onstage were two of his students from the Berklee College of Music in Boston where he teaches a two-part course called Stage Performance . Matt Cusson is an immensely talented pianist/songwriter/singer who opened the show and later joined Taylor for additional numbers. And then there was the lovely Megan Hilty who, among other numbers, performed a beautifully impromptu version of “Over the Rainbow” with Taylor. The sweet authenticity of the performance in all its imperfect perfection brought tears to my eyes.

If you’re wondering what all this has to do with writing, I’m getting there.

Throughout the performance, Taylor shared personal anecdotes about how he wrote various songs. From how he “borrowed” melodies or chord transitions from other composers to how one song started out as one idea and became something entirely different to how another song began as an apology for a botched Valentine’s Day, Taylor gave his audience an peek at his creative process. Though our mediums – music and literature – might be different, I found many of his stories rang as true for my kind of art as for his.

But more on that in another post.

One of my favorite performances of the evening was a folksong called “Railroad Bill.” I laughed all the way through and kept thinking, “Yes. Yes! That totally happens!” If you’ve ever had a character sass you, you’ll love this. So here, without further ado, the “traditional” folksong, “Railroad Bill:”

Wasn’t that great?!?

Like I said, it’s good to be the writer.

Liv Taylor and me. Awwwww.... :)

Liv Taylor and me. Awwwww…. :)

After the show, I picked up a copy of Taylor’s book, Stage Performance (more on that in a future post). I also lingered (along with my beau, daughter, and parents) with the handful of fans who stayed to get autographs and photos. After some cajoling, I managed to overcome my shyness and ask for a photo. Taylor took this “double selfie” with my daughter’s iPod (her camera is way better than the one on my aged iPhone). I felt like a goof, but – as you can see – I was also grinning like an idiot. Clearly, I was having a good time.
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.

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Art is Worth Fighting For

Silver Lining

Silver Lining

Yesterday’s Fourth of July holiday was a bit soggy around my neck of the woods, but the day turned out to have an unexpected silver lining. Though we didn’t get to enjoy cookouts or fireworks (and my daughter was in Maine with her dad), my beau and I did get to enjoy a very relaxing afternoon on the sofa with our two cats, Cinder Kitten and Bella Mama Thunderpaws. We got to watch a couple of good movies, laugh at some smart stand-up comedy, and even take (be still my beating heart) a short NAP. It felt like we were declaring independence from The Grind.

One of the movies we watched was The Monuments Men - a film that I have passed by many times because I am not a big fan of war movies. Having finally watched it, I’m sorry now that I let such a silly prejudice get in the way of enjoying such an inspiring and uplifting story.

The movie is based real life events that took place towards the end of World War II when a small task force of art experts (six Americans and a Frenchman) are sent to Germany to find, recover, and ultimately return the tens of thousands of pieces of artwork, including many masterpieces, that the Nazis stole and hid over the course of the war. I will not give away too much of the story (because, you really should watch it), but I was struck by this speech that George Clooney’s character, Frank Stokes, gives in an attempt to inspire his team of decidedly non-military museum directors, curators, and art historians:

You can wipe out an entire generation, you can burn their homes to the ground and somehow they’ll still find their way back. But if you destroy their history, you destroy their achievements and it’s as if they never existed. That’s what Hitler wants and that’s exactly what we are fighting for.

Art is often considered a nice-to-have. Though men are almost always willing to die for country, family, or gold, most would not even consider putting their lives on the line for a work of art. And yet, it is these works of art, these “achievements” that define us – more than our names, more than our lands, more than our wealth. Names, lands, and wealth are only temporary manifestations of our most rudimentary selves. Art, on the other hand, is the deep and complex reflection of our souls. It is the physical representation of our essence. The art that was at stake during WWII was some of the most iconic, inspiring, and cherished art ever created – each painting and sculpture a small but important piece of humanity’s grace.

Though our own artistic toils may never become a matter of international military operations, that does not lessen their value. Our freedom to consume and create art and literature of all kinds is one of our most important liberties. Art does not only reflect our souls, it inspires them. It lets us dream. It gives us hope.  If that’s not worth fighting for, I don’t know what is.

 

What I’m Writing:

This week, I’m working on a feature piece about an upcoming open studio that’s going to take place right in my neighborhood. The event will feature a broad variety of artists including dancers, musicians, painters, potters, photographers, and bookmakers. As I prepare for the piece, I’m enjoying the chance to interview some of the participating artists about their work and the event.

I used to get pretty nervous when I had to interview a source for a piece, but now I mostly just try to have fun with the process. Wendy wrote a great piece on how to prepare for and conduct source interviews and I agree with her advice, especially the bit about being flexible. Though I always have a list of questions handy, I never pass up an opportunity to follow the interviewee’s line of thought down a new path. Usually, that’s where the best ideas and information come from (not to mention new story ideas).

Still from Wes Anderson's movie, The Grand Budapest Hotel

Still from Wes Anderson’s movie, The Grand Budapest Hotel

I also, just this morning, had a new idea for a story that I’m going to start sketching out in my head (and then in a notebook). The idea came to me because of a real life project my beau and I are thinking about tackling. I love it when real life inspires story ideas. And, really, isn’t that always the way it happens? The other movie we watched yesterday was the gorgeously artful and delightfully quirky The Grand Budapest Hotel. Like The Monuments Men, this film also contained a great quote about art. In one of the opening scenes, the author of the book, The Grand Budapest Hotel, appears to be preparing for a speech. Reading from index cards, the writer explains the source of story:

It is an extremely common mistake. People think that the writer’s imagination is constantly at work,that he’s constantly inventing an endless supply of incidents and episodes, that he simply dreams up his stories out of thin air. In point of fact, the opposite is true. Once the public knows you’re a writer, they bring the characters and events to you and as long as you maintain your ability to look and to carefully listen, these stories will continue to … seek you out over your lifetime. To him who has often told the tales of others, many tales will be told.

Sometimes, all you have to do is listen.

 

What I’m Reading:

year of pleasuresThis week, I enjoyed another “quiet” novel. The Year of Pleasures is my first time reading Elizabeth Berg. As with so many of the novels I’ve read lately, I did not seek this book out, but rather stumbled upon it accidentally. I was killing a few moments while my daughter was talking “in private” with our friend who is a librarian. To avoid the appearance of eavesdropping, I thumbed through the collection of books for sale on the small library cart across from the circulation desk. The cover image and the dust jacket blurb were enough to persuade me to hand over $1.00 for the hardcover. I’m glad I did.

Here is the brief synopsis from Berg’s site:

When Betta Nolan’s husband, John, dies, she honors a promise she made to him to sell their house, drive across the country until she finds a town she likes, and move there. This is a novel about starting life over, and purposely enriching that life with the many pleasures, especially the small and free ones, that are always available to us. It also challenges the notion that a widow must or should behave in a certain way; and it shows how love does not die, but rather changes form.

Though Berg’s writing is lovely and the story (though mostly predictable) ultimately gave me a cozy case of the warm and fuzzies, what I enjoyed most about this book was the narrator’s voice. From the beginning, Betta felt like a real person to me. A cover blurb from The Charlottesville Observer references one of Berg’s other novels, Talk Before Sleep, but says something that I think reflects what I felt about The Year of Pleasures, “Berg captures the way women think …” There is an unaffected honesty to Berg’s characters that drew me in. I will admit to shedding a few tears over their tragedies, and also to smiling broadly at their triumphs.

 

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 one true sentence

Happy Independence Day. Have a great rest of your weekend & don’t forget to make time to read and to write. 

.
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.

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Getting Out of My Head

Meghan Sargent

My daughter, proudly atop Sargent Mountain in Acadia National Park

Last Saturday’s Weekend Edition was slightly abbreviated, but – as I said in my post – for all the right reasons.

The photo I shared was an  in-the-moment selfie of me and my daughter just before hopping in the car with my beau and heading five hours north for a few days of hiking in Acadia National Park, one of our favorite places to visit and the perfect place to celebrate the summer solstice. Though there was, as usual, a slew of hurdles to clear before we were actually on the road (including turning around twenty minutes out because I realized the spare key I’d meant to leave for the cat sitter was still in my purse), the effort and last minute scrambling was so worth it. We had a magical trip.

As writers, we live in our heads. We create whole worlds up there, including places, people, and the stories that they inhabit. We spend long hours behind the keyboard, usually in complete or semi isolation. Much of our day is spent in stillness – butt in chair, only our brains and fingers skittering across the otherwise tranquil surface of the moment. We have our routines and our talismans. We willingly embrace a creative grind that non-writers might consider a cruel and unusual punishment.

But sometimes, it’s good to get out. Out of your head. Out of your chair. Out of your routine.

acadia dogwood

Cornus canadensis (aka creeping dogwood or bunchberry), Acadia

And that’s just what we did. Acadia National Park is a stunning natural treasure. The mountains, though small, hold a wealth of trails that lead through astonishingly diverse landscapes to stunning views of Mount Desert Isle and the surrounding chain of smaller islands. Many of these trails include long stretches of granite stairs that were built into the sides of the mountains back in early twentieth century … without the benefit of modern tools and technology. Once the holiday haven of America’s elite – the Rockefellers, Fords, Morgans, Vanderbilts, and Carnegies – the island now welcomes over two million visitors each year, many of them hikers.

We were among those two million, and we did our fair share of hiking – 10 to 12 miles each day, two peaks on the first (Dorr and Cadillac) and three on the second (Gilmore, Sargent, and Penobscot). It felt so good to get outside, to move, to venture into new territory. Best of all was being able to share the experience with people I love. I am so grateful that my ten year-old daughter has taken to hiking like she was born to it. She’s a trooper and a half, and – even better – she has the fever for it.

Stones from a Bar Harbor beach

Stones from a Bar Harbor beach

The interesting thing about stepping away from my keyboard is that while it does help me clear my mind, it also has a way of filling it back up to overflowing with new ideas, thoughts, and questions. Out there on the trail, without so much as a pen in my pocket, I felt like some long unused lines of communication had suddenly crackled back to life and were transmitting an endless stream of inspiration. The world around me seemed brighter and sharper, each plant and stone and mountain stream seemed to speak to me of their stories.

Though our writing comes from internal sources, it is influenced by everything around us. Our experiences – what we do, see, read, feel – are the raw ingredients for our stories. I imagine my experiences lining the honey-colored shelves of a kitchen witch’s pantry. Here in this sea-green bottle is a day in the mountains collecting photos of wildflowers. See how the light sparkles inside with all the colors of their petals? There, in a small paper box tinged with the bright colors of autumn, is the afternoon spent building a girl-sized birds’ nest with my sister. And inside this seashell is the memory of warm sunshine in November and pink skies rumbling across the soft sea.

Love your words. Cherish your stories. But don’t forget to get out into the world. It’s full of just what you need replenish your stores of creative magic.

 

What I’m Writing:

flash fiction challengeI didn’t do any writing while away, and this week has been mostly playing catch up and adjusting to my daughter being out of school for the summer. I did, however, come across an upcoming writing event that might be just the thing to kick my inner fiction writer in the butt. The Flash Fiction Challenge is an annual event. Here’s how the event is described on its website about page:

The Flash Fiction Challenge is an international creative writing competition, now in it’s 6th year, that challenges participants to create original short stories (1,000 words max.) based on genre, location, and object assignments.  The event is organized by NYC Midnight Movie Making Madness, an organization that has been holding exciting creative competitions since 2002 and is dedicated to discovering and promoting a new wave of talented storytellers.  NYC Midnight aims to provide the prizes and exposure necessary for writers to take their next big step towards writing professionally.

There is an entry fee ($39), but I’m feeling like that’s a completely reasonable cost if registering for the event will get me to push my fiction practice to the top of my To Do list for a few days, instead of letting it languish at the bottom of the pile beneath my marcom projects.

The event includes four writing challenges that take place in three-day sprints in August, October, November, and December. Writers accrue points based on placement in each of the challenges as judged by a panel of writers and publishers.

I might be crazy, but this sounds kind of fun.

What I’m Reading:

book moon sistersWhen I was a kid, my family watched The Wonderful World of Disney each Sunday night. Our only television was in my parents’ bedroom, so me, my parents, and my younger sister would all pile on the bed together, often with dinner. (If we were really lucky, dinner would be my mom’s homemade pizza.) I don’t remember all of the stories we watched, but I do remember clearly that any sign of an emotional bit always sent me sliding off the bed to sit with my back against the footboard where no one could see me bite my lip to hold back the tears. I never wanted to cry in front of anyone.

As I get older, I’m losing my inhibitions about showing tears. I cry openly at movies, in my own living room and even in public theaters. I also cry at books.

Just this morning I finished The Moon Sisters by Therese Walsh, an author who also happens to be the cofounder of one of my favorite writing blogs, Writer Unboxed. The Moon Sisters is a beautifully told and captivating story of grief, redemption, release, and acceptance. The last few pages brought me to tears. I don’t want to give away too much of the story (there is a surprising twist at the end), but here’s the cover blurb:

After their mother’s probable suicide, sisters Olivia and Jazz are figuring out how to move on with their lives. Jazz, logical and forward-thinking, decides to get a new job, but spirited, strong-willed Olivia, who can see sounds, taste words, and smell sights, is determined to travel to the remote setting of their mother’s unfinished novel to say her final goodbyes and lay their mother’s spirit to rest.

Already resentful of Olivia’s foolish quest and her family’s insistence upon her involvement, Jazz is further aggravated when they run into trouble along the way and Olivia latches on to a worldly train-hopper who warns he shouldn’t be trusted. As Jazz and Olivia make their way toward their destination, each hiding something from the other, their journey toward acceptance of their mother’s death becomes as important as their journey to understand each other and themselves.

Like all my favorite books, this one had a touch of magic, but it was the kind of magic that is firmly based in real life. That is, perhaps, the best kind. I enjoyed the story and the characters. The language is, as many reviewers have said, “lush” and has a lyrical quality that is heightened by the poetic perceptions of Olivia who has a condition called synethesia. Another very enjoyable read and one I recommend enthusiastically.

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 magic in writing

I hope each of you found a little magic in this past week, and I hope each of you gets to have a little adventure in the one coming up. Keep those creative larders well stocked! 

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.

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etsy print by Andrekart

etsy print by Andrekart

I keep a magic wand on my desk. It’s a simple, unassuming implement made of basswood. I picked it up at a Renaissance Faire a couple of years ago because I liked the feel of the smooth wood and the look of the ash-gray striations that run along its slender length. Also, I didn’t have a magic wand.

I use my wand all the time. I have yet to see it display any overt magical properties, but it is a comforting talisman when I find myself confronted with a writing task that feels beyond my ability. This happens almost every single time I sit down at the keyboard.

I had an honest conversation with some writer friends about this recurring and paralyzing lack of confidence. It was immediately clear that this condition is common among writers. Each of us could relate. Each of us had her own methods for getting past the fear. Whether we chipped away at our anxiety word-by-word, or tried to slingshot past it, each of us knew this chronic ailment intimately.

To be clear, our commiseration was not about suffering from a lack of creativity or battling that shape-shifting foe known most commonly as writer’s block. This was a little different. This was more about feeling like a fraud. More specifically, this was about feeling like a fraud who was about to screw up big time and expose herself as a fraud. This feeling of despair and dread is sometimes called The Impostor Syndrome, and it’s not pretty.

Very often (almost always) when I sit down to write something (an essay, a column, a page of website copy, a case study, a blog post … pretty much anything), I am immobilized by the certainty that I have no idea what I’m doing. Despite the fact that I have been making my living as a writer for nearly seven years, I am sure that the entire experience has been a fluke.

There is a (not so) helpful soundtrack that plays in my head as I sit, staring at the blank page on my screen. It whispers in my ear that the jig is up. It tells me what I think I already know – that there’s no way I can pull off this heist again. The whispering voice marvels at how lucky I’ve been so far, at how gullible my clients have been to accept my work as The Real Thing.

I sit and I stare. The voice rattles on, subduing me with its hypnotic babble. I am sure that the voice is right. After all, here I am – sitting and staring and not writing. Clearly, I have no idea what I’m doing. Clearly I have just been faking it all this time, but my luck was bound to run out and today is the day and oh-my-gods-what-will-I-do-now?!? I type a few words and delete them. Type. Delete. Type. Delete. Type. Delete. Everything sounds staid, crass, cliched. The whisper is getting louder and louder and …

Cue the sound of a needle scratching across a record that has suddenly stopped spinning.

Breathe.

Know that this is completely normal.

You are not a fraud. You are a writer. And this is part of the writing process. At least, it’s part of the writing process for most of the writers I know.

Sure, there are those glorious and golden moments of pure  inspiration when the words fly from your fingers as though coursing through you from some alternate universe where writing is as easy as eating pie. But most of the time, writing is hard. Most of the time, each assignment feels like a new territory and you feel like a lone explorer who is venturing forth without a map or proper supplies or any idea of how to get from point A to point B. You feel like you faked your way here based on false bravado, but now as you stand on the edge of the jungle you’re finally realizing what you’ve promised to deliver and you’re scared.

It’s all going to be okay. Remember – you’ve stood here before and you’ve made it through to the other side. You will do it again.

Each of us has her favorite tricks for hacking past the fear and doubt and paralyzing lack of confidence. Some of us start in the middle. Some of us go for a walk. Some of us set up our page with placeholder headlines and subheads. Some of us read the praise of past clients and editors. I’ve used all these tricks and then some, but the thing that ultimately gets me through a rough start is invoking the thing that scares me most – being an impostor.

Instead of cowering before this supposed flaw, I embrace it.  After all, what is a writer if not a person who makes things up? A writer conjures places, characters, and ideas with words. Why shouldn’t we use this same skill to our own advantage? When I am most stuck, I take “fake it ’til you make it” to a new level. I fabricate a story for myself and I step into it with all the conviction of a method actor. I transform myself into the writer who knows exactly how to tackle the project at hand. I inhabit my role so completely, that pretty soon I have forgotten about the ruse and am thinking only of the words that are flying from my fingers like sparks from the tip of a wand.

That’s when I pause for just a moment and smile to myself. The trick, you see, is not about fooling anyone else into believing I’m a writer. The trick is about fooling myself just long enough to figure out that this writer identity I’ve created for myself is the reality, not the role. I am the writer who knows exactly how to tackle the project at hand. I’d just forgotten my own magic.

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gon out bizy

A still from Disney’s Winnie-the-Pooh film adaptation.

Gon out. Bizy. Back Soon.

I only have a moment. I’ll explain later why. It’s noting catastrophic. It’s nothing (all that) related to writing, but I have just run out of time this week.

I’ll look forward to seeing all you Weekend Word Warriors next Saturday and will fill you in then on my exploits and adventures. For now, here’s a quick little duo-selfie (is that a real term) of me and my daughter sending a smiley shout-out your way.

hitting the road

What I’m Reading:

book mr mrs bunnyJust a quickie mention of the latest “bedtime book” my daughter and I just finished, Mr. and Mrs. Bunny Detectives Extraordinaire – translated from Rabbit by Polly Horvath. This was a fun and rollicking story, perfect for an out loud read. The characters were charming and the story kept us interested and hanging at the end of each chapter. Also, how can you resist a book that claims to have been translated from Rabbit?

 

 

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

Sorry this weekend edition is so short, but I still wish each of you great writing and great reading. 

Until next week! 
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.

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earbuds musicWhether music helps or hinders writing and which music makes the best creative soundtrack are two perennial debates among the members of my writing circles. Some of my fellow writers are diehard devotees of tuning into a writing playlist, extolling the virtues of music to inspire and guide their writing. Others, at the opposite end of the spectrum, eschew music during their writing time, considering it a distraction that actually blocks or at least slows their creative flow.

Personally, I am conflicted on the topic. I love music. I love to sing and have even done so publicly on a few occasions. I have soundtracks for different times in my life – Pat Benetar and The Police for a particularly turbulent time in my teens; Kate Bush, Squeeze, and ELO for the slightly less angst-ridden years; and then – skipping ahead – K.T. Tunstall’s Eye of the Telescope for the long, slow demise of my marriage. This past weekend, my beau and I celebrated seven years together to a newly discovered Lyle Lovett channel on Pandora. Five hours and two bottles of wine later we were still exclaiming over the songs – old favorites and newfound delights – that Pandora’s magical algorithm pumped into my living room. Memories in the making.

But, when it comes to writing, I have never mastered the ability to listen to music passively. Maybe it’s my tendency to sing along. Though I have become quite adept at working through all kinds of other background noise – coffee shop banter, road traffic, the antics of my ten year-old – music tends to demand my undivided attention, therefore leaving me unable to string words together in a coherent fashion. Even classical music is too emotionally distracting for me. I have tried writing to Vivaldi, Mozart, and Bach, but their music tends to sweep my mind off the writing task at hand.

My inability to blend two of my favorite pastimes – crafting stories and listening to music – leaves me fascinated with people who are able to combine these two activities with great success. Some writers create whole playlists for a writing project, assigning songs to certain settings and characters. Some people can only write to instrumental music while others seem unfazed by having lyrics in their ear while they put words on the page. In Music to Write By: 10 Top Authors Share Their Secrets for Summoning the Muse Steve Silberman includes a link to a really interesting music video featuring a live performance by Steve Reich titled Music for 18 Musicians:

A music site called 8Tracks includes an entire section dedicated to “Writing Music.” I have to admit that I enjoyed the sample I listened to on the For Writing Dark Fantasy playlist which included, amongst other things, “Steampunk Orchestra.” Who knew?

Then there’s a site that will turn your mood into music. Stereomood translates your statement of mood into a playlist designed to evoke related emotions. You can type in almost anything: “I feel tired,” “I feel mysterious,” “I feel sunny day,” even “I feel piano.” I got a kick our of the “I feel magical” playlist.

A lot of my personal writer friends rely on Spotify to create their writing playlists. This popular music curation site is also cited in a series of annual “Best Writing Music” posts on GalleyCat (via MediaBistro). The Best Writing Music of 2013 is quite an extensive list.

Exploring these kinds of music curation sites, I can definitely see myself tapping into their lists to get myself in the right mood for a certain story or scene. Music is a powerful environmental element. Movies use music to wrap us up in the story, drawing us in and along by tugging on emotional chords. Perhaps we create a similar audio world for ourselves and our stories. Even if the actual notes don’t wind up on the page, perhaps there is an echo of the music in our words.

Though I still cannot listen to music “straight up” while I write, I will definitely experiment with pre-writing music to help me set the mood. I also sometimes use Coffitivity to get some music in my ear without distracting myself too much. I discovered this ambient noise app a little over a year ago and continue to use if fairly regularly. One of my favorite ways to use it is to “muffle” music that I’m streaming via Pandora. By adjusting the volume controls on each of the audio streams, you can create a blend of music and background noise that suits you perfectly. The combination that works best for me is mostly Coffitivity with just a touch of music.

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: photosteve101 via Compfight cc

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Each of us makes so many decisions every day – from simple to complex; personal to business.

I’ve read, and believe, that successful people tend to make decisions and take action quickly.

question roadAnd that people who hesitate, who take loads of time to research, ponder, and just drag out a decision, tend to miss out on opportunities to move their business forward. They aren’t as successful.

Successful people know that action, of any kind, is progress. There will be some mistakes made along the way and failures to overcome, but they don’t focus on the negatives. When faced with a choice, a person focused on success makes a decision and deals with the results – good or bad – and keeps on moving.

People who hesitate on decisions until all the details have been analyzed ad nauseam are those who fear failure to an extreme.  They believe that by not making a decision, nothing bad can happen. However, time doesn’t stop and life keeps moving forward. So, hesitating for too long, more often than not, I believe, won’t bring positive results.

I’m not saying to make decisions on a whim, by any means. But think about your decision-making style.

Are you quick to review the facts and figures and then you take action?

or

Do you constantly need more information before you can ever make a move?

Which style do you think gives the most effective results over the long term?

If you can become more decisive, you can become more successful because, no matter what the result, you’ll be taking action toward your goals.

Do you agree?

 

Lisa J. JacksonLisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. Ultimatums are her favorite type of decisions — if someone won’t let her have even a few moments to understand the facts, then she always passes. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook,  Google+, and LinkedIn.

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On Being the Kind of Artist Who Creates More Than Just Art

Dad in my sister's childhood room - tearing it down to build it back up

Dad renovating my sister’s childhood room

Untangling the influences on our reading and writing lives is like a kind of personal archaeology of the literary persuasion.  For most of us, bookish things and writerly urges have become such an integral part of our existence that we have ceased to even question their origins. We simply take them at face value, accepting their existence as “the way it has always been.” It isn’t until we begin to dig, carefully shifting layers of time and memory, that we start to uncover bits and pieces of the Story of Why that is embedded in our personal history.

On Mother’s Day, I wrote about the very direct and deep influence my mom has had on my writing (and reading) life.  Now, all of a sudden, it’s Father’s Day (where did that time go?!?) which has me thinking about how my Dad has influenced my writing life. The irony is that my dad is neither a writer nor a reader. In fact, it’s a family joke that Dad won’t read a book unless it has pictures. A lot of pictures.

Though the written word is not his cup of tea, my dad is a born creative. When it comes to his own art, Dad works in the visual realm. He is a photographer, an illustrator, a cartoonist, a painter, and a graphic designer. He is also a sculptor, builder, and light designer. In short, the man has many (many) talents. But he also has something more than mere mechanical ability. He understands the importance of creating an experience.

When I was in the seventh grade, my history teacher assigned one of those projects that requires students to make a presentation or build something. My project was a scale model of a post and beam home from a first period settlement. I had no idea what I was doing, but Dad was ready to help me figure it out. We commandeered the dining room table and, with my mom and sister lending a hand as well, spent hours and hours building the most accurate and detailed model I could imagine. It had authentically joined beams, a thatched roof, a slate hearth, and a wattle and daub chimney. One side of the house was sided with rough boards, but the other was open so that viewers could look inside and see the miniature furniture and accessories we had built – a trestle table and chairs, cooking pot, tiny utensils, sacks of ground flour, a broom, a ladder, tools for hammering and cutting. By the time we were finished, the model was almost too large and too heavy to fit in the car, but it was a beauty.

Looking back, I realize that building that model was just the first of many lessons my dad has taught me about paying attention to the details and creating an experience. He wasn’t just building a model of a house. He was transporting people back in time. Dad approaches every creative project, no matter the medium, with the intent to create atmosphere and evoke memory and imagination. Like his idol, Walt Disney, Dad is an artist who knows that the true creation doesn’t happen on the canvas or the film; it happens in the heart of the viewer.

Mom, Dad, Bear

Mom, Dad, Bear

This passion for creating and appreciating experiences permeates every facet of my dad’s creative life. We can talk for hours about how a movie or a TV series either excelled or failed at drawing us into another reality. We pick apart the story, the acting, the locations, sets, and props. Birthdays and holidays give Dad another opportunity to stage miniature extravaganzas that make each and every event special. Ghost stories by a campfire, hay rides in the dark, sing-a-longs with animatronic characters, treasure hunts from Santa, fireworks on the back porch … family get togethers are never dull when my dad is working his magic behind the scenes.

My dad may not be a writer, or even a reader, but he is a storyteller, a world builder, and an artist. He is a dreamer with an eye for detail and a passion for creating art and experiences that not only tell stories, but also inspire them. Watching and listening to Dad, I have learned that real art does much more than just hang on a wall or sit on a bookcase. Real art creates an alternate reality that has the power to change this reality. Real art invites us in and then changes how we see the world and what we think about our place in the world. I don’t know if there’s a more important lesson for any writer to learn, so … thanks, Dad.

 

What I’m Writing:

anniversary poemI feel a bit like a broken record, but once again I find that the week has gone by and I have not managed to make the time to work on my fiction of creative nonfiction projects. Once again, my days (and sometimes nights) have been filled to the brim with marcom writing projects – the kind that (happily) pay the bills, but do not necessarily nourish the soul.

Still, my mind is always churning away on my “real” writing projects. There isn’t a day goes by that I’m not thinking about characters, techniques, etc. I’m always learning and always capturing new ideas. I also do find small ways to play. This week, for instance, I wrote a sort of a poem for my beau. I call it a “sort of” poem because I know just about less than nothing about poetry. A few terms have stuck in my head from my high school English classes – iambic pentameter, sonnet, etc. – but I honestly couldn’t define them if my life depended on it. Regardless of my ignorance, I decided to craft a sort of a poem to celebrate our seven year anniversary.

I’m sure I broke all kinds of rules, and I can already see things I would like to change, but – you know what? – none of that matters because he loved it. It may have been clumsy and a structural train wreck, but he understood what I was trying to say and it made him smile. And that’s really all I was hoping for.

What I’m Reading:

book year for plumsAfter my lustful affair with The Art of Floating last week, I must admit that I felt rather at a loss for what to read next. I tried to go back to the fantasy novel I’d begun before The Art of Floating swept me off my feet, but I found I’d lost interest. (I have a feeling, in fact, that I have lost my taste for fantasy of that kind all together, but that’s a thought for another post.)

I let my eyes wander my bookcases for a bit and they finally settled on a small hardcover copy of Quite a Year for Plums, the first novel by author Bailey White. Those of you who have been reading these weekend editions for a while may recall that I first read White’s collection of short stories, Mama Makes Up Her Mind, almost a year ago. My first experience with White’s writing was something of an epiphany for me. Her simple but beautifully crafted stories made me realize how much I enjoy reading about and would like to write about small town life.

Quite a Year for Plums is, like the stories in Mama Makes Up Her Mind, a quiet book. Not much happens. There is no great quest or heist. There is no big mystery to solve. No one undergoes a major emotional, spiritual, or physical change. In fact, there doesn’t seem to be much story arc at all.

Still, I was always eager to return to the pages of this unassuming and yet intimate book. Though there was no great tension to keep me turning the pages, I still turned them. Reading this book felt like visiting old friends. It was a comfort. Though there was no sweeping adventure or exotic setting, I still felt completely taken out of my day each time I sat down to read a few pages.

As a writer, I know that I will be returning again and again to White’s books as examples of not only wonderful storytelling, but elegant writing. White is a master of “show don’t tell.” With very few words and hardly any descriptions, she paints a vivid picture in the reader’s mind. In fact, the world she created for Quite a Year for Plums felt to real to me that I still don’t quite believe that I’ve finished reading the book. I keep reaching for it to continue reading, as though it contains a story that never ends.

In short, this one’s a keeper and I’m looking forward to exploring some of her other titles.

I also read another lovely essay at Full Grown People, The Little House by @KarenEDempsey  captured the bittersweet reality of a lost home and the ghosts that inhabit it even after it’s gone.

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 dahl dfft place
 
So, that’s all I have for this week. I wish you the pleasure of reading stories that sweep you away and the magic of a good day putting the words down. Until next week! 
 
 
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.

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'Miss A Writes a Song' photo (c) 2012, Denise Krebs - license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/ Just as Wendy writes about the bones and structure supporting a book, I’m a firm believer that goals and planning are necessary to success. Back in January, I wrote about setting goals for 2014 and suggested a few programs that might help you release the challenges of last year and embrace what the new year has to offer.

Leonie Dawson author of the Amazing year workbooks encourages setting up planning retreats to review what you’ve accomplished and determine what is next. She suggests one thorough retreat mid-year and monthly check-ins. There is even a page in her workbook where you actually jot down a date and potential location for your planning retreat.

In January, a friend and I sat down and completed Susannah Conway’s Unraveling 2014 and I worked through Leonie Dawson and Tsh Oxenrider’s programs separately. Earlier this week, she and I took a day to evaluate our goals. Our kids will be out of school soon and she just accepted a full time job, so this day was was also the last hurrah before big changes set it. We headed for the beach. We walked, we ate, we sat and evaluated the past six months and planned for the next six. It was a lovely day. I came away feeling happy and rejuvenated.

It is my modus operandi to set my goals in the stratosphere and then get frustrated when I don’t reach them. This time around with the help of these programs, my goals were much more realistic. That’s not to say I’ve met every one, I haven’t. I’ve met some and made measurable progress on most of the others and I can live with that.

The evaluation was helpful because there are some goals that I either can’t accomplish or no longer make sense for me to accomplish. I resisted the urge to add new goals and instead forced myself to focus. I brainstormed ideas to make further progress on existing goals. It felt good to look things over and center myself again.

I highly recommend taking some time to reflect on where you are and where you want to go before the end of 2014. Although a week’s planning retreat in the Hawaiian Islands would be fabulous, your retreat doesn’t have to be that elaborate. We took eight hours away, but even that may be too much for some people. At minimum I’d recommend an afternoon, but even an hour can be enough time. I highly recommend getting away from your everyday environment and and unplugging. Give your brain an opportunity to bask in your successes and analyze the challenges. You won’t regret it.

If you haven’t created a list of goals for yourself, it’s not too late to start!

Lee Laughlin is a writer, wife, and mom, frequently all of those things at once. She blogs at Livefearlesslee.com. She is currently a member of the Concord Monitor Board of Contributors.  Her words have also appeared in a broad range of publications from community newspapers to the Boston Globe.

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I was able to get away for a special retreat a week ago — it was a way to reconnect my mind and body with my ‘true passion.’ That passion is writing and sharing my experiences with others — but in focusing on the job a 6-7 days a week and staying focused on projects, it’s easy to lose ‘self.’

Early morning companions

Early morning companions

So I took this 3-day time out and reconnected. I did some yoga, I had walks at dawn with some deer, and I spent all 3 days on the lake’s edge. It was rejuvenating.

Over the weekend I had a few things reiterated to me. Things I’ve known for years. Things I’ve worked on at various times to various degrees.

It’s always good to be reminded, though, and here’s one particular reminder that leaped out at me.

The three things everyone needs in order to succeed – in our writing careers, in our personal lives, in anything.

Those 3 things are:

  1. Know what you want
  2. Know why you want what you want
  3. Decide when you intend to have what you want

Goals. Written goals. Visualized goals. Living “as if” the goals are already achieved. Things we know; things we’ve talked about here many times, right?

We know that without knowing the what, why, and when — most likely, the “what” will never transpire.

Sometimes we just need to hear the same thing stated in different ways. Maybe this will strike you just right as you start a new week.

Namaste!

Lisa J. Jackson

Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She knows goals are good; written goals are great; visualized goals are the best.  You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook,  Google+, and LinkedIn.

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