Your Favorite Posts for 2015:
Another year has come and gone, but before we leap into 2016, I thought it’d be fun to take a look back at which of the Weekend Edition and Short and Sweet Advice for Writers posts were your favorites this year. The Top 10 lists below are ranked based on the number of comments each post received. I’ve had a great time writing these pieces and been so grateful to have such a loyal, active, and insightful group of writers (that’s you!) to share this journey with me. Though writing is a mostly solitary pursuit, I feel very fortunate to have a community like this one where we can share our stories, ideas, and observations. I always learn something new, and am constantly inspired by the time we spend together. So … thank you.
Here’s to another year of writerly musings ahead. See you in 2016!!!
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Top Ten Weekend Edition Posts of 2015:
#10: Finding the Place Where Your Writing Gets Interesting – Inspired by the tweets of some Grub Street Writers, this post is about how curiosity and contradiction can fuel your writing. It also hearkens back to some advice about curiosity from Elizabeth Gilbert and Susan Orlean, and a little insight from yours truly about how the most interesting (and arguably the most important) things happen on the edges.
#9: Truth in Blogging – Sometimes, I feel like a fraud, like one of the shiny, happy people who populate the Internet with grievously sparkly accounts of their perfect lives. (Those people make me crazy.) I hope I do not actually do that, but sometimes I feel like certain omissions in what I share make me less authentic, even slightly dishonest.
This is mostly ridiculous, of course.
The world of digital publishing – blogging and social media in particular – puts writers in a strange new land.
#8: Dear, Writer – You are Weird – Writers are not normal people. Writers are weird. And, the sooner we acknowledge and embrace that fact, the better off we’ll be and the better our work will be.
I don’t often think about the ways being a writer makes me different from other people; but, when I do stop to think about it, the differences can be pretty striking. For instance, as a writer, I take on a lot of voluntary work that eats up hours and hours of my “free” time. While other people are heading out for a day on the boat or the beach, I’m often sitting (happily, I might add) at my computer, writing. I routinely dedicate substantial chunks of time each week to doing work that is not only unpaid, but often unseen by anyone but me.
#7: Writing When You Don’t Feel Creative – It may not always be convenient or enjoyable, but I have learned (oh, yes, the hard way) that it’s wiser to ride the ups and downs of my energy and creativity than to try to control them. Once upon a time, I would have ignored the signs of a descent into a fallow period. I would have pushed doggedly forward, forcing myself to produce even though my heart and head weren’t invested in the effort. I would have told myself that there was no time to rest and no time to lose. Write, girl, write. Get that job done. Make it happen.
#6: Time to Write – Time is our most finite and precious resource. We cannot create more of it, or slow it down. We cannot bend it to our will. We can only hope to use it wisely.
People often ask me how I find the time to fit consistent reading and writing into my life. My answer is that I do not find the time, I make it. Sometimes, I steal it.
The hard truth is that we rarely, if ever, stumble upon spare time. Most of our time is spoken for by our daily responsibilities and obligations – work, parenting, caring for family members, keeping house, shuttling kids hither and yon, shopping, cooking, taking out the trash. The rigors of our daily lives devour time in huge, hurriedly consumed bites. We get out of bed in the morning, and it seems moments later we are crawling back under the covers, barely aware of what transpired in the intervening hours.
#5: Just Be Yourself. Yeah, Right. – Being yourself is hard. Maybe you’re more evolved than I am, but I’m pretty sure that when it comes to who I am, I’m still figuring it out. I know I’m supposed to be a grown-up, but I still feel like an awkward kid half the time. I still have so many questions and doubts. I still feel like an unfinished story.
People say “just be yourself” as if it’s a simple matter. They mean well. They intend their words as reassurance or encouragement, but whenever I hear that bit of advice, it’s as if someone opened a trap door beneath my feet.
#4: Top 10 Reasons I Love to Write – Let’s face it – you have to really lovewriting to keep doing it day after day, even on the days when it’s hard, even on the days when you’ve lost all hope of ever figuring out your protagonist’s purpose, where your tangled plot is going, or the inner workings of the mercurial labyrinth that is modern publishing. You have to burn with a heartfelt, almost zealous desire to create something out of nothing. This is what it takes if you’re going to keep banging your head against the keyboard day after day – toiling on blog posts, essays, short stories, poems, or whichever literary form you choose.
“Normal” people don’t write. Crazy people write. But, we’re crazy in all the best ways.
#3: On “Real” Writers – There has been a bit of a kerfuffle around the Internet for the past few weeks. Like drunken participants in a virtual bar brawl, the topics of MFAs and creative exclusion have careened from blog to blog, crashing into our headspace and spilling beer on our reading material. While I’m glad that people are talking about writing (even if they are being a little unruly about it), I’m discouraged that the conversation focuses so heavily on the idea of external validation – of whether or not (and how) someone else can say that you are (or are not) a “real” writer. And, for that matter, what’s with this term “Real” Writer?
#2: A Writer’s Circle – Though we’ve never met in person (and probably never will … though, you never know), I really enjoy spending part of my weekend with you. The highest compliments I’ve received for this series are the comments and emails thanking me for posts that “felt like sitting down with a friend over coffee.” That’s exactly the feeling I hope to create with these weekend editions – a little moment out of time where I can invite you into our virtual space to share a cup of something hot and some casual (though often also passionate) conversation about the writing life, the writing craft, and really great reads. You guys are my virtual writers’ circle – bookish and writerly people coming together to talk about all things writing- and reading-related.
#1: Writing Is My “Real” Job – When someone asks what you do, how do you answer? Does the label “writer” trip lightly off the tip of your tongue, or do you keep that identity to yourself and instead talk about your day job? It seems like a small thing, but how we “label” ourselves – to others and in our own minds – has a big impact on what we believe about ourselves and how we behave.
I actually do make my living as a writer, but the writing that pays my bills is not, in my estimation, “real” writing. When asked what I “do,” I usually say that I’m a messaging strategist and content marketer (and, then I have to explain what the heck that means). Even after nearly a decade of stringing one word after another for cold, hard cash, I still hesitate to grant myself the honorary title of “writer.” I don’t feel that writing (“real” writing – as in fiction and creative non-fiction) is my “real” job. It’s just something I do on the side.
But how do we define “real,” and are we doing it wrong?
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Top 10 Short & Sweet Advice for Writers Posts of 2015:
#10: Embrace Your Dark Side – I once wrote a post called Get Mad: Marketing from Your Dark Side. I’ve mentioned it before briefly in the context of Terry Pratchett’s passing, but I’d like to come back to it again because I recently read two blog posts that touched on how artists use their personal fears, conflicts, and even tragedies to infuse their art with passion that resonates far beyond their own experience.
In my original post about marketing, I talked about how a strong brand is defined as much by what it stands against as what it stands for:
#9: Color Code Your Senses – You know your writing should evoke all five senses, but here’s a handy tip for not only making sure you’ve included sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell in a scene, but also that you’ve balanced your use of the senses:
#8: The Perfect Time to Write – There is no such thing as the “perfect time to write.”
I used to have a naive fantasy about arriving at a time in my life when I would be free to write without distraction or disturbance. A time during which I would somehow be magically relieved of all my responsibilities and obligations. No worries would crease my brow other than those having to do with the writing task at hand, no stress would cloud my creative vision.
Did I mention it was a naive fantasy?
It is also a foolish one.
#7: Have a Point (Plus WIIFM) – If you want your writing to be effective, you need to have a point: a purpose, something specific you’re trying to say, a “Why” behind the writing. This rule applies no matter what you’re crafting – novel, short story, poem, personal essay, op-ed, sales page, website, flash fiction, screenplay. Having a point is what stokes your creative fire, and it’s what gives you the ability to write something that will make people care.
#6: Read Your Work Out Loud – You have probably heard this advice before. It isn’t new. It isn’t rocket science.
But, do you actually read your work out loud?
Experts across all genres recommend reading your work out loud as part of your editing process. There’s something about hearing a piece spoken out loud that makes it easy to spot weak spots. I use this technique on everything from blog posts to essays to short stories to business correspondence. I’m never sorry I did it.
#5: Take Ten – Finding time to write is always a challenge.
You dream of long, uninterrupted stretches of time in which you can unfurl your creativity and let your muse be your guide. You assume that in order to accomplish your Big Writing Dreams you must have Big Blocks of Writing Time. You’re partly right.
Yes – writing takes time and big projects take a lot of time. Writing a book is not a quest for the faint hearted. However (though I still long for full days of writing) I have been discovering the value of “micro” writing sessions.
#4: Write Like a Puppy – Writing is serious business. Doing it well requires study, commitment, and dedication. There is a lot to learn – form, structure, style, voice – more craft nuances than I can name. “Real” writers sacrifice for their art. As Hemingway said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
Sometimes, you just gotta play.
#3: Stop Putting Yourself Down – … when someone asks what I do, I invariably find a way to “play small” and more or less put myself down. For example:
Friendly, curious person: “So, what do you do?”
Me: “I’m a writer. Well, not a real writer. I mostly write websites and crap like that.”
FCP: “So, you write a column. That’s neat. What’s it about?”
Me: “Well, they don’t pay me, so they let me write whatever I want.”
FCP: “I really liked your piece in [insert magazine name here].”
Me: “Oh, thanks. That’s not my real job, but it was fun to write.”
You see the pattern here, right?
#2: Write Blind – So, for this post I’m trying something a little odd. I’m writing “blind.”
What I mean by that is that I’m not giving myself any way to look at the words as I type them. I picked up this trick from an essay by Vanessa Gebbie in Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction. In the essay, Gebbie suggests that you free up your muse and your creativity by simply writing without looking. (It’s kind of like the whole “Look, Ma! No hands!” thing.)
#1: Write Like a Weed – Ahh, the humble weed. Scorned, belittled, hacked at, trod on, uprooted, and taken for granted, these tenacious flora still manage to proliferate. Undaunted by our judgment of their unworthiness, they flourish in every available crevice. They are not affected by our opinions. They do not compare themselves to other plants; they just keep reaching up toward the sun and drilling down toward the water.
Far from being particular about soil conditions, weeds grow almost anywhere. There is nothing delicate about these flowers; they are more fierce than floral.
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Happy reading, happy writing, and happy New Year!
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 Facebook, twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.