Weekend Edition – Just Be Yourself. Yeah, Right. Plus Good Reads and Writing Tips

The not-so-easy art of being yourself

pin who you wereBeing yourself is hard. Maybe you’re more evolved than I am, but I’m pretty sure that when it comes to who I am, I’m still figuring it out. I know I’m supposed to be a grown-up, but I still feel like an awkward kid half the time. I still have so many questions and doubts. I still feel like an unfinished story.

People say “just be yourself” as if it’s a simple matter. They mean well. They intend their words as reassurance or encouragement, but whenever I hear that bit of advice, it’s as if someone opened a trap door beneath my feet.  As I hurtle down into who-knows-what, my head echoes with the question, “But … who am I?”

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When I was in high school, I was what you might call a “floater.” I did not belong to any of the usual cliques. I wasn’t a jock or a brainiac, a drama geek or a teacher’s pet. I wasn’t a cheerleader or a goth chick, a troublemaker or a goody-goody. While part of me is grateful that I was able to avoid the noose of any particular label, another part of me recognizes the possibility that I just wasn’t willing to commit too heavily to being any one version of myself.

Even now, almost three decades later, I still feel a sense of fracture in my identity. This isn’t unusual. Most of us live multiple lives that are defined by the many different roles we play – child, parent, spouse, friend, lover, worker, boss, artist. The situation becomes exponentially more complex as we layer on other aspects of the self – nationality and ethnicity, political and religious leanings, financial and social standing, etc.

And then there’s the fact that we are always changing. New experiences and perspectives change how we perceive and feel about the world and ourselves. We learn and adapt and evolve. We try new things. We change our minds. We change our style. We change our lives. We change who we are.

I just listened to a passage in Buddhism for Busy People that explained how our bodies are constantly regenerating so that every seven years or so, we are – in essence – an entirely new person. Perhaps that idea is what inspired the concept of the “seven year itch.” It certainly inspired one inmate to petition the courts for release after serving only seven years of a much longer sentence on the grounds that he was, literally, no longer the person he was when he was incarcerated.

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I have always thought of myself as a kind of chameleon, subtly changing myself to match my environment. I admit, with some amount of self-reproach, that I am generally a people pleaser. It’s not that I present myself falsely. It’s more that I present myself in pieces, only showing the parts that are relevant and acceptable while keeping other bits to myself. While this approach to dealing with people is an excellent one for minimizing conflict, it’s not necessarily a great personality trait for a writer.

As writers, we depend on the courage of our convictions. Our beliefs and the identity they create are not only fuel for our work, they are also the source of our writer’s “voice.” As E.B. White said, “Writing is both mask and unveiling.” Even if we craft fictional stories, they still – if they are good stories – contain elements of truth, and those truths spring from our identity – from who we are.

This is why learning to “be yourself” is so important to a writer, to any artist. Knowing who you (really) are is the mandatory first step to developing your writer’s voice.

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Because we work so hard to develop our characters and are also trying to hone our writer’s voice, we writers usually have more angst than the average bear about personal and artistic identity. For many of us, writing is more than a profession or even a vocation. It is part of who we are and a large part of how we interface with the world. Having our work rejected cuts us as deeply as it does because, on some level, the work is an extension of who we are.

This connection between self and art creates a challenge in a marketplace that expects consistency and continuity. The public does not always want artists to “be themselves.” In fact, the public is often outraged if a writer who is known for one thing tries to be something else. Take the case of J.K. Rowling, for instance. Loved around the world for her Harry Potter series, she was initially widely ridiculed for her work under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. But, whether the books she’s written under that moniker are good or bad interests me less than the fact that she felt the need to publish any non-Potter writing under a pen name.

Why isn’t Rowling allowed to be a whole person, instead of *just* the author of the Harry Potter series?

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I think that many writers hold back for fear of being pigeon-holed. We sense the threat of permanence that hovers menacingly at the edges of success. Once we have become known for any one piece of work, we realize we will be expected to deliver more of the same. It comes back to that question of commitment – are you willing to commit wholly to any one kind of story, or even – as in Rowling’s case – one particular story?

The rub, of course, is that in saying “yes” to one thing – one self, one voice – you risk saying “no” to something else.

Most artists, writers included, are – once they have achieved some level of success – almost forced to work within constraints defined by their “public.” Though paparazzi and fans might fawn all over a celebrity, they do not really love her as a person. They love the idea of her and what she represents. If she steps outside the boundaries of their expectations, the fans can turn on her and feel justified in doing so because, to them, she has violated a trust … just by being herself.

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My personal concerns about how I define myself and develop my writer’s voice exist on a much smaller scale than those of a global celebrity, but they still exist. The conflicts in my world are not dramatic, but they still pose a challenge in terms of how I see myself and how I present myself and my work to the world. For instance, I make my living as a content marketer for business-to-business companies, but I am also an essayist here on the blog, a columnist for my local paper, and an aspiring fiction writer. Just the simple act of choosing which articles to post on Twitter (business & marketing vs. writing and art) can start my head spinning.

Sure, I could split my identity into its component parts and create separate personas to address each audience, but I don’t like the idea of perpetuating this division of self. Even when I am “being” a content marketer, I am still a lover of fantasy fiction. And when I am “being” a columnist or a blogger, I might be thoughtful one day and funny the next, gently exploring a topic in one piece and taking an adamant stand against some injustice in another. There are many facets to who I am as a person, and also to who I am as a writer. Though I understand that some facets will shine brighter than others in certain situations, I do not want to have to shroud the others.

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People often talk about “sacrificing for your art.” Usually, they are referring to an artist who gives up wealth, ease, peer acceptance, or a relationship. But, there is also a less recognized risk of inadvertently carving away pieces of yourself so that you can, ironically, live up to other people’s expectations about who you are – as an artist/writer and also as a human being.

Hanging on to your true identity is hard. First you have to discover who you are, and then you have to learn to inhabit that identity fully, wholly, and without inhibitions. Starting with first things first, look for clues about who you are by noticing what makes you laugh, what makes you cry, and what makes you furious.  Pay attention to who and what you make time for in your life – these are the people and things that matter to you most. Notice what spurs you to action, what compels you to get involved.

Be careful of labels. Try to rid your mind of all preconceived notions. Don’t get fooled into thinking that if you are one thing, you can’t be another. Go ahead and create your own crazy combinations. This is the art of being you. The rules were made to be broken. Know that the person you are today is different from the person were ten years ago, five years ago, yesterday. Don’t let that worry you. Change and growth are natural. Nothing stays the same for long, and you are no exception to that rule.

Maybe that’s the trick to “being yourself” with ease – simply letting go of any expectations and acknowledging that this question of identity is one that can never be definitively answered because the question is a moving target with an ever-changing set of variables. “Being yourself” becomes, then, not a destination, but a journey – an adventure with an unknown ending. I guess we are each of us, after all, an unfinished story. And that’s just as it should be.

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What I’m {Learning About} Writing:

risk graffitiAlthough I have been a busy, little B2B content marketer lately, and my personal writing time down to a nub (I seriously need to take some of my own advice about how to make time for writing) I still have my bi-weekly column deadline to keep my creative writing muscles flexing. This past week, I published a fun piece about the evils of clutter. Like many of my columns, I tried to fuse a little storytelling with a little humor and a dash of introspection. I was pretty happy with it, until I read my fellow columnist’s piece.

My fellow columnist is more of a traditional, op-ed style columnist. He’s also a bold humorist. The piece he wrote this week was a brazen condemnation of a local developer and the planning board that allows his irresponsible building projects. It was funny. It was entertaining. And it also very effectively addressed a real problem. It reminded me of the work that Jon Stewart did on The Daily Show (an compliment I don’t toss around lightly … I adore Steward).

While my column was “nice,” it lacked the “punch” of the piece on the ill-reputed developer, and the contrast between the two got me thinking about whether and how I should take more risks in my writing. Risks require commitment. They demand that we are audacious – speaking our minds, being unapologetically ourselves.

I do not yet know how this line of thinking will develop, but I’m interested to find out.

Have you ever taken a risk in your writing? What made you do it? How did it turn out?

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What I’m Reading:

bk one only ivanLife has been a little extra hectic lately, and when life gets too crazy I tend to seek out a good children’s book for comfort. After finishing Alice Hoffman’s magical and romantic The Nightbird last week, I turned to Katherine Applegate’s story of friendship, art, and hope – The One and Only Ivan. As it turned out, this was one of those “children’s” books that holds a great deal for readers of any age.

Here’s the description from Applegate’s website:

Ivan is an easygoing gorilla. Living at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade, he has grown accustomed to humans watching him through the glass walls of his domain. He rarely misses his life in the jungle. In fact, he hardly ever thinks about it at all.

Instead, Ivan thinks about TV shows he’s seen and about his friends Stella, an elderly elephant, and Bob, a stray dog. But mostly Ivan thinks about art and how to capture the taste of a mango or the sound of leaves with color and a well-placed line.

Then he meets Ruby, a baby elephant taken from her family, and she makes Ivan see their home—and his own art—through new eyes. When Ruby arrives, change comes with her, and it’s up to Ivan to make it a change for the better.

The story is told in the first person from Ivan’s point of view. The chapters are short and the style of Ivan’s delivery is very straightforward. As he explains early on, gorillas are all about brevity when it comes to how they use words.

On the surface, the story is about the plight of the animals at a roadside attraction, but just below that narrative there are deeper veins of meaning. Applegate deftly addresses the horrors of poaching (a topic that has been in the news a lot lately after the tragic murder of Cecil the lion), the mysteries of the creative process, the idea of freedom, the value of family, the weight of a promise, and so much more. Through the experience of her ape protagonist, she makes many astute observations about human nature.

This is a book that manages to expose some of life’s deepest tragedies and some of humanity’s ugliest tendencies, but still gives you a tangible sense of hope and joy. As a writer, it inspired me because of Applegate’s artistry, and also because of the messages in the story about the importance of art in our lives.

You don’t have to be a kid to enjoy this book, and I highly recommend it for an afternoon’s read.

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

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Finally, a quote for the week:

… because we shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously …

pin be a unicorn

Here’s to knowing who you are and holding onto that even while you enjoy the journey to the next iteration of yourself. 
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Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content marketer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian and aerial arts (not at the same time), and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Introduce yourself on Facebooktwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
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Risk Graffiti Photo Credit: greenhem via Compfight cc

Report on Camp NaNoWriMo

Hey, Everyone! I’m back! Camp was great! I’m a little sunburned and a lot tired, but I had a wonderful time!

Seriously, though, I’m glad I went to Camp NaNoWriMo this summer. I learned a few things:

  1. It’s easy to say you’re going to write 25,000 words (or whatever your word goal is), it’s hard to actually do it.
  1. Writing every day is hard. (I wrote most days, but not every day.) I’m not a multi-tasker, so finding the time to write at least 807 words a day was difficult. I knew it was going to be—that’s one of the reasons I signed up to do Camp NaNo—I wanted the accountability to force me to write more than I’ve been writing lately.
  1. Screen Shot 2015-08-06 at 1.51.46 PMEven with a deadline like NaNo, I don’t write every day. While I wrote something most days, I didn’t work on this project every day. I worked on my Camp NaNo project in chunks on certain days when I had more time (or made more time, which seems more accurate to me.)
  1. Some things had to fall off my To-Do list in order to accomplish this goal. Most days I feel that I’m only doing the things I really need to do, but I had to cut the list even more in order to make this goal.
  1. 50,000 words in November may not be a realistic goal for me right now.

I’ve been looking forward to winning NaNo (the official NaNo in November) ever since I had to bail on it in 2009 when I had my son (who was due at the end of November) on October 29th. But I don’t know if I can write 50,000 words on one writing project in November. If I sign up for NaNo, I want to win. So I need to really think about whether or not I can accomplish this goal this year.

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I’m proud of myself for meeting my word goal for Camp NaNo (25,000 words) and I’m even more proud of the fact that I’ve won NaNo (written 50,000 words) twice in the past.

I’m going to print out my current project and start editing while I consider whether or not I’ll keep editing or attempt NaNo in November.

Did you meet your writing goal for July?

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon, MD, is a writer, blogger, life coach, and family physician. You can find more of her writing at www.dianemackinnon.com/blog.

 

 

 

Short and Sweet Advice for Writers – Embrace Your Dark Side

charging knightI once wrote a post called Get Mad: Marketing from Your Dark Side. I’ve mentioned it before briefly in the context of Terry Pratchett’s passing, but I’d like to come back to it again because I recently read two blog posts that touched on how artists use their personal fears, conflicts, and even tragedies to infuse their art with passion that resonates far beyond their own experience.

In my original post about marketing, I talked about how a strong brand is defined as much by what it stands against as what it stands for:

Without an opposing force, a hero is just a person who is going through the motions.

Without an opposing force, there is no fire in the hero’s soul. There is no sense of greater purpose, no fierce commitment, no do-or-die mission.

Without an opposing force, we never get to see what the hero can really do.

Like it or not, your enemy is a big part of who you are and why you are.

As writers, we are defined in a similar way – not just by what we write, but WHY we write it. Often the “why” behind what we write is grounded in some deep ache or longing, desire for justice, or mission to be a voice for the voiceless. These voids and wrongs that need righting are our “dark side.” They are the issues and experiences that touch us so deeply that we feel compelled to write about them.

Over the weekend, I read an interesting piece by Scott Belsky on Behance’s 99U blog. In Creativity is Nourished by Conflict, Belsky tells the tale of his friend, the young musician Rachel Platten, who – after ten years of relative anonymity – just hit big with “Fight Song,” an anthem that was born out of her own fears and frustrations:

This song is Rachel’s first major hit (we’re talking morning shows, rabid fans, sharing the stage with Taylor Swift, etc.), and like all great art, it came from a dark place: desperation, exhaustion, and the desire to prove oneself amidst universal doubt.

And then this morning I read The Secret of All Art (cc Louis CK, Kurt Vonnegut, JK Rowling, Casey Neistat, etc.) by James Althucher in which the Choose Yourself author talks about the importance of having an “emotional anchor” for your art:

Heres what I think all great artists do:

– They have a deeply personal emotional anchor they can tie their work to:

For Kurt Vonnegut, he was dramatically effected by the firebombing of Dresden, Germany, where he was a prisoner of war.

130,000 people died in a single day. Compared with 90,000 in Hiroshima. Kurt Vonnegut survived and his job after that was to dig up all the bodies.

When he ANCHORS a book (in Slaughterhouse Five, for instance, he anchors to the most horrific moment of his life – Dresden), he can go CRAZY after that: time travel, other planets, placing the author as a side character in the book, all sorts of experimentation.

It doesn’t matter because he can always pull back to the emotional anchor when he needs to. And then we all relate.

No emotional anchor = no art. No meaning.

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So, while your stories may reflect what you find beautiful and precious in this world, remember that they are also a place where you can do battle against the darkness that would harm the things you hold dearest. And know that your most powerful writing will often be born of that dark side and your impassioned willingness to fight it with everything you’ve got.

Oh, and by the way, writing from your dark side can make a difference in the world. In her recent Writer Unboxed piece, The Power of Fiction, Jo Eberhardt shares some fabulous examples of how different stories changed the world, one life at a time. Pretty inspiring stuff.

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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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A Little Effort Today Can Lead to Big Results a Year from Now

If you’re struggling with writing – find yourself unable to get any creative writing done – you should know that even the smallest effort you make to move forward today can reap noticeable results a year from now.

If you started writing 5 minutes a day last week, after my last post, I bet you’re already writing more than 5 minutes a day. Now imagine where you’ll be a year from now if you keep building on the number of minutes a day you write, or how many words you write from day to day.

Consider this: even if you only practiced your writing craft 5 minutes a day for 365 days, you’d have a lot more written than the prior 365 days (if you didn’t have a goal). I know this is true for me.

If I don’t start slow and build up, slowly, I’ll end up discouraged, frustrated, overwhelmed, disappointed, and most likely will quit all together. It explains why I have several partially-started novels ‘sitting in a drawer.’ When a task becomes overwhelming it’s common to drop and run away.

Ever hear the saying: “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time!” Apply it to your writing (or any other) goals.

Starting slow, today, can lead to big results a year from now.

Getting started is typically the most difficult part of writing (or anything), and then enthusiasm kicks in, and huge bursts of inspiration and motivation, but then comes the overwhelm and the quick downward trend until you aren’t doing anything any more. (sound familiar?)

5 minutes

Start slow. Get your butt in the chair and write or type for 5 minutes. Just 5 minutes. Write whatever wants to get onto the page. Don’t stress over it. Don’t think about it. Just write. For 5 minutes.

Then stay with 5 minutes a day until you discover you’re writing 10 minutes a day with ease. Then change your goal to 10 minutes a day.

Make the writing whatever you want it to be – whether it’s working on the same story idea each day, or simply getting words onto the page. Once writing becomes a habit, you’ll be able to make more decisions, but for now, just get started.

For me, I think I’ll build up to 20 minutes a day and then stay with that goal (even if I’m writing more than that). That way, if a low writing day comes along, I’ll be in the habit of at least 20 minutes and be able to complete that goal consistently.

What do you think? If you start writing 5 minutes a day today, do you think you’ll be advanced in your craft 1 year from now?

LisaJJackson_2014Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with manufacturing, software, technology, and realty 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

Weekend Edition – Storyteller vs. Writer plus Good Reads and Writing Tips

Storyteller vs. Writer

“Storyteller” (Anker Grossvater, 1884)

“Storyteller” (Anker Grossvater, 1884)

I’m terrible at telling jokes.

I’m so bad at it, that I have pretty much sworn off even trying. The pressure makes my stomach turn. I’m always afraid that I’m going to fumble the set-up or flub the punchline, and there are few things more sad and pathetic than a joke-gone-wrong. I picture failed jokes as deflated balloons, rumpled and saggy, looking up at me from the pavement with sad, slightly reproachful eyes.

Perhaps in part because of this personal shortcoming, I’ve always especially admired people who can tell a joke or a story well. You know the people I mean – the people who can capture and hold the interest of an entire table full of diners or room full of houseguests, the people who seem able to turn the most mundane happening into a tale of epic hilarity or deep insight. Yeah, those people. Those people impress the hell out of me.

A recent encounter with such a person got me thinking about the secrets of great storytellers. Whether the material is a sixty-second joke or a fifteen-minute anecdote, great storytellers know how to craft and perform a story in a way that keeps people interested and entertained. They understand the dynamics of narrative, pacing, and tension. They know how to set up a reveal, how to pick the details that make a difference, and how to keep the audience on the edge of their seats. They understand that a story is a promise, and they know how to come through with the payoff.

Thinking about all this, I started to wonder whether there’s a difference between a “storyteller” and a “writer.”

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A quick scan of the “storyteller vs. writer” search results on Google made it clear that, by general consensus, there is definitely a difference. Sadly for the storytellers of the world, they seem to come up a little short by comparison with their more elite writer counterparts:

storyteller vs writer

According to the “experts” (aka anyone who decided to post about this apparent rivalry), storytellers are a vastly inferior breed compared to writers. Writers are portrayed as serious, erudite creatures capable of more cerebral pursuits, such as using the words erudite and cerebral. They make important contributions to the craft and elevate our minds out of the gutters of pop culture. Storytellers, on the other hand, are depicted as a garrulous bunch of untalented hacks, barely a step above monkeys with typewriters. They revel in the gutters of pop culture.

Writers are deemed responsible for the “classics,” anything your high school English teacher made you read, and anything Oprah recommended for her illustrious book club.  The authors behind blockbuster books like the Twilight series, Game of Thrones, and even The DaVinci Code are labeled “storytellers.” I have a feeling that, though none of the essays I read came right out and said it, almost any genre book – mystery, romance, fantasy, so-called chick lit, etc. – would be unceremoniously shuffled into the storyteller category.

This overwhelming prejudice against storytelling as an art form left me feeling conflicted. As a “writer” (though I hesitate to use the word, given the enormous weight of its apparent meaning), I strive to master the literary craft in all its varied nuance. From classic story structure to beautiful prose, from genius metaphors to deft characterization, I am fascinated and inspired by all things writerly. But, I also love a story that grabs me as a reader, a story that pulls me along so that I’m turning pages as fast as I can to find out what happens next. So, I have to wonder, which camp do I fall into, and – more importantly – which camp do I want to be in?

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Would J.K. Rowling be called a writer or a storyteller? I’d put my money on storyteller any day of the week, and I wouldn’t mean it as a put down. Though Rowling may not have ascended to any peaks of literary greatness, she told a great story that captured the imagination of an entire generation (and then some!). Her books touched millions and millions of lives, inspiring and encouraging kids (and, yes, adults, too) all around the world, teaching them about friendship, courage, and loyalty. She may not have earned the accolades of elite literary critics, but does that really matter? I think not.

And that is the central flaw in the storyteller vs. writer debate. Storytellers and writers care about very different things. They have very different goals, and should not, therefore, be judged by the same criteria. As far as I can tell, writers are more focused on creating art while storytellers are more focused on connecting with their audience. Writers worry more about style and about pushing the boundaries of the craft. Storytellers are more interested in evoking a response from the audience.

I intentionally use the word “audience” instead of “readers” in relation to storytellers. While writers may claim a venerable heritage that reaches back to Shakespeare, Homer, and other legendary poets and authors, storytellers have their own impressive lineage. The ancient Greeks were renowned storytellers in the oral tradition, as were many other indigenous races around the world from the tribes of Africa to the peasants of early European settlements to the Native Americans who carried their stories with them across the Great Plains, generation after generation.

Today, many wonderful storytellers have put a contemporary twist on the oral tradition. Slam poets are intense and visceral storytellers. The people who share their stories via The Moth stage and the TED series bring their experiences to life in ways that connect deeply with their audience and listeners of the related podcasts. Come to that, comedians are skilled storytellers, regaling us with funny stories that may seem, at first glance, to be unrelated, but which are often all pieces of a beautifully organized system that revolves around a central theme. Take Mike Birbiglia’s touching and laugh-out-loud funny show, My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend. I watched this on a whim one night, and came away wanting to immediately watch it again so I could pull it apart and see how he did what he did – wrapping up a sweet story about love and redemption in a series of silly stories (silly, but well told). Seriously impressive. More impressive, in my humble opinion, than many of the much-lauded literary works I’ve read.

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I suppose it’s only human nature that even after my ever-so-brief exploration of the storyteller vs. writer question that my mind would leap to, “Why can’t I be both?”

Why not?

I haven’t found an official Board of Storyteller/Writer Judgment to confer with on this matter, but I did come across a 2014 “World’s Greatest Storytellers” survey by Raconteur which ranks authors from Homer to Rowling. Interestingly, the six authors that survey respondents voted as the top six storytellers of all time included a fairly even mix of people who would be on opposite sides of the storyteller/writer line. I think there are probably quite a few authors out there who have already achieved the feat of combining great writing with great storytelling. Neil Gaiman is one name that comes to mind. Salman Rushdie is another. Kurt Vonnegut, Ray Bradbury, and Margaret Atwood also seem to fit the bill. Though some may disagree, I also think that Ursula Le Guin deserves respect from fans of both story and literature.

I suppose the question to ask yourself (if you’re concerned about which camp you fall into) is, “What are my goals?” Where do your interests fall on the spectrum from pure entertainment to highbrow literature? What do you like to read, and what does that say about where your loyalties really lie? If you think you want to be the next Charles Dickens, but you mostly enjoy reading pulp fiction thrillers, your goals may not be aligned with your true passion.

And maybe you don’t even have to choose, at least not consciously. Maybe your path, whether towards being a storyteller or a writer, will emerge naturally based your on spontaneous tendencies as a creator. And maybe you’ll be able to find your own way of combining excellent craft with strong story in a way that sweeps your reader audience off their feet. Yeah. That sounds good. Let’s go with that.

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What I’m [Not] Writing – The Missing Pages in My Morning Journal:

morning pgsLife and a slew of deadlines have kept me from doing much writing outside of my client work and my bi-weekly column for the local paper. In fact, I just scanned my Google Calendar, and it’s been ten long weeks since I’ve regularly done my usual morning pages journaling. I had no idea it had been so long. I’m kind of bummed out now.

On the bright side, discovering this gap in my practice explains a lot. As I’ve alluded to in recent weekend edition posts, life has been a little extra stressful lately. Though good things are happening, for a while there I was feeling a bit unmoored, overwhelmed, and scattered. Those feelings make a lot more sense now that I realize I haven’t been taking those precious twenty minutes at the start of my day to indulge in writing three free-form pages. Simple as it sounds, Julia Cameron’s foundational writing practice makes a huge and important difference for me, not only creatively, but also in terms of my mindset, outlook, and general sense of well being.

Starting Monday, I’m getting back up on that horse.

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What I’m Reading: Buddhism for Busy People by David Michie

bk buddhism busy peopleBusy as I’ve been, I haven’t had much time for leisure reading, but I have been enjoying the audio book version of David Michie’s Buddhism for Busy People. I’m a little more than halfway through the listen, and am really enjoying Michie’s down-to-earth approach as narrated by Nicholas Bell, a voice artist whose British accent brings a certain oh-that’s-all-right-then quality to the text.

Though I have never formally studied Buddhism, I do have a few other books in my collection, including my beloved and much thumbed through Pocket Pema Chodron. Michie’s book is written very much for the curious and uninitiated. It provides an overview of Buddhist teachings in the context of the author’s real-life experience as he embarked on his own journey of discovery and study.

Whether you are interested in Buddhism, or just looking for a respite from the overwhelm and chaos of life in the twenty-first century, this book has much to offer in the way of comfort, sanity, and humor.

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

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Finally, a quote for the week:

Technically this is a quote of Tom Hanks as Walt Disney in the movie Saving Mr. Banks.

Technically this is a quote of Tom Hanks as Walt Disney in the movie Saving Mr. Banks.

As always, thanks for being here and sharing a little piece of your weekend with me. Here’s to the storytellers and the writers – we need them both, each and every one of them. 
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Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content marketer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian and aerial arts (not at the same time), and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Introduce yourself on Facebooktwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
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Short and Sweet Advice for Writers – Write Like a Puppy

Writing is serious business. Doing it well requires study, commitment, and dedication. There is a lot to learn – form, structure, style, voice – more craft nuances than I can name. “Real” writers sacrifice for their art. As Hemingway said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

BUT …

Sometimes, you just gotta play.

I mean, you don’t want to be this guy, do you?

Victor Hugo

Victor Hugo

I didn’t think so.

Writing may be hard work, but that doesn’t mean it can’t also be fun. The trick is learning to approach it with a different mindset. Instead of coming to your writing with the weight of the world on your shoulders, try thinking about your time at the keyboard as a play session.

Going for it

Going for it

Which brings me to puppies.

Puppies know how to play. They can make a game out of almost anything, and they let loose with wild abandon. They aren’t concerned about following rules or worried about looking silly. They aren’t playing with purpose or comparing their play to another puppy’s. They are simply having fun – being joyful in the moment, exploring, and experimenting.

To a puppy, nothing is sacred. There is no “right” or “wrong” way to play. There is just play. Water = play. Ball = play. Stick = play. Slipper = play. Tail = play. It’s all just one big, happy game – a frolic, a romp, an excuse to roll around on the ground with your paws in the air.

What would happen if you “played” with your writing? 

There is power in unleashing your enthusiasm, so go ahead and loosen up. Follow the example of my friend Shanna’s adorable rescue puppy, Milo, and just let ‘er rip.

And now, for your weekend entertainment, Milo.

A video posted by shanna (@shannatrenholm) on

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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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Puppy Splashing Photo Credit: cobalt123 via Compfight cc

Inspiration for Non-Fiction

This month, I’ve been working on a nonfiction book that’s been in my mind for many years. I have a (self-imposed) word count deadline that is pushing me to get back to it (click here to read post about this), but I wanted to pause that project to write a little bit here about my inspirations.

With fiction, it seems like inspiration can come from anywhere. Many authors have written about where they get their inspiration, including my colleagues here at Write to Live—Live to Write.

But with nonfiction, where do you start? I’ve been thinking about this book for many years, and have notes scattered in many places. How do I begin to put it together?

I started with all the reasons I feel inspired to write on this topic:

  • I wrote about who I think will benefit from this book (that’s still in my head.)
  • I wrote about how I hope the reader will be different after they read my book.
  • I wrote about why I want to write this book.
  • I wrote down my highest intention for writing this book.
  • I wrote down some of the memories of times when I could have used a book like the one I’m planning to write.
  • I wrote down some of the coping mechanisms, tools, skills, and resources I’ve used that might help my reader.

After that, I looked for inspiration in more concrete ways:

  • I went back to my old journals and used what I wrote in the past to springboard new thoughts for the book.
  • I reread articles I’d saved that inspired passion, disgust, or wonder in me and resurrected those emotions as I reread them. I wrote (fast and furiously) as I experienced those emotions again.

Lastly, I just turned off the internal editor and let it all flow.

Back in June, before I started Camp NaNo, I made the decision to let go of needing to know how the book will look in its final form. I don’t know if it’ll be a memoir, a self-help book, a combination of the two, or something completely different than either. For the moment, I don’t need to know.

All is need is a little inspiration.

Where do you get your inspiration for your nonfiction project?

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon, MD: writer, blogger, life coach, family physician. You can read my life coaching blog here.