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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’d rather choose.

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

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

Now I ask myself questions like:

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

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

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

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

 

Wall art by vol25 on etsy

Wall art by vol25 on etsy

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

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

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

Or, is it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of the equestrian arts, voice, and trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read it and learn.

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

***

Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.

 

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

–William J. Bennett – The Book of Virtues

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

Doing What You Love

coffee journal

Image by ci.mike on Flickr via Pinterest

Wow.

Time really does fly when you’re having fun.

While digging around in my Live to Write – Write to Live archives (searching for a post I remember writing, but still can’t find), I realized that this past June marked my four-year anniversary writing for this blog. Four years! How on Earth did that happen?!? I feel like it was only yesterday that Wendy graciously invited me to be part of this team, and now – suddenly – four years have flown by just like that. My daughter was six years old and in kindergarten when I started blogging here. Now she’s ten and about to enter the fifth grade. Again – wow.

It’s Labor Day weekend and I am, ironically, working. Don’t feel too badly for me. I took Wednesday and Thursday off for some back-to-school shopping and “road trip” fun with my daughter. We had a fabulous time both days, my favorite bit being an impromptu stop to watch (and play in!) the impressive surf at a beach up the coast. Watching her dancing on the rocks and laughing into the waves had me grinning so hard my face hurt.

So, now that the holiday is upon us, I have some catching up to do. A lot of it. I was explaining to my daughter about my deadlines and then mentioned that my first order of business was to write this blog post.

“Mom, why are you writing a blog post if you’re so busy,” she asked.

“Well, because writing the blog post is part of my job, too.”

“But, it’s not your real job. I mean, you don’t get paid for it.”

“No, I don’t. But, that doesn’t mean it’s not my real job.”

And after she’d scurried off up the street to meet her friend, I thought about it and realized that while she is right – I don’t get paid for the writing I do here – I consider it just as (if not more) important than the writing that pays the bills. I’m grateful for the paying work I have, but I never feel like that’s my “real” work. Though I am self-employed, I consider that work my day job. I do my real writing work here and in my journals and when I’m working on stories.

Would my day be less stressful if I passed on writing this post and worked instead on my copywriting deadlines? In theory, yes; but in reality, no. I’d miss being here. I would feel cheated. And, I would feel like I’d shirked my real responsibility. I love writing these posts. As grateful as I am for the paying gigs that keep a roof over our heads and food on our table, I’m just as grateful for the way this blog gives me a creative outlet, a platform on which to share my thoughts about writing, and – most importantly – a fun and supportive community.

I may not be getting paid for it (yet), but I still manage to do what I love. And that is what makes life worth living.

 

What I’m Writing:

Art by Bianca Green

Art by Bianca Green

Talk about time flying – I can’t believe that the two writing workshops I signed up for a couple weeks ago are coming up this week. Now that they are almost here, I have to admit that I’m a little nervous. It’s been a long while since I took any kind of formal writing class. Though I’ve always had wonderful experiences at Grub Street, I am still intimidated by the idea of heading into the city to sit in class with people who I assume are all “real” writers who know what they are doing.

I’m also battling the deadline demons who are trying to convince me that I should skip class in favor of putting in some extra time on my client projects. Oddly enough, I found myself fighting for my writing life in similar circumstances the last time I took a Grub Street class. Though I was a little discouraged to realize that I’m still dealing with the same obstacles, I was encouraged to note that I didn’t give up then, and I’m not going to give up now. I may only be making progress in baby steps, but at least I’m still moving forward.

So … next week, I will be spending two evening in Boston at Grub Street headquarters. On Wednesday evening, I’ll be learning about creative nonfiction in Calvin Hennick’s workshop, Writing and Selling the Money-Making Essay. And on Thursday, I’ll be testing my funny bone with Wendy Wunder’s class, Lighten Up: Cultivating a Sense of Humor in the Writing of Serious Fiction. (I think there are a few seats left in this one. Just saying.)

So – today’s writing (apart from this post) is all about keeping my B2B copywriting clients happy. But next week … next week, two evenings will be about keeping my “real” writer happy. I can’t wait.

 

What I’m Reading:

book little beeLast weekend, my beau gave me the most wonderful gift – an entire afternoon sitting in a lounge chair on my deck with a book. It may not sound like an extravagance, but we so rarely take the time to just sit that it felt like the most indulgent treat in the world. We spent some time staring out at the boater activity across the street at the town wharf, but then I slipped between the covers of my book and disappeared for a while. It was bliss.

I found my paperback copy of Chris Cleave’s novel, Little Bee, in a box outside a neighbors house. It was tucked in amongst an eclectic collection of kids books, self-help tomes, and some small household accessories. It had been out overnight and the morning dew had caused the pages to ripple slightly, but the bright orange cover with it’s bold silhouette illustration seemed mostly impervious to the ravages of a single night out under the stars.

The facts of Cleave’s story are simple, but your reaction will not be. From the back cover:

We don’t want to tell you what happens in this book. It is a truly special story and we don’t want to spoil it. Nevertheless, you need to know enough to buy it, so we’ll just say this:

This is the story of two women. Their lives collide one fateful day, and one of them has to make a terrible choice, the kind of choice we hope you never have to dace. Two years later, they meet again – the story starts there …

Once you have read it, you’ll want to tell your friends about it. When you do, please don’t tell them what happens. The magic is in how the story unfolds.

I agree, so I won’t tell you what happens. I will tell you, however, that the story is riveting, the narrative voices are both endearing and discomforting, and the writing is excellent. This is not a story that will give you a warm and fuzzy feeling, but it will make you think.

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 tell yourself the story

Thanks, as always, for sharing part of your weekend with me. Have a great one, and I’ll see you on the other side! 

.
Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of the equestrian arts, voice, and – occasionally –  trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.

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: Whether you’re a student, a parent, or just a bookish geek who always looked forward to the first day of class, we bet you have some favorite things about the back-to-school season. Want to share?

 

headshot_jw_thumbnailJamie Wallace: Though, as you might expect of a writer, I have an inordinately intense appreciation for new notebooks, pens, and all the other writing accoutrements and office paraphernalia that bedeck the back-to-school season, my favorite part of this ritual is not anything you can buy at Staples. Since I was a little girl, and even now that I am a (mostly) grown writer and someone’s mom, I have loved this time of year for the feeling of nervous excitement it brings. The new school year always feels like a fresh start – a sort of counterpoint to the New Year. Even if you’re not returning to school yourself, or seeing a child off to a new classroom, you can’t help but be caught up in all the anticipation. There are new adventures on the near horizon. Anything might happen. The world is opening up to show you a different side of itself.  This is my favorite part of the back-to-school season – this air of possibility and potential.

Lisa J. JacksonLisa J. Jackson: My favorite part is the special deals on notebooks! I love new notebooks of all kinds. It’s an addiction in August.

Growing up I always looked forward to going to school and loved the new clothes, particularly new school shoes. I always looked forward to wearing my new shoes. When I got to high school, it was quarterly, and we could attend summers if we wanted — if we took full class loads, we could even graduate a year early. I went all 3 summers, but made sure to not have enough of the required classes done until the final semester – I loved school that much. I still enjoy back-to-school season, even though I have no involvement with it, because of the fond memories I have.

M. Shafer, Photo

M. Shafer, Photo

Deborah Lee Luskin: When my kids were little, I’d administer a spoonful of honey on the first day, to make learning sweet. The kids continued this tradition through college! But after a lifetime of being tethered to the academic calendar, I’ve cut loose, taking a vacation in September, when school’s back in session and the weather is usually quite fine. I’ll be biking Le Petit Train du Nord in Quebec Province this year – and taking a break from my regular posting schedule on Live to Write – Write to Live as well. Look for my next post on September 16th!

 

IMG_20140829_085346692

Wendy Thomas: I’m not one of those moms who is sad to see her kids go off to school. I know that they will be involved, will learn, and will have fun – what greater gifts could a mom give her kids? In September, I live for the cooler weather that ushers in the start of school-  the leaves starting to turn and the smell of apples – heaven. As Jamie pointed out, there’s such a sense of excitement, of new beginnings in September.

And not going to lie, like so many others, I love the notebooks that are available.

Personally, I look forward to getting back to my writer’s schedule. With all the kids home this summer, it’s been enjoyable, but it’s also meant a lot of driving and attending events. It’s time for all of us to get back into a routine.

Susie_1st_day_school
Susan Nye: My mother always took my sister and I shopping for a new first day of school dress. I became almost superstitious about it. If the year was to go well, I had to have a new outfit for the first day of school. I was down in Manchester earlier this week and even stopped on the way home for a little shopping. No dresses, just a pair of jeans but it just feels right to start the fall with a new look.

I have to write a fundraiser letter for an organization I work with. As I sit here thinking about what to put in the letter, I thought I’d share some of my personal guidelines when writing such a piece (after all, writing a fund raising letter is simply another writing assignment, right?)

This is from a fundraiser to which I gladly donated.

This is from a fundraiser to which I gladly donated.

Write to your audience

You need to write to your audience, not above or below, but to. Sure, you will more than likely have some readers who will fall outside of the “average reader”, but for the most part, you want to hit the critical mass and so you aim for them. The organization should have statistical information on their current supporters, that information was collected for a reason, use it.

Use “you” and not “I”

When someone reads a letter asking for money and support, they don’t want to hear about you. They want to know how this will impact them. Essentially they want to know why they should even be bothered with the organization. Rule of thumb here? It’s not about you (the writer) it’s about them (the readers.)

Tell a story that involves a real person or situation

Everyone loves a story. Try to include an example of how the organization is working or improving the lives of others. Once you include a story of another person’s journey you have made that very important human-to-human connection with your reader.

Clearly explain the benefits

Everyone needs money these days, so be sure to clearly explain what a donation would help accomplish (and just having extra money is *not* a benefit.) Will it help patients with medical costs? Supply people with clean water? The more specific you can be with the benefits, the more people can visualize how their money will be used and the more willing they are to donate.

Also, mention if people will receive something if they donate – people are often more willing to contribute if they know they will get something in return.

Be clear about what you are asking for and when

Are you asking for money? Then say so. Don’t beat around the bush, say “we are looking for a financial donation from our supporters by this DATE.” Be sure to include a date so that people don’t put your letter down with the intention that they’ll get to it someday. Those are the letters that get lost.

Likewise, if you are looking for volunteers or material donations, go ahead and ask. Don’t waste anyone’s time by being vague and hoping that they’ll understand what you are getting at. Trust me – it’s not rude to ask for what you need in a fundraising letter.

Make it short and simple

People don’t have much time. A fundraising letter that goes on for page after page is one that is likely not going to be read. Keep it short, get in there, introduce yourself, explain the benefits, identify what you are asking for, and then thank them for their continued support. In and out – it’s the way to go.

Additionally make it easy to read

Long, dense paragraphs are tough to read. Keep your paragraphs short, include white space, use headers and include a graphic or two. These days a lot of people skim documents, you can use this to your benefit by grouping your information and using techniques like bulleted lists.

Fundraising letters are just like any other writing assignment. You’ll do fine if you pre-plan, organize, and do your homework.

***

Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.

 

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