Living linear (or not) in a world of imagination

I recently had to see a few different doctors about a medical condition of mine (I’m fine.) As it turned out to fix my condition, I was supposed to have surgery in one office and then travel to another site, the next day for a surgical repair by a plastic surgeon.

When I initially consulted with the plastic surgeon he explained the proposed surgery to me. It was going to be complicated and involved skin flaps. I told him that I was a writer, had done a ton of research prior to the appointment and that I had many questions.

Some questions were on what he planned to do.

Some had to do with infection rates (I used to be a clinical microbiologist so I knew enough to be concerned about that.)

Some questions were just about things I wanted to know.

I asked my questions and at one point he stopped me. “I can tell you’re a linear type. I have a lot of patients who are engineers and I can see that you’re like them. I’ll tell you what, write down all your questions and I’ll answer them on the day you have surgery.”

Well, okay then.

The thing is, I’m not a linear thinker (just take one look at the clutter on my desk and you’d see that was clearly not a valid description of me.)

I was a little miffed. As a woman asking questions, was this the persona I emitted? Or as an ego-driven surgeon was that the persona he assumed of a woman who dared to clarify information?

As it turned out, I didn’t have to use that particular doctor’s services (yeah!). The wound I had following the first surgery was something that could be closed up onsite. It was all good.

Yesterday I went to get the stitches out. As the nurse was (literally) in my face, she kept up some small talk to distract me from scissors and scalpels (that again, were literally in my face.) “You’re a writer?” she asked me. She liked to write but had never gotten anything published.

“Yes,” I replied. “I’m a writer.”

We talked some more (there were a lot of stitches) about the life of writers, how I worked from home, and how I was able to be a full-time freelance writer because my husband had a good job that included benefits.

“It must be fun,” she sighed.

I told her it was. “And the best part is that I get to hang around with other writers, the people in my tribe.’ I told her. “Writers are the most extraordinary people because they all invent these wonderful worlds in their heads.”

She finished, bandaged me up, and I was on my way.

Two different situations – two vastly different reactions to what I am as a person – as a work of life-art.

Look I could read a lot into this – male vs. female perspective, pre-surgery jitters vs. post surgery relaxation, doctor vs. nurse, there are a million things to compare, but what I want to leave you with is that old adage that we’ve heard a million times.

When you assume, you make an ass out of you and me. (ass-u-me)

As writers, it’s our job to give out correct and appropriate information so that our readers don’t make the wrong assumption about us or our stories. We can’t assume they have prior knowledge, or that they hold similar beliefs. Heck we can’t even assume that they’ll be the same audience that read our last piece.

And if we don’t, if we somehow give someone the wrong impression of us or our work, then we need to take a good look at that situation.

Sometimes it’s the other person’s fault, their filter make them only see something in a certain way.

But it’s important to at least acknowledge that sometimes it just might be *our* filter that made us act (or write) in a certain way to give that impression.

Soooooo not linear.

 

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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.

Three Steps to Website Revision

I recently completed the three stops to website revision: Procrastination, New Headshot, Revised Content.

Procrastination

I’ve needed to revise the Writing Services section of my website for almost two years. During the previous iteration, I called myself a pen-for-hire. I do have reliable and lucrative clients who pay me to write for them, but the truth is more people hire me to teach and to talk, activities that build audience and allow me more time to write what I want. I kept planning to revise the content on these pages – as soon as I had a new headshot to go with.

New Headshot

Moose

Camera shy charismatic mega fauna photo by my friend Kathy Lena

Like most charismatic mega fauna, I don’t like to stand still for the camera, so I kept “forgetting” to ask my friend who’s a wildlife photographer to snap a new headshot. Then, I lost the names of the two professional photographers my hairdresser recommended. I put it off, cleverly combining this task with procrastination.

But on a leadership retreat in February, I met Kelly, someone I knew by sight and got to know better. I liked her a lot. It turns out, she’s a free-lance photographer. Even before I saw her spectacular portfolio, I hired her.

alternate headshot

I love this shot, too.

Working with a professional photographer was a revelation. It taught me new respect for both photographers and models. Posing is exhausting, but working with Kelly was a blast. She put me at ease; I trusted her; she encouraged me. We spent most of two hours and ended up with more than a dozen really good shots. She took so many good pictures of me, it was hard to choose which one to use.

In this case, procrastination paid off. Or maybe waiting for the right photographer wasn’t really procrastination. Maybe procrastination is really just another way of saying, Readiness is all.

REVISED CONTENT

Once the headshots were done, I doubled down on revising Writing Services, which now includes Manuscript Development, where I can help you tell your story, as well as Pen-for-Hire, where I can write your story for you. New sections on Teaching and Speaking are in the works.

The goal is to make it easy for  visitors to find out how to hire me to tutor, teach, or talk. It’s a work-in-progress. Ultimately, it will include some new headings in the navigation bar, and some changes in the sidebar, including notice of upcoming speaking events. Stay tuned!

My webmistress is Codewryter, who does the customized coding. She’s also teaching me how to navigate the back end of the site, which is surprisingly user friendly. Even though the site upgrades aren’t all finished, I’m pleased with how they’re taking shape. I hope you’ll visit and let me know what you think.

Deb wearing purple

Another great photo!

Deborah Lee Luskin posts an essay every Wednesday on a variety of subjects centered around Living in Place in rural Vermont. You can visit her at www.deborahleeluskin.com

Friday Fun – Humor and Comedy in Writing

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:  Earlier this month, Jamie posted a heads up about an opportunity to take an online writing class with comedian, actor, and author, Steve Martin.  This got us thinking about the role of humor and comedy in our writing. What role does the comedic element play in your writing? How comfortable are you with the idea of being funny? What makes you laugh? What effect does humor have on you as a reader?

JME5670V2smCROPJamie Wallace: Clearly, since I brought this topic up, I’m intrigued by the idea of humor and comedy in writing. I’ve never thought of myself as a “funny person” … at least not in the “ha-ha” way. (Funny/odd is a whole different story.) But, I’ve always had a great appreciation for people who are able to make other people laugh, whether they accomplish this with written stories, standup, or acting. There are many different kinds of humor – slapstick, dark humor, parody, satire, standup, dry wit, and so many others. Humor is a very flexible and adaptable tool for any kind of storyteller.

I rarely have the opportunity to employ humor in my client-based work because most of that is a bit more buttoned up and corporate. Every once in a while, though, I do have the chance to lighten things up a bit, and I really enjoy that – both having the outlet and the challenge of the exercise. In my more personal writing, I don’t think I’ve found my comedic voice yet. I stray into that territory every once in a while, but not with any consistency. I’m learning that, like any other writing skill, wielding humor is something that must be studied and practiced. (Hence, my signing up for Steve Martin’s class.)

As for the kinds of humor I prefer, the answer to that question depends totally on my mood. My daughter was home sick the other day and we we spent a few hours laughing out loud together while watching the classic movie Caddyshack and several episodes of the more contemporary sitcom Big Bang Theory. Later in the week, I indulged in an episode of the BBC’s Sherlock, which employs an entirely different kind of humor. To my mind, any laughter is good laughter, so whatever it takes to get you to the place where your mirth is bubbling over is fine by me.

Deborah Lee Luskin: Humor is disarming, which is more effective than tongue-lashing your readers, especially those who don’t agree with you. And humor doesn’t have to be belly-laugh funny; it can be humor that bites. I used humor in America’s Smorgasbord, a post about immigration.

Making the Most of Writers Conferences

This weekend I’m excited to attend Let Your Imagination Take Flight, the annual conference organized by the New England Chapter of Romance Writers of America. Writing conferences are amazing opportunities for writers in all stages of their careers. They give you an opportunity to improve your craft, commiserate with fellow authors, network with agents, editors and, sometimes even readers. You can attend conferences for specific genres or conferences designed for the broader writing audience. Here, I’ve compiled some tips for making the most of your conference experience. Please add your suggestions in the comments.

image credit Top Rank Marketing https://www.flickr.com/people/toprankblog/

Before attending a writers conference

Make a commitment and respect it. Learning is a lifelong experience and your writing is an important part of your life. Invest the time to grow your skillset and you will reap the rewards. Block off the time for the conference and guard it. Make sure external needs are attended to in advance. Kids, spouses, aging parents, the day job, we all have full lives. Honor your commitment to your writing by making arrangements in advance and making sure everyone knows to contact you only in case of a dire emergency. This will free you up to focus on the conference and maximize your investment.

Before you register, create some goals for the event.

  • Are you attending to improve a specific aspect of your writing craft?
  • Do you want to network with other authors who have traveled the self-publishing route?
  • Are you there to pitch your work?

You can’t do it all, and if you try, you’ll just exhaust yourself, so pick a few key sessions to attend or people to meet and allow yourself some flexibility.

Spend some time on the conference website prior to the event. Download the schedule if it’s available, these days larger conferences often offer mobile apps. Review the sessions being offered and familiarize yourself with the layout of the meeting space. Prioritize the sessions you want to attend based on the goals you set. Don’t forget to give yourself some downtime. Maybe skip a session and review your notes from earlier sessions while the information is still fresh in your mind. If all you do is go, go, go, you don’t give your brain time to absorb the information you’ve learned.  If conference sessions are being recorded, consider purchasing a set, this way you don’t have to obsess about taking notes or worry when two sessions that you REALLY want to see are scheduled opposite each other.

Make note of speakers, editors, and agents whom you might want to meet. Review their social media footprint, and maybe even reach out and say something like “I see you are attending #NECRWA. I’m looking forward to your presentation.” Talk about your attendance on social media, you never know who might be looking for you!

Lee Laughlin standing next to Jeni Burns in the prep room at NJRWA 10-16

I met the fabulous Jeni Burns while volunteering at the NJRWA conference last fall.

Is there an opportunity to volunteer? Sign up! This is a great way to meet new people and forge connections. Last year I volunteered to help writers who were pitching to agents. I pointed people in the correct direction and tried to calm nerves, it was a great experience, I met some lovely people and I gained insight into how the pitching process can work.  A win/win.

Are you a first-time attendee? Does the conference offer a session just for newbies? Attend it! It’s a great way to connect with other first timers and you’ll learn valuable tips specific to the event. You’ll meet some or all the conference leadership team, and learn who to speak with if you have questions.

What to wear at a writers conference

Check the conference materials to learn if there is there a suggested dress code. My number one piece of advice is wear clothes that make you feel like you are putting your best self out there. You should be confident and comfortable. Do dress in layers as conference spaces are notoriously unpredictable temperature wise.

Make your tech decisions in advance. How will you be taking notes? Will you scribe the good old fashioned way with pen & paper or will you be using your laptop or tablet? If you are going the technology route make sure you have enough battery power to last the day. It’s becoming more common for power to be available at conferences, but it’s by no means ubiquitous. Want to be a hero? Bring a power strip, so if you find a plug, you can share it with others.

To me, one of the greatest parts of a conference is meeting people. People you can help, people who can help you. People whose experiences good or bad, inform your journey. Not everyone is an extrovert, if you are worried about being left behind, scour social media for friends or colleagues who are attending and arrange a time to meet for breakfast, a drink or even attend a session together.

If you are attending to pitch your book having an “elevator speech”, a 15-30 second speech about who you are and what you write, is a must, but even if you aren’t pitching having a one liner is useful even as conversation starter.

“Hi, I’m Lee Laughlin and I write contemporary romance.”

Also, it never hurts to have a few questions in the back of your mind for when you meet new people.

  • What do you write?
  • Have you read anything recently that you really loved?
  • What has been your favorite session so far?
  • Are you pitching?

Things to bring

  • A layer such as a light sweater or jacket, I have a light weight oversized scarf that travels to conferences with me.
  • All your tech including a power strip and extra batteries
  • Pen and paper
  • Business cards

At the conference

Arrive a little before sessions begin so you can register and get the lay of the land.

Where are the meeting rooms? Where are the bathrooms? Where is the bar? J As previously mentioned, don’t forget to take some downtime. Take a walk outside, go back to your room for a few minutes or find a quiet bench to process what you’ve learned.

Post con

Hopefully you’ll come back from the conference

  • Review your notes from any sessions you attended
  • Look over any business cards you collected and make notes about how/why you connected with that person.
  • Complete any follow up tasks. Did you promise to forward an email or send an editor a copy of your book? DO IT! DO IT NOW!
  • Follow people on social media.
  • If you have positive things to say shout those out on social media, but please save any complaints for a private email or the conference survey.

Fill out the survey. Conference planners genuinely want your feedback if you are sent a survey please take a few minutes to complete it. If your experience was less than expected, it’s always good to share your thoughts with organizers, but please keep feedback constructive and if you have specific ideas for improvement share them.  Remember, it’s not uncommon for conferences to be run by volunteers. Be gentle.

Making the most of a writers conference takes a little planning and effort, but the rewards are worth it!

What is your best conference tip?


Lee Laughlin is a writer, marketer, social media consumer and producer, wife, and mom, frequently all of those things at once. She blogs at Livefearlesslee.com. She writes for the Concord Monitor and her words have also appeared in a broad range of publications from community newspapers to the Boston Globe. She is currently working on her first novel, a work of contemporary, romantic fiction.

You Need a Deadline – New Reedsy Contest Directory

The first quarter of 2017 is behind us. How’s your writing going? In January, we checked in with you about your writing goals, but that seems like it’s SO long ago now. (How did we get to April so quickly?!?)

Have you, like me, you’ve been moving the goal line on your writing projects? You know – pushing things out a little bit at a time because, life? I completely understand. Things come up. Each of us has obligations and unplanned crises, and many of us are also suffering from resistance fatigue. Hitting your writing targets can start to feel like an impossible dream.

Well … sometimes, what you need is a deadline.

I write a LOT, but most of what I get done is writing that is tied to a client or other deadline. “My” writing projects (stories, novel ideas, flash fiction, etc.) tend to slip down the slippery slope of falling priorities. I want to work on them, but other things are always butting in ahead of them – cutting the line, so to speak.

Solution: Give myself a deadline for one of My Writing Projects

There are always a variety of writing contests going on. Why not pick one and go for it? Even if you don’t win, you will have completed something, and that’s worth the price of admission all by itself.

Ricardo Fayet, founder at Reedsy, reached out to me to share his company’s new resource: Writing Contests 2017, Curated with love by Reedsy. In a follow-up email conversation, he shared the inspiration for this new, searchable database:

We speak to a lot of upcoming authors, and one thing we discovered is that writing contests are a pretty contentious topic of discussion. While most writers love the idea of being published, read, and rewarded for their work, some authors had been burned in the past. The truth is that, while there are hundreds of contests each years, very few of them are worth the time; some of them are even outright scams, designed to squeeze money out of their entrants.

With that in mind, we wanted to give authors a way find their ideal contests. Updated weekly, this page lets you search for competitions by genre, entry fee, deadline and prize amount. And because we’ve vetted each and every one, there’s no need to worry about being ripped off.

So, how about it? Think you might try to find a deadline that will help you prioritize your writing? If you decide to go for it, let us know in the comments so we can cheer you on. Also, if you know of any reputable contests not in the Reedsy list, please feel free to share those as well!

Good luck!

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Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content writer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian arts, and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. In addition to my bi-weekly weekday posts, you can also check out my Saturday Edition and Sunday Shareworthy archives. Off the blog, please introduce yourself on FacebookTwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.

This post originally appeared on the Live to Write – Write to Live blog.
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Paid to Talk

Photo courtesy of Phyllis Groner

An unintended consequence of being a writer is being paid to talk.

Never shy about sharing my knowledge or opinions in print, I now speak them out loud to just about anyone who wants to listen, and I do it in a way that’s not just informative but also entertaining. And yet – just as in my opinion pieces – I challenge my audience to think about current problems in new and not always comfortable ways.

I have a collection of popular off-the-shelf talks, and a nearly limitless willingness to talk about anything about which an audience and I have a mutual interest. Give me a topic; I’ll give you a speech.

Currently, I have four off-the-shelf talks: Lessons From the Long Trail, about my transformative end-to-end through hike of The Long Trail when I turned sixty, and three through The Vermont Humanities Council Speakers Bureau:

Getting From Here to There: The history of transportation and settlement in VT

1964: A Watershed Year in Vermont Political and Cultural History

Why Are We Still Reading Jane Austen?

I make customized motivational and celebratory speeches to groups who want to hear what I have to say. After teaching reluctant writers, leading Weight Watchers, and raising three children, I’ve developed some serious motivational skills that can be translated into a celebration and/or call to action.

I’ve also spent the past ten years learning about restorative practices as well as Roberts Rules of Order, so if a group needs a facilitator, I’m good at making sure everyone in the room has a chance to be heard.

Of course, I’m always ready to talk about and teach writing and literature, from blogs to biographies. Earlier this year I lectured on Virginia Woolf for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, and I’m currently teaching a grant-funded memoir-writing class at my local library. We’re having a blast.

Between writing, teaching, and public speaking, I’ve fallen behind on other tasks, like keeping my website updated, but that’s next. In the works is a calendar where anyone who wants to attend one of my public lectures can find out the what, where, and when. And for those who may be interested in a custom-made talk, just contact me.

At the end of the Long Trail, 9/8/2016.

Deborah Lee Luskin posts an essay every Wednesday at www.deborahleeluskin.com

 

Weekend Edition – Being Kind and Creative During a Revolution

River Reflections – Life Reflections

After writing more than 200 Weekend Edition and Sunday Shareworthy posts, my previously consistent weekend writing routine has hit a snag.  And I’m starting to think that’s not a bad thing.

As I explained in my a recent post, This Is Who I Am, “My identity as a writer is not yet fully baked.” And – while that makes the Type-A side of my brain twitch – that’s okay, too.

I’m experiencing a major shift in perspective that is making me reevaluate everything I do. This also, while a little painful, is not a bad thing. I’m taking a much closer, much harder look at WHY I engage in certain activities and routines. I’m getting more granular about assessing whether or not they deliver real value to me, to anyone else involved, or to the world in general. I’m shuffling the deck and reprioritizing and cleaning house.

It’s freeing, actually.

I read a couple of posts this week that got me thinking in new directions about some related questions and challenges that I’ve been rolling around in my head for a while now. The first post was by our very own Deborah Lee Luskin: How to  Sustain Political Activism and Write a Book.  I loved her no-nonsense take on how to marry persistence and self care while also exercising some reality checking on just how much activism you can handle on top of all the other obligations in your life. Smart woman.

The other piece was one I stumbled across via a Facebook friend. In her post, What If All I Want is a Mediocre Life?,  Krista O’Reilly-Davi-Digui writes,

The world is such a noisy place. Loud, haranguing voices lecturing me to hustle, to improve, build, strive, yearn, acquire, compete, and grasp for more. For bigger and better. Sacrifice sleep for productivity. Strive for excellence. Go big or go home. Have a huge impact in the world. Make your life count.

But what if I just don’t have it in me. What if all the striving for excellence leaves me sad, worn out, depleted. Drained of joy. Am I simply not enough?

Good question, Krista.

Too often, we forget that we cannot look outside ourselves to find happiness or contentment or approval. We have to stop letting media and other external influences define the life we think we want. We need to stop comparing ourselves to someone else’s vision of “right” or “good” or “enough.” As writers, the opportunities for comparison to other writers (those we admire from afar and our own peers) are excruciatingly endless.

Likewise, as many of us take on the time-consuming task of becoming more active citizens and feel the pressure to – quite literally – save the world, we need to step back and think hard about what our own definition of “enough” looks and feels like.

I read these two posts and was reminded of a recent column I wrote for my local paper. Though this piece starts out focusing on politics, as I read it again I realized that much of what I’m trying to convey also applies to the challenges of living a creative life in the midst of the chaos and responsibility of so-called “Real Life.”

Whether you’re talking about political activism, groundbreaking cultural shifts, or writing a novel, all Big Accomplishments are really just a long series of small, persistent actions. They all boil down to small, daily choices. Thinking of them in these terms, you realize that nothing (and I mean, nothing) is impossible.

With that, here is the column I wrote. Whether you are walking beside me as a writer, an activist, or both, I hope you enjoy it and find some words of encouragement and empowerment here. Think small. Think daily. Think happy. You’ve got this.

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For years, most of my social media profiles have included the line, “Believes in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings.” This quip has served as a kind of abbreviated mantra, meant to encompass the concepts of treating others as you would be treated, taking time to enjoy the little things in life, and always keeping hope and optimism in your heart.

But, as our country careens toward a new and frightening political reality, I find myself reading those words in a new context.

Perhaps more than ever before, the character and reputation of our country’s political leadership has been tainted by intrigue and espionage, shades of illegitimacy, vicious in-fighting, rampant corruption,  and — perhaps most worrying of all — the incoming administration’s growing disregard for the press, the truth, and First Amendment rights.

It’s no wonder many people are feeling overwhelmed and anxious. The current situation is exhausting. When I talk with people who share my concerns and my desire to make a difference, I hear the deep weariness in their voices and their sighs. Our conversations are punctuated with long pauses in which we try, through our disbelief, to process the latest headline or tweet.

There’s so much work to do.

It feels a little bit like being saddled with a monstrously huge and excruciating domestic chore. It’s as if you have to put away Christmas; pick up after an out-of-control kegger; and clean out the garage, basement, and attic … all in one day. Best of all, these extra responsibilities have been slapped on top of your existing day-to-day professional, family, and household obligations.

It can start to feel daunting and even hopeless very quickly, but here’s where a simplified version of my little mantra might offer some comfort. When I begin to worry that it’s all too much, I focus on the core attributes of my social media signature: small, daily, and happy.

When we look at someone’s personal transformation, a culture’s scientific achievement, or a turning point in world history, we are often so blown away by the scope and scale of the thing that we fail to see it for what it actually is. Our focus on the end result keeps us from fully comprehending the events that delivered the final outcome.

Without exception, there’s always much more to the story than we know; and nine times out of ten the “overnight” story is actually a tale of small, daily commitments. Each metamorphosis, discovery, and revolution is made up of countless small, daily actions. These unappreciated actions are unaccompanied by fanfare, but they are real building blocks of every great event in our personal and global history.

So, when you’re feeling overwhelmed and hopeless — whether in the face of a personal challenge or your desire to save the world — remember that you don’t have to take on everything at once. You just need to take small, daily actions that move you toward your goal, and you’ll get there. Sign a petition, make a donation, talk to someone, volunteer, attend a march, participate in a political meeting on the local or state level, read an in-depth news article, read a book, investigate an issue, share what you’ve learned on social media.

Keep your efforts small, and make them a daily practice, and you’ll be amazed at your progress.

Finally, don’t overlook the importance of “happy” in the equation. This isn’t just about being hopeful or optimistic. It’s also about operating from a place of joy and love. Instead of being motivated by fear or hate, be inspired by a desire to protect and share what you love. Only then can your actions become a comforting and heartfelt meditation on the beauty you see and seek. Let that feeling guide you and sustain you in your efforts. Small, daily, happy — this is how to be the change you want to see in the world.

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Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content writer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian arts, and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Introduce yourself on FacebookTwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.

This post originally appeared on the Live to Write – Write to Live blog.
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