Every Six Months

Years ago, in a management class our instructor said that if you want to be a good manager/leader then you must constantly read new material on the subject. He told us that he had personally made it a point to read a new management book every six months.

Stack of Books

I’ve always thought that was good advice. And so I’ve tried to follow it in my life as a writer. If I want to be a good writer then I must constantly learn about the craft. (Try it for yourself, “If I want to be a good (fill in the blank) then I must constantly learn about the craft”- See? It works pretty well, right?)

It’s why I buy Writer’s Digest every month. And why I fork over big bucks to get a copy of the imported British magazine Writer’s Forum. I read both from cover to cover. But as good as they are, there comes a time when much of the information becomes rehashed old news.

For this post, I thought I’d use you, the readers to come up with a crowd-sourced list of good books, magazines, or publications for writers to read in order to learn more about the craft of writing. What are the ones that speak to you, that offer a new perspective, and that make you learn more about your craft?

May I also suggest that you then bookmark this post and return to it, oh say, every six months?

***

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.

Tempting the Muse – A Quick Bit of Advice

Sharon Stone in the Albert Brooks 1999 movie, The Muse

I’m going to bet that your muse doesn’t always show up when you want her to.

Muses are tricky, fickle creatures. They are like cats in that they prefer to do things only when they damn well please and never according to anyone else’s schedules or needs. Also, like cats, they have a tendency to show up when you least expect them. How often have you been struck by inspiration in a moment when you absolutely cannot act on that inspiration (like in the middle of a business meeting, for instance)?

But then, when you’re ready to make your move and itching for that lightning-bolt-out-of-the-blue whack upside the head, your muse is nowhere to be seen. You’ve set up the perfect conditions: steaming mug of tea, a quiet environment, your lucky sweatshirt, several hours of uninterrupted time, and a handful of Dove dark chocolates. You’re ready to rock and roll, but … no muse.

It can be infuriating.

The thing is, your muse is not a creature of habit or a 9-to-5 worker who is going to clock in at the same time every day. She’s more wild and spontaneous than that, which is why you need to learn to work without her – butt in chair, fingers on keyboard, muse or no muse.

Your muse likes to sneak up on you while you’re in the shower, driving down the highway, or cutting cauliflower florets for dinner. It amuses her to stop you in the middle of doing something else and surprise you with an epiphany that leaves you frozen in thought under the shower head, missing your exit, or knife paused mid slice.

While I’ve learned to work without my muse and to adapt to her capricious ways, I’ve also recently realized that I can be sneaky, too. I’ve discovered that I can lure my muse to me with the right bait. Lately, the bait that has been most effective is a morning power walk to the epic sounds of my Lindsey Stirling station on Pandora. I walk and listen, and the world of my book opens up before my inner eye. Scenes play inside my head as though I’m watching them on a movie screen. Flashes of character insights pop into my mind unbidden. I keep moving. I keep listening. If my logical brain tries to veer into the mundane territory of the days To Do list, I gently lead it back down the rabbit hole of my story daydreaming.

And every once in a while, I take out my phone as casually as I can (don’t want to frighten my muse away) and type in a few notes to help me remember the things that I’ve discovered.

If you’re having trouble managing your muse, maybe a different approach will help you reconnect with your inspiration. Sometimes, inspiration is something that you can only see out of the corner of your eye. Squinting at it head on will only give you a headache, but if you just pretend you’re not paying attention, your muse may just sidle up and make herself comfortable.

.
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.
.

Writing about what you know

Ask a writer (any writer) for advice on the craft and chances are at some point you’ll hear the age-old adage “write about what you know.” In other words, write about what you (not someone else) have learned and experienced in your life.

It’s actually some of the best writing advice out there.

When you write about what you know, you bring a voice to the table. You present yourself as an expert on a craft, a journey, an experience. You get to teach people about something they may not previously know anything about. If you write from what you know, people trust you as “someone who’s been there.” You become credible and more importantly, your work becomes credible.

Writing from knowledge will not only engage your readers, but chances are you’ll be able to sell some of your work because what *you* know could be very, very interesting. After all no one else in the world has your exact point of view.

You are the only one who can tell your story.

But what are you qualified to write about?  Here’s a short list, if after reading an article or book you’ve said “I could’ve written this book” then you know about something enough to write about it.

If after reading something, you’ve thought, “Boy would I have liked to include information on …” then yeah, you know enough.

If you’ve taken a journey, had an adventure or have created an entire universe in your mind, then you know enough to write about it. Basically if you are alive you know enough about *something* to write about it.

And what you know constantly changes. Stay on top of it.

Here’s an example:

After years and years of being in chronic pain I decided to enroll in New Hampshire’ therapeutic cannabis program. I’m a middle-aged mother of 6, hardly your average cannabis user, but here I am taking gummies and vaping.

It didn’t take me long to realize that I’d been given an opportunity to tell others about my journey into therapeutic cannabis.

I pitched an article to a magazine by saying that I had a first person story on the use of medical marijuana for chronic illness.

The editor accepted the pitch and the story got published. It’s right here if you want to see it.

I am the only person in the world who could have written that exact article.

I’m new to the world of therapeutic cannabis. I had authority to talk about my own personal experiences but had I tried to talk about dosages or equipment I would have been completely out of my league. An article on that would not have been authentic.

My article was only on what I know.

We’ve all read articles by people who don’t know what they’re talking about. Usually they are filled with lots of quotes and descriptions, but very little substance. We end up turning the page pretty quickly.

So do yourself a favor. Take a look at your life – where you go and what you do. Write a list of topics that you know enough to write about.

And then choose one and follow the best advice out there and write about what you know.

***

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.

A New Strategy for Writing in Summer

Writing in Summer

I used to think that playing outdoors in summer interfered with writing. Now I know better.

Summers used to interfere with my writing. There was so much to do – both farm work and fun – that I used to despair about advancing narrative projects and meeting deadlines.

But I do.
I changed my attitude about writing.

Instead of heading straight for my desk after morning coffee, I’ve developed a completely different strategy about these lovely long days, where I’m busy from dawn till well past dusk.

I’m writing all the time – just not at my desk.

I’m writing as I drive to the river where I scull on the flat water at sunrise, when the air is sweet and cool. I slide through the water, the rhythm of my oars lulling me into the effort. I see, hear and smell the wild world while I’m out, notice changes from one day to the next.

Close observation of the world – natural, urban, indoors or out – is a key skill for a writer, one I practice in my boat, in the garden, and on the porch.

Living In Place. Deborah Lee Luskin

A detour through the garden on my way to work can delay me for hours.

After breakfast, I detour through the garden on the way to my studio. Some days, that’s as far as I get. I allow myself to become distracted by weeds or feel obligated to harvest the berries that have ripened behind my back.

I used to resent the need to stop everything to pick and process and pickle when I thought I needed to be writing. But now I know that I am writing while I engage in these summer activities. I’m expanding both my experiences and my store of metaphors. Both on the water and in the garden, my mind is freewheeling, and when I do finally get to my desk, my fingers are itching to press the keyboard.

In summer, I’m efficient at my desk.

How do you negotiate the challenges of writing and play in summer?

Deborah Lee Luskin, photoDeborah Lee Luskin is a recreational sculler, amateur farmer, and professional writer. Read an Essay Every Wednesday at www.deborahleeluskin.com

Dear Writer, You need more magic in your life.

Hidden Magic (Instagram: @suddenlyjamie)

Do you ever plunk yourself down, pen in hand, and feel like there’s nothing left? Do you ever come to the keyboard and only to find that your inspiration has been thoroughly depleted? You don’t have to answer. I’m betting you’ve had similar experiences. Some people call it writer’s block. Other’s call it life fatigue. Whatever name you give it, there’s a can’t-miss solution to get you back on track: get more magic in your life.

You see, magic begets magic. When you make more room in your life for magic, you’ll find that it fuels your creativity like nothing else. Even better, finding magic is easy. You can do it in the spare moments of your day. All you need to do is keep your eyes open. It’s there, all around you.

I wrote the following column for my local paper, but I’m hoping it may also be suitable to share here among fellow writers. Artists and writers should take special care to seek out magic in their daily lives. I consider it part of my self-care routine, and I can tell when I’ve been neglecting it.

So, here’s to finding magic in unexpected places. Enjoy!

 

 


One of the best things about hanging out with little kids is getting the chance to see the world through their eyes. A child’s view of reality isn’t clouded by doubt or cynicism. It isn’t limited by things like logic or so-called “common sense.” When a kid looks at the world, it is with an open mind that is ready and willing to embrace things an adult would overlook simply because of our grown-up prejudice against the impossible.

But, as Alice’s White Queen would tell you, you can believe as many as six impossible things before breakfast if you simply draw a long breath, shut your eyes, and try.

The truth is, there is magic all around us, each and every day. To see it, we just need to take the queen’s advice. There’s a lot to be said for deep breaths and other things that help us pause for a moment and become fully aware of the wonders right in front of our noses.

It’s much too easy to surrender to the tugging and nagging of the Everyday World. As grown-ups, we’re supposed to be responsible and realistic. We’re supposed to know about things like taxes and flu prevention and the latest dreadful headlines (of which there seem to be so many these days). Our lives are busy-busy-busy and packed full to bursting with all kinds of Serious Matters and Important Tasks.

But we all need magic in our lives. Otherwise, what’s the point?

Thankfully, magic comes in an infinite number of flavors. In addition to the magic of a child’s imagination, there is the magic of sunrises and sunsets — brilliant and subtle sky paintings in every hue and shade, all lit from within and turning the world pink and blue and purple. There is the magic of spring’s first buds emerging into the bright air despite the cold and lingering pockets of ice and snow. There is the magic of last year’s seedpods, looking for all the world like perfect, faerie architecture with arches and catacombs.

One of my favorite kinds of magic is dog magic. I have yet to meet a canine who lacked the ability to work a spell on me. I see a dog, and I smile. I can’t help it. Dogs lighten my heart and remind me of all the goodness in the world. I can be walking down the street, dragging my cloud of worries behind me, and then I see a dog and those worries just evaporate into nothing. All it takes is one furry-faced smile.

And, of course, there is magic in stories and poems and music and all manner of art. During especially stressful times, I make sure to pepper my day with creative magic. My morning usually includes the enchantment of classical music, each movement and piece offering up a wordless story that is clearly magical. Throughout the day, I take a moment here and a moment there to visit the Facebook posts of certain friends who have a knack for curating the most whimsical and inspiring collections of art. Each visit lasts only a minute, but the effects linger for much longer.

I have reached an age at which I believe I have earned the right to be taken seriously when I say, “Life is short.” The more years I live, the more quickly each year seems to fly by until one blends into the last, blurring experiences and memories into one another. But the moments of magic that I weave into my life always stand out. Whether they are solitary moments standing in awe of Nature’s creative brilliance or shared moments experiencing a work of art, an adventure, or an unexpected encounter with a magical person or creature in the wild, those small moments are the ones that sparkle in my memory like stars in the night sky — constellations that guide me to remember what matters most in this short life.

 

 

 

.
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.
.

A Demonstration of Point of View

Two Points of View

Despite the events of Labor Day Weekend 2004, Tim and I are not only still married, we’re still hiking together.

Point of View is the perspective from which a story is told.

One of the best ways to understand Point of View is by example, so here are two versions of the same story told from two different points of view.

A Touching Reunion is a story about a time when my husband and I became separated while hiking. I told it to a live audience at a Vermont Public Radio event. It was subsequently broadcast. If you read it or listen to it, you’ll understand why my husband wanted to tell his side of the story.

He’s too busy to write it down, so I’ve taken the liberty of doing it for him. It follows below.

Searching for My Wife

I don’t know that I’ll ever live down forgetting the color of Deb’s eye ever since she broadcast what happened on the radio the time we became separated on the Long Trail.

We didn’t get on the trail until after 3, but Deb was right behind me – right on my heels – even though she was carrying a heavy pack. So I walked faster and pulled ahead.

The next time I stopped, she wasn’t behind me. I doubled back and couldn’t find her, so I hurried ahead.

Desperate, I called the police from a woman’s trailer just before dark. Then I headed back to the trailhead and slept in the car. Or tried to, but a carload of guys from out-of-state pulled in about midnight and started to barbeque. They offered me a burger and beer, said they were heading out first thing to climb Killington. I told them I’d be searching for my wife.

“Sorry man,” they said. If any of these frat boys were married, they didn’t act like it.

I liked being married. I liked being married to Deborah. And I was worried: where was she? What happened? Was she okay? I wouldn’t allow my mind to go further than that.

At first light, the frat boys were snoring in tents pitched in the parking lot. They didn’t even stir when the rescuers started to pull in.

A woman named Josh was in charge. She asked me Deb’s height, weight, hair color, eye color, and her birthday. Deb’s always riding me about getting her birth year wrong, always making her younger than she is. It isn’t intentional, but it’s become one of those tics that’s hard to correct once you’re unsure. So I was afraid they wouldn’t believe I was really her husband if I didn’t get it right, not after being unsure about her eyes. So I guessed a year earlier than I usually do. I think that was right, but what would they do if her ID didn’t match what I said? I couldn’t even prove we were married. Sure, both our names were on the car registration – our different names. Was that going to be another barrier to my credibility? If they didn’t believe I was her husband, how would I ever get her back?

Just then, Josh stepped away to the radio. When she came back, she said, “Your wife’s just called in. A trooper’s gone to pick her up. She’s okay.”

I was so glad to see her, and I did look deeply into her eyes. I wasn’t ever again going to be in doubt to their spectacular, loving, hue. So I did shout, “They’re blue!”

But really, how important was it to the search – if there had been one. As far as I was concerned, the Search and Rescue people could just round up every medium sized, brown haired forty-eight year old white female lost in the woods and we could sort them by eye color later.

 

Deborah Lee LuskinDeborah Lee Luskin tells a story every Wednesday at Living in Place.

Reading to write

Reading is something I’ve always done. When I was a kid, my mom would take away TV as a punishment and once I got over the initial sting of being in trouble, I’d go find a book and that was that. As an adult, I’ve often said, I could live without a TV, but you’ll pry my kindle out of my cold dead hands.

I wish I could remember the first time I heard “To be a good writer, you must be a good reader.” I even Googled the phrase to see if I could find someone other than one of my teachers to attribute it to. I can find many an essay or blog post touting that as truth, but I can’t find a source.

Romance is my genre of choice, but I find my writing is enriched by everything I read, so I work to expand my horizons. That said, I’m an emotional person, and I can be deeply impacted by what I read. I read some mystery, but suspense stresses me out and I need to read thru to find out what happened. Sometimes, my schedule doesn’t allow for a marathon reading session.  Horror is a no go for me. The boogeymen take up residence in my brain and I can’t sleep. I enjoy memoir, biography and autobiography. I love in depth news articles about places and experiences different from mine.

My TBR (to be read) pile of Romance books is extensive, but I’m on a bit of a non-fiction kick at the moment. I read Born to Run by Christopher McDougal with plans to go back to fiction, but After I read Deborah’s review of Word by Word by Kory Stamper, I made that my next read.  I’m really enjoying it I didn’t expect to laugh so hard at a book about dictionaries.  Both books introduced me to new information about the world I live in.

I find that reading across genres strengthens my writing. Bits and pieces of what I’ve read get manipulated, massaged and woven into fictional tales. Now to be clear, I’m not suggesting I read someone’s biography and use their experiences verbatim to create a character. That’s NOT cool.  It’s like cooking, take a physical trait from one story and combine it with a personality trait from someone I’ve encountered and expose it to a life changing event from a from my imagination. Boom! I have a rich, three-dimensional character that people want to read about.

Reading about different geographies introduces me to different locals and potentially different motivations for characters and events. This is another area where it is important to do my research to make sure I really understand how things work. We don’t have typhoons in the Eastern U.S., but hurricane season is real. And, the way we prepare in the Northeast is likely a little different from a Floridian’s preparation. The devil is in the details.

These days, the news is sometimes stranger than the imagination, and plot twists and character flaws are the low hanging fruit. Talk about stressful reading! I do think reading makes me a better writer. How about you, can you read while you have a writing project active? What is your preferred reading genre? What genre stretches you?


Lee Laughlin is a writer, marketer, social media consumer and producer, wife, and mom, frequently all of those things at once.  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 the second draft of her first novel, a work of contemporary, romantic fiction