Friday Fun – Black Friday for Writers

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, it’s “Black Friday,” supposedly the biggest shopping day of the holiday season. Whether you partake of the retail madness that abounds for these twenty-four hours or not, it’s still fun to talk about gifts. SO – what’s on your writer’s wish list this season AND/OR what’s your favorite gift to give as a writer (to other writers, or to non-writer muggles)? 

JME5670V2smCROPJamie Wallace: I usually have a pretty long list of writerly things I’d like, but this year there’s no one item I’m particularly coveting. Having just bought a house this summer, I’m feeling like that purchase kind of filled my gifts-to-me quota for the year. I wouldn’t say no to a working time turner, though.

For gifts that are more readily available in the muggle world, I liked the suggestions in Sabrina Taylor’s holiday-gifts-for-writers-and-entrepreneurs post on Craft Your Content. Each item in her list is something I already have, or would like.  I’m also always a sucker for new notebooks, like these from Word. Notebooks,  or these from Field Notes, or these waterproof ones from Rite in the Rain.

As for what I like to give – books, books, and more books. I love to choose books for each person on my list. I rarely give novels, but will often find great non-fiction choices that will hopefully deliver hours of pleasure after the holidays. I also love giving picture books as gifts for adults.

Oh! One more idea – Audible. I listen to a lot of audio books, and I have found my Audible membership to be a great value. I highly recommend this as a gift idea for any writer or reader on your list.

Lisa_2015Lisa J. Jackson: I love collecting fancy-to-me roller ball pens, mostly from Levenger. I’m a total geek for Barnes and Noble or Amazon gift cards so I can buy books. And I also love receiving new journals – of any kind. Renewal of writing-related magazines are always great, too.

Gifts for writer friends include custom-made pens; gift card packs; journals or calendars with specific topics (ie, a daily prompt, or a gratitude-specific journal,  or something with a theme) that encourage writing each day; once in a while a bookmark might be a great gift, too.

For non-writers, I find restaurant gift certificates to be good gifts — or gift cards to a spa for some pampering after the holiday.

M. Shafer, Photo

M. Shafer, Photo

Deborah Lee Luskin: I love Black Friday. After gathering provisions for the Thanksgiving feast and weekend, Black Friday is a blessed day of rest when I don’t have to drive into town or buy anything. What a relief! That said, my husband’s birthday comes right on the heels of Thanksgiving, so the day before Thanksgiving, I picked up his gifts at Everyone’s Books, my local, independent bookstore. I chose all recent titles by friends and neighbors – which I’ll showcase in my next post here (Tuesday, December first).

The Thanksgiving Reader

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I’d like to share with you the Thanksgiving Reader, posted by Seth Godin, to be shared around our Thanksgiving tables this year, and for years to come. It’s a beautiful compilation of stories, quotes, and art.

Earlier this week, my colleagues here at Live to Write—Write to Live shared their take on being grateful and giving thanks. (Here’s a link to Lisa’s post and to Julie’s post.)

Today I’d like to share with you two quotes from the Thanksgiving Reader that resonated with me the most:

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life.

It turns what we have into enough, and more.

It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity.

It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. It turns problems into gifts, failures into successes, the unexpected into perfect timing, and mistakes into important events.

It can turn an existence into a real life, and disconnected situations into important and beneficial lessons. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow. “

–Melody Beattie


“I think that we can’t go around measuring our goodness by what we don’t do—by what we deny ourselves, what we resist, and who we exclude. I think we’ve got to measure goodness by what we embrace, what we create, and who we include.

–Robert Nelson Jacobs

I’d also like to take a moment to say I’m truly grateful for this community here at Live to Write—Write to Live. I hope each of you has a wonderful Thanksgiving, whether you are working or at home, alone or with a crowd, cooking or eating leftovers, surrounded by loved ones or missing them today.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon, MD: is a writer, blogger, family physician, and life coach. I’m also planning to win NaNo in a few days. I’m a little behind, but not as much as in years past at this time! If you like, you can join me at Rodger’s Memorial Library in Hudson, NH, for a Write-In on Saturday, November 28th. For more information, click here. It’s a chance to use the power of the group to power through those last few (thousand!) words on the way to 50,000. Hope to see you there!






The Act of Gratitude

Gratitude The Reason for the Season Not just nice to have, it's necessayDid you all read Lisa’s post on Monday? She and I are on the same wave length this week. Holidays are both wonderful, and stress soup. I want to focus on why gratitude isn’t just nice, it’s necessary.

Even in the most trying of times, there is something to be grateful for. Finding and focusing on that one thing can provide much needed peace, even for a moment.

Gratitude keeps us humble. Implicit in gratitude searches is being willing to say “thank you” in acknowledgment.

Gratitude is more attractive than entitlement. Enough said.

Wishing all of you, dear readers, a wonderful, gratitude filled Thanksgiving.


Julie Hennrikus, J.A. Hennrikus, and Julianne Holmes are all grateful for a lot this fall.




Short and Sweet Advice for Writers – Start in the Middle (In Medias Res)

Image from an excellent post about presentation story structure by Ffion Lindsay

Image from an excellent post about presentation story structure by Ffion Lindsay

Every story has a beginning, a middle, and an end, right? Right.

But, no one ever said they always have to be told in that order.

Sometimes, the best place to start your story is smack dab in the middle, or even at the end.

In fancy-schmancy literary terms, this is called in medias res, a latin expression which basically means “in the middle of” or “in the midst of.” Writers of all kinds (literary, film, tv) use the in medias res technique to capture and hold the reader’s attention right from the first word. By dropping readers into the middle of the action, without any explanation or exposition, the writer can quickly and easily pull them deeper into the story.

Some people refer to this technique as cutting all the “throat clearing” or “small talk.” If, for instance, you open your story with a description of your protagonist and perhaps the setting, you are – by some standards – engaging in throat clearing. You are working your way up to making a point, to letting the reader know why you’re telling the story in the first place.

Think about how you tell stories about things that have happened to you. If you’re relating an anecdote about how you caught a runaway horse at the state park, you aren’t going to start with a detailed description of what you were wearing or what kind of trees and plants were in the park. You’re not going to go into a lengthy backstory about why you were at the park in the first place, or how you were feeling about being there. You’re going to start at the point when you heard hoofbeats pounding through the woods, coming at you from you didn’t know where. You’re going to immediately put the listener into the most exciting part of the story.

Or, here’s another example – did you ever get back an academic essay to find that the teacher had crossed out the first three paragraphs of your paper and drawn an arrow to the fourth with a note saying, “Here’s your beginning.” Lots of first drafts – fiction and non-fiction – have too much throat clearing in their beginnings. Think about this when you are editing your own work. Can you move the information in your opening lines or paragraphs to a later point in the story and then instead start your story a little further in where the action starts to sizzle?

Here are a couple examples of stories that use in medias res to draw readers in:

The Art of Floating by Kristin Bair O’Keeffe opens with the lines,

Sia Dane discovered the man on the beach exactly one year, one month, and six days after her husband disappeared.

One moment she was out there alone, moving toward the old clam shack with Gumper lollygagging behind, nosing about in a seaweed jumble for shells to carry home, and the next, there was the man … standing at the water’s edge … drenched as if he had just walked out of the sea.

We’re not given any explanation as to who Sia or Gumper are. We know next to nothing about them – not where they are (other than the beach), how old they are, or what they look like. We only know that they have just discovered a mysterious man. And – just like that – we’re hooked.

Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book also opens in the middle of the action:

There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.

The knife had a handle of polished black bone, and a blade finer and sharper than any razor. If it sliced you, you might not even know you had been cut, not immediately.

The knife had done almost everything it was brought to that house to do, and both the blade and the handle were wet.

Bam! Smack dab in the middle of the action.

Starting in the middle can inspire your reader to turn the page, and it can also inspire you – the writer – when you’re working on crafting a story. If you’re stuck trying to write the beginning, stop spinning your wheels. Start anywhere. Pick an exciting scene that you can’t wait to write and start from there.

Pay attention to the books and stories you read, to the TV shows and movies you watch. I bet you’ll be able to find all kinds of examples of in medias res once you know what you’re looking for.
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.

Being Grateful and Giving Thanks

With the momentum for stress building due to the upcoming (US) holidays, I find it more important than ever to take a few minutes each day to give thanks and be grateful for all that I have – regarding my writing life and my whole life.

Diane wrote about how gratitude is one of the best feelings we human beings can feel. And she opened by talking about how when we’re in a state of appreciation, we can’t also (at the same time) be in a state of fear or lack. She shares some of what she’s thankful for and has great prompts for us.

Julie talked about the gratitude journal after reading Simple Abundance. It suggests writing down 5 things, every day that you are truly grateful for. She gave us a baker’s dozen of writing-related things she’s grateful for.


I have a gratitude / thankful journal, but don’t write in it every day.  I do, however, give thanks every day. If I’m not writing the items down, I’m spending a few moments before bed saying my thanks out loud. Sometimes it can be a lot more than 5 things, sometimes the 5 things became the basics: fresh air, clean clothes, food in the fridge that wasn’t moldy, hot water, a new writing project.

I used to find the holiday season stressful: pressure to find the ‘right’ gift, dealing with family dynamics, increased traffic, crowded malls, work deadlines that didn’t account for all the delays due to increased traffic and crowded malls, cards to write and mail, and, oh, decorating! So much to do and not enough time to do it!

It’s this time of year, and during stressful moments, when we need to pause, take a deep breath, and spend a moment connecting with what is good.

Stop. For a moment.

Breathe. Slowly in, hold it, slowly out.


Be still, breathe, and look around.

Look not just at what is around you at the moment in the physical space, but look around inside yourself and discover all the positive feelings, recognize what makes you smile, listen to the sounds around you.

You can be grateful for being able see, feel, and hear. Already 3 things, right there. You may see a mess that needs to be cleaned up. You may feel aches and pains. You may hear a generator instead of silence. But you can be grateful to have those sensations, those abilities — not everyone does.

As Thanksgiving comes rushing toward us this week, I hope you can find a minute each day to pause and either write down or say out loud, at least 5 things you are grateful or thankful for.

This morning I’m grateful for technology (to do my work), the sunrise (to light up the room), fresh coffee (need I say more), writing projects (to pay the bills), and fleece (to keep the chill away).

What are at least 5 things you are grateful for right now?

Lisa_2015Lisa 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 – Why I Blog, One Writer’s Convoluted Tale

Blogging – Why I Do It & What It Does For Me

hands keyboardThis week’s Friday Fun post asked, “Why do you blog, and is it worth it?” It’s a valid question. Blogging can be a very time consuming pursuit. I spend an average of five hours each week planning, writing, and commenting here at Live to Write – Write to Live. That’s a pretty substantial chunk of time in my world, hours some might say I should spend working on other writing projects – a novel, a nonfiction book, a short story collection, etc. Though I sometimes worry that maybe those people are right, and my blogging habit is just an elaborate procrastination scheme, those moments of doubt don’t last long. I know there’s much more to my blogging than mere avoidance.

Anyway, since client deadlines kept me from chiming in on yesterday’s Friday Fun post, I wanted to take some time today to share a little bit about why I blog, what it means to me, what it does for me, and to invite you to share your thoughts on the topic.

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My blogging journey began more or less by accident. I’ve shared my blogging genesis story before, but the short version is that I began by publicly journaling about my divorce, which led to a gig as a mommy blogger, which gave me the confidence to launch a marketing blog with five other professional copywriters, which eventually landed me here (since one of those other copywriters was our own, dear Wendy). I no longer mommy blog, or write for my own or any other marketing blog, but I continue putting in my five hours each week here.


Good question.

There are several different kinds of bloggers. Some bloggers …

  • Develop blog properties with the focused intent of monetizing them via products, ad revenue, or affiliate sales
  • Use their blogs as content marketing, not expecting any direct monetary return from the blog, but using it to promote their expertise in order to land clients for their business
  • Do what they do simply to express themselves, share their knowledge, and build communities around common experiences and interests
  • Writers and artists, create a blog to be both a portfolio and a community hub for their fans and patrons, using it to increase awareness of and support for their work
  • Use their blogs as a public chronicle of a personal journey, exploring their lives, thoughts, and emotions
  • Blog purely to keep themselves accountable to a writing practice

When you understand which of these reasons motivates you to blog, you’ll have a much easier time setting expectations, making blog-related choices, and reaching goals (whether your goal is selling 1,000 copies of your novel or simply sticking to a consistent writing schedule for three years). When you’re clear about why you’re blogging and what you hope to get out of it, you gain a lot of valuable clarity. You can be more intentional about what you write, and this will help you evolve as a blogger (and a writer!) more quickly and in a more meaningful way.

I definitely started out as a blogger who wanted nothing more than to express myself and find a community of people who could relate to what I was going through. I had little knowledge of what blogging actually was, no idea how it’s popularity would explode, and no clear vision of where I wanted to go with it. I just wanted to get stuff out of my head and into the world. I loved that people responded to what I wrote, and was giddy when someone offered to pay me for my writing.

My professional blogging about marketing and copywriting was straight-up content marketing. As someone new on the freelancer scene, I needed a way to demonstrate to prospective clients that I knew what I was talking about and could wrangle words. Blogging helped me build an archive of articles on relevant topics that I could later use when pitching a client. I even had a few instances where clients found me through the blog (though, because I didn’t do any heavy promotion for the blog, those were few and far between).

Today, my hybrid motivation is a mash-up of professional (build a portfolio, create a platform), personal (explore ideas, connect with others), artistic (improve my craft, hone my voice), and pragmatic (stay productive and accountable) reasons. It’s a lot to expect of any practice, but – in my experience – blogging delivers.

··• )o( •··

In her book, The Power of Vulnerability, Brené Brown talks about the importance of having a creative outlet. She says, “Unused creativity is not benign – it metastasizes. It turns into grief, rage, judgement, sorrow, shame.” She also touches on the importance of doing work that fulfills you – work with a purpose that is meaningful to you. She’s quick to clarify that she doesn’t mean you should quit your day job in order to pursue work that won’t keep a roof over your head. She explains that people who live “whole-heartedly” make time in their lives for meaningful work, but that very few of them actually do such work as their main profession. In most cases, the meaningful work is something they do outside of their regular jobs: a plumber who paints on the weekends, an accountant who is also a jewelry designer, a marketing assistant who spends three weeks a year volunteering as a relief worker in third-world countries.

She also points out that the meaningful work doesn’t have to be grandiose. Your meaningful work doesn’t have to receive accolades, make money, or earn you any major recognition. It just needs to make you happy by providing you a way to express your own unique creativity. She gives the example of a woman who makes handmade candles to sell on Etsy. The woman doesn’t make any money selling the candles, and she only makes four each month, but that’s enough. For her, that is meaningful work that allows her to share a little bit of herself with others in an authentic and vulnerable way. Brown says, “The only unique contribution that we will ever make in this world will be born of our creativity.”

··• )o( •··

In his book, Show Your Work, artist and writer Austin Kleon talks about the importance of putting your work out into the world – sharing it, even if you’re scared. He encourages artists to think in terms of “process, not product,” and to share what you’re doing in order to “gain a following that you can then use for fellowship, feedback, or patronage.”

This idea of showing your work can be, in both a literal and a meta way, the very essence of your blogging. As a blogger, I do not pretend to have all the answers. I do not present myself as a “guru” or an “expert.” I prefer to think of myself as a fellow traveler, someone with whom you may share some part of your journey, but who may also have traveled roads as yet unknown to you. While I am happy to share what I’ve learned along the way, I tend to ask more questions than I answer. I am, as Kleon recommends, fully immersed in the process.

··• )o( •··

I share the work of these two writers because, together, their insights illuminate the primary reasons I blog: to express my creativity, create meaningful work in my life, share my experiences and ideas, and to stay grounded in the process as much as – if not more than – the outcome of my writing.

I am not discounting my professional and material reasons for blogging – portfolio and platform building, etc. My work here on Live to Write – Write to Live serves those purposes as well, but – to come back to the original question about why I consistently spend five hours each week blogging – my motivation for showing up here has less to do with my career goals or the prospect of any financial reward and everything to do with my drive to explore my experience, connect with others, and practice my craft.

Blogging has become, for me, an integral part of my creative journey, and as such, the greatest rewards are in the doing work, in giving myself the time and head space to step out of my day-to-day and be fully here, with my thoughts and with other writers who are on their own journeys. And, if that’s not worth it, I don’t know what is.



This week, two of my writer friends published pieces that are worth reading:

Illustration by Rick Brown

Illustration by Rick Brown

Tracy Mayor, my friend and accomplished essayist, wrote an insightful and inspirational piece about “The Gap Year” for Brain, Child Magazine (the smartest, sassiest, most entertaining parenting magazine out there). A “gap year” is a year period of time that students take off from school, usually between high school graduation and college, or after their freshman or sophomore year at college. Typically, students will put their formal education on hold for a year or so in order to pursue travel, outside studies, an internship, or another kind of purposeful journey or exploration.

My daughter just entered middle school this year, and I know that the next few years are going to fly by. It may seem like a long way off, but I realize that before I’m ready, we’ll be facing decisions about what she wants to do after high school. I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of a gap year, and the research Tracy shares in her essay points to many benefits including increased maturity, greater focus, and even better study habits and academic performance.

I also love that Tracy tweeted the piece with this comment:

tracy m tweet

We’ve decided that our mommy gap year will take place in Iceland.

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Photo by Eneas De Troya

Photo by Eneas De Troya

This week also included a treat of a read from my friend YiShun Lai. Her short story, “Next of Kin” (published by Atticus Review) is an exemplary piece of work that reminded me how satisfying a short story can be.

The story begins …

At the consular offices in Mexico City, the dress code is nearly always casual. Open-necked shirts, light-colored trousers that won’t stick when you get up from a park bench after your lunchtime meeting afuera.

Your father is not as interested in this new posting, but then, he’s always thought the jobs that required a suit and tie were the only ones ever worth living. At your last posting, in Hong Kong, it was suits and ties every day.

You prefer this casual option. Yes, Dad, it has buttons on it. No, Dad, I’m not buttoning that top button.

Your first few weeks are an absolute mess. Dad has decided to come for a visit before his airline miles expire, conveniently a month after your arrival in Mexico.

Read the rest here …

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:

Rather than a quote, this week I’m sharing a lovely video about the art of bookmaking. Stories are magic, and books are the vessels that hold that magic. The art of crafting books using traditional techniques is, then, a magic all its own.


Here’s to discovering and embracing your creative journey (whether it includes blogging, or not), and to enjoying the process as much as the product. Happy writing!  
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.

Hands on Keyboard, Photo Credit: Anonymous Account via Compfight cc

Friday Fun – Why do you blog (and is it worth the effort)?

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 week, Deborah posted about her blogging experience and whether she has found the effort to be worth the results. It’s an interesting question that often has very individual and personal answers, so we thought it would be a good one to pose to the group. So, writers, let’s talk about why we blog, what our expectations were when we started, what the reality is, and whether we think the whole thing is worth it. 

Lisa_2015Lisa J. Jackson: I blog here because I want to share my writing passion with others. I find the time I spend blogging here very worthwhile. It’s been my most consistent blogging experience and I grow from each new post – coming up with the topic, designing how I want the post to read, selecting or creating images for it (still lots of room for improvement there!), to hearing from readers on the post. It’s definitely worth the time and effort and I look forward to continuing it, and building my own blog in 2016.

wendy-shotWendy Thomas: I am a big on blogging. I even teach a college level course on starting and promoting a blog. Most of my writing is for my personal blog; Lessons Learned from the Flock where I talk about  flock issues (avian and human.)  On occasion I also blog for Mother Earth News, Grit, and Community Chickens. As a result I am part of a large community where ideas are shared and noticed. Writing in my personal blog makes me feel like I’m connecting with friends – it’s not a chore, it’s a joy.

My blog is where I created and promoted my platform (and yes, if you try to get a book published, they will ask you if you blog, what your platform is, and if you are active on Social Media.)

To agents, It’s not so much that a writer has a blog, it’s that that writer knows what to do with that material in order to grow their audience. Is the blog based on a good idea? Is it focused?  Is the writing tight? Do you have a voice? Are you providing value? Are you using Social Media to promote your blog? and Does it fully represent you and your work?

Let’s face it, a blog done right, gets you noticed. And as a writer, if you are noticed then you get work (and sometimes even a book deal.)

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon: I love my life coaching blog, Healing Choices. I write about things that interest me and I hope what I write is useful to others. I definitely don’t think of it as analytically as Wendy mentions above, but I started it as a way to promote my business and as a way to connect with others. Writing here on Write To Live has been an amazing experience. I enjoy writing, thinking about writing, and writing about writing, and I especially enjoy interacting with the readers here on the blog. I don’t respond to comments right away but my goal is always to respond to all the comments I receive–eventually. It’s like an ongoing conversation that you tune into when you can best appreciate it.

I don’t pay much attention to the statistics, because whatever they are, I feel I get more out of blogging than I put into it, so I’m going to keep doing it.

M. Shafer, Photo

M. Shafer, Photo

Deborah Lee Luskin: The replies I received to Tuesday’s post were so varied and informative, but mostly they helped realized how connected I am to a community here, and that matters – especially in this often lonely business of writing. Readers’ comments also helped me acknowledge how disciplined and productive I am as a result of posting on topic, to deadline. And one of the best things about this blog, in particular, is being part of this cohort of writers!


.hennrikus-web2Julie Hennrikus/Julianne Holmes: My own blog is more of website for my books/writing life. I don’t blog there often. As Deborah mentioned, blog posts take time, and writing energy. I have little of both these days. I LOVE being part of this blog–the group posts are fun, and the demand on my time is limited. I also blog with the Wicked Cozy Authors. We are six friends who all got publishing contracts for cozy series around the same time. I was the last to get a contract, and the last published. Some of the Wickeds have two, and in one case three, series. We seem to be building up a following, which is great. And, again, sharing the blogging load makes life much easier.