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chickadeeBuild a little birdhouse in your soul.

As a writer, I spend a lot of time staring out the window. My writing desk is positioned to accommodate this activity. Situated in front of a large picture window, it provides an expansive view of the town wharf and the river twisting around the bend and out to sea. There is always a lot of activity going on across the street – boaters coming and going, people walking their dogs, cyclists careening around the corner, children chasing the ice cream truck, and flock after flock of Canada geese making their daily trips up and down the river according to some complex time table that only they know.

Closer at hand, only a few feet from the window, is my bird feeder. Like the Canada geese, the avian visitors who frequent my feeder do so according to an indecipherable schedule of their own devising. My most frequent diners are common house sparrows, a rowdy and somewhat uncouth bunch who travel in packs like winged wolves. One moment, there is not a bird in sight and the next twenty or more have descended in unison and suddenly blanket the entire area as they scavenge for leftovers.

I have been an amateur birder since the age of seven. Other feeders I’ve had at other houses have attracted a wide variety of birds – finches, wrens, titmice, jays, cardinals, gray-eyed juncos, orioles, downy woodpeckers, and – one of my favorites – black-capped chickadees. Sadly, at this house, the local house sparrows aggressively defends the feeder from all other species, even chasing off the larger cardinals who sometimes have the audacity to come in for a quick bite.

Earlier this morning I looked up and saw, to my surprise, not one, but three chickadees at the feeder. This was highly unusual. Most of the time, these tiny but courageous birds will come in singly. They are, I expect, trying to slip in under the sparrow radar. But, this morning, there were three – bold as daylight. Their impertinence made me smile. Despite the sparrows’ dominance, these masked renegades had slipped in to steal the seed from the enemy camp.

Those little chickadees reminded me of my creative writing practice. Each day, the lion’s share of my time is gobbled up by a marauding band of responsibilities and obligations. From doing the laundry and buying the groceries to juggling multiple deadlines for my copywriting clients, these duties pillage my larder of time and energy, leaving only the most meager crumbs for my creative projects.

And yet, like the diminutive chickadee, my creative self does not give up. Unable to overcome the odds by force, my creative writing uses more cunning means to steal a little time here and a little energy there. Persistence and patience deliver enough sustenance to keep my creative practice alive and hopping. Nimble and tenacious, the protectors of my creative time keep coming back despite the challenges. Like Robin Hood, they steal from the rich and give to the poor – feeding my urge to make things, express my ideas, and tell my stories.

Perhaps one day, the chickadees will stage a coup and oust the belligerent sparrows; but until then, it’s good to know that a little charitable thievery goes a long way to keeping dreams alive and well even when the Real World feels a bit overwhelming.

P.S. – In case there are any other children of the 80s out there who get the reference in my headline, here – just for you – is your ear worm for the day: Birdhouse in Your Soul.  You’re welcome. 

 What I’m Writing:

"One Word at a Time" book art by Brian Dettmer. Photo by Lindsey Davis on Flickr

“One Word at a Time” book art by Brian Dettmer. Photo by Lindsey Davis on Flickr

So, here’s a thought. Even when you aren’t “writing-writing,” you can still be practicing your craft.

Wait. What?

Though my life does not currently make it easy for me to set aside large chunks of time to work on big creative writing projects, I still find time each day to hone my writing style and skill. And, guess what? I bet you do, too. You just haven’t realized it. Here’s an off-the-cuff list of a few ways I get writing practice in during my “non-(creative) writing” days:

  •  Scribbling my way through three morning pages. It’s a messy, but effective way to loosen up my writing muscles.
  • Writing emails to friends, family, and even clients. Whether I’m sharing a recent event with a friend I haven’t seen in a while, corresponding with my parents, or making a case to a client, emails give me a chance to practice brevity and clarity in my writing.
  • Posting to social media. Instead of thinking about social media as a time-waster, think about it as a chance to practice a little flash fiction. Social media can actually help you learn how to create a strong hook and tell an engaging story in only a few words.
  • Commenting on social media. From Facebook status updates to blog posts, the Internet gives us so many opportunities to engage via our writing. When I do leave a comment for someone – either socially or professionally – I take care with the words I choose. I do my best to contribute valuable thoughts and make sure that I articulate them well.
  • Captioning photos. I’m an Instagram addict who fell in love with the visual nature of the platform. I also love the chance to craft cool captions for my photos. I don’t do it all the time, but when I’m inspired, I spend a little extra time coming up with something that might be the title to the story told by the image, or sometimes the caption will be more about practicing writing a good description.
  • Thank you cards. I am making a conscious effort to send more thank you cards – real ones, that you have to put a stamp on and bring to the post office. I love getting mail and I love sending mail. Thank you cards are a wonderful way to help you practice expressing your feelings without resorting to tired cliches and ambiguous generalizations. I love making thank you notes as personal and honest as possible.

I am in no way saying that these kinds of in-the-nooks-and-crannies writing exercises can ever replace a more focused and dedicated practice. I do, however, find it comforting to know that even when I’m unable to carve out hours of time to work on a story, I can still be doing my writerly thing – if only in a small way. Every little bit makes a difference. Each word on the page helps you define and refine your voice.

 

What I’m Reading:

book urban bestiaryDuring busy times like the one I’m in now, trying to read fiction is mostly just frustrating. I never seem to have a long enough time to truly sink into the story and savor it. Consuming a novel a couple pages at a sitting certainly does not do any book justice, and also robs me of the best experience. So, instead of fighting my way doggedly through such a battle, I will sometimes turn instead to a non-fiction read.

This time, I chose a book that I saw at an indie bookstore last holiday season. I thought about picking up a copy for my mom, but another book won out that day, and I left The Urban Bestiary sitting on the shelf. A few weeks ago, however, Lyanda Lynn Haupt’s book again caught my attention, this time from a shelf at my local library. I was walking in circles trying to locate my daughter (who was, doubtless, also walking in circles in an attempt to evade me and extend our stay at the library), when the sky blue cover caught my eye.

In the first chapter, A New Nature, a New Bestiary, Haupt describes what she hopes to accomplish with her book:

It is time for a new bestiary, one that engages our desire to understand the creatures surrounding our urban homes, helps us locate ourselves in nature, and suggests a response to this knowledge that will benefit both ourselves and the more-than-human world.

Each following chapter is an educational yet enchanting exploration of a particular species – coyotes, raccoons, squirrels, crows, cougars, and many others.

Though I am fascinated by the subject matter, I toted this book home as much to sate my curiosity about this kind of writing as to learn about the history, behaviors, and folklore associated with my furred and feathered neighbors. In her bio, Haupt describes herself as “a naturalist, eco-philosopher, and speaker whose writing is at the forefront of the movement to connect people with nature in their everyday lives.” I love that. I’d never heard of an eco-philosopher. I also hadn’t given much thought to the fact that there are many writers who make a living writing non-fiction books about nature and related topics – topics that I care about deeply.

Haupts book is a wonderfully informative and entertaining read that I recommend to anyone – writer or not – who has a love for or curiosity about nature, particularly the way it intersects with our lives at the fringes of the wild world and the urban one. I’m learning a lot and enjoying her writing style. I’m also equally grateful for the way this book has opened my eyes a bit more to all the different kinds of writers and writing that exist in the world. Reading this book has filled my head with all kinds of new ideas.

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 write like breathing

I hope your creative chickadees are winning their battle against the house sparrows of Real Life. Here’s to stealing time back for your creative life and enjoying the journey along the way.


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: When you find a book that you absolutely adore, how do you go about reading it. Do you forsake all your other responsibilities and just surrender to the story, consuming it in great gulps. Or, do you ration it out to make it last longer? 

 

Lisa J. JacksonLisa J. Jackson: What a lovely question! If I become enraptured with a book and it’s humanly possible, I will forsake everything else to keep reading without interruption. I love when I find books like that (and have the time to give myself over to them!)

I only ration a book like that if absolutely forced to. I’ve been known to have a quick-fix meal instead of making a well balanced meal just to get back to reading faster. I suppose audio books would make life easier in this instance, huh? I could carry the book with me and multitask while ‘reading’. But I haven’t tried that yet. My only novel reading is via a paper book in my hands.

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Susan Nye: While I might want to forsake other responsibilities, more often than not, it’s impossible to drop everything. Instead, I do my best to drop as much flotsam and jetsam as possible to binge on the book. I’m usually early to bed but if I’ve got a book I just can’t put down I become an night owl. And pay the price the next day!

 

hennrikus-web2Julie Hennrikus: Is there anything better than loving a book? I will admit, it doesn’t happen often for me. These days I keep studying the craft, so getting swept away is quite the feat. When that happens, I just go with it. I’m with Lisa, I only ration if I must.

 

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon: I used to love reading a good book into the night, until I could hear the birds chirping in the early morning. But those days are over, at least for now. Most of my fiction reading right now is actually listening in the car, and it’s hard to shut the car off and go into the house when I’m listening to something great, but I usually do (at least at the end of the chapter.) Then I sort of forget about it until I have to travel alone again and then it occurs to me that I have a good book to listen to and suddenly I can’t wait to get in the car!

 

 

 

headshot_jw_thumbnailJamie Wallace: When I fall in love with a book, I find myself turning a blind eye to reality so that I can secret away as much reading time as possible. As is the case with most love affairs, its very existence gives me a means to justify almost any behavior and bad decision. I can ignore housework and familial obligations, duck out on friends and shirk on deadlines, and I can stay up too late and generally make excuses to avoid anything that might interfere with my reading. I inhale the book in great, deep breaths … until I get close to the end. As the pages left to read dwindle down to a sad few, I hold back just a little. The end of the romance is in sight, but I’m not ready to let go, so I tarry as long as I can, lingering over each phrase. Eventually, of course, my beloved book and I must part ways; but if it was truly love, I know that we’ll meet again.

 

M. Shafer, Photo

M. Shafer, Photo

Deborah Lee Luskin: Like Diane, I don’t mind driving now that downloading audiobooks from the library to my phone and playing them via bluetooth in the car has made it so easy. And like everyone one else, I’ve been known to say, “Leave me alone, I’m reading!”

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robin williamsActing Out Optimism

My daughter and I had just returned from our first trapeze class after a year’s absence from “flying.” It was late (we’d stopped for dinner on the way home), and I was whirling around the kitchen, simultaneously shooing her into the shower, feeding our two cats, and having a quick catch-up call with my beau. In the midst of the chaos, I heard my beau say, “It’s awful about Robin Williams, huh?”

Before I could answer I had to pause to holler up the stairs at my daughter (again), and aggressively tap the remaining bits of canned cat food off the spoon I was wielding. “What?” I asked. He explained. About the death. About the suspicion of suicide. None of it registered. I made some meaningless response, something about it being a terrible tragedy and such a shame; and then I said I’d call back later and hung up.

Early the next morning, still tucked in under the covers, I was scrolling through my Facebook feed in an effort to come fully awake. As I read the dozens of posts honoring Williams and grieving his death, I began to cry. Even now, as I sit here typing this post, tears are welling up.

I’ve come a little unglued.

After all, I did not know Williams personally. I have been a fan since his Mork & Mindy days, but I haven’t even seen all of his movies. I admired him and his work; but I if you’d asked me a week ago to name my top ten performers, he wouldn’t have made the list. And yet, knowing he is gone broke something in me. Like so many other people I’ve talked to, I find myself unexpectedly touched by his sudden absence.

I’m still processing my emotional response to this loss. I’m still trying to figure out why of all the heartbreak in the world, the loss of this one entertainer has left me so bereft. I need some private writing time before I can share my thoughts with more clarity. There is one quote of Robin’s, however, that I would like to share. There are so many making the rounds on the Internet now that he is gone. I think the one that I’ve seen most often is “You’re only given a little spark of madness. You mustn’t lost it.” Though I love that one, there is another that I find more intriguing, “Comedy is acting out optimism.”

Despite all the death and injustice and sorrow in the world, despite being locked in constant battle with his own demons, despite the intense pressure of life that we all feel – whether we are Hollywood icons or simply a member of the PTA – despite all of this, Williams chose laughter. He chose joy and kindness and generosity. In the face of all the darkness, he chose light. And he shared that light with the world. This, to me, is the highest purpose of any art – to express hope and optimism.

I think Zelda William’s said it perfectly in her lovely statement about her father:

“Dad was, is and always will be one of the kindest, most generous, gentlest souls Ive ever known, and while there are few things I know for certain right now, one of them is that not just my world, but the entire world is forever a little darker, less colorful and less full of laughter in his absence. We’ll just have to work twice as hard to fill it back up again.”

 

What I’m Writing:

tweet conv professionalsI continue to swim upstream against a strong current of crunchy deadlines for fairly intense projects. I’m grateful for the work on my plate, but that gratitude does not dispel the stress that comes along with juggling multiple clients and projects.

Last week, I had a quick little Twitter exchange with fellow copywriter, Donnie Bryant. I had never met Bryant, but a quote he tweeted caught my eye, “Amateurs wait for inspiration; professionals do it with a headache.” It just so happened that on the morning I read that quote (as retweeted by Craig McBreen) that I was sporting a doozy of a headache and was working off of only four hours’ sleep. Though I felt physically awful, Bryant’s quip made me smile.

Though I am now and always will be a work-in-progress as an author and storyteller, I earned the right to call myself a professional writer years ago. It wasn’t the caliber of my clients or the monetary value they placed on my work that gave me the confidence to call myself a pro. It was the fact that I always got the job done. No matter what. A hobbyist has the option to say, “Not today. Maybe tomorrow.” A dabbler can decide to go to bed early instead of staying up to meet the deadline. A poser can happily act the part without actually producing anything. But a professional? A professional must deliver. An MIA muse is not an acceptable excuse. A sick kid is not an acceptable excuse. A headache is most definitely not an acceptable excuse. If you’re a professional – paid or not – you get the work done. Period. End of story.

It’s that simple, and that hard.

What about you? Do you call yourself a professional? Is that even important to you? What’s your take on being a pro vs, being a dabbler?

 

What I’m Reading:

faerie magWhen I’m not so exhausted that I’m falling asleep on the way upstairs to bed, I am still managing to fill any remaining nooks and crannies in my day with small but still joyful moments of reading. I am not, however, finding making enough of these moments to get through some of the bigger reads I have on my plate at the moment.

So, while I continue to enjoy those in bite-sized morsels (and will share here once I’ve finished off the last, delicious bits), I’ll share with you today a little diversion that arrived at my PO Box this week: Faerie Magazine.

It happened like this: I was scrolling through Facebook (geesh, I seem to spend a lot of time on Facebook), and saw a picture of a beautiful fairytale cottage. (It may have even been fellow Live to Write -Write to Live blogger, Wendy, who posted it. I’m not sure.) Anyway, the image had been shared from the Facebook page of this beautiful print publication. It was rather late at night and I was struggling with the day’s final deadline, so – of course – I decided to take a little side trip via a click to the magazine’s site. A few minutes later, I was a subscriber.

The reason I share this with you is to illustrate the power of the niche audience. This is a beautifully produced and written print magazine (supposedly a dying breed) that is on its 27th quarterly issue, so it’s been in print for nearly seven years now.

If you have a passion for a particular topic or genre, there is a publication out there that is serving other people who share your passion. In fact, there are probably multiple publications (especially if you consider both digital and print) catering to the exact audience who would most appreciate your writing on that beloved topic. Find these publishers. Get to know their work and their readers. You never know when you might find a perfect home for the writing you love to do best.

 

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:

spark madness williams

Here’s to hope and optimism and finding the courage and joy to let your spark of madness shine. 

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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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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 secretly love to read but are embarrassed to admit you enjoy? Confess. 

Lisa J. JacksonLisa J. Jackson: I’m not embarrassed to admit I read erotica, but it’s difficult to take those books in public, so I have to keep them at home, or tear the covers off (and I don’t destroy books, so, reading at home it is!) Some dark fiction books I enjoy have graphic covers, so it’s difficult to take those anywhere, too. I don’t want to offend anyone — or scare the crap out of anyone. I read whatever attracts me and can pull me into a new world. I love reading young adult books, too, and sometimes get asked if I’m a teacher if someone sees me reading that genre. “No, not a teacher, just a reader enjoying a good story.”


Susan Nye:
It’s not a secret and I’m not embarrassed but I’m a fan of shoot-‘em-up detective stories and legal thrillers.

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headshot_jw_thumbnailJamie Wallace: My reading tastes run far and wide. From Tolkien to Tolstoy, I’ve probably dipped my toes in almost every genre. In some cases (Stephen King – horror), I jumped right back out; but for the most part my book selection bounces from genre to genre like the “Squirrel!” dog in the movie Up.  The only genre that am a little embarrassed to admit I enjoy is “Chick Lit.” Now, there’s literary Chick Lit (which I have no problem with), but once we start getting into beach read territory, I start to feel a little uncomfortable. The truth is, though, that any story you enjoy is a story worth reading. Do I sometimes watch stupid movies or watch inane television shows? Of course I do. I actually have an entire Pinterest board dedicated to my guilty pleasures. I figure that guilty pleasures are a great way to a) unwind the brain and b) remind us how fabulous our non-guilty pleasures are. ;)

 

photo: M. Shafer

photo: M. Shafer

Deborah Lee Luskin: I’m clearly too serious and have entirely too little time to read, so I’m grateful for the above – and I’m especially interested in Lisa’s recommendations!

 

 

 

 

 

wendy-shotWendy Thomas:Like many of the other writers here, I constantly read. If it’s not a book I’m reading for an article’s research, or a book I’ve been asked to review, then it’s a book I’ve heard someone crow about and I want to see what it’s about.

That said, one of my guilty pleasures is Cozy Mysteries – you know the Murder She Wrote type of story that involves an unlikely detective along with a pretty large dose of humor. For some reason, they just tickle my reading bone.

Like Jamie, I also enjoy a good “chick-lit” story every now and then. Interestingly, I tend to read those in the summer instead of the winter when I usually turn to “heavier” reading (non-fiction, research.)

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pin voicesThere are voices in my head. And, not the good kind.

As a writer, you are probably used to having voices in your head. You are probably even grateful that they are there – the voices of your characters telling you what they want, what they need, where you’ve gone wrong in your story, and how to get it back on track. No matter the time of day or night, the world inside our skulls is always filled with the murmur of these voices playing out myriad lives in the space between our ears. For a writer, this is not an inconvenience, it’s a necessity.

But, then there are the other voices – the crazy ones that talk over your characters and inner muse. These voices are rude. They are disruptive. They kind of suck. I’ve written about them before in a post aptly titled Must. Stop. The Voices in which I covered the three types of inner dialog that plague me: Distraction Mind, Inner Critic, and Eternal Editor. Bunch of blowhards.

This week has been very taxing in terms of both the quantity and complexity of my writing tasks. Amidst the joyful insanity of summer chaos (including my daughter being home without any camp and the two of us having to scramble to keep up with all her dog walking clients) I had to hit two major deadlines: a 5,000-word ebook on a complex, “thought leadership” topic and a half dozen hybrid case study/personal stories for a medically-focused project. I got it all done (well, the personal stories are almost done …), but I had to battle past The Voices each step of the way.

While the part of my mind that was under my control tried to focus on getting the next word down, the unruly part of my mind split itself in two and commenced an unremitting barrage of unwanted commentary. On the one side, a boorish and disdainful voice kept up a ceaseless drone of disparaging remarks about my abilities. This voice tried, by any means necessary, to convince me that I didn’t have what it took to even finish the piece, never mind do a half decent job. It played out imagined feedback from my client telling me that this wasn’t at all what he had in mind, that he was sorry he made the mistake of hiring me, that the whole thing was a mess and we’d have to start from scratch.

In the other corner of the ring, a much more supportive, but still unwanted voice tried valiantly to undo the damage of the first voice. This kinder, gentler voice quietly reminded me of my past successes, my experience, and my skill. It encouraged me to, “Buck up, kiddo,” and have faith that I would not only meet the deadline, but deliver a draft that was as close to perfect as could be expected for a first draft. This voice assured me that the client would be duly impressed, complimentary, and thrilled to have found a writer who “got it” as well as I did. This voice did everything short of picking up a pair of pom-poms and giving me a rousing cheer.

I felt like a child trapped between two warring parents – one telling me that I’m a useless, talentless, hopeless excuse for a human being and the other telling me that I’m incredibly smart, creative, and capable. I hated them both. I wanted to put my hands over my ears and scream, “Shut up! Just shut up!” But, try as I might, I didn’t seem able to drown them out. It was like they couldn’t even hear me screaming, they just kept talking over me – sparring with each other and completely ignoring my presence.

I share this story not because I can provide a cure. I can’t. I share it because I don’t want you to think that you are alone, or perhaps crazy. You’re not. These voices are totally normal. I cannot remember the source, but the best bit of advice that I ever heard about dealing with these intrusive voices was to take a moment to acknowledge them, but only long enough to pat them on the head, tell them you understand what they are trying to say, and then inform them – gently but firmly – that they must run along now and let you get your work done.

And if that doesn’t do it, put on your headphones, roll your eyes at them, and just get back to work.

 

What I’m Writing:

Matt Cheauvront's dog, Cowboy

Matt Cheauvront’s dog, Cowboy

I have been beating myself up a bit over how often this space in the Weekend Edition is filled with lame excuses about why I’m not doing much writing. Part guilt and part shame, this feeling is like a little rain cloud in the otherwise bright blue sky of the time I spend writing this weekly post. And then, earlier this week, I read a piece by Matt Cheuvront (@mattchevy) called Look at It With Their Wonder. Matt reminds us how important it is to pause and look at our accomplishments with the eyes of someone who doesn’t take them for granted:

Whatever it is you’re building – creating – making – and/or working toward, you’ll undoubtedly have moments where you’re absolutely sick of thinking about it/working on it. But once it’s out there for the world to see, create a ritual for yourself similar to my own.

Set aside time, even if for just a moment, to admire your hard work, experience it, and look at it with their wonder.

With that in mind, I decided to take an informal inventory of the writing I have done so far this year:

  • 15 columns for my local paper
  • 47 posts here on Live to Write – Write to Live
  • 15 case studies
  • 2 marketing ebooks
  • 7 point-of-view papers
  • 3 ghost-written articles
  • 7 brand messaging briefs
  • 12 architectural house descriptions
  • 5 websites

All told, I have cranked out in excess of 100,000 words since January 1st. (And that doesn’t include all my journaling which would add about another 100,000 words, or the bits and pieces of fiction practice I have managed which would probably add another few thousand words.). Also – because all but 10,000 of these words have been for paying jobs – I have been able to support myself and my daughter with this work.

Does this writing represent my legacy? No. Is it the novel I want to write? No. But I shouldn’t let those truths besmirch the accomplishment or belittle the value of the writing. I should look at that list and that word count with wonder and appreciation and gratitude. And I should stop beating myself up for “not writing.”

What accomplishments do you need to inventory? What have you done – writing or otherwise – that you need to look upon with wonder in order to appreciate its value? Go do that now. You’ll feel less guilty, and – interestingly – more inspired. 

What I’m Reading:

book short guide happy lifeLike writing time, reading time has been hard to find these past few weeks while the workload has been so heavy. Though I’ve stolen a few minutes here and a few minutes there, I haven’t had the chance to sit down for a real read this week. This morning, before I sat down to write this post, I decided to treat myself to a quick reread of a favorite “tiny book” that was calling quietly from the bottom shelf of the bedroom bookcase.

The book is called A Short Guide to a Happy Life, and it was written by novelist and columnist (not to mention Pulitzer prize winner), Anna Quindlen. My friend bought me a copy of this slim tome when she went to see Quindlen speak at a local college. I wasn’t able to join my friend, but she kindly not only purchased a copy of the book for me, but stood in line to have it signed. I have wonderful friends.

The book is very brief, but it is what they call a “little gem.” The text is an essay about learning to appreciate life and really live, instead of just existing. There are no earth-shattering epiphanies in Quindlen’s words, but the earnestness and truth of what she says always strikes me at the core. I also love the design of the book – its small format, rough edges, and the collection of beautiful photographs that she chose to complement her words. The book is a lovely and perfect little gift that you can open over and over again, and always be filled with delight.

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 instructions for life

Wishing you a week filled with listening (but only to the right things – the things that matter and make you happy), seeing (with wonder and gratitude), and telling all about it in your writing (whatever kind of writing you do). Have a lovely weekend. 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.

Illustration behind the Mary Oliver quote is from a vintage children’s book called In the Middle of the Night, written by Aileen Fisher and illustrated by Adrienne Adams.

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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: We’ve all been there. Sometimes, you pick up a book with great expectation only to find that you just can’t bring yourself to finish it. Whether you’re one chapter in or three-quarters of the way to the end, what types of things make you give up on a book? For extra credit – as a writer, how to you try to eliminate those “crimes” from your own stories?

 

headshot_jw_thumbnailJamie Wallace: It has taken me half a lifetime to get over the guilt of abandoning a book that I just can’t seem to finish reading. But, now that I have finally learned to be more discerning about how I spend my reading time, abandoning books that aren’t living up to my expectations has become something of a sport. My knee-jerk response to the question “What makes you abandon a book?” is this: I’m bored. I don’t mean to say that a book needs to be full of non-stop excitement and over-the-top adventure. Far from it. In fact, many of the books I’ve enjoyed recently have been what I call “quiet books” in which nothing (or hardly anything) seems to happen at all. But still, despite the lack of outward activity, something is happening in these stories – something that gets under my skin and keeps me coming back for more, page after page. I will confess that I still give each book I read more than one chance to win me over, hanging on just in case the story gets better. I think the death knell is when I realize that I feel apathetic towards the characters. Once I’ve come to the conclusion that I just don’t care what happens to them, it’s all over. Good night, Irene.

Lisa J. JacksonLisa J. Jackson: First, I have to chuckle that there is an extra credit question. I haven’t had one of those since my college years! Wow. Flash back! I don’t have an answer for that one other than I try my best to write well every time.

As for what makes me stop reading – editing and grammar issues, hands down. If I see more than 1 blatant issue in a chapter, I’m hard pressed to keep reading. Multiple issues within a few pages and I’m absolutely done – the book (gasp) might even get thrown away. If I can tell an author hasn’t even run a spell check on a book, there is no way I’m giving my time to reading it.

When I was younger, I’d force myself to read a book even if I lost interest in it — it’s been many many moons since I’ve done that, but I certainly know that if I lose interest in a story for any reason, unbelievable characters – characters I can’t get behind – unable to suspend my belief – whatever reason, I will close the book and move on. Thankfully, I’ve only stopped reading a handful of books, so far.

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon: I read a book not too long ago that had so many errors in it–glaring mistakes where people who were standing up suddenly “stood up,” and people who were out in the rain carrying umbrellas suddenly had arms full of flowers–where did the umbrellas go? that I actually kept reading because I was so fascinated by how bad the writing was. Usually, though, I put down a book, like Jamie and Lisa, if it’s poorly written or if I’m bored and don’t care about the characters. Also, if something happens that’s so implausible I find myself saying, “Come on!” as I toss the book aside. in Gone Girl, I didn’t necessarily like the characters, but I was definitely interested enough to keep reading!

As far as the extra credit question, one of the reasons I kept reading the book with all the mistakes was to try to make sure I didn’t make any of those mistakes! (I’ll probably just make different mistakes!)

Susan Nye: It is exceedingly rare for me to toss a book aside without finishing it. The few books that I just couldn’t bear to finish committed no great crimes. For the most part, they were written for someone else. I seem to remember dumping one because it was too violent. Another was a best seller with teenagers but it’s been a long time since I was sixteen. Still another was dry as dust but well respected by historians.

So, when it comes to dumping a book, I can with all sincerity reassure the author that … it’s not you, it’s me.

 

 

M. Shafer, Photo

M. Shafer, Photo

Deborah Lee Luskin: I’ve been reading library books on my Kindle, which are on a two-week loan, so if I can’t finish it before it’s due (and disappears) – poof! I don’t finish. Simple as that.

 

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One day to live

play moneyHave you ever played the if-I-had-a-million-dollars game? It’s fun to fantasize about what you would do with your life if you won the lottery – where you would live, where you would travel, the things you would buy (for yourself and others), and – perhaps most important to literary types – how you would spend your now ample free time. (It goes almost without saying that our days would be filled with long, luxurious stretches of reading and writing and exploring the world through the senses of a writer.)

The possibilities are endless. Money is no object; your time is suddenly free and clear – all yours. You can do almost anything.

But what if, instead of buying your freedom with money, you bought it with your life. What if, instead of winning the lottery, you drew the short straw and learned that you only had a year to live, or six months, or one day. Getting such tragic news would grant you a freedom of a different kind. Instead of suddenly having countless options, you would have to limit yourself to only the things that mattered most. You would have to make hard choices. You would have to give up your dream of seeing the Eiffel Tower in order to realize your dream of seeing Galapagos. You would have to let go of your desire to learn how to salsa dance so that you would have time to learn how to scuba dive. Or maybe, being a writer, you would finally sit down and write that story you’ve been thinking about for years.

Having all the money in the world may seem to buy you time, but all it really buys you is the illusion of time. There is a danger in that kind of temporal wealth. You start to believe that your time will never run out. You begin to lean on doing things tomorrow, because – well, you know, there’s always tomorrow.

Until there isn’t.

I like to daydream about a carefree life on easy street as much as the next girl, but while those kinds of musings are pleasant enough, I don’t find them terribly motivating. They are, if anything, a distraction from the things that really make me happy. Though some might consider it morbid, I find that asking myself what I would do – how I would spend my precious time – if I knew I only had a little time left a more inspiring exercise. When you look at your life and your dreams through that smaller lens, you are suddenly able to focus with great clarity on exactly what you want to do – what you need to do – in order to live a life with no regrets.

I do not like to dwell on my own mortality, but I do like rediscovering my sense of purpose and passion. I like feeling a sense of excited urgency about my work. What about you? What would you do if you only had a year, six months, or one day to live?

What I’m Writing:

grub street typewriterThis past week was the first of three camp-free weeks for my daughter. For the first time, we’re experimenting with having her at home while I continue to work on my deadlines. I have to admit that I was somewhat apprehensive about the challenge of keeping a ten year-old entertained (and relatively quiet) without needing to lean heavily on TV and electronics. I’m happy to report, however, that we sailed through the first week with flying colors. She spent the first few days listening to audio books and painting, and the latter half of the week giving herself henna tattoos and playing, among other things, big sister to the three year-old boy next door.

Still, my working mama’s brain continued to search for fun projects and activities to keep my daughter’s nose out of her iPod. And, you know what? I found an idea that is not only giving her something to do, but it’s helping me get some writing practice in.

We – me, my daughter, and my mom – are collaborating on a story. I created a Google doc (in what Google now calls drive), and I wrote the intro to a story. I then shared the document with my daughter and mom, inviting them to pick up the story where I left off. Now, the three of us can go back and forth, each of us adding bits to the story. I’m having so much fun with it, and I am very impressed by my daughter’s imagination and writing voice.

Here, for anyone interested, is the intro to our story:

Things you should know before beginning

There are two kinds of people in the world – those who believe in impossible things and those who don’t. Nearly everyone begins life as a believer, but the insidious pressures of modern life are a stealthy and cunning pack of predators. They first appear as mere shadows of obligation and responsibility, but all too soon they have circled and there is no escape. Fairytales fade, daydreams die, and the language of the wind and the birds is lost forever.

There is nothing extraordinary about this tragic transformation.  It is, however, quite extraordinary when a person reverses the journey and makes her way, usually quite by accident, down twisting byways – back to a world that is brimming over with impossible realities. Sadly, most people develop a proverbial blind spot which shrouds the signposts that mark such paths.  A person might, for instance, catch a glimpse of an unexpected appendage on a fellow subway rider or be given a particularly pointed look by a stray dog; but odds are that her logical brain will explain these anomalies away before they have a chance to upset the balance of the Real World.

This is the story of a young woman whose life was upset just so. Fortunately for you, dear reader, she was so bored with the Real World that she chose to keep her eyes wide open. Instead of ignoring the improbable events of her fourteenth birthday, she became curious. She hadn’t had anything to be curious about in ages, so it took her a while to remember how to go about it. Thankfully, curiosity, once set in motion, is a force to be reckoned with.

What I’m Reading:

breakfast bookMy reading time took a big hit this week, and that was particularly bothersome since I just started reading two great books, one fiction and one nonfiction. Since I’m not ready to share those with you, I thought I’d share a few of my favorite ways for sneaking a little reading in on even the busiest days:

  1. Read while you eat. If you eat alone (as I often do during the day), invite a book to be your dining companion. I used to grab lunch while I worked, but I never really got much done. I figure my time is better spent feeding my brain than trying to get a few more emails out the door.
  2. Use a reading break as a bribe. Many writers swear by the Pomodoro Technique – a time management method based on working in a focused way for twenty-five minutes and then taking a five-minute break. Guess what you can do during your five-minute break?
  3. Read while your waiting in line. At the bank, school pick-up (soon, soon, can’t wait!), at the DMV – always have a book on-hand (or loaded on your Kindle app) so you can get in a few paragraphs anywhere, anytime.
  4. Read before bed. I used to miss out on this opportunity because I was so tired at the end of the day, I figured I’d just fall asleep. Experts say, however, that it’s really important to “unplug” before bedtime. The typical rule of thumb is to get away from all screens (computers, tablets, TVs, smartphones, etc.) at least a half hour before bedtime. Switching to a good old-fashioned book is the perfect way to segue between the chaos of your working day and sleep.

What’s your favorite way to shoehorn a little extra reading into your day?

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 joy success

Here’s to finding your joy and letting it lead you to success. Happy reading. Happy 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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Monopoly Money Photo Credit: Giovanni ‘jjjohn’ Orlando via Compfight cc
Breakfast and Book Photo Credit: Silvia Sala via Compfight cc

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