Wildly Improbable and Wildly Inspiring Goals for 2016

 

Once again, I’m going to start writing my list of goals for 2016 by thinking about how I want to feel about my writing this year. Once I decide how I want to feel, I’ll try to identify the thoughts I need to think in order to feel that way.

Last year, I wanted to feel enthusiastic, motivated, and confident about my writing. I decided I needed to think thoughts like: Slow and steady wins the race, and little and often in order to feel these feelings.

When I look back at the past year, I can see how that thinking helped move me forward. I didn’t accomplish some of my goals for last year (some of them really were Wildly Improbable!) but I did develop a habit of writing more, and more often. I didn’t realize it until I looked back at the entire year and re-read my post from this time last year.

This year, I am determined to move forward in my writing. Determined seems like a good feeling for 2016. Also: joyful and easy. Joyful, as I really do find joy in writing, but I can sometimes berate myself into feeling like sitting at my desk to write is a prison sentence. It’s not; it’s a privilege. Add the joy back and I can remember that fact more easily. Easy, because I have created habits that make writing every day easier and I want to continue that trend.

So what do I need to think in order to feel determined, joyful, and easy about my writing life and my writing goals?

I need to think: I got this, and, Just write for a few minutes, see what happens. I also plan to ask myself this question every morning: What would make it easy for me to get some writing done today?

Here are my writing WIGs for 2016: 

  1. Blog regularly for my blogs and for NHWN.
  2. Write a short story and submit to Level Best Books.
  3. Submit an entry to the 24-hour short story contest as least once this year.
  4. Contribute to my critique group (with my writing and my critiques) thoughtfully and consistently.
  5. Complete a draft of my nonfiction book.
  6. Host 2 writing retreats in 2016.
  7. Go on a writing retreat in 2016 (other than those I host.)
  8. Write 250 words 5 days a week.
  9. Write a love letter once a month.
  10. Create a cartoon for fun.

I’ve left out a few concrete goals, such as “Win NaNo,” to focus on developing a daily writing habit, which will serve me better in the long run. While these goals are not easy, I’m hopeful I can achieve most of them this year. I’m determined!

What are your writing goals for 2016?

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon is a writer, blogger, master life coach, and family physician. I love New Years and new goals! You?

Sunday Shareworthy Reading and Writing Links and Sundry

It’s the dead of winter here. The threat of snow looms on the horizon of each new day and hovers around the cold moon at night. The wind has been working itself into a frenzy, sending empty trash barrels rattling down the street and causing tree boughs to sigh and moan in a melancholy chorus that’s punctuated by the cries our resident crows.

It’s perfect reading weather.

This past week I enjoyed two books – one fiction and one non-fiction – as well as my usual helping of fantastic essays and articles across the blogosphere. All the links and details are below. I hope you enjoy perusing this week’s selection of shareworthy bits and pieces.

Happy reading & happy writing!

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book the curiosityI scored a free ARC (Advanced Reader’s Copy) of The Curiosity by Stephen P. Kiernan a couple years ago when a Newburyport bookstore was purging its inventory. (I’ve never been one to pass up free books!) It sat on my shelves all this time until it was suddenly the right time for me to read it. (Isn’t it funny how you know when it’s time to read a certain book?)

The back of the ARC billed the book as “Michael Crichton meets The Time Traveler’s Wife.” I’m not terribly familiar with either point of comparison, but I know enough to understand the intended meaning – it’s a page-turner with emotions – and I agree. The premise, as featured on the publisher’s website, goes like this:

Dr. Kate Philo and her scientific exploration team make a breathtaking discovery in the Arctic: the body of a man buried deep in the ice. Remarkably, the frozen man is brought back to the lab and successfully reanimated. As the man begins to regain his memories, the team learns that he was—is—a judge, Jeremiah Rice, and the last thing he remembers is falling overboard into the Arctic Ocean in 1906.

Thrown together by circumstances beyond their control, Kate and Jeremiah grow closer. But the clock is ticking and Jeremiah’s new life is slipping away…and all too soon, Kate must decide how far she is willing to go to protect the man she has come to love.

Interesting, right? The story is told in alternating points of view: Dr. Kate, a slightly seedy journalist covering the story, the egomaniac funding the project, and – eventually – the frozen man himself. I was impressed with Kiernan’s ability to shift so effectively between the four voices which, between them, covered both genders, multiple age groups, very different personalities, and a couple different eras. I also found it so interesting that Kiernan chose to use the second person for the sections narrated by the egomaniac. That’s not something you see everyday.

The story was fast paced but well written. I kind of knew where it was heading, but even so I stayed engaged and interested, right up to the end.


 

book dillard writing lifeI’ve heard Annie Dillard‘s name many times, but until now I’d never read her work. I picked up The Writing Life, a collection of short essays on the experience of writing, from my local library on a whim. I found it by turns inspiring and infuriating. I gobbled it up in only a couple sittings. (It’s short.) Parts of it made me whisper “Yes!” under my breath, other parts made me want to give up writing altogether (either because Dillard’s prose was so beautiful or because she makes being a writer sound like a journey through all seven circles of hell), other parts made me cringe as I caught a whiff of the elitist literati and pretentious “artiste.” I finished the book feeling confused and conflicted – drawn in, and yet repelled. I already want to pick it up and reread certain sections, but it’s not a book that feels like an old friend.

That said, it’s definitely worth a read. Whether  you can relate to Dillard’s experience of writing in full or only in part, it will make you feel something and it will make you think to ask yourself questions that hadn’t occurred to you before. And, I must admit that Dillard’s own description of the book on her site as “… an embarrassing nonfiction narrative fixed somewhat and republished by Harper Perennial …” endeared me to the author.


And here are my favorite blog posts and articles from this week:

.

And here’s  a little inspiration: 

pin write anything cs lewis

Happy reading. Happy writing. Happy staying warm and cozy for those of you who are also in winter’s thrall. 
.15 Inspiring Writing Podcasts to Subscribe to Right Now
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 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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Weekend Edition – 5 Questions to Ask When You Don’t Know What to Write

How to Figure Out What [You Really Want] to Write:

mary oliver wild lifeWhen I first saw the movie Contact, I was deeply envious of Jodie Foster’s character, the dedicated and driven astronomer, Dr. Ellie Arroway. Her single-minded pursuit of the truth about extraterrestrial life impressed the hell out of me. She was on a mission, a quest. She wasn’t going to let anything stand in her way. She believed in something, and that belief shaped every detail of who she was and how she lived her life. Because she was sure about what she was doing, she was able to throw herself into the work without reservations or doubts. Her approach was a full-court press that channeled all her energy and effort into achieving a single goal.

I would like to know what that feels like.

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So far, my writing journey has been more pantsed than plotted. I know I love to write, but beyond that I don’t have much of a plan. This year marks the passage of four decades since I penned my first journal entry at the age of seven. Over those forty years, I have continued to practice and study writing. I have read innumerable stories, novels, and craft books. I have published hundreds of blog posts, written dozens of columns, and developed certain “marcom” (marketing and communications) writing skills enough that I now earn my living with words.

This is all good, but it’s not enough.

It’s trite but true that life is short. We only have so much time to create, and we never know when the sands in the hourglass will run out. It might be a little morbid, but I want to use my time wisely. The question is, what does time spent wisely look like … for me? What do I really want to write?

It’s an important question.

Each artist – writer, painter, dancer, etc. – creates because there’s something specific he or she wants to express. Whether we are writing poems or stories or novels, we writers write because have something to say. Sometimes, we know exactly what that something is, but other times we’re just sort of feeling our way in the dark, discovering as we go. While there’s nothing wrong with letting personal and artistic themes emerge organically over time, there is something to be said for honing in on your creative purpose – your “Writing Why” – so that you can craft your work more intentionally around that purpose.

As I’ve written before, clarity of purpose focuses your writing energy and effort:

It illuminates the ultimate reason you’re driven to write a thing and it helps you make critical decisions about what to include and what to leave out. Clarity is like a pair of enchanted glasses that filters out everything extraneous so you can hone in on exactly the things you need to tell your story. When you have clarity about your writing, you know what you want to say and you know how you want to say it. Writer’s Block becomes a thing of the past.

Study any artist’s body of work, and you will find recurring themes and “throughlines” that define and shape the work – certain ideas, beliefs, and questions. Writers often tell the same story over and over under different guises. A painter might paint the same subject hundreds of times – a sunset, a woman, a city. A musician might write song after song about the same experience. A poet might build an entire body of work writing about a single emotion.

In each of these cases, the artist has discovered and is exploring the Why behind the creative urge. Like Dr. Arroway searching the Universe for signs of life, the artist plumbs the depths of experience for meaning and connection.

··• )o( •··

I’ve written several posts about why we write, but they have mostly considered the question conceptually rather than tactically, universally rather than personally. I’ve looked at the subject from 30,000 feet up, but I haven’t yet put my feet on the ground so I can start digging in the dirt to unearth my specific reasons for writing. Up to this point, I’ve been content to meander along random paths; but lately I’m feeling a need to articulate my Writing Why in more concrete terms. I want to understand more about where I’m going and what I want to accomplish so that I can narrow down my choices and spend my time wisely.

To that end, I’ve put together an initial list of questions that I hope will help me better understand the reasons I write, and that – ultimately – will make me a better writer by focusing my attention and creativity around a cohesive and meaningful purpose. I realize that this is just a “starter list” and that I will likely need to add to it as I experiment with the process. I also realize that my reason for writing may evolve over time, changing in response to my life experiences. That’s all okay. At least this gives me a place to begin mapping out where I am and where I’m going. I can figure out the rest later.

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Question 1: What do you love?

This is where most people start and end their search for their purpose. They ask themselves, “What’s my passion?” or “What am I passionate about?” Answering this question will never give you a complete understanding of why you write, but it’s as good a place as any to start exploring your motivations. Here are a few sub-questions to help kickstart your brainstorming process:

  • What are you most curious about?
  • What makes your heart leap with joy?
  • What makes you cry?
  • What makes you angry?
  • Are there topics that you return to again and again in your writing?
  • What do you collect?
  • What are your favorite things/memories/dreams?
  • Which are your favorite stories and books? (Bonus Question: Can you articulate WHY they are your favorites?)

Question 2: Who do you love?

We are often told to write for ourselves; don’t worry about anyone else, just write for you. While there is some merit to this advice (we should write from the heart and not be swayed by popular culture or the influences of our family and friends), if you write to be read you are writing to connect with other people. More specifically, you write to connect with a certain type of person. Marketers sometimes refer to an author’s “audience” or “tribe.” Whoever your people are, it’s important that you know who they are and what moves you to want to connect with them. Think about the following questions to help you get a clearer picture of just who you hope will read your writing.

  • Who do I love to spend my time with?
  • Who are your idols? Why are they your idols?
  • If you had to imagine your audience as one person, who would that person be? Who do you picture reading your work?
  • What attributes best describe your ideal reader? (Think about demographic attributes like age, gender, lifestyle, etc.; but also think about their personalities, philosophies, interests, and beliefs.)
  • Which people are not your people? (Sometimes it’s very helpful to find your “yes” by clearly defining your “no.”)

Question 3: What do you want to say?

This can be a tricky question. On the surface, it seems simple; but I can almost guarantee that once you start digging in, you’ll find it’s much more complex than you imagined. The best way to tackle this question is to keep asking it over and over, and each time you answer it ask yourself why you gave that answer. Be that annoying five year-old who never stops asking, “But, why?” Our off-the-cuff answers to this question are usually fluff. They are what we think we should say or a rehashing of what we’ve heard someone else say. That’s not it. Dig deeper. Ask again. Come at the question from different angles:

  • What do I wish I could teach the world?
  • What do I want to illuminate for people?
  • What do I see that others seem to be missing?
  • What questions do I want to ask?
  • Who or what needs a voice in this world?
  • What misconception or wrong assumption do I wish I could right?
  • What do I believe?

Question 4: What do you want to do?

If you are writing for an audience, you want to elicit a certain response. You want to touch their hearts or minds in some way. More to the point, you want to make them FEEL something. So – what is it that you want them to feel? Think about Maya Angelou’s words, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” How many stories or books have you read that stay with you more as a feeling than a memory of actual characters or events? The way a piece of writing makes us feel is its essence. So …

  • How do you want to make people feel?
  • How do you want to change their perspective?
  • How do you want to change how they feel about themselves, life, their dreams?

Question 5: What do you want your writing life to look like?

Finally, reel yourself in from the conceptual and philosophical explorations and spend some time thinking about the Real World aspects of your writing life. What kind of writer do you want to be? What kind of writing do you want to do? Visualize your ideal writing life: What time do you get up in the morning? Where and when do you write? How do you publish? Do you travel? Do you work solo, or collaborate with other writers? Are you autonomous or do you work for hire? What does your perfect writing life feel like? The questions are endless here, but let’s start with a few basics:

  • Do you want to be a storyteller or a Writer – commercial or literary?
  • Do you want to be a generalist or a specialist?
  • How much money do you want to make? (Be specific.)
  • Are you in it for fame?
  • Who do you want to impress?
  • Do you just want to be heard?
  • How do you define happiness?
  • How do you define freedom?
  • What does your ideal day look like?
  • What do you really need? (vs. what you assume you need)
  • When do you feel fulfilled artistically? Emotionally? Spiritually?

This is a long list of questions, I know. But, aren’t they fascinating? Don’t they make you wonder about how you might answer them and what those answers might tell you about yourself and your drive to write? It’s a process to uncover your Writing Why, but it’s a process that’s well worth the effort. The return on your investment of time and toil is a stronger sense of what makes you unique, what inspires you, and what you really want to offer the world – what you really want to write.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about this question of your Writing Why and the process of trying to discover it. Please drop a note in the comments if there’s a story or idea you’d like to share. And, if you’d like to also share a few quick opinions, here’s a brief poll:

Thanks & happy writing to you! 

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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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Winter Stories

I love a good story well told. I’m not a snob about my channel of entry. I read. I go to a lot of plays. I occasionally (very occasionally as I get older) go to the movies. And I watch television.

A few short years ago, admitting to watching television was not something I could admit freely in some circles. But these days? These days television is the place to be. Wonderful original series that need to be told on television (or streaming). Complicated narrative arcs. Terrific production values.

Since there is snow in the offing, I thought I’d share a few of my favorite series that are fun diversions for your consideration. Just in case you can’t leave the house for a few days.

Slings and Arrows. This isn’t a new series, but it is a perennial favorite of mine. Three seasons of six episodes each. It takes place in a Canadian Shakespearean theater company. Smart, funny, and a little too true if you work in the arts. Amazon’s Mozart in the Jungle has the same “inside” vibe, but for classical music.

The Worricker Trilogy. Usually if I miss something on television, I at least know I missed it. Finding this trilogy, written by David Hare, was a lucky find New Year’s Eve. Bill Nighy is wonderful, the cast is amazing, and the entire series gave me a lot to think about.

Have I mentioned that I love Marvel? If not, I’m outing myself. I’m a Captain America girl. I also enjoy the television series. The short runs Agent Carter, Daredevil, Jessica Jones, are particular favorites.

Longmire is a great series, and the move to Netflix was good for it.

While I enjoy these series as a viewer, I also admire them as a writer. Each episode tells a story, and chips away at a larger story that the season supports. There aren’t wasted episodes. Since I am writing a mystery series, I study how this is done.

At least that’s the excuse I use while I am binge watching.

Any series suggestions for these long winter nights?

******************

As Julianne Holmes, Julie writes the Clock Shop Mystery series. Just Killing Time came out in October. Clock and Dagger will come out in August.

 

Enough

I’ve written in the past about using Susannah Conway’s workbook “Unraveling the Year”. Last year, my word was Practice, my intention was to commit to a writing practice. I got off to slow start but I DID it!  Then came December, all bets were off, thankfully, I have picked it up again in January.

I flamed out at the end of 2015 (thus the drop off writing in December). The last quarter was non-stop and I did no one any favors by continuing to say “yes” and ignoring what my body was telling me.

2016 WILL be different.

Thankfully, 2016 is already different. My word for 2016 is: enough.

I am enough.

I have enough on my plate. I can’t take on anything else until something is taken away. Preferably several things are taken away.  I have to scale back. I can’t go through another quarter like Q4 2015. The challenge for me is figuring out WHERE to cut back on existing commitments and WHEN to say no to new commitments.

When I saw this post on Facebook from Jen Hatmaker, I almost cried. Don’t read too far into the comments, they go sideways pretty quickly, but Jen does respond and mentions Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKewon. I’m reading this slowly so it really sticks, but so far, I’m really loving this book. It’s just what I need right now.  I’m pretty sure there will be a blog post from me on the book down the road.

So far, I’ve stepped down from an existing commitment and turned down new work. Not gonna lie, both were hard to do. The existing commitment was something I care deeply about and I would have been a really good fit for the consulting position. I just keep reminding myself “I am enough.” and honestly, after the initial shock wore off, saying no to both was incredibly empowering and uplifting.

Determining what is essential to my life is still a work in progress, but writing is without a doubt essential to my life and it is my hope by eliminating the truly unessential, I’ll make more time for writing. My goal is progress, not perfection. I’m close to finishing the roughest of rough drafts of my work-in-progress. I have another DIY writing retreat scheduled for this weekend and my goal is to pitch this story at a conference scheduled for October. To make that a reality I have many hours of revision ahead of me but, at the same time, I’m trying not to get too far ahead of myself.

I start everyday reminding myself, I am enough.

Did you pick a word for 2016?

How do you determine what is essential to your life?

Haven’t set your goals for 2016 yet? If not, you aren’t too late, you are right on time.


Lee Laughlin is a writer, marketer, social media consumer and producer, wife, and mom, frequently all of those things at once. She blogs at Livefearlesslee.com. She writes for the Concord Monitor and 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, Part Two – Massive Catch Up on Writing and Reading Picks

Hello, fellow writers. Happy Sunday!

Regular readers of the Weekend Edition may have noticed that my last few Saturday posts have been missing their second half – the overview of what I’ve been reading, what I’ve been writing, great blog posts from around the web, and other miscellaneous “shareworthy” items. Today, I bring you a massive catch up on all the linky goodness that I’ve been collecting since before the holidays.

Ready? Let’s do this.

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BOOKS I’VE READ RECENTLY:

bella and booksThe Christmas holiday afforded me the luxury of several long afternoons of quiet solitude, so – of course – I took the opportunity to indulge in a good, old-fashioned reading binge. I felt like a kid – curled happily on my couch with my cats, a mug of tea, and a pile of library books. What could be better?

 

.book king on writingI began my armchair journey with a book that has been on my To Read list for a very long time: Stephen King’s memoir on the craft, On Writing. I know, I know – what took me so long? I have no good excuse. Although I have huge respect for King, I’ve never been a fan of his books because – quite frankly – they are too scary for me. (I tried reading It when I was a teen, and wound up with such terrible nightmares that I not only had to stop reading, I had to remove the book from the house.)

Now that I’ve finally read On Writing, I recommend it wholeheartedly. King’s advice is excellent, and his tone is a perfect mix of pragmatism and encouragement. He manages to be the voice of experience and reason without being at all pretentious or pedantic. In fact, the entire book is so damn readable that I found myself staying up quite late into the evening, reading.

I do still take some issue with King’s opinion on plotting. He calls himself a “situational” writer – someone who takes a character, puts him or her in a situation, and then stands back to see what happens next. While I agree that the “what it?” approach is an excellent way to start a story, I can’t quite bring myself to abandon the idea of story structure in favor of discovery writing. Though King may be able to craft stories without the aid of an outline or other planning device, I think this is mostly due to his innate sense of story.

Despite our differences on that point, I not only found this book extremely valuable, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it – cover-to-cover.


 

book byatt storiesNext up was a collection of stories by A.S. Byatt called Little Black Book of Stories. This was my first time reading Byatt, who is probably best known for her novel, Possession. The spine of the book caught my eye as I was wandering through the fiction section of my library – a gothic-style cover with gold leaf embellishments and a rather mysterious air about it.

The stories contained within sparkle darkly with images and ideas that have stayed with me. Though each tale is unique from the others, together they weave a sense that there is more to the world than meets the eye. They manage to create this feeling without compromising the feeling that Byatt’s characters are as real as you or me. And, of course, the language is beautiful. I will definitely be seeking out more of this author’s work.


 

book thirteen orphansAfter such a serious and dark read, I switched gears to something lighter. Thirteen Orphans by Jane Lindskold is another book that called to me from the library shelves. I had to stand on tip-toe to reach it, and was immediately intrigued the minute I read Charles deLint’s glowing cover blurb.

From the Goodreads synopsis: “When that world’s Emperor was overthrown, the Thirteen Orphans fled to our earth and hid their magic system in the game of mah-jong. Each Orphan represents an animal from the Chinese Zodiac. Brenda’s father is the Rat. And her polished, former child-star aunt, Pearl—that eminent lady is the Tiger.

Only a handful of Orphans remain to stand against their enemies. The Tiger, the Rooster, the Dog, the Rabbit . . . and Brenda Morris. Not quite the Rat, but not quite human either.”

I was nearly two-thirds of the way through this book before similarities in writing style and plot made me realize that I’d read another book by Lindskold, Changer. I liked Thirteen Orphans better than Changer. I found it easier to identify with the Orphans characters and their plight, and I also found the entire team of “good guys” quite likable. There’s a good chance that I’ll eventually read the other books in this series. I’d like to see Aunt Pearl kick some more ass.


 

book valour vanityMy last holiday read was Valour and Vanity, the fourth novel in Mary Robinette Kowal’s Glamourist Histories series. This was the first time I’ve read one of Kowal’s novels, though I’ve been a huge fan of her for ages because of her work on the best-ever writing podcast, Writing Excuses.

In the promotional blurbs, Valour and Vanity is described as “a magical adventure that might result if Jane Austen wrote Ocean’s Eleven.” The setting is a historically accurate Regency setting except for one, small detail – magic is real, in the form of “glamour.” Valour and Vanity is a heist novel that involves deception on many levels and two teams of conspirators who play out their game in the city of Murano, Italy. This was an entertaining and well-written read that was perfect for a quiet winter afternoon.


 

book magician kingWith the holiday break behind us, I have less time to devote to long reading sessions, so I’m re-reading (via audio book) the second book in Lev Grossman’s magicians trilogy. I had forgotten just how much I love these book. I love the way Grossman combines magic and other worlds with a modern sensibility that’s full of sharp wit, cynicism, and a delightful sense of sarcasm.

I’m re-reading this one in preparation for reading the final installment of the trilogy, The Magician’s Land. I borrowed it from the library earlier this week, and am just itching to crack it open.

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BLOG POSTS WORTH SHARING

While being bumped out of my usual routine temporarily handicapped my blog consumption, I think I’m pretty much all caught up now. Thank goodness many bloggers slowed things down a bit over the holidays, or I’d probably still be digging my way out!

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OTHER SHAREWORTHY ITEMS

NYPL images

Awesome New Image Collection 

A Mother Jones post tipped me off on the fact that the New York Public Library recently made 180,000 digital images available for free. This is great news for bloggers who are always looking for interesting and unique images that don’t smack of stock photography.

You can access the images via the NYPL’s website, and here is a post about their public domain collections. These images are available, “No permission required. No restrictions on use.” Wheeeee!!!


 

Sound Apps to Keep You Focused on Your Writing

A couple years ago I discovered a nifty little app called Coffitivity, an elegantly simple, scientifically inspired, and oh-so-fun online app that streams a soundtrack of ambient coffee shop sounds through your computer speakers. If you like, you can mix the Coffitivity soundtrack with the music stream of your choice. I use the app quite frequently, mostly when my daughter is home and work requires that I  block out distracting noises.

I recently came across a similar app called brain.fm. According to their website, brain.fm “converts auditory neuroscience into personalized brainwave training programs” that help you focus, relax, and sleep. Unlike Coffitivity, there isn’t a long-term free version of the app. You can, however, do a free trial that allows you something like seven listening sessions to try out the different sounds. I have only tried one of the “focus” sounds, but the concept of soundscapes scientifically optimized to induce particular mind states is pretty fascinating. Worth a try.


 

The 10th Annual Short Story Challenge

short story challenge

I’ve thought about participating in the Short Story Challenge before, but have never managed to take the plunge. Maybe, though, 2016 is the year. Per the website, this is how it works:

The 10th Annual Short Story Challenge is a creative writing competition open to writers around the world.  There are 3 rounds of competition.  In the 1st Round (January 22-30, 2016), writers are placed randomly in heats and are assigned a genre, subject, and character assignment.  Writers have 8 days to write an original story no longer than 2,500 words.  The judges choose a top 5 in each heat to advance to the 2nd Round (March 17-20, 2016) where writers receive new assignments, only this time they have just 3 days to write a 2,000 word (maximum) short story.  Judges choose finalists from the 2nd Round to advance to the 3rd and final round of the competition where writers are challenged to write a 1,500 word (maximum) story in just 24 hours (April 29-30, 2016).  A panel of judges review the final round stories and overall winners are selected.  Sound like fun?  Join the competition below and get ready for January 22nd!

Sound like fun? The deadline to register is January 21st, and the entry fee is $45. Even if you don’t enter, you can read winning stories from past competitions on the website.

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Finally, a great quote from Mr. Alan Rickman, another wonderful artist whom we lost this past week. For millions around the world, he will always be Professor Snape, but his body of work and his depth of compassion for humanity extends far beyond that single role. He understood the importance of art and of stories.

pin alan rickman

Thanks for sharing part of your weekend with me. Happy reading, happy writing, happy exploring and creating. 

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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 – What would Bowie do?

charlie brown david bowie

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My daughter knew him as the Goblin King, but to countless fans around the world and across generations, he was so much more. Since Monday morning’s announcement of his passing, the Internet has been abuzz with lamentations for, tributes to, and a veritable flood of shared memories about David Bowie – the man who fell to earth.

I have spent more time than may be appropriate consuming these digital sound bytes in great gulps, trying to come to terms with the loss of a beloved artist and the feelings that loss has stirred in me. It is disorienting to feel such a genuine sense of sorrow over the death of someone I never met. Bowie was, after all and despite appearances, just another human being. But great artists change us. We are moved by their work and fooled, because we have access to their public personas, into believing in an illusion of intimacy. We weave their personalities and their art into the fabric of our lives, tying their threads to ours with inextricable knots.

For the alienated and the disenfranchised, the prosecuted and the lonely, Bowie was a kind of savior – a beautifully vulnerable yet rebellious demigod of originality and self-expression. Over the course of this past week, I have read dozens of heartfelt stories from grieving fans who relate how Bowie and his music made them feel less alone and inspired them to embrace their weirdness, despite the world telling them they were freaks.

I don’t have a story like that. I can’t lay claim to a moment of teenage epiphany while listening to Space Oddity or Ziggy Stardust. I never wrestled with issues of gender, and my tussles with sexuality were your garden variety coming-of-age affairs. And yet, Bowie was still an important and persistent presence in my life. His music was a linchpin of my personal soundtrack, and his larger-than-life persona was a staple of the room-sized collages that adorned my bedroom door, bulletin board, and eventually the cinderblock walls of my college dorm.

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Great artists – writers, musicians, actors, painters – touch our hearts with their work. They become a proxy for our feelings, saying the things we are afraid to say, don’t know how to say, or aren’t even aware we need to say. This ability to capture and convey human emotions in a story, a song, a performance, or a painting is the closest thing to magic we humans have discovered. The transference of experience and emotion is a powerful tool for discovery and connection. Perhaps the most powerful tool.

But, if we go beyond our experience of great art – if we get a little meta (because that’s where my musings about David Bowie have brought me) – we find that there is something very moving about  the creative act itself.

Bowie was fascinating. He was an enigma, a rebel, an otherworldly force of nature. But, that wasn’t what drew me into his orbit and kept me there for all these decades. Yes, I loved his music and appreciated the message of the lyrics he wrote, but there was something else that went deeper than that. I’m only just now beginning to realize that the something else was the spirit in which he made his art – his creative drive and integrity, his insatiable curiosity, his courage and his commitment, and – not any less important – his sense of play and mischief.

Even more than the overt messages of his songs or the outlandish flair of his stage personas, my artist’s heart responded to the way he threw himself into his creations, the way he believed unwaveringly in the importance and value of what he was doing, the way he never gave up.

And, his road wasn’t easy.

Earlier this week, I watched a documentary about his very early years and learned just how hard Bowie had to work to develop into the artist he became. His earliest albums were wildly erratic explorations of strange territories, many of them very dark. He tried so many different styles, experimenting his way to becoming David Bowie. And with each step he pushed against personal, professional, and cultural boundaries in order to create the art he wanted to create because he believed it mattered.

That’s what makes my throat tighten and brings a tear to my eye – his faith in himself as an artist and his belief that the art – his art – mattered. How many people have that? How many people give themselves permission to create at all, never mind giving themselves carte blanche to create without constraint – to put it all out there, to be outrageous and beautiful, to ask the hard questions, to dive into the darkness, and yet – at the end of the day – to still be amazed that people take any of it seriously?

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I never needed Bowie to be my champion as an isolated or abandoned youth. I didn’t need him to tell me it was okay to be different. What I needed, though I didn’t know it, was someone to show me what it looks like to have faith in your art.

I’ve been mourning Bowie’s death because we lost a one-of-a-kind artist, but there’s more to it than that. As fans, ours is not the deep heartbreak of Bowie’s friends and family; but our grief is no less real. We may not have known the man – David Jones – personally, but he was a part of our lives nonetheless. When he died, a little piece of me died, too. My connection to my past became a little more tenuous. The reality of my own death became a little more concrete. As a friend of mine said on Monday, “It was only today that I realized he was mortal.”

And so, we come to the heart of the matter.

As human beings, we routinely forget that we are mortal. We grant ourselves a kind of immortality born of denial. We have time, we think. We have tomorrow. But then we lose someone like David Bowie, an artist who touched our lives deeply and who seemed to exist outside of the limitations of mortality, and we are reminded how little time we actually have, how fragile we really are.

As artists, this realization is terrifying; but it’s also a wake-up call. If I am honest with myself, I have to admit that my mourning for Bowie is tangled up with gut-twisting feelings of regret and remorse for the time I’ve lost. The dark side of my admiration of his commitment to his art is the cruel comparison to my own creative shortcomings – all the times I’ve failed to follow his example, instead choosing the safe and comfortable path.

There will never be another Bowie, but each of us can learn from him. Bowie taught us many things about how to create art and how to live a creative life. Now, it’s up to us. You don’t have to be a rock star. You don’t have to be outrageous or famous. You just have to be the artist you already are. You have to embrace your own creative spark and spirit and find the courage to share that with the world.

Times columnist Caitlin Moran may have put it best,

When in doubt, listen to David Bowie. In 1968, Bowie was a gay, ginger, bonk-eyed, snaggle-toothed freak walking around south London in a dress, being shouted at by thugs. Four years later, he was still exactly that – but everyone else wanted to be like him, too. If David Bowie can make being David Bowie cool, you can make being you cool. PLUS, unlike David Bowie, you get to listen to David Bowie for inspiration. So, you’re already one up on him, really. YOU’RE ALREADY ONE AHEAD OF DAVID BOWIE.

Fans, critics, and even the people who were closest to him are calling Blackstar Bowie’s parting gift, but I think Bowie’s true parting gift is so much bigger. Teaching by example, he gave us an inspiring blueprint for how to believe in and commit to our own art. He didn’t hold back, and he never stopped creating. He remained eternally curious and enthusiastic. He experimented, collaborated, and played. And, perhaps most importantly, he embodied a steadfast belief in the intrinsic value of art and of the creative process.

What would Bowie do? No matter what, Bowie would make art. Thank you, Mr. Jones, for setting the example. Thank you.

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Jamie Lee Wallace David Bowie fan, evolving writer, and creative human being. Introduce yourself on Facebooktwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
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