The First Quarter of 2015

It’s the beginning of the second quarter of 2015, and I took a look back at my goals for the year and at the progress I’ve made. In many areas of my life, I’m plugging away at my goals, on track to accomplish many of them by the end of the year.

Some of my writing goals are not going so well.   Some are.

I’m on track to do two one-day writing retreats this year, which was a big goal of mine. Another goal, submitting to Level Best Books, should have happened by now–but it didn’t. If I’m honest with myself, polishing that short story was not my highest priority.

And that’s okay. Because when I look at my highest priorities, I wouldn’t change them.

I’m not going to waste time beating myself up about it.

I’m looking at the second quarter of 2015 and I’m ready to continue to work on my writing goals, with a little reshuffle in there to reflect where I currently am.

One of the things I realized in the past few months is that it’s important for me to connect with other writers, even when I’m not writing a lot.

Even though I haven’t contributed writing pieces to my critique group as often as I’d like, I’ve continued to be a part of the group, and I’ve critiqued my fellow writers work to the best of my ability.

Being in that group has been such a gift. Two of our members recently submitted rewritten work that we’d already seen in first draft form. The changes were inspiring. Seeing how smooth the writing became with reworking (and reworking) motivated me to get back to my story, which was still in first draft form at the beginning of the year.

Meeting up with other writers randomly and on purpose has also been a gift. I ran into Julie, who also blogs here, last Sunday, at ImprovBoston, the comedy theater where I take classes. We had a short but inspiring conversation about how theater informs our writing and vice versa.

Lisa, another blogger, and I meet regularly about things other than writing, but the conversation turns, inevitably, to our writing. What we’re working on and what we’d like to prioritize in the next little while. Our conversations always energize me.

So my writing goals have shifted a little since the beginning of the year–I’m writing more website copy than I thought I would–but it’s all writing and it’s all good.

Every word counts. Looking forward to the next quarter of 2015.

How did the first quarter of 2015 go for you, fellow writer?

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon, MD, is a writer, blogger, life coach, family physician, mother, and stepmother. I’m in the process of rewriting my website, which is very personal writing, and a good exercise for me as a writer. I’ll let you know when the new website is ready to launch.

Five Often Overlooked Steps to Getting Started as a Freelance Content Marketer

journey one stepSeven years ago this spring, I was a freshly minted single mom building a new life for myself and my daughter amidst the wreckage of a less-than-amicable divorce. I wasn’t sure how I was going to keep things afloat financially, but I knew I didn’t want to return to my old agency life of sixty-hour weeks and around-the-clock meetings. Having spent the first three years of her life at home with my little girl, I was determined to find a way to work as an independent freelancer.

Through the serendipitous inquiries of several acquaintances, I managed to land a couple of long-term, freelance project management gigs. I snapped up the chance to generate some semi-regular income working remotely; but – although I was (very) grateful for the opportunities – I knew that, ultimately, I didn’t want to build my business around project management. I wanted to write.

This is the story of how I became a self-supporting freelance writer and content marketer.

Before I tell this story, I feel I should note, as Ann Patchett does in her wonderful book, The Getaway Car, that “This isn’t an instruction booklet. This is an account of what I did and what has worked for me.” Still, I hope that it might prove useful to you in your journey.

My Very First Freelance Writing Gigs

I had no idea how I was going to break into freelance writing. It was something I’d thought about for years, but had never actively pursued because I was afraid to fail. I had become quite adept at making excuses to keep me from putting my ego at risk. And then, suddenly there I was – nothing to lose and nowhere to go but up. It was definitely one of those now-or-never moments.

I caught a small break early on when the editors of a start-up mommy blog site called Maya’s Mom invited me to become a paid contributor. I had been “live journaling” on their community site about my divorce and had gained a respectable following amidst their audience. I was thrilled to get a paycheck, no matter how modest, for my writing.

While I was learning the ropes of mommy blogging, I kept working the project management gigs, but my small victory with Maya’s Mom gave me the confidence to let my project management clients know that I was available for copywriting work as well. Soon I was doing small writing projects for them, too.

Step #1: Always Say “YES”

It took me about eight months to pivot my business from being 90% project management and 10% writing to being 80% writing and 20% project management. Not too long after that, I gave up the project management altogether. It was pretty sweet, I can tell you, being able to say, “Oh, I’m sorry. I don’t do project management anymore, but I’d be happy to refer you to a colleague of mine. By the way, do you have any copywriting needs?”

The trick, I found, to forcing this professional metamorphosis was learning to say one, little word: Yes.

Whenever someone asked me if I could do something writing-related, I said,  “Yes!” I suppose you could say I employed the age-old strategy – “fake it ’til you make it.” I offered my services with confidence, and then I hit the Internet to figure out how to do the thing I’d been hired to do.

The confidence I gained from my initial foray into paid writing via Maya’s Mom was something I leaned on again and again as I took my wobbly first steps into copywriting. The little start-up site was eventually bought by Johnson & Johnson and became their industry-leading mom blog on BabyCenter. Happily, the editorial team at BabyCenter chose to keep me on, and I became a regular bloggers. Though it was often only tangentially related to the copywriting jobs I was pursuing, I worked that one professional writing credit for all it was worth.

Step #2: Study

We are so fortunate to live in a time when there is an almost unlimited amount of information freely available via the Internet. You can learn just about any skill simply by hitting the web and reading everything you can get your hands on. This is exactly what I did.

I also bought several books about the freelance writing business, and read them cover to cover. I paid attention. I took notes. I got my geek on.

Sometimes, this immersion into the world of freelance copywriting was a bit overwhelming. It didn’t take me long to realize how much I didn’t know. It was easy to feel inadequate. But, I tried to remember that even when I felt like a complete novice compared to the experts I was studying, I already knew more than the people who were my potential clients.

Step #3: Make Friends

A couple of years into my freelance journey, I shelled out a few bucks to take an online course about writing white papers. The educational value of the course was fair to moderate. I never did end up writing too many traditional white papers, BUT I did meet many other professional and aspiring freelance writers. Most importantly, I met five particular B2B (business-to-business) copywriters who would help me grow both my confidence and my business.

Together, the six of us founded a collaborative blog called Savvy B2B Marketing. For several years, we blogged together about the ins and outs and constant evolution of B2B copywriting, social media, and content marketing. Since each member of the team had her own unique background and skills, the experience was like a very in-the-trenches course about every aspect of the business. We traded stories, tips, and secrets. We supported each other with referrals, advice, and encouragement. Meeting and working with these smart, kind women was – without question – one of the most important and enjoyable parts of my professional journey. Though we no longer meet regularly, we still keep in touch. In fact, I “see” one of them – Wendy – all the time here on Live to Write – Write to Live.

You can hear the full “Savvy Story,” as told by all the “Savvy Sisters,” in a podcast hosted by Monica Magnetti.

During the Savvy Era, I also had the pleasure of meeting another writer who (although she’d never accept the praise) would become a pivotal force in my career. We met at an impromptu brunch meet-up hosted by the freelance writer Peter Bowerman. Kate, one of the Savvy Sisters, had heard about the event via Bowerman’s newsletter, I think, and she and I decided to attend.

While it was something of a thrill to meet Bowerman (I’d read all his books on how to become a freelance writer … more about those in part two of this series), the best part of the day was definitely meeting another copywriter named Heidi LaFleche  (aka: The Worry Free Writer). We sat next to each other, and I couldn’t help noticing her Hello Kitty watch and cool manicure (one pinky nail was painted a different color than the rest of her nails). We struck up a conversation, and the rest – as they say – is history. Over the years, Heidi generously made introductions to several people in her network who then became my clients. Through referrals and repeat work, those introductions became the bedrock of my business. Even today, I can still trace many of my clients back to that lovely Sunday morning, sipping mimosas on a deck in Newburyport.

Step #4: Do a GREAT Job

I have many people to thank for helping me meet and land first-time clients, but once those connections were made, I knew it was up to me to prove I deserved them.

As a freelance writer of any kind, your reputation is your currency. You have to deliver the goods. Every time. On time. Sometimes, especially in the beginning, this means giving up some other things (nights out, weekends, sleep) in order to make the magic happen. But, believe me, the payoff is worth the effort.

In my experience, though delivering great copy is a given, it’s at least as important to deliver a great experience. The people who hire content marketers need well-written content, but they want the process to be easy, stress-free, and even fun. Bad customer service is a pet peeve of mine. I am easily annoyed (and sometimes incensed) by sloppy service, negligent customer relations, and lackadaisical delivery. Because of this, I am extra sensitive about making sure my clients are happy, and I believe it’s one of the main reasons they come back for more.

It is much easier and less expensive (in terms of marketing dollars and effort) to make a sale to an existing customer, than it is to land a new customer. Treating your customers like gold is the best investment you can make in your business. Happy customers come back for more, and – if you’re lucky – will share your name with other people in need of the services you offer. I do very little to market my business. I’ve never cold-called anyone or bought paid advertising. My business is built almost entirely on referrals and repeat business. It’s a model I recommend highly.

Step #5: Deliver More than “Just” Copy

As a content marketer, you will be expected to deliver more than just the words on the page. Your clients will look to you for advice about which kinds of content make sense for their brand, how to promote that content, and how to engage their audience. They will lean on you for guidance about how to create a better customer experience through content, and how to stretch their content marketing dollars as efficiently and effectively as possible.

To provide this kind of strategic support, you need to go back to Step #2: Study. Content marketing is a vibrant and ever-evolving area of expertise. Though the term and practice have become mainstream, the field is always growing and evolving. This can be daunting at first, but it also provides valuable opportunities for you to shape your business around specific kinds of expertise and projects.

I am always learning, and always refining the types of services I provide to my clients. In addition to content development, I also offer in-depth brand messaging services, content audits, content planning, and also content editing and mentoring. I love that the breadth of the content marketing landscape gives me almost countless options when it comes to the kinds of work I do.

So, that’s my story … at least, it’s my story so far.

In Part Two of this series, I’ll share some more hands-on advice about the seven tactical things to consider as you get started in content marketing: getting the lay of the land, finding critical resources, getting into a good writer’s mindset, positioning your business in the market, finding customers, identifying best business practices, and dealing with finances.

Until then, here are a few posts that are appropriate companion reading:

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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. Join me each Saturday for the Weekend Edition (a fun post and great community of commenters on the writing life, random musings, writing tips, and good reads), or introduce yourself on Facebooktwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
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Weekend Edition – Imagine A World of Writers Plus Good Reads and Writing Tips

Imagine a World of Writers

"Dear Earth" by Katie Daisy via etsy

“Dear, Earth” by Katie Daisy via etsy

More people should write.

They should write about their days and their dreams, about their hopes and their fears, about their families and their histories and their possible futures. They should write lists and poems and wild ramblings that sound like the intoxicated rantings of a idiot savant. They should tell stories, wonderful, improbable, made-up stories. They should sink or dig or dive or fall or claw their way into that place inside where the stories live, and pull them out like blunt-edged gems from deep within the living, breathing earth. They should write lies that are true and truths that uncover lies. They should weave secrets into the spaces between the words, and then give those secrets gladly to the world.

For those of us bitten by the writing bug, it is near impossible (and quite terrifying) to imagine life without the ability to put our thoughts, ideas, and stories into words and onto the page. This simple act of using language to articulate the inner workings of our mind and heart serves to free the former and to ground the latter. Writing is both our wings and our roots.

I believe that the world would be a better place if more people would write.

I don’t mean writing professionally or even publicly. I mean that the world would be a better place if more people took the time to simply slow down and put into words how they are feeling, what they are experiencing, and why. We move too fast most of the time. We fly through our days and collapse into our oblivious nights. We live our lives in the context of other people’s stories, hardly giving a thought to our own.

It is all too easy for a lifetime to slip by unquestioned. And if we do not take the time to ask the questions, how will we ever know our answers? Not that the answers are all that important. It is the questions that matter. Writing helps us grasp the questions; and, in the process of seeking an answer, it helps us to understand the question more fully. Writing forces us to think more deeply and broadly and carefully. It  breaks a question open and invites us to explore. The process of writing – the digging in, the discovery, the meandering and wondering, the finding of the right words, the connecting of ideas and generating of more questions – makes it impossible for any question to be answered in simple black and white terms.The process of writing introduces not only all the grays that live in the thousands of stories behind a question, but every beautiful, brilliant color of life.

When it comes to writing, it is difficult to keep from slipping down the slope of my good intentions into a pit of proselytizing. And, even if I didn’t abhor the concept of coercive conversion, it would be silly to attempt such a thing here where I am, I imagine, preaching to the proverbial choir.

To write is a uniquely human skill that gives us the ability to transcend time and space, break the boundaries of reality, and understand the nature of life more fully. Writing connects us to ourselves, to others, and to the world around us. It is a powerful tool of self-discovery, communication, and self-expression. Writing gives us a magic lens through which to view our experiences with more depth and clarity, making us able to see into a moment in a different way. Writing helps us unlock questions and answers through analytical thinking, and it helps us create context and evoke empathy through creative play.

Imagine a world where writing is not considered a chore, a frivolous hobby, an indulgence, or the privilege of the few and gifted. Imagine a world where writing is simply part of what it means to be human. I wonder what that world would look like. I wonder.

What I’m {Learning About} Writing: You Need to Make Your Reader Care

book aurariaI downloaded Auraria by Tim Westover partly because it was free, but mostly because the highlighted promotional blurbs included this bit from Publisher’s Weekly: “Weaves tall tales and legends, Carrollian surrealism, and a fascinating cast of characters into a genuinely inventive novel that reads like steampunk via Mark Twain. Fact and fancy are intertwined cleverly and seamlessly in a top-notch, thoroughly American fantasy.” – Publishers Weekly (starred review) Sounds fabulous, right?

Unfortunately, I just couldn’t connect with the protagonist. Though the writing was lovely, and the setting and cast of characters was undeniably creative and whimsical, I just couldn’t muster much in the way of caring what happened.

Looking back, it’s interesting to note that the Publishers Weekly blurb does not mention the story – what is happening or why – in any way. It describes how the story is presented, but it doesn’t tell you what the story is about. It doesn’t ask a question that needs to be answered. It doesn’t even hint at the premise or the “what if” behind the novel.Sadly, this novel has earned a place on my “Did Not Finish” list in Goodreads.

Note to self: Make sure that you give readers a gripping reason to care about what happens to your protagonist and in your story. You don’t want to wind up in the unfinished pile.

What I’m Reading:  The Fairytales of Hermann Hesse

book hesse fairytalesAfter abandoning what was left of Auraria, I wanted  to read something that I knew would not disappoint. Since Auraria struck me as a bit fairytale-like, I decided to revisit an old favorite, The Fairy Tales of Hermann Hesse (translated by Jack Zipes).

I can’t recall exactly when I first began reading Hesse. It was quite far back in my youth, I think, a time when I was a little more starry-eyed. My memory of reading his books and stories was a feeling of being enlightened in small ways. It was a little surprising, then, that after all these years, these simple stories still held a sway over my head and heart.

There are three stories in this collection that are about the theme of artistic pursuits vs. worldly life. I read all three, “The Poet,” “The Fairy Tale About the Wicker Chair,” and “The Painter.” I also reread a story called “Iris,” primarily because it’s one that I remember reading. Though I could not recall the story’s details, I knew it was one I’d especially liked.

Interestingly, though the characters in Hesse’s fairy tales are, as is traditionally the case with the genre, only briefly “sketched” rather than being fully fleshed out, I was still able to feel a connection to them and to their stories. Unlike the challenge I had with Auraria, I cared enough about these people to continue reading to the end. Granted, short stories require a much lesser investment of time than a novel, but – still – I was not for a moment apathetic about the plight of the story’s players, or the discoveries they made. I’m looking forward to rereading more of these stories and thinking about how traditional tales like these might be adapted to a more contemporary kind of story telling. Hmmm … that might almost be a writing prompt. ;)

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 writing salvation gaiman Until next time – I wish you happy writing and happy reading! . 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. .

Food in Fiction

Gavin's Buffalo Chicken Dip

Gavin’s Buffalo Chicken Dip Image Courtesy of Shannon Stacey.

Has this ever happened to you? Your going along, minding your own beeswax, innocently reading a book and BAM! A character eats something or smells a food and describes it in excruciating detail and your mouth is watering. You just have to have whatever the character is eating and you must haz it now! Nom Nom Nom!!

Sometimes the character is a chef as in the case of Mary Whaley the focus of Lauren Dane’s Lush  or Sarah Morgan’s Élise Philippe from Suddenly Last Summer. Sometimes the characters are just eating a food that sounds yummy. As is the case with Gavin’s infamous buffalo chicken dip in Shannon Stacey’s Kowalksi books. I don’t even really like buffalo chicken, but reading the characters enjoy the cheesy gooeyness that is this dip made me want to stuff my face. *

The principal of Checkov’s Gun says that everything that’s in your story should be there for a reason. For both Dane’s Mary and Morgan’s Élise, cooking was a part of who they were as people. It was their love language, how they demonstrated their passion for others and for life. In the case of Stacey’s characters, the dip was a symbol of caring. It brought people together. It was a balm to fractured hearts and a celebration of the good times.

As I reader if there is one particular food that plays a pivotal role in the story or in a key scene, I LOVE it when the writer shares the recipe. From the writer’s perspective, food can be a handy marketing angle. You can write a blog post about the food in question and include the recipe. Shannon Stacey did that with Gavin’s Buffalo Dip. She turned it into a blog post. I’ve shared the link with several people and now, I’m sharing it with you. If you’ve heard of Shannon great, but if not, hmmm that dip is bringing new readers to her fold.  In my opinion, this is the best kind of marketing, because it is related to the book, but it’s not a hard sell. I’ve shared it with romance readers and non-romance readers, when they get to the site, it’s easy for them to investigate her books or grab the recipe and run.

Image Courtesy of Shannon Stacey

Image Courtesy of Shannon Stacey

You could write about the origin of the food or the recipe. Has it been handed down from generation to generation? Just be careful not start any family feuds (or violate any copyrights)! You could even generate some good natured controversy (do nuts belong in chocolate chip cookies?).

I’m curious, from a reader perspective, do you find it distracting when an author brings food so intimately into the story or do you like it?

From a writer’s perspective have you ever used food as an element in your story? Have you ever used food almost as a character in a story?  What are some of your favorite foods in fiction? By all means if you have links to good author recipes, please share them in the comments. If I’m going to be hungry, then we all should be hungry!

*I made this dip for Easter and it was a HUGE hit. I even had a few scoopfuls!

Lee Laughlin is a writer, wife, and mom, frequently all of those things at once. She blogs at Livefearlesslee.com. She has been 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. She is currently working on her first novel, a work of contemporary, romantic fiction.

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.

Friday Fun – Your Dream Writer’s Life

Friday Fun is a group post from the writers of the NHWN blog. Each week, we’ll pose and answer a different, get-to-know-us question. We hope you’ll join in by providing your answer in the comments.

QUESTION: Spring is finally showing her pretty face around here. As gray turns to green, our hopes and hearts are raised with new optimism and enthusiasm. Anything seems possible. So, let’s have some fun with that. If you could have your dream writer’s life, what would it look like? What would your days look like, your readers, your work? What would it feel like to be you in all your writing life bliss?

 

wendy-shotWendy Thomas: As I already write and teach all day, I’m pretty much living the life I want, however, when I think of what my life would be like if I made it big (NYT bestseller big) I think of a beautiful writing room with large windows that look out onto a gorgeous view (mountains or the shore, I’d be happy with both.) I see clean lines, furniture with history, and everything organized for my day. What I clearly see is *my* space set aside from the rest of my family’s (don’t worry, I also see a nice office somewhere in the house for Marc.) That doesn’t mean my children can’t live there, I just see my working space as being separate (which is one of the reasons I obsess about a  tiny writing cabin which could also work.)I see a writing sanctuary.

My ideal writing day? Get up in the morning, have some coffee and sit down at my desk to write. I’m one of those people who could easily write for hour after hour with no interruption. Being able to write gives me the same high that I got when I was a long distance runner.

I also see time each day for exercise and a long walk to clear out any writing cobwebs.

Because I am a natural performer (clown) I also see giving workshops or presentations on my pieces. I love being able to teach others, it’s all the better when I can make them laugh.

Oh and lastly, I see myself as being introduced as “Wendy Thomas, author of …”

 

headshot_jw_thumbnailJamie Wallace: I SO wanted to take more time to think about my answer to this question, but the realities of my current writing life mean that I just can’t spare more than a few minutes to luxuriate in the fantasy. (A girl still has to sleep.)

Once upon a time, I would have answered this inquiry with a glib crack about wanting to be the next J.K. Rowling … only me … and better. But, if I really stop to think about the reality of her writing life, would I really want it? I’m not so sure. I mean, there’s no doubt that she has achieved a level of commercial and financial success that no other writer can touch, but I have a feeling that there’s been a price to pay for all that fame and fortune.

Though I love the idea of touching so many hearts and minds with my own stories the way Rowling did with her Harry Potter series, I do not think I am built for being in the limelight. I’m too much of a homebody. I don’t even like to leave my cats alone for the weekend when we escape for a quick trip to the mountains. I can’t imagine going on a book tour the likes of what Ms. Rowling has endured.

No, for me, I think a quieter kind of writing life is a better fit. I would like to make a (very) comfortable living with my stories (as opposed to the decent living I make wrangling words for my content marketing clients). I would like to have creative freedom and the ability to work on a wide variety of projects. (I’m even brewing up some ideas for new ways to package stories and create different kinds of reading experiences.) I would like to continue working from the comfort of my own home, but I would like to be able to work at my own pace – giving myself time to enjoy the journey and the process as much as holding the finished product in my hands.

My writing and creative time would include enough space for journaling, experimentation, creating, and engaging with my community of readers and fellow artists & writers. My days would also be spacious enough to accommodate time with family and friends, time to volunteer, time for self-care (yoga, riding, hiking, juicing, enough sleep), and time for completely aimless meandering.

Though there are some days when this dream seems too pie-in-the-sky to ever grasp, I know that I’m slowly getting closer and closer to making it a reality. Step-by-step, I’m getting there. Some days it almost feels like I’m already living this life. :)

Happy Birthday, Hans Christian Andersen

When I was a kid, I loved reading all kinds of stories, myths, and fables, but I especially loved the fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen. I preferred his stories to the sanitized Disney stories portrayed in the movies, as many kids (and grownups) do.

I’ve been thinking about Hans Christian Andersen lately as I’ve been listening to a story collection by Neil Gaiman, called Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances and they remind me of all the old stories I loved to read as a child.

It turns out today, April 3, is the date Hans Christian Andersen was born, in the year 1805. His career is inspirational. He published a collection of his “children’s stories” every couple of years for decades. His first collection of tales for children included “The Princess and the Pea,” and he also wrote “The Ugly Duckling,” (one of my favorites when I was a child), “The Little Mermaid,” and “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”

I wonder when I stopped reading myths and fairy tales? I’m sure it was before I started medical school, but residency was the time when I really started to avoid fiction that didn’t have a happy ending. For a while there, I read only genre fiction as I needed to know, in my reading life if not in my real life, that there are happy endings. And fairy tales are great stories, but not everyone in them ends up happily ever after.

But now I’m back to reading anything and everything. I realize any story can be told as a fairy tale or a tragedy and the author’s art is partly in now they choose to tell the story. I recently wrote the story of my own life in my journal—two versions. In one version I was the victim, in the other version I’m the hero.

I’m really enjoying Trigger Warning, with it’s heroes, villains, and victims. Reading this book prompted me to rummage around in the basement and find my collection of Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales. I think it’s time to start reading these to my son so he can see the full range of characters available to him—he gets to be the author of his own fairy tales, as we all do.

Happy Birthday, Hans Christian Anderson. Two hundred years after his birth, I’m so grateful he lived and wrote.

What’s your favorite fairy tale?

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon: is a writer, blogger, mother, life coach, and family physician. I’m celebrating Hans Christian Andersen’s birthday by sharing his stories with my son.