At the Intersection of Words and Life
I’ve noticed a theme emerging in my last few weekend edition posts. For whatever reason – where I am in my own writing journey, the usual end-of-year reflections, the muted desperation that seems to pervade the news these days – I find myself wanting to better understand how this writing thing fits into my life. I want to explore the “why” as much as the “how” and the “what.”
I am not questioning whether or not I should write. No matter what happens, I will always write. It is too much a part of who I am and too deeply embedded in how I experience the world. I may as well lose my sense of sight or hearing as lose my ability to write. Putting words down is how I give shape to not only the physical world around me, but also to the emotional world within.
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?
Exactly, Sara. Exactly.
And yet, I acknowledge that we writers are an odd lot. To most people, it is not at all normal to spend as much time as we do pursuing this often mind-cracking craft … especially when our efforts yield no (substantial or immediate) commercial or financial benefits. Though some of us manage to hack out a living at the keyboard, it is the rare writer who is able to support herself exclusively through writing only what she wants to write. I, for instance, am able to pay the rent because of my corporate copywriting clients. And the more I learn, the more I realize that most professional writers, even the ones who appear to have “made it,” supplement their income through other means, like teaching.
And yet, we persevere.
Though we know deep down that there is little chance of substantial financial gain, we continue to dedicate hours and hours of our lives (not to mention millions of brain cells) to the task of observing with a writer’s mind, and then attempting to capture, illuminate, and – ultimately – share our own experience in a way that can help others see and feel differently. Writers hold a mirror to the world, a mirror that reflects not only the surface of “reality,” but also what lives in our hearts and minds.
The stories we tell, no matter which genre we choose, help readers see the world more clearly, more fully, and more empathetically. Stories help us step inside someone else’s life, see events from someone else’s perspective. We need stories and heroes to show us that right can overcome might, that doing the right thing matters, that we still have reason to hope. Stories often give us the best illustrations of concepts like justice, truth, honor, and trust. Sometimes, it’s too hard to find these qualities in the real world. Writers create role models for us and for our children.
And sometimes, a story can help us to feel a tragedy so deeply that we want to do whatever we can to stop it from happening again. A writer can transform an impersonal headline into a story that gets past the defenses we’ve built to protect our hearts and minds from the endless, battering barrage of hype and headlines. A story can get under our skin and make us feel again, make us care.
Earlier this week, I received a mailer from the AWP – the Association of Writers & Writing Programs. The mailing included a quote that seemed hand-picked for me as I wrestled with questions about the purpose of writing, the importance of writing, and the role of writing in my life:
“To live ‘the writing life’ is to pit yourself against what is unsayable, and to say, finally, what must be said.” – Bernard Cooper
And, maybe it is as simple as that. Maybe there don’t need to be so many questions about “why” we write. Maybe we just need to focus on saying what must be said.
What I’m Writing:
Between client deadlines, Thanksgiving gatherings, and (gasp!) the need to start shopping my holiday shopping, I haven’t been doing much writing other than staying on top of my content marketing projects and doing my morning pages. I have, however, been making a conscious effort to keep my creative writing mind limber by coming up with (and capturing!) story ideas.
KL Pereira, the Grub Street instructor who led the recent Fiction I class I took, recommended a little app called Werdsmith. Though I haven’t (yet) used it for actual writing, I’m finding it to be an excellent place to capture story ideas. I’ve tried using physical notebooks in the past, but I never seem able to consistently make notes when I’m on-the-go. The Werdsmith app somehow makes it easier for me to quickly jot down my ideas before they flit out of my head.
And, eventually, I may use the app to do a little actual drafting. We’ll see. Tough to type on the iPhone keyboard, but not impossible. And if the muse strikes, any tool will do!
What I’m Reading:
Last week, I received a review copy of George Hagen’s kids’ novel, Gabriel Finley and the Raven’s Riddle. I don’t usually accept review copies anymore (I used to do a lot of book reviews for BabyCenter and other mom blogs), but this one caught my attention.
First of all, it has ravens. I happen to love ravens. They are mystical and mischievous characters with a long history in myth and legend. Second, the book earned a recommendation from Norton Juster, the author of The Phantom Tollbooth. Impressive. Finally, my daughter has developed an obsession with riddles. She is constantly asking me to come up with them on-the-spot (something I’m terrible at). When I heard that the book was “riddled with riddles” (pun intended), I thought it would be something she’d enjoy.
It’s been a while since I’ve indulged in a kids’ fantasy adventure novel like this one, but I’m so glad I gave myself the gift of reading Gabriel Finley and the Raven’s Riddle. The story is a charming and spooky page-turner. I finished the entire book in only two days, despite having plenty of other obligations. Sometimes, a story demands to be read Right Now. Who am I to argue?
How can twelve-year-old Gabriel find his missing father, who seems to have vanished without a trace? With the help of Paladin—a young raven with whom he has a magical bond that enables them to become one creature—he flies to the foreboding land of Aviopolis, where he must face a series of difficult challenges and unanswerable riddles that could lead to his father… or to his death.
If you have a young reader in your life who enjoys a good fantasy story, Gabriel Finley and the Raven’s Riddle might make the perfect holiday gift. I also believe this book will be the first in a series, so there will be more to look forward to in the not-too-distant future. I, personally, cannot wait.
PS – Watch for an upcoming guest post from author George Hagen. He has promised to enlighten us on the art of crafting riddles.
And let’s not forget the blogs. Here are a few of my favorite writerly posts from this week:
- Ursula K. Le Guin on Where Ideas Come From & the “Secret” of Great Writing via @brainpicker (h/t: @sarafoley76)
- Outlining: Why I Made the Switch and Tips for Trying It by @elizabethscraig via @WriterUnboxed
- Short Story: A Process of Revision by Antonya Nelson via @Tin_House
- Give Yourself Permission by @GuerillaMemoir via @brevitymag
- What would I do if I were starting my blog from scratch? by @markwschaefer
- How to Find Thin Places Where New Perspectives Exist by @barrymoltz via @smallbiztrends
- If I Wrote a Novel in 15 Minutes a Day, Then You Probably Can Too by Siobhan Adcock
- 10 Great Books for a Writer’s Wish List by L.L. Barkat
- Five Digital Publishing Questions by @JaneFriedman via @DigiBookWorld
- Steal Without Shame by @SPressfield
- Build Your Author Platform: 7 Manageable Ways to Start From Scratch by @brooke_warner via @thewritelife
- Why Quitting Is OK by Allison Stadd via @99u
Finally, a quote for the week:
Wishing you time to reflect and explore who you are as a writer and the role of writing in your life. Here’s to enjoying all the stories – the ones you read, and the ones you write.
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.