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Archive for the ‘Reading’ Category

I won’t grow up.

peter pan shadowThough Father Time tells me I’m, as they say, “over the hill,” I decided long ago that I would never be a grown up … not entirely, at least. Though the years stack up against my intention, I’m not afraid. “Young at heart” is something no clock or calendar can steal from you. That is all I want – not changeless beauty or undying vitality, but only to be forever possessed of a pliable and open mind, a mind that can see and believe in magic, a mind that perceives truth instead of accepting assumptions.

I recently listened to another episode of The James Altucher Show via podcast. The guest this time was Stephen Dubner, co-author with Steven D. Levitt of the New York Times bestseller, Freakonomics. The duo’s latest book, Think Like a Freak was the subject of the Althucher interview which included some great commentary on the advantages of a young mind:

Once you stop admitting what you don’t know, you also stop gathering good feedback … you stop experimenting …

When you make [an] assumption, you stop actually trying to embark on creative ways to gather feedback and experiment and find out. People should be much more willing to admit what they don’t know because that’s the best way to figure things out.

The young mind is more plastic than the older mind. Perceptually, we are always getting duller and duller.

Adults are great at paying attention … laser-focusing on a task at the exclusion of everything else. … It can also be valuable to have a really diffuse attention where instead of focusing on the one thing … you’re taking in other stuff.

As writers, we must retain our ability to perceive and think like a child. We must hold onto a sense of awe and curiosity. We must ask questions and not be afraid because we don’t already know the answer. We have to gather ideas and thoughts and experiment to see “what happens if.” A writer must observe with the wide open, unbiased eyes of youth – eyes that are not prone to showing you only what you expect to see. That particular kind of blindness is one that too many of us develop as we “grow up.” We think we know everything. We assume too much. We lose our ability to see that which baffles us because we don’t want to have to say, “I don’t know.”

A writer must be willing to explore the I-don’t-know. That’s our territory.

I will never grow up. I will always ask questions. I will always notice the things that “adults” pass by. I will always ask “what if?” and not be worried if I see a little magic in the world. I will always play. This, for me, is the great joy and responsibility of a writer – to live in the world always as a child and to share that experience with anyone who cares to read my words.

 

What I’m Writing:

journalistI continue on my usual rounds – Morning Pages, client projects, and my column. I still have not decided how to handle the issue of my multiple writer personalities online, so I have no easy way to share my latest round of columns with you. I would, however, like to share a particular kind of writing that I’m just beginning to explore: brand journalism.

I currently make the vast majority of my income as a “marcom” writer – a marketing and communications writer who provides copy for businesses. In this role, I work with a variety of business types on a variety of project types. I help companies develop their brand messaging and content strategy. I also write the actual content for websites, ebooks, point-of-view papers, blog posts, and other marketing collateral.

I enjoy the work, but as a student of fiction and creative nonfiction would love to be able to work more of that craft into my daily grind in, as my friend calls them, the “word mines.” I was particularly intrigued, therefore, when I came across a post titled What Kind of Brand Journalist Are You? and – more specifically – this description of what the post’s author calls “The Storyteller:”

  • Your Job: As a storyteller, you bring readers on a journey. You share powerful moments, capture compelling anecdotes, and introduce readers to inspiring characters. Your approach to writing is deeply human, and your articles help convey the values and beliefs of the brand you work for.

  • Your Articles: As a cupcake storyteller, you get to publish pieces such as: “How a Cupcake Helped One Man Overcome Tragedy,” “The Little Bakery That Could,” or “Why We Aired That Commercial Last Night.”

  • Your Specialties: You make people feel. Through your writing, you have a knack for capturing ordinary moments in extraordinary ways and connecting with people on a human level. Your style has personality, and you turn almost anything into a great story.

I am only just beginning to explore this avenue for my professional writing, but the above description fits the column writing I love to do more or less to a “T.” If this seems to be of interest, I’ll continue to update you on what I learn. Meanwhile, if anyone has experience in this field, I’d love to hear your story.

What I’m Reading:

finding colin firthI haven’t quite finished it yet, but I’m more than halfway through Mia March’s novel, Finding Colin Firth. This is another pick for the book club my friend recently started. Like the detective story/police procedural that was our first read, Finding Colin Firth is not a book I would have picked up on my own. Once again, however, I’m kind of enjoying this foray into unfamiliar territory.

Finding Colin Firth is, as you might guess by the title, a fairly light read; but it seems that a light read is exactly what the doctor ordered. As the dust settles from my move (both metaphorically and literally … lots of cleaning to do today), I’m taking great comfort in reading this decidedly chick-lit story about three women who have come to a small Maine town for different reasons. Though I’m sure I could happily curl up on the couch or a beach chair and read the entire novel in one sitting, it has been almost equally enjoyable to consume it in small bites as I munch my morning toast, wait in the pick-up line at my daughter’s school, or catch a few pages at the very end of my day just before I fall asleep.

I look forward to discussing the story with friends at next Thursday’s book club meeting, a gathering which we recently decided would feature primarily liquid sustenance. Wish me luck!

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:

Hat tip to my friend and fellow writer,  @AbbyKerr, for this find:

pin procrastination

As always, thanks for being here to share part of your weekend with me. To those of you celebrating it, enjoy the long Memorial Day weekend. Remember to play like a kid and then go back to your desk (or chair or treehouse) and write all about it. 

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 – journalist art portrait: The PIX-JOCKEY (visual fantasist) via Compfight cc
Photo Credit – Peter Pan art: Cardboard Antlers via Compfight cc

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You’re too old for that.

pin lengleI was in the children’s room of my beloved library earlier this week and was horrified to hear a mom tell her son to put a particular book back because he was “too old” for it. She said, “That’s too easy for you.” I actually winced.

I’m sure this mom was very well-meaning. I’m sure she just wanted to encourage her son to try something a little more challenging. But, you are never – NEVER – too old for any book. I’ve shared it before, but I’m going to share again the wonderful quote from the fabulous Madeleine L’Engle, “You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.”

I am, by chronological reckoning, a full-fledged adult, but I will never, ever stop reading so-called children’s books. Some of my most profound reading experiences have sprung from the pages of middle grade, young adult, and even picture books. Adult readers are, as a group, less able to suspend disbelief than children. We have more specific expectations and are often unable to enjoy a story if it doesn’t fit neatly into the assumptions we have about such things.

Authors who write for children, have a greater challenge and a more diverse palette. Children will not stick around for a story that is less than mesmerizing. They will not abide characters or storylines that boring or predictable. Though they are willing to believe all kinds of crazy things, they will abandon a book if it doesn’t make sense within the context of its own world. In short, children are much harsher critics than adults who can easily be swayed by beautiful prose, public opinion, or author celebrity.

I will never tell my daughter that any book is “too easy” for her, and I hope with all my heart that she never considers herself too old to enjoy the magic of the stories that have captured her youthful imagination.

 

What I’m Writing:

steal artistThis week I did manage to do a little bit of noodling on ideas for a fiction project. Instead of doing a freewrite, as I have been attempting to practice for a few minutes each day, I used my allotted time to jot down some notes about a story idea that had been rattling around in my head. I am giving the idea some time to ferment before I decide if I’ll pursue it further, but it is still buzzing in my brain a bit (which is a good sign).

As I scribbled in my notebook, I was struck by all the different things that had come together in my head to form this seed of an idea:

  • The team structure and dynamics of the Robin Hood-esque band of “bad guys” turned good on the TV show Leverage
  • The three-woman point-of-vie structure of my latest book club read, Finding Colin Firth
  • The tone and “feel” of the movie Practical Magic (one of my favorites), based on the book by Alice Hoffman
  • A series of characters and plot ideas plucked from two different story ideas that I’ve been circling around for the past few years
  • A recent and rather serendipitous meeting with two local friends and the unexpected conversation that ensued

My point is that each story you create is made up of a mash-up of your thoughts and beliefs, experiences, and all the other stories you’ve ever heard.

As artists, as writers, we often get mistakenly caught up in the notion that we must create something “original.” This is folly. There is nothing original. Every story has already been told thousands upon thousands of times. The best you can hope for is to find a new way – your way – to tell an old story.

I listened to a great podcast this week all about the idea of repurposing different things in “mash-ups” of your own creation. James Altucher interviewed writer and artist Austin Kleon about his books, Steal Like an Artist and Show Your Work. On the episode, How to Be a Creative Genius (also available on iTunes or via Stitcher), these two talked about what it means to be creative, how to find your inspiration, and the importance of sharing your work … every day.

I have not yet read Kleon’s books, but they are now on my list to check out. Lots of food for thought in there. Lots.

What I’m Reading:

healthy smoothieI have something a little different to share this week, a sort of a cook book called The Healthy Smoothie Bible. Here is the review I posted to Amazon and Good Reads:

When I first became interested in juicing and healthy smoothies, it was Farnoosh Brock who inspired me to take the plunge and give it a go. Because of her deep knowledge and unbridled enthusiasm, I gained the confidence to start my journey into what was then a strange, new land. Through her online community, I learned so much and got tons of support. Today, I enjoy healthy smoothies four or five times a week and it has changed my life. 

The Healthy Smoothie Bible is perfect for both newbies and seasoned experts. Farnoosh has done a wonderful job of compiling not only an impressive collection of tasty recipes (including some from her community), but also includes some great “behind-the scenes” information that you need to really “get” healthy smoothies. From the different types of machines to the wide variety of ingredients and their properties, this book covers it all. She even shares specific brand names for particular ingredients so you don’t have to worry about being confused by all the options on the market.

This aptly named “bible,” includes sections on the lifestyle benefits of healthy smoothies; how to select, prepare, and store your ingredients; which tools you’ll need in your kitchen to make smoothie prep a snap; and which smoothie recipes are best for different kinds of needs (from detox to meal replacements to a quick fix – there’s a helpful “smart recipe tag” page that lets you quickly find just what you’re looking for). And after all that, there’s still room for 108 fabulous recipes! 

Before I integrated healthy, green smoothies into my diet, I had a variety of health issues that had gone undiagnosed for years. From general discomfort to a couple of incidents that landed me in the emergency room with a morphine drip, these pesky issues had become an unpleasantly persistent part of my world. With Farnoosh’s support and guidance, I successfully brought green smoothies into my diet and am delighted to say that all those health concerns have vanished. Instead of having to resort to a long-term “diet” of over-the-counter meds, I am able to “treat” myself (both in terms of my health and my happiness) to natural, fresh food that makes me feel good. 

I gave this book 5 stars not just because I’m a fan of Farnoosh and her dedication to helping people live healthier, happier lives, but also because it really is an all-in-one resource for anyone interested in learning how to make the best, most delicious, healthiest smoothies. Whether you’re just starting out or have been at it for a while and want some new flavors and recipes to try, this book will be a great addition to your kitchen library.

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 by the light of stories

I hope that you always embrace the stories you love without guilt or shame or fear of ridicule. And, I hope that you always WRITE the stories you love, because those are the stories the world needs. 

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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Thanks, Mom.

Me and Mom

Me and Mom

I am not certain whether nature or nurture has more influence in the development of literary tendencies. I am positive, however, that my mother played a pivotal role in my own emergence as both a bibliophile and a writer. By sharing her own love of the written word, she inspired me to explore the world of stories and the stories in the world from a very young age. And that, as they say, has made all the difference.

My mother read to me and my sister not just when we were little, but even as we were beginning to tread the dark and tangled edges of the teen years. As we grew older, bedtime stories evolved into dinnertime stories. My dad worked as a VP at a bank a few towns away and was often stuck late at the office. My mom would give my sister and I our dinner early, but wait until my dad got home to have her own evening meal. To keep from inadvertently eating two meals, she took to reading aloud while my sister and I dined.

In this way, we were gifted with dozens of wonderful stories, each of which still holds a special place in my heart. Mom read Little Women, Swiss Family Robinson, Mistress Masham’s Repose,  all the Anne of Green Gables books, and many more. Her obvious love for the written word seemed to fill the room as she read those tales out loud over our kitchen table. Each novel also provided a rich opportunity for conversation, giving us all kinds of characters and situations to explore by asking the questions “Why?” and “What if?” over and over again.

Although she had little time for leisure while we were growing up, I do remember seeing my mom read for pleasure. My mom stayed home while we were young, but she always had part-time jobs, plenty of housework, and eventually worked side-by-side with my dad on their own businesses. There was not a lot of down time in the day, something I now relate to only too well as a single, self-employed mom trying to keep up with an active ten-year-old. Still, I saw my mom reading all the time. More importantly, I saw that reading was something she clearly loved, something that brought her joy and comfort. By watching her, I learned to find the same solace and adventure between the pages of a good book.

My mom is also a writer – always has been, always will be. When I was growing up, she kept journals and diaries. She often penned handwritten letters to me and my sister, even though we all lived in the same house. She wrote stories and a mystery novel. Today, she is a professional marcom writer and also a kick ass editor who can whip any manuscript – fiction or nonfiction – into shape with the loving but firm hand of someone who truly treasures the artistry and power of the written word.

And my mom is always my first reader. She’s the person I go to with any piece that is important enough to warrant a second set of eyes. Even as I write this post, she is editing a piece of copy I wrote for a client. Though we are years past the evenings when she read aloud to me over dinner, we still talk almost every day about writing and reading. We discuss books, the craft, stories, and life as a writer. It’s part of her DNA and now, largely because of her support and encouragement, my DNA as well. I have many writer friends who have struggled to pursue their craft while their parents tried to dissuade them from “wasting their lives” on such “frivolous pursuits.” I feel so lucky to have a mom who not only approves of my writing, but helps me to be a better writer.

So, thanks, Mom. Thanks for all those hours of reading aloud and teaching me by example about the beauty, power, and magic of the written word. Thanks for instilling in me a reverence and a hunger for good stories. Thanks for enlightening me on the comforts of solitude and the value of critical thinking. And thanks for patiently teaching me (again and again) when it’s proper to use a hyphen. The things you have taught me and the love you have inspired in me have changed the way I see the world and they way I live in the world. By generously sharing your love and knowledge with me, you really have made all the difference.

 

What I’m Writing:

You can't make it, but you can take it.

You can’t make it, but you can take it.

Post-move life has been pretty hectic, but I’m happy to say that I am making progress on my goal of integrating more fiction and creative nonfiction writing into my routine. Though most of my writing time is still, by necessity, allocated to the marcom (marketing and communications) projects that pay my bills, I am stealing small pockets of time for other writing. The recent piece I did for the regional arts and culture magazine, Artscope, was a nice diversion and also garnered me a lovely email from one of the gallery owners I interviewed. She said that I was “helping to spread [the] joy” of art. That made me feel good.

I am also finding that my subconscious mind is tuning in more and more to the fiction vibe. Even while I’m working and running around taking care of the tasks of my daily rounds, my brain is processing and parsing ideas. There is a quiet debate going on in the back of my head about the merits of short stories vs. those of novels. I have begun to formulate a theme for a collection of short stories, and started to revive my exploration of the outline for a middle grade fantasy series that I began work on a couple of years ago.

The wheels are turning, and that’s an important part of the process.

 

What I’m Reading:

Affiliate Link

Seeking comfort as I continue putting my world back together now that we’re in our new space, I was delighted to stumble across a follow-up novel (perhaps the second in a developing series … oh, I hope so!) to Charles DeLint’s lovely, The Cats of Tanglewood Forest. In Seven Wild Sisters: A Modern Fairy Tale (affiliate link), DeLint continues the fairytale be began in the first Tanglewood book.

This is a tale of bee fairies and ‘sangmen (Ginseng root fairies), royal  courts, herbal folklore, long lost loves, sisterhood, and the magic that lives in the old hills. I absolutely loved the narrative voice of Sarah Jane Dillard. My heart was warmed by the young girl’s close relationship with the elderly “Aunt” Lillian, and again by Aunt Lillian’s relationship with the reclusive Apple Tree Man.

Though this isn’t the kind of story my daughter goes in for, it would make a wonderful read aloud book if you have children who enjoy these kinds of tales. And, of course, the illustrations of Charles Vess are just beautiful.

Affiliate Link


Another book I read this week was one that did pass mustard with my daughter. We read Operation Bunny: Book One (Wings & Co.) (affiliate link) as a bedtime story. Though this was also a story about fairies, they weren’t the usual kind. These were witch-fighting, sass-talking fairies. There is also a huge, talking cat with an equally huge vocabulary of odd yet charming, fish-themed colloquialisms.

My daughter is already begging me to get the second book in this series by Sally Gardner. Though I did not love it quite as much as she did, it was a fun read that did – I’ll admit – leave us both giggling.

 

I also read (yet another) amazing essay on Full Grown People. Persuasion, by Nicole Walker blew me away with the content, the voice, and the structure. It’s a piece I will likely return to again. Lots to explore here.

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:

Thanks, Mom, for teaching me how to do this.

Thanks, Mom, for teaching me how to do this.

Have a lovely Mother’s Day weekend, everyone. Enjoy your stories – the ones you read, the ones you write, and the ones you have created by living. xo
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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camp readerA good story is a port in any storm.

I missed you all last weekend. Even as I was sealing boxes and hauling load after load of books and clothes and unwieldy furniture up two, long flights of stairs into our new apartment, I was looking forward to being back here today. And, even though I am still surrounded by as yet unpacked boxes, I am happy to be typing this missive from our bright new space. Our home may not be fully put together yet, but I have my laptop, an Internet connection, and my two cats – one on either side of me on the couch. Life is good.

Like any move, ours was not without drama. The low point came in the afternoon of the “Big Move” day when we thought the younger of our two cats had escaped the house and gone missing. After an agonizingly long twenty-minute search in the rain (replete with hand wringing and tears), we found the little rapscallion under the kitchen sink (a hiding spot several of us had checked multiple times).

All’s well that ends well, they say, but it’s hard to maintain peace and calm when you’re right in the thick of things. Throughout the packing and moving, I was very glad to have a good story to distract me from the high stress of my situation. My long To Do list, anxiety, and exhaustion all seemed to melt away as soon as I surrendered to the tonic of the page. Slipping into the story helped me escape, for a moment, from the demands of the Real World. Though part of me chided that I didn’t have time to read, a wiser (and thankfully more persuasive) part of me insisted that taking time to read was exactly what I needed most. She was right.

No matter your worry or woe, a good story will always offer comfort. Never forget to take the time to indulge your inner reader, especially in times of chaos and discord.

What I’m Writing:

old red truckThese past two weeks have provided the perfect opportunity to practice cutting myself some slack. Instead of dishing out a self-destructive guilt trip because I’d come up short on all my writing goals, I gave myself a pass. I was, after all, moving house and home. Sometimes you find yourself in a situation where you need to let things go or risk losing your sense of sanity. This was definitely one of those times.

A friend of mine shared a great metaphor on this subject. She likened life to a truck that’s packed with all the things we are responsible for, obligated to, and want to do. In my mind’s eye, I pictured an old-fashioned farm truck – candy apple red with broad, sweeping curves and a deep bed that’s bounded on three sides with wooden slats. My friend said that every once in a while you need to look at everything you’re hauling around in your truck and decide what should stay and what should go. You need to consider which things are valuable, which are useful, which are nourishing, and which are just taking up space. Then, when you’ve figured out which things have ceased to serve a purpose, you simply throw ‘em off the truck.

I love this idea.

Maybe it’s my recent move combined with the seasonal urge to do a major spring cleaning, but I’m starting to see lots of things that need to be thrown off the truck. This week, I had to toss unrealistic expectations about my writing schedule. Next, I’m thinking about tossing some social media habits that aren’t providing any return on the investment of my time … but that’s a story for another post.

What I’m Reading:

The book that got me through my move week was a little gem by one of my favorite fantasy authors, Jane Yolen. Yolen co-authored Pay the Piper: A Rock ‘n’ Roll Fairy Tale (affiliate link) with her son, musician Adam Stemple.

The tale was a fairly simple one, based on the lore of the Pied Piper, but with a contemporary twist. It was a quick read, but one that kept me engaged from start to finish. This was another book that reminded me how much I enjoy reading (and would like to write) urban fantasy for kids and young adults. Though I am less drawn to the high fantasy that I devoured as a child, urban fantasy has become more and more interesting to me . I love the way it blends the mythical and the modern, bringing a little magic into our ordinary world.

If anyone has any suggestions for great urban fantasy, I’d love to hear them.

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 creativity fun

Glad to be back. Happy writing. Happy reading. :) 
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.
Camp Reader Photo Credit: Spencer Finnley via Compfight cc
Old Red Truck Photo Credit: aussiegall via Compfight cc

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In Search of the Perfect Writer’s Home Office:

2 cat deskAs I mentioned last week, I’m moving next Saturday. Our new place is about six hundred square feet (give or take) smaller than the place we’re in now, so downsizing is the name of the game. I’m fine with this (even excited about it), except for one thing: my desk.

My work desk is a huge drafting table. It sits up high, has a span of nearly five feet, and is a remnant of my (much) younger days when I thought I was going to be a visual artist. Though I haven’t sketched much in the last twenty years, I kept the desk. I like it partly because I can spread out, but mostly because there’s space for two cat beds. Having one or both of my feline companions curled up within arm’s reach is, without doubt, my favorite thing about my current home office.

But the new place doesn’t have space for this mammoth piece of furniture. So, I find myself in need of a new arrangement and – very likely – a new desk. I began my online research earlier this week when I should have been nose-to-grindstone on a deadline. All I did was an innocent search for “computer desk,” but – whoa! – talk about going down the rabbit hole. There are SO many different styles, materials, sizes, configurations, features, brand names … the list of variables goes on and on (… and on!).

I’ve been looking at corner desks, L-shaped desks that just might tuck into a corner, desks with hutches, hutches with hidden desks inside, and every other possible solution. It’s not that I need a great, new desk. My first nine months as a freelancer my “office” was my lap and  a ratty chair that I picked up off the curb.  Still, a new desk would be nice. I spend so much time at my desk, it might as well be something beautiful, right?

Though the options are mind boggling and many of the prices intimidating, I’m determined to find something I love. I may find it on Craig’s List. I may create my own, one-of-a-kind set up by combining flea market finds. Either way, I’m definitely going to invest in a really nice chair and a keyboard tray. Good ergonomics are key.

I’m curious to hear about other writers’ home offices. We wrote about our writing desks last spring in the Friday Fun, What does your writing desk look like? But, what about you guys? Do you have a home office? What’s your set-up like? What’s your dream situation?

What I’m Writing:

artscopeSo, with our move just around the corner and deadlines looming on all sides, I did what any red-blooded writer would do when a new editor called with a trial assignment. I said, “Yes.” Though I am ridiculously busy and stressed (just ask my friends and family), when the editor of a regional art magazine called with a small, event-related assignment, I decided that I would just make it work. And, I did.

Though the piece was short (600 words), I really enjoyed the opportunity to interview a couple of gallery owners and then put the story together so that it covered the event, represented the two galleries (with quotes), and also provided a bit of a travelogue flavor. These are all writing skills that I don’t use on a regular basis with either my marcom (marketing and communications) or column writing, so I was happy to have an excuse to flex these little-used creative muscles.

 

What I’m Reading:


As you can imagine, reading time is scarce this week and will be next week as well. Though I miss my reading time, I’m not beating myself up over being too busy to curl up with a book. There will be time for that after we’ve settled in our new place. For now, I’m looking forward to listening to my audio books this weekend while I’m purging, packing, and cleaning.  I’m almost halfway through Life After Life: A Novel (affiliate link) by Kate Atkinson.

I’m still not quite sure how to describe this book. I was telling a friend how even though I’m halfway through, there have been long stretches of the story where nothing much is happening. The funny thing is, I don’t mind. I enjoy the language (and narrator performance) so much that any lag in the story isn’t really affecting my appreciation of the work. And the concept is so interesting (not to mention the story structure).

 

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:

So … not so much a quote as an image. I found this on Pinterest, and loved it. I wish there was any attribution tied to the piece, but I couldn’t find any, not even via a Google image search. Anyway, this is pretty much how I feel – like I want to hide away with all my books and just get myself lost in a good story.

pin book hideout

Since I’ll be moving next Saturday, I am going to (grudgingly) give myself the week off. SO – next Saturday there will be no weekend edition. I’ll miss you guys, but I’ll be back on May 3rd. Until then, keep writing & keep reading! 
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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libraryGrowing up, our local library was almost a second home to me. Both my parents worked, so in the afternoons my sister and I would often walk the short distance from school to the library and spend a couple of hours tucked away in what was then a modest children’s room. Though the library has undergone several major renovations, including the children’s room, I can still see that room in my mind’s eye.

The circulation desk was in the center of the room and was flanked on two sides by tall, metal bookshelves that never seemed quite firmly rooted to the floor. On the third side was a bank of lower shelves whose configuration created a small nook in one corner of the room. The tiled floor of that nook was made slightly cozier by the addition of several rather worn vinyl recliner cushions. I loved that little corner and those dilapidated cushions.

Though I likely read hundreds of books while curled up in that spot, for some reason I have particular memories of The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, Anne McCaffrey’s Pern series, and Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Pyrdain. (I really must read those again.) I also wistfully recall a book whose author and title have long escaped me, but whose heroine I still remember – Kira, the girl who could talk to the animals of an enchanted forest. I wanted to be Kira.

Across the hall from the children’s room was “the stacks”, an eerie, dimly lit place full of old books that smelled of dust and mildew. Ours is an old New England town and many of our books are quite venerable. Back in the day, the stacks was where you went to kiss boys before your mother picked you up to go home for dinner. Today, the stacks have been replaced by The Archives Room, a sealed chamber which can only be visited by adults and only in the company of library personnel who can ensure the safe handling of the records and volumes stored there.

Above the basement abode of children’s room and stacks is the library proper. Broken into several rooms, the space is reminiscent of a grand house from a bygone era. Beyond the modest foyer is what would be the great room, the largest space in the building crowned by a balcony that runs around all four walls. Upon the balcony is where some of the oldest books reside, ones not quite old or rare enough to warrant climate controlled storage in the archives, but still quite interesting. I recently found a charming late nineteenth century book all about the origins of different meanings. And somewhere on those shelves is (I hope) a tiny volume on unicorn lore. It used to live downstairs, on the main floor of the library, just to the right of the circulation desk and quite near to the Tolkien books. It has been decades since I’ve seen that book, but it has never left my memory. I can still see the etchings that illustrated what appeared to be a field guide. I wish I could find it again.

Anyway, years passed. I outgrew the children’s room and once I was in high school, I visited the town library less and less frequently. Not only was the school library nearer to hand, I was also working at my parents’ print shop after school. After graduation, the library and I experienced a long dry spell. Life got busy. I was rarely home. I went to Boston College for a year. I worked in Boston, then Gloucester, then Wenham. Years passed. I got married and, eventually, had a little girl of my own. Finally, it was time to come home to the library.

My daughter is ten years-old now. We have made weekly trips to the library since she was about two. Though she thoroughly enjoys the books we bring home for bedtime, she has never liked choosing them. She prefers to wander around the upstairs library where our friend, Laura, works. So, while they visit, I peruse the shelves in the larger, modernized children’s room. The ambiance is not quite the same, but I swear that the vinyl cushions are the ones I sat in as a child. I will happily spend an hour running my fingers along the spines of the books, all lined up and waiting. Many are new, but just as many are clearly relics of an older age – clothbound with yellowed pages and filled with quaintly outdated stories. I wonder what the characters from those books would think of today’s heroes and villains.

One of my favorite things about the old children’s room was the entrance. Though you could get there from the main library, it was much more fun to enter by the side door which was tucked down behind a cast iron fence on the corner of the building. I always got a little thrill descending those stairs. There used to be a roof which gave you the feeling of being in a tunnel. It felt like I was entering a subterranean hideaway.

But time marches on and things change. Though I miss the charm of the old place, I’m grateful almost beyond words that we not only still have a library, but our town and citizens have seen fit to invest in it. Our library is one of the lucky ones, and it’s lovely to be back.

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

QUESTION: A recent post on Writer Unboxed asked the question, “Should You Read About Writing?” It’s an interesting topic for discussion, so we thought we’d pose the question here. Do you read books about the craft of writing? What kinds? How many? What sorts of things do you hope to learn? Do you think reading these books has helped or hindered your development as a writer?

P.S. – If you’re interested to know which writing books we’ve previously touted as our faves, visit this Friday Fun post from the archives on writing books that make a difference.

 

headshot_jw_thumbnailwriting booksJamie Wallace: Guilty. I think. Here’s the thing, I definitly BUY books about writing, but I don’t always actually READ them. Apart from the favorites I mentioned in the post noted above, most of my Writing Books Collection consists of partially-read or never-read books that seemed like a good idea/lifesaver/font of wisdom … at the time. I don’t have any particular prejudice against these books, nor do I believe they contain the secret formula for success. As the author of the Writer Unboxed post pointed out, if reading books about writing was all it took to be a great writer … well, you get the idea.

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon: I love reading books about writing. I love reading magazines about writing (wasn’t that last week’s question?) My favorites are the ones like Bird by Bird and Writing Down the Bones, the ones that just say, “get your butt in the chair and write!” But I also enjoy books on craft and process, and even grammar books. I love grammar books: Sin and Syntax and everyone’s old favorite, The Elements of Style. Also, I love a gem I found in the UConn bookstore when my stepson was there: A Troubleshooting Guide for Writers: Strategies and Process. I don’t read writing books but I usually take one or two of them when I go on vacation.

dll2013Deborah Lee Luskin: First of all, I don’t think it’s helpful to “should all over yourself.” I do, however, read writing books when I need the inspiration such books offer. I’ve reviewed a few on this blog: Bird by Bird, Writing to Change the World, Unless it Moves the Human Heart. I’ve also enjoyed Stephen King’s On Writing, John McPhee’s essays about craft that have been running in The New Yorker lately, and Michel de Montaigne’s Essays (not strictly about writing, but inspirational). My caveat: the books on writing have to be well written themselves.

hennrikus-web2Julie Hennrikus: Stephen King’s On Writing and Annie Lamont’s Bird by Bird are both favorites of mine. For mystery writing, The Weekend Novelist Writes a Mystery, Hallie Ephron’s Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel, and Chris Roerdon’s Don’t Murder Your Mystery are all great. I don’t read them as much now (though I will be looking at the editing chapters again soon), but I found them very, very helpful. Just remember that there isn’t a right way to write. There’s your way.

wendy-shotWendy Thomas: This one is easy, the answer is YES. Absolutely. And not only should you be reading books (and magazines) on the craft of writing but you should also be applying what you learn to what you read (which will eventually allow you to apply it to what you write.) Honestly, because of my craft reading, I can no longer read a book without seeing how it was constructed. I can’t unsee what I’ve seen.

Not only should you read books about writing, but you should find a co-writer confidant with whom you can discuss what you’ve discovered. My writing has gotten so much stronger because I have a friend who loves to dissect writing as much as I do and we share ideas and articles with each other.

Some of my favorite resources? Anything Larry Brooks writes (Storyfix.com) He’s currently offering a free ebook that breaks down his last published novel. Invaluable information on the mechanics of story construction. He also write Story Engineering and Story Physics which are two of my writing bibles.

I also like Blueprint your Best Seller – it’s a very mechanical book that describes exactly how to design a story and the technical writer in me loves the approach.

And of course the monthly  writing magazines, I still pick up a tip or two from each issue.


Susan Nye:
At this point, I’m so busy writing, reading fiction and memoir and living that I don’t have time to read about writing. Or at least, I don’t make time to read about writing. Perhaps it’s the rebel in me, if it’s a should – it’s not for me.

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ripplesYou may never know …

I wrote earlier this week about how writing is a way of life. Each of the comments on the post made me smile, but there were a couple in particular that gave me insight into how my words had become a part of someone else’s day. These comments related when, where, and how the reader had stumbled across the post. Those small details brought me into their experience and gave me the chance to see my writing “out in the wilds,” so to speak. It kind of gave me chills (the good kind).

Writing is often a lonely business. Even though the Internet has given writers a powerful set of tools to connect directly with readers, it isn’t always easy to make those connections. Though we may pour our hearts and minds onto the digital page, our efforts are often met with the disheartening sound of crickets.

You have to remember that just because you don’t see or hear the reactions to your work, doesn’t mean they aren’t there. The Internet is both a blessing and a curse for writers. On the one hand, it gives us the ability to put our work, quite literally, in front of the whole world. On the other hand, it has burdened us with unrealistic expectations about the kind of response we will get. Where once we simply wrote and set out writing free without any assumptions about if or how people would react, now we get caught up in anxiously waiting for some kind of response in the form of likes, shares, retweets, comments, and so on.

But sometimes the deepest connections and biggest influences are the ones you never hear about or don’t discover until years later.

Last night I had my heart strings plucked by just such a latent discovery. A woman I went to school with came up to me in a bar and shared a very personal story of how something I had done all those long years ago had inspired her. Though we were only kids and though I was only doing what came naturally, that small thing had stayed with her throughout her life. And I had never even known. I had been completely oblivious that anything I was doing was making any difference for anyone else.

So, I guess what I’m saying is you just never know. Even if all your hear are crickets, your words might still be making a difference in someone’s day or life. Don’t stop writing because you fear the silence. Instead, imagine the magic that might be happening just outside the realm of what you know.

 

What I’m Writing:

way of life appI continue to focus my client writing projects (you know – the ones that pay the bills), but I also took a little time this week to practice my fiction writing. I’m starting small – just trying to take five minutes out of my day. Just five. Truth is, if I make five minutes, I’ll usually end up stretching it to ten or fifteen. I have no particular objective and I’m not working on any particular project. I’m just doing “sketches,” so to speak – short, quick scenes.

My only intent is to get my creative writing muscles working a little bit more each day … and then a little bit more … and then a little bit more.

In a recent weekend edition, Vy Chazen commented about how she is using the Writeometer app to track her word count. I was immediately intrigued. (I’m a sucker for a good writing app.) Sadly, it turns out that Writeometer is only available for Android and I’m on an iPhone. <sigh> BUT, my searches in the App Store turned up another cool, little app called Way of Life. It’s not particularly about writing, per se, but it IS about forming new good habits (and breaking bad ones).

It’s also elegantly simple. It’s based on the “Seinfeld productivity hack.” All you do is track (on a daily basis) whether or not you’ve done a particular task. I’m currently tracking things like yoga, meditation, fiction practice, reading, and … um … flossing. The app tracks each item and color codes your entries (green if you did it, red if you didn’t, and blue if you intentionally skipped a day). The idea is that you will want to create an unbroken chain of positive checkmarks.

Maybe I’m a lemming, but it’s really helping me to stay on track with my good habits.

 

What I’m Reading:

fish soupI have several “big reads” underway, but I’ll wait to share those until I’ve finished them.

Meanwhile, I have one quick read that I just had to share because it was, to me, such a perfect little story. The book is called Fish Soup and it is by Ursula Le Guin, an author who captured my young heart and imagination with her Earthsea books and who continues to charm and enlighten me with her insightful (and often irreverent) essays.

Fish Soup is a children’s picture book charmingly illustrated by Patrick Wynne. The story begins, “There was a man called the Thinking Man of Moha, and there was a woman called the Writing Woman of Maho, and they were friends.” I will not spoil your experience of this magical story with any attempt to distill it into a few sentences. Suffice to say that I found it to be full of both humor and wisdom. Oh, and there are winged mice, too.

Sadly, the book appears to be out of print, but it may be available at your local library. I highly recommend it. Your day will be better for having read it.

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:

books are better

As always – thanks for being here. I hope you have a wonderful weekend filled with good reads and time to write. Enjoy each minute and remember that your words may travel far and wide without you ever knowing. 
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.
“Ripples” Photo Credit: Mark J P via Compfight cc

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Every once in a while, I hit a speed bump.

six by nineI have been a writer since the age of seven when I penned (or, rather, penciled) my first entry in my first journal. I have been writing ever since. Every once in a while, however, I hit a bit of a speed bump. For one reason or another, my certainty about being a writer wavers.

In Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe series, the super “Earth computer” works out that the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything is 42. That’s all well and good, but a bit useless if you don’t know what the actual question is. In a wild, last ditch effort to find out exactly what the ultimate question is, Arthur Dent (the book’s protagonist) pulls random Scrabble tiles out of a bag. Lining up the tiles, he finds the message, “What do you get when you multiply six by nine?” Clearly not very helpful.

Sometimes that’s how I feel about writing.

Usually, I have no doubt that writing is “my thing.” I am also very clear about why it’s so important and valuable, not just to me, but to humanity in general. But, now and again my cocky conviction wobbles and I’m suddenly wondering if maybe writing is a crazy thing to do. I worry that I can’t really understand why I do this thing or whether it matters.

But then I come to my senses. I remember that writing is not a science. It’s an art. It doesn’t need to be defined and categorized and explained. It just is. Writing does not need to justify itself. And, furthermore, I don’t need to justify being a writer.

After that, I get back to doing what comes naturally. I write.

 

What I’m Writing:

multiple personalities

Just how many “yous” are out there?

Though my workload for my marketing clients continues to keep the vast majority of my writing time tied up, I have managed to stay on track with my bi-weekly column for the local paper. I am so grateful to have this creative outlet (and its corresponding deadline). It gives me the chance to craft a different kind of story and express my own ideas instead of a client’s.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a way to share my latest pieces with you. You see, up to this point I’ve been posting my columns on my marketing site under the heading “Off-topic.” I have decided, however, that this is not the right approach. I need a better way to manage my multiple online identities.

Though I make my living as a marcom (marketing and communications) writer, I aspire to write fiction, publish my column, and handle the odd feature assignment. I need to figure out the smartest way to blend (or not) these different aspects of what I do into a cohesive and sensible online presence. I haven’t figured out the solution yet, but I’m leaning towards creating another site or blog where I can post my personal and creative writing.

I bring this up because I wonder who else might have a similar problem. Do you have multiple writer personalities? Most writers I know fill a number of different writing roles in order to make ends meet and/or keep their creative muscles limber. If you’re such a person, how do you manage your public persona?

 

What I’m Reading:

Last week I mentioned how much I enjoyed Robin Sloan’s Kindle Single, Ajax Penumbra 1969. This “follow-up prequel” (is that a thing?) to his novel Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore was the perfect fix for a reader who wasn’t quite ready to leave Sloan’s quirky and hopeful world.


This week, I pulled a beautiful book off my shelf. Lyra’s Oxford (affiliate link) is one several stand alone short stories that Phillip Pullman has written as companion pieces to his extremely successful His Dark Materials trilogy (affiliate link). This tiny, clothbound tome is beautifully designed and includes a fold-out map and some other printed ephemera on the last few pages of the book. It’s a gorgeous edition that delivers all the sensory pleasures that we bookish types adore.

While I did enjoy the story, I enjoyed its presentation more. I wanted to love the story as much as I loved the trilogy, but it didn’t capture my imagination in the same way. The ideas in the trilogy are so big, I can see why it would be challenging to reduce them to a scale suitable for a short story.

What I found most interesting about reading these two pieces was the concept of creating short stories and even novellas around a larger work. I like the idea of an author being able to dip back into a particular world or collection of characters, even if creating a whole new novel doesn’t make sense. I was also struck by the difference in (perceived) value associated with the two “shorts” that I read. Ajax Penumbra 1969 clocks in at about sixty pages and is available as either a Kindle Single ($2.99) or an Audible audio edition ($3.30). Lyra’s Oxford is also approximately sixty pages long, but is more expensive ranging between $5.98 and $13.45 across five formats including paperback, Kindle, hardcover, CD, and audio download.

I’m honestly not sure where I’m going with this (yet). I just found it interesting and thought you might, too.

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 no self

So – here’s to writing for yourself and finding your public. 

Happy writing & happy reading! 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 trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.

Men in Tree Photo Credit: Andy M Taylor via Compfight cc
Six by Nine Photo Credit: adamgerhard via Compfight cc

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Welcome to this Saturday Edition in which I share a little of what I’m up to with my writing (when I’m not here) and what I’m reading (between the covers and around the web). I’ll also pull back the curtain a little on my version of the writing life (but not so much as to be indecent).

I hope you enjoy this little diversion and encourage you to share your own thoughts, posts, and picks in the comments. I LOVE hearing from you and seeing the world from your perspective.

Happy writing! Happy reading! 

Jamie

_______________________________________________________________________________________________

The Power of Happy

I just spent my morning dancing around to “Happy” by Pharrell Williams.

Hey! Want to join me?

Wasn’t that fun? 

I swear, even the animals in my house seem to dig a little early morning dance jam. The cats come running from wherever they are in the house and little Benny swims out from his hiding place in the aquatic weeds to swish his tail.

At the beginning of the year, instead of a typical resolution like finishing my novel or getting a story published or losing twenty pounds, I decided to stick with something simple: Figure Out What Makes Me Happy. Do More of That. Truth be told, this isn’t always as easy as it seems, but I’m making progress. The hardest part is usually the figuring out part. We get so wrapped up in the shoulds of life that we forget about the bits that make us come alive. We lose track of why we’re here in the first place.

happier logoI recently downloaded a cool little app called Happier. The site bills the app as a “fun, social gratitude journal.” Basically, it’s a tool to capture the things that make you happy. I’ve only been playing with it for a week or so, but the simple act of recording what makes me happy definitely seems to make me … um … happier. The app helps you get into the habit of noticing your own happiness, and before you know it you’re noticing a whole lot more happiness than you might have expected.

The best part is that happiness makes you more creative and more productive. It’s true. If you do a few quick Google searches, you’ll find dozens of articles that talk about the correlation between having a smile on your face and being able to work harder and more creatively. This one from Forbes on how happiness boosts worker performance, for instance, or this one from FastCompany about how one agency is using happiness to increase creativity. Pretty cool stuff.

What I’m Writing:

happy blogAll this happy talk reminded me of an itty-bitty blog that I wrote back in (gasp!) 2009. (Was it really that long ago?!?) My Good Mood Gig Campaign blog was part of a 30-day competition for a writing gig with a vitamin company. I didn’t get the gig, but I had a lot of fun creating and running my very first blog.

I look back at these posts and wince a bit. I was, after all, only two years into my blogging journey. I was more or less fumbling along in the dark. Still, the assignment was an inherently fun one and – if nothing else – I was able to create a mini archive of happy stories including links to great music, videos, and other content.

And – hey! – even though I’m slightly embarrassed by the writing, it makes me HAPPY to realize that I’ve been making progress since then and continue to learn my craft and improve my writing with each and every blog post and column, article and essay. That’s enough to make me smile.

What I’m Reading:

Affiliate Link


Last week, I shared a great novel called Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore. This week, I read Robin Sloan’s follow-up Kindle Single, Ajax Penumbra 1969 (affiliate link). You know that feeling you get when you finish a book and really love it and don’t want to leave the world the author has created? I was definitely feeling that after turning the last page of 24-Hour Bookstore, so this 60-page story was the perfect “just-a-little-more” fix.

I also loved having an excuse to use my usually neglected Kindle. It’s a first generation model that typically sits forlornly on my bedside table. I use it mostly to download and read book excerpts in order to decide if it’s worth requesting the “real” book from my local library. It was fun to actually read a full-length piece on the Kindle. Even if it was only a “single.”

Affiliate Link


The Kindle Single is really quite an ingenious product. Not quite a book, but weightier than an essay, the Kindle Single is often a perfect length read … especially when you’re really busy and making time to read anything more involved is just impossible. Animalish (Kindle Single) (affiliate link) by Susan Orlean is another Kindle Single that I own and have read more than once.

Maybe I have accidentally discovered a use for my Kindle beyond reading excerpts. Perhaps my Kindle is meant for collecting fabulous essays, short stories, and novellas – capturing them in digital format so they take up oodles of space on my shelves. Besides, it’s just fun to get that quick and instant gratification – click, and – whoosh! – there the piece is. And at $1.99 – $2.99 a hit, it costs less than a chai latte. Hmmm … I may be onto something here.

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:

book over

I just love this piece. It’s likely a meme adaptation, but the character is the creation of the fabulous Allie Brosh of Hyperbole and a Half.  Her art and stories seem simplistic, but she has a wonderful way (as both a writer and an artist) of seeing right to the heart of a thing. Pretty amazing, actually.

So, that’s it for me (for now). Happy writing & happy reading & happy SPRING! 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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