Archive for the ‘Inspiration’ Category

“The Magic Circle” by John William Waterhouse

Thank you to the kind reader who answered my question about this painting. It is “The Magic Circle” by John William Waterhouse.

Are you fascinated by other people’s writing habits and routines? I am. There’s a great series on Copyblogger called The Writer Files that profiles the writing lives of different business writers and authors. I hardly ever miss an installment.

I’m a sucker for the allure of the writerly way.

Though I love knowing who uses Scrivener vs. who uses a yellow legal pad and a blue felt-tip pen, I think as writers we have a penchant for getting overly caught up in the romance of the craft. We are, most of us, confessed addicts when it comes to new notebooks and writing utensils. We each of us crave a room of our own and aren’t shy about drooling (metaphorically or literally) over another writer’s creative space. We believe in the magic that comes with a lucky pencil, the inspiring scent of a particular candle, or a certain time of day. If you asked us to speak incantations over a shrine to the written word, we would hardly hesitate.

In short, we are disciples of the writing ritual. And, there’s nothing wrong with that. I love ritual as much (or more) than the next writer. Ritual is a sort of emotional preparation. Your ritual sets the stage for good, writerly things to happen. It gives you the right “feeling” and invites your muse to come out and play. On hard days, ritual can sometimes be the thing that tricks your mind into cooperating. Unfortunately, a writing ritual will not always work. By it’s nature, ritual is a bit intangible. You go through the motions – arranging things just so – but they may or may not get you to where you want to go. Ritual is, despite its best intentions, not always 100% effective.

Process, on the other hand, is a tool you can count on.

Where ritual taps into the “woo-woo” side of writing, process speaks to the “professionals-just-get-it-done” side . A process is predictable, repeatable, and it does not depend on the cooperation of your emotions. Ritual offers you a sense of hope by making offerings to the gods of writing along with a silent plea for literary brilliance. Process is a plan of attack. It is a tactical strategy. It’s how you can get things done … no matter what.

A process is a way to break “writing” down into a set of smaller, less daunting tasks. It sort of dissects how you get from idea to finished piece so that you can see the machinations behind the magic. It helps you to harness your creativity so that you are better able to direct it. DON’T WORRY – a process will not steal your creative soul. It will not rob your work of spontaneity. A process does not change the content or style of what you’re writing. It’s just a tool to help you write more easily and productively.

Let’s look at an example.  

Whether I’m writing an essay, a feature piece, or a website page for a copywriting client, my process is always pretty much the same and it looks something like this:

  1. Define the goals for the piece. No matter the piece, I’m always trying to make a point by giving my reader the answer to the question, “So what?” Getting as clear as possible about how my piece will answer that question before I start writing is a big part of what saves me from late nights of endless rewrites. Looking at the piece through this lens helps me focus my thoughts and, eventually, my words so that I stay “on point.”
  2. Review the reference materials. Sometimes these are interview notes. Sometimes they are my own scribbled thoughts. Sometimes they are other articles, books, white papers, or websites. At this point, I’m immersing myself in the material. I’m taking it all in so that I can get the lay of the land, so to speak. I want to know what’s already out there and be able to compare and contrast that to the idea in my head. I want to be able to pull relevant references and quotes into my work so that I can help my reader connect the dots. This is the research phase. NOTE: You’ve often heard the advice not to get too caught up in the research phase. It’s good advice. Research can appear deceptively productive even when you’ve long passed the point of learning anything new. Set boundaries and stick to them. Don’t wander too far down the rabbit hole.
  3. Take notes. Craft a mind map. Make an outline. Whatever method you prefer, this is the stage where you put your thoughts in order. My favorite method is the mind map. If the piece is short, I just scribble one by hand. If the project is larger, I use a software called MindManager which allows me to reorganize elements and also include copious notes, hyperlinks, and documents. I love a good mind map.
  4. When possible, simmer. At this point, if time allows, I will walk away from the piece for a day or so. I’ll be honest. I don’t often have that luxury, but when I do I always find that stepping away from the work for even a brief time is immensely helpful in terms of gaining perspective and clarity. After taking a break from the work, I will return and noodle a bit with my mind map. I always find that I’m able to make improvements that I might otherwise have overlooked. If you can, it’s worth it to build this time into your schedule.
  5. Plug in headlines and subheads. Though these may not always exist in the final draft (as with an essay, for instance), they often do apply to the finished product (blog posts, articles, web pages, even novels if you consider chapter titles as headlines). In addition to further clarifying my intentions for the content and flow of the piece, putting headlines and subheads down on paper is an easy way to get something on the blank page so it isn’t so darn blank any more. It transcribes part of my mind map onto my working document so that I have a basic structure in place before I even start writing the narrative. This is a trick that many of my writer friends use to ward off writer’s block.
  6. Write the (5#!tty) first draft. Not that you’re aiming for crap, but the point of the first draft is simply to get it out of your head and onto paper. Sometimes, that might look a little like vomiting on the page. That’s ok. Again, I’m going to be honest and ‘fess up that I am a notorious idiot when it comes to editing as I write. I know this is neither helpful to my creative flow or – ultimately – beneficial to the quality of the finished product, but I can’t seem to help myself. Anyway – do what you can to avoid my mistake and just write the damn thing. Seriously.
  7. Take another break. Again, if possible, make time to step away after you’ve finished the first draft. First drafts are rarely pretty. Give yourself the chance to gather your strength before looking that beast in the eye. Breathe. Go for a walk. Work on something else. Do whatever it takes to put a little emotional distance between you and your creation so that when you come back you can look at it with a teensy bit more objectivity.
  8. Review your goals. At this point, it’s a good idea to go back to the beginning. Even though it might be scary, you should take a look back at what you were planning to accomplish when you started out and see if, by some miracle, the first draft bears any resemblance to the vision in your head. It doesn’t have to be perfect (remember, it’s a first draft), but it should align with the basic gist of your initial intentions. If not, now is the time to see what kind of triage you can perform to get it back to where it’s supposed to be.
  9. Read your work aloud. Never, ever skip this step.  There is something about reading words aloud that exposes all kinds of flaws in the writing. This is a Good Thing. Believe me. I read all my work aloud. My cats probably think I’m insane, but that’s okay. As I read, I make on-the-fly edits (if the fix is a quick one) and highlight bits that need a heavier hand. I never regret taking this step.
  10. Revise and edit your piece. These should, perhaps, be two separate steps, but I’m combining them because – for me – they both fall under the “re-do” part of the writing process. I recently read somewhere that revision should be thought of as just that: “re-visioning” your work. Revising is not spellchecking or even making changes in your narrative voice. Revising is actually making structural or conceptual changes. I know, it sounds scary, but it’s part of the process. Editing, on the other hand, is more in-the-weeds tactical. Editing is about word choice and sentence structure and grammar. It’s less invasive, but equally important to the overall quality of your work.
  11. (Optional) Share with beta readers. At this stage, when you’re (hopefully) feeling pretty good about what you’ve written, you may choose to share with beta readers – those people you trust to give you honest, constructive feedback. My mom is my beta reader, and she rocks. Some people prefer to put their first draft in the hands of beta readers raw (as in, pre-revision and editing), but I’d rather show a more finished product.
  12. Proofread your work. Finally, with all your revising and editing done and any additional changes made based on beta reader feedback, you can put that final polish on your work with a thorough proofreading. If possible, it’s best to have someone else (a professional, optimally) do this for you (it’s difficult for any writer to proofread his or her own work), but if that’s not possible just do your best with spellcheck and other available tools. Based on what I see out there, many people don’t even bother with that, so you’ll already be ahead of the curve.

Twelve repeatable, manageable steps – that’s how I tackle pretty much any writing project on my docket.  It may seem like a lot at first glance, but it’s the act of breaking “writing” down into all those smaller tasks that is the magic of a writing process. Think about it. What’s scarier – “write essay” or “define essay goals”? By looking at your writing as a series of not-so-scary steps, you can just get down to the business of writing without having to worry about whether your writing ritual is going to do the trick this time.

That isn’t to say you should toss your writing ritual out the window. Not at all. I love my ritual – tea, a fresh page in my notebook, two cats nearby to cheer me on – and wouldn’t give it up for the world. I just like the fact that because I also have a writing process, I don’t have to rely on the ritual to make magic. I know how to do that all on my own.


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: freeparking :-| via Compfight cc

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The Genius of Curiosity

pin curious whitmanLast week I started a conversation about whether you should Do what you love. Or, not. Live to Write – Write to Live community members shared some insightful thoughts and keen observations in the comments. This week, I came across a video clip of author Elizabeth Gilbert speaking out against “passion.” She begins her short speech by admitting that the advice she’s about to give is “really weird.” But, after listening to her, I kind of wanted to stand up and cheer.

Have you ever seen the movie Contact? Jodie Foster plays Dr. Ellie Arroway, a young and passionate woman searching for life on other planets. The film came out in 1997. I was ten years out of high school and working for a global promotions company, helping to manage a thirty-person creative team as they cranked out designs for t-shirts, bag, and tchotchkes to promote everything from m&m candies to Marlboro cigarettes. It was not a job I loved. It was not a personal passion.

Watching Jodie’s portrayal of Dr. Arroway’s unswerving dedication to her mission, I wanted to cry. I felt like there must be something wrong with me that I didn’t feel that kind of passion about anything. Sure, I enjoyed writing and I liked sketching. I loved animals and music and hiking and any number of other things and activities; but I didn’t feel a burning drive to pursue any one goal. I longed to be as fully committed and singularly focused as Ellie Arroway. I wanted passion and purpose.

Seventeen years later, I am finally realizing that Gilbert is right. Curiosity is more valuable than passion. Passion is blinding and consuming. It is biased and stubborn. Passion is exclusionary. Curiosity, on the other hand, is playful and open. Curiosity can learn through discovery. Curiosity expands your world; passion diminishes it, closing in around you like tunnel vision.

My happiest days are the ones with no agenda, no obligation, and the freedom to follow my curiosity. Perhaps I will write, perhaps I will browse a flea market, perhaps I will learn to cook something new. The ability to remain curious is, I believe, one of the secrets to remaining forever young at heart. You cannot be curious and close-minded at the same time. You cannot be curious and bored at the same time. Curiosity is like a self-perpetuating form of energy.

I agree with Gilbert. If you are feeling creatively stumped or stifled, just follow your curiosity. Stop worrying about whether or not you have found The One Thing. Instead, give yourself permission to choose curiosity as your guide to creativity. Do what interests you. Follow your impulses and your intuition. Remember when you were a child – all inquisitive and full of wonder? Be that child again. The world is still full of interesting things.


What I’m Writing:

pin perfect timeNothing at the moment, but …

I just signed up for an 8-week Fiction class with the Grub Street Writers Center. I’m pretty excited. As I mentioned recently, I don’t really have time to take a writing class. My dance card, as they say, is full. I have multiple projects with annoyingly fluid deadlines. Even though my daughter is back in school, I still struggle to get it all done each day. Sometimes, the pell-mell nature of my days leaves me with an odd feeling of having not actually experienced the day. (It’s kind of like when you drive the same route each day and sometimes wind up at your destination with absolutely no recollection of driving there. Scary.)

The thing is, whether it’s today or next week or three months from now or next spring, it will never be The Perfect Time. The stars aren’t going to align and send me a hand-engraved invitation to do the thing I want to do. Committing to your craft is a bit like deciding to have a baby. There is no “right” time. No matter how well you plan, the journey is not going to be what you expected. And once you’ve committed, you’ll just figure it out. Simple as that. It won’t be easy or perfect, but it will be worth it.

So, despite feeling a bit insane for doing it, this morning – in the middle of writing this post – I clicked over and registered for class. Hooray for baby steps. Hooray for throwing caution to the wind. Wish me luck, fellow writers. Wish me luck.


What I’m Reading:

book princess brideSpeaking of childhood wonder, I am finally reading the book that inspired one of my all-time favorite movies, The Princess Bride.  Fellow Live to Write – Write to Live blogger, Wendy, is probably reading this with her mouth agape in horror. (Anyone who knows Wendy even a little knows that The Princess Bride is one of her all-time favorite movies AND books.) Wendy, I’m sorry it took me this long. You were SO right!

I have always been a fan of the parenthetical phrase, but The Princess Bride takes the form to new heights. There is something so irresistibly charming about the familiar, conversational voice of the narrators. (There are two – author William Goldman who is, supposedly, abridging the original work of writer S. Morgenstern who shares Goldman’s penchant for copious asides.) It is also delightful, as a fan of the movie, to read so many of the now-famous lines in print. Probably because Goldman also wrote the screenplay, it is almost one hundred percent faithful to the text of the novel.

I have not quite finished the book, but I fully intend to do so over the weekend. A chill has finally arrived in the air and I can think of nothing I’d like to do more than curl up on the sofa under a soft throw, with a mug of hot tea and The Princess Bride.

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 munro curiosity

Here’s to letting your curiosity guide your creativity. Happy reading. Happy writing. 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.

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The spinning pinwheel of death - so pretty, and yet, so deadly

The spinning pinwheel of death – so pretty, and yet, so deadly

Stand By: Technical Difficulties Ahead

Nearly everyone I’ve spoken to over the last few days – whether online, or in “real life” – has had similarly disparaging things to say about the past week. Perhaps it was the transition from summer to autumn, or the adjustment to the start of another school year (which seems to affect everyone, whether or not they have school-aged children), or just something run amuck in the stars. Whatever it was, I truly hope it has run its course and will not continue to trouble us as we step into September in earnest.

I closed out my work week with a rather terrifying technology snafu. Late on Thursday, my wireless “magic trackpad” developed a mind of its own. Instead of obediently responding to the taps and swipes of my fingers, it began jumping all over the screen, randomly highlighting objects and content, dragging them from here to there, refusing to disengage when I clicked elsewhere. Typing was impossible. Phantom highlighting would suddenly delete entire paragraphs without warning. Or, my cursor would inexplicably disappear from where I was meant to be typing and appear elsewhere on the page, usually in the middle of a word.

I was not encouraged to find that “my apple trackpad is possessed” is a pre-populated Google search term.

I called apple. Forty-seven minutes and nineteen dollars later (my applecare contract expired three months ago, of course), I had no cure for the mysterious, technical ailment. What I did have, was an appointment at the so-called “Genius Bar” for 1:15 today. Hurrah.

I do not know exactly how this story will end, but I know the moral before we even find out the fate of my computer: Back up your files! For years, I was very casual about my backup systems. Because the process was outside my technical comfort zone, I just pretended I didn’t need to worry about it. I trusted to fate. Silly girl. Though I have (touch wood) so far avoided complete disaster, I’ve had one too many friends and colleagues suffer great tragedy at the hands of faulty hard drives and other evils. My advice to you, if you don’t already have a backup system, is to get one. Today. Maybe two.

Though I am not an expert about computer backups, here are the methods I currently use:

Carbonite: This is a cloud backup system that works in the background – automatically backing up your files in real time. This is a paid service, but it’s very much worth the peace of mind that comes from knowing that even if you’re being lazy about manual backups, your important files and photos, etc. are still being backed up on a regular basis.

External Hard Drive: Because I don’t trust any virtual backup 100%, I also purchased an external hard drive. After talking with a “genius” at the apple store, I went with something called a G-drive Slim. I also learned that it’s important, if you’re a Mac user, to have something called Time Machine (a built-in apple feature) turned on because that will ensure that your backup not only contains your files, but keeps them organized in the directories and folders that you created. Otherwise, your backup will just be a jumble of unorganized files. (Can you imagine the nightmare?)

Dropbox: Though I haven’t upgraded to the Pro or Business plans (yet), I understand that they do have an Extended History option that provides another, in-the-cloud backup option. Worth exploring, especially if you’re already a Dropbox fan. For now, I just manually add copies of critical documents to my free dropbox account as an extra bit of insurance.

Old-School – Email: In a pinch, I’ve also emailed copies of documents to alternate email accounts (like my Gmail account) in order to have another copy out there somewhere … just in case.


Whatever your method, all I’m saying is, get backing up, people. I know you think it’ll never happen to you, but that’s what my friends said, too. I’d hate to think of you crying over a deceased machine, bemoaning your lack of proper backup and inability to retrieve your novel-in-progress, poetry collection, essay archive, or whatever your writing treasures happen to be.

What I’m Writing:

grub street logoThis past Wednesday, I made my way into Boston for an evening workshop at the Grub Street writers’ center. The class was called Writing and Selling the Money-Making Essay, and it was taught by Calvin Hennick, a Boston-based journalist and essayist.

My inexperience with Boston traffic made me a few minutes late for class, but everyone made me welcome and I enjoyed being in the “real world” company of other writers. I had enrolled in the class with the hopes of learning whether it is possible to make “decent money” writing essays for various print and digital publications. The short answer: yes.

mediabistro logoThe most valuable tactical takeaway from the class was learning about Mediabistro, an online writers’ resource that refers to itself as “the pulse of media.” Their $55/year premium membership includes access to their extremely detailed “How to Pitch Guides” which includes a wealth of information (circulation, editorial style, story needs, pay rates, etc.) about all kinds of print and digital publications. I will definitely be signing up.

The class also taught me a little something about myself. I do not like in-class writing. My writing process, which has evolved over the years, typically requires both germination and fermentation periods. In other words, I’m not comfortable writing on command, at least not in a classroom setting. Is this a weakness? Maybe. Mr. Hennick half-jokingly referred to me as a “miscreant” because of my “writer’s block issue.” While I was momentarily abashed by his putting me on the hot seat, I’m just old enough now that I was able to let my discomfort slide off like water on a duck’s back.

I came away from the class inspired by the variety of publications that accept personal essays and the not-so-shabby pay rates that many of them offer. I was also happy to find that even this brief foray into a literary environment kickstarted my creativity. Based on our review of various magazines and the in-class writing prompts, I now have half a dozen ideas for essays. I’m kind of excited to try my hand at crafting and submitting some pieces.

What I’m Reading:

book yr in provenceAs I already mentioned, this has been an especially stressful week. At times like these, my reading choices lean towards selections that are calm, lightly humorous, and don’t require too much effort on my part. In this particular moment of chaos, I chose to return to an old favorite.

I can’t recall when I first read Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence, or why I picked it up in the first place. What I can recall is the sense of peace and comfort the book brought. Perhaps Mayle’s best-known novel, A Year in Provence is a funny and endearing romp through all that is quaint and quirky about life in Provence. From Amazon:

Peter Mayle and is wife had been to Provence as tourists. They had dreamed of one day trading the long, grey winters and damp summers of England for the blue skies and sunshine of the coast of southern France. And then they made it happen.

They moved into an old farmhouse at the foot of the Luberon mountains and embarked on a wonderful, if at times bewildering, new life. Among their experiences that first year: being inundated with builders and visitors, grappling with the native accent, taking part in goat races and supervising the planting of a new vineyard.

Now, Peter Mayle personally recounts the pleasures and frustrations of Provençal life– sharing in a way no one else can, the unique and endearing culture that is Provence.

For this reading, I chose the audio edition of the book, read beautifully by the author.

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:

Just in case you had a tough week, too …

pin hope strong

Here’s to hoping for the best (but preparing for the worst), trying new things (even if they scare you), and finding comfort where you may (even when times are tough). Happy reading. Happy writing. 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.

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Where Is Your Attention?

One day last week my son and I were up before dawn, so we went with my husband to take sunrise pictures on the beach. When we got to the beach parking lot, my husband grabbed his equipment and went ahead so he wouldn’t miss the sunrise and my son and I took our time getting out of the car. When we got to the beach, I could see my husband far down the beach, facing east, to our left.

My son and I started walking down the beach toward my husband, and I noticed a dark lump on the beach. I soon realized it was a seal, snoozing on the beach. As we got closer, the seal woke up, looked around at us, and started galumphing toward the ocean. Once he got past the waves, he popped his head up and I swear he looked back at us. My son and I were so excited to see such an spectacular creature up close like that. It was a great way to start the day!

When we caught up to my husband, I asked him if he’d seen the seal. He hadn’t noticed it—he walked right by. He had a hard time believing he just didn’t see the seal.

The whole thing got me thinking about attention and how our brains work. How could my husband have missed that seal? He was on a deserted beach, with nothing but empty sand for miles, and one dark lump right in the middle of it.

The answer is basically that our brains see what we expect to see. Our attention is very selective. My husband was so intent on the sunrise he walked right by a creature he would have loved to see up close, never mind photograph.

If you don’t believe your attention is selective, check out this short ( 1 min, 21 seconds) video from Daniel Simons and Christopher Chabris by clicking here.

Given that our attention is selective, we can either consciously choose what we give our attention to or just pay attention to whatever we’ve been conditioned to pay attention to.

I’d rather choose.

This year I’ve been focusing on all the things I can do with my writing, not all the things I can’t. I used to always ask myself the question, “Why can’t I get any writing done?” When I did, my brain would go to work finding all the answers to that question:

  • Because I’m too lazy.
  • Because I don’t have time.
  • Because I have nothing to say. (I could go on and on…but I won’t.)

Now I ask myself questions like:

  • What would make it easy for me to get some writing done today?
  • How many words can I crank out in this 15-minute period?
  • What’s the most important writing project I can work on today?

I also notice my progress and celebrate it, rather than berate myself for any lack of progress. I may get the same amount of work done, but I feel a lot better about it now than when I used to see only the negative.

Where are you focusing your attention on in your writing life?

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon: is a writer, blogger, life coach, family physician, mother and stepmother. Don’t forgot to consider attending my One-Day Writing Retreat on September 20th, 2014, in Nashua, NH. Please click here for more information and to register. I’d love to see you there!


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Wall art by vol25 on etsy

Wall art by vol25 on etsy

“Do what you love” seems like sound advice for a happy life. But, is it?

The idea is that if you make you’re living doing what you love, work will feel like play and all your days will be filled with rainbows and kittens. The problem is that work is always work. By definition, work has to do with labor, effort, and exertion. I have both Yankee and Puritan blood in my veins, but I still don’t wake up looking forward to a day of hard labor.

I wrote a little about “doing what you love” in my latest weekend edition. This blog, for example, is a labor of love. I am not coerced into writing my posts. Neither am I compensated in any traditional sense. And yet, I willingly (even happily) show up here week after week. I love being here. I love sharing my thoughts and discoveries about writing and reading. So, in essence, I guess this is work (albeit unpaid work) that I love.

Or, is it?

A comment from a reader who is “a professional writer for a large company” made me stop and think. She confessed that she’d be happy if she never had to write another word as long as she lives. Although she remembers loving writing, she has burned out. Now, writing is just work.

I also write for a living. I am a freelance copywriter. Do I love copywriting? Well … not exactly. I actually wrote a confessional blog post on my marketing blog about the “real secret to doing what you love.” I don’t bubble over with joy while I’m writing copy for one of my clients. It’s hard work. It takes effort. It can be exhausting. I don’t love it. What I do love, is the result of that labor. I love being able to provide a valuable service (and have some fun with) my clients – people I genuinely like and admire. I love sitting back, looking at a job well done, and saying, “I made that.”

I’m sharing sort of half-formed thoughts; but I’m curious to hear your thoughts on whether you think “do what you love” is good advice, or not. Though I clearly haven’t got it all sorted out for myself,

I’m starting to think that finding “happiness” in your work comes down to two things:

  • Accept that in a lot of cases, you aren’t going to love the actual work; but you will love having done the work. As I get older (and, perhaps, wiser), I am realizing that it is a hard won sense of accomplishment that brings me the most satisfaction and contentment. Whether the task at hand was cleaning my house, completing a workout, or finishing a client website, I love doing something a whole lot more once it’s actually done.
  • Even in your work, try to maintain a sense of play. The thing that makes work so unbearable is the heavy sense of obligation – the “having-to-ness” of it. Whenever I can I try to inject a little discovery, experimentation, and exploration into my work. It’s not always easy (or, even possible), but just making the effort can make a difference.

There are many famous writers who kept their day jobs long after they’d made a name for themselves. Perhaps they knew that another secret to loving what you do is to hold the thing you love a little ways away from your “work-work.” Maybe by keeping their day jobs, they could maintain a sense of “otherness” about their writing that made it more enjoyable.

Whatever approach you take, remember what you love about writing and hold that sacred. It may be dreaming up a new story, researching a new topic, finding the perfect word, or – call me crazy – editing. You may love the feeling of scratching out sentences in a notebook or sending your fingers flying over the keyboard. You might find euphoria in the midst of a wild-eyed first draft, or in the quiet after you’ve typed The End. Or, maybe your love of writing only blossoms when you are able to share what you’ve written.

Find what inspires your love of writing and hold onto that. Even when writing becomes work, hold onto that. Remember why you started this journey in the first place. Know that even if you’re burnt out today, there is hope for a better tomorrow. Whether you love the act itself or the feeling of being done and sharing your stories, never stop writing.

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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Book review: Pilgrim’s Wilderness – A true story of Faith and Madness on the Alaska Frontier by Tom Kizzia.

I make no secret of the fact that I love non-fiction books. Tell me how to do something, what you’ve learned, or how and why something happened, and I will be your fan forever.

pilgrimDescribed as “Into the Wild meets Helter SkelterPilgrim’s Wilderness is the riveting true story of a modern-day homesteading family in the deepest reaches of the Alaskan wilderness—and of the chilling secrets of its maniacal, spellbinding patriarch.” This book is a well written and researched account of what happens when Papa Pilgrim, his wife, and their fifteen children appeared in the Alaska frontier outpost of McCarthy. The patriarch soon sparks a confrontation with the National Park Service, fiercely dividing the community over where a citizen’s rights end and the government’s power begins.

The book follows the story of a man – self-dubbed a devout Christian, who terrorized his family and essentially held his children and wife captive, all while rising up against the government. The story ends up being a study in one man’s madness. How mad is too mad?

Tom Kizza has traveled widely in rural Alaska and he wrote for the Anchorage Daily News. It’s the journalist in him that makes this book extraordinary. Some books on events after the fact – are nothing more than a tired chronological recounting of what happened. “First this happened, then that, which led to this.” When you trip over such a book, you often you find yourself deeply sighing while you continually flip to the last page in order to keep track of how much more you need to read. And very often, these are the books that are put aside with the hope that “you’ll get back to it someday.”

Not so the case with Pilgrim. The painstaking research done for this book is impressive. There are accounts of the family and confrontation from various points of view, referenced documents cited, and plenty of interview quotes from all sides. Here’s one writer who did his work and didn’t just Google the story (which is something that seems to be happening more and more.)

Although Kizza is reporting on the story, he uses prose that captivates his readers and which helps to turn the book from an account into a story that grabs and holds you as tightly as any fictional account could. It’s not often that a retelling of something that happened in the news can be made suspenseful, but that’s exactly what Kizza manages to do with this book. You can’t wait to find out what happened. You turn the pages.

Of course, in order to pull this off, you need to have a sharp writing style that feels free to poke at the topic being discussed. Kizza has it:

The dispute over access had been building in McCarthy for some time. Those who accepted traditional notions of frontier progress believed better access – a faster rad, a bigger bridge – was the key to McCarthy’s future. Others saw nothing wrong with a few roadblocks. The pro-footbridge association of local residents, the McCarthy Area Council or MA, was no opposed by a second group, the Coalition for Access to McCarthy, or CAM. When the two groups were involved to pose questions to state transportation planners regarding improved access to McCarthy, the final merged list of 122 queries, ranging from the eminently practical to the nigglingly constitutional, read like found poetry, a free-verse ode to rural Alaskan cantankerousness.

Why should you read Pilgrim’s Wilderness? – Besides the fact that it’s a fascinating story, this book is an excellent example of how to turn a real-life event into a retelling that feels like an exciting and suspenseful fictional story. That’s not an easy thing to do, it takes skill, and it takes knowing your subject matter inside and out. Pilgrim is one of the best examples of accomplishing that feat that I’ve read in a long time.

Read it and learn.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review – the views are my own.


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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“Give yourself an even greater challenge than the one you are trying to master and you will develop the powers necessary to overcome the original difficulty.”

–William J. Bennett – The Book of Virtues

Wishing you a great start to this new week… and new month!

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