Weekend Edition – On the Challenge of Starting and Why It’s So Hard

Finding a Place to Start – Why Is It So Hard?

"There's a light that never goes out." by @alijardine on Instagram (Love her work!)

“There’s a light that never goes out.” by @alijardine on Instagram (Love her work!)

I’m chuckling to myself as I sit at my keyboard, struggling to find the right way to begin a post about the difficulties of starting. The situation is so “meta”… isn’t that what they say nowadays?

Starting is scary. It’s a line to cross, a leap to take, and it’s a chance to screw up.

Starting is the point at which you have to choose between remaining ensconced in the comfort and perceived safety of the status quo and putting your tender heart and ego in harm’s way by starting something that might reveal your desires and expose your shortcomings.

Even starting something in secret takes a monumental effort. Secrecy might shield you from the judgment of others, but it doesn’t protect you from the harsh indictments of your inner critic.

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We have many defenses against starting. Steven Pressfield collects all our creative variations on avoidance under the umbrella label, “Resistance.” This is the perfect word to describe the feeling of being pushed and pulled away from whatever you’re trying to start. Resistance can feel like you’re simultaneously being pushed back by an impenetrable force field and pulled back invisible hands intent on keeping you from taking even the tiniest step forward. Being paralyzed by this state of self-imposed creative inertia is so frustrating it almost hurts.

Resistance is a shape-shifting demon that wears many guises: busyness, distraction, over-preparation, self-sacrifice, false modesty, exhaustion, apathy, and so on. Luckily, as many different ways as there are for us to avoid starting the work, there are tricks that help us hack our way past the obstacles that Resistance puts in our path. We can give ourselves deadlines, break intimidating projects down into smaller assignments, bribe ourselves with rewards, or work with accountability partners. We can trick ourselves into starting by “playing” our way into the real work or starting in the middle.

Each of these techniques is valuable, but none of them get at the root of the problem. They treat the symptom with band-aid fixes meant to temporarily jolt us into action with either a carrot or a stick, but the next time we have to start (and, there is always a next time), we’re right back to square one … scared and immobilized.

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So, what’s really holding you back?

The usual culprits behind Resistance are fear (of ridicule, failure, success, regret, etc.), life (as in I don’t have time … news flash: you do), and the little hurdle we’re talking about today: not knowing where to start. But there’s another even more insidious player keeping you from leaping off the edge and diving into the work: your vision. Or, to be more specific, your fear of betraying your vision, of being unable to bring your story to life so that it measures up to the image in your mind.

In her instructional memoir about writing, The Getaway Car, author Ann Patchett likens the experience of writing a story to plucking a beautiful butterfly (the idea of your story) out of the air and killing it in order to pin it to the page:

… I reach into the air and pluck the butterfly up. I take it from the region of my head and I press it down against my desk, and there, with my own hand, I kill it.

The urge to protect a pristine vision by leaving it locked up in our heads is more commonly referred to as the (pointless) pursuit of perfection.

No matter which flavor of Resistance you prefer, the result is the same: paralysis … a complete lack of starting. And you know the funniest thing about this inability to act? It’s all driven by our overactive writers’ imaginations. In our minds, we’ve already written the story of how spectacularly we will fail, and we’ve read it over and over again so that it seems like a forgone conclusion. We have put all our writerly skill into crafting a personal narrative full of such logic, detail, and irrefutable proof that we have fooled ourselves into believing in the existence of things that have never happened. The words that run around in our heads are so damn persuasive that we are stopped before we’ve even begun. We’re that good.

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The trick to starting is that there is no trick.

There are plenty of carrots and sticks to boost you over the hump, to lure and goad you into sitting your butt down and putting words on the page. But, those techniques are just window dressing to the real cure for failing to start. The real cure is much simpler and more straightforward: Practice.

Yes, like most things in life (and pretty much everything to do with writing), the cure for hard starts is practicing hard starts … over and over, again and again.

The bad news is that starting will always be scary. Embrace this. Don’t try to make it less scary; try to make sure you are more prepared to deal with your fears. It’s natural to be afraid of starting. Whether you’re talking about moving to a new town, starting a new job, making a new friend, falling for a new lover, or writing a new story, each new beginning is full of uncertainty and the potential for failure and hurt. There is no one-size-fits-all way to deal with fresh starts. Each one is its own unique puzzle. Though some beginnings may share certain patterns that make developing a process for starting helpful, each one will still have its own quirks.

The good news is that you will have plenty of opportunity for practice because the writing life is a succession of new beginnings. Each time you sit to put together an outline, write a first sentence, begin a blog post, craft a pitch letter, etc. is another chance to practice starting. So, put together more outlines, write more first sentences, publish more blog posts, and send out more pitches. The cure for doing nothing is to do more. Do anything. Just start, and then start again and again and again. You may never eradicate your fear, but you’ll get really good at blowing past it and doing the work anyway.

And that’s all that really matters.



book viciousEarlier this year I read V.E. Schawb’s novel, A Darker Shade of Magic and thoroughly enjoyed it. As soon as I finished the book, I added one of Schwab’s earlier works, Vicious, to my Good Reads “To Read” list.

I haven’t quite finished the book yet (I still have ninety-six pages left to go), but I’m fully prepared to give this story a thumbs up.

From the book jacket:

Victor and Eli started out as college roommates–brilliant, arrogant, lonely boys who recognized the same sharpness and ambition in each other. In their senior year, a shared research interest in adrenaline, near-death experiences, and seemingly supernatural events reveals an intriguing possibility: that under the right conditions, someone could develop extraordinary abilities. But when their thesis moves from the academic to the experimental, things go horribly wrong.
 Ten years later, Victor breaks out of prison, determined to catch up to his old friend (now foe), aided by a young girl whose reserved nature obscures a stunning ability. Meanwhile, Eli is on a mission to eradicate every other super-powered person that he can find—aside from his sidekick, an enigmatic woman with an unbreakable will. Armed with terrible power on both sides, driven by the memory of betrayal and loss, the archnemeses have set a course for revenge but who will be left alive at the end?

Doesn’t that sound like fun?

After a string of fairly “heavy” books, Vicious has been the perfect page turner. As F. Paul Wilson’s cover blurb says, “Schwab gathers all the superhero/supervillian tropes and turns them on their heads …” Yes. Yes, she does.

I have also enjoyed the construction of this story. The chapters bounce the reader back and forth between multiple points in time so that the full story slowly coalesces as all the pieces click – one by one – into place. It’s a great technique that allows Schwab to stay with the action while still filling in all the back story so that we become fully invested in the fate of the characters.

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app balancedI also wanted to share an app that I discovered recently. Balanced is a goal setting/tracking app unlike any of the others I’ve tried. (And, I’ve tried a lot of them.)

Here’s why I’m loving this digital coach & cheerleader:

  • Getting started is ridiculously simple. These people have made the process of setting up your activities nearly effortless. They have many popular goals already loaded, but you also have the ability to enter custom items.
  • Tracking is based on frequency. Most goal tracking apps track your performance based on a did it/didn’t do it basis with the default assumption being that whatever habit you’re trying to create, you want to do it every day. Balanced lets you set the desired frequency for each task. So, for instance, while I aim to drink five glasses of water each day, my goal for getting together with friends is only twice per month. I try to write in my journal at least five times per week, but I’m only going for four times a week for fiction writing practice.
  • The system is SO flexible. Not only can you set frequency for each goal, you have the option to skip items when things just aren’t working out. The app will track how many times you skip so that you can easily see if there’s an avoidance pattern developing; but I love having the option to opt out of a given task when the need arises.
  • Balanced prioritizes tasks and reminds you to do them. The app weights your tasks based on intended frequency and how recently you last performed them and then ranks your To Do’s so that you stay balanced (hence the app’s name) between all your different goals. The home screen interface is a simple list of tasks, each one marked with either a time stamp  telling you when you last performed it (just now, 2 hours ago, 3 days ago, etc.), a directive (Do Soon, Do Now), or an indicator that the task is “Late.” This makes it really simple to know what you need to do next to stay balanced.

I’ve been using Balanced to help me get back on track with everything from journaling to flossing, fiction practice to seeing friends, drinking more water to meditating. Though I expect it works best for a certain kind of personality (someone like me who likes to check things off lists and is motivated by a desire to perform well against a goal), I also believe it has the potential to help almost anyone at least get started on the right path toward accomplishing a goal. And, it’s super fun!


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


Finally, a quote for the week:

pin other side of fear

On this lovely Halloween, here’s to facing your fears and learning to work with them so you can get started and keep going. Happy writing!
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.

Weekend Edition – To NaNoWriMo or Not, That Is the Question

Oh, my fickle writer’s heart. Make up your mind, I beseech you.

2015 nanowrimo teeIt’s that time of year again – NaNoWriMo season. Yes, for the sixteenth consecutive year, November will bring us the joys and perils, triumphs and heartbreaks of yet another National Novel Writing Month. A week from today, at midnight on the 31st, hundreds of thousands of writers from around the world will come together in virtual and real-life write-ins to surge as one pen- and keyboard-wielding army toward their common goal of each writing 50,000 words in 30 days. Insanity? You betcha. Fun? Absolutely.

Though I admire the spirit of NaNoWriMo (and love its resident plot bunnies), I am always on the fence about participating. As November approaches, I hem and haw, weigh the pros and cons, and generally waffle about . As I muddle about in this year’s annual ritual of indecision, I took a moment to look back on my seven-year relationship with this ordeal tradition of the writing world.

2009 – My First Time

I captured my first (and  – spoiler alert – ultimately only) NaNoWriMo “win” during my virgin trip into the disorienting world of trying to write a novel without a plot. I was still fairly fresh off my divorce, and was living with my daughter in a carriage house apartment that had originally been the servants’ quarters on a large, old money estate. Floundering as I was in my personal and professional life, I was looking for something to anchor my existence and NaNoWriMo seemed to fit the bill.

I have fond memories of creeping out of bed in the dark of predawn, brewing a cup of Sleepytime tea, and hunkering down over my clunky old Dell laptop in the small room that served as my office. I would pull the hood of my bathrobe over my head to create a fleecey barrier between me and the rest of the world, and I would write like mad until my daughter woke up. I crossed the finish line with a total tally of 50,146 words. (Cue the champagne and ticker tape.)

2010 – Conversations in My Head

The next year was the first in what would be a long succession of will she/won’t she debates around the subject of NaNoWriMo. In Why I’m Not Doing NaNoWriMo This Year, I provided a frightening peek into my head and the weird conversations that take place there. In the end, despite part of me wanting to do NaNoWriMo just so I could tell my inner critique to take a leap, I wound up giving the writing marathon a pass after realizing that “winging it” was just not my style.

2011 – Radio Silence

Seems that my resolution to listen to my inner writer and stick to less pell-mell approaches to writing must have stuck because I barely whispered a word about NaNoWriMo in 2011. The whole scene passed me by, barely ruffling my literary feathers.

2012 – More Voices in My Head and Blaming Larry Brooks

In 2012, I once again leapt into the fray and joined hoards of enthusiastic (and slightly delusional) writers as they sallied forth into the chilly month of November with Big Ideas and lots of coffee. Halfway through the month, I found I’d hit a bit of a wall. No matter what I did, I couldn’t get away from distractions, my inner critic, or my inner editor. They were driving me crazy, and keeping me from doing what I needed to do: write.

At the end of the month, I posted about the final outcome of my battle in NaNoWriMo #Fail (I blame you, Larry Brooks). Though I had, indeed, failed to hit the 50,000 mark, I realized that there was a silver lining to my shortcomings. I realized that part of my inability to fully engage with the “no plot – no problem” approach was that I’d learned so much (in great part from the aforementioned Mr. Brooks) about story structure that I couldn’t bear to just throw stuff at the wall and see if anything stuck. In short, I was ruined for pantsing.

2013 – Another Intermission

Coming off my failed attempt in 2012, there was another brief intermission of radio silence.

2014 – A Brief Consideration and a Big No

Last year I briefly considered once again throwing my lot in with the other NaNoWriters, but in the end it was NaNoWriNope for me.  My reasons remained the same (so points for consistency), but I still felt a twinge of guilt because despite all my talk about learning about story structure and wanting to plan and prepare, I wasn’t making the time to do that work any more than I was making the time to write 50,000 words.

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Which brings us to 2015.

I have been going through the usual motions, trying to decide whether to join up with my NaNoWriMo comrades, or not. I ordered the 2015 winner’s t-shirt in a burst of late-night hopefulness, but in the morning I was full of doubts and second guesses again. I wrote down a pros and cons list (for the record, the “yes” column won by one), but still failed to make a decision.

Then, as I sat down to write this post I decided to take a minute to dig up the “50,000 words of crap” draft that I wrote in 2009. It only took me a couple minutes to locate the behemoth Word doc in my digital archives. I read the first chapter, and though I saw many (glaring) craft errors, I was actually drawn in enough to keep reading until my daughter got off the bus from school.

Hmmmm, I thought. Maybe there’s something here after all.

The characters that I developed (mostly on the fly) for that young adult urban fantasy have stuck with me over the years. I recall their names, and can almost see their faces. Though November 2009 is (and always will be) a blur, and even though this is the first time I’ve ever re-read a single line of that “manuscript” (and, I use the term lightly), I still remember certain scenes quite clearly.

So, after much internal debate, my decision for 2015 is this: I will not participate in the 2015 NaNoWriMo. Instead, I will re-read the mixed up mess of a story I patched together in 2009, and I will then take it apart and put it back together using everything I’ve learned about story structure and the craft of telling a good story. I will use this abandoned not-quite-a-novel as a guinea pig of sorts to see just what I can do to try and bring this thing back to life.

We’ll see … we’ll see …

P.S. I’m keeping the t-shirt. 

P.P.S. If you want to go out for your own NaNoWriMo win, by all means charge ahead. Doing NaNoWriMo (or, not doing it) has no bearing whatsoever on whether or not you are a real writer, a good writer, or a committed writer (though you may need to be committed on November 30th if you choose to take the NaNoWriMo assignment). ;)




unlost logoUnlost by Paul Jarvis and Jamie Varon

In my past, I was something of an online course junkie. I signed up for way too many audio courses, digital workbooks, and virtual workshops. Don’t get me wrong. I love learning, but at some point you have to stop consuming and start creating.

I’ve been on the wagon for quite some time now, but then this little course came across my radar. It caught my eye for three reasons: 1) it’s called “Unlost,” which is a cool name, 2) it’s being offered by Paul Jarvis, whose blog I really enjoy, and 3) it’s only $34 ($49 after October 31st). The course description begins like this:

Have you ever been so frustrated at yourself that you can’t seem to do the creative work you know you’re meant to do? Have you ever felt like all you need is more time and at least a million dollars in order to have the freedom to create the things that you stay up at night dreaming of creating?

Well, the bad news is that we’re not going to give you a million dollars or unlimited free time. Sorry.

The good news is that you don’t need either of those things to do incredible creative work.

I’ve only listened to half the audio recordings, and I haven’t even touched the workbooks yet, but I think this is a course some of you may find helpful in an encouraging kind of way. This isn’t a pitch. I’m not a partner or affiliate. I don’t get a dime if you sign up. I just thought you might like the chance to take a look. I did, and I haven’t regretted the purchase. The lessons aren’t exactly rocket science, in fact they are mostly common sense; but sometimes a little dose of common sense if exactly what we need.

A Writer’s Manifesto by Joanne Harris

joanne harrisI could have included this one with the rest of the blog posts, but I felt it deserved to be highlighted. I enjoy Harris’ work (novels like Chocolat and Peaches for Monsieur le Curé), and have also admired her more in-the-moment writings such as her humorous Ten Rookie Writer’s Mistakes post and her #storytime mini stories (told via tweets).

In this piece for the UK’s Writer’s Centre Norwich, Harris navigates with grace and brass tacks talking points through some of the most treacherous writing-related territory – the relationship between writers and readers and the perceptions of the value (as in cold, hard cash) of writing. It’s an interesting read that serves up much food for thought along with a healthy dose of pragmatic (but not dour) reality.


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

Finally, a quote for the week:

pin not a competition

Whether you’re gearing up for NaNoWriMo or not, I wish you a barrel-full of enthusiasm and inner fire to get you driving ahead on your writing projects … at your own speed and in your own way. Your finish line is a unique and personal thing. 
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.

Weekend Edition – Art is Hard. Don’t Stop. We Need You.

There is no art for art’s sake.

Wood burning art by my dad based on a sketch I made years ago.

Wood burning art by my dad based on a sketch I made years ago.

I’m taking a little trip into my personal archives today. This afternoon we’re hosting a (very) informal open house to celebrate being in our new home, and – as you might guess – I’m not entirely ready for the event. There is still shopping to be done, floors to be vacuumed, pictures to be hung, and a buffet of harvest appetizers to cobble together. Though I would like to make a cup of tea with honey and settle in for my usual three-hour write, that just isn’t in the cards today.

So, instead, I will share with you a column I wrote for my local paper earlier this year. The piece was inspired by the outpouring of sadness that rippled across my digital landscape after Maya Angelou’s passing.  The topic seemed to me a fitting one as I prepare to thank friends and family for their support during my long house hunt, to enjoy the small pleasures of the autumn season together, and to share a few hours of time away from the usual hustle and bustle of our lives. Today isn’t really about celebrating the acquisition of a house. It’s about celebrating the feeling of belonging, of being part of a community. It’s about feeling welcomed and supported, cared for and loved.

I hope you feel that today, and I hope you realize the potential of your art to give that gift to others.

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Art is Hard

(Originally published in the Ipswich Chronicle, May 2014)

Last week at this time, my social media networks were overrun with posts mourning the passing of writer and activist, Maya Angelou. From small town nobodies to world leaders, people everywhere lamented the loss of Angelou as both an artist and a human being.

All across the digital and print landscape, I read stories of how Angelou had instilled courage in people’s hearts, influenced their decisions, and inspired their creativity. I was touched by the depth of emotion in these shared memories, even though – having never read any of Angelou’s poems or memoirs – I had little context for the outpouring of love and respect.  This was a woman who, by sharing her life and ideas through her art, had clearly made a very real difference in the lives of many people.

Though I was unfamiliar with her work (an unaccountable and slightly embarrassing gap in my literary education), I had come across many of Angelou’s famous quotes. My favorite, by far, is her observation on the nature of human interaction, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

As a writer, I can’t help but consider this quote from the perspective of an artist. No matter the medium or the message, all artists want to make people feel something – joy, sorrow, hope, wonder. Singers, dancers, painters, writers – they all practice their craft in order to forge a connection – with the self, the world, another human being.

I am grateful to live in a community that is home to so many artists. Making art is hard. It requires patience, practice, and sacrifice. It requires vulnerability and courage. Whether the artist’s palette holds paint or words or musical notes, each creation is an extension of the self. In the attempt to create feeling in others, the artist must expose his or her own feelings. It can be scary.

I’m so glad that, despite that risk, many people in our community choose to share their photographs, music, poetry, sculptures, and dramatic performances. And, we’re equally fortunate that our community supports these artists, ensuring that their work has a chance to open our hearts and minds.

But, Angelou’s quote isn’t necessarily about art. Though creative expression in all its forms gives us a short cut to our emotions, our everyday words and actions also have the power to make others feel something. With the smallest effort, we can make someone feel encouraged or defeated, proud or ashamed, joyful or melancholy. In our daily rounds, we have an almost infinite number of opportunities to shape the emotions of the people around us – for better or for worse.

Friends who had the chance to hear her speak or meet her tell me that Angelou was a powerful but warm presence, a person who evoked a sense of monumental strength combined with gentle empathy. I do not doubt that Maya Angelou was a wise and compassionate person who shared her gifts generously with people all over the world. There is no question that the tribute she has received during her lifetime and in recent days is warranted. But, I do not think that any of us should let the grand scope of her influence diminish our own gifts.

Though I do not know her well, I imagine that would be the last thing Angelou would want.

After all, a person does not need to be admired by world leaders or loved by Oprah in order to make a difference in the world. Each of us can make a difference today by simply smiling at a stranger, supporting a friend, or telling someone we’re sorry. Each of us has the capacity to make someone feel loved or inspired or simply understood. That is a gift each of us can give and it’s a gift that will never be forgotten.


What I’m Reading:

book elegance hedgehogEarlier this week, I finished listening to the audio book version of a novel I’ve been meaning to read for a long while – The Elegance of the Hedgehog by the apparently reclusive French author, Muriel Barbery. Over the course of the last year or so, I had probably picked this book up (and put it down) almost a dozen times. Something about it intrigued me, but never enough to make me pull the trigger and make the purchase. Having finally read it, I can say that I am glad I finally decided to take the plunge.

I do not want to say too much about the book for fear of ruining the experience for those who have not read it. I can say that the book is narrated by two protagonists: Renée, the concierge of an upscale apartment building in Paris, and twelve year-old genius Paloma, daughter of one of the building’s privileged residents. Both Renée and Paloma hide their true natures and talents from the rest of the world, each for her own reasons.

The story is told via an series of first person, “confessional” narratives that alternate between Renée and Paloma. The two characters are beautifully portrayed in the audio version of the novel by Barbara Rosenblat and Cassandra Morris. The language is educated and sophisticated without being the least bit staid or stuffy. The observations and opinions put forth by each of the protagonists are sharp, witty, and also full of a kind of longing. I laughed out loud several times. I was also brought to tears.

As a writer, I was particularly drawn in by Renée’s musings on the purpose of art. In chapter five, she asks,

“What is the purpose of Art? To give us the brief, dazzling illusion of the camellia, carving from time an emotional aperture that cannot be reduced to animal logic. How is Art born? It is begotten in the mind’s ability to sculpt the sensorial domain. What does Art do for us? It gives shape to our emotions, makes them visible and, in doing so, places a seal of eternity upon them, a seal representing all those works that, by means of a particular form, have incarnated the universal nature of human emotions.”

So lovely. So provocative. So true.


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


Finally, a quote for the week:

pin dust off souls

I wish you could all be here today at my little open house, but since you can’t, I send virtual camaraderies and best wishes for a creative and fulfilling week. 
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.

The Joy of Focusing on One Thing

Last week I went to Pennsylvania to attend a Family Medicine Review Course. I got 51 hours of Continuing Medical Education (CME) credits in six days.

I wasn’t really looking forward to the week, although I wanted (and needed) the credits, so I was surprised at how much I enjoyed myself. The lectures were fascinating and the speakers were, for the most part, dynamic and easy to listen to. I was your typical geek, sitting down front and taking notes right on my iPad (I downloaded all the slides from all the lectures before I left home.)

I have a passion for family medicine and to be able to devote a whole week to that one discipline—what’s new, best practices, and emerging research—was wonderful.

In the middle of the week, I sat in the front row of a workshop and the woman next to me, who I assumed was very interested in the topic being presented as she, too, sat in the front row, was on her computer working on patient charts the entire duration of the two-hour workshop.

I thought how time pressured she must be feeling to be working on her charts throughout the lecture rather than paying attention, which I was sure she wanted to do.

That’s when I realized what a luxury it was to sit in the lecture hall and focus exclusively on one thing. I didn’t have to worry about child care; I didn’t have unfinished charts that needed my attention; I wasn’t watching the time to make sure I wasn’t late for whatever came next. Because I was five states away from home for the week, I had made arrangements ahead of time and cleared my schedule entirely.

I was there to learn, and I did! I was focused, I was attentive, and I soaked it all in.

On the drive home, I reflected on my week and the experience of, for lack of a better phrase, not multitasking. I’ve never been one who liked to multitask, as I know it’s actually an inefficient way to work, but of course I do it. For example, I wrote the first draft of this post sitting in my car in the car pool line, waiting to pick up my son.

Having the chance to focus on one thing for a whole week made me want to find more times in my life when I am not multitasking.

Fortunately, I’m hosting a writing retreat on Saturday, October 17, 2015, (for more information on that, please click here,) and I get to participate in the writing retreat, as well as host it—so yes, I’ll be doing a little bit of multitasking there.

Beyond Saturday, I’ve committed to a four-hour block of writing time at least once a week. That means no Internet, no laundry, no phone calls—just writing.

While I can multitask, and I’ve gotten good at writing in short spaces of time, I’ve decided I want the luxury of a significant block of writing time. Not just because I can get a lot done, but also because I enjoy that feeling of focus and passion that arises whenever I give myself the gift of uninterrupted time to think about and do the things I’m most passionate about.

How about you? Do you have/want/long for uninterrupted time to pursue your passions?


For locals, I’m hosting a writing retreat in Nashua on Saturday, October 17th (the day after tomorrow!) and I still have a few opening left. I’d love to have you join us if you are ready to spend some uninterrupted time with your journal or your WIP in the company of other writers. For more information and to register, please click here.

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon, MD: is a writer, blogger, life coach, and family physician. So far, I’m loving being the mother of a school-age child. He’s happy to go to school and I’m happy to do other things until we meet again in the afternoon. I’m a grateful woman, writer, and life coach these days!



Short and Sweet Advice for Writers: Write Like a Weed

weedsAhh, the humble weed. Scorned, belittled, hacked at, trod on, uprooted, and taken for granted, these tenacious flora still manage to proliferate. Undaunted by our judgment of their unworthiness, they flourish in every available crevice. They are not affected by our opinions.  They do not compare themselves to other plants; they just keep reaching up toward the sun and drilling down toward the water.

Far from being particular about soil conditions, weeds grow almost anywhere. There is nothing delicate about these flowers; they are more fierce than floral. Weeds are stamped on, sprayed with noxious chemicals, and pulled out of the ground, yet they persist. Determined hands scrape the dirt away, cruelly exposing their naked roots, but somehow they manage to survive.

Even when it looks as though the weed has succumbed, when no stem or leaf is left above ground as evidence of the weed’s existence, even then the weed lives. Deep under the ground it’s roots continue to thrive. They dig in and hold on, defiantly wrapping around tree roots and stone, refusing to admit defeat. It won’t be long before a new shoot emerges into the light.

Write like this: write like a weed. Do not care if others judge you. Do not let comparison distract you. Do not wait for the perfect conditions. Do not let any word or deed or inner fear keep you from continuing to do your work. Just dig in and write. Stay focused. Stay true. Do what  you were meant to do. Be what you were meant to be.

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.

Weekend Edition – Sometimes, you have to get mad.

What is your breaking point?

snarling wolfIn every story there is a point at which something in the protagonist snaps – a breaking point where fear turns into ferocity and ambivalence turns into action. A decision is made. A line is crossed. Things change.

As writers, as creators, we come to this pivotal moment over and over again. In our journey, we face many such turning points – big, life-changing ones and small, seemingly innocuous ones that nevertheless send ripples surging across the inner landscape of our hearts and minds.

Most of the choices we make are relatively peaceful. They do not require sacrifice or a change in how we perceive ourselves or the world. They are simply a matter of artistic acumen or preference, a decision to use blue instead of yellow or this word instead of that one. These decisions may take time and effort, but they do not demand much more of us. They do not require us to give up a truth or a lie. They do not leave marks on our souls or change our creative trajectory.

But, sometimes we come to moments that, whether we realize it at the time or not, change everything. If you look back on your own creative journey, you will see these points like sign posts along the road. You will see how each one marked a choice, a decision – this way or that. You will see how they have defined the path you have taken and brought you to where you are today. These choices were not peaceful. These choices were fraught with doubt and indecision. These choices forced you to swing out over the abyss, look down into the depths of your fears, and confront the terrifyingly insubstantial nature of reality and the equally terrifying realization that you are responsible for creating that reality.

Am I a real artist? Do I deserve this? Do I have what it takes? Should I say yes? Should I say no? Should I risk it? Is this what I really want?

These do or die decisions are not passive events. You cannot coast through the process in a state of serene confidence. You have to fight your way to your ultimate choice. You have to pass through tangled forests of uncertainty and shadowed valleys of unworthiness. You have to go willingly into the dark, even though you know the splintered talons and greasy jaws of your personal demons are only a hair’s breadth away.

This is not the moment to surrender. This is the moment to get spitting mad. This is the point of no return, the I’m-mad-as-hell-and-I’m-not-going-to-take-it-anymore turning point that catapults you into a new reality, one of your own making.

All acts of creation include an element of violence. Creation is change. It is turning one thing into another, and metamorphosis is a painful process. It is not for the faint of heart. But nestled at the core of creative violence – shining in counterpoint to the sharp, messy chaos from which art is born – is a deep and savage love. Anger and a passion to fight do not exist in a vacuum. They are driven by love. We do not do battle simply for the sake of doing battle. We do battle to defend something, to free something, or to stand up for our beliefs. We risk ourselves only for something we love.

Like any good story, your creative journey is filled with conflict. And you, as the protagonist of your story, must be willing to fight the good fight. You must be willing to get in there and get your hands dirty, take risks, fail, fall, and try again. It’s okay if you wander for a while; that’s part of the story, too. It may take you a long time, years even, to reach the point that will change everything. But when you do, don’t be afraid to get mad. Remember, your anger is love in disguise. Use it, and see where it takes you.



book grace keepersThis morning I finished reading The Grace Keepers by Kirsty Logan. I picked the book up in part because Logan was recommended to me by the instructor of a writing class I took last fall, and in part because the back cover features a recommendation from Ursula K. Le Guin who wrote, “A highly original fantasy, set in a haunting sea-world both familiar and mysterious.” If it’s good enough for Le Guin …

This book has a feel similar to Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel, The Buried Giant. Though Ishiguro’s tale takes place in the distant past, and Logan’s is presumably set in a semi-apocalyptic future where the oceans have devoured almost all the land, each story is wrought of equal parts reality and fantasy. Though the settings and some of what happens have a sense of magic about them, the characterization is firmly grounded in the reality of what it means to be human.

The story elements include a dancing bear, watery graveyards tended by grace keepers, and whispers of merpeople; but the themes around which these elements entwine are more familiar and substantial: loneliness, family, prejudice, belonging, home, acceptance. Though the trappings of the floating circus glitter and shine, they only serve to sharpen our focus on the truths that lie in the darker shadows behind the silk curtains.

Logan’s writing is both lyrical and pragmatic. Though her language and imagery are beautiful, they are not superfluously so. Each image, each bit of dialog is relevant to the story. This book was a pleasure to read on many levels, and one I recommend.


And, here are a few of my favorite writerly posts from this week:


Finally, a quote for the week:

pin throw me to the wolves

Here’s to embracing your ferocity and setting it loose on the world in the most loving and beautiful way you can. 
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.

Weekend Edition – Forget the Destination. Enjoy the Journey.

Embracing the Journey, Each Twist and Turn

pin travel bourdainAutumn is in full swing here. After weeks of blue skies with n’ere a cloud in sight, Mother Nature has changed her tune.  Each day this week, I have woken to gray drizzle and a raw-edged wind that is more malevolent than playful. There is a damp chill in the air that pries its way indoors, reminding me that Winter’s wrath may only be a few short weeks away.

I don’t mind this weather. After the frantic energy of our recent move, these monochromatic days are something of a relief. The cold and wet give me ample excuse to remain ensconced – guilt free – in my new home, puttering through the boxes that remain to be unpacked. The wind that rakes over the treetops and whistles by the windows raises in my heart a sense of wistful agitation.

I remember days like this from my childhood. I remember standing in the middle of a wide open field under charcoal skies with a mid-air cyclone twisting the leaves above my head. Rooted to the ground and looking up into the clouds, I felt like a wild thing. I tingled all over with an electric awareness of something I could never name. I felt connected to the whole world, and yet apart from it. The fall wind rushing around me seemed to be calling me back to a home I couldn’t remember.

··• )o( •··

Fall has always been, for me, a time of reflection, renewal, and change. It is a time of endings and beginnings, a threshold between the seasons. This year, being in a new house, these blustery days feel like a semicolon that has inserted a pregnant pause into the turning of the year. And in that expectant moment, I find myself considering my writing life and reimagining my journey.

Each writer’s path is unique and “right” for that writer. There is no magic formula, no one-size-fits-all approach to becoming a writer. Comparing your journey to another writer’s journey is futile. It serves no purpose since each of you must find your own way. Your paths may cross or even run in tandem for a while, but ultimately you will each need to make your own choices and take your own turnings.

We don’t know, nor do we need to know, where any path might lead us. Writing is a journey, not a destination. You are never done with writing, you are always working at it. Though you may have an idea of where you are going, focusing all your energy on that false end point will not help you. It is better to stay here, in the moment, embracing the journey no matter where it takes you. The point is to travel the road awake and with intention so that you can read each signpost and take advantage of every opportunity for adventure and growth.

··• )o( •··

Often, the day-to-day responsibilities and obligations of our lives consume us, leaving us only enough energy to sleep walk through our “real” lives. My move, for instance, has commandeered the lion’s share of my time and thoughts over the past few months. My writing was forced to exist on the edges of this urgent crisis. Sometimes, it feels like my creative self is subsisting on a meager life support system.  It feels like my energy is all ebb and no flow.

But, I know that such a state won’t last forever; and I can be patient. I can stay creatively awake in a little corner of my mind even as I spend all my waking hours handling the non-creative tasks that demand my attention. As I’ve said many times before, a writer is not only a writer when she is putting words down. A writer is a writer all of the time. Writing is not a hobby or even a vocation, it is a way of life.

··• )o( •··

The uniqueness of each writer’s path is a beautiful thing. It means each of us gets to experience our own untold tale. Like a literal journey, the writing journey never leaves you standing still. You are always moving toward one thing and away from another. Your direction and next destination may change, but that doesn’t mean the journey is over. In fact, your direction matters little. Like exploring a new place, writing is a discovery. It gives you the opportunity and the tools to stop and look around, take in the world, and see inside your own heart.

And then, having embarked on your curious and courageous exploration, through your writing you have, if you choose to take it, a chance to share your discoveries with others, to make new connections that inspire new adventures, which in turn reveal new discoveries.

Being a writer is like living in a perpetual season of autumn. It’s like being abroad and at home at the same time, like always stepping over the threshold onto a new path that leads you to a new part of your journey. There are twists and turns, your practice ebbs and flows, but if you simply put one foot in front of the other with dedication and intention, you will travel far and find much to write home about.


What I’m Writing:

Sophisticated Fantasy, a digital magazine from Cate Kowalski of Gryphon Piffles

Sophisticated Fantasy, a digital magazine from Cate Kowalski of Gryphon Piffles

Despite the chaos and overwhelm of my days right now, I am thankful that I have so far been able to carve out a few hours every other week to write my column for the local paper. One piece I wrote easily did double duty, also appearing in the inaugural edition of the digital magazine, Sophisticated Fantasy. This publication is the work a client who I wish lived closer because we would definitely get together for tea and long chats. As it is, each time we get on the phone to talk shop, our conversations veer way off course into exciting but tangential territory. The good news is that these side trips invariably deliver important insights that are helping her to reimagine her fantasy boutique at Gryphon Piffles.

In the meantime, she has taken on the not-so-small challenge of launching her own digital magazine. My first piece for her (I am sure there will be others) is a short essay on Mabon, the pagan holiday of thanksgiving, reflection, and balance that is celebrated on the fall equinox.  I hope you’ll give it a read, and maybe also explore some of the other pieces in the September issue. Enjoy!


What I’m Reading:

book yes pleaseAs I mentioned last week, I had a lot of time while preparing for our move (cleaning, painting kitchen cabinets, packing) to enjoy the pleasure of listening to audio books while engaged in manual labor. Another of the books I read in this way is Amy Poehler’s memoir, Yes, Please.

I’m not usually a big fan of memoirs, but I was intrigued by this one because Amy Poehler, along with her frequent partner in crime, Tina Fey, are two women whom I find fascinating. They are smart, funny, and irreverent, but also seem like very grounded individuals with good hearts. Yes, Please demonstrated exactly this about Poehler in a way that made me wish we could be friends.

The book is a series of essays, some of which feature cameos by a range of characters including Poehler’s parents, Patrick Stewart, Carol Burnett, and Mike Schur. The chapters feature titles like “Treat Your Career Like a Bad Boyfriend,” “Plain Girl Versus the Demon,” and – my favorite – “The Robots Will Kill Us All.”

Surprisingly sweet in places (a passage she wrote about taking her sons out to see the moon nearly brought me to tears), this book was a delight to listen to. It felt like sitting down at the bar for a drink with a really cool chick and having one of those rare, unplanned conversations that make you feel better about humanity in general.


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

Finally, a quote for the week:

pin journey to be

Welcome to your writer’s journey. I hope you enjoy each step and each side adventure and each surprise ending. 
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.