The Gift of Being a Writer Plus Shareworthy Reading and Writing Links

Ascot CloudsAs a writer, it’s your job to observe the world; and that has to be one of the best jobs going. Though it might make non-writers a little crazy, I love the way my writer’s brain soaks in all kinds of minutia no matter where I am or what I am doing. I love the way it connects the dots to pull stories out of the ether. And I love the way that this constant hum of observation and internal storytelling helps me see and appreciate the world more deeply.

Earlier this week, I was sitting alongside the outdoor practice ring at the barn where my daughter and I take lessons. I was enjoying watching my daughter and her lesson pony, Chanel, run through their paces while carrying on a silent conversation spoken in a language of touch and movement. I have always been fascinated by the way horse and rider can communicate at such a complex level without having the benefit of a shared language.

Anyway, as I sat ringside, I let my mind wander to take in the details of the moment – the tiny black flies biting my exposed forearms; the plush, polished green of the grass, still glistening from the morning’s thunderstorms; the spectacular show of clouds on the eastern horizon, layers of billowing mists rising and falling like skyborn empires in countless and constantly shifting shades of gray and white and blue; a young swallow singing his heart out from a perch on a wire slung between barns, his voice full of passion and purpose, slicing through the air like an arrow of love in hot pursuit of the females who careened past him in sharp angles and flashes; the heavy scent of wet earth mingled with the rich odors of hay, manure, and grain, balanced by light top notes of rain and sky and the distant sea; and the constant heartbeat sounds of horses hooves pounding out their rhythms in the sand of the arena, creating a staccato symphony that might have been a language of its own, like a morse code between horse and earth.

Would I have noticed all these details if I was not a writer? Perhaps. But, perhaps not. And would I, if I was not a writer, have been compelled to scribble down my observations in my ever-present notebook? Probably not. But, I am a writer, so I did notice, and I did capture a few words to help me experience the moment more deeply, appreciate it more fully, preserve it for another day, and share it. That’s what writers do.

_jamie sig


 Books I’m Reading:

book winged horseThis week was a particularly busy one. Deadlines circled me like a pack of unfriendly wolves, hounding me late into the night and waking me from sleep with their insistent howls. I managed to get to my weekend mostly unscathed, but I did not have much time for reading. The two novels I’m currently enjoying (one in hard cover, the other on Audible) were much neglected this week in favor or work-related multi-tasking.

During such periods of over-booked schedules that leave me too weary to engage with a book at the end of the long, long day, I turn to reading materials that do not make the demands of novels. This week, I picked up a my tattered copy of a 1927 book called The Winged Horse. I found this musty old treasure at our local flea market – Todd Farm in Newburyport. I was initially drawn to the lovely cover and end papers, but when I opened the first few pages and read the subtitle, The Story of the Poets and Their Poetry, I was sold.

book winged horse endsI know very little about poetry, and I rarely read it; but I have always been both intrigued by the form and a little chagrined that I haven’t spent more time to learn about it. Though there’s a fairly good chance that much of what’s in this book may have grown inaccurate over time (not to mention politically incorrect), I still very much enjoyed the tutelage of Messrs. Auslander and Hill. I mean, how can fail to continue reading such a book when it opens with a foreword that begins thus,

“We wrote this book because we wanted to write it.

Also, we saw that such a book was needed.

We were aware of numberless people coming eagerly to the edges of poetry, wondering what it was, what it had been. The straightest way into the knowledge of an art, as into the knowledge of a person, is to discover what has happened to it – how men have used it. But the story of poetry seemed to be scattered as hopelessly as Humpty Dumpty after his fall; it was buried in histories and biographies that were sometimes a punishment even for those who made it a business to read them; there were a thousand fragments, but no one story.”

 

How could you not wish to accompany these two on their quest to discover the story of poetry?

And then, because I was reading this book about the story of poetry, I was inspired to thumb through a few selections in my small and eclectic collection of poetry anthologies. And that made me happy. Though I wasn’t able to curl up for an hour or two with one of the chunky novels I’m reading, I still got to have brief encounters with beautiful words and images.

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My Favorite Blog Reads for the Week:

CRAFT

PUBLISHING & MARKETING

INSPIRATION

THE WRITING LIFE

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Sundry Links and Articles:

WD competitionI don’t think I’ve ever entered a writing contest, mostly because I rarely seem to find out about them in time to get my act together and submit. But, earlier this week I received a cheerful email from someone named Zachary Petit. It opened like this:

As the former managing editor of Writer’s Digest, I’m forever ineligible to enter the Writer’s Digest Annual Competition. (The gall!) But they can’t stop me from telling you why I, as a freelance writer for National Geographic Kids and other publications, would enter if I could—specifically in the Feature Article category.

Which was then followed by five reasons to enter (prizes, conference, appearance in WD magazine, a conversation with a WD Books editor, and a year of access to Writer’s Digest magazine), and the charming close:

… Look. Writers don’t need to enter competitions to survive. But any time I’ve won anything for my work, it means volumes more than the original paycheck I got for it ever could have. For me, it feeds the literary soul and keeps it healthy—it’s the sort of stuff that keeps me tapping away, day after day, year after year, article after article.

Yours in writing,

Zachary Petit

The deadline for the Writer’s Digest Annual Writing Competition covers myriad categories including spiritual, memoir, feature articles, genre short stories, stage play, poetry, and more. I don’t know that I’ll have time to pull anything together (the deadline for submissions is June 20th), but I thought I’d share the links here in case you’d like to submit. You never know – it could be fun!

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Finally, a quote for the week:

pin allende

Here’s to drinking in all the details in the moment so that we may enjoy the many gifts of the world, and here’s to writing them all down so that we may experience them again in the future and share their magic with others. 
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Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content writer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian arts, and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Introduce yourself on FacebookTwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
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Shareworthy Reading and Writing Links May 29

On the Challenges of Getting Ideas Out of Your Head and Onto the Page

A not-so-still shot from the film version of Breakfast at Tiffany's

A not-so-still shot from the film version of Breakfast at Tiffany’s

I’ve got an unmanageable number of random thoughts and ideas on my mind these days, and I’m having a hard time getting them out.  I imagine them as an eclectic and diverse crowd hanging out at a fancy-dress cocktail party. They mix and mingle, engaging in idle conversation until it’s time for me to sit down at the keyboard. Then, it’s as if someone has pulled the fire alarm or set a pack of ravening wolves loose amongst the champagne flutes and canapés.

My more timid ideas skitter off into dark corners where they disappear in the shadowy regions of my mind, slipping into rarely used rooms, and fading into forgetfulness. They remain holed up in their solitary bunkers until I’m standing in the shower or driving down the highway, and they emerge, confident that they will not be forced to share themselves too deeply while I am otherwise occupied.

Other ideas stay stubbornly where they are, lounging next to the piano or leaning on the bar, flatly refusing to even attempt an exit that will allow me to render them in words on the page. This lot are infuriating. Whether they are slouching with an air of being too cool for school, or disdainfully ignoring my presence, they taunt and tease me with their potential while artfully blocking my every attempt to engage them in conversation.

The rest of my thoughts and story-starters – the less timid and more enthusiastic –take one look at that blank page and plummet into a state of total chaos. All together, they make a mad dash toward the one tiny escape hatch that leads from my brain to the page. They could easily get out if they would only form a neat and orderly, single-file line; but that seems beyond them. Instead they rush about in an unruly manner, colliding into each other at the hatch, trying to fit through two and three at a time and essentially plugging things up so badly that no one gets out.

Maybe it’s my fault. It must be my fault. It is, after all, my head. I suppose I have not yet honed my hostess skills to the requisite level. I must need to get better at teasing out conversations and subtly manipulating my “guests” into doing what I want them to do. To be honest, sometimes I want to leave the party – sneak away out into the garden and just be by myself; but my thoughts follow me wherever I go. They are nothing if not persistent.

Perhaps I should just be grateful that I have so many ideas to play with, even if they aren’t as cooperative as I would like. It wouldn’t be nearly as fun, I suppose, if they were docile and well behaved. That would be boring and predictable. That would leave me completely uninspired. I’ll just have to eventually learn how to single out one idea and deftly lead that thought gently to the escape hatch and out into the wide world. Until then, I’m going to try to enjoy the ebb and flow of the party. Cheers!

_jamie sig


 Books I’m Reading:

Reunited - hooray!

Reunited – hooray!

First of all – good news: I found my original copy of If You Want to Write – A Book About Art Independence and Spirit by Brenda Ueland! Thank you to everyone who commiserated with me on the temporary loss of this old friend, and especially to those of you who went out of your way last week to suggest methods I might use to track down a suitable replacement copy. It was lovely to be among readers who understood my angst.

Happily, after eight months (ever since my daughter and I moved) of enduring the nagging thought of a misplaced book, I discovered my copy of Ueland’s fabulous tome on writing tucked into a small stack of books that I must have been reading when we moved in. I had forgotten about that stash after starting two other, more easily accessible stacks of “being read” books. I felt a little foolish, but mostly I just felt relieved and delighted. The temporary separation has made my reunion with this favorite that much sweeter, and my re-reading of it that much more enjoyable. Hurrah!

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book luka fire lifeAnother book I’m currently reading is also a re-read. I first read Salman Rushdie’s Luka and the Fire of Life to myself on my Kindle. This time around, I am reading it out loud to my daughter via the Kindle app on my iPhone. Although she gave up the routine for a while, my twelve year-old daughter is back to having me read to her at bedtime. I couldn’t be happier.

Luka and the Fire of Life is the follow-up to Haroun and the Sea of Stories. Both tales are full of magic and strange beings, adventure, discovery, and humor. Here is a brief description from Rushdie’s site:

“The adventure begins one beautiful starry night in the land of Alifbay, where a terrible thing happens: Luka’s father, Rashid, the legendary storyteller of Kahani, falls suddenly and inexplicably into a sleep so deep that nothing and no one can rouse him. To save him from slipping away entirely, Luka must embark on a journey through the world of magic with his loyal companions, Bear the dog and Dog the bear, as they encounter a slew of fantastical creatures, strange allies, and challenging obstacles along the way—all in the hopes of stealing the Fire of Life, a seemingly impossible and exceedingly treacherous task.”

I am so enjoying reading this book out loud. Rushdie’s language is made for it. His descriptions sometimes leave me gasping for breath (as in, I’ve run out of air), but they are perfect – so natural and so vivid. And, his dialog is also fabulous. It’s a joy to read it because it flows so easily off my tongue, and I can’t help but “perform” the words because of how skillfully Rushdie conveys tone, personality, and inflection.

I am sorry that my daughter is away this weekend (with friends and with her dad). I will miss journeying with Luka and his friends for the next few nights, but I know we’ll be back in the land of magic soon!

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book mystery madame mAnother book I just finished reading to my daughter is T.S. Livingston and the Mystery at Madame Molineaux’s. This is the first in a series by author Violet Selborne. I’m pretty sure I picked this up as a free download via BookBub, but I can’t say for sure. Either way, it was an enjoyable read. My daughter has already asked repeatedly whether there is a “next book” in the series yet. (There isn’t, but it seems more are planned.)

I struggled a little with grasping the era of the story. Though I know it is set in the past, I’m never quite sure how far in the past, and the dialog between the group of boarding school girls has a fairly contemporary style and tone to it. I would have liked more clues as to the temporal setting through language, clothing, customs, etc. Other than that, it was a fun story with plenty of cliff hangers (which routinely had my daughter begging for “just one more chapter”), red herrings, and spooky locations around the school. I look forward to another adventure with Maddie and Jo Livingston.

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My Favorite Blog Reads for the Week:

CRAFT

PUBLISHING & MARKETING

INSPIRATION

THE WRITING LIFE

Sundry Links and Articles:

qwerkywriterThe Qwerkywriter is completely unnecessary, but totally lust worthy. Its aluminum-metal construction, vintage-inspired key caps, and mechanical switches, it’s a retro writer’s dream keyboard. I mean, I love my Apple products, but the Qwerkywriter has undeniable style and flair. It has a vibe that is part steampunk, part techno geek, and part homage to the writers who hacked out their classics on actual, honest-to-goodness typewriters.

qwekywriter keysI have no affiliation with this company, and I have no plans to plunk down the $349 required to own one of these babies, but my writer’s heart just had to gush a little. I mean, seriously, check it out in combination with Tom Hanks’ Hanxwriter app:

Pretty cool, right?

Finally, a quote for the week:

pin conscious living

Here’s to getting your ideas out of your head and onto the page, remembering to enjoy the magic of stories, and indulging your writer’s heart in whatever way inspires and cheers you. Enjoy! 
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Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content writer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian arts, and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Introduce yourself on FacebookTwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
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Using the Law of Attraction

“When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”  –Wayne W. Dyer

I just gave a presentation on the Law of Attraction[1] last night, so I’ve been thinking, reading, and using the Law of Attraction a lot lately.

A simple definition of the Law of Attraction is: Like attracts like. The belief is if you focus your thoughts in a positive direction, positive things will happen in your life. By the same token, if you focus your thoughts in a negative direction, negative things will happen in your life.

I think the Law of Attraction is much more complex than this…and it is also just this simple.

Our brains are wired to focus on the negative as doing this gave us an evolutionary advantage. If we assumed a twig breaking behind us was a predator when we were gathering berries in the woods millennia ago, we were more likely to survive to gather berries another day.

In modern day North America, at least, focusing on the negative does not give us an advantage. It’s a hindrance because it prevents us from trying new things, meeting new people, using our creativity, and it also causes our stress levels to increase to illness-causing levels. (Some stress is healthy; constant, chronic stress causes chronic health problems.)

Fortunately, we can train our brains to focus on the positive. It’s not easy, as the brain prefers the familiar over the new, but it is possible.

The easiest way to apply the Law of Attraction is using the following two-step method:

  1. Focus on something you want: Clearly define what you want and why you want it.

As a writer, I have often said I wanted to be a published author. That’s not specific enough to be helpful.

“I want to complete my nonfiction coaching book this year,” is much more specific.

Why do I want this? I have so many reasons, but I’ll just write here that I feel passionately that the medical profession is broken and I believe I can help medical people be effective caregivers while also enjoying their work and their lives by offering them the skills and tools I’ve learned over the last fourteen years as a life coach.

  1. Do what feels good.

Another way of saying this is right out of the Law of Attraction literature: “Get aligned and take inspired action.”

If I know what I want and I have a strong, positive emotion around what I want, then the next step is whatever it occurs to me to do toward that goal that feels good.

For me, that usually means, “Write for 15 minutes,” or “Say ‘no’ to that request that will take me away from my writing.” It might also mean, “go to bed early so you can get up at dawn to write.”

“Inspired action” is usually something pretty mundane, but it always helps me move forward.

The Law of Attraction states that all good things (relationships, experiences, as well as material objects) want to come into your life, and you can become open to those good things by feeling good about whatever it is you want to manifest. By being open and feeling good, you become a creator of your reality.

If that’s a little too woo-woo for you, think of it as retraining your brain by focusing on how you will feel when you have what you want, and then practice feeling that way now. Once you feel that way, you will be more likely to get what you want.

So, fellow writer, what do you want? 

Why do you want it? 

What next step feels good to you?

[1] Law of Attraction resources: Ask and It Is Given: Learning to Manifest Your Desires, by Esther and Jerry Hicks (The Teachings of Abraham.)

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon, MD: I’m a writer, blogger, life coach, and family physician. These days I’m focusing on how much writing I get done, not how much I didn’t, and I feel a lot better about the whole process–and I think I’m a little more productive, too.

Remember to Breathe

Sometimes we get so caught up in things — good and bad — that we forget to enjoy what we’re doing.

Remember to breathe.

If deadlines start to overwhelm or you wonder how you’ll get it all done, remember to breathe.

If you find yourself caught up in a whirlwind of excitement, or despair, remember to pause, and take a breath.

Our minds can keep us so occupied that we forget that we need to take care of ourselves in order to take care of others.

Note to Self-Remember to Breathe

I’ve even found myself getting overwhelmed in my sleep sometimes – by dreams or thoughts or who knows – and I wake up clenching my jaw so tight that my teeth ache. With moments like that, it’s important to breathe.

And breathing can be literally deep breaths, focusing on each inhale and exhale.

Taking a breath could mean physically stepping away from a person, place, or situation.

A breath could mean putting your phone on silent and taking a nap.

This post is just meant as a reminder that self-care is important, and if/when you realize that you’re wound up, caught up, tied up, or buried under it all… stop… and remember to breathe.

Once you gather yourself again, move back into the fray as gently as possible, and smile. You made it. You’re fine.

Of course you may have the personality that enjoys pushing yourself and being “full out” all the time. Even then, I think there are times when you just need to hit the pause button and shake off the strings to enjoy a little “you time”.

Sometimes you may need the reminder for when you walk in a room and forget what you were heading there for!

Remember to breathe.

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.

Baby, you don’t have to be perfect.

Happy Monday, writers. Good weekend? I hope so.

I had another post planned for this morning, but then I came across this clip from the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon featuring the plucky pop singer Meghan Trainor taking an onstage dixie after performing her sexy new single, Me, Too.

I’m sharing this because it kind of melted my heart a little, and because it’s a sweet and funny reminder that, baby, you don’t have to be perfect to be loved. (Note the standing ovation Trainor receives from the audience at the end of the clip.)

My daughter and I have been fans of Trainor since her first hit single, All About that Bass. While I enjoy her sound (pop mixed with R&B and some throwback 50’s doowap vibes), what I love even more about Trainor is how she lets her real and imperfect self shine through without making it part of her schtick. This girl works hard to be as good as she is. She may not be the stereotypical pop star, but that doesn’t stop her from putting it all out there.

Did you know that she started out as a behind-the-scenes songwriter? The song that became her first massive hit (All About that Bass) was offered up to several well-established artists, but they all turned it down. Trainor decided to record it herself, and – voilá! – she was on her way.

Every artist comes up against self-doubt and has embarrassing moments that make us wish we could hit rewind and get a do-over. But you can’t let the fear of falling on your face keep you from stepping out on stage. Be brave. Be fierce. Give it your all. And if you slip or stumble, get up, brush yourself off, and get right back to work. Though there’s always the odd jackass who will point and laugh, most people will help you up and cheer you on.

The truth is, I’m rarely inspired by perfection. I’m inspired by imperfect people who know they’ve got flaws but who go out and do their thing anyway.

Rock on, Meghan. Rock on.


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PS – Tip of the hat to Mr. Fallon for handling this in the most awesome way possible.
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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. Join me each Saturday for the Weekend Edition – a long-form post on writing and the writing life – and/or introduce yourself on FacebookTwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
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Shareworthy Reading and Writing Links May 15

Dancing the Dance – in Life and in Writing

New leaves. Blue skies. A moment of springtime hope renewed.

New leaves. Blue skies. A moment of springtime hope renewed.

When artists talk about “flow,” they mean that slightly euphoric state in which the act of creation seems to happen without effort. The rest of the world falls away, and the barrier between artist and art dissolves. Ease, serendipity, and synchronicity collide in a perfect storm of inspiration that bears the touch of the muse and even an element of magic. Flow transforms work from a heavy trudge into an airy dance. Everything you do feels at once delightfully improvised and beautifully choreographed.  Things click. The stars align.

When your writing feels more like a battle than a ballet, you may find it difficult to believe that this kind of harmonious productivity exists; but it does. I promise. One way that I restore my belief in this kind of creative bliss is to practice noticing when similar moments of harmony and alignment occur in my everyday life:

  • When a parking spot opens up just as I’m pulling into the lot
  • When the Petco coupon arrives in the mail just as I’m heading out to buy kitty kibbles
  • When the chicken, potatoes, and zucchini that I’m cooking for dinner are all done at exactly the same time
  • When a client pushes a meeting out, rescuing me from what was going to be a crazy-busy day
  • When I find the exact item I was looking for at the flea market (like today’s treasure – a beautiful, early 1900s library filing cabinet made of tiger maple)

They are small things, no doubt, but they are nonetheless examples of how the universe sometimes conspires to make my day a little easier. Each one of these moments renews my faith in the possibility of stumbling into a state of “flow” – both in life, and also in my creative work. Though it may not happen as frequently as I’d like, it’s nice to know the potential is always there.

_jamie sig


 What I’m Reading:

The Whisper by Pamela Zagarenski and my elder kitty, Bella.

The Whisper by Pamela Zagarenski and my elder kitty, Bella.

Today, a favorite from my picture book collection – The Whisper (Amazon affiliate link), written and illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski. I first came across Zagarenski’s artwork in a small boutique somewhere along the coast of Maine. I fell instantly in love with her work, which is at once whimsical and mystical. I bought a collection of cards, each one seeming to be telling an entire story in a single image. (I still have the cards; I’ve never been able to part with them.)

I have several other books illustrated by Zagarenski including a couple poetry collections and the beautiful Sleep Like a Tiger, but I wanted to share The Whisper because it holds special relevance for storytellers. In the book, a teacher loans a magical book to a little girl who loves stories. The little girl takes the book home only to discover that the words have fallen out of the book and the pages are filled only with beautiful pictures, but no stories. But, then she hears a whisper,

“Dear little girl, don’t be disappointed.

You can imagine the words.

You can imagine the stories.

Start with a few simple words and imagine from there.

Remember: beginnings, middles and ends of stories can always be changed and imagined differently. There are never any rules, rights, or wrongs in imagining – imagining just is.”

The rest of the book features beautiful, double-page spreads of Zagarenski’s gorgeous artwork and the opening lines of possible stories. The first one is called Blue Bear’s Visit and begins, “Blue Bear arrives on the first day of spring. He promised …”  And then the reader is left to fill in the rest of the story.

This is a perfect book for any emerging storyteller – young or old. You can’t help but be inspired by the imagery and cast of characters who roam the beautiful landscapes in Zagarenski’s visions. Just gorgeous.

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My Favorite Blog Reads for the Week:

CRAFT

PUBLISHING & MARKETING

INSPIRATION

THE WRITING LIFE

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Sundry Links and Articles:

Speaking of art that might inspire stories, I wanted to also share a recent series of charming pieces by Jamie Ridler. I’ve been following Jamie for years on social media, and we’ve talked once or twice via Skype. She does wonderful work around building a creative life, and I just fell in love with this latest collection of pieces called Wonderfill Forest. (Even the name is fabulous!)

A piece from Jamie Ridler's "Wonderfill Forest" series

A piece from Jamie Ridler’s “Wonderfill Forest” series

Aren’t they so evocative? I feel like there’s such an undercurrent of mystery and magic at play in these images.

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Finally, a quote for the week:

pin flow

Here’s to Sunday afternoons, art that inspired stories, and the possibility of finding artistic flow when you least expect it. 
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Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content writer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian arts, and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Introduce yourself on FacebookTwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
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Get Out of Your Head

A couple of weeks ago, I went to my improvisation (improv) class as usual. I’d been having a lot of fun with the class and looked forward to it every week. This particular class started with a warm-up that had one person giving another person a character to act out. Each of these character acts lasted less than a minute and then the warm up game continued until another person was told to act out another character.

I did not know the first three characters assigned. Luckily, they were not assigned to me. I think they were all pop culture references but I’m not really sure.

Finally, someone referenced Margaret Thatcher and I thought, “I know her!” (I don’t really know Margaret Thatcher, nor will I, as she died in 2013, but I certainly knew of her.)

We moved on to another warm-up game and then the rest of the class, which involved creating and editing scenes.

I felt off the whole class. I was hesitant to jump into scenes and I was hesitant to edit scenes, things I normally do pretty well, in my humble opinion.

Later on, driving home, I thought about why I hadn’t had my usual fun with the class. It was only then that I recognized how “in my head” I’d been all class. Not knowing the character references at the beginning of class made me question myself. I became self-conscious and second-guessed myself for the rest of the class.

Being “in your head” doesn’t allow great improv to happen.

Being “in your head” doesn’t allow great writing—or even good writing—to happen, either.

Writing is such an intellectual pursuit, but it happens best, I believe, when we can let go of all our self-consciousness and let the words flow. There will be plenty of time to edit later, and no one will see what you’ve written until you show it to them.

So I wondered what was so different about that particular improv class? Why did I get so “in my head” when I haven’t been before?

Because I didn’t know the answer to the questions. Nobody asked me the questions, but it might have been better if they had. If I’d been told to act as a certain character, I’d have had to make something up (it is improv, after all,) and I’d have realized I didn’t need to know who these people were in order to create a character.

As it was, I watched other people create characters I didn’t know and I got anxious I’d be asked something I didn’t know. What would people think if I didn’t know what they knew? That anxiety continued throughout the class.

The same thing happens sometimes when I sit down to write.

If I’m worried about making a mistake or what “the experts” will think of what I write, I write less and I write less well. My writing is stilted and boring.

The following week I took another improv class and I’m happy to report I wasn’t “in my head” at all. I had a great time and I vaguely remember hearing some laughs from the audience (my classmates.) That’s what improv is all about.

Now I have another metaphor for good writing—improvise! Don’t get in my head, just sit down and see what comes. Don’t think too much and definitely don’t think about what others are thinking about me.

Do you have a useful metaphor for good writing?

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon: is a writer, blogger, master life coach,  family physician, and student of improv.  To find out more about improv, check out ImprovBoston.