Weekend Edition – You Are Not Alone Plus Good Reads and Writing Tips

You Are Not Alone

Image by Luis Barros. Follow him on Instagram (@luishb) for wonderful images, each one brimming with story possibilities.

Image by Luis Barros. Follow him on Instagram (@luishb) for wonderful images, each one brimming with story possibilities.

Being a grown up can be lonely.

Being a writer can be lonely.

Being a grown-up writer can be seriously lonely, but it doesn’t have to be.

Last weekend I watched my daughter compete in a mountain bike race. It was my first time at this kind of event. Mountain biking is something she does on weekends with her dad. The wooded trails with their steep drops, tight turns, and obstacle course of mean rocks and wily roots are his territory.

There were more than four hundred riders, many with friends and family in tow, milling around the trampled corn field that served as a staging area for the organizers preparing to release the different classes of riders onto the course. We haven’t had any real rain here in weeks, so the movement of riders and spectators stirred up clouds of dust that dimmed the bright colors of the riders’ racing garb and gave the scene an air of festive chaos – like cowboys preparing to move an anxious herd across an arid plain, or young daredevils limbering up just before dashing out in front of Spanish bulls.

Though I finally spotted my daughter, and my beau was at my side, I felt like a stranger lost in some exotic land. The conversations that swirled around me with the dust and dirt may as well have been in a foreign language. Technical chatter about different kinds of bikes and gear sounded like gibberish, and then there were all the riding terms – endo, grinder, kick-out. Riders compared war stories and battle scars, referencing techniques and trails in a quick banter that left me curious but completely baffled.

And then, through all this noise and color and motion, I heard a voice ask, “Is that a Grub Street t-shirt?”

Grub Street is a writing center in Boston, and the shirt I was wearing was one I had picked up at their annual conference a couple of years ago. It’s hard to miss – a charcoal gray tee with a keyboard printed in white across the front.

The speaker, as it turned out, was not only a fellow writer and Grubbie, but also a Grub Street instructor and a friend of the woman who is teaching the flash fiction class I’m currently taking. Small world.

Our conversation was brief (we both had riders to cheer), but those few words exchanged made me feel at home. Even there, amidst all the unfamiliar sights and sounds, I was suddenly grounded in the fact that I am a writer in a community of writers. And, we are everywhere.

The trouble is, we’re not always easy to recognize. Mountain bikers, runners, boaters, even gardeners – these people are easy to identify by their garb, gear, and equipment. They congregate regularly for group events, display their badges of membership for all to see, and often practice their passion right out in the open.

We writers usually fly a bit farther under the radar. Though we do have our classes and conferences, these events rarely garner much attention from non-writers. A road race with hundreds of bicycles, driving club with dozens of antique cars, or garden club doing spring cleanup around town are likely to attract the attention of even the most unobservant. A group of writers meeting in a coffee shop or even attending a large conference in an urban center are likely to go completely unnoticed.

It’s almost like we’re members of a secret society. And, who knows? Maybe, unbeknownst to even ourselves, we’re actually a silent majority.

My point is this: keep your eyes open.

You never know when a fellow writer might be standing right next to you, or seated at the next table, or across the aisle on the subway. The barista at your local coffee shop might be a writer, or your bank teller, or your child’s teacher. Perhaps the woman who organized the school bake sale is working on a memoir, your mailman could be writing a cozy mystery, or the young lady who jogs by your house every morning might be working on collection of nature essays.

Look for clues. Listen carefully. Maybe you’ll notice someone writing in a notebook or reading a a book on story structure. Maybe you’ll hear someone mention a writing podcast or a reading. Sometimes, all it takes is a t-shirt.

We’re out there. Everywhere. You are never alone.

What I’m {Learning About} Writing: Flash Isn’t Just About Brevity

underwater icebergSo, I’m a week-and-a-half into the flash fiction course I’m taking via Grub Street, and the more I learn about this form, the more fascinated I become.

The first way people define flash fiction (aka short short stories, micro fiction, and a handful of other miniature monikers) is by word count. The jury is out on exactly how few words warrant the label “flash” – 300, 500, 1,000 – but the general gist is, of course, that flash is short.

Brevity, however is not the whole story by a long stretch.

Though the number of words appearing on the page is few, the world of a really great piece of flash fiction is as expansive as real life.

To write flash, you must know much more than what you reveal in your prose. A piece of flash fiction is like the proverbial tip of the iceberg, the brilliant bit that shows above the surface and reflects the light of the sun and moon, while the full bulk and weight of the story exists below the surface. That shining tip cannot exist without the rest of the iceberg to buoy it up.

Writing flash is, I’m learning, much like creating a poem or a work of visual art. Each word has a part to play. There is no excess, no dead weight. In order for a writer to craft the tip of the iceberg so that the reader feels the heft and gravity of the rest of the icy behemoth lurking in the depths, she must understand the whole. Only by understanding the whole can she find the right words to craft her flash story so that it reflects the entire reality that exists behind that handful of words.

Can you blame me for being fascinated?

What I’m Reading: 100wordstory.com

100 word storyI’m still in the middle of reading a couple of novels, but not yet through either one, so I’m not ready to share.

Meanwhile, one of my fellow students in the flash class turned me on to the site 100wordstory.org.

Talk about seriously short pieces.

It’s hard not to rip through this collection the way a child might rip through a bag of m&m’s, but if you were to do that, you’d be missing out. As short as they are, each of these stories deserves its own space. Part of the beauty of this super short form is that you can read a piece several times over, and each time have a slightly different experience.

If you’re curious about flash fiction, or just need a quick story fix in the middle of a busy day, I recommend 100wordstory.org. Just try not to get too addicted.

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:

In lieu of a quote, I’d like to share this reality check/pep talk from one of the writers behind my favorite writing podcast, Writing Excuses. Hat-tip to the lovely Sharon Abra Hanen (aka @wellfedpoet) for this find. Loved it.

Here’s to recognizing each other out in the wilds of the real world. Happy writing. Happy reading.
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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.
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36 thoughts on “Weekend Edition – You Are Not Alone Plus Good Reads and Writing Tips

    • We are, aren’t we? I’ve always felt exactly that way, since I was a kid. Even when I was in the middle of the action, I was also a little apart from it – silently observing, as you said, processing, questioning, squirreling things away for later.

      I often felt alone back then, but if I’d known what I know now, I would have realized that there were probably others feeling the same way as me, standing right beside me, blending in with the crowd.

      Thanks for the reminder.

      • I felt that way when I was a kid too. And I would say off the wall things to my parents – like I said to my Dad – water gives life, but it also takes life away so violently – when I was about 10. My Dad just looked at me and said – What the bloody hell are you going on about – and at the time I didn’t know why such odd thoughts came into my mind – but I realized I was just prepping for writing in adult life. I wish I had realized earlier on, why I thought about things and had such a different perspective on everything, I was storing material!!!

      • You’re so right. I have written several times about the writer’s mind, but I had never connected the dots to my early days of standing slightly apart and asking questions. I asked “why?” a lot. And, like you, I looked at things from a different perspective. I didn’t accept them at face value, and I could often see the contradictory nature of things.

        So interesting to think about. Thanks for this!
        🙂

  1. Jamie – how generous of you to make time to share your daughter’s racing passion even if it’s a world away from yours. She is fortunate to be exposed to such a wonderful outdoor sport at the same time she’s learning hiw you mine your interior world.

    Writers are certainly hidden compared to other activities but then that works for most of us, I daresay!

    Thanks for the flash fuction site. I enjoy reading it, and am studying flash non-fiction myself because brevity in writing is a practice goal of mine.

    • Hi, Sammy!
      I was happy that she asked me to come and see her ride. It isn’t easy for her, navigating the waters between divorced parents, and I was glad of the chance to bridge that gap a little bit. Plus, it was fun to see her out there attacking the trail. No wallflower, this girl. Not at all.

      You make a good point about writers’ ability to stay “hidden” being an asset to our craft. I mean, how many times have I sat in a cafe, surreptitiously eavesdropping on the conversation at the next table? How many times have I sat outside with a book, but really been watching the passersby? We are watchers who translate what we see through our own natural curiosity and skills of observation into stories and essays that help other people see.

      Glad you’re enjoying 100 word story. It’s pretty cool. I have always loved miniatures, and now I’ve discovered the miniature story! 🙂

  2. Hi Jamie. Your words about flash really grabbed me…and are so true! I’ve just recently begun trying my hand at it. I didn’t know if I would be able to write a 100-word story or not, but I did, and the pleasure I received from successfully telling so much in so few words was enough to hook me. Thanks for the link to 100 Word Story; I’ll be checking that out soon.

    • Hi, Catherine.
      I love meeting other writers who are exploring flash. It is a bit of a rush, isn’t it? For me, it’s not just the form or the poetry of the language or the way the piece is kind of like a puzzle (or, maybe a key?), it’s the thrill of actually finishing something! 😉

      I have so little time to write, that my fiction files are rather bare, consisting mostly of some unfinished short stories, snatches of novels, and plenty of ideas and outlines. To be able to draft and revise something over the course of a few sittings is so appealing.

      Hope you enjoy 100 Word Story. Have fun with your practice, and thanks for coming by!

  3. Great stuff, but a special “Like” for the Brandon Sanderson video and the uplifting message he shares. What a question–am I in this to get published and thus willing to conform to whatever it seems the market wants? Or am I in this to write the best stories I can, even if they sit in a closet or a folder on my computer?

    • Thanks. And, I agree – Brandon’s video is fabulous. Talk about redemption. But, as you say, his story isn’t just about finally getting published, or even about the power of perseverance. It’s about taking all that external stuff out of the equation, and asking yourself what, exactly, you want to do … ultimately write, and why. These are BIG questions. HUGE. And very important to ask.

      Thanks for coming by, and for highlighting that aspect of the video. 🙂

      • Yes, what you said is what captured my attention. In his case it’s nice because he was published (and that’s really the only reason we care what some guy named Brandon Sanderson has to say). But the point of doing this because it’s worth the effort to me–regardless of what comes of it in the future–that’s what stuck with me.

      • Yes. Exactly. It’s all about setting expectations (or letting them go!), and understanding the deep value of the work, even if you’re the only one who reads it.

  4. Pingback: Considering Why | SonWorshiper

  5. Really enjoyed your blog on writers being everywhere. I do feel alone a lot as I try transitioning to my long repressed dream of writing and I also found it encouraging. I have no intention of giving up but it is always nice to hear that other people feel the way I do and I am indeed, not alone.

    • Hi, Amy.
      First – so glad you have no intention of giving up. That’s a good thing.
      Second – you are definitely never alone. It can feel that way for writers, mostly because we do work in solitude and often anonymity. But, the number of writing books and blogs and groups and so on out there in the world is proof enough for me that we are, truly, everywhere. That is also a good thing. 😉

      Here’s to setting long-repressed dreams free to fly.
      Thanks for being here.

  6. Ooh, nice clip at the end there, with Bryan Sanderson. Imagine, 12 books, unpublished. And not giving up! I could just see you there at the mountain biking event in your grey shirt with the keyboard print…bumping into a fellow writer. Love it 🙂 great links too Jamie – hope your week is going well.

    • Hi, Sara! 🙂
      I really enjoyed Sanderson’s video as well. So encouraging to hear a story with a happy ending, isn’t it?

      Just enjoyed a lovely, long weekend (Memorial Day here in the states), and jump starting my work week with a good attitude and high hopes for off-the-charts productivity peppered with pockets of indulgence and escape.

      Wishing the same for you!

  7. Thank you Jamie! This is exactly what I am looking for. I am about to start writing a short story to keep my followers interested while I’m working on my novel. The website you recommend may come in very very useful. Thanks again! Mark

  8. Writers are the invisible mob.
    Appreciate your writing on flash fiction. Prefect comparison to an iceberg.
    Crafting a short story is so much more fun to me…to see if you can get the reader to play along. So many don’t see the game.

    • We are, aren’t we? 😉

      Love the idea of getting the reader to “play along” – that’s so much fun, and opens up so many possibilities. I’d never thought of it exactly that way, but we really are asking a lot of the reader. We need them to join in. SO interesting.

      Thanks!

  9. Pingback: Weekend Edition – Top Ten Reasons I Love Writing | Live to Write – Write to Live

  10. Pingback: Writer’s Weekend Resources – Working Together Plus Links and Tips | Live to Write – Write to Live

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