Writer’s Weekend Edition – Finding the Silver Lining When You’re Lost in the Dark

Every journey begins with a first step.

Every journey begins with a first step.

A writer friend I hadn’t spoken to in a couple of years called me earlier this week, and I’m grateful she did. She’d picked up the phone, she said, because she could tell by my Facebook updates that she and I were experiencing a similar post-election state of mind. Like me, this woman is a freelance marcom (marketing & communications) writer, an animal lover, and a nature nut. We met a few years back while doing projects for the same agency, hit it off, and just were beginning to get to know each other a little bit better when she and her husband moved halfway across the country. We’ve kept in touch via Facebook, but haven’t really talked.

Until Wednesday.

I was on my way to pick up my daughter, so our conversation was brief; but it went a long way toward making me feel less awkward about the emotions and creative challenges I’ve been facing in recent days. I learned that I am definitely not the only one trying to feel my way through a dark and disorienting maze of guilt, confusion, fear, indecision, and all manner of other emotions that seem to be (at least on the surface) decidedly unhelpful to the creative process.

··• )o( •··

The truth is, I have been struggling to come to the page lately. Client deliverables are taking me much longer than usual, I completely gave up on NaNoWriMo, and even crafting blog posts – one of my favorite writing activities –  is only possible with great effort. I realize, however, that my hesitation and inability to focus aren’t due to the usual culprits. Though she still has plenty to say, it isn’t entirely my inner critic who is to blame for my feeling so inept at the keyboard. My procrastination can’t be attributed to the expected demons associated with fear of failure or expectations of perfection. My distraction and anxiety are rooted in much deeper questions about my writing life. This goes beyond craft and practice into the realm of purpose and vision.

This line of thinking isn’t new for me. As I pointed out in a recent post, I’ve clearly been having a kind of “crisis of writing faith” for a while now. At first, I was disheartened and scared by the idea, but I’m starting to believe that maybe this is something I need to go through … something all writers need to go through.

··• )o( •··

My friend pointed out that one of the silver linings to what has otherwise been a deeply divisive and disheartening election is that dark times have the potential to bring people together, and she’s right.

I am beginning to see that in addition to creating new conversations and connections, these trying times also have the potential to help artists of all kinds – writers very much included – clarify the purpose, meaning, and strength of their creative efforts. Clarity has great power to not only inspire a writer, but to motivate her and shape her work so that it creates a more lasting impression on readers. So that it makes a difference.

We know there is no story without conflict. Can it also be said that there is no writer without conflict?

··• )o( •··

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve found myself thinking more than once that this moment in history feels like the “all is lost” point in the story – the moment when the protagonist’s hopes are dashed to the ground, when the possibility of success has been torn from her grasp and it seems there is no possibility of redemption.

But, while tragedies may end on that beat, I don’t think life in general is a tragedy. I believe the story goes on. And I am finding that, while it’s uncomfortable and scary, being thrust into the action of the story ultimately empowers a writer. In recent days I have been reading much more about everything that’s happening in our country and around the world than I ever have before. And I am paying attention not only to the stories, but to how those stories make me feel. I am using my experience to forge a more defined and distinct identity as a writer. Each day, I learn a little bit more about who I want to be as a writer, who I’m writing for, why I’m writing, and what kinds of stories I want to write.

··• )o( •··

I will continue this journey, and I plan to share it with you. My dispatches will likely be messy, but I hope you will forgive that and maybe share some of your experiences, too. I don’t think there’s a playbook we can follow here, but perhaps if we share our different perspectives and insights, we can help each other along the way. If nothing else, it’s good to have company on the road.

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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.

Photo Credit: Pictures of Wales Flickr via Compfight cc

This post originally appeared on the Live to Write – Write to Live blog.
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It’s Thanksgiving Week – What Are You Grateful For?

This Thursday is Thanksgiving in the U.S. and many people have the day off (and some even have Friday off for a 4-day weekend).

For the most part I’ll have the 4-day weekend to do what I want, including working on my NaNo novel (National Novel Writing Month). I’m a lot behind on the word count, but I’m determined to hit that 50,000 word goal by midnight on Nov 30th. Very grateful for the quiet time!

I enjoy this time of year, in particular, to take more time to pause, reflect on the year-to-date, and to give thanks.

  • I’m thankful for my family, friends, roommate, and exceptional business associates.
  • I’m grateful for my accountability system that includes tools, of course, but most importantly weekly, monthly, and annual checkins with fellow writers.
  • I’m thankful for new writing opportunities.
  • I’m grateful for variety in many things – music, friends, work, projects, exercise routines, places to work, adventures to try, and places to visit.
  • I’m thankful for my new place – its convenience to everything important to me, its newness, layout, accessories, and size.
  • I’m grateful for technology that enables me to work from anywhere at any time.
  • I’m thankful for this blog – my co-bloggers and you readers – I’m always learning something new!

If you’re traveling this holiday – I wish you the safest and smoothest travels and hope you make great family memories.

If people are coming to your home, I wish you many hands to make meal prep easy and that you can find a few minutes to take a breath and appreciate those gathered around you.

(I’m also thankful for fleece socks, flannel sheets, new journals to write in, and new books to read.)

What are you grateful or thankful for as we approach the end of 2016?

Special note: Over the next few days, we’ll be moving nhwn.wordpress.com to nhwriters.org. If you have trouble reaching us, please be patient as the new domain name resolves. Thanks for your patience! The NHWN Team.

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.

When We Expand

When we do big things that require a lot of effort, it’s normal to feel a little let down after the fact.

When we expand, it’s normal to contract a little—to try to go back to the way things used to be. But once we expand, we can’t go back to the way we were. We have to learn to inhabit our new, bigger, life. We need to get used to who we are now.

It takes a little while for that to happen.

I have noticed this expansion—contraction—too spacious—just right—process for many years.

It happens every time I go on a retreat or attend a conference where I focus on just one aspect of myself or my life.

It happens every time my husband and I reach a new level of understanding with each other.

It happens every time I go from seeing myself as a student to seeing myself as a teacher.

It happens every time I complete NaNo. (Go NaNoWrMos!)

It happens every time I try to do something I’m not quite sure I can do—whatever the outcome: Because the catalyst to me being bigger is my effort, not the result.

I have been having this feeling of having a little too much space this week—I’m a little scattered, a little unfocused. Luckily, I’ve been here before so I know what to do.

In this case, I’ve been studying for the Family Medicine boards for months. Last week I traveled to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, to attend a Family Medicine Review Course, where I earned 56 hours of CME credit.

On Monday, I sat for the Family Medicine Recertification Exam. It’s an 8-hour test on general Family Medicine knowledge.

No matter the outcome, I am different for having made the effort to take (and pass!) the exam. I’m bigger.

So this week I’m rattling around inside my life, trying to figure out what to do next.

The only thing I really have to do is give myself permission to process this most recent effort, before moving on to the next.

I’m taking a few deep breaths, taking care of a few mundane chores that were neglected recently, and enjoying having done something difficult.

For everyone who is in the midst of NaNo and for everyone who is tackling some other new project or way of thinking: Can you give yourself permission to take a little time to become this new person? Just allow it to unfold.

When you do, you will honor your process and allow whatever’s next to reveal itself to you in it’s own time, rather than trying to muscle it into reality.

This is the process that works for me. Will it work for you?

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon: Hi, I’m the slacker who’s not doing NaNo this year! But really, you can’t do everything, right? Even though I sometimes (often) convince myself I can do everything, this year I’ve finally faced reality–at least with regard to NaNo! Best wishes to everyone slogging through their daily word counts!

 

 

 

 

Telling Stories

TELLING STORIES ON THE LONG TRAIL
On August 15, 2016, we started our hike from Massachusetts to Canada on The Long Trail.

On August 15, 2016, we started telling stories as we hiked from Massachusetts to Canada on The Long Trail.

Hiking eleven hours a day is hard, but it was never boring, because my hiking buddy and I took turns telling stories.

Jan and I met in college and have been living apart ever since: she in Alaska and me in Vermont. We’ve kept in touch with infrequent letters before email and Facebook, rarely saw each other, and never phoned.

All I can say is: we were busy. We had careers and jobs, husbands, children, and nearby friends. Nevertheless, the friendship we formed in college has sustained us through long periods of separation. Hiking the Long Trail was a chance to catch up.

AUTOBIOGRAPHY

Jan started by narrating the story of her recent divorce, ending a marriage that appeared rock solid for thirty-seven years, until he fell in love with a co-worker. It took about five days to tell it from beginning to end, during which time we covered fifty-five miles over two significant mountains. But who noticed? I was too busy listening.

Storytelling helped us endure the effort of hiking nearly 300 miles in 25 days.

Storytelling helped us endure the effort of hiking nearly 300 miles in 25 days.

Generally, I walked ahead and set the pace while Jan served as my live audiobook, telling me a story that’s rich, complex, heartbreaking and wonderful. Yes, wonderful. While the process of decoupling was at times harrowing and heartbreaking, Jan is on a new path of enormous personal growth. And in addition to the through line – the divorce – Jan filled me in with lots of backstory about her last thirty-odd years in Juneau, stories about her children, her siblings, parents, co-workers, and friends.

Eventually, Jan’s story caught up to the present and it was my turn. I told Jan about my work “advancing issues through narrative; telling stories to create change,” about my life in small-town Vermont, my children, my brothers, my parents, my friends. I also told Jan about my surprising thirty-year marriage.

Right after I decided I would never marry, I met Tim, pictures with me here, thirty years later.

A month after I decided I would never marry, I met Tim, pictured with me here, thirty years later.

Right after college, I was the one who decided I’d rather be single than marry one of men I’d dated and dumped. In July of 1984, I’d decided I’d probably never get married or have kids, and I was okay with that. In August, I met Tim. Jan’s never dated, so I told her the stories that led me to develop my rule: the worst thing about a partner had to be better than the worst thing about living alone.

Since we were walking the length of Vermont, I also told her stories about the Green Mountain State – history, personalities and politics – topics I’ve researched for two novels, countless commentaries and many public lectures.

MOMENTS OF SILENCE

At day’s end, we took time for quiet reflection.

Occasionally, one of us would ask for fifteen minutes of silence. It never lasted that long. Almost all the time we were walking, we talked. This may help explain while we never saw any charismatic mega-fauna like deer or moose; they would have heard us coming. But once we made camp, we stopped. Off the trail, we retreated to quiet reflection.

STORYTELLING AND ENDURANCE

We quickly realized that storytelling helped us endure the effort of hiking nearly 300 miles in 25 days.

Once we’d run out of autobiography, we told stories about mutual friends, about books we’d read, about movies and plays we’d seen, music we’d heard and other adventures we’d had in different parts of the world.

And because we’re both the sort of people who like to find meaning in what we do, we carried on a meta-discussion about the hike itself: what we were learning from walking day after day over challenging terrain. This led to Lessons From the Long Trail, a series of essays which you can read on my blog.

THE IMPORTANCE OF STORIES

Storytelling is a distinctly human activity. It’s how we make sense of the world, and how we connect with others. Telling stories shapes our experience, and hearing them expands our knowledge. Knowing the same stories creates community.

Telling stories is central to the human experience. Being a storyteller is an honorable job. Keep writing your stories.

At the US-Canadian border on Day 25.

At the US-Canadian border on Day 25.

Deborah Lee Luskin tells stories every Wednesday on her blog.

Building Confidence As a… Writer (9)

Sorry for the lean week of posts last week, readers! We’ll be better this week.

beinghappyI’m going to call this series a wrap after today. The past 8 weeks have talked about building confidence as a writer, with posts covering: early morning feel good, daily writing, eating for energy, act-as-if, focus on others, plan to avoid panic, appreciate your differences, and list accomplishments at the end of the day.

Most of these tips can be used for any aspect of your daily life, not just a writing-focused one.

Today’s tip is to soak up the good mojo by hanging around positive, happy people. I refer to it as ‘finding your tribe.’

These people can be:

  • Other writers
  • Small business owners
  • Readers (of your type of writing)
  • Locals (neighbors, people you meet at the local cafe, and so on)
  • Those you connect with through networking
  • Members of any organizations you belong to (writing & non-writing)
  • Social media connections
  • Fellow gym members, walking friends, hiking buddies, and so on
  • Clients
  • Fellow hobbyists (areas other than writing)

In New Hampshire, an organization that I find quite full of happy supportive people is Women Inspiring Women. I’ve made several great connections through networking on LinkedIn, particularly the 603 Networking Group (almost 6,000 people to connect with in the state). I also have friends with great inspirational posts all the time – Charlene and Steve. And they each have *so many* inspiring connections, that it’s easy to find a smile-along-with-a-kick-in-the-pants when I need one.

In my fiction life, I have fellow mystery author friends and connections through Sisters in Crime New England. And this month, there are fellow writers I’m meeting at NH regional “write ins” for National Novel Writing Month.

You can find your ‘tribe’ just about anywhere – they are the people you are attracted to and who are attracted to you for mutual support, inspiration, and camaraderie. They are people who can lift you up when you need a boost, hold you accountable for goals you’ve set, and be a familiar face in a crowd when you need one.

Having coffee, or lunch, or a drink, or an ice cream with someone from your tribe on a regular basis is great for giving you perspective, pulling you out of the isolation that writing can create, and keeping you looking forward to achieving and doing more with your business.

positiveenergyWe can’t all be positive and happy every minute of every day, but like honey is better at attracting bees than vinegar, keeping a positive and happy mindset goes a long way to moving forward toward your dreams than a negative and upset mindset.

Where have you found your tribe? What type of people do you turn to when you need a positive or encouraging boost?

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.

Writer’s Weekend Resources – Why Art Matters More Than Ever

 

pin-tell-stories-ecoI haven’t got my usual list of favorite blog posts and recently read books for you today. It’s been a long week and, like many people, I’ve been distracted from my usual routines by current events. I’m behind on client deadlines and pretty much irreversibly behind on my NaNoWriMo novel (a reality I’ll address in a future post).

As a writer, it’s never a good feeling when we become – for whatever reason –temporarily disconnected from our work; but I also know that writers are “writing” even when they are unable to put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. Everything we experience is part of our process. Everything.

So, while I don’t have a long list of links to share today, I did want to share links to a few pieces that helped me center and ground myself in the midst of all the chaos, uncertainty, and fear:

From Creating Art Matters More Than Ever by @KendraLevin:

I’ve heard many people talking about how trivial everything seems in comparison with national events and their global reverberations. Many writers were a week into National Novel Writing Month at the time of the election. To resume as if nothing has changed seems impossible; to focus on our own work when such massive changes are going on all around us can feel solipsistic and naïve, or the work can seem trivial.

But it’s not.

From On Going High by @danijshapiro:

To be a writer, and to be a teacher of writing, is to constantly, steadfastly open oneself up to what is.  To not shy away.  To feel fear and embrace that fear — otherwise known as courage — and to find a voice for what feels impossible to say.

From 5 Reasons Writing is Important to the World by @KMWeiland:

[podcast w/transcript]

Stories are, fundamentally, truths. Even when the author didn’t intend it to be so, even when he is unaware of it—even when the readers or viewers are unaware–a story is always a statement. If it is to ring true, then what it says must reflect reality—it must reflect what is true.

And what is true is always good—whether it is beautiful, whether it is dark, whether it is healing, whether it is painful. Truth is always a beacon, a guiding light pointing us back to the best things in life.

In a follow-up post, Weiland shares the personal stories of her readers/listeners as they wrote about why writing is important to them: 15 (More) Reasons Writing is Important – In Your Own Words.

 ··• )o( •··

 

I hope that these posts might provide some comfort and inspiration to anyone who is struggling to reconnect with his or her writing. And I hope that maybe they will get us all thinking about the importance of connecting through story – of sharing and listening and learning.

 

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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.

This post originally appeared on the Live to Write – Write to Live blog.
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Writer’s Weekend Edition – Writing About Issues

Desiree Burch, Writing Excuses Guest, Episode 11.45

Desiree Burch, Writing Excuses Guest, Episode 11.45

It’s no secret that I’m an avid fan of the fabulous podcast, Writing Excuses, hosted by Brandon Sanderson, Mary Robinette Kowal, Howard Taylor, and Dan Wells. I have learned so much by listening to these smart, funny, generous authors and their many guests. This season’s series is about “Elemental Genres,” a fascinating topic that has given me a whole new perspective on what defines the different kinds of stories we write  and why readers love them.

The November 6th episode was relevant not only as a continuation of the conversation on writing craft, but also in the context of all that is happening on the global stage. The elemental genre the panel tackled in episode 11.45 is “Issue,” and in addition to sharing their own insights, the usual team welcomed actor, writer, and comedian Desiree Burch as their guest.

In the wake of the U.S. presidential election that took place earlier this week, I have heard from many writer and artist friends and acquaintances who are struggling with a wide variety of hard questions: How do I find the energy and heart to create? How much of my personal belief system should I incorporate into my stories? Is the writer really separate from the writing? What’s my purpose as a writer? How can my writing help me become the change I want to see in the world? And so on.

I don’t have silver-bullet answers for those questions. I believe that the answers to those kinds of questions are very personal and unique to each individual. As I’ve been thinking about my NaNoWriMo novel, I’ve begun to tease out the themes that drive my primary plot and subplots. Listening to this podcast, I realized that I may be writing a hybrid (note: most stories are hybrids when it comes to elemental genres) that includes aspects of Wonder and Issue.

I encourage everyone who wants their stories to “make people think” to listen to this episode.  It’s only twenty minutes long, but there’s a lot of great information and inspiration. Here are a few “teaser highlights” that really struck home for me.

··• )o( •··

Understand the Balance Between Feeling and Thinking

Mary points out that while other elemental genres typically want to make the reader feel something,  stories in the Issue elemental genre want the audience to think about something.

While Mary’s 30,000-foot statement is ultimately true, Desiree also points out that, “Getting [readers] to think about something goes hand in hand with them feeling things … for the most part, people don’t do one or the other. They do a kind of back and forth of both.” So, being specific and making a story really personal is also a good way to amp up your ability to make the reader feel something, which will – in turn – get them thinking.

Stay off the Soap Box

The biggest risk with stories in the elemental Issue genre is that they might become preachy or polemic. The key to avoiding this trap is to remember that Issue stories raise questions, polemic stories answer questions. As a bonus, Desiree rightly points out that raising questions is a much more interesting line of exploration for both the writer and the reader. She recommends that when you experience an emotional reaction to something, you ask yourself questions like What is that feeling? Why does that make me angry? Why does that make me feel so wounded? Why does that make me feel so giddy?

But don’t ever forte that even Issue stories need to be entertaining first. In other words, don’t get so mired in your issue that you aren’t telling a good story that keeps your reader turning pages.

Use Specificity to Reach More People

Desiree also makes an excellent point about the most effective way to tell an elemental Issue story:

“My work is intensely personal. I think that the more specific a work gets the more broadly it relates to other people.  The more you want to reach people, the deeper you have to dig and the more specific you have to be.”

Read that one again: “The more you want to reach people, the deeper you have to dig and the more specific you have to be.” Inexperienced writers who try to take on an Issue story often make the mistake of trying to tell EVERYTHING about the issue. This won’t work. As one of the men on the panel explained when he described his approach to an Issue story, “I’m not speaking for a population. I’m speaking for an individual who is part of a greater discussion. When you do that, the issue becomes personal.”

Using specificity in this way also helps you, as the writer, avoid situations where readers try to punch holes in your work. As Desiree put it, “If you make it very specific and say, ‘But, no. For this person, this is absolutely true and this is the story of this tiny world of everything,’ the more people have to go, “Well ok, respect, I will respect the rules of your world because you didn’t try to diminish mine in the creation of yours.'”

Write Better Villains by Learning to Understand Them

Everyone on the panel acknowledged that it’s hard to write characters who are on the other side of an issue about which you are passionate. But they still encourage writers to make a real effort to explore those characters. “Find the other side of the issue and discuss it in a way that’s intelligent,” one of the men on the panel explained (sorry, I can’t always tell their voices apart). “For instance, racism – you find someone whose life has been impacted by racism at the other side of it. It’s hard for me to empathize with them because I don’t like their position, but it is also much easier to understand them when you describe how their life as a racist is affected when race relations change. And until you understand that, until you can articulate that, you can’t tell a story about that changing without being preachy and polemic.”

Desiree summed is up nicely, “This is an exercise in being a better human being in some ways. I think we tend to easily demonize anyone who has fallen outside the realm of ‘normality.’ However, everybody is a person. Everybody had a series of actions and circumstances that led them to be where they are. Even that villain is his own hero and has a whole arc in which what he is doing is for some kind of greater good, even if it is just for his or her greater good. In looking at ‘let’s empathize with the racist that we don’t empathize with or that we don’t want to empathize with,’ the scary part is the more you start to, the more you realize that you are pretty much the same in so many ways and that you are potentially a racist for something else or that much of a bigot in some other kind of way where you don’t understand the person on the other side of the table that you’re pointing that finger at until you take the steps to get there and go, ‘Oh, I can be that person, too.'”

Acknowledge the Grace of What You Are Doing

And finally, Desiree offered this observation which I think applies as much to real life as it does the the writer/reader relationship, “It’s important to note that your audience is doing you a gracious thing by listening to you, just as you are doing a gracious thing by sharing your unique and very important perspective on some aspect of the universe with them. Both of you are coming with something that should be respected as it’s really tender and important and generous to do.”

Absolutely.

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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.

This post originally appeared on the Live to Write – Write to Live blog.
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