Weekend Edition – Writer in a Fish Bowl Plus Writing Tips and Good Reads

Of Fish and Stories and Living Life:

cinder benny

The younger of our two cats, Cinder, having a little chat with Benny the betta

Last year, my daughter gave me a fish as a birthday present. It’s a blue betta that is astonishingly like the one she’d asked for several hundred times. She acquired the fish with the help of her father (my ex-husband) who knew I did not want a fish, and I’m sure found the whole situation quite amusing. Part of me wanted to send the two of them packing to exchange the fish for a case of cat food; but then I thought about the depressing tower of small, plastic containers holding sad, wilted bettas, and my resolve wavered.

I named the fish Benedict, Benny for short. Though his arrival solicited from me only the most begrudging welcome, this little fish has managed to become a member of our family. Even the cats seem to enjoy communing with him through the Plexiglas walls of his house. (Though the pattern of feline teeth marks on the corner of the tank may indicate interest of a more gastronomical kind.)

Other than occasionally cleaning the tank, bettas require very little care. There are no daily litter box chores or demands for walks. There are no clawed chair backs or chewed shoes. A domestic betta’s life is contained, solitary, and painfully predictable.

I find this quite sad.

I watch Benny swimming around in his one-gallon world, and it makes me think about the ways our lives as writers can sometimes feel like life in a fish bowl.

On the one hand, each time we publish a story or idea, we put a little piece of ourselves on display. Anyone can stare through the transparent walls into our watery world, and – via reviews and blog comments – tap on the glass. We are naked and exposed, a curiosity. On the other hand, the nature of our work requires a certain amount of self-imposed solitude, leaving us feeling isolated. Like Benny, we must each spend time alone in our private universe, apart from the camaraderie of “normal” life. Observers.

The routine of a writer’s life can feel as monotonous (and pointless) as life in a fish bowl. Each day, we swim in the same circles, repeating the same routines and practices. We work on the stories, send out the queries, and try to keep up with all the “platform building” tasks. Around and around and around we go, and most of the time it looks pretty much the same. Though such an existence might be okay for the fish with no short-term memory, for a writer, it can become wearisome.

Luckily, unlike our finned friends, we do not have to stay in the fish bowl, swimming in those same circles. We can get out. Leap the barriers. Dive into the real world. Seek out new experiences. Sometimes, we forget this. We start to believe that there is no way out of the tank. Not true. Not true at all.

I hope that Benny is happy – as much as a fish can be happy – in his small, predictable world. And, I hope that you and I always remember that the walls of our fish bowls worlds are only an illusion. There is a whole, big, wide world out there. We don’t have to swim in the same circles day in and day out. With a little effort, we can break free from the same old-same old, and try something new. Write a different kind of story. Submit to a different kind of publication. Share a different side of yourself. Meet different people in different places and talk about different things. There is more than one plastic castle in the world. Go. Explore. Experience. Then, come back and tell us all about it.

 

What I’m {Learning About} Writing:

Part of the classwork for the flash fiction course I’m taking is responding to craft questions about the sample stories we read. Each week, the lesson materials include questions about how each writer did this or conveyed that, about how a certain theme was expressed, or about how a particular technique worked.

To be perfectly honest, I’m a little intimidated by this part of my homework. It’s been a long time since I’ve been in school, and I don’t have any relevant degrees in literature or writing or anything else that might help me properly analyze a story’s meaning or structure or style. I feel slightly out of  my depth. To make it even more challenging, the online format of this class means that I have to put my thoughts into coherent sentences and post them for everyone else to read. This is, in my opinion, way more stressful than engaging in a live conversation.

Despite my reservations, I have made it a point to participate in almost all of the craft conversations, and to read all the comments from the other students. While this isn’t my favorite part of class, I have come to realize that it’s an important part of learning how a story works. It’s not enough to simply read a story. You will learn more if you take the time to pull it apart and consider each choice the author made in putting it together. In a beautifully crafted story, there are no random choices. Especially with short fiction and flash, each word is selected with care, each sentence constructed with intent, each twist and turn placed for a very specific reason.

VW bug cutawayI’ve written about this idea before in a post called Break Your Story Down to Build It Up, but I think it’s an idea and a practice that’s worth mentioning again. We learn best by doing, but we can also learn a lot by watching how other people do a thing. Find great stories and ask good questions. See if you can get inside the writer’s head to better understand why the story is the way it is. You’ll be amazed at what you’ll learn.

What I’m Reading:

wattpadWhile I continue wading through a couple of novels, I took a little reading side trip to check out Wattpad, an “online community of readers and writers.”

I visited the site because of a comment Jane Friedman made in her post, The Age-Old Cynicism Surrounding the Dream of Book Writing:

I’ve had more than one conversation with adult writers who just don’t understand why anyone would take Wattpad seriously.

But it’s a mistake not to take it seriously. (If you’ve never heard of Wattpad, I encourage you to watch this video to begin to understand it.) It’s where young people are learning to write, in front of a “live” audience if you will, and going on to publish with traditional houses.

I was intrigued by the video, and decided to create an account. I’ve picked out a few stories to try, but haven’t yet read anything. I must admit that I’m already a little turned off by finding grammatical errors in the story descriptions. On the other hand, some well-known authors publish on Wattpad, Paulo Coelho, for instance.

I’m curious to know if any of you have experience reading or writing on the Wattpad platform. Anyone experimented as a reader or writer? What is the community like? Have you found quality stories and writing? Have you had any response to stories you’ve posted? 

 

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:

vonnegut wings

Here’s to swimming outside your comfort zone, experiencing new things, and learning how things work so that you can make your own magic. 
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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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24 thoughts on “Weekend Edition – Writer in a Fish Bowl Plus Writing Tips and Good Reads

  1. Ah yes the life of a writer can seem like such a giant fish bowl at times. I find that if I change what I’m writing about or write in another location, something anything to switch the routine up a bit, it helps to get me out of the rut.

    • Changing topics or scenery are both ways to bump yourself out of the fish bowl routine. I just took myself to do a little brainstorming session down along the river, and came back with an entirely new idea for this week’s homework story. Yay!

  2. Thanks Jamie! A great post. I about to release the first chapter of a short story I’ve been working on and I agree, it’s like I’m opening up my world to critics but hey, if I don’t I’ll never know. “But what if I fall?” “Oh, but my darling. What if you fly?”

  3. Omg that fish story 😳 You were remarkably good tempered about it, I can assure you. I find pet fish depressing as well. And nice work making it into an analogy 🙂 It’s not just writers that can get trapped in this work-eat-sleep fish bowl existence…it can happen to all of us if we fall asleep in our lives…
    I know what you mean about not understanding the technicalities of writing properly…that’s one of the reasons why I want to go to University and learn more! Enjoy your week, Jamie ❤️

    • Thanks, Sara. I try to be tolerant. 😉

      You’re so right about the work-eat-sleep, circle-circle-circle existence being the fate of many – writers and non-writers alike. It is so easy to “fall asleep,” as you put it. So easy to be hypnotized into dulled senses.

      Always so nice to see you. Hopping on over to your place to see what you’re up to this week!

  4. Another great post full of useful info, humour and tips. Your child will go far in the world- clever!
    Your cat has a new hobby to stimulate and excite him. You have a new subject to ponder, meditate on and stimulate your creative mind. Benny has a full and meaningful life- and who knows he may be creating grand stories in his little world on how to outwit the cat!
    Thanks for a great read- you’ve started my Sunday off with a smile!

    • Hello! So nice to see you. Thank you for helping make the silver lining(s) around Benny the betta even easier to see. You are right. He has created some very positive ripples in our little world. 😉

      Enjoyed your piece on the recent vote in relation to Alan Turing. I just watched “The Imitation Game” the other night and was so moved by Turing’s tragic story. To think, we lost such a human being at the tender age of 41, and for what? Prejudice and fear. So awful.

      On a happier note – loved the photos of the horse statues. Those must have been very cool to see in person!

      Thanks for being here. Have a great week!

  5. Love the quote, Jamie! Have a similar one that I made a glass piece out of:

    TO FLY, WE HAVE TO HAVE RESISTANCE! -Maya Lin

  6. Writers and parents, who feel like single parents, are familiar with the fishbowl, what a good analogy. But I did find a way to chit chat with other writers through Word Press and that does make me feel better about living in a fishbowl, and I do get out every once in a while on a Sandbox List Adventure with my kids. But you are definitely right we have to add some zest around here. As for the Wattpad, I’ve never heard of it, or heard anyone else mention it, I’ll check it out and see what the deal is there.

  7. I use Wattpad myself and could agree that it is hard to take it seriously but the truth is, it’s a great place to start becoming comfortable allowing others to read what you’ve written. I get a few comments but not many but instead I go aound and try to comment on others, putting my name around and it’s great how many people will click on your name to look at your own work.
    I like to use it as a way of gaining some inspiration or something to cure writers block.

    Great post by the way, I enjoyed reading it 🙂

    Cass

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  9. I *love* Wattpad. The community is really an amazing supportive group from all over the world. I actually have a friend on there who lives in Japan, and the second most popular country is actually the Philippines. There are a lot of fanfictions, there are all kinds of different stories. I would recommend checking out the forums. There are clubs categorized by genre, and there are others. (The Improve Your Writing club is my personal favorite!)

    Also, don’t be afraid to be a little harsh when commenting on a story. Honesty is always the best policy on Wattpad. It’s the only way to really improve.

    And yes, the grammar isn’t always perfect, but, keeping in mind the fact that a lot of the writers on Wattpad haven’t even finished high school yet, it’s not completely terrible (for the most part).

    Also, I could recommend you some stories, if you’re curious.

    If you have any questions, feel free to ask! 🙂

    • Thanks so much for sharing your view from the inside, Katy. I really am quite intrigued by the concept, and will definitely check it out more fully when I have a bit more time.

      If you have them, I’d love your recommendation on stories with a literary or fantasy leaning.

      🙂

      Thanks!

      • Well, here are some links to check out:

        http://www.wattpad.com/club/4-fantasy (The Official Wattpad Fantasy Club.) The rest of the clubs can be found by going to the Wattpad toolbar on the top of the screen > Community > Clubs. There you’ll find the amazing threads.

        http://www.wattpad.com/user/LiteraryFiction (Literary Fiction profile) I don’t read a lot of literary fiction, but they seem to have a lot of reccommendations!

        http://www.wattpad.com/user/tall_girl (Profile of one of my favorite writers – Wattpad or no.) This woman simply can’t write bad stuff. She has 20+ works on her profile, many of which are completed novels. She writes in many different genres, so you’re bound to find something you like. (Her trilogy Gladiator of Rome is one of my favorites, even among non-Wattpad books.)

        http://www.wattpad.com/user/It_is_Katy (Me!) Feel free to ask me any questions! 🙂

        Also, there’s a smartphone app, if you want to read on the go!

        I hope I helped!

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