Weekend Edition – Stealing Time and Everyday Writing Plus Good Reads and Writing Tips

chickadeeBuild a little birdhouse in your soul.

As a writer, I spend a lot of time staring out the window. My writing desk is positioned to accommodate this activity. Situated in front of a large picture window, it provides an expansive view of the town wharf and the river twisting around the bend and out to sea. There is always a lot of activity going on across the street – boaters coming and going, people walking their dogs, cyclists careening around the corner, children chasing the ice cream truck, and flock after flock of Canada geese making their daily trips up and down the river according to some complex time table that only they know.

Closer at hand, only a few feet from the window, is my bird feeder. Like the Canada geese, the avian visitors who frequent my feeder do so according to an indecipherable schedule of their own devising. My most frequent diners are common house sparrows, a rowdy and somewhat uncouth bunch who travel in packs like winged wolves. One moment, there is not a bird in sight and the next twenty or more have descended in unison and suddenly blanket the entire area as they scavenge for leftovers.

I have been an amateur birder since the age of seven. Other feeders I’ve had at other houses have attracted a wide variety of birds – finches, wrens, titmice, jays, cardinals, gray-eyed juncos, orioles, downy woodpeckers, and – one of my favorites – black-capped chickadees. Sadly, at this house, the local house sparrows aggressively defends the feeder from all other species, even chasing off the larger cardinals who sometimes have the audacity to come in for a quick bite.

Earlier this morning I looked up and saw, to my surprise, not one, but three chickadees at the feeder. This was highly unusual. Most of the time, these tiny but courageous birds will come in singly. They are, I expect, trying to slip in under the sparrow radar. But, this morning, there were three – bold as daylight. Their impertinence made me smile. Despite the sparrows’ dominance, these masked renegades had slipped in to steal the seed from the enemy camp.

Those little chickadees reminded me of my creative writing practice. Each day, the lion’s share of my time is gobbled up by a marauding band of responsibilities and obligations. From doing the laundry and buying the groceries to juggling multiple deadlines for my copywriting clients, these duties pillage my larder of time and energy, leaving only the most meager crumbs for my creative projects.

And yet, like the diminutive chickadee, my creative self does not give up. Unable to overcome the odds by force, my creative writing uses more cunning means to steal a little time here and a little energy there. Persistence and patience deliver enough sustenance to keep my creative practice alive and hopping. Nimble and tenacious, the protectors of my creative time keep coming back despite the challenges. Like Robin Hood, they steal from the rich and give to the poor – feeding my urge to make things, express my ideas, and tell my stories.

Perhaps one day, the chickadees will stage a coup and oust the belligerent sparrows; but until then, it’s good to know that a little charitable thievery goes a long way to keeping dreams alive and well even when the Real World feels a bit overwhelming.

P.S. – In case there are any other children of the 80s out there who get the reference in my headline, here – just for you – is your ear worm for the day: Birdhouse in Your Soul.  You’re welcome. 

 What I’m Writing:

"One Word at a Time" book art by Brian Dettmer. Photo by Lindsey Davis on Flickr

“One Word at a Time” book art by Brian Dettmer. Photo by Lindsey Davis on Flickr

So, here’s a thought. Even when you aren’t “writing-writing,” you can still be practicing your craft.

Wait. What?

Though my life does not currently make it easy for me to set aside large chunks of time to work on big creative writing projects, I still find time each day to hone my writing style and skill. And, guess what? I bet you do, too. You just haven’t realized it. Here’s an off-the-cuff list of a few ways I get writing practice in during my “non-(creative) writing” days:

  •  Scribbling my way through three morning pages. It’s a messy, but effective way to loosen up my writing muscles.
  • Writing emails to friends, family, and even clients. Whether I’m sharing a recent event with a friend I haven’t seen in a while, corresponding with my parents, or making a case to a client, emails give me a chance to practice brevity and clarity in my writing.
  • Posting to social media. Instead of thinking about social media as a time-waster, think about it as a chance to practice a little flash fiction. Social media can actually help you learn how to create a strong hook and tell an engaging story in only a few words.
  • Commenting on social media. From Facebook status updates to blog posts, the Internet gives us so many opportunities to engage via our writing. When I do leave a comment for someone – either socially or professionally – I take care with the words I choose. I do my best to contribute valuable thoughts and make sure that I articulate them well.
  • Captioning photos. I’m an Instagram addict who fell in love with the visual nature of the platform. I also love the chance to craft cool captions for my photos. I don’t do it all the time, but when I’m inspired, I spend a little extra time coming up with something that might be the title to the story told by the image, or sometimes the caption will be more about practicing writing a good description.
  • Thank you cards. I am making a conscious effort to send more thank you cards – real ones, that you have to put a stamp on and bring to the post office. I love getting mail and I love sending mail. Thank you cards are a wonderful way to help you practice expressing your feelings without resorting to tired cliches and ambiguous generalizations. I love making thank you notes as personal and honest as possible.

I am in no way saying that these kinds of in-the-nooks-and-crannies writing exercises can ever replace a more focused and dedicated practice. I do, however, find it comforting to know that even when I’m unable to carve out hours of time to work on a story, I can still be doing my writerly thing – if only in a small way. Every little bit makes a difference. Each word on the page helps you define and refine your voice.

 

What I’m Reading:

book urban bestiaryDuring busy times like the one I’m in now, trying to read fiction is mostly just frustrating. I never seem to have a long enough time to truly sink into the story and savor it. Consuming a novel a couple pages at a sitting certainly does not do any book justice, and also robs me of the best experience. So, instead of fighting my way doggedly through such a battle, I will sometimes turn instead to a non-fiction read.

This time, I chose a book that I saw at an indie bookstore last holiday season. I thought about picking up a copy for my mom, but another book won out that day, and I left The Urban Bestiary sitting on the shelf. A few weeks ago, however, Lyanda Lynn Haupt’s book again caught my attention, this time from a shelf at my local library. I was walking in circles trying to locate my daughter (who was, doubtless, also walking in circles in an attempt to evade me and extend our stay at the library), when the sky blue cover caught my eye.

In the first chapter, A New Nature, a New Bestiary, Haupt describes what she hopes to accomplish with her book:

It is time for a new bestiary, one that engages our desire to understand the creatures surrounding our urban homes, helps us locate ourselves in nature, and suggests a response to this knowledge that will benefit both ourselves and the more-than-human world.

Each following chapter is an educational yet enchanting exploration of a particular species – coyotes, raccoons, squirrels, crows, cougars, and many others.

Though I am fascinated by the subject matter, I toted this book home as much to sate my curiosity about this kind of writing as to learn about the history, behaviors, and folklore associated with my furred and feathered neighbors. In her bio, Haupt describes herself as “a naturalist, eco-philosopher, and speaker whose writing is at the forefront of the movement to connect people with nature in their everyday lives.” I love that. I’d never heard of an eco-philosopher. I also hadn’t given much thought to the fact that there are many writers who make a living writing non-fiction books about nature and related topics – topics that I care about deeply.

Haupts book is a wonderfully informative and entertaining read that I recommend to anyone – writer or not – who has a love for or curiosity about nature, particularly the way it intersects with our lives at the fringes of the wild world and the urban one. I’m learning a lot and enjoying her writing style. I’m also equally grateful for the way this book has opened my eyes a bit more to all the different kinds of writers and writing that exist in the world. Reading this book has filled my head with all kinds of new ideas.

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 write like breathing

I hope your creative chickadees are winning their battle against the house sparrows of Real Life. Here’s to stealing time back for your creative life and enjoying the journey along the way.


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 – occasionally –  trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.

32 thoughts on “Weekend Edition – Stealing Time and Everyday Writing Plus Good Reads and Writing Tips

    • Thanks for coming by, Nick.
      I enjoyed your piece about Maine – Cadillac Mountain, the “pond,” thunderstorms. Lovely.

  1. I’ll add to your list of daily writing exercises! When I’m folding laundry, doing dishes or driving long distances, I’ll “write” in my head. I’ve lost some gems of word usage this way, but I figure I wouldn’t have thought of it another time if I can’t remember it now. Mostly I see the value of flexing my creative and intellectual muscles even if I don’t end up using them in my writing. And I like to read blog posts about writing while I’m waiting for my son at soccer practice or the doctor’s office etc. I’m using every second when I don’t need to be otherwise mentally present .

    • I do the same thing! 🙂
      There’s something about those rote tasks that seem to jumpstart the brain into creative mode. I’ve learned to keep pen and paper handy (or, my iPhone with voice memo app). Often, when I’m working on a copywriting project and get stumped, I’ll purposely leave my desk and go fold some laundry or empty the dishwasher. Inevitably, the solution to my problem pops into my head and then I have to rush back to my desk to scribble a note or type it onto the page before it escapes my conscious mind.

      Isn’t it fun when our brains work things out on their own? 😉

  2. “Build a little birdhouse in your soul” . ..what a touching title! I’m a (particularly) small bird lover and enjoy my little yellow finches that come looking for their morning thistle. Wonderful post, thank you! 🙂

    • Hi, Mandy!
      Always nice to meet a fellow birder. I get an extra thrill when a goldfinch visits the feeder. It’s a rare event here (what with all those sparrows hanging around), but they do sometimes get brave enough to visit. Such pretty birds.

      Glad you enjoyed the post. Happy writing & happy bird watching!

  3. Hey Jamie

    Even as I am writing this, my often-infuriating, but always-energizing pup is engaged in his favorite chore: trying to chase a squirrel 😉

    And I am smiling, with tears in my eyes; not because my pup’s antics amuse me, which they always do, but because I FOUND YOU!

    Wish I could come up with a creative and coherent response to this absolutely fantastic post, but I am just going to say “Thank You”

    Much love
    Kitto

    • Hi, Kitto, and welcome! So glad to have you here. Glad to meet a fellow writer/marketer. We live between two worlds, don’t we?

      Oreo is ADORABLE!!! I can see why he makes you smile. Animals are the best. I have two cats (a grown kitten and her mama) who are a constant source of laughter and contentment. They often sleep on my desk as I work & I always joke that they are the best desk accessories ever.

      Enjoy your pup and your writing & thanks so much for such a lovely and heartfelt comment.

      🙂

      • Hey Jamie

        hahahah – indeed, you have THE best ‘desk accessories’. I would love to have this black-and-white ‘teething’ cutie sit quietly next to me, but something about my fingers seems to excite him – I am surprised there is any skin left 😉

        Oh – I am so glad we connected. It makes me very happy to simply respond to your post! LOL

        #HUGSS

        Much love
        Kitto

      • Yes, puppies are much more prone to digit nibbling than kitties. 😉

        I hope you are still able to get some writing done despite the canine capers.
        Enjoy both – words and antics.
        🙂

  4. What a wonderful post, Jamie! I love your writing, your ideas, your philosophy of life and writing. You are a constant inspiration, and I always look forward to your blog entries appearing in my Inbox.
    Hope you get to enjoy those chickadees more often. 🙂

    • Thanks so much, Linda. I am so grateful to have this space to connect with like-minded writers.

      Happy to be in your inbox. I’ll tell the chickadees you say hello.
      🙂

  5. Love the quote! But, also, those are great tips. I have done some of those myself and found them to be very helpful. Sometimes I think I spend too much time captioning my pictures because I want it to be *just right*. But it’s so fun!

    • Hi, Jessica! 🙂

      I think it’s great that you want your captions t be “just right.” That means you’re putting your writer’s brain to work, which is a good thing. I love trying to figure out how to either create a mini story, or “tease” one in my captions. Though, lately, they’ve just been short & sweet because time has been at a premium.

      TKS for coming by!

  6. ‘…Write until not writing makes you anxious’

    This clears things up! I thought there was something wrong with me especially when ‘my’ characters are screaming to get out when I don’t put pen to paper.

    Thanks for such an inspiring post.

    Obi

  7. Oh, what is it about baby boomers and their relentless nostalgia for things like typewriters, vinyl records and the 60s? As a gen xer, will I also become prey to this type of sentimentality? God, I hope not!
    I love your bird story – like you, I also love to watch birds, gaining wisdom from their interactions. Like: we have always had lots of magpies here, so much so that the school’s crest across the road are two magpies. Then, a couple of years ago, crows moved in, ate their babies and took over. I have never been a hunter, but i wanted to kill those crows, and i fantasised about it 🙂 Then two months ago, I woke up to the sound of magpies – and then they swooped me on a walk down the road. Then i saw a group of them haranguing the crows…they’re back! And they’re angry 🙂 And I guess it reminded me that all things have their cycles, you know, and it’s a reminder to me that no matter how tempted I am to jump in and interfere, that mostly, it’s best just to let things run their course.
    And as for using everything as writing practice – or another way to think of it is to write everything as beautifully as you can – yes 🙂 People love to read beautiful writing, no matter where or how brief. Thanks for another lovely post Jamie, it’s always a pleasure.

    • Magpies and crows? Sounds like quite the avian combination. We don’t have magpies here, but plenty of crows. They start their ruckus around 4:30AM in a small stand of urban pines just across the street from my bedroom window. Though part of me wants to be annoyed at being woken so early, I mostly smile at the clockwork precision of their daily routine and the surprising diversity of their calls. At times, they can sound like mewling babies or cooing doves in addition to their usual, raw caws. They are so smart, too.

      Love your takeaway from your experience with the crows and the magpies. Sometimes it is best to let Mother Nature run the show. I read in The Urban Bestiary about how often well meaning people call wildlife protection officers to let them know about abandoned baby deer when in fact, the fawns are quite safe and the mother is nearby, just out of sight. We are, I think, too prone to projecting our own human morals and expectations on animals, when we would be better off just standing back and perhaps learning from their ability to adapt and thrive despite all the ways we disrupt their world.

      Thanks, as always, for being here. Love sharing a little bit of the weekend. 🙂

  8. I tell myself I can’t think of a thing to write, that I can’t read too much of the authors to build traffic and neglect writing. At the same time I dread becoming one of those compulsive writers who stay up through the night to the morning when they get ideas to write.

    • There is certainly a balance to be struck, but sometimes you can only find that balance by experimenting bravely with different ways of weaving writing into your life.

  9. Hello Jamie, I enjoy your posts and decided to combine two of your suggestions from your chickadee post: commenting on blogs and thank you notes by sending you a thank you (though not snail mail as you recommended).
    I appreciate your posts which allows me to stop for a moment and savor the images woven into your writing. I feel as if I am sitting sipping tea in your yard. Also, I find helpful the posts that educate about writing, marketing, etc because it is content I would not have found otherwise. Finally, you remind me I am part of a writing, trying to write, or thinking about writing community!! I am inspired after hearing your story.
    One of my favorite books I have recommended: “Show Your Work: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered” by Austin Kleon
    Keep Going!!

    • Thank you so much, Hilda.

      To know that you feel as if you are sipping tea in my yard is probably the best compliment you could give. That’s exactly what I hope to create with these weekend ramblings.

      I’m also SO glad to hear that you now know you are part of a writing/trying to write/thinking about writing community. You definitely are!

      Finally, thanks for the recommendation on Kleon’s book. I haven’t read it yet, but I have perused excerpts and my dad actually bought himself a copy recently, so I’m sure I’ll be borrowing it soon. 🙂

      Thanks again for coming by and for taking the time to leave such a nice note. I’m glad to have you here!

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