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Archive for the ‘Inspiration’ Category

Can you believe that it’s December 1 already?

Honestly, where did this year go?

As one holiday is behind me and another is approaching, my mind has gone into holiday tradition mode. I know some people who look forward to the fun surprises of doing the daily reveal of an advent calendar.

Others who enjoy decorating or baking or having Christmas music playing all day long.

I know others who have favorite TV shows or movies they watch at least once each year at this time.

Knowing the words and songs verbatim is not a deterrent; it’s comforting and familiar.

What is it that we love so much about particular traditions, movies, stories, or books?

What is it about the classics that draw us back time and time again?

I found an answer recently that, funny enough, answers that question for me.

AClassic_HasNeverFinished

It’s so true, isn’t it?

A Christmas Carol pops into my head, as does It’s a Wonderful Life and even A Christmas Story.  No matter how many times I hear the words, read the words, or see productions (TV or stage), there’s something slightly new each time.

There are so many ‘classics’ out there; these are just a couple on my mind for the Christmas season.

What classics can you read, listen to, or watch over and over again?

LisaJJackson_2014Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with Lisa on TwitterFacebookGoogle+, and LinkedIn.

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At the Intersection of Words and Life

A winter landscape that provided the perfect backdrop for my writerly reflection.

A winter landscape that provided the perfect backdrop for my writerly reflection.

I’ve noticed a theme emerging in my last few weekend edition posts. For whatever reason – where I am in my own writing journey, the usual end-of-year reflections, the muted desperation that seems to pervade the news these days – I find myself wanting to better understand how this writing thing fits into my life. I want to explore the “why” as much as the “how” and the “what.”

I am not questioning whether or not I should write. No matter what happens, I will always write. It is too much a part of who I am and too deeply embedded in how I experience the world. I may as well lose my sense of sight or hearing as lose my ability to write. Putting words down is how I give shape to not only the physical world around me, but also to the emotional world within.

I loved Sara’s tongue-in-cheek comment on The Dichotomy of You a couple weeks ago:

Are you saying that other people don’t analyse and dissect their lives to find meaning that they can then share? What’s the point of it all then?

Exactly, Sara. Exactly.

And yet, I acknowledge that we writers are an odd lot. To most people, it is not at all normal to spend as much time as we do pursuing this often mind-cracking craft … especially when our efforts yield no (substantial or immediate) commercial or financial benefits. Though some of us manage to hack out a living at the keyboard, it is the rare writer who is able to support herself exclusively through writing only what she wants to write. I, for instance, am able to pay the rent because of my corporate copywriting clients. And the more I learn, the more I realize that most professional writers, even the ones who appear to have “made it,” supplement their income through other means, like teaching.

And yet, we persevere.

Though we know deep down that there is little chance of substantial financial gain, we continue to dedicate hours and hours of our lives (not to mention millions of brain cells) to the task of observing with a writer’s mind, and then attempting to capture, illuminate, and – ultimately – share our own experience in a way that can help others see and feel differently. Writers hold a mirror to the world, a mirror that reflects not only the surface of “reality,” but also what lives in our hearts and minds.

The stories we tell, no matter which genre we choose, help readers see the world more clearly, more fully, and more empathetically. Stories help us step inside someone else’s life, see events from someone else’s perspective. We need stories and heroes to show us that right can overcome might, that doing the right thing matters, that we still have reason to hope. Stories often give us the best illustrations of concepts like justice, truth, honor, and trust. Sometimes, it’s too hard to find these qualities in the real world. Writers create role models for us and for our children.

And sometimes, a story can help us to feel a tragedy so deeply that we want to do whatever we can to stop it from happening again. A writer can transform an impersonal headline into a story that gets past the defenses we’ve built to protect our hearts and minds from the endless, battering barrage of hype and headlines. A story can get under our skin and make us feel again, make us care.

Earlier this week, I received a mailer from the AWP – the Association of Writers & Writing Programs. The mailing included a quote that seemed hand-picked for me as I wrestled with questions about the purpose of writing, the importance of writing, and the role of writing in my life:

“To live ‘the writing life’ is to pit yourself against what is unsayable, and to say, finally, what must be said.” – Bernard Cooper

And, maybe it is as simple as that. Maybe there don’t need to be so many questions about “why” we write. Maybe we just need to focus on saying what must be said.

 

What I’m Writing:

app werdsmithBetween client deadlines, Thanksgiving gatherings, and (gasp!) the need to start shopping my holiday shopping, I haven’t been doing much writing other than staying on top of my content marketing projects and doing my morning pages. I have, however, been making a conscious effort to keep my creative writing mind limber by coming up with (and capturing!) story ideas.

KL Pereira, the Grub Street instructor who led the recent Fiction I class I took, recommended a little app called Werdsmith. Though I haven’t (yet) used it for actual writing, I’m finding it to be an excellent place to capture story ideas. I’ve tried using physical notebooks in the past, but I never seem able to consistently make notes when I’m on-the-go. The Werdsmith app somehow makes it easier for me to quickly jot down my ideas before they flit out of my head.

And, eventually, I may use the app to do a little actual drafting. We’ll see. Tough to type on the iPhone keyboard, but not impossible. And if the muse strikes, any tool will do!

 

What I’m Reading:

book finley raven riddleLast week, I received a review copy of George Hagen’s kids’ novel, Gabriel Finley and the Raven’s Riddle. I don’t usually accept review copies anymore (I used to do a lot of book reviews for BabyCenter and other mom blogs), but this one caught my attention.

First of all, it has ravens. I happen to love ravens. They are mystical and mischievous characters with a long history in myth and legend. Second, the book earned a recommendation from Norton Juster, the author of The Phantom Tollbooth. Impressive. Finally, my daughter has developed an obsession with riddles. She is constantly asking me to come up with them on-the-spot (something I’m terrible at). When I heard that the book was “riddled with riddles” (pun intended), I thought it would be something she’d enjoy.

It’s been a while since I’ve indulged in a kids’ fantasy adventure novel like this one, but I’m so glad I gave myself the gift of reading Gabriel Finley and the Raven’s Riddle. The story is a charming and spooky page-turner. I finished the entire book in only two days, despite having plenty of other obligations. Sometimes, a story demands to be read Right Now. Who am I to argue?

From Amazon:

How can twelve-year-old Gabriel find his missing father, who seems to have vanished without a trace? With the help of Paladin—a young raven with whom he has a magical bond that enables them to become one creature—he flies to the foreboding land of Aviopolis, where he must face a series of difficult challenges and unanswerable riddles that could lead to his father… or to his death.

If you have a  young reader in your life who enjoys a good fantasy story, Gabriel Finley and the Raven’s Riddle might make the perfect holiday gift. I also believe this book will be the first in a series, so there will be more to look forward to in the not-too-distant future. I, personally, cannot wait.

PS – Watch for an upcoming guest post from author George Hagen. He has promised to enlighten us on the art of crafting riddles. 

 

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 alice walker beauty

Wishing you time to reflect and explore who you are as a writer and the role of writing in your life. Here’s to enjoying all the stories – the ones you read, and the ones you 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 – occasionally –  trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.

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VW bug cutawayWhen we read a finished story, whether a thousand-word piece of flash fiction of a thousand-page novel, we perceive it as whole. It’s similar to the way we see each other. You don’t think of your friend as a collection of distinct elements. You don’t perceive her as a particular combination of skin and hair and eyes, scarf and jeans and shoes. You don’t see the individual bones, muscles, or cells that make up her body. You don’t consciously perceive all the discrete events and experiences that make up her personality and character. You just see Jane.

Stories are like that. We experience a story as the sum total of its parts. And, as with a person, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Still, those parts are there. Without them the person or the story would not exist, at least not in the form you perceive.

As a writer, you need to define each part of your story in order to create the whole. You need to break your story down in order to build it up. This will not only help you build a better story, it will make the process of writing even a long-form piece (like a novel) much less overwhelming. In her comment on last Saturday’s weekend edition, Jean Brown shared how studying the structure (the parts) of a particular piece had helped reduce the overwhelm she felt about writing a “A Whole Book:”

One of the major benefits of this exercise for me was imaging how the author had laid out the whole structure ahead of the writing, and how this structure basically chunked the book into 10 page sections. This made the idea of writing “A Whole Book” seem incredibly achievable, whereas before it loomed as nearly impossible in my mind.

I felt a similar sense of relief when I realized that writers I admire put a lot of thought and intention into creating and arranging all the separate elements that make up their stories. When you can think of a novel not as “A Whole Book,” as Jean put it, but as a series of much smaller pieces that all fit together (perfectly) to create that whole, it suddenly feels much more manageable.

Plus, I love a good puzzle and the idea of identifying and arranging all these pieces to create a particular experience is pretty intriguing to me.

I sketched this visual to help illustrate how I think about a story breakdown. I intentionally left off labels so that you can interpret it in the context of your own story. If, for instance, you are working on a novel, the top level would represent the finished book, the next level down might represent “beginning, middle, and end,” the circles might be chapters, the triangles might be scenes within chapters, and the dots might be individual elements within a scene – things like lines of dialog, setting details, reveals of character traits, etc.

story breakdown

As we drill deeper into the elements, breaking things down further and further, the gaps between the individual pieces close, creating that sense of wholeness and story continuity.

There are many different tools for doing story break downs, but so far I’m finding that Scrivener offers some helpful features. I love the cork board view which allows me to look at my whole collection of story elements along with more detailed notes about specific actions, etc. The “binder” in Scrivener allows me to organize different pieces of my story by section, chapter, scene, etc. There are also ways (which I haven’t yet fully explored) to filter my notes and draft so that I can isolate a particular thread (such as a character or a setting or a sub-story). This will allow me to focus on a single story element within the context of the whole.

Whatever tools and process you prefer, I encourage you to think about breaking your story down so that you can get “inside” it – really see how it’s put together. I promise that you will gain greater clarity and even, perhaps, some new inspiration.

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: roger4336 via Compfight cc

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We’re nearing the end of National Novel Writing Month and entering the season of giving thanks, so I thought I’d share a few presentations by writers to inspire you.

These are TED Talks – short (~20 minutes) inspirational talks you can find on YouTube for just about any topic you’d like.

Writing books: Elizabeth Gilbert – your elusive creative genius (author of Eat, Pray, Love)

We’re all creative.

ElizabethGilbert

Storytelling: Andrew Stanton – clues to a great story (Filmmaker – Toy Story, WALL-E)

Greatest story commandment is “make me care.”

AndrewStanton

 Poetry: Billy Collins – Everyday moments, caught in time (former U.S. Poet Laureate)

Bugs Bunny is his muse. <smile>

From poem "Budapest"

From poem “Budapest”

Storytelling (~4 minutes): Joe Sabia – the technology of storytelling

You’ll remember the name Lothar Meggendorfer after this video.

JoeSabia

Enjoy the videos! I hope they inspire.

Have a great week!

LisaJJackson_2014Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with Lisa on TwitterFacebookGoogle+, and LinkedIn.

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The Truth About My Creative Life “Balance”

monkey tightropeI was driving home from my riding lesson with the slavering hounds of duty nipping at my back tires. Fly, fly they bayed at me, back to your desk and your deadlines. I knew that was the responsible thing to do. There were clients waiting on deliverables that were in various stages of almost done. But, despite the dogged insistence of my Type-A conscience, I took a left instead of a right and parked outside my favorite local coffee shop.

One chai, I thought, it won’t take long. The work will still be there – waiting – after I’ve taken a few minutes to clear my head and stretch my imagination. I found that the book I’d been reading was sitting on the passenger seat beside me. Some part of me must have premeditated this brief escape. Some quietly rebellious instinct was looking out for my creative self, creating an opportunity to step outside the day’s To Do list and indulge in a few minutes of play inside my head.

The only available seats were two table-less chairs tucked in a corner by the always-closed emergency exit. I sat and sighed into the luxury of a little time alone with my thoughts, but (as is often the case with these impromptu getaways) the Universe had something more in store for me – a serendipitous meeting with a friend. She was on her way somewhere and I only had a few minutes, but we stood at the end of the counter next to the homeless chairs and talked. And talked. She is a deeply empathetic and artistically talented photographer, and – like me – a single mom. We are both self-employed. We don’t see each other often enough. Perhaps that’s why we always skip the small talk.

Our conversation seemed less something that developed in that moment than something that had been hovering in that spot waiting for us to arrive. Hardly pausing after a quick embrace, we were soon finishing each other’s sentences as we grappled with the challenges of pursuing our art and taking risks while still upholding our very real responsibilities. Our exchange was peppered with words like shackled and fear and frustration, words that gnaw at you, taking bites so small you almost don’t notice. We circled around the tired truths that live large in our daily rounds: life is short, kids grow up fast, you only live once.

My friend and I have each faced tough times. We’ve each had moments when giving up the creative life seemed to be the most sensible, selfless thing to do. We talked, standing there in the overcrowded cafe, about the constant balancing act – what I envision as a small, defenseless animal walking a tightrope strung over a pit of hungry crocodiles. The crocodiles are always there. Sometimes – when things are good – they are almost invisible, gliding darkly beneath the surface of the water, and sometimes – when things are bad – they reach their long snouts up out of the water to leer with dripping, toothy smiles. And sometimes you wonder if maybe you’re supposed to step off the tightrope and plunge willingly into their writhing midst. Because, that’s the story you always hear – the story of the artist who had to hit rock bottom before she emerged, like a phoenix, to soar to new heights of success.

In the pause between spoken thoughts, we wondered silently about the possibility of crisis-as-catalyst.

But then, one of us noticed the time, and the other said she really had to get going. We embraced again and agreed that we really needed to do this more often. We promised.

What I’m Writing:

pen notebookIn the last meeting of our Fiction I class, we covered a smorgasbord of topics including the magic of modifiers, the importance of sentence rhythm, the wide range of productivity solutions, and the amorphous nature of endings. We also talked a bit about what comes next, how do we continue this journey? I’m already considering another class and am eager to continue work on my short story. I intend to start being more proactive about researching publications that might be a good fit for my work so that, once I have something ready, I’ll know where to submit it.

But, as glad as I am that this class has reminded be about these important, “big” steps, I’m even more grateful for my new sense of “micro capability.” Though I realize that, because of time constraints, this eight-week class only grazed the surface of the writing craft, I feel like I have been given some small superpowers. Through a series of mini epiphanies, I find that I’m suddenly able to “see” my writing more clearly. The bits and pieces of knowledge that I’ve gained make me a more critical reader, of my own work and of others’ work. It’s kind of like I’ve been given X-ray vision. I am better able to perceive the inner workings of a piece of writing. This helps me appreciate the work of others more deeply; and it certainly helps me to improve my own writing.

The key, I think, to keeping and building upon this new ability, is practice. I must keep what I’ve learned fresh in my mind and continue to exercise these new muscles each day – through writing and through reading. I’m already thinking about using “story breakdowns” to study how other writers have built their characters, settings, plots, and themes. Like an engineer who must take something apart before she understands how it works, I want to take other people’s stories apart so that I understand better how to put my own together.

I hope to share some of these explorations and studies with you in future posts, and I’d love to hear if any of you have come across or performed similar “dissections.”

What I’m Reading:

book watermelon kingI mentioned last week that I’d been to the library looking for Daniel Wallace’s novel, Big Fish. It wasn’t in, but I did find another of his books – The Watermelon King.  This novel, set in the small, southern town of Ashland, creates an atmosphere of fable and tall-tale that’s very similar to the one that imbues Big Fish with a sense of magic.

Though the beginning was something of a slow burner, I enjoyed the second half of the book very much and found myself shirking other duties in order to read the last few chapters. The cast of characters is both charming and unnerving. The ideas that Wallace plays with are ones that run deep – identify, family, tradition, sexuality. Despite the thematic gravity and sometimes very dark turns in the story, he handles the narrative with a light hand that keeps you, the reader, from feeling weighted down by the pain and grief that runs through the story.

Despite the many fanciful turns in the events of the novel, the characters seemed very real. Wallace’s characterization is subtle and stretched out over a series of brief encounters that make up the first half of the book as the protagonist, Thomas Rider, interviews citizens of Ashland, the place of his birth, about his mother. Though certainly not “normal” by most standards, you can almost believe that a place like Ashland might exist … and the Watermelon King, too.

Hal Jacobs of the Atlanta Journal, Constitution said it well.

“In The Watermelon King, Wallace hits all the right notes of magical realism, creating a world where the supernatural fits alongside the ordinary, where storytellers stretch the plausible, and terror, fear and violence lurk below the surface.”

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:

Instead of a quote, this week I’d like to share this video of Ursula K Le Guin giving her acceptance speech at the recent National Book Awards. Le Guin was awarded the National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. Her speech is wonderful for so many reasons, but mostly – I think – for its fighting spirit and unabashed respect for story and writers and the power of the worlds that spring from our imaginations.

Thanks, as always, for being here – balancing alongside me on the tightrope and grinning down at the crocodiles. Happy reading, happy writing, and I’ll see you on the other side. 

.
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.

Monkey on a Tightrope Photo Credit: The hills are alive* via Compfight cc
Pen & Notebook Photo Credit: Paul Worthington via Compfight cc

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Quick check-in with the NaNoWriMo-ers. Continuing to plug away? There’s still time to hunker down and create your masterpiece, you just have to want it bad enough to set aside the time to “just do it” (and besides, wasn’t that what nights were invented for?)

1

Zelda as a hen (Version 1.0)

I have been pecking away at my project and currently have around 23,000 words, but not to worry. I’ve been known to add up to 10,000 at one (crazy) sitting. And, I’m the type of person who thrives on a deadline – so it’s all good.

But today I want to talk to the article writers out there. You know the ones who write for magazines, newspapers, and even blogs (or those that hope to someday.)

As many of you know, I have a flock of chickens and I write about my chickens for several publications and on my blog.

We recently (over the last year) had a situation in our flock where a grey hen turned into a golden brown and grey rooster (she didn’t exactly turn into a male but she did start showing classic male features.) This is not *that* unusual among chickens – you talk to any old-time farmer and they can usually come up with a story of a hen turning into a rooster. It could happen as the result of injury, illness, or even hen-o-pause. Whatever – we had a transgender chicken in our flock, we still loved her.

But then slowly over the last summer and then sometime in the last 3 months, our chicken changed again. This time she changed from being a multicolored rooster into a white hen.

I know crazy, right?

I put the information up on my blog, Twitter, Facebook,and even on Reddit.

And then I saw my blog numbers go up, they went way up – almost 5 times the traffic I normally got. It turns out that NO ONE had ever seen this in a chicken. Hmmm, said the writer and storyteller in me, this is a story that is not only drawing attention but is creating conversation.

I am not telling you this to teach you about chickens (although, if you have a free moment, I’ll gladly talk your ear off about our flock) I’m telling you this because as a writer, you always have to have your finger on the pulse of your readers.

The pulse was pounding on this one. If a story on my blog was creating that much buzz, then it is a story worthy of a publication (magazine.) Yesterday I started pitching magazine editors on this story. Depending on the angle, I can probably get this story into a few different publications. I can use a New Hampshire/local angle, a “WTF” angle, a chicken angle, and I could even turn it into a lesson about accepting things (people) for who they are.

As a writer, that makes me happy.

Moral of this story:

Pay attention to your audience’s response to your work and in particular watch the statistics. When you see increased activity, pounce on it. Ride that tide, turn the story on its head to figure out different angles, and then get those article pitches out.

It’s what writers do.

Update: Just heard back from a magazine editor and an article on this story has been placed in a poultry magazine.

***

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.

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Last week I shared tips about managing the excitement of attending conferences and that I had four conferences to attend in an 8-day period.

One conference was 3 days, the other 3 conferences were single days, but back-to-back. I wouldn’t recommend doing it and I knew I shouldn’t have attempted to for several reasons:

  • It’s too much time to be “on” – mixing and mingling with people, trying to forge new relationships, trying to absorb all the information.
  • It’s too much time away from the office – the work doesn’t stop coming in, nor do I ever want it to, and even with an assistant there is always going to be the game of “catch up” once back in the office.
  • It’s physically exhausting – with a multi-day conference there’s a good chance of finding quiet space (preferably a room for a nap), but with a single-day conference there isn’t any downtime. If you aren’t in a session, you have a break and breaks are where the networking happens. There is the travel to and from the conference and depending on distance, this could mean getting up early and driving more than an hour. It all contributes to ‘too much.’

NetworkingBubblesThese were 4 conferences I wanted to attend, and had attended in the past — it just happened this year that they were scheduled within the same week of November.

Two had the livestream “digital pass” availability and next year I’ll use those options.

I’ve found it’s just as time consuming to attend a conference virtually and just as, or even more engaging, since social media is usually involved (networking is done through Tweets and Chats), but at least there are the benefits of no commute, attending in comfy clothes, and taking bathroom breaks without waiting in line, and no line for lunch either!

Have you ever attended multiple conferences in the same week?

Have you experienced attending a conference virtually, yet?

I ended up attending the full 3-day conference; I left the 1st 1-day conference early; I stayed for the entire second 1-day conference; I didn’t attend the third 1-day conference at all – I started to attend virtually, but my brain had had too much 15 minutes into the first speaker. I’ll be able to watch all of that last conference at any point in the future, though.

LisaJJackson_2014Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with Lisa on TwitterFacebookGoogle+, and LinkedIn.

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