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Money: Taboo Topic or Merely Impolite Conversation

elephantThere’s an elephant in our midst.

I didn’t notice it right away, but a recent conversation with friends brought its hulking, gray-green presence to my attention: the beast known as Money.

Money and art do not typically make good bedfellows. For the vast majority of creative types, there is a fairly substantial (some might even say, “monumental”) gap between The Work and Worldly Compensation. Hence the stereotype of the “starving artist.” The world, it seems, does not appreciate art as much as it appreciates, say, hedge fund investments or large manufacturing operations.

And yet … there are artists (and writers) who have clearly found a way to make a (very nice) living with their craft.

One of the friends with whom I was discussing the whole money issue shared a bit of link bait that was actually quite interesting: 21 Ways Rich People Think Differently. The article is a compilation of excerpts the book How Rich People Think by Steve Siebold. Scanning through the list of observations, I was appropriately horrified to discover that I hold certain unfounded prejudices against money and the wealthy. For instance, the first two sub-heads from the post are:

  • Average people believe money is the root of all evil. Rich people believe poverty is the root of all evil. – “”The average person has been brainwashed to believe rich people are lucky or dishonest.”
  • Average people think selfishness is a vice. Rich people think selfishness is a virtue. – “If you’re not taking care of you, you’re not in a position to help anyone else. You can’t give what you don’t have.”

My not-so-original point is this: If you’re holding a secret grudge against money, maybe you’ve got the wrong mindset for making money. There’s a bit of a guilt factor (something we talked about last week in the context of the writer’s fear of self-indulgence) in play, but there’s also a kind of reverse snobbery that can sabotage your earning ability without you even realizing it. Think about it. If you believe, deep down, that money is the root of all evil and rich people are, therefore – by association – also evil, how on earth could you possibly develop a positive mindset about money?

I am by NO means a money whisperer, guru, or expert. Like most people, I’ve got plenty of baggage when it comes to money. I do, however, make my living with words; and I’m working my way towards making my living with artistic words. I still have plenty of emotional and logistical hurdles to clear, but I’m pretty sure that just acknowledging my knee-jerk prejudice against money is a good first step. And I also think that talking more about money – more frequently, more openly, more truthfully – is also a step in the right direction. You up for that?

What I’m Writing:

typewriter royal conwaySo this past Tuesday I finally made it to the Fiction I Grub Street class that I had to miss last week due to my daughter being home sick. Though Grub Street is based in Boston, this particular course (taught by the lovely and very helpful KL Pereira) is being held in the writing center’s “satellite” location at The Salem Athenaeum. And what a satellite it is. The place absolutely reeks of literature. (Next time I will take pictures to share.)

Although I haven’t begun the actual writing yet, I learned on Tuesday that I will be submitting two pieces (complete or partial, up to 25 pages each) to be workshopped by the class. Although this discovery made me wince a little (mostly on the inside), I know that this fabricated deadline combined with forced participation is just what I need to motivate me. There’s nothing like the risk of embarrassment to inspire me to spring into action.

Complicating matters slightly is the fact that our submissions are meant to be short stories, a genre I’m not all that familiar with. As a matter of fact, until this class, I could likely count the number of short story collections I’ve read using only my ten fingers. But, I’m learning – through reading and follow-up class discussions – just what makes a strong short story, and I’m ready to start experimenting with my own.

My biggest challenge at the moment is trying to choose which story to work on. I have a couple story ideas from years ago, and a few more from recent musings. I’m just not sure which one to pick. I’ll be mulling that over this weekend.

Meantime, while KL is full of all kinds of great information, explanations, and examples, I think I’ll save the bulk of those for other posts. I would, however, like to share a great resource she mentioned: The Fiction Writer’s Character Chart by Rebecca Sinclair (via Eclectics.com). This is similar to  (but a bit more categorized than) the 90 Things to Know About Your Characters Before You Start Writing post I shared from Kathy Temean last week. In either case, I challenge you to complete either (or both!) of these questionnaires for your main character and see if you don’t get tripped up. My lesson of the week: I need to know a LOT more about my characters before I really KNOW them.

What I’m Reading:

book diving bellesThis week’s short story reading assignment from class was “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor. While I realize it’s a classic piece of American literature, if I’m being honest, I didn’t enjoy it. I hear O’Connor is an acquired taste, but I don’t expect to be clamoring for more of her stories any time soon. Or ever. The whole experience made me feel like I was back in some college lit course.

Still – I can see the value in reading and studying well-written stories, even ones you don’t particularly like. Class discussion about last week’s read (“Moving On” by Diane Cook) included analysis of character, conflict, and context – the basic building blocks of any story, short or long. I was particularly intrigued by “context,” which is an element I have not read about as much as I’ve read about character and conflict. (More on that later.)

In addition to my “homework” reading, I’m also enjoying (though slightly baffled by) a collection of short stories by Lucy Wood. The tales in Diving Belles are eclectic to say the least. Loosely based on Cornish folklore, Wood has played with the traditional characters, themes, and elements of these ancient stories to create new, sometimes twisted, always interesting versions.

As someone interested in magical realism, this collection appeals to my desire to blend the fantastic with the everyday. I’m only a few stories in, but I can already sense that this will be a book I will return to for inspiration.

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 get the money

Here’s to developing a healthy mindset about wealth, writing even when you’re scared, trying new things, and getting the money. 

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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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Navel gazing and other writerly fears

"Quick Splash" by Jay Melnick via Albumarium. The picture of canine shame. ;)

“Quick Splash” by Jay Melnick via Albumarium. The picture of canine shame. ;)

You self-indulgent, spoiled brat.

If someone hurled these words at you, it would feel like a physical slap in the face. You would flush with reflexive shame and regret before shifting to feeling indignant or even angry. Thankfully, these words are only ever spoken out loud in rare moments of extreme conflict. To hear them, or anything like them, ringing in your ears is – I hope – something you never have to experience.

However, while the circumstances that would incite another person to deliver such a sharp insult seldom occur in the real world, the possibility of suffering such an attack from our own inner critics is, sadly, a much more likely event. After all, our inner critics are not bound by any sense of propriety. They are severely lacking in social graces and have abysmal impulse control. Whether they are shouting their cruel accusations or, more insidiously, whispering them, they always appear frighteningly confident and justified in their judgment.

As writers, we spend an inordinate amount of time engaged in what might understandably be perceived as navel-gazing. We create and inhabit internal worlds that ultimately serve as vehicles of self-expression. We have the audacity to believe that our dreams and ideas have the right to a life outside the confines of our own minds. Cheeky, aren’t we?

Most of the time, your focus on the craft provides protection against would-be assailants intent on character defamation. But a moment’s doubt is like a blade slipping through your defenses to deliver a small but decisive wound. You falter. A moment ago you were blissfully immersed in the creative flow, but now there is a covert poison working its way through your system. There is a small voice asking, “Who are you to tell this story?” And, suddenly, you don’t know who you are or what possessed you to believe you could do this thing.

You have succumbed to the fear of self-indulgence.

You have given in to believing that your writing is a selfish, conceited, and frivolous act. You have accepted your inner critic’s ruling that you are unworthy. Only Real Writers have the right to write, and you are most certainly not among that high and lofty set. After all, no one is reading what you write. No one is paying you to write. No one needs to hear your stupid story.

But, they do. They do. Who are you to tell this story? You are the only person who can tell this story. And do you know what is selfish and self-indulgent? Keeping the story to yourself. Staying scared and silent. Giving up. Using your fear to protect you from the possibility of rejection.

Writing is not self-indulgent. Writing is brave and generous. It is the act of digging deep down inside your heart, mind, and soul; extracting the truth you find there; polishing it to the best of your ability; and sharing it with others. Writing is the opposite of self-indulgent. Yes, it requires that you look within, but ultimately that internal searching is an effort to connect. Stories are not meant to be kept inside. Stories are, by nature, shared. They are the best gift you can give.

 

What I’m Writing:

writing classA few weeks ago, I signed up for a Fiction I class offered by the Grub Street writing center and taught by KL Pereira. The first class took place this past Tuesday, but I was unable to attend because my daughter came down with a nasty cold on Saturday and was convalescing on the couch through Thursday. Happily, she is feeling much better now and was able to return to school on Friday. Sadly, missing that first class felt, for a moment, like a particularly unking karmic injustice. But, I’m over that now.

Pereira was wonderfully gracious and accommodating. She provided me with handouts and assignments and even shared my classmates’ “intro questionnaires” via email. Though I was sorry to have missed that first getting-to-know-you session, I felt welcomed and was already excited about being engaged in the learning process … even if from a distance.

This coming Tuesday (knock on wood), I will have the pleasure of meeting these people in person and giving myself the not insubstantial gift of five hours dedicated to my non-business writing. Despite my heavy freelance workload, I will prioritize what’s important over what’s urgent. I will put my money where my mouth is. I will choose desire over obligation.

I know that it won’t be easy, and I know that taking this one class will not dramatically change my writing life. But, it is a small step in my right direction. It is tangible evidence of my intention and commitment. And that matters. A lot.

 

What I’m Reading:

book tin houseThough my temporary role as Florence Nightingale left little time (or energy) for reading, I did manage to do my “homework reading” from the Grub Street class that I missed. This week’s assignment was a short story called “Moving On” by Diane Cook. Since I was not in attendance to receive the hard copy, I ended up downloading the back issue of Tin House (Memory) which features Cook’s story alongside others by writers whose names were mostly unfamiliar except for a few whom I recognized right away (Stephen King and Cheryl Strayed).

After wrangling the MOBI file onto my Kindle, I made myself a cup of hot chocolate (with, perhaps, a splash of Bailey’s) and settled onto the couch to read.

The very first sentence drew me in, “They let me tend to my husband’s burial and settle his affairs.” It’s a simple enough sentence, benign at first sight except for those first three words: They let me. With three words, Cook raised all kinds of questions – conscious and subconscious in my mind. Let me? I read on.

I like short stories because I can usually enjoy them in one sitting. Unlike a novel, which has the potential to steal me from the real world for hours at a time, a short story invites me to indulge in a more controllable and defined time out that I can safely shoehorn into almost any day. Despite this advantage, I have always struggled a little to understand the short story form, particularly those of the literary kind. I usually come away feeling like I’ve read the beginning of something but had to walk away without gaining any closure. I also sometimes feel like I’m not smart enough to “get it.” Short stories often feel like intellectual riddles that I’m too dull to solve. I’m left puzzling over the last sentence – something cryptic but obviously full of meaning that goes right over my head.

I enjoy the language and the imagery. I am interested in the characters and their actions and thoughts, but I’m left wondering, “What was the point?”

I have a feeling I’ve a lot to learn about the short story form. At least the literary kind.

Still, I did enjoy the Cook’s piece and am now working my way through the rest of the Tin House issue. I haven’t read stories like these in a long (long) while, so it feels like an adventure in a foreign land. I’m not quite sure what to expect or how to behave, but I’m doing my best to be respectful of local customs and learn what I can from my visit.

 

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

 

Finally, a quote for the week:

pin magic new beginnings

Eckhart Tolle

 

I hope this week brings you the pleasure of indulging – guilt-free – in your writing passions, the satisfaction of learning something, and the joy of new beginnings. 

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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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Conflicted. A writer torn between duty and dreams.

“I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve (or save) the world and a desire to enjoy (or savor) the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.”

- E.B. White

three geese flyingI love the fall. It is, by far, my favorite season of the year. I love the cooler weather, the blazing foliage, and the return to routine. I love the sense of industry that comes in September, even though I am well past my school years. And, I love the prospect of curling up in cozy environs with a good book and a steaming mug of hazelnut truffle tea. (Fall and winter reading has always held more appeal for me than sticky, sandy summer reading.)

But, most of all, I love this season because, falling as it does at the three-quarter mark on the calendar, it is the perfect time to reflect on the year’s progress and, perhaps, find a new beginning. Autumn’s bittersweet quality brings me a sense of quiet peace and acceptance with a sharp edge of urgency and angst. The column I wrote for my local paper this week reflected on how this season’s inclination towards gentle assessment and intentional redirecting differs from the champagne-sipping pressures and sequin-clad expectations of the January New Year:

September is a much more appropriate time for a progress report. You are almost a year older (and presumably wiser), so you have greater perspective than you did nine months ago. The end of the year is in sight, providing a sense of urgency; but there are still a few months left in case you discover that your best intentions have, inexplicably, come off the rails. There is still a chance for the little GPS-inspired voice in your head to whisper reassuringly, “Recalculating.”

With the happy chaos of summer behind us and the joyful insanity of the holidays still far enough away to be safely ignored, we steal a moment to catch our collective breath. The turning foliage, a subtle reminder of our own mortality, prompts us to consider all the things we have put off for another day.

While no one would blame you for sighing with resignation at the enormity of everything left undone, September’s New Year is not without hope. After all, remember, there is still time before the end-of-year reckoning. You still have a chance to resurrect your resolutions from the rubble. Go ahead – pick up your lucky writing pen, lace up your running shoes, call about that cooking class. Whatever you had hoped to achieve, it’s not too late.

And herein lies my conflict.

Looking back at the year, I am mostly pleased with what I see. My business is doing well. I had a wonderful summer with my daughter and beau. I have done a better job at prioritizing time with friends and making space in my daily rounds for self-care. I have, most recently, taken baby steps towards increasing my commitment to “my” writing (as opposed to the writing I do for my content marketing clients). But, I still feel like I am, as Tolkien describes, standing on the edge of a knife.

Another year has gone by – flown by, in fact. 2014 is winding down and while I have lived a good year, I am really no closer to the Big Goals I set for myself. Though September invites quiet reflection, I also feel an urge to take fierce action – to make an abrupt correction that will send me careening back to the path I envisioned in January. But the risks associated with that kind of move are great. While the impulsive child in me would like to grab the wheel and burn rubber back toward her intended destination, the responsible adult in me knows that a more gradual realignment is a safer, saner course.

I don’t know which one to listen to.

Life is short and time runs fast. How are you feeling at this point in the year? Do you have any desire to do something a little crazy in order to get closer to realizing your temporarily neglected dreams? Or, are you feeling bound to duty and considering a more subtle approach to getting yourself back on track?

 

What I’m Writing:

nanowrimo shieldMy writing output these days is the usual bill-paying content marketing (websites, and ebooks, and case studies, oh my!), bi-weekly columns (thank the gods for a small, creative outlet), and morning pages. Nothing super exciting, but not too shabby either.

As September draws to a close, however, November and NaNoWriMo loom large on the horizon. A writer friend invited me to indulge in this international month of insanity with her. In the past, I have completed my 50,000 words to cross the NaNoWriMo finish line a “winner.” I have also give up halfway through and refused to even try. Talk about feeling conflicted.

IF I decide to do NaNoWriMo this year, I want to have something specific to work on. In other words, if I’m going to make this work, I need to make some time in October for planning and outlining.

Yeah, I know that kind of goes against the “no plot, no problem” spirit of NaNoWriMo, but if I’m going to invest 40 – 60 hours, I’d at least like to come out on the other side with a sh!##y first draft that’s worth editing.

So – what about you? Have you ever done NaNoWriMo? Are you thinking about it this year?

What I’m Reading:

book toujours provenceAfter recently re-read (via Audible) Peter Mayle’s wonderful A Year in Provence, I found I was reluctant to leave the south of France. I returned, again via Audible, to indulge in more culinarily inclined essays in Mayle’s follow-up collection, Toujours Provence. The duplicity of the season may cause my heart and head to dance back and forth between the shoulds and wants in my life, but plugging back into Mayle’s world of pastoral scenery, five-course lunches, and gastronomically experienced neighbors reminds me that what really matters is living in and savoring the moment.

book lord lady bunnyMy daughter and I also finished reading another follow-up book, this one from Polly Horvath. In Lord and Lady Bunny Almost Royalty, we once again get to ride along as the intrepid Mr. Bunny and ever-stylish Mrs. Bunny journey from their home in Canada to the realm of Queen Elizabeth. As with the first book, Mr. and Mrs. Bunny Detectives Extraordinaire, this tale is a fun read aloud with characters who aren’t afraid to speak their minds. I especially enjoy the good-natured ribbing between Mr. and Mrs. Bunny (or, perhaps, I should say, “Lord and Lady Bunny”).

book empowerFinally, I also read a few short stories from a couple of anthologies on my Kindle. The first, Empower: Fight Like a Girl is a collection of short stories by women TV writers. As its title suggests, the book’s theme is about empowering girls and women. I discovered the collection via Kam Miller’s (one of the contributing writers) and am enjoying doling out the stories over time. Though the genres (supernatural, crime, horror) are not my usual fare, it’s been fun to see how each of these writers chose to embody empowerment.

book irregular creaturesNext, I read the first story in Chuck Wendig’s Kindle Single, Irregular Creatures. I’ve been reading Wendig’s blog, terribleminds, for a while. I am by turns fascinated, impressed, and offended. Wendig is not the type to pull punches. His style is in-your-face and completely unapologetic. I bought Irregular Creatures after reading his blog rant titled, A PSA About Nude Photos. Though it is rife with, shall we say, colorful language, I thought it was spot on and passionate and worth the read. It made me want to support him as a writer, to learn more about the kinds of characters and stories that might come from such a mind … so I started small with the $0.99 collection of short stories. So far, I’m enjoying it and already considering additional purchases from his impressively prolific pen.

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 reading quiet

Here’s to hoping you find your own quiet time to accept the season’s invitation to stop and muse a while, to get all introspective, and to look ahead at the next adventure. Happy writing and happy reading. See you on the other side! 

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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.

 

Quote sourced from The New York Times on the Web

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Dan’s right. It is later than you think.

paris clockDo you ever feel like the Universe is conspiring to send you a message? I do. All the time.

This week, the theme was “Life is Short.”

I began the week with a little getaway that was inspired by the truth of life’s brevity. Along with my beau and my daughter, I headed north to the elegant and enchanting Mount Washington Hotel – an idyllic, turn of the century hideaway in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. Knowing how quickly the next few years will pass (and how, soon, my daughter may be less inclined to spend quality time with her dear mother), I took my fifth grader out of school for the three days so we could revel in the delights of slightly forbidden joys. We went on a horseback ride, hiked to a waterfall, and she and my beau spent hours performing aquatic acrobatics in the pool while I sat nearby, reading. It was a wonderful, if brief, escape from the hustle and bustle of the daily grind.

On Friday, as I was wrapping up my short work week, Dan Blank’s newsletter arrived in my inbox. In It’s Later Than You Think, Dan relates the heartbreaking story of a late blooming author who passed away suddenly, leaving so many projects unfinished. In his retirement, this writer had finally begun to see clearly what his true life’s work was, only to have the opportunity to pursue that work snatched from him by an unkind fate.

Later that day, I came across a tweet linking to a Time article called Happy Thoughts: Here Are the Things Proven To Make You Happier. The piece, written by Eric Barker, includes a list of the five regrets people are most likely to have right before they die:

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.
  3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

With all of this swirling around in my head, I’d like to ask you …

What does a life true to yourself look like?

How can you work less and enjoy life more?

How can you find the courage to express your feelings?

Who can you reach out to today so you can keep in touch?

What makes you happier and … can you find it in your heart to allow more of that into your life?

What I’m Writing:

What do you do when your intentions come off the track?

What do you do when your intentions come off the track?

Sometimes I want to pull this section from the Weekend Edition template. It feels like I have little to share here. However, I have made each of you an accountability partner of sorts. While I realize that life is short and I need to take steps toward accomplishing my own life’s work, day-to-day responsibilities often distract me from the Big Picture.  Though I start the week with the best of intentions, by mid-week I have more or less surrendered to the reality of time constraints and the need for sleep. Coming here on Saturday morning helps me reconnect with those intentions.

I am still waiting to find out if the Fiction I class I signed up for will go forward. They need one more person to register in order to run the class. I’ve got my fingers crossed that some fellow writer will step forward and fill that final slot. Even though a little part of me would breathe a sigh of relief at having those eight Tuesday’s back for my paying client work, most of me would lament the chance to strike a blow for my creative side by stealing those Tuesdays for her sole delight. We’ll see soon enough how things play out.

I’m curious. What gets you back on track when you’re writing intentions go off the rails? Do you have an accountability partner, or is there something else that pulls you up and sets you at your task again?

What I’m Reading:

book spirits keyThis week I had the unusual pleasure of guilt-free reading time. While we were away in the White Mountains, I enjoyed several hours of reading time while my daughter and beau played in the pool. (I have never been much of a water person, so I was grateful that my other half was willing to don his swim shorts and dive in.) I had charged up my Kindle before we left, but had yet to make a reading choice from my seriously overstuffed collection of downloads. In the end, I chose a book that I’m pretty sure I discovered via a tweet from Sharon Abra Hanen (@wellfedpoet), a writer and creative coach whom I met at the last Grub Street course I took.

Spirit’s Key by Edith Cohn is a middle grade novel that tells a unique and beautiful story about coming into your own, “facing your today,” and learning to find common ground. From Cohn’s site:

By now, twelve-year-old Spirit Holden should have inherited the family gift: the ability to see the future. But when she holds a house key in her hand like her dad does to read its owner’s destiny, she can’t see anything. Maybe it’s because she can’t get over the loss of her beloved dog, Sky, who died mysteriously. Sky was Spirit’s loyal companion, one of the wild dogs that the local islanders believe possess dangerous spirits. As more dogs start dying and people become sick, too, almost everyone is convinced that these dogs and their spirits are to blame—except for Spirit. Then Sky’s ghost appears, and Spirit is shaken. But his help may be the key to unlocking her new power and finding the cause of the mysterious illness before it’s too late.

I will be sharing this one with my daughter and hope she enjoys the story as much as I did.

A quick aside – there is a lovely acknowledgement at the end of the book that gave me, as a writer, a serious case of the warm & fuzzies. Reading it, I was once again reminded that “birthing” a book is never a solitary effort. As with a human child, it takes a village.

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 courage to ask

Here’s to being brave, facing our todays, and finding happiness. Happy reading & writing. See you on the other side! 

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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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Train Track Photo Credit: jjMustang_79 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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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: Is there any genre of books that you just can’t stand reading? How about a particular author? Time period? 

wendy-shotWendy Thomas – When one is a writer, one needs to tread very gently when being critical of another writer’s book. We have first hand knowledge of the blood, sweat, and tears that went into its birth. I truly hesitate to damn anyone’s work. Having said that, let me say that the books that get under my skin the most are the ones that are:

  • Predictable – saw that ending coming from a mile away
  • Poorly written – repetition, poor dialog, and poor editing
  • Written as a script – seems to be a trend in some genres these days
  • Rushed – some books come out to quickly to appease the market, you can tell that the author was rushed

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon: I agree with Wendy, it’s difficult to trash a book when you know how much has gone into it, but I also have a hard time with poorly edited books. I love to read so there isn’t any genre I wouldn’t try, but I’m not a big fan of horror fiction. I think Stephen King’s books are well-written but most of them are not my idea of a good time (although I really loved Fire-Starter.) My only really complaint with any book is if the author breaks that unspoken contract with the reader and throws in something you could never have seen coming or turns everything into a dream or uses some other device to force an ending to a story. I can think of an example, but I’d spoil the story if you haven’t read it yet, so I’ll just say–Don’t do that!–when you write your book. :) I won’t either. Promise.

headshot_jw_thumbnail

Jamie Wallace: Ooh. Tough question. I’m not a huge fan of certain genres (horror, romance), but that doesn’t mean I detest all books that fall into those categories. I think the only books that I’ve refused to read on principle rather than any personal preference are ones that seem to have been written to exploit something or someone. From tabloidesque “biographies” that expose and sensationalize a celebrity life to coattail-riding copycats who whip up some barely publishable shlock in order to benefit from reader enthusiasm for some particular subject matter or style of story, I just can’t stand books that appear to have been “designed” around capitalizing on someone else’s pain or hard work. As Wendy and Diane have already said, we writers understand what goes into writing a book from the heart. I consider it enormously disrespectful when a faux writer mocks that passionate and Herculean effort by throwing a book together in a slapdash fashion just to make a buck. For shame, for shame.

LisaJJackson_2014Lisa J. Jackson: As a reviewer, I read all types of books and don’t avoid any in particular. I prefer some genres over others, but no particular one to all-out say I despise. I love time travel stories and futuristic so there’s no time period I avoid.

I won’t finish a book if the editing is poor, no matter how great the story might be. There have been a few times when I’ve been totally enthralled in a novel just to get to the end and have the ENTIRE novel turn out to be a dream and doesn’t at all relate to the protagonist’s life. I feel that’s the laziest way to conclude a book.  It’s a tactic used when plot threads can’t be neatly tied up. I will avoid reading anything again from authors who do that.

Susan Nye: How about … books I steer away from rather than can’t stand. For a writer and avid reader, my list is longer than maybe it should be. Here goes, I have no interest in horror, zombies or sci fi. Likewise, I usually stay away from young adult fiction. I just can’t relate to all that teenage angst. Romance novels don’t do it for me, although, I do like chick lit and romantic stories. In other words, a good love story, tearjerker, girl defies all odds and makes good – yes; but bodice rippers – no.

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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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