On Creative Drought Plus Shareworthy Reading and Writing Links Jul 31

Even a withered stalk can generate a beautiful flower.

Even a withered stalk can generate a beautiful flower.

While our situation is not as severe as the one in California or many others around the world, this summer has been one of the driest in recent history for our little north-of-Boston town. Water bans are in effect all across the region, causing lawns to wither and crisp under the cruel and oppressive rays of the sun. Garden plants and flowers wilt and fade during the day, recovering as best they can in the slightly cooler and blessedly darker overnight hours. Rooted in the ground, the parched plants have no escape from the heat or the searing touch of the sun’s rays. They can only endure in silence and hope to survive long enough to feel the life-giving caress of a good, soaking rain.

For weeks now, we have been watching the weather reports for any signs of precipitation. On a few occasions, the meteorologists have forecast rain, but it seems like our tiny town has some kind of forcefield around it. Again and again, our hearts are lifted by the promise of rain, but more often than not, the storm detours around us, or the drops evaporate before reaching the ground. Even last weekend, when towns on all sides were ravaged by impressive thunderstorms, we had only a brief shower that barely managed to properly wet the dry earth before rushing out to sea.

I feel for the plants. I can imagine how they pine for a long, slow drink of water. I can imagine this because I have been feeling the same way about my creative work lately. Summer arrived at my doorstep with a flurry of client projects, and while I’m always grateful to be gainfully employed, keeping up with the deadlines has meant putting aside not only my Big Picture creative projects, but all of my daily creative and self-care routines as well.

My morning pages practice has dwindled to only a few pages every couple of weeks. I have only done yoga (a practice which provides me with time and headspace for nurturing random thoughts and writing ideas) a half dozen times in the last four or five months. My pleasure reading has been slow to the point of having to sometimes back-track when I return to a book because it’s been so long since my last read that I’ve forgotten what was happening in the story.

Each of us faces period of creative drought. Whether we’re overwhelmed with work, dealing with a personal crisis, or have had our creative time usurped by the family and social obligations of summer, there will be days (or weeks, or months) when we simply can’t make the time we’d like to nurture our creative projects. Though I’m in the middle of such a period, and – I won’t lie – am feeling a little cranky about it, I can still step back and offer a little encouragement to others who might be going through a similar experience right now:

  • Number One: This too shall pass. Yes, I know it’s a bit trite, but it’s also true. Whatever is taking up your time and keeping you from your creative endeavors will eventually move on and out of your life. You will get back to your projects and your dreams. You might have to be patient for a while, but that’s not such a bad thing. Just try to roll with it.
  • Number Two: Even in times of creative drought, you can create. While I have been feeling frustrated and put out by my inability to make time for my usual creative pursuits, I am trying to remember that there are tiny creative acts that only take a few minutes. I may not have large chunks of time to write on a story or tackle the complex task of organizing source materials for a larger work, but I can pen one or two lines or edit a photo for Instagram or doodle in the margin of my notebook. Those may not be impressive accomplishments, but something is better than nothing.
Despite it's diminutive size, our smallest tomato plant is yielding the most robust crop of the season.

Despite it’s diminutive size, our smallest tomato plant is yielding the most robust crop of the season.

We must remember that we are not the drought. The drought is just an external circumstance, not a reflection of our creative spark or spirit. Even if we are unable to engage in the external act of creation, the source of our creativity is alive and well – hunkered down beneath the cracked earth, just waiting until the rains some so it can burst forth and blossom.

Just you wait and see.

_jamie sig

 

 


My Favorite Blog Reads for the Week:

CRAFT

PUBLISHING & MARKETING

INSPIRATION

THE WRITING LIFE

··• )o( •··

Finally, a quote for the week:

I’m stealing borrowing this week’s quote from the lovely and delightful Sara Foley, who borrowed it in turn from Raising Ecstasy:

pin vonnegut edge

Here’s to getting close to the edge, weathering the droughts, and always being ready to emerge from underground when the rains finally come.
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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 FacebookTwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
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Short and Sweet Advice for Writers – Gather Momentum

define momentum

I don’t know about you, but I often have trouble getting started on a writing project. I have no trouble with the pre-writing work – thinking about, exploring, and playing with an idea – but when I’m finally sitting in front off the blank screen, fingers poised over the keyboard, I freeze. I am suddenly gripped by self-doubt, fear, and indecision about what to do next.

This is to be expected. Getting started is hard. It’s like stepping off a cliff or out of a plane into … nothing. You’re on your own. You’ll probably fall for a while before you remember that you’ve got wings. It helps to have a process to get you going – a series of steps that you can lean on when you’re not really sure what to do first. (Here’s a 12-step process I use for many writing assignments. Feel free to borrow it!)

But, while starting is hugely important (I mean, you obviously need to do that first), it’s also important to KEEP GOING once you’ve started. This is where MOMENTUM comes in.

Say it with me: “Mo-men-tum.” It’s kind of fun to say. It almost has a rhythm that feels like you might be able to dance to it.

As defined by Merriam-Webster, momentum is:

  • the strength or force that something has when it is moving
  • the strength or force that allows something to continue or grow stronger or faster as time passes

I like the sound of that. Don’t you?

Think about it in terms of your writing. Have you ever been working on something and suddenly feel like you’ve reached the downside of a hill? You know – you’ve been slogging along and then something shifts and the words come more easily and your fingers can barely keep up with your brain? That’s momentum. It’s what happens just before you find “flow.”

So, how do you gain momentum?

You write. And you write and you write and you write. You don’t get up every two minutes to get a drink or check your email or dust the curios in the cabinet. You write. You get yourself started however you can, and then you keep going. You don’t give in to the temptation to step away. You don’t let the demons slow you down. You just keep putting one word after the other, even if you’re worried they might not be the right words. It doesn’t matter. You just keep climbing up that hill, one sentence at a time, and then – all of a sudden – you’ll feel a force at your back, pushing you forward and making the whole process easier. You’ll feel like you’re tripping lightly downhill instead of clawing your way up a steep slope. That’s momentum.

And it doesn’t just apply to the piece you’re working on right now. It also applies, on a larger scale, to your whole writing life.

Momentum. It’s a beautiful thing. Go out there and create it today.

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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 FacebookTwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
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Word of Mouth and Other Marketing Options

I see this statement on the back of business cards all the time now:

WordOfMouth

“The finest compliment I can receive is a referral from my friends and past clients.”

Personal referrals are definitely (the most?) powerful when it comes to  building a business. And when referrals become the driving force that brings you new business, well, it might be time to have a staff!

However, word of mouth marketing can’t start until you’re established, so having it be your only method of marketing probably won’t work well. I mean, people can’t refer you until they know you can deliver what they need when they need it, right?

So, what other marketing options do you have? You want to use the best method(s) for getting the word out about your writing service that enables people to get to know, like, and trust you — with the goal of them deciding to work with you.

A great place to start is to think about a recent purchase you made – especially for a service – how did the business owner attract you? What captured your attention enough to pursue picking up the phone (or e-mailing) for more information? What did you find most important and particularly appealing?

  • Website
  • Newsletter
  • Blog
  • LinkedIn / Facebook / Twitter / Other social media
  • Print ad you received through the postal service
  • You met and spoke with the business owner at an in-person event
  • Article you read written by the business owner
  • A webinar or other online event you participated in
  • A book you read
  • Business card

You can also look at a competitor to see what marketing methods they use for attracting business. Ask yourself these questions and how they relate to your target market:

  • What is it that I like about what they are doing?
  • What is it that I don’t find particularly appealing?

These are just some overall questions to ponder and ideas to consider to get you started in marketing your business.

It’s insightful to realize what pulled you in enough to ‘make a purchase’ — and a great way to start connecting with your market, since what you find attractive is probably what your target clients will find appealing.

What is one of your go-to marketing methods that works well for you? (mine is LinkedIn)

Lisa_2015Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Always Writing and Shareworthy Reading and Writing Links July 17

ocean sky

Go ahead – stare out over the ocean. It’s still writing.

When I sat down to write this post yesterday, I wound up spending a good hour beating myself up because I couldn’t think of anything worth writing. I set the time aside, as I do each week, to come here and write a post; but I ended up just typing and deleting, typing and deleting. I tried four different ideas, but nothing would stick. While I’m not one to rely on the muse, it was clear that I just wasn’t feeling it (whatever “it” is).

 

We all have these days. Part of my problem is that I didn’t, as I typically do, take the time earlier in the week to do preliminary brainstorming and mind mapping for the weekend edition. This means that I came to my desk without a plan – a speed bump, to be sure, but not usually a deal breaker. Despite my lack of preparation, I expected that something would pop into my head. (It usually does.) No such luck.

It has just occurred to me, that the bigger issue at hand is that I’ve let myself get worn out. I’ve been extremely busy with freelance projects for the past couple of months and keeping up has required a sustained level of hustle that’s a bit more intense than I like. It’s no wonder I’m having trouble finding a writing topic! Not only am I physically and intellectually exhausted, I’ve also been running at top speed for so long that I haven’t had any time to think. And, writers need time to think.

Sometimes we need a gentle reminder that some of our most important “writing” time has nothing to do with keyboards or notebooks. When we sit down at the computer or pick up a pen, that moment is the culmination of many hours engaged in the non-writing part of writing. It’s the moment when all the internal work that we’ve been doing – daydreaming, questioning, ruminating – is transformed into words on the page. It is the moment that our work becomes tangible to someone living outside of our heads.

But don’t be fooled. Those words on the page are only the tip of the iceberg. The real work of writing includes everything that brought you to that point where you felt ready (and inspired!) to put those words down. So, don’t beat yourself up for a lack of “inspiration” if you haven’t given yourself the opportunity to do all the work that must come before the words. Slow down. Step back. Give yourself the gift of stillness and solitude and time to think. Breathe for goodness sake!

And then see how creative and inspired you feel. I bet you’ll see a world of difference. Good luck!

_jamie sig

 

 


My Favorite Blog Reads for the Week:

CRAFT

PUBLISHING & MARKETING

INSPIRATION

THE WRITING LIFE

··• )o( •··

Finally, a quote for the week:

pin cleese play.jpg

Here’s to giving your creativity some TLC by making time to play. :) 
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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 FacebookTwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
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Habits

I’ve been thinking about habits a lot lately.

  • What is a habit?
  • How do we create “good” habits?
  • How do we get rid of “bad” habits?
  • And one question specifically for my writing life: Can I be a successful writer without habits?

My reflexive answer to that last question is, “No, I can’t.”

But that’s just me. Turns out, there are a number of people—successful, happy, creative people—who avoid habits like I avoid onions (that is, like they might kill me. (They won’t, I just really don’t like them.))

In the dictionary I found this definition of a habit: An acquired mode of behavior that has become nearly or completely involuntary.

There are a lot of actions I’d like to take in my life in a “nearly or completely involuntary” way.

So, there are a lot of habits I’d like to create.

I already have a lot of habits; some of them do not serve me. Those I would like to change.

Screen Shot 2016-07-13 at 2.05.42 PMCharles Duhigg, in his book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, breaks down the anatomy of a habit.

His definition: “A habit is a formula our brain automatically follows: When I see a CUE, I will do ROUTINE in order to get a REWARD.”

The ROUTINE is obvious. It’s the thing you’re doing. But the CUE and the REWARD are not always so easy to figure out.

Mr. Duhigg recommends we investigate our habits, at least the ones we want to change. If we can figure out what the CUE and REWARD are for a particular ROUTINE, then we can change it.

You can also use this definition of a habit to create a new habit. Again, you have to figure out the CUE, the ROUTINE, and the REWARD.

Screen Shot 2016-07-13 at 2.05.05 PMGretchen Rubin, in her book, Better than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives, talks about the importance of habits: “Habits are the invisible architecture of daily life. We repeat about 40 percent of our behavior almost daily, so our habits shape our existence, and our future. If we change our habits, we change our lives.”

Ms. Rubin’s book gives a lot of insights into habits and also shows that people have different tendencies when it comes to habits or routines.

There are 4 tendencies Ms. Rubin has identified through her research into the medical and psychological literature: Upholders, Obligers, Questioners, and Rebels.

If you know which tendency you have, you can use strategies to create habits that are most successful for people with that tendency.

I am an Obliger. I did not need to take the quiz on Ms. Rubin’s website to know this (although I did take the quiz), but it was helpful to have this tendency spelled out for me.

Obligers are good at meeting the expectations of others, but not so good at meeting their own expectations. You can see why Obligers might have trouble sticking to a writing routine that didn’t involve an editor, publisher, or a small child begging for the next installment of the story.

Once you know your tendency, you can work with it. Obligers need to create more external accountability. That’s why I can sign up for NaNo and write 50,000 words in a month when I haven’t written 50,000 words in the previous 6 months!

Or ask for accountability. Like this: I plan to write every day for the next 30 days. Feel free to ask me about it whenever you want.

The best advice I gleaned from all my reading on habits is this: Know yourself. Once you do, you will know how to change, create, and stick to the habits you want in your life.

What writing habit do you want to change, create, or celebrate?

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon: I’m a life coach, a writer, a blogger, and a family medicine doctor who hasn’t seen patients in 6 years. I’m living the life of my dreams and still trying to figure out how to get a little more writing into every day.

Productivity Tip: Meeting-Free Day

Meeting-free dayManaging your own business takes a lot of discipline.

As business owners, we wear many hats because there is a lot of daily work that needs to be done. Multitasking becomes a norm, and delegating is (usually) a dream.

If you work for someone, you agree to show up at a certain time, put in a certain number of hours, and focus on specific tasks. As your own boss, you quickly discover that you are the Jack-of-All (or Jill-of-All) Trades and having to do ‘it all’ requires a lot of time.

We have our calendars and fill in appointments and meetings without thinking twice since they are business related and need to be done.

In the early days of my business, I felt that spreading meetings and appointments out over the week worked best – the days were less cramped and I was productive (I thought).

But I’ve discovered that having a ‘meeting-free’ day each week makes me more productive. On occasion I’ll have a day with back-to-back meetings and appointments, but mostly it averages out to 2-3 meetings per day and one day a week where I have no appointments (not even phone interviews or online meetings).

Having a day of uninterrupted time results in high productivity. Of course there are emails and phone calls, but they can be managed (or put off). Not having to drive somewhere, or sit on a webinar for a certain block of time, allows the workday to flow and the To Do list to be attended to properly. My meeting-free day is the one where the most tasks are completed.

Of course not every week can work out having a ‘meeting-free day’, but I’d like to recommend giving it a try if you find yourself needing to be more productive during the week.

How do you balance meetings within your weekly schedule? Do you spread them out, try to pack them all into one day? What works for you?

Lisa_2015Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Writers and Their Creative Outlets

Let Your Creativity SoarAs writers, we’re creative. Our muses love words and help us get stories onto a page.

If your muse is like mine, it enjoys exploring other creative outlets. There’s something about doing a different type of creative activity that can enhance creative energy. Being creative in more than one area of our lives can enable us to use creative energy throughout our day.

I feel that my writing improves when I do something that requires the right side of my brain. Some creative ventures lead to new story ideas, others help with a work in progress.

I find it’s all about being in the moment of creating something that enables the muse to jump up and down with excitement and churn the creative pot.

Here are some other-than-writing creative outlets I have tried:

  • Pottery – I have to mention this first because it’s the one thing I can think back on and still laugh about. I was not at all graceful like Demi Moore’s character in “Ghost”. Not even close. No matter how much I focused or how much water I used, or how much I begged the clay to ‘work with me’, I had nothing to show after my 6-week class. The hand print in plaster from kindergarten remains my best work in that area!
  • Soduko puzzles – addicted to these for years and I love the challenge of them. I can be stumped on an Easy puzzle and breeze through a Challenging one at times. It’s all how the creative connections are made at any particular time.
  • Musical instruments – I used to play the piano and guitar. I’m grateful for the lessons, the years of playing, and the challenges that came along with matching notes on a page to activities the hands and fingers were doing with how it sounded. (My fave music to play was jazz and blues.)
  • Photography and drawing – B&W film photography and pencil drawing gave me a lot of time with my muse. As I focused on turning what I saw with my eyes into a picture on photo paper or drawing paper had me doing a lot of introspective thinking about writing — what I think I write isn’t always what ends up on the page.

What creative outlets do you enjoy to keep your creative energy moving and flowing?

Lisa_2015Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.