The Perfect Pen – The Never Ending Quest

Staedtler Lumocolor 4 pack, Avant Pro retractable, InkJoy 700 RT Retractable, InkJoy in Fashion ColorsI’ve written about the pencil and there are still times when writing in pencil soothes and inspires the muse, but most of my written words are created with a pen. Some people are into shoes, some into hats, my weakness is pens and organizer purses. For now, I’ve found the perfect organizer purse, but my quest for the perfect pen is never ending.

I look forward to my annual trip down the pen aisle during back-to-school shopping. Kind of like a kid before Christmas. It IS “The Most Wonderful Time” of the year.  Last year I discovered InkJoy pens from Papermate. They are ball point pens but smoother. For everyday writing I especially like the InkJoy 700 retractable ball point pen. The InkJoy 100ST Ballpoint Pens in Fashion Colors are fun when multiple colors will help clarify your message.

This fall I’ve been on a quest to find a the perfect marker. Sharpies are ubiquitous, and certainly have their uses. I’m actually a huge fan of the Bic Mark It Pens. I like them better than Sharpies for office use. For me the fine and medium points of the Bic’s just write better. BUT, both Sharpies and Mark-Its bleed and that drives me nuts. So, I’ve been on the hunt for markers that write well, but won’t bleed.

I approached the pen aisle during this year’s back to school shopping trip with great anticipation. I came away disappointed on the marker front, but I did find a lovely new to me ball point pen. The AvantPro with SilkScribe blue ink is my new favorite pen. As much as I love a good pen, I’m usually loathe to spend much money on them because let’s face it, pens get lost or “borrowed”. I bought two of these at $8 a pop, plus replacement ink because I write in blue, not black. One stays with my journal all the time. No ifs, ands or buts. The other lives in my purse and don’t even ask me to borrow it, because I’ll hand you one of the others I carry with me at all times. More than likely you’ll get a Bic Pro+, my previous proverbial favorite that was knocked off by the PaperMate Ink Joy.

So, back to the hunt for a marker that writes well, has a bold point (but not too bold) and doesn’t bleed through paper. After I had exhausted all my options at the office supply stores and in the back-to-school sections of discount stores. I searched online, but it’s a pen and one person’s idea of fine is my idea of extra fine and plus, half the battle with finding a good pen is how it feels in your hand. No, this was going to be an in person purchase.

I visited my local art supply store and conducted some tests. I left with 4 Staedtler Lumocolor pens in different tip sizes to play with. After some experimentation, I finally decided that the Staedtler Lumocolor non-permanent in medium point is what I have been searching for. Yay! The only problem was that the Art Supply Store had a limited supply. Boo! Of course I would like a pen that’s not easy to get. After some digging, I finally found them, where else? Yup. Amazon.

So there you have it my latest and greatest pen finds. Which pen to use is an extremely personal decision.  I can’t stand fine or extra fine pens, some people swear by them. When I shared my new Staedtler marker with a friend who I was SURE would love it, He hated it. That said, while I’m hyper selective about pens, I’m also always on the look out for my next perfect pen. So, what do you write with?

Examples of how the pens write.

The opinions reflected here are my own. I did not receive any compensation for sharing my thoughts. 

Lee Laughlin is a writer, wife, and mom, frequently all of those things at once. You can find her on Twitter @Fearless. She blogs at and she is a regular contributor to the Concord Monitor. 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.

One Goal; Two Lessons

road-sign-798176_640I recently met one goal and learned two lessons.

One of my goals for 2015 was to update my Curriculum Vitae – or CV – an expanded resume of my published work and professional experiences and accomplishments.

In January, I started listing every single book, short story, essay, editorial, article and review I’ve ever published. It’s an impressive list, running to fifteen pages of fine print. Then I started in on all the courses I’ve taught over a long career as a freelancer, teaching in a myriad of venues to students of all ages and circumstances. Organization eluded me, and I abandoned the task – until last week. Just as we turned the corner into the fourth quarter, I needed an abbreviated CV for a submission: five pages to summarize my professional life.

It’s now done.

Facing a deadline pushed me to finish my CV

Facing a deadline pushed me to finish my CV

There are at least two lessons here: One is the importance of setting goals for the year and periodically reviewing them. A recent joke on Facebook reminded of what can happen if we set goals and ignore them. It read, My goal this year is to lose ten pounds; only fifteen to go. While it’s helpful to set goals by the Month, Week, Day, a quarterly check-in is also a good idea.

The other lesson is about the CV itself. The friend who strongly urged me to write one in January pointed out that even though the task was large and included a lot of digging into files and reviewing work diaries, it would be well worth it. With a complete CV, she explained, one can always pick and choose what to include in the shorter versions that are often requested with applications for residencies, speaking engagements, teaching gigs and contests.

Thanks to the work I did in January, I was able to pull out the writing credits most appropriate to this application. But, because I never finished the teaching portion of the CV in January, I had to do some digging for course titles and dates in short order to meet a deadline. Under pressure, I figured out a good organizational model.

It now remains for me complete the comprehensive list of courses I’ve taught, which involves going back to the beginning of time through file boxes in the attic. Due to other deadlines, I won’t get to this until December, but I’ve already inked it into my planner, so I’ll get it done, even if it’s the last goal I meet this year.

photo: M. Shafer

photo: M. Shafer

Deborah Lee Luskin blogs here, at Living In Place and at The Middle Ages, and can be found on Facebook and Twitter.

Weekend Edition – Forget the Destination. Enjoy the Journey.

Embracing the Journey, Each Twist and Turn

pin travel bourdainAutumn is in full swing here. After weeks of blue skies with n’ere a cloud in sight, Mother Nature has changed her tune.  Each day this week, I have woken to gray drizzle and a raw-edged wind that is more malevolent than playful. There is a damp chill in the air that pries its way indoors, reminding me that Winter’s wrath may only be a few short weeks away.

I don’t mind this weather. After the frantic energy of our recent move, these monochromatic days are something of a relief. The cold and wet give me ample excuse to remain ensconced – guilt free – in my new home, puttering through the boxes that remain to be unpacked. The wind that rakes over the treetops and whistles by the windows raises in my heart a sense of wistful agitation.

I remember days like this from my childhood. I remember standing in the middle of a wide open field under charcoal skies with a mid-air cyclone twisting the leaves above my head. Rooted to the ground and looking up into the clouds, I felt like a wild thing. I tingled all over with an electric awareness of something I could never name. I felt connected to the whole world, and yet apart from it. The fall wind rushing around me seemed to be calling me back to a home I couldn’t remember.

··• )o( •··

Fall has always been, for me, a time of reflection, renewal, and change. It is a time of endings and beginnings, a threshold between the seasons. This year, being in a new house, these blustery days feel like a semicolon that has inserted a pregnant pause into the turning of the year. And in that expectant moment, I find myself considering my writing life and reimagining my journey.

Each writer’s path is unique and “right” for that writer. There is no magic formula, no one-size-fits-all approach to becoming a writer. Comparing your journey to another writer’s journey is futile. It serves no purpose since each of you must find your own way. Your paths may cross or even run in tandem for a while, but ultimately you will each need to make your own choices and take your own turnings.

We don’t know, nor do we need to know, where any path might lead us. Writing is a journey, not a destination. You are never done with writing, you are always working at it. Though you may have an idea of where you are going, focusing all your energy on that false end point will not help you. It is better to stay here, in the moment, embracing the journey no matter where it takes you. The point is to travel the road awake and with intention so that you can read each signpost and take advantage of every opportunity for adventure and growth.

··• )o( •··

Often, the day-to-day responsibilities and obligations of our lives consume us, leaving us only enough energy to sleep walk through our “real” lives. My move, for instance, has commandeered the lion’s share of my time and thoughts over the past few months. My writing was forced to exist on the edges of this urgent crisis. Sometimes, it feels like my creative self is subsisting on a meager life support system.  It feels like my energy is all ebb and no flow.

But, I know that such a state won’t last forever; and I can be patient. I can stay creatively awake in a little corner of my mind even as I spend all my waking hours handling the non-creative tasks that demand my attention. As I’ve said many times before, a writer is not only a writer when she is putting words down. A writer is a writer all of the time. Writing is not a hobby or even a vocation, it is a way of life.

··• )o( •··

The uniqueness of each writer’s path is a beautiful thing. It means each of us gets to experience our own untold tale. Like a literal journey, the writing journey never leaves you standing still. You are always moving toward one thing and away from another. Your direction and next destination may change, but that doesn’t mean the journey is over. In fact, your direction matters little. Like exploring a new place, writing is a discovery. It gives you the opportunity and the tools to stop and look around, take in the world, and see inside your own heart.

And then, having embarked on your curious and courageous exploration, through your writing you have, if you choose to take it, a chance to share your discoveries with others, to make new connections that inspire new adventures, which in turn reveal new discoveries.

Being a writer is like living in a perpetual season of autumn. It’s like being abroad and at home at the same time, like always stepping over the threshold onto a new path that leads you to a new part of your journey. There are twists and turns, your practice ebbs and flows, but if you simply put one foot in front of the other with dedication and intention, you will travel far and find much to write home about.


What I’m Writing:

Sophisticated Fantasy, a digital magazine from Cate Kowalski of Gryphon Piffles

Sophisticated Fantasy, a digital magazine from Cate Kowalski of Gryphon Piffles

Despite the chaos and overwhelm of my days right now, I am thankful that I have so far been able to carve out a few hours every other week to write my column for the local paper. One piece I wrote easily did double duty, also appearing in the inaugural edition of the digital magazine, Sophisticated Fantasy. This publication is the work a client who I wish lived closer because we would definitely get together for tea and long chats. As it is, each time we get on the phone to talk shop, our conversations veer way off course into exciting but tangential territory. The good news is that these side trips invariably deliver important insights that are helping her to reimagine her fantasy boutique at Gryphon Piffles.

In the meantime, she has taken on the not-so-small challenge of launching her own digital magazine. My first piece for her (I am sure there will be others) is a short essay on Mabon, the pagan holiday of thanksgiving, reflection, and balance that is celebrated on the fall equinox.  I hope you’ll give it a read, and maybe also explore some of the other pieces in the September issue. Enjoy!


What I’m Reading:

book yes pleaseAs I mentioned last week, I had a lot of time while preparing for our move (cleaning, painting kitchen cabinets, packing) to enjoy the pleasure of listening to audio books while engaged in manual labor. Another of the books I read in this way is Amy Poehler’s memoir, Yes, Please.

I’m not usually a big fan of memoirs, but I was intrigued by this one because Amy Poehler, along with her frequent partner in crime, Tina Fey, are two women whom I find fascinating. They are smart, funny, and irreverent, but also seem like very grounded individuals with good hearts. Yes, Please demonstrated exactly this about Poehler in a way that made me wish we could be friends.

The book is a series of essays, some of which feature cameos by a range of characters including Poehler’s parents, Patrick Stewart, Carol Burnett, and Mike Schur. The chapters feature titles like “Treat Your Career Like a Bad Boyfriend,” “Plain Girl Versus the Demon,” and – my favorite – “The Robots Will Kill Us All.”

Surprisingly sweet in places (a passage she wrote about taking her sons out to see the moon nearly brought me to tears), this book was a delight to listen to. It felt like sitting down at the bar for a drink with a really cool chick and having one of those rare, unplanned conversations that make you feel better about humanity in general.


And let’s not forget the blogs. Here are a few of my favorite writerly posts from this week:

Finally, a quote for the week:

pin journey to be

Welcome to your writer’s journey. I hope you enjoy each step and each side adventure and each surprise ending. 
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.

Friday Fun – Books We’ve Read More Than Once

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: Name up to three books that you’ve read more than three times each. (Bonus Points: Reveal why you keep coming back to that particular book.)

LisaJJackson_2014Lisa J. Jackson: Other than a couple of writing-related books for grammar, writing prompts, and inspiration, I haven’t re-read any books. There are so many books out there in the world to read, that I just haven’t gone back to re-read one I’ve already tackled. That being said, if I find an author I like, I will generally seek out and read every book I can by that author before moving on to any other books.

M. Shafer, Photo

M. Shafer, Photo

Deborah Lee Luskin: There was a time in my life when I performed bibliomancy on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. I kept a copy by my bedside and opened it at random before I fell asleep at night. I’ve read all six of Austen’s novels more times than I can count – and not just because I wrote my dissertation about them. Other favorites include Woolf’s To The Lighthouse, Dicken’s David Copperfield and Our Mutual Friend, and Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre.

There are others as well: No matter how well I know a book, I almost always reread it before I teach it, so that it’s fresh in my mind. And while part of me thinks this leads to being over prepared and that I should really be reading only books I haven’t read before, I’ve learned that each time I reread a book, I read it anew – because I’ve changed and the world changed, and I always find new meaning in a good story well told.

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon, MD: There are so many books I’ve read more than three times, it’s hard to limit myself here. One that I’ve mentioned many times on this blog is Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, which I always learn something from, no matter how many times I’ve read it before. I’ve also read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkein at least three times. I hope to read them again–to my son, whenever he is ready for them. And one more book that I’ve read many times is, (like Deborah,) Jane Eyre. I first read the book in 5th grade and I was captivated by Jane, maybe because she’s a child in the beginning of the book, as I was at the time I first read it. Every rereading teaches me something new.

I reread a lot of nonfiction but I also enjoy rereading fiction. There’s something about returning to an old favorite that I love. I think it has to do with the certainty that the book I’m diving into is going to deliver, even though it now lacks the suspense of the first reading. New books, known books, they’re all good friends, aren’t they?

JME5670V2smCROPJamie Wallace: There are not many books that I’ve read more than once. A Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin is one (it’s also one of my picks for best winter reads), and like Diane, I have also read Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy multiple times. I also find that I sometimes return to childhood favorites (The House at Pooh Corner, Wind in the Willows, Julie of the Wolves). And lately, I’ve been re-listening to certain audio books (though my return listens have been less about reliving the story in question and more about having a pleasantly familiar accompaniment to some manual labor). Lillian Jackson Braun’s “cat who” mysteries are perfect for this purpose. I am sure there are other books I’ve reread, but their titles escape me at the moment.

As for why I reread certain books, I think it’s mostly to recapture a particular feeling. Most of the books I return to are ones that represent a sense of comfort and well being to me. They create a space in which I feel safe and “cocooned” from whatever trials I’m facing in the real world.

Interestingly, this question has made me ask myself why I keep so many books when there is such a slim chance that I’ll reread them. I have several bookcases filled to overflowing with novels and nonfiction books that I will likely never reread, and yet I cannot bear to part with them. Is it because I just like to have them around me? Do they serve as some sort of physical tally of my reading conquests? Are they still here “just in case” I should one day like to reread a passage or two? I don’t really know. I only know that I’m happier with my shelves full than empty.

Fall Update

My son started school the day after Labor Day. It was a red-letter day for him and for me. He went off to school and I…went for a run in the park.

After I ran and showered and ate I finally sat down at my desk.

I wrote in my journal.

I wrote on my computer.

Since then I’ve been trying to figure out how to do even more writing. I’d have more time to write if I didn’t exercise every day, but it turns out, now that I have the freedom to do it, I really want to exercise. I run, swim, or do yoga just about every day my son is in school.

When I exercise regularly, I have more energy to write, and I can stay up a little later and get a little done after my son goes to bed.

When I think back to medical school, exercise is what got me through. Everyone did something besides study medicine—some of my classmates cooked gourmet meals, some played video games, and some, like me, exercised. It was a respite from the grind and it always recharged me.

So my new writing life includes daily exercise. Sometimes it gives me thinking time (like when I run) and sometimes it gives me the chance to “not think,” if you know what I mean (like when I’m doing Wheel in yoga class,) but it always gives me energy and makes me feel more like myself.

When I’m most authentic, the words I write are authentic, too. Not necessarily true, as I’ve started back on my fiction, but true to me.

Once again I’ve had to give up on being the person I want to be to be the person I am. I’d love to be someone who writes for six hours at a time, stopping only when it’s time to pick up my son from school, but that’s not me (at least not now.)

Now I’m someone who sits down to write for a couple of hours (or even one) most days, after getting dinner organized and going for a run.

That’s a person I can live with.

Who are you as a writer and what to do you need in order to sit down at your desk?

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon, MD: is a writer, blogger, master life coach, and family physician. I’m hosting a One Day Writing Retreat on October 17th, in Nashua, NH. If you’d like some time to work on your writing project in a comfortable setting with like-minded individuals (ie, other writers!) please join us. For more information, click here.

Be Brave, Not Fearless

Last week I went to see Elizabeth Gilbert at a book event for her new book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. Though the book is just out, I’ve been listening to a podcast she’s been doing, which has given me a head start. Now, I’m already a fan of Elizabeth Gilbert. I unapologetically loved Eat, Pray, Love. Her TED talks inspired me. (See them here and here.)

Seeing her speak was just terrific, and timely. I am days (DAYS!!) away from my long time dream of being published coming true. And you know what, dear readers? Fear is my co-pilot on this journey. I’ve been struggling with that—what is there to be afraid of? Surely I can meditate/visualize/breath through the fear and get rid of it. (Fear laughs hard at this, and moves back in, usually around 3 A.M.)

Elizabeth Gilbert said something that is resonating with me. Don’t be fearless, be brave. She said a lot more than that (a future blog post!), but for this week, that is enough. Don’t be fearless. Just be brave enough to act anyway. Let fear into the car, just don’t let it drive, use the GPS, change the radio station, or look at the maps. But fear gets a seat in the car. It would have taken one anyway.

Writing is a brave act. Getting published is related to writing, but it isn’t writing itself. The act of writing, which I’ve been doing forever, and actively doing for fifteen years with the hope of getting published, is brave. It is vulnerable, challenging, uncomfortable. And brave. Next week I celebrate getting published. But I’ve already won, because I’m a writer.

Launch Social Media FB postIn a bit of self promotion—if you live near the New England Mobile Book Fair, my launch party is next Tuesday, October 6, starting at 5:30. All are welcome. If you do come, please make sure and say hello, and that you know me from the blog.

In the meantime, let’s all work on being brave.

Short and Sweet Advice for Writers – The Perfect Time to Write

"Mural" by Jackson Pollock

“Mural” by Jackson Pollock

There is no such thing as the “perfect time to write.”

I used to have a naive fantasy about arriving at a time in my life when I would be free to write without distraction or disturbance. A time during which I would somehow be magically relieved of all my responsibilities and obligations. No worries would crease my brow other than those having to do with the writing task at hand, no stress would cloud my creative vision.

Did I mention it was a naive fantasy?

It is also a foolish one.

Writing does not happen in a vacuum. Writing is a creative act and creative acts are messy and chaotic and filled with life. That’s the way they are supposed to be. The natural push and pull, give and take between the daily rounds of our days and our writing creates tension that brings a healthy sense of urgency to our work.

Your crazy, burdened, maddening life fuels your writing. Even the hard parts of life are sustenance for your creative self. In fact, the hard bits may be the most nourishing of all. Art is not created in spite of life; it is created because of it. Each experience you have, each emotion you feel, each dream and desire and hope and wonder – all of that is imprinted on your mind and in your heart until it becomes a part of you. And then, when you are writing, it all comes out again – pouring from your fingertips, transformed by time, perspective, and the magic of story. Like an alchemist, we turn our everyday experiences and thoughts into art.

Though you may feel like you’d be more productive/inspired/capable if you sequestered yourself away from the world, that is the last thing you need. Have you ever heard the saying, “If you want something done, ask a busy person to do it?” I have experienced the truth of this saying over and over again. Often, it’s when I am at my busiest that I suddenly slip into a state of ease that makes me feel like I am dancing from one task to the next. Ideas come easily. Words flow. My timing is perfect. Everything clicks. Those crazy, creative days remind me that writing is not something that happens outside of or away from my life. Writing is at the core of my life, and every other part of my life feeds it.

There is no perfect time for writing because all your time is writing time. You don’t have to be at the keyboard or holding a pen to be writing. Living your life is part of your writing, too. It’s all one and the same. You do not need to escape your life in order to write, you need to embrace your life in order to write.

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.