One of the things I like best about being a writer is sharing the company of other writers. Whether it’s hanging out here or elsewhere online with fellow writers like you, sharing real-world coffee with a local scribe, or enjoying the camaraderie of storytellers at conferences or via an event like NaNoWriMo, I love being part of the worldwide community of writers. As I’ve written before, it’s almost like we’re members of a secret society, which is kind of a cool thing.
And I’ve always found writers to be a very inclusive crowd. I mean, I know there are certain individuals who lose their way when they let their egos get the better of them, but for the most part my experience with writers has always been pleasant, instructional, and inspiring. Though I cannot count them among my personal friends, I still consider even the most renowned of writers to be part of my writer’s circle.
After all, are we not all chasing after the same thing? Does it really matter if we are working side-by-side or in worlds that are centuries apart? Does it really make a difference if some of us are still struggling to complete our first manuscripts while others have a reserved seat at the top of the New York Times Book Review? As diverse a group as we are, we share the universal writer’s compulsion to ask questions, to get people thinking, to entertain and delight, to create something out of nothing, to find meaning.
As this incredibly crazy year draws to a close, I am more grateful than ever for all the writers – renowned and obscure – who are raising their voices in a refrain of awakening, courage, hope, and optimism. I thank each and every writer who has shared story of pain in order to teach and to increase empathy. And I am especially thankful for those most talented of writers, in my humble opinion, who are able to illuminate truth through humor and find ways to engage people’s hearts and minds while making them laugh. Though I will likely never meet most of these fellow writers, I thank them from the bottom of my heart for every word that they write, every story they share, and every moment that they are part of the writing community that supports all of our efforts.
Big Idea Posts of the Week:
In the aftermath of the election, many writers are reevaluating or reconfirming the role of their craft in the world.
Nobody blames you if recently you’ve felt like getting the hell out of Dodge.
To be really clear about this, I’m not going to tell you whether you should love or hate the results of the US general election. That’s for you to decide.
But everyone is feeling the pressure.
What follows is gentle but firm guidance for writers who may be, in this moment, inclined to “escape into their writing” (aka sticking their heads in the sand). Porter isn’t at all recommending that writers take up a propagandist style, but he is strongly suggesting that writers have an opportunity (one might even say a responsibility) to keep our eyes open, learn, and stay engaged.
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In her recent post, Our Job as Writers, Kate Johnston, a writer and writing coach, admits that she’s pretty cynical when it comes to politics, but that she was deeply affected by the outcome of the recent election. Though she began her writing journey with the fairly simple goal of writing the kind of stories she liked to read, that has begun to shift for her.
Over the past few years, that goal has reshaped, partly organically, partly through my own vision and awareness and growth. I came to see a writer’s job as something more than creating nether worlds. That calling that used to be all about words that entertain, had morphed into something a bit deeper, a bit daunting. Something that asked more of me.
And then, last week happened. The calling is no longer a calling. A mission, perhaps. A deal with the devil, even, or maybe just a really bad-ass angel. A chance to speak up. A dare to put myself to the test.
Johnston’s post is kind of a call to arms for writers. She closes her post with these words, “As writers, holding back, staying down—not an option. As writers, writing nothing—not an option. As writers, it is our job to help keep this world flourishing. As writers, we must write. And write like we mean it.”
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And then there is the revered and inimitable Ursula K. Le Guin. In her post, 119. The Election, Lao Tzu, a Cup of Water, she shares her thoughts on the dangers of using the metaphor of war and how a different approach –the way of water – is needed in these changing times.
I know what I want. I want to live with courage, with compassion, in patience, in peace.
The way of the warrior fully admits only the first of these, and wholly denies the last.
The way of the water admits them all.
The flow of a river is a model for me of courage that can keep me going — carry me through the bad places, the bad times. A courage that is compliant by choice and uses force only when compelled, always seeking the best way, the easiest way, but if not finding any easy way still, always, going on.
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“Ever since the election, people have been telling me to shut up and go back to Fairyland. Be silent. Be good. Accept. Submit. Stop talking about politics. Stick to fairy tales. (As if fairy tales have ever not been about politics.) Go back to Fairyland,” says author Catherynne M. Valente in her post, Go Back to Fairyland. Like many other artists – writers, actors, musicians – she has been criticized for speaking her mind on politics. But, the disapproval of certain people only served as inspiration for her as she turned her pen to the creation of a short story featuring characters from her popular Fairyland series. In The Beasts Who Fought for Fairyland Until the Very End and Further Still, she tells a not-so-subtle tale about battles and happy endings and defiance.
“Perhaps this is not the end of the story, then,” the Green Wind said kindly, though he wasn’t sure he believed it. It was important to say it to the brokenhearted, to the young, to everyone, even if he didn’t believe his own words. Especially if he didn’t believe it. If no one said it, it couldn’t even start being true.
“It feels like the end,” said A-Through-L with a strangled cry.
“It always does, when you lose.” The Green Wind took off his green helmet and laid it on the grass between two arrows. “But haven’t we had tyrants and fools and hobgoblins on the throne before? Haven’t we had rather a lot of hobgoblins? Aren’t hobgoblins rather more the rule than the exception?”
“And haven’t we always patched up their mischief and gotten back to more or less living how we want to live and loving who we want love and making what we want to make and being who we want to be?”
“Perhaps Fairyland is stronger than her goblins, my ravishing reptile. Perhaps, if you take a long enough view, we are all stronger than our goblins.”
Books I’m Reading:
In addition to reading blog posts and news articles, I’ve also just finished listening to two audio books:
The first was Trevor Noah’s memoir, Born a Crime. For those of you who don’t know him, Noah is a comedian who recently took over at Comedy Central’s The Daily Show after long-time host Jon Stewart retired from the position. I didn’t know much about Noah and, though I was a loyal Stewart fan, hadn’t even paid him much attention on The Daily Show. Reading this book gave me a whole new perspective.
The book’s subtitle is “Stories from a South African Childhood.” Noah grew up in South Africa as apartheid was coming to an end. The collection of stories he shares from his childhood are intimate, and yet manage to capture a great deal of the larger and more complex picture of a very tumultuous time. From the Audible book description:
In his first book, Noah tells his coming-of-age story with his larger-than-life mother during the last gasps of apartheid-era South Africa and the turbulent years that followed. Noah was born illegal – the son of a white Dutch father and a black Xhosa mother, who had to pretend to be his nanny or his father’s servant in the brief moments when the family came together. His brilliantly eccentric mother loomed over his life – a comically zealous Christian (they went to church six days a week and three times on Sunday), a savvy hustler who kept food on their table during rough times, and an aggressively involved, if often seriously misguided, parent who set Noah on his bumpy path to stardom.
I very much recommend this book.
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I honestly don’t even know where to begin with this second book. Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff is purportedly written by someone named Pappy Pariah and narrated by actor and activist, Sean Penn.
I suppose I’ll offer up the official description as featured on the Audible site:
By turns tender and terrifying, Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff captures America on the verge of political upheaval in 2016 and introduces us to a man who just might be able to save us from the oncoming horror. Yes, Bob Honey – carnival carny, sewage specialist, and government operative, among other occupations – has spent years in preparation, crisscrossing the world in the employ of a mysterious government program that pays in small bills. He stopped in New Orleans to help Katrina victims; traveled to Baghdad, Beirut, South Sudan, and elsewhere on sewage emergencies; and submerged himself in the Pacific Ocean in search of sea life – all while living out of a quiet house on a residential street in Woodview, California, where he sometimes disturbs the neighbors with the sound of his lawn mower.
Bob Honey Who Just Do Stuff marks the debut of a dazzling literary talent. With comic bravado and an urgent agenda, Pappy Pariah has created a haunting, hilarious vision of an American middle-aged man with a mission – a loner struggling to find truth amid the chaos of a political campaign that threatens to destroy the values of the country he loves.
This book is free on Audible and has been, I believe, since it was released last year. It’s a short book (only two-and-a-half hours). It’s kind of trippy. It’s poetic. It’s certainly political. There are moments of beauty, and plenty of horror. I also found it interesting that the reviews were completely polarized – people either loved it or hated it. Say what you will about any artwork, it’s generally true that when something manages to stir up such strong emotions on either or both ends of a spectrum, it’s something worth checking out.
My Favorite Blog Reads for the Week:
- Deep story goodness for writers via The Mother of All Cheat Sheets by @speechwriterguy
- Consider the Lobster Mushroom: a brief theory of the craft of creative nonfiction by Heidi Czerwiec
- Stephen King: How to Craft a Short Story via @WritetoDone
- *Pinch* Are You Awake? by @AnneGBrown
PUBLISHING & MARKETING
- Do You Know What You’re Capable Of? by @JaneFriedman
- How to Not Live an Ordinary Life by @RobbinPhillips
THE WRITING LIFE
Sundry Links and Articles:
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Finally, a quote for the week:
Here’s to being a member of the global writer’s circle, filling your creative bank account, and writing even when you’re afraid … especially when you’re afraid. xo
Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content writer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian arts, 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.
This post originally appeared on the Live to Write – Write to Live blog.