Weekend Edition – The Dichotomy of You Plus Good Reads and Writing Tips

The Dichotomy of You – The Writer

cat two color eyesYou are a complex animal. You are not only human (already a perplexing tangle of physical, emotional, and spiritual knots), you are also a writer. You are human complexity to a factor of ten – a bundle of contradictions and rabbit holes. Your writer’s mind works in mysterious and sometimes seriously confusing ways. And yet, somehow, you manage to pull moments of truth and beauty from the chaos. Eventually.

Being a writer means keeping the push and pull of life at the surface. You do not sublimate the battle that perpetually rages around us. You not only see and acknowledge this conflict, you pull it apart so you can look deep inside. This exploration requires you to inhabit two worlds at once – the “real” world and the inner world. To the uninitiated, these two realms of existence appear mutually exclusive, but the writer knows that they intersect often and in unexpected ways.

To journey between worlds, you wear many different guises – taking on the minds and lives of your characters, experiencing the world through their eyes and sharing what you learn. Even if you write memoir or personal essays, your writing voice is often different from your “real world” voice. The voice that has emerged through my column writing is much more reflective and lyrical than the more pragmatic voice of my daily interactions. Though both aspects are equally authentic parts of my personality, each exists primarily in its own sphere, meeting where words land on the page. You live, I imagine, in similarly distinct yet inextricably linked worlds.

As a writer, you wear your insides on the outside. Even if your stories are fiction, they expose the private turmoil that writhes beneath the surface of your public persona. Neither is more “real” than the other. They are each valid halves of the dichotomy that is you.

What I’m Writing:

forest pathThough my writing plans were slightly derailed last weekend, I did manage (over the course of a couple early mornings and late nights) to pull together a few pages of new writing to submit in class last Tuesday. Though it was incomplete and (very) first-draft-y, I was just happy I managed to get some words on the page. It wasn’t easy, but it was satisfying.

Though it’s always a work in progress, I have gained some clarity about the writing process that works for me. This is something you can only learn through practice. The myth of best practices runs rampant in the writing world. We devour blogs and books full of advice on how to be creative, productive, efficient writers. We seek out the secrets of other writers’ success, hoping that the magic formula they have devised will work for us. But, the truth is each writer is unique and the number of variables in play allow for an almost infinite number of variations on the theme. Your quickest route to discovering your own secret sauce is to write, write, and then write some more. You’ll figure it out.

We discussed the danger of preconceptions about how to write during this past week’s writing class. I confessed that I sometimes feel like I’m not  a “real” writer because I am much more a planner than a “panster,” or – as our instructor described it – more an architect than a gardener. I worry that my need to spend a lot of time figuring out the mechanics, structure, and flow of a story before I sit down to write somehow makes my writing less authentic or creative than the writer who lets the story develop organically. I was thrilled when strangewriter brought this up in the comments of last week’s weekend edition. It reminded me, once again, that there is no right way to write. There are the rules of craft (which you should learn, if only to break them), but there is no universally correct way to go about bringing a story to life. You must find (or make) your own path through the wilderness. While another writer may need to write early in the morning with a clear head, your muse may be more compliant in the quiet hours just after midnight.

I’m both anxious and eager to hear the class’s feedback on my submission. Unearthing my best writing process may be a personal quest, but crafting my best story is a mission that is well served by collaboration with others in a safe, supportive space like our class. I can’t wait to see what comes next.

What I’m Reading:

book citizen canineOther than a few minutes stolen here and there, reading time has been in extremely short supply this week. Mostly, I’ve been listening to a nonfiction audio book called Citizen Canine by journalist David H. Grimm. Being an “animalish” person, I was immediately intrigued by the notion of exploring the origins, evolution, and changing status of dogs and cats.

Though it’s nonfiction, this fascinating book is full of inspirations for stories. As I listen, I am reminded of the old adage that life is stranger than fiction. Many fiction writers, both short story writers and novelists, mine history and current events for characters and story ideas. A simple and fun way to come up with new story ideas is to play the “what if/why” game with a piece of nonfiction. For instance, in Citizen Canine, I have so far learned about:

  • An ancient burial site that predates Egypt, the culture that we consider the cradle of the cat craze, but which contains a complete cat skeleton that was clearly buried with, as Grimm puts it, a lot of “pomp” – What is the story behind that culture, that tribe, that specific cat? Why was the cat positioning within the grave looking eye-to-eye with the human corpse?
  • A kitten who “donated” a kidney to save her brother – The kittens belonged to Grimm and he noted in his telling of the story that “donated” is a word he used loosely, since the “donor” kitten didn’t really have a say in the matter. What kinds of questions does this bring up for you? What if the patients were humans? What if the two cats belonged to different families?
  • The domesticated silver fox, the result of fifty years of experiments in selective breeding in the Soviet Union and Russia – What if the experiments yielded different results? What if that same contrived domestication was used on people? What if the domestication wasn’t lasting throughout generations and suddenly the docile silver foxes turned wild again?

There are so many ideas and stories to explore. And, story ideas aside, Grimm’s book really is so interesting and very well written. I’m hooked.

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

Before I get to this week’s blogs, I wanted to remind you about that very cool word count Google doc that I mentioned a while back. The spreadsheet lets you color codes your daily word count tally, giving you a beautiful and simple at-a-glance view of your productivity over the calendar year. To use, click the link to download and then go to File > Make A Copy and save to your own drive. This may come in especially handy for any of you doing NaNoWriMo, but I may put it to good use starting in January as a way to kickoff my writing goals for the year.

Finally, a quote for the week:

pin stranger than fiction

Here’s to embracing the dichotomy of your life as a writer and all the stranger-than-fiction realities that exist in the “real” world. Happy reading and writing. Have a great weekend & I’ll see you on the other side! 

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.

Cat Photo Credit: Symic via Compfight cc
Forest Path Photo Credit: VinothChandar via Compfight cc

33 thoughts on “Weekend Edition – The Dichotomy of You Plus Good Reads and Writing Tips

    • Thank YOU, Linda Lee … for sharing and for hanging out with me on this Saturday. Hope the day’s as pretty where you are as it is where I am. Have a good one!

  1. Jamie Lee, Very nice post. I just wrote a post on my blog on the importance of the artist’s knowledge of the art and how knowledge helps explain why some people are better writers-actors-painters-dancers, etc.than others. You’re absolutely right–knowledge, important and irreplaceable as it is, should not be burdensome, not an impediment, mustn’t make you a self-conscious copy-cat, and must never interfere with the writer’s originality, for isn’t it the writer’s originality–the uniqueness, the pure, clear individual voice that we marvel at– the essence of creativity–that makes us want to read on and return to that original writer again and again so we might hear that voice whenever we wish?

    I think one sure sign of a writer’s maturity as a craftsman is the breaking free of past influences and finding what a Zen master would say is “your original face.” When that happens and you realize what you are writing and the way you are writing it is the real you, you fell, I think, a sense of wonderful liberation.

    I always look forward to hearing what you have to say because it’s so useful and well thought-out.Thanks.

    • Thank you, David.
      I love what you’ve shared here about the “original face.” We lose so much of ourselves in the process of growing up. Though we also gain much, there is some core essence that becomes diluted through our interaction with the world. I think we undergo a similar process as writers. We start out with a pure desire and intention, and then we must learn and grow through study and practice and immersing ourselves in the world of writing. We are changed by this journey which gives us much, but also takes some things away. Ultimately, we hopefully come full circle to return to that “original face,” and – hopefully – we can now bring a wealth of experience and knowledge and skill to bear on bringing our original dreams to life.

      That’s a pretty wonderful way to think about the evolution of a writer.
      Thanks again. Wonderful insight.

  2. I bookmarked almost all of your posts for reference and this one is going to be on the top of my list. You are fast becoming my most favourite read around here. Thanks for all those useful links, thanks for all the wonderful food for thought and thank you for being a good writer.

    • Thank you. I know you especially get the “truth is stranger than fiction” thing. 😉 And, I’m so glad that you are enjoying the weekend editions. Enjoy the links and keep on writing! I appreciate your presence here.

  3. Beautiful post. Very very beautiful and truthful.
    When you were describing “The author”, I was screaming “oh my ! This is me”, although I don’t really consider myself a writer yet.
    Maybe I should.
    Maybe I have thanks to this post.
    Does that make sense?
    Thank you.

    • If it is you, I bet you are a writer. Doesn’t have to make sense. Writing is a skill and a craft, but I believe it’s also a way of being. You are a writer as much because of the way you process the world as because of the way you put words down. 🙂
      Glad to have you here.

  4. Thanks for the interesting and informative article. It was both enjoyable and edifying (my favorite word this week). Thanks again, and we shall read you soon.

    • You’re welcome and thank you. I’m so grateful to have a place where I can share these odd thoughts in my head and somehow connect with other people who “get” them. I appreciate you taking time to hang out and leave a comment. TKS!

  5. Oh, yes to so much of this, dear Jamie. You truly have a lyrical writing voice and can sing your way into my reader any time 🙂 Words of wisdom and encouragement for the schisms that we are!

    • “Schism” … another great word! 🙂
      Thanks so much, Sammy. Always nice to see you here. I’m so glad you found the post encouraging. Happy writing!

  6. Are you saying that other people don’t analyse and dissect their lives to find meaning that they can then share? What’s the point of it all then? 😉😜 you mentioned how each writer has to find their own process, and the first of your links wrote on that too. Planning is good for me, as long as it leaves room for being spontaneous and creative as well. I need to know the start, the Middle and the end or I just can’t write it. Have a good week, Jamie!

    • I know! Can you imagine living life without that constant questioning and exploration? How dull it must be. 😉

      Ahhh … yes … beginning, middle, and end. I often have the beginning and the end, but have to work hard to fill in the middle. Funny how that works out. Kind of like real life, I suppose. We’re all born. We all die. But, who know what happens on all those days in between?

      Thanks for swinging by, Sara. Always such a pleasure to see you. I can’t wait for my workload to settle into a less insane pace so that I can get back to more “blog socializing.” It’s been too long!

      • Yes, right, maybe it’s a bit of fantasy – I’d be happy with the beginning and the end too! I know, the social part of blogging is fun and rewarding but very time consuming! See you in words next week (i always look forward to your weekend blog.)

  7. Hi Jamie. I had never thought about how we wear our emotions on our coat sleeves. But, if I am to write genuinely, I must feel. And, to feel, I cannot bury. What a wonderful thought. Silent.

    • It’s a truth that’s both frightening and liberating. At least, I find it to be so.
      Nice to see you. 🙂

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  10. Superbly written, you really do capture the dilemma of a writer. I feel that dichotomy acutely, as “by day” and have my job and the persona required for that, but “by night” (and at the weekends) I try to be the writer than I want to be, a different voice to the business voice for sure. I think I am full of dichotomies! Thanks for expressing it so well!

    • Ahhh … sounds like we’re in similar boats – battling the business writing demons by day and trying to seduce our muses by night.

      It’s a crazy balancing act that involves wrestling multiple personalities. No wonder so many writers are considered “quirky!”

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