Friday Fun – Taboo Subjects

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 topic that you refuse to write about – out of respect, fear, or discomfort?

LisaJJackson_2014Lisa J. Jackson: Not generally speaking; I make sure my writing is appropriate for the audience I’m writing for. This blog is about the writing life, so unless something is related to writing in some way, I won’t write about it here.  Having said that — if something is related to either of my fictional personas, I may or may not write about it here as the genres are not all encompassing or appealing to a mixed audience.

Julie Hennrikus: In my genre, cozy mysteries, there are “rules” for topics and the way subjects are discussed. No excessive violence, sex mostly off stage, children and animals should be safe from harm. I agree with Lisa, I try and stay true to my audience, so I don’t write about politics, for example, on my writing blogs. But honestly, I might not enjoy writing about some subjects, but if it is necessary for the work, I would do it.

Deborah Lee LuskinDeborah Lee Luskin: While I agree that writing for your audience is paramount, I also believe that the job of the writer is to speak the truth, regardless how uncomfortable, troubling, or dark. For me, there aren’t subjects that are taboo, but ways of treating them that are.

 

wendy-shotWendy Thomas: With my writing, I choose to tell positive stories. As a result I *try* to stay away from certain language and some “controversial” topics (namely the big 3 – politics, religion, and money – except for how to be thrifty) are, for the most part, off limits.

That’s doesn’t mean I won’t write about them, what it means is that for my *general* audience I watch what I say and how I say it.

As a writer though, I want to make it very clear that I believe that there is no taboo subject. (It’s that old freedom of speech thing.) The reason I might object to someone’s writing (50 Shades) is not the topic but instead the objection will lie with its delivery.

If you write well, you can write well about anything.

Cognitive Dissonance and Writing II

I recently wrote about Cognitive Dissonance and Writing. One of the ways I’ve dealt with my own cognitive dissonance (in many areas of my life) is to find small ways to “prove” both of my conflicting beliefs true. One way I do this is to use a concrete exercise I learned from Martha Beck[i]. I call this exercise the And/Or Exercise, but Martha calls it by its more correct psychological name:

Unifying False Dichotomies

To shake yourself free of falsely dichotomous thinking, try making a list of either/ors in your life. These could be any pairs of opposites, contradictory things that you could be, have, or do.

My Dichotomous Life

I can either be __________________________ or ______________________________.

I can either have ________________________ or ______________________________.

I can either do __________________________ or ______________________________.

Now, rewrite those very same things in the spaces below.

My Creative Life

I intend to be both __________________________ and __________________________.

I intend to have both ________________________ and __________________________.

I intend to do both __________________________ and __________________________.

The more resistance you feel to rewriting these either/or statements into “and” statements, the more likely you are holding onto false beliefs.

Here are some statements I’ve worked with over the years:

  • I can either be a doctor or a mother.
  • I can either have a family or a career.
  • I can either write novels or practice medicine.

Rewritten, these statements become:

  • I intend to be both a doctor and a mother.
  • I intend to have both a family and a career.
  • I intend to write novels and practice medicine.

These days, I can rewrite all those statements with an “of course I can!” feeling, but back in the day, I had a hard time believing them. Seeing the statements written out made them easier to believe.

I continue to do this exercise every once in a while, as a way to see what I’m thinking and to discover where I might be experiencing cognitive dissonance in my own life.

At one point I came across this dichotomous belief: I can be either an artist or a productive member of society.

How’s that for a creativity blocker? Pretty good, it turns out.

I intend to be both an artist and a productive member of society is a statement that works much better for me, and allows me to see the creativity I bring to every part of my life, from my writing to my parenting to my cooking. It’s a shift in perspective that allows me to see myself as the creative being I am.

Do you think you can either be a writer or something else? How about both?

[i] Adapted from The Joy Diet: 10 Daily Practices for a Happier Life, by Martha Beck. Used with her permission.

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon, MD: is a writer, blogger, master life coach, and family physician. You can find her at http://www.dianemackinnon.com.

Reflections for the New Year

Isn’t it odd that we haven’t celebrated Labor Day yet? September 1 is the beginning of the year for me. I worked in academia for years, so I got used to September being the start. I also work in theater, and this time of year is when summer seasons are winding down, and regular seasons are heating up. So, with my new year upon me, I am very reflective in early September.

Happy New YearAs regular readers know, my dream of being a published author is about to come true. On October 6, Just Killing Time, written under the pseudonym Julianne Holmes, will be released by Berkley. This is such a thrill, but the details are coming at me fast and furiously. I’m planning a launch party, sending out ARCs, and planning some appearances. I’m also working with my editor on book #2, and starting to plot book #3. A friend reminded me to stop, and enjoy this journey. Hard to do, but something I really need to focus on–I will have other books published, but this is my only first.

Goal for the fall: enjoy the journey of publication

Another writing goal is to chip away at Book #3. As another friend said, on book #1 you learn how to write a book. On book #2 you prove to yourself you can do it again. On book #3, the game is on. I want to continue to grow as a writer. I want each book to be better. That means spending more time editing, which means the first draft needs to get done. Deadlines are actually a blessing, and I am figuring out how to work with them. That said, procrastination and I have a relationship, and we need to break up.

Goal for the fall: keep working on the story, and the story telling. Don’t loose momentum.

I write on a laptop, on my couch. When I get going, I will sit for hours and work. I am terrible about taking breaks, are you? This isn’t healthy on a number of fronts, and I need to develop new habits.

Goal for the fall: make moving around part of my writing routine. Walks for plotting, maybe a standing desk?

Final writing goal? Remember two things: be grateful, and be kind. Keeping these are core values are essential. Writing is a solitary effort that depends on community for success. I have a wonderful community, and am so grateful for them. But as importantly, I need to remember to practice kindness. I should clarify, kindness does not mean I am always nice. I am too old to be nice all the time.

Goal for life: Gratitude and Kindness, always.

How about you, dear readers? Do you think of this time of year as a new year? Any writing goals that you plan on rebooting this fall?

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Julie Hennrikus is an arts administrator, J.A. Hennrikus writes short stories, and Julianne Holmes writes the Clock Shop Mystery series.

Short and Sweet Advice for Writers – Do Your Writing Exercises

vintage classroomSo, you think writing exercises are just for beginners, or writers who don’t have a “real” project to work on? Think again.

It’s back-to-school season for many of us, and time to give ourselves some homework. Writing from prompts is an excellent way to keep your creative and craft muscles strong and limber.  Whether writing exercises are the primary focus of your writing, or just a small part of a broader practice, they help you hone your skills while simultaneously stretching your imagination. It’s a win-win.

Each time I take a writing class, I am reminded just how effective writing exercises can be. Whether the assigned exercise is intended to spark the imagination through random association (e.g., write a story that involves a pelican, a key, and someone who has lost something or someone) or to challenge students with constraints (e.g. write a 100-word story in the second person), writing exercises work because they force us to focus on something. They are like a puzzle that needs solving. Even if it’s a tough puzzle, it’s easier to start with something than it is to start with nothing but a blank page.

You can find writing exercise prompts all over the place, but here are a couple of resources that I’ve found and can recommend:

Sarah Selecky’s Daily Writing Prompts: I have not yet treated myself to one of Sarah’s workshops, but I’ve heard great things. Meanwhile, I have subscribed to her daily writing prompts email and have been impressed by the variety of her exercises. Easy, free, and inspiring – doesn’t get much better than that.

The Write Practice Blog: This multi-author blog includes a “Practice” section at the end of each post. What’s helpful about this approach is that the post gives you some context, instruction, and examples that help you get the most out of the writing exercise assignment at the end. Great format!

So, there you go: writing exercises – do them.

(And, don’t forget to have fun!)

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Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content marketer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian and aerial arts (not at the same time), and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Join me each Saturday for the Weekend Edition (a fun post and great community of commenters on the writing life, random musings, writing tips, and good reads), or introduce yourself on Facebooktwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
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Photo Credit: roujo via Compfight cc

A Few Freelance Writing Job Resources

Here are a few writing-related sites you can check into for freelance or contract gigs. Most of them offer a lot more than jobs, too.

Freelance Writing Gigs: http://www.freelancewritinggigs.com/  “Whether you’re a seasoned writer or a beginner, the information you need to be a successful writer is at your fingertips here at Freelance Writing Jobs!” (check out the Resources for Writers tab off the main page; business tips, job hunting tips, writing tips, and a lot more)

Make a Living Writing: http://www.makealivingwriting.com/  “I’m Carol Tice, an award-winning, fun-loving freelance writer living in the Seattle area. I’m obsessed with helping writers earn more from their work.” (a lot of free resources; podcasts; downloads; monthly membership-fee community; and a lot more)

If you’re looking for work in New Hampshire, I recommend the NHJobsList Yahoo Group: http://www.nhjobslist.com/  “NH Jobs List is a mailing list focused solely on jobs in New Hampshire.” (If you sign up, you will be on the e-mail list for any NH job; several technical writing-related jobs come through each month. At the least, you may learn about a company in an industry you are interested in.)

Freelance Writing: http://www.freelancewriting.com/freelance-writing-jobs.php  “Helping freelance writers to succeed since 1997.” (e-mail list with helpful articles, tutorials, jobs, and links to writing contests).

This is one of several free infographics for writers from the site – a mind map for how a writer finds freelance work:

http://www.freelancewriting.com/infographics/index.php

Click to enlarge

The infographic includes several URLs to other sites for writing jobs.

Do you have a resource for finding writing jobs to share with us? Please include a link in the comments and tell us about it.

LisaJJackson_2014Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with manufacturing, software, and technology businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn

Weekend Edition – What Readers Really Want Plus Good Reads and Writing Tips

A Case Study in the Power of Wonder

strandbeests

A photo I snapped on our way home

We were still four miles from the beach when the traffic slowed so much that cyclists and pedestrians easily outpaced us. Thankful we’d made a pit stop at Zumi’s coffee shop, we sipped contentedly on our caffeinated beverages – coffee for him, chai for me – and whiled away the wait with comfortable, Saturday morning conversation.

As my trusty, old Pathfinder crept down the winding country road, we marveled at the intensity of the traffic. I’ve lived nearly my entire life in this small town, and I’d never seen the road to the shore backed up so far or filled with so many walkers and bikers. Despite the nuisance of the traffic congestion, there was an air of excited anticipation as we all made our way – slowly, oh so slowly – toward our shared destination.

After taking nearly an hour to travel a mere mile, we finally passed the stable where my daughter and I ride and approached a critical juncture in our journey. Ahead, the blues of a police car flashed at the intersection with Northgate Road. This was the spot where, when perfect weather caused the beach lots to fill up early, local law enforcement would set up their roadblock and turn people back. But this Saturday morning wasn’t anything close to perfect. It was overcast, damp, and clammy. But, still, the line of cars pressed ahead, determined to run the gauntlet if they could.

We were almost to the cruiser when we saw cars being turned away, rerouted down Northgate and away from the beach. My heart sank. All this time waiting, the anticipation building, and now we’d have to give up? I had already texted a friend whose house was beyond the roadblock and not such a bad walking distance from the beach. I hoped that if I told the officer I had a parking destination other than the beach lot, he’d let me pass. Turned out I didn’t even have to plead my case. When we reached the intersection, the cop saw my beach sticker and waved me through. “It’ll be a long wait,” he said, “But you should get in.” It was a good day to be a resident.

For a few minutes, we had clear road ahead of us, but we soon caught up with the rest of the local contingent and had to wait patiently (again) in the still impressively long line of cars that snaked gently past beautiful marsh vistas toward the beach gatehouse. We noticed there were more pedestrians and cyclists passing our car. Many of those on foot were practically speed walking. Sweat ran down their backs, leaving dark streaks on t-shirts and dresses.

It took us nearly another hour to travel the three miles beyond the roadblock, but we finally pulled into the lot. Rummaging in the back of the truck, I found a stray long-sleeved shirt and pulled it gratefully over my tank top as we hurried towards the boardwalk against a chilly sea breeze. Just before we crested the dunes, I overheard a guy who was walking back from the beach say to his friend, “Wait until they get out there and realize how unimpressive it is.” My heart skipped a beat.

··• )o( •··

What was it that I, my beau, and hundreds (if not thousands) of others were so anxious to see? What attraction could possibly compel so many busy people to put their usual Saturday morning plans and duties on hold to wait in interminable traffic or hoof it three miles through roadside brush and bracken? It was Strandbeests.

Strandbeests are the creation of Dutch artist Theo Jansen who blends art and engineering to create self-propelled “beasts” out of PCV tubing, simple gears, and sails. Jansen considers his creations a form of artificial life, and he hopes to one day “release” herds of them to “live their lives” on beaches around the world.

The local appearance of the Strandbeests was part of a traveling exhibit coordinated by the Peabody Essex Museum in nearby Salem, MA. The event was well publicized via a campaign that blanketed local news outlets and online networks with images and videos of Jansen’s fantastic creatures. The public’s imagination was clearly ignited.

··• )o( •··

The man on the boardwalk was right. When we finally navigated our way to the front of the large crowd that was milling about at the ocean’s edge, what we saw did not resemble the fascinating, bus-sized pieces featured in the promotional videos. Instead, there were a couple of squat, car-sized units that lacked the scale and grace of creatures like the Animaris Percipiere.

Despite the obvious disconnect between what people had expected to see and what they found there on the sand, the crowd still seemed fascinated. Children and adults maneuvered for a place up front from which to gain a clear view of the beasts. Film and sound crews from local news and radio criss-crossed the small, cordoned-off area trying to capture snippets of video and audio as the contraptions lumbered (with some help from the Strandbeest team) haltingly up and down the small stretch of sand. A drone hovered a few feet above the spectacle, beaming images to who knows where.

While I was not impressed by the beasts themselves, I was captivated by the fact that all these people were so enthralled by the idea of these creatures that they put the rest of their lives on hold just to catch a glimpse of them. Clearly, there was something at work here that bore further examination. What made the Strandbeests so appealing, and how might the phenomenon apply to a writer’s life and work?

··• )o( •··

The question came down to this: What did people want? What were they hoping to find at the end of their long, arduous journey out to the beach?

My beau and I had plenty of time to ruminate on this question as we made our slow way back toward town. Amazingly, rather than tapering off, the traffic had actually increased and was now nearly at a stop in both directions. In particular, the number of pedestrians had grown so much that the scene looked like some kind of mass exodus or evacuation. A steady stream of people three or four deep lined both sides of the road. Even when it was clear that the people on foot would never reach the shore before the event was over, they still pressed doggedly forward. Clearly, these people were looking for something bigger and more profound than a grown-up Erector Set toy.

I have no hard evidence to support my hypotheses, but I think that what people hoped to find was something that would jolt them out of their everyday existence, something that would amaze them and make them feel something akin to wonder. I also think that, once people were in the experience, there was the added attraction of being a part of something bigger than themselves. Simply by participating in the mass migration toward the Strandbeests, they had become part of a collective who were, as the saying goes, “all in this together.”

But, how do these ideas apply to the relationship between writers and readers?

··• )o( •··

Stories have the power to transport and transform. They can whisk us away to another time and place, or an entirely different reality. They can turn our perspective on its head and give us a whole new way to see and experience the world and our place in it. The best stories reach into our hearts,  touching us not only intellectually, but also emotionally. They change not only what we think, but also how we feel.

Though they didn’t live up to expectations, Jensen’s Strandbeests seemed to offer the same kind of experience our stories should promise:

An Escape from the Usual:

We had never seen or heard of anything like the Strandbeests. The very idea of them was unique and intriguing. The creatures featured in the promotional videos appeared to be partly prehistoric and partly alien. We weren’t sure what they were, exactly, but we knew we wanted an up-close-and-personal look. Based on the turn out for this event, lots and lots of people are clearly hungering for the new and strange and exciting. Going to see the beasts represented adventure and exploration outside the bounds of our daily rounds. Seems that people are looking for a chance to experience something different.

How might your writing offer that kind of experience? Do your stories take readers on a journey to someplace they’ve never been? Do they help them slip into a life completely unlike their own? Does your writing offer readers an immersive experience that pulls them completely out of their real life and into a life of your imagining? Even if you’re writing realistic fiction or essays, how can you incorporate the element of “other” into your work? What new perspective can you offer?

A Taste of Wonder:

More than just experiencing something different, people are searching for experiences that inspire wonder and awe. They want to be amazed. They want to feel something – a tingling in the spine, a thrill, a deep emotional reaction. They want to catch a glimpse of and be persuaded to believe in magic and miracles and endless scientific possibilities. When readers pick up a story, they are hoping to be wowed.

Wonder is something that we associate mostly with children. It is the state of being pleasantly surprised by the unexpected in a way that makes you feel like the whole world has just opened up in a new way, revealing spaces and ideas that you didn’t know existed. Unfortunately, as we grow older, it’s more and more difficult to find experiences that inspire this feeling. We become numb to much of the world around us. We feel like we’ve been there and done that. We get cynical. Seeing something “different” is only part of the equation. We want to see something different that brings us back to that childhood state of believing that there is still so much out there that we don’t understand – so many possibilities.

How does your writing expand your readers’ ability to feel wonder, to believe that there is still plenty that they don’t know. How do your stories peel back the layers to reveal some previously undetected piece of reality or potential for magic? Your stories don’t have to be fantasy or science fiction, but I think that our human hunger for wonder is a big part of what makes those genres so popular on such a large scale.

A Chance to be Part of Something Bigger than Ourselves:

We often talk about how, as writers, one of the driving forces behind our work is our desire to connect – with the world, with other people, and with our own hearts. The stories we read, like the experiences we choose, help us define ourselves. Our reading choices express our values and beliefs as well as well as our artistic tastes and entertainment preferences. And when we are able to share our reading experience with a community of like-minded readers, we discover that we are not alone.

This phenomenon happens over and over again with books, movies, and TV shows. When a story captures our collective imagination, an entire community springs up around the experience of that story. People bond over this shared experience. The story provides an easy context for conversation, giving us a chance to connect with others. The Harry Potter books and movies are a perfect example of this kind of community, but there are many (many!) others. Think of any popular TV show or movie, and I guarantee there are a ton of people who experience those stories as part of a community of fans. Star Trek, Star Wars, Game of Thrones, Mad Men, Downton Abbey, The Walking Dead, Orange is the New Black, and (hearkening back to an earlier, simpler time) Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Friends, Cheers, and so on.

How do your stories help your readers identify as part of something bigger than themselves? What themes and beliefs are woven into your work that attract a certain kind of person? How are you creating an experience that is both shareable and worth sharing? Beyond the writing of your story, how are you creating a community for your readers?

··• )o( •··

In my work as a marketer, it’s critical for me to have a deep understanding of audience needs. Whether I’m writing website copy to help a software company reach small businesses or putting together an eBook to help a venture capitalist firm educate their portfolio companies, I have to uncover and clearly identify not only the obvious, tactical audience needs, but also the unspoken and intangible emotional needs. In fact, it’s this second set of needs – the ones that I have to dig for, the ones the audience may not readily admit to – that are the most important.

It’s the same with readers. You may know, for instance, that your readers want an exciting adventure story that has an element of mystery and magic. But those are just “surface” needs. Go deeper. Ask yourself what your readers really want.

In marketing, we talk about features and benefits. Features are the “what” of a product; benefits are the “why.” Scrivener, a fabulous writing software, offers writers many excellent features including the ability to edit multiple documents simultaneously, a cork board view for organizing outlines, an in-depth file structure, broad exporting and printing capabilities, and much more. These features are not, however, why writers buy Scrivener. Writers buy Scrivener because of the benefits it delivers: the ability to create order from chaos, write faster, and be more efficient and productive.

Features are a means to an end. Benefits are that end. In the Scrivener example, all those feature-driven bells and whistles ultimately enable you to reach your writing goals. The benefits you experience include greater ease in your work, less stress, greater sense of control and accomplishment, and finally finishing that story/novel/screenplay/dissertation you’ve been working on.

It’s not so different with stories. Your readers may pick up your book thinking that they want adventure, mystery, and magic; but what they really want is the chance to experience something different, be wowed, and find a community of people with whom to share a little piece of themselves in the context of your story. The benefits of reading a story include things like a restoration of faith and hope in humanity, the ability to laugh at ourselves, or a feeling of being understood. Once you understand what your readers really want, you’ll know just what to do to win their hearts.

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What I’m {Learning About} Writing:

old mapBecause of my impending move (and the facts that a) we’re still only about halfway through pre-move mini renovations and b) I haven’t packed a darn thing), I have had precious little time to write anything except the things that absolutely must be written: client documents, my bi-weekly column, and my blog posts here at Live to Write – Write to Live.

As my time gets more and more crunched, I’m leaning more and more heavily on my pre-planning process to streamline my writing. I cannot stress enough how much time it saves me if I outline a piece before I sit down to write. I rarely come to the screen without a mind map to guide me, but when I do find myself in that uncomfortable predicament I know I’m in for a long haul.

The beauty of mind mapping is that it helps me figure out what I’m really trying to say. That doesn’t mean, however, that I have to stick to the plan 100%, or that I can’t make some unexpected discovery while I’m writing and pull a 180. Even if the piece I write ends up being wildly different from the mind map, it still helps me immensely to have that jumping off point.

If you don’t typically do any pre-planning and feel like you’re struggling more than you should have to when you sit down to write, you may want to experiment with outlining, mind mapping, or whatever process helps you organize your thoughts. Even if you wind up going in a completely different direction, I can guarantee you that the time you spend planning won’t be wasted.

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 What I’m Reading Listening To:

magic lessons podcastI’m about a third of the way through a (so far) fabulous novel, but I won’t share that until I’ve finished it. In the meantime, I’ve been listening to the new Magic Lessons podcast from author/speaker Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat, Love, Pray fame.

I have not read Eat, Pray, Love. I had a copy once, and I tried to read it several times, but I just couldn’t get into it. Despite not being a fan of her most well known book, I have enjoyed several of Gilbert’s talks, including this interview about creativity, writing and saying no, and her conversation with Oprah about why curiosity trumps passion.

The Magic Lessons podcast is part of Gilbert’s promotion for her new book, Big Magic, due out on September 22nd. The book promises to deliver “potent insights into the mysterious nature of inspiration” and crack open “a world of wonder and joy.” The podcast is her continuation of the conversation around the book’s themes of creativity, inspiration, and how to balance live our most creative lives.

I have to admit that I’m curious about the book, but a little on the fence about the podcast. I am inspired by and agree with much of what Gilbert says, but the delivery involves a few too many “honeys” and “sweethearts” and an overriding flavor of art-as-therapy that kind of turns me off. Though she seems empathetic with the artists she speaks to on her podcast, there is something the way she addresses them that gives me a sense of condescending coddling.

That said, I think my reaction may be due to my baggage about my own creative life; but that’s another conversation for another day.

Despite my mixed feelings about Magic Lessons, I encourage you to give it a listen. I’d be very interested to hear what you think, and – if you’re so inclined – I welcome any amateur psychoanalysis of my knee-jerk aversion to the character of the conversations.

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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:

From littlethingsstudio on Etsy

From littlethingsstudio on Etsy

Here’s to wonder and awe and figuring out what we (and our readers) REALLY want. Have a great rest of the weekend! 
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Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content marketer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian and aerial arts (not at the same time), 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.
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Old Map Photo Credit: nefotografas via Compfight cc

Friday Fun – Were you always good at 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: So, you’re a writer now, but were you always good at writing? Were you a straight-A student in English class? Did you study writing in college? Or, were you a late bloomer who never expected to learn to love this crazy craft?

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon: I always loved reading and writing and I did well in English class–I love grammar. In college, I took more science classes than English classes, but I read all the books my roommate brought home to read for her classes–she was an English major. Between college and medical school I helped edit a textbook (Nadas’ Pediatric Cardiology) while working at Boston Children’s Hospital, then got a job editing articles and books at the Orthopedic Research Lab at Columbia, in NYC. Then I went to medical school and I stopped writing, except in my journal. While I read and studied medicine, I never gave up reading for pleasure, even if it was for 5 minutes before bed or during a 10 minute subway ride.

It wasn’t until I was in my mid-30’s that I started writing again, and realized I still carried my childhood dream of being a writer. I started very slowly, and I’m still not writing full-time, but it’s a part of my daily life and I’m so grateful. I plan to keep reading and writing and learning for as long as I can.

LisaJJackson_2014Lisa J. Jackson: I started writing at a young age, with those cute diaries with small locks and keys. I wrote my own stories during grade school and got ‘validation’ in 5th grade when a story I wrote won some type of contest that allowed me to attend a college campus for a day. That was so thrilling. I knew from that moment that I wanted to be a writer and in high school I wrote for the high school paper. Writing wasn’t a career supported by my family, so I dove into business classes, but always wrote on the side – I even loved creating my own business case studies, and when I started working I always rewrote processes (because they needed to be improved!)

I didn’t major or focus on English classes until I was going after my second master’s degree – that’s when I focused on literature and writing – where I hoped to narrow my writing interests down to one genre. That idea backfired and I found new genres I enjoyed – TV scriptwriting, writing for children, news writing,, technical writing, poetry…every writing class I took would have me saying “Oh, wow, I love this!”

I journal every day, but my fiction has taken a back burner and my muse it getting quite agitated, so that will change quite soon! I can’t live comfortably when the muse is constantly pushing at my gray matter.

M. Shafer, Photo

M. Shafer, Photo

I’m an only daughter with three brothers, and I started writing in order to be heard. Because I had so little voice at the dinner table, I learned to articulate my thoughts on paper. Over a life-time, I’ve become better and better at this.

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JME5670V2smCROPJamie Wallace: I have loved stories, reading, and writing for as long as I can remember. Some of my fondest memories are of whole days spent squirreled away somewhere with a book. Whether my hideaway was a blanket fort, a nook at the foot of my childhood bed, or the boughs of a tree, I loved getting lost in other worlds, exploring a boundless world of possibilities simply by reading ink on a page.

Though I didn’t think of myself as a “writer” until much later in life, I began journaling at the age of seven. I also recorded my dreams and wrote really bad poetry. I never had any real inhibitions about either writing or sharing my writing. It was always just a natural part of being me. I carried notebooks around and scribbled my thoughts about everything and nothing. In school, I didn’t stand out as the “class writer” or anything like that, but I had an aptitude for the language arts that earned me praise and encouragement from my teachers.

My one year at Boston College did not include any writing classes. In fact, I almost went to a visual arts college – Parsons in New York. My creative focus in those early years was more on illustration and photography. Writing had, I think, become such an integral part of my identity that it kind of disappeared … fell off my conscious radar. It wasn’t until I was nearing the end of my fourteen-year marriage at the age of thirty-eight that I extended my journal writing (which I’d kept up all those thirty some odd years) into a blog. That was when I began to realize that maybe I was, actually, a writer.

It’s funny the way our paths wind through life on such a circuitous route, but inevitably take us to the place we were headed to all along. I sometimes wonder if my writing life would be different (read: “better,” whatever that means) if I’d pursued it more directly earlier in life, if I’d been more aware, consistent, and dedicated from the start. I’ll never know now, and I suppose it doesn’t really matter. What matters is not the words I didn’t write yesterday, but the words I write today.

wendy-shotWendy Thomas: I was one of those kids who always wrote stories. Fortunately, I showed a little bit of talent and I had teachers who encouraged me (that was HUGE!)

In the fourth grade, I won first place in a poetry contest with my poem that started off with:

EL Blanco was a pony wild and free

His mother was a stallion, the same as he.

Clearly at that point, biology wasn’t my strong suit.

I always seemed to take an outside view of any assignment. When given an assignment in 6th grade to write about war, I wrote about the personal agony of the pilot who (in my story anyway) unknowingly dropped the atom bomb on Japan. I had him struggling with his guilt by smoking cigarettes, drinking, and being in a depression (although at the time, I didn’t understand that’s what I was describing.)

A Christmas assignment had me writing from the abandoned-on-the-curve-no-longer-needed Christmas tree’s point of view.

I’m not sure I was any more talented as a writer than my peers, but I did seem to have a knack for writing outside the box and THANK GOD my teachers saw that as something to be applauded instead of something that needed to be squelched.