When a book unlocks your writer’s heart

free writers heart

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Have you ever lost your way as a writer?

Has your passion for the unwritten page fizzled into a dull yearning that remains unrequited because you just can’t seem to find your inspiration? Have you labored on, chipping doggedly away word-by-word, even though you know the piece is going nowhere?

We’ve all been there, probably more than once.

I used to think that I got lost because my muse abandoned me. That was never the case. She is always there at the ready.  I am the one who forsakes the path – my path. I let my curiosity and insecurity lure me off into the wilds of Other People’s Opinions. As I wander deeper and deeper into the tangled bracken of writing advice, looking for some unnamed treasure, I am ensnared in thorns and tripped up by roots until I finally collapse, confused and disheartened and unable to write.

This happened to me recently, but a book rescued me.

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My Name Is Mina is the prequel to David Almond’s Printz Honor novel, Skellig (Printz Honor). The full title of the book is My name is Mina and I love the night. Anything seems possible at night when the rest of the world has gone to sleep. Just reading that, I knew I’d found something special.

But, this is not a book review. This is the story of how one small and unassuming book opened a path through the brambles and underbrush so I could find a way back to my writer’s path – back to my point of inspiration, to the thing that drew me to writing in the first place – the pulling apart and looking inside, the wonder and awe, the flights of fancy and words and ideas. My Name is Mina reminded me how stunningly beautiful simplicity is and how utterly fantastic the truth can be. It reminded me that sometimes the biggest events in our lives take place in the smallest moments and that those moments are as worthy of ink on the page as the monumental events that lie blatant and bold across our days.

This book – which is a slow and quiet story that hardly seems to be a story at all – gave me a chance to drink deeply of the quiet, to withdraw for a moment from the chaos. It gently pulled me back and in, but somehow opened me up to the mysteries of the Universe

Mina invites the reader to do “extraordinary activities” – many of them involving language and writing, poetry and stories, but others just meant to create moments of solitude and reflection. I was reminded of the many days I spent up in the boughs of a sugar maple that was in the front yard of my childhood home. I felt like I’d been given permission to slow down and ask myself the Big Questions – if I could remember what they are – not “What’s for dinner?” or “Who will win the election?” but “Why are we here?” and “How do we find joy?” and “Can we fly through the night while we’re sleeping?” Mina taught me things. Did you know that a flock of goldfinches is called a “charm?”

I have read so much lately about story and structure – inciting incidents, first plot points, character arcs, etc. – that I had lost sight of what originally drew me to writing. I forgot that the books I loved as a child, the books that inspired my love of stories and of writing, were not always so much about living vicariously through some adventure or other, but about answering questions in my own head and heart. Even the adventure books I loved invited the reader to stop once in a while and just think bigger, wilder, more improbable thoughts.

Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.”  Mina is a girl of ideas – the intermingling and interdependence of dreams and reality, hope and experience, answers and questions. She is not afraid to ask questions. She is not afraid to give answers. But, she’s also not afraid to be without answers. She is open to everything and anything – the endless possibilities of life, the Universe and everything. She blends stories into real life – giving new meanings and depth to small, everyday moments. She sees the world in all its glory. Nothing is mundane. Each leaf and twig, stone and egg is filled with possibility and the magic of life. She is brave – challenging assumptions, speaking out of turn, and swallowing her fear in small bites. She is connected to everything and everyone around her because she not only sees everything, but she bounces her observations off the rich interior landscape of her mind to create new connections and stories and realities.

Unafraid to ask questions, give answers, or be without answers. Open to everything and anything. Imaginative. Observant. Brave. Connected. Mina is a writer.

She reminded me why I wanted to be a writer. The way she tells her story – in loosely connected vignettes presented as journal entries – is how I began writing when I was a child. I didn’t write cohesive stories. I kept journals. Starting at the age of seven, I wrote what I saw and heard and experienced. I wrote how it made me feel. I wrote what I wondered and supposed and dreamed. Oh, the dreams! The night is such a fertile plain. As Mina said, “Anything seems possible at night when the rest of the world has gone to sleep.”

Even now, decades away from those blissful hours of writing without inhibition in battered notebooks decorated with unicorn stickers, I am still journaling and looking out into the night to wonder and suppose and dream. Though she will soon outgrow it, my daughter still frequently calls me into her room in the pitch of the wee hours to sit on the edge of her bed until she falls back into her own nighttime reveries. No longer the child, I still find my mind wandering out into the dark and down the street or up into the trees, making up stories, asking questions, exploring. It is often during these moments awake under the small, sharp light of the stars that I am stuck by an idea that needs to be pinned upon the page.

Do you remember what first drew you to writing? Have those waters been muddied with all the technical talk of craft, technique, marketing, and publishing? Clear them. There will be time enough for technical things later. First, create from your heart. Bring that which is only yours into the world and let it take flight in the hearts of others. That is what you do with words. That is what makes it all worthwhile. That is what Mina would do, and what you can do, too. No one is stopping you. You just need to get your feet back on the path – your path. You need to find a book to rescue you – to re-open your writer’s heart. Which book will it be?
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Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of the equestrian arts, voice, and trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.

Image Credit: Alice Popkorn 

54 thoughts on “When a book unlocks your writer’s heart

  1. What an inspiration. I have been thinking lately that I’ve been so fixated on writing I’ve forgotten to read, and this post cements it. I’m going to go pick up a book and let myself indulge in my first love. Thanks so much for sharing this with us!

    • Ooh! Indulge, indulge, indulge! I feel like I’ve just recently “reclaimed” reading for pleasure. It feels SO delicious to curl up on the sofa with a book and just let the world slip away. 🙂 Enjoy!!!

    • What a lovely way to put it – “taking a thought for a walk.” I am a big supporter of that and often do just wander out the backdoor, hand-in-hand with some idea or other. Usually, the walkabout serves up some kind of insight or epiphany that helps me see where to go next. It’s kind of like magic.

  2. Finally someone says it! For me, I just wanted to tell a story. Then the technicalities and opinions made me doubt myself; they made me wonder if I was up to the task. But now I’ve decided to put the story first, then work on the other stuff later. The story must continue.

    Lovely and timely post!

    • Thank you for sharing, Peter. Glad I’m not the only one with these feelings. Doubt is a dangerous companion. Better to just forge ahead and worry about the details later! 😉 Good luck!

  3. This was exactly what I needed to read at this point in time. I too have in the past found myself getting obsessively wrapped up in structure and logistics that I’ve lost sight of what made me so excited about writing in the first place. Thanks for this!

    • Yes – it’s easy to let the technical stuff eat away at your excitement, but that takes all the fun out of the process. So glad you enjoyed the post. Thanks for coming by and saying so! 🙂

  4. You know, I like your writing very much. The way you use words is so inspiring, imaginative, picturesque. I also learn a lot from you in terms of English learning. I’m sure your voice is as clear and crisp as your writing is. Vietnamese has this saying: “Your writing is your characteristic”. From your writing people can know who you are. 🙂 Thank you so much!!!

    • That is so lovely. Thank you. I’m flattered and also encouraged at the idea of people knowing who I am through my writing. My “day job” writing does not afford me that opportunity, but I do love coming here to Live to Write – Write to Live where I can be myself.
      Thanks for coming by and sharing. Glad you’re here. 🙂

  5. Just Lovely…thanks so much. It sure is easy to get overwhelmed by the technology today. Personally, I still love turning an actual page and smelling the book Im reading, rather than staring at yet another computer screen. For me, when I get pinched for words, I like to fill myself with them…thus I pull out Dickens or Poe, Austin or Shakespeare….no shortage there of words or inspiration 🙂

    • Hello, Morgan. I have to say that I’ve been loving the sensual, physical details of real books lately. The last couple hardcovers I’ve bought have beautiful artwork on matte dust jackets and deckled edges that make the book feel older than it is.
      My daughter has been playing with some of my older books – ones I’ve rescued from library book sales – and has been fascinated with the old-fashioned library cards. How things change!

      Enjoy your inspiration!

    • Isn’t it wonderful how a little time with a book can go such a long way in sustaining our writerly selves?

      Glad you’ve fallen in love again. That’s awesome. 🙂

  6. Thanks for the inspiration. I’ve been dueling with writers block since our twins were born. It’s been almost four years now. They’re a blast to be with 24/7, but daddy needs his creative outlet for writing music and composing scores for films. It will be another year or two, but I’m sure it will all come back to me…thank you…

    • It will come back. Before my daughter was born, I had delusional plans about writing in the morning while she slept and writing in the afternoon when she napped. The reality, when she was born, was that my daughter hardly ever slept, and when she slept, I wasn’t far behind!

      Now she’s nine (and-a-half!) and though there are different parental demands on my time, pockets are opening up.

      You’ll see a change coming around the corner where they can play independently and with each other. And pretty soon – school will give you a new lease on life!

      Good luck & don’t give up!

      • Awe, thank you…I’ve been through this before with my eldest children who both now 24 & 23, so I know the time will come back to me, awaiting patiently…somewhat! Lol, many blessings my friend.

      • Ok, this is going to sound all wrong, but you do NOT look old enough to have kids that age.

        ANYway …
        🙂

        Yes – patience is a virtue and one that parenthood instills in us whether we want it or not. Happily, parenthood also provides much inspiration for the writer – stories galore and a sudden impulse to capture written treasures for our children.

        Love your photos – really beautiful.

        Best

  7. Great post! Thanks for sharing, I’ve recently been struggling with writer’s block and this definitely gave me some insight!

    • That’s wonderful, Garrett! So glad to have sparked some insights. Run with that and have fun! 🙂

      PS – Too funny that your avatar looks like you’re going, “OMG – I got an insight!”

    • Thank you for being here and for letting me know I’m not alone in these muddied thoughts. 😉

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  9. Sometimes I think back to when I was younger and the best times I wrote were deep in the night (or morning). At those times it seemed like any idea was possible. Everything could and would happen and all I needed to do was write it all down. Inspiration came from everything and now it seems hard to find and hang on to. Everything you said really resonated with me. Certain books, movies, and songs help to bring that feeling of endless possibility back to me!

    • Hi, Mael.
      I think each of us has a “magic hour.” I’ve always been partial to early morning, especially as a busy single mom. I love that small window of time before my daughter gets up – a moment or two to collect my thoughts and be “Jamie” as well as “mom.”

      When I think back to my childhood, I think my best time for feeling magic and the possibility of the impossible was dusk. I had a pretty early bedtime, so it was usually still a little bit light when I went to bed. I remember lying in bed, looking out the window – watching fireflies flicker and the daytime birds settling into the trees for the night. I loved that sense of everything and everyone going to bed, while I was still there – awake in the dusky gloom with my thoughts and stories.

      Thanks for reminding me of that. 🙂

      • Ahh, yes. The “magic hour” … always a special time.
        I wish you much happiness in the creation of your adventures. Love to hear some of them when you’re ready! 🙂

  10. “First, create from your heart. Bring that which is only yours into the world and let it take flight in the hearts of others.” I love this.

    I’ve read tons of stories. I literally devour every stories I can find, from both renown and unpublished authors. Though writing skills differ greatly, they all have the same deep desire, which is to express their uniqueness through their stories they tell, in the way each of them recount the action in the stories they share with their readers.

    I can’t conceive writing without the spark of inspiration; one might as well right reports instead of stories.

    Your blog is inspirational, thank-you!

    • I’m so glad that resonated with you.
      I also enjoy all kinds of stories from all kinds of writers. The best ones are definitely driven by a need to share or express something – to connect through story.

      … more on that thought later!
      😉

      TKS for coming by!

    • Thank you so much for saying so. I’m very glad you liked it.
      Congrats on your new blog … and on your move!! I hope it turns out to be everything you hoped (and maybe some things you didn’t even know to hope for). As someone in the process of shopping for a new home, I feel your stress and fears. Change – even “good” change – is always a challenge.

      Thanks for coming by. Good luck with everything! 🙂

  11. You have inspired me, as has Mina. I picked picked the book up after reading your description that it is “a slow and quiet story that hardly seems to be a story at all.” That is a perfectly apt description of this book, and I wanted to read it because that is the type of writing that I do. To see a book not only published, but praised for this quietness, when this lack of story is what I always feel is my greatest weakness as a writer, was great encouragement to me. Thank you.

    • Andrea,

      Hello. 🙂
      I am SO glad to hear that!
      And I’m so glad to “meet” you – love your site and your writing. I just queued up a tweet of your “moodling” post (I totally feel your frustration AND I love Brenda Ueland’s book).

      I look forward to reading your blog & maybe seeing you over on Twitter.

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