Weekend Edition – On “Real” Writers Plus Good Reads and Writing Tips

How to Tell If You’re a “Real” Writer

Even the Blue Fairy can't make you a real writer ~ Inspirational Illustration by Gustaf Tenggren

Even the Blue Fairy can’t make you a real writer ~ Inspirational Illustration by Gustaf Tenggren

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?

This isn’t the first time we have been caught in the crossfire, but this particular row began with a piece penned by former MFA professor Ryan Boudinot. Published on The Stranger, Things I Can Say About MFA Programs Now That I No Longer Teach in One is less a personal expose and more a personal attack on both the students he taught and the institution he worked for. My favorite bit of his diatribe was this, “Just because you were abused as a child does not make your inability to stick with the same verb tense for more than two sentences any more bearable. In fact, having to slog through 500 pages of your error-riddled student memoir makes me wish you had suffered more.” I have no words.

As you might expect, Boudinot’s article raised the ire of other writers far and wide. Here are a few of the responses I found most interesting:

An Open Letter to That Ex-MFA Creative Writing Teacher Dude by Chuck Wendig on Terrible Minds – Though Chuck’s prolific use of obscenities and colorful metaphors (such as, “peeing bees”) may not be your thing, Mr. Wendig makes some very good points and he gets top marks for passionate presentation.

On Ryan Boudinot and the Goddard MFA by poet Bhanu Kapil provides a much more restrained rebuttal, but a rebuttal nonetheless. The piece is given additional weight by the fact that the author also taught at Goddard.

Open Letter to Crabby Writing Teachers Everywhere by Karin Gillespie offers not only a satisfying rebuke, but also hope to emerging writers with her debunking of The Myth of the Real Deal.

 

I have never taught in an MFA, and I don’t expect I’ll ever enroll in one. I have, however, been a writer for my entire life. My journey began at the age of seven, when I put pencil to paper in my first journal. I have been on my writing adventure ever since, and although I have not hit the New York Times Bestseller List (yet), I definitely consider myself a “real” writer.

Why?

Because the result of doing something is not the thing. Doing the thing is the thing.

Being published or even financially compensated does not make you a “real” writer. Earning public acclaim, industry awards, or the envious admiration of your peers does not make you a “real” writer. All you need to do to be a “real” writer is commit to the practice of writing. All those other things – income, fame, academic acknowledgement – are just possible results of writing. They are not the writing. And – one more time – they do not make you a writer.

When you think about the question of whether or not you are a “real” writer in the context of other things we do, the idea becomes kind of silly.

If I run for fitness, but have not been paid to run or won any marathons, I can still call myself a “runner” without fear of anyone questioning the veracity of my claim. If I practice yoga in the privacy of my own home without any hope of applause for my downward dog or tree pose, I can still confidently call myself a yogini. If I tend a garden purely for the joy of nurturing green things, without any intent to make a profit from the flowers and vegetables that grow in my care, I can still call myself a gardener.

When people like Boudinot judge (as if it was their job in the first place) whether or not someone is a “real” writer, the criteria they use is all wrong. Income, acclaim, and all the other external trappings of their “real” writer have little to do with the actual writing. They are simply the outcome of a person having written. It was the act of writing that made that person a writer, not cashing a check or accepting a trophy. You may not be a professional writer, but that does not mean you are a not a real writer any more than not being paid for my zinnias keeps me from being a real gardener.

The question of skill is equally as misplaced.

Just because I’m unable to stand on my head perfectly (or, at all) doesn’t mean I’m not a yogini. Just because my tomato plant didn’t win first prize at the county fair doesn’t mean I’m not a gardener. Skill is something we can acquire only through practice. And, if we are practicing a thing, we are a practitioner of the skill in question, which in turn earns us the title of runner, writer, gardener, etc.

In her lovely and deeply inspiring book If You Want to Write, Brenda Ueland asserts that everyone has talent and everyone has a story worth telling. She has no tolerance for critics. In the very first chapter of her book, she writes,

So often I come upon articles written by critics of the very highest brow, and by other prominent writers, deploring the attempts of ordinary people to write. The critics rap us savagely on the head with their thimbles, for our nerve. No one but a virtuoso should be allowed to do it. The prominent writers sell funny articles about all the utterly crazy, fatuous, amateurish people who think they can write.

Ueland wrote her book in 1938. Clearly, this isn’t a new problem.

 

I hope that if you have been troubled in the past by worries about whether or not you are (or, ever will be) a “real” writer, that this post will help you move past that concern and free you up to focus on the joy of your writing practice. Put your heart and mind fully into the effort. Study and learn. Discover. Uncover. Experiment. There is no such thing as a “real” writer. If you write, you are a writer, and it doesn’t get any more real than that.

 

And, the next time someone asks you what you do, tell them, “Professionally, I’m a [fill in your job title here]; but in my real life, I’m a writer.”

 

What I’m {Learning About} Writing: You don’t have to put all your eggs in one basket.

Morning Gather by Terri Unger

Morning Gather by Terri Unger

You only get one chance to make a first impression.

This may be true. It may also be one of the primary reasons writers stress out about sharing their work.

Fear of rejection often keeps us from putting our work out into the world. Whatever opus we’re working on, we hide it away to protect it from critical eyes and sharp tongues. We have worked too long and too hard to risk others tearing the product of our labors apart, or (perhaps even worse) ignoring it completely. How many manuscripts are out there, languishing in the proverbial bottom drawer?

But, what if, instead of putting all your effort into your Big Project (only to lock it away from the light of day), you put some of your creative energy and time into shorter, less momentous works?

This idea is one of the reasons writing practices like blogging, short stories, flash fiction, poetry, and other short forms are so valuable. They require less of an investment from you, and they provide you with many, smaller (and therefore less daunting) opportunities to share your words. Instead of having to serve an entire, five-course meal, you can just offer a cup of tea, a cookie, or an appetizer.

Sure, sometimes a reader won’t enjoy your tea or will think your cookie could have used a little less sugar and a bit more spice, but that’s okay. It isn’t as if one blog post (or essay or short story) can define your career or your identity as a writer. And, the more you put these little pieces of yourself out into the world, the braver you will become and the better your will be at learning to separate yourself from the work. You will worry less about getting hurt, and be more intrigued by what you can learn from reader feedback. You will start to see each moment of “exposure” less as a horrific moment of being naked on stage, and more as a chance to build connections that sustain and inspire you.

Give it a try. What small thing can you write and share today?

 

What I’m Reading: Peaches for Monsieur Le Curé

book peaches monsieurChocolat is one of my favorite movies. Based on the novel by Joanne Harris (which I’m sorry to say I’ve never read), it has a wonderful sense of place, interwoven themes, and an underlying current of magic. Imagine my delight, then, to find a copy of Harris’ companion novel, Peaches for Monsieur Le Curé, on the sale cart at my local library. Oh, happy day!

Set in the same provincial French town as Chocolat, Peaches for Monsieur Le Curé also features the same characters as Harris’ original story plus a new cast who bring heightened stakes and greater tension to this culturally-charged story. I was hooked by the book’s very first lines,

Someone once told me, that in France alone, a quarter of a million letters are delivered every year to the dead.

What she didn’t tell me is that sometimes the dead write back.

Harris’ protagonist, Vianne Rocher, is fascinating to me. She is at once apart from and deeply entangled with the lives of the people around her. Her gifts of small magic, of being able to see people’s “colours” and flashes of visions, are both enchanting and believable.

I enjoyed my return trip to the small town of Lansquenet, and it may be that I will soon journey to other lands of Harris’ creation. Having taken a closer look at her catalog, it seems she offers a wide variety of destinations to her readers.

 

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:

pin real writers

Here’s to being as real as you can be – as a writer, and as a human being. Happy writing! Happy reading! I’ll see you on the other side. 
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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.

Weekend Edition – Be Your Own (Writing) Idol Plus Good Reads and Writing Tips

Be Your Own Idol

idol joeyI have a confession. I watch American Idol.

There are worse things I could do, I know, but spending several hours each week plugged into my DVR definitely feels like a guilty pleasure.

My beau is my enabler. We’ve been watching together for a few years now, and have become self-educated aficionados on the art of the song choice, the correct way to do runs, and the fine balance that must be struck between a great vocal performance and mesmerizing stage presence. What keeps me watching the show is not, however, the display of technical vocal prowess or even the thrill of finding out who wins. What keeps me watching is the chance to witness the transformation of these young performers as they unfurl and stretch into being their own artists.

A couple of months ago, I shared my phrase for 2015: Believe in your own magic.  I think of this simple phrase often as I watch the American Idol contestants work through the sometimes arduous task of finding (and owning) their unique identities and voices And, I think of how it also applies to writers, from newbies to the uber experienced and successful.

Because art is art. Whether you are singing or writing, painting of dancing, sculpting or acting, or even throwing clay pots, art is only art if you imbue it with your own magic – that thing that is uniquely and beautifully yours. You have to give a little piece of yourself away with each creation. That is what touches people. That is what makes them want to be part of your world.

Having watched hundreds of American Idol performances, I have seen plenty of excellent performances that are technically impressive. I have heard immensely talented vocalists execute flawlessly on tough songs, hitting all the high notes and nailing each run. I have also learned that those performances pale in comparison to the not-so-perfect but deeply unique and heartfelt artistry of the singer who takes a chance on sharing her own magic, her own voice, her own true story.

I have a favorite this season. I have no idea if she’ll be able to take it “all the way” on with the fickle American Idol audience, but I will buy her album (there will be one) whether she “wins,” or not. Her name is Joey Cook, and this is her completely Joey-ized performance of Iggy Pop’s single, Fancy.

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I couldn’t adore her more.

I love her style, but more than that, I love her courage and her willingness to be different. I love that she plays a squeezebox and wears 50s-style dresses and dyes her hair blue. I love that I can feel her emotions each time she sings. And, I love watching her gain confidence each week as she slowly realizes that people are loving her just for sharing her own magic.

What magic do you have to share? What’s holding you back from putting it out there?

singerIf you are grooving along with my American Idol/art/writing train of thought, you may also like this post I wrote back in 2011 (I told you I’ve been a fan for a long time!) about 15 Tips To Make Your Writing Sing – American Idol Style. And, hey, if you watch the show, I’d love to know who your favorite is. 😉

 

 

What I’m {Learning About} Writing:

Portrait from the BBC article.

Portrait from the BBC article.

Sir Terry Pratchett, the author perhaps best known for his unique and long-running Discworld series, died earlier this week at the age of sixty-six. The BBC News post announcing his passing gives a thumbnail sketch of his career (some seventy books written across a span of forty-four years with total sales in excess of $70million) and his very public battle with rare form of early-onset Alzheimer’s.

The only Pratchett book I’ve read is the one he co-authored with Neil Gaiman, Good Omens. It’s one of the few books that makes me laugh out loud each time I read it (and, I’ve read it multiple times). Gaiman and Pratchett were not only colleagues, but also friends. Last September, knowing that his friend’s death was imminent, Gaiman wrote an essay for The Guardian titled, Terry Pratchett isn’t jolly. He’s angry.

In the short piece, Gaiman writes about the fury that drove Pratchett to write so uniquely and prolifically,

There is a fury to Terry Pratchett’s writing: it’s the fury that was the engine that powered Discworld. It’s also the anger at the headmaster who would decide that six-year-old Terry Pratchett would never be smart enough for the 11-plus; anger at pompous critics, and at those who think serious is the opposite of funny; anger at his early American publishers who could not bring his books out successfully.

I was saddened to hear of Pratchett’s passing. The world has lost a great storyteller. But, I hope that maybe we can find some small lesson in the beauty of how he used his anger to create beauty and laughter and bring a little more truth into the world.

charging knightA while back, I wrote a piece for my business blog called Get Mad: Marketing From Your Dark Side. Gaiman’s essay about Pratchett reminded me of this piece and the power of giving ourselves a villain to fight … a cause to write for.

 

What I’m Reading:

book ueland want writeCaught up as I have been this week with the idea of excavating and sharing your unique experience and style, I returned to an old favorite – Brenda Ueland’s If You Want to Write. This slim tome is aptly (and, I think, beautifully) sub-titled, “A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit.”

There is hardly a page of this book that isn’t criss-crossed with pencil underlinings from previous readings. In some places, I’ve actually drawn hearts and stars in the margins. Originally published in 1938, this book is as relevant as ever, perhaps even more so. With a gentle, but no nonsense voice, Ueland quietly transforms the often overwhelming task of writing into a simple magic that feels simultaneously accessible and miraculous.

If you have ever felt daunted by writing or doubtful about your right to write, please read this book. I promise you that it will warm your heart, ease your mind, and stoke your creative fires.

 

And let’s not forget the blogs. Here are a few of my favorite writerly posts from this week:

This week has an extra dose of crazy, so I didn’t get to spend as much time reading my favorite blogs as I would have liked, BUT here are a few reads that I enjoyed and thought were worth sharing:

 

Finally, a quote for the week:

pin no one is you

Thanks, as always, for being here. And thanks for being you and sharing your own magic with the world. Happy writing. Happy reading. See you on the other side! 
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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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Weekend Edition – A Writers’ Circle Plus Good Reads and Writing Tips

Tell me a little bit about yourself.

My favorite mug - mermaids and stars.

My favorite mug – mermaids and stars.

This is my 86th weekend edition. There’s no special significance to that number, but – hey! – we’ve been hanging out for a while! I looked the figure up in the archives mostly because I was curious. I also realized that, although the weekend edition series has evolved (rather beautifully) into a diverse and welcoming community, I don’t know nearly as much about you as I’d like.

I’d like to fix that.

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.

So, if you don’t mind sharing, I’d love to know a little more about you. What kind of writing do you do today, and what kind of writing do you aspire to produce tomorrow? Who are your writing idols? What are your writing fears? Are you a professional or a hobbyist? Are you into a particular genre? What’s your day job? Are you a parent, a kid, or an empty nester? What else do you love besides reading and writing?

I’ll go first:

  • I’m a single mom who makes her living as a freelance content strategist and copywriter for small- to mid-sized B2B (that’s business-to-business vs business-to-consumer) companies.
  • I have a wonderful and supportive family. My daughter is eleven years old and fabulous from head to toe. My beau and I will be celebrating our eighth year together this summer. My parents are also creative/artistic types – Dad is a photographer/illustrator/painter and Mom is a writer/editor. I have two cats – a mother/daughter pair named Bella and Cinder. I aspire to be as Zen as they appear to be.
  • As a professional writer, I earn the bulk of my income from my marketing-related writing (websites, ebooks, case studies, etc.), but I also write a bi-weekly column for my local paper and occasionally take on a feature piece for the paper or a regional magazine.
  • While I’m working in the copywriting “word mines,” I continue to study the craft of fiction and creative nonfiction via self-study (reading books, blogs, and magazines) as well as taking classes (primarily at the Grub Street Writers’ Center).
  • I hope to one day write and publish fiction, both short stories and novels. I’m also interested in all the emerging literary media and mediums, and I think that we’ll see some innovative authors experimenting with unique ways to reach and engage readers.
  • My writing idols include Neil Gaiman, Charles de Lint, Ursula K. LeGuin, Salman Rushdie, Bailey White, David Almond, and Ann Patchett. I’ve also recently discovered new favorites including Kristin Bair O’Keeffe and Rita Leganski. (Honestly, the list is always growing!)
  • My writing fears are many, but I’m working to get over them and get on with the writing. Mostly, I’m afraid that I will never make time for my fiction practice and go to my grave with my stories still locked in my head. But, I’m also afraid of being rejected, ignored, or just plain laughed at. And I’m afraid my head will never be able to capture and recreate the story magic that I can almost touch with my heart.
  • Though I am still learning about the complex geography of literary genres, I have to say that I am most interested in various forms of contemporary fantasy – urban fantasy, magical surrealism, and so forth. Though I loved science fiction and epic fantasy as a child (and still do enjoy reading some of that today), I have grown to love stories that bring fantasy into our world in sometimes overt and sometimes subtle ways. I love the potential of magic existing alongside our ordinary lives.
  • In addition to reading, writing, running my business, and (last but certainly never least) navigating the wondrous land of motherhood, I take riding lessons (at the same stable I rode at when I was a child) and am going to be getting back to a regular yoga practice. I’m also beginning to learn more about meditation and am intrigued by the concept of minimalism (though my penchant for collecting tiny, artistic treasures doesn’t bode well for me taking up a spare lifestyle). I also spend a lot of time walking, observing nature, and creating photos for my Instagram habit.

Ok, your turn.

Share one detail or the whole kit-and-caboodle. Use my random questions for inspiration, or make up your own. Cover just the personal, just the professional, or a mix of both. Whatever feels right is perfect. Oh! And if you’re so inclined, please share where you “live” online – your website, blog, or Twitter handle, etc.

Take your time. I’ll be back later with a mug of tea and some chocolate.

 

What I’m Learning About Writing:

For every author, there is a community.

Earlier this week in Writers and Marketing – What Makes Sense? I wrote about my attempts to figure out if (and how) my various marketing activities generate value. The exercise got me thinking about that all important question: how does a writer find readers?

The painful truth is that you can blog, tweet, post, and pin until your fingers bleed, but if no one sees any of it, it won’t do you a whole heck of a lot of good.

So, what’s a busy writer with no marketing budget to do?

Find a community (or two, or three!).

All over the Internet, people congregate together based on topics, passions, and beliefs. I guarantee that no matter what you write about or what kinds of stories you tell, there are already communities of people out there who would love to hear about your stories.

For instance, I love fantasy and I love the author Charles de Lint. Imagine how delighted I was to discover The Mythic Cafe Facebook page.

mythic cafe

The Mythic Cafe (with Charles de Lint and company) is a vibrant community of almost 3,500 members who are there to (according to the group description) “celebrate myth and fantasy, and to nurture readers, writers, artists and musicians who enjoy the mythic arts.”

Be still my heart.

Communities like these are wonderful on so many levels. They provide inspiration by immersing you in the world you love and connecting you with like-minded people. They give you valuable insights into the lives and minds of people who might be your perfect readers. And, in some cases, they can give you a ready-made platform upon which to share your work.

I don’t have any work to share with the fabulous members of the Mythic Cafe, but I am really enjoying my time there. I am learning so much about myth and fairytales, collecting links to inspiring artists and stories, and generally just feeding my fantasy-loving soul.

Where might you find a community of people who are a perfect fit for what you write?

 

What I’m Reading:

book darkest part forestSometimes you need a fairytale to get you through the week. You need something with a prince and some magic and something scary lurking in a deep, dark wood. That’s exactly what the (book) doctor ordered for me this week, and – luckily – I happened to have a copy of Holly Black’s latest YA novel at hand.

The Darkest Part of the Forest weaves classical faerie folklore into a contemporary setting. Tourists come to Fairfold to try and catch a glimpse of the Folk, and especially to see the horned prince who has lain asleep in a glass coffin in the woods for generations. Locals know to carry iron and oatmeal in their pockets, but tourists aren’t always so respectful of the old ways and sometimes come to a nasty end.

Hazel and her brother Ben have lived most of their lives in Fairfold. As children, they roamed the forest as a knight and a bard. But now, as teenagers, their world is turned upside down when the mysterious prince in the glass coffin wakes and the boundaries between the human world and the fey world begin to blur.

Full of secrets, boons, tricksy faerie bargains, and all-too-human betrayals, The Darkest Part of the Forest puts an interesting spin on traditional faerie lore. There’s plenty of action to keep you turning pages, and plenty of romance for a starry-eyed teenager. This wasn’t a life-altering book, but I don’t think that’s at all what Black was trying to create. It is, however, a very entertaining and well written story that provides a slightly spooky and eerily beautiful escape from the world. It was fun, and good enough that I’ll be checking out some of Black’s other titles in the future.

 

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:

pin paralyzed

Thanks for being here. I’m looking forward to learning more about you and to many more virtual weekend visits over a mug of something yummy. 
.
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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“Good For You, Not for Me”

A gavel

Image courtesy of Chris Potter

In today’s writing market, if writing were my only source of income, I’d have to get creative to generate enough income to support my family. Recently, one YA author opted to start a KickStarter campaign to fund the second book in a series.  Stacy Jay Released Princess of Thorns via Delacorte Press (an imprint of Random House) on December 9, 2014. Initial sales did not meet expectations so the publisher declined to pick up the second book in the series. As an aside, initial sales? The book isn’t even a month old! Sorry, now back to your regularly scheduled blog post.  Stacy harbors no ill will towards the publisher, it was a business decision, nothing more, nothing less. Still, she had readers clamoring for the second book, so she launched a KickStarter Campaign to fund the creation of book two.

“I asked for 10k to fund a Kickstarter for the sequel for Princess of Thorns and EVERYONE who contributed would have been given a copy of the book (from the $10 donation level on up). 7k of that would have covered my living expenses while writing the book. After taxes and promotional expenses I planned to take out of that budget, I would have been making about 11.00 an hour to write and edit the novel.”

An Internet kerfluffle ensued.

Some people objected to KickStarter for publishing a book. Some people took offense to her honesty that some of the money would be spent on living expenses while she took 3 months to write the book. Some did defend her, but as these things do, it spiraled out of control and eventually, she pulled the plug.

Making a living wage in creative professions

We don’t seem to have a problem with the existence of banks, or grocery stores or utility companies. No one jumps up and down excited when the oil truck backs down their driveway, but we all seem to understand that paying for these things is necessary. Where do we expect that money to come from?

DUH! Get a job.

Well yes, a job.

Newsflash: Writing novels? It’s a job.

No. Really, IT’S WORK!
There is this belief that if your song is played on the radio, your book is on the shelves of a bookstore or your art is on a gallery’s wall, you are rolling in the dough.

*LOUD OBNXIOUS BUZZER* False! Thank you for playing!

There are artists who make it big and roll in the big buck. They are a very small percentage of the overall number of working artists. Artists of all kinds work hard to get their work in your ears, or in front of your eyes. Everything from the supplies they use, to the promotion to sometimes the placement, costs money. Sometimes, when all is said and done, we work for chump change.  WHY? Well because we enjoy it, we’re good at it and it brings us satisfaction to bring enjoyment to our audience.

For the most part no one gives food, heating oil or tools of the trade away, so we toil away at “day jobs” to fund our creative dreams. I’m not suggesting that hard work is bad. I don’t believe that working for your dreams is a bad thing, but what’s wrong with someone asking to be paid for their creative ventures?

What kills me about the Stacy Jay kerfluffle is that some of the loudest critics are also writers. People who understand the creative struggle and the balance between making money and pursuing art. They know it’s hard and yet they sit in judgement of someone taking a risk. Someone trying a new path. Would I do it? It probably wouldn’t be my first choice, but I wouldn’t rule it out. I’d research it, learn how to do it effectively, keep an open mind and keep it in my tool box.

Yes, Jay was trying to raise money to cover her living expenses and production expenses, but she was also using the KickStarter campaign as market research and that strikes me as a “wicked smaht” move.

“And if the Kickstarter had been allowed to play out without the screams of critics, I would have found out if my readers were up for that. If they weren’t–FINE. I still love them. No harm, no foul, and I could have gone about my business feeling confident that I’d tried to give them what they said they wanted.”

Here’s a revolutionary idea, if the idea of a KickStarter campaign to fund the creation of a YA fantasy novel offends you. DON’T support the campaign, end of story!

Would I support another author’s kick starter campaign? Maybe. I don’t have enough disposable income to rise to the level of patron of the arts, but there are authors and artists out there to whom I would kick a little cash to see them grow their work. Even if it meant I was contributing towards their electric bill.  If I’d read the first book in the series, and enjoyed it, I’d kick in a few bucks to read the second book. If the author had enough fans and we all kicked in a few bucks. We’d all get a story we wanted to read. If the author made money off the book above and beyond the KickStarter campaign, then she might have enough money to write book three and I’d have bragging rights for being in on the ground floor.  Yay for me!

There’s an article on Huffington Post. It happens to be in the parenting section, but if you replace parenting with publishing and update the examples, it fits here perfectly.

“When does the cycle of judgment stop?

I recently finished reading Amy Poehler’s book Yes Please, and if there is anything I wish people would take from it, look to page 149. The concept of “good for you, not for me.” It’s a simple concept but one that is seriously missing… especially online. What works for you may not work for me, and vice versa. Choosing a different path doesn’t make me a moron. It simply shows that I am a mom[writer] who is trying to make the best choices for my family[career] — and doing so doesn’t actually impact your family [life] one single bit.”

Are you familiar with KickStarter, GoFundMe, IndeGoGo or Patreon? Have you supported a campaign on any of these sites? Would you use it to support your own writing?

 

Lee Laughlin is a writer, wife, and mom, frequently all of those things at once. She blogs at Livefearlesslee.com. She is currently a member of the Concord Monitor Board of Contributors. Her words have also appeared in a broad range of publications from community newspapers to the Boston Globe.

 

Weekend Edition – Your Writing Matters plus Good Reads and Writing Tips

Yes, your writing matters.

Image by Ryan McGuire of Bells Design

Image by Ryan McGuire of Bells Design

I find comfort in unexpected patterns of discovery. When I am wrestling with a question, serendipity never fails to serve up a chain of touchstones that offer, if not an answer, perspective and guidance, or – at the very least – the knowledge that I am not alone in asking my question. This week I experienced just such Universal benevolence around the question, “Why bother writing?”

It’s a harsh question. I know.

But, I think it’s one many writers struggle with. In my case, I looked around at all the injustice and pain and suffering in the world and my desire to write seemed petty and insignificant in comparison. It felt frivolous and self-indulgent. Other people are out there doing Important Work – saving lives, inventing things, righting wrongs. And here I sit – hacking away at the keyboard, making stuff up, and sharing my inner thoughts with a certain amount of artistic hubris.

I have written before about navel-gazing and other writerly fears. But, this is a conversation I return to again and again in my head. It’s not an argument that is simply “won and done.” I may beat the feelings back for a while, but they always return to test my mettle.

When these well-worn doubts came a-calling this week, I was glad to stumble across allies who helped me stand my ground more firmly. This morning, in case you are battling similar demons, I want to share them with you.

headshot jen loudenThe first voice I heard was a friendly and familiar one. Jen Louden is a tireless champion of the creative and authentic life. She is a kind and nurturing teacher who shares her own vulnerabilities openly. In her post, Why You Creating Stuff Matters, Jen asks, “Why are you doing this when the world is dying?!” (By dying I mean climate change.) “People are starving. Girls are being turned into sex slaves. Do something!” Jen answers her own question beautifully (and, I recommend you read her full response in her post), but here are a few lines that jumped out at me:

Here is what I believe – it makes all the difference. I believe women who create are women who will not allow our planet to burn.

… working toward creating work that has more meaning, creating books that will help others – has everything in the world to do with their happiness and shaping a fairer world.

The point of life is to make something good and beautiful in the face of meaninglessness and horror. To not give away your voice to false gods of cool shoes, Facebook likes, fat bank statements or to cynicism, resignation and anger. Rather to keep feeling, keep creating, keep enchanting yourself and others with the power of creation.

Her words are inspiring, aren’t they?

headshot ali gresikI shared Jen’s post with a group of writer friends and the lovely Ali Gresik, a talented author and creativity coach, offered her own heartening perspective,

“My conclusion is that the best way for me to serve the world is to be myself and use the resources I’ve been given. I was made to be a writer, and given the desire to write, therefore that’s the way I need to serve the world. Not writing just makes me depressed and useless to the world. So part of my job as a writer is not to let that tension between the perceived ‘frivolity’ of writing and the gravity of the world’s problems stop me from writing.”

Also inspiring, no?

headshot leanne regallaFinally, just this morning, my inbox served up a post from Leanne Regalla’s blog, Make Creativity Pay. In 12 Truths Successful Creatives Know About Making A Living, Regalla makes believing in the value of your art her #2 truth, opening with a quote from Pablo Picasso, “The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.”

“Creative expression is part of who we are as human beings. It’s one of our most basic drives. We can’t separate ourselves from it for long even if we try – and if we did succeed, life would be pretty dull, if not downright unhealthy.

Music, writing, and photography can all be ethereal, spiritual experiences, but they affect us and the world around us in very concrete ways as well.”

Each of these women, these writers and artists, answered my question in her own way. Each of them stood beside me in my moment of doubt and gently reminded me that art – including my own art – is important, and even Important. I know the question will never be fully vanquished, but I’m glad to know I have allies who will help me keep these false fears at bay so that I can keep hacking away at my keyboard. And, I hope you will make them your allies, too.

What I’m Writing:

Image by Bethan via Albumarium

Image by Bethan via Albumarium

This coming Tuesday is the last meeting of the Fiction I class I’ve been attending via the Grub Street writing center. I am sad to see our time coming to an end. It was only eight Tuesdays, but I have learned so much and been inspired to dig back into the hard but very fulfilling work of studying and writing fiction.

During this week’s class, my second submission was workshopped and I was delighted to the point of grinning with the class’s feedback. As I put it to them, they were totally “picking up what I was putting down.” There are, I think, few things more satisfying to a writer than knowing that her readers “get it.” Though the piece I submitted was only at the first draft stage, the class was engaged in the beginning of the story, my characters, and the possibilities they saw for what might happen next. It was so encouraging. I am now itching to finish the story, especially since they generously offered to read the rest once I’ve finished it.

Even if you are not participating in a formal class or writing group, I encourage you to find a few readers who will be willing to give you constructive feedback on your work. I realize that sharing is scary, and that finding the right reader is hard, but I believe that the benefits outweigh the risks. Even if you only ask your readers to identify places in your story where they had questions or got confused, that one piece of information can be invaluable in reshaping your narrative.

In a previous weekend edition, I shared Austin Kleon’s book Steal Like an Artist, but his more recent book, Show Your Work, may be an even more inspiring read. I can’t say for sure, because I haven’t actually read it yet; BUT my dad (who hardly ever reads anything) read it and loved it.

I hope you’ll think about sharing what you’re writing. It might be scary, but you never know how it might help you move your creative endeavors forward. There is magic in putting yourself out there.

What I’m Reading:

book vampires groveOh boy, oh boy, oh boy!

I love all the strange and serendipitous ways that books land in my lap. I love being in the right place at the right time when a bookseller is purging ARCs (advance reader copies).  I love adopting books that have been abandoned on the sidewalk. And I especially love when a book seems to stalk me – showing up in magazines, conversations, and – finally – on the staff picks table of a favorite indie bookstore.

The book I’m reading at the moment came at me sort of sideways – a pseudo stalker. Karen Russell’s work has been hovering on the periphery of my reader’s mind for some time now. I’ve seen her debut collection of short stories, St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, a number of times as I loitered in the aisles of my favorite Newburyport bookstore. I’d even cracked open and considered buying her first novel, Swamplandia!, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. But until this week, I hadn’t read her work. I’d only thought about it.

But then, I went to the library in search of the novel Big Fish. (I’ve been thinking about watching the movie again, but first wanted to read the novel.) Fortunately for me, the librarian (a dear friend) sent me to the wrong section because there is, apparently, another book called Big Fish by a different author. ANYway … long story, short … after realizing the mistake, I turned around and there, practically jumping off the shelf at eye level, were two of Russell’s books, Swamplandia! and Vampires in the Lemon Grove. I snatched them both up.

I decided to read Vampires in the Lemon Grove first and am utterly enchanted. I am only a few stories in, but – wow. I kind of hate Russell, but I’m also kind of falling in love. I feel a writer’s obsession coming on. Her stories are so original and so beautifully written. I am swept away immediately, taken in by the characters, and intrigued by her ideas. The language is envy-inducing. And how she manages to pack so much into each short story is almost miraculous. I can “feel” the weight and depth of her worlds far beyond the few pages that hold the story.

I can’t wait to read more.

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:

pin_creativity_heart

Wishing you courage, confidence, and creative joy. I hope you also find wonderful reads in surprising ways and maybe wonderful friends to read your writing.

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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.

Weekend Edition – Life Without Regrets plus Writing Tips and Good Reads

Dan’s right. It is later than you think.

paris clockDo you ever feel like the Universe is conspiring to send you a message? I do. All the time.

This week, the theme was “Life is Short.”

I began the week with a little getaway that was inspired by the truth of life’s brevity. Along with my beau and my daughter, I headed north to the elegant and enchanting Mount Washington Hotel – an idyllic, turn of the century hideaway in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. Knowing how quickly the next few years will pass (and how, soon, my daughter may be less inclined to spend quality time with her dear mother), I took my fifth grader out of school for the three days so we could revel in the delights of slightly forbidden joys. We went on a horseback ride, hiked to a waterfall, and she and my beau spent hours performing aquatic acrobatics in the pool while I sat nearby, reading. It was a wonderful, if brief, escape from the hustle and bustle of the daily grind.

On Friday, as I was wrapping up my short work week, Dan Blank’s newsletter arrived in my inbox. In It’s Later Than You Think, Dan relates the heartbreaking story of a late blooming author who passed away suddenly, leaving so many projects unfinished. In his retirement, this writer had finally begun to see clearly what his true life’s work was, only to have the opportunity to pursue that work snatched from him by an unkind fate.

Later that day, I came across a tweet linking to a Time article called Happy Thoughts: Here Are the Things Proven To Make You Happier. The piece, written by Eric Barker, includes a list of the five regrets people are most likely to have right before they die:

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.
  3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

With all of this swirling around in my head, I’d like to ask you …

What does a life true to yourself look like?

How can you work less and enjoy life more?

How can you find the courage to express your feelings?

Who can you reach out to today so you can keep in touch?

What makes you happier and … can you find it in your heart to allow more of that into your life?

What I’m Writing:

What do you do when your intentions come off the track?

What do you do when your intentions come off the track?

Sometimes I want to pull this section from the Weekend Edition template. It feels like I have little to share here. However, I have made each of you an accountability partner of sorts. While I realize that life is short and I need to take steps toward accomplishing my own life’s work, day-to-day responsibilities often distract me from the Big Picture.  Though I start the week with the best of intentions, by mid-week I have more or less surrendered to the reality of time constraints and the need for sleep. Coming here on Saturday morning helps me reconnect with those intentions.

I am still waiting to find out if the Fiction I class I signed up for will go forward. They need one more person to register in order to run the class. I’ve got my fingers crossed that some fellow writer will step forward and fill that final slot. Even though a little part of me would breathe a sigh of relief at having those eight Tuesday’s back for my paying client work, most of me would lament the chance to strike a blow for my creative side by stealing those Tuesdays for her sole delight. We’ll see soon enough how things play out.

I’m curious. What gets you back on track when you’re writing intentions go off the rails? Do you have an accountability partner, or is there something else that pulls you up and sets you at your task again?

What I’m Reading:

book spirits keyThis week I had the unusual pleasure of guilt-free reading time. While we were away in the White Mountains, I enjoyed several hours of reading time while my daughter and beau played in the pool. (I have never been much of a water person, so I was grateful that my other half was willing to don his swim shorts and dive in.) I had charged up my Kindle before we left, but had yet to make a reading choice from my seriously overstuffed collection of downloads. In the end, I chose a book that I’m pretty sure I discovered via a tweet from Sharon Abra Hanen (@wellfedpoet), a writer and creative coach whom I met at the last Grub Street course I took.

Spirit’s Key by Edith Cohn is a middle grade novel that tells a unique and beautiful story about coming into your own, “facing your today,” and learning to find common ground. From Cohn’s site:

By now, twelve-year-old Spirit Holden should have inherited the family gift: the ability to see the future. But when she holds a house key in her hand like her dad does to read its owner’s destiny, she can’t see anything. Maybe it’s because she can’t get over the loss of her beloved dog, Sky, who died mysteriously. Sky was Spirit’s loyal companion, one of the wild dogs that the local islanders believe possess dangerous spirits. As more dogs start dying and people become sick, too, almost everyone is convinced that these dogs and their spirits are to blame—except for Spirit. Then Sky’s ghost appears, and Spirit is shaken. But his help may be the key to unlocking her new power and finding the cause of the mysterious illness before it’s too late.

I will be sharing this one with my daughter and hope she enjoys the story as much as I did.

A quick aside – there is a lovely acknowledgement at the end of the book that gave me, as a writer, a serious case of the warm & fuzzies. Reading it, I was once again reminded that “birthing” a book is never a solitary effort. As with a human child, it takes a village.

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:

pin courage to ask

Here’s to being brave, facing our todays, and finding happiness. Happy reading & writing. See you on the other side! 

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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.
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Train Track Photo Credit: jjMustang_79 via Compfight cc

Weekend Edition – The Writer’s Home Office plus Good Reads and Writing Tips

In Search of the Perfect Writer’s Home Office:

2 cat deskAs I mentioned last week, I’m moving next Saturday. Our new place is about six hundred square feet (give or take) smaller than the place we’re in now, so downsizing is the name of the game. I’m fine with this (even excited about it), except for one thing: my desk.

My work desk is a huge drafting table. It sits up high, has a span of nearly five feet, and is a remnant of my (much) younger days when I thought I was going to be a visual artist. Though I haven’t sketched much in the last twenty years, I kept the desk. I like it partly because I can spread out, but mostly because there’s space for two cat beds. Having one or both of my feline companions curled up within arm’s reach is, without doubt, my favorite thing about my current home office.

But the new place doesn’t have space for this mammoth piece of furniture. So, I find myself in need of a new arrangement and – very likely – a new desk. I began my online research earlier this week when I should have been nose-to-grindstone on a deadline. All I did was an innocent search for “computer desk,” but – whoa! – talk about going down the rabbit hole. There are SO many different styles, materials, sizes, configurations, features, brand names … the list of variables goes on and on (… and on!).

I’ve been looking at corner desks, L-shaped desks that just might tuck into a corner, desks with hutches, hutches with hidden desks inside, and every other possible solution. It’s not that I need a great, new desk. My first nine months as a freelancer my “office” was my lap and  a ratty chair that I picked up off the curb.  Still, a new desk would be nice. I spend so much time at my desk, it might as well be something beautiful, right?

Though the options are mind boggling and many of the prices intimidating, I’m determined to find something I love. I may find it on Craig’s List. I may create my own, one-of-a-kind set up by combining flea market finds. Either way, I’m definitely going to invest in a really nice chair and a keyboard tray. Good ergonomics are key.

I’m curious to hear about other writers’ home offices. We wrote about our writing desks last spring in the Friday Fun, What does your writing desk look like? But, what about you guys? Do you have a home office? What’s your set-up like? What’s your dream situation?

What I’m Writing:

artscopeSo, with our move just around the corner and deadlines looming on all sides, I did what any red-blooded writer would do when a new editor called with a trial assignment. I said, “Yes.” Though I am ridiculously busy and stressed (just ask my friends and family), when the editor of a regional art magazine called with a small, event-related assignment, I decided that I would just make it work. And, I did.

Though the piece was short (600 words), I really enjoyed the opportunity to interview a couple of gallery owners and then put the story together so that it covered the event, represented the two galleries (with quotes), and also provided a bit of a travelogue flavor. These are all writing skills that I don’t use on a regular basis with either my marcom (marketing and communications) or column writing, so I was happy to have an excuse to flex these little-used creative muscles.

 

What I’m Reading:


As you can imagine, reading time is scarce this week and will be next week as well. Though I miss my reading time, I’m not beating myself up over being too busy to curl up with a book. There will be time for that after we’ve settled in our new place. For now, I’m looking forward to listening to my audio books this weekend while I’m purging, packing, and cleaning.  I’m almost halfway through Life After Life: A Novel (affiliate link) by Kate Atkinson.

I’m still not quite sure how to describe this book. I was telling a friend how even though I’m halfway through, there have been long stretches of the story where nothing much is happening. The funny thing is, I don’t mind. I enjoy the language (and narrator performance) so much that any lag in the story isn’t really affecting my appreciation of the work. And the concept is so interesting (not to mention the story structure).

 

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:

So … not so much a quote as an image. I found this on Pinterest, and loved it. I wish there was any attribution tied to the piece, but I couldn’t find any, not even via a Google image search. Anyway, this is pretty much how I feel – like I want to hide away with all my books and just get myself lost in a good story.

pin book hideout

Since I’ll be moving next Saturday, I am going to (grudgingly) give myself the week off. SO – next Saturday there will be no weekend edition. I’ll miss you guys, but I’ll be back on May 3rd. Until then, keep writing & keep reading! 
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 trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.