Keeping the Creative Fires Burning

“The world is violent and mercurial—it will have its way with you. We are saved only by love—love for each other and the love that we pour into the art we feel compelled to share: being a parent; being a writer; being a painter; being a friend. We live in a perpetually burning building, and what we must save from it, all the time, is love.”

Tennessee Williams

A friend posted this quote on Facebook this morning. It was a gem in my newsfeed, glittering darkly amidst a colorful cacophony of political posts, vacation pictures, and LOL cats. I held each word for a moment – violent, mercurial, love, burning – and then, as the bigger concept coalesced in my mind, I was surprised to realize that the idea of living in Williams’ burning building was actually comforting.

Making time in our lives for any creative endeavor is a challenge, but the effort seems particularly Herculean today. Not only is the house burning, but the entire world is ablaze – global warming, political unrest, racial tensions, Brexit, wars, not to mention the dumpster fire of American politics. And yet, even in these precarious times, we feel compelled to write. The fire in our hearts yearns to escape the secret confines of our minds and leap into the conflagration of the real world where it might ignite passion (or at least curiosity) in someone else.

The interesting thing about fire is that while it can be an instrument of destruction, it also provides inspiration, warmth, and fuel. Fire can consume, but it also helps us to build and create. Staring into a fire, it’s impossible not to be drawn into thoughts of the balance between light and dark, the truth of ashes to ashes and dust to dust, and the dream of the phoenix. It is impossible not to think about the metaphorical fires that burn inside us.

And yet, even when the fire burns down and the ashes turn cold, there is always a spark or a coal buried deep, just waiting for the right conditions to spring back to life as a dancing flame that lights up the darkness, bringing hope and warmth and the power to pierce the night. Our creative fires never truly go out. They may burn low for a while, or even disappear underground; but then something to turn the earth over, exposing the smoldering coals to the air, and we’re ablaze again.

 

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Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content writer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian arts, and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings.  Off the blog, please introduce yourself on FacebookTwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.

This post originally appeared on the Live to Write – Write to Live blog.
Photo Credit: Christian Ferrari Flickr via Compfight cc

My Miscellaneous Life

Sometimes, a day at the beach is more important than a day at your desk.

How often do you stop to think about your journey as a writer? If you had to choose, would you say you are plotting your life, or pantsing it? There’s no right or wrong answer here, and there’s no right or wrong way to create a writing life. It’s just been on my mind lately how intentional (or not) I have been of late when it comes to figuring out what kind of writing I ultimately want to do and how to start navigating toward that destination.

I have just completed Jennifer Louden’s course, Get Your Scary Sh*t Done (GSSD for short). It was a very practical and inspiring seven weeks of exploring my motivation and desire, digging deeply into what’s holding me back (surprise! it wasn’t what I thought it was), and generally working on sussing out some simple steps that I could take to move closer to the “finish line” that I’d defined for the course.

While the structure and exercises in the course were excellent and very helpful and enlightening, one of the most valuable gifts of the course was the simple but profound way that participating made me prioritize my creative project in a way that I haven’t been able to do for a while. The course gave me permission and created the “container” in which I could remember how to disconnect from the so-called real world and reconnect with myself. Totally worth the price of admission.

Around week five – while in the midst of all this discovery and focus – I had a column due for my local paper. I’d like to share that column with you today because it reflects on the idea of prioritizing what’s most important in our lives, whether that’s family or friends or writing or some other thing that makes you come alive. And, it reminds us to be careful of falling into the trap of focusing all our time and energy on the less important things … the things that may seem more important, but which – in reality – are maybe not quite as dire or life-defining as we might think.

Here’s to giving the truly important things in your life their full due.

 

 

 

My Miscellaneous Life

As I was searching through my computer’s hard drive the other day, I was struck by the fact that many of the documents that are most important to me live in a folder labeled, somewhat ignominiously, “Misc.” While my work, finance, and legal files reside in directories featuring appropriately descriptive and respectful names, digital information about life goals, creative projects, activist resources, personal interests, and social correspondence are relegated, like a huddled mass of misfit toys, to a virtual no-man’s-land.

Seeing these files, which represent some of the most “real” aspects of my life — especially when compared with the fleeting relevance of things like client projects and tax returns — I couldn’t help thinking of the saying, life is what happens to us while we are making other plans.

Though most often attributed to John Lennon, who featured a similar line in his song, “Beautiful Boy,” the earliest appearance of this oft-quoted line was published in a 1957 Reader’s Digest under the name of cartoonist Allen Saunders. Mr. Saunders was definitely on to something.

It’s a sad reality, after all, that most of us spend far too many of our days nose-to-grindstone taking care of all the so-called Important Stuff. Real Life, meanwhile, happens despite our misguided focus. Unfortunately, like my “Misc” computer files, the stuff that really matters is often swept into the corners where it is rarely given its full due.

That made me think of another old maxim, actions speak louder than words.

If someone asked what you care about most, how would you answer? You might mention your family, the environment, justice, beautiful artwork, good music, fine wine, sharing time with friends. But, how many of us can honestly say that our day-to-day choices reflect the things we say we love? How does what we do match up against our best intentions?

A few weeks ago, I was dutifully hammering away on a midafternoon deadline when my daughter asked if she could go to the beach with some friends. It was a perfect late-spring day — unseasonably warm and gloriously sunny — designed to inspire truancy. My daughter caught a ride with a friend’s mom, and I remained at my desk, chipping away at my task.

But as I sat there, my thoughts kept straying from the keyboard to the sandy shore of Crane Beach. Soft, warm winds buffeted me through the open window, and I could almost hear the small voice inside my head urging me to follow my thoughts and make a dash for the beach.

I hesitated out of habit, but the small voice was persistent. It reminded me what mattered most and assured me that the sky would not fall if I chose to play hooky for the rest of the afternoon.

The beach was even lovelier than I’d imagined. I smiled as I watched my daughter and her friends run along the water’s edge and practice ill-advised gymnastics maneuvers on the sand. And when the girls ranged out of earshot, I closed my eyes, tilted my head to the sun and the wind, and just sat. It was pretty darn close to perfect.

Seeing those computer files dumped unceremoniously in that “Misc” folder made me realize that it might be time to adjust my perspective. I had put these personal treasures in a digital junk drawer while the less-important things like work and finances had taken over the top tiers of my hard drive. I had everything upside down.

Similarly, it’s easy to go through my days looking at things from the wrong angle. How easy is it to mistake a career for a life? How simple to fall into the trap of thinking that we are what we own? How often do we get so wrapped up in keeping up that we forget where we were going? It happens all the time.

Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans, but it doesn’t have to be that way. We just need to remember who we really are, what we really love, and then go ahead and let our actions speak louder than our words.

 

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Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content writer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian arts, and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. In addition to my bi-weekly weekday posts, you can also check out my Saturday Edition and Sunday Shareworthy archives. Off the blog, please introduce yourself on FacebookTwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.

This post originally appeared on the Live to Write – Write to Live blog.
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The Power and Universality of Hopes and Dreams

Today, I want to share a piece I recently wrote as a column for my local paper. I was moved to share it here because of conversations I’ve been having as part of an online class I’m taking called “Get Your Scary Sh*t Done,” or GSSD for short. I didn’t write this thinking about writing in particular, but I believe it may ring true for anyone who has ever held a dream close, and that certainly includes many writers I know.

I hope you enjoy it and find some comfort in knowing that we are never alone in having great hopes … even if we keep them secret most of the time.

 

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Emerging from underneath the forest floor …

Even when we hide them from ourselves, burying them under the convenient detritus of our daily lives, our hopes and dreams never die. Like sentient seeds that believe, perhaps against all odds, they will eventually see the light of day, our dearest desires and most secret wishes nestle under the weight of Real Life. They are patient. They are constant. Despite the unremitting assault of endless responsibilities and obligations, they persist.

Hopes and dreams are a study in contradictions. On the one hand, they are as fragile as a whisper. Quiet and timid, they step from the shadows only now and again, mostly in the quiet moments of reflection that come upon us just before sleep or when we are staring absentmindedly out of the window. And yet, despite their outwardly retiring nature, our hopes and dreams hold great power over us.

They make us feel deeply vulnerable. Simply acknowledging their existence can send our minds careening into a dark maze of illogical-but-still-terrifying possibilities of ridicule, failure, and disappointment. To wish for something is to put yourself at risk of never having it — perhaps the epitome of the double-edged sword.

On the other hand, hopes and dreams have the ability to sustain us through great hardship. They drive us to achieve that which we once considered impossible. And they help us find purpose and meaning that might otherwise be lost in the swift-flowing river of time. Our lifelong hopes and dreams bring us home to ourselves by reminding us who we have been and always will be.

Everyone has hopes and dreams. While we often guard our most precious aspirations from the rest of the world, it is no secret that each of us carries some hidden longing in our heart. You and I may never speak our secrets to each other, but we know they are there. It is part of what makes us human.

Forgetting that each of us has our own hopes and dreams makes it dangerously easy to lose sight of someone else’s humanity, to lose touch with the connection created by the shared experience of living life in constant (if not always conscious) communion with our truest hungers.

Do not, for instance, look at an elderly person and turn a blind eye to the still-beating passions that lurk just beneath a protective veneer of apathy and resignation. Dreams are ageless. Do not look at those who are living hand to mouth, unable to pursue anything greater than survival, and think for a moment that their hopes and dreams are any less vibrant or real than your own. Dreams do not discriminate. Do not believe that just because people live halfway around the world (or have come from halfway around the world to live here), their dreams are that dissimilar from your own. Dreams know no boundaries.

Mostly, we all want the same things. Though the exact details exist on an endless spectrum of diversity and creativity, each of us wants safety and comfort for ourselves and our families. We want the chance to discover and fulfill our purpose. We want the opportunity to express ourselves without fear of retribution. We want the freedom to make our own choices. We want peace and prosperity. We want love.

Perhaps even more than the conversations and interactions we have in the so-called Real World, it is our secret dreams that bind us together. Sometimes the unsaid speaks volumes. Sometimes a whisper carries across time and space. And sometimes I imagine that, while they are waiting to emerge into the sunlight, our hopes and dreams stretch silent roots deep into the ground where they entwine with the roots of other dreams in the dark and fertile earth. Imagine the vastness of such a network, and the possibilities.

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Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content writer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian arts, and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. In addition to my bi-weekly weekday posts, you can also check out my Saturday Edition and Sunday Shareworthy archives. Off the blog, please introduce yourself on FacebookTwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.

This post originally appeared online on the Live to Write – Write to Live blog. Prior to that, it was published in print as part of a column series for The Ipswich Chronicle, a publication of Gatehouse Media.

Photo Credit: amy20079 Flickr via Compfight cc

Personal Becomes Universal Through Research

Guest Post by Novelist Donna D. Vitucci

Book cover

Donna Vitucci’s new novel, Salt of Patriots, published on Earth Day 2017.

The answer to my question, How long does it take to write a book? is fifteen for the novelist Donna Vitucci, who has just published Salt of Patriots after fifteen years of research, writing and revision. In this guest post, Vitucci describes what motivated her – and kept her going.

Origin of Salt

At my mother’s wake in the summer of 1999, the reminiscences we’d heard through the years got dragged out and enlivened by re-telling. The time all Uncle Bobby’s hair fell out when he was working at Fernald. The spills and inherent danger of any other kind of factory, but Fernald was processing uranium. A different kind of plant, in the early atomic days, in the 1950s.

Fernald closed after dust collectors failed in the 1980s and leaks into the Miami Aquifer hit the press. A class action lawsuit helped shutter the plant and place it on the Superfund Cleanup List. A Public Information Center was established as an aspect of remediation activities—eureka! I’d write my family Fernald stories infused with true and accessible information.

Research

To write it, I needed to understand it, and I’m no scientist. I dashed daily to the Information Center, reading and trying to understand what Fernald workers did. What were their jobs? What might Uncle Bob have done once he clocked in for 2nd shift? What made his hair fall out?

I read The Atomizers, the Fernald company newsletter. I studied processes the Fernald scientists developed, and the chemistry and metallurgy that had men in various buildings turn out uranium ingots or rods. I sought the secrets and security, the rumors in the community, how everybody had a relative or friend who worked there, or lost their acreage, or got sick or died. Newspaper articles on microfiche announced the building of the “new plant” and how it was going to bring hundreds of jobs—which it did. The nuclear industry was in its infancy. They were playing with dice and hoping for the best in beating the Russians.

Interviews

Uncle Bobby was my eyewitness, my conduit to the past, to the plant, to the human aspect. At the time, I’d envisioned the book completed and published to celebrate Fernald’s 50th anniversary—2001. I really had no idea.

I questioned Uncle Bob: “What about losing your hair?”

“That was nothing.” Same closed-mouth attitude from interviewees and others beholden to their government, their employer, and their own promises.

“Loose lips sink ships”—caution right there in The Atomizer. I don’t believe the workers were afraid. I believe they were patriotic. I believe they believed the government wouldn’t ask them to enter a dangerous work situation. And as long as a man was working he was doing the right best thing–echoing Uncle Bob and dozens of Fernald employees in their interview transcripts.

Striving for Authenticity

What did Uncle Bob do at Fernald, what it was like, what were his buddies like, did they understand the danger, and did they care? I took notes; I had a binder of industry and government papers I’d copied. I studied these like I’d be tested. Above all, I wanted to write with authenticity, and I knew it would be so hard. Till then, I’d only written stories that emerged from inside me. This story would have to be, on many counts, outside of me. I would immerse myself in research until I was busting with the Fernaldia I ingested.

Writing, Revisitng, Revising

A year and half later, nowhere near finished mourning my mother, and now her brother, Uncle Bob, was dying. Feed Materials, as I called the book, was where I poured this loss, revisiting my loved ones, revising them, and being among them, seeing them so clearly in memory and then freshly relevant in the stories where I cast them. No wonder it took me 15 years to complete. Writing this book kept them alive, and I didn’t want to lose them twice.

Donna VitucciDonna D. Vitucci is a life-long writer, and was a finalist for the Bellwether Prize in 2010. Her second novel, SALT OF PATRIOTS, shines light on the nuclear industry’s early days at the Feed Materials Production Center (FMPC) by focusing on ground level workers in this rural Ohio uranium processing plant. Characters and events are inspired by her uncles, who worked at the FMPC, and imagined from hundreds of true interviews conducted as part of lawsuit remediation activities in the 1990’s. Donna lives, works, and shares the best of urban living with her partner in the Historic Licking Riverside District of Covington, Kentucky.

Deborah Lee Luskin has been a regular contributor to Live to Write – Write to Live since 2011. She blogs weekly about Living in Place, Lessons from the Long Trail, Middle Age, and Vermonters By Choice at www.deborahleeluskin.com. Hope to see you there!

You Need a Deadline – New Reedsy Contest Directory

The first quarter of 2017 is behind us. How’s your writing going? In January, we checked in with you about your writing goals, but that seems like it’s SO long ago now. (How did we get to April so quickly?!?)

Have you, like me, you’ve been moving the goal line on your writing projects? You know – pushing things out a little bit at a time because, life? I completely understand. Things come up. Each of us has obligations and unplanned crises, and many of us are also suffering from resistance fatigue. Hitting your writing targets can start to feel like an impossible dream.

Well … sometimes, what you need is a deadline.

I write a LOT, but most of what I get done is writing that is tied to a client or other deadline. “My” writing projects (stories, novel ideas, flash fiction, etc.) tend to slip down the slippery slope of falling priorities. I want to work on them, but other things are always butting in ahead of them – cutting the line, so to speak.

Solution: Give myself a deadline for one of My Writing Projects

There are always a variety of writing contests going on. Why not pick one and go for it? Even if you don’t win, you will have completed something, and that’s worth the price of admission all by itself.

Ricardo Fayet, founder at Reedsy, reached out to me to share his company’s new resource: Writing Contests 2017, Curated with love by Reedsy. In a follow-up email conversation, he shared the inspiration for this new, searchable database:

We speak to a lot of upcoming authors, and one thing we discovered is that writing contests are a pretty contentious topic of discussion. While most writers love the idea of being published, read, and rewarded for their work, some authors had been burned in the past. The truth is that, while there are hundreds of contests each years, very few of them are worth the time; some of them are even outright scams, designed to squeeze money out of their entrants.

With that in mind, we wanted to give authors a way find their ideal contests. Updated weekly, this page lets you search for competitions by genre, entry fee, deadline and prize amount. And because we’ve vetted each and every one, there’s no need to worry about being ripped off.

So, how about it? Think you might try to find a deadline that will help you prioritize your writing? If you decide to go for it, let us know in the comments so we can cheer you on. Also, if you know of any reputable contests not in the Reedsy list, please feel free to share those as well!

Good luck!

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Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content writer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian arts, and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. In addition to my bi-weekly weekday posts, you can also check out my Saturday Edition and Sunday Shareworthy archives. Off the blog, please introduce yourself on FacebookTwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.

This post originally appeared on the Live to Write – Write to Live blog.
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How to Sustain Political Activism and Write a Book

Activism and Writing both take persistence and self-care.

Like at least half the American population, I’ve been distressed by current national politics. I went into a deep funk of disbelief back in November; then I became hyper-active, making phone calls and writing letters. After that, I needed a vacation from both work and politics. Now, I’m trying to find a sustainable way to continue to support issues I care about, like civil liberties, social justice, and ethical government.

Jen Hofmann’s Weekly Activism Checklist

Lucky for me, a friend forwarded a link to Jen Hofmann’s Weekly Activism Checklist. It’s been a big help.

As I read it, I realized immediately that the ways to sustain political activism are almost identical to the methods necessary for tackling a long writing project.

The Weekly Checklist

Hofman’s Action Checklist for this week starts with current congressional bills and issues that need immediate attention.

My writing checklist for this week includes a meeting, a phone call and a writing assignment for my long narrative about learning to hunt. This checklist helps maintain forward momentum on a project that will take at least another year to complete while I continue to write, broadcast, teach and talk.

These days, I also create a checklist of the political phone calls I will make:

  • Senator Leahy about the Supreme Court nomination;
  • Senator Sanders about the Budget and Healthcare;
  • Representative Peter Welch about the unresolved conflicts of interest between this president’s private businesses and public office.
The Rule of Three

I’ve written about the Rule of Three before: Choose three manageable and achievable goals each week.

Every week, I limit myself to three projects, and every day I limit myself to three tasks related to those projects. More than that and I’ll just stare out the window and not lay down the words. Same thing with phone calls to politicians. I can make three every week.

Three phone calls won’t change the world quickly, but if I make three phone calls every week, they add up, just as writing three sentences, paragraphs or pages adds up.

Worse, not making phone calls equals silence, as in “everything is okay.”

Everything is not okay. So I make three phone calls each week, minimum; more than that’s gravy.

Take Good Care of Yourself

You can’t write from your heart any more than you can change the world if you don’t take care of yourself. Self care includes measures to maintain your general health, sustain your emotional health and nourish your spiritual health. So do whatever it is that keeps you whole, whether it’s reading a book, sleeping, eating well, fishing, sky-diving, going to church, or some combination thereof.

Persistence and Self-care: They make a difference when it comes to writing book or changing the world.

In addition to making phone calls, Deborah Lee Luskin frequently comments about current affairs on her blog and on Vermont Public Radio.

Show Up – Then Decide

keepmovingAs a bit of an introvert – okay, more than a bit – I sometimes let the voice in my head talk me out of showing up for events.

These can be networking events, business meetings, 5K races, sip & paint nights, meetups, and generally any activities that involve several people (whether I know them or not).

This also extends to starting/trying new writing-related projects or activities – personal or client-based.

There’s always inspiration and excitement when first agreeing to do something, but when the date arrives to actually “do” that something, excuses can pour out of the ceiling like rain drops. Do any of these sound like the voice in your head?

  • Oh no, that sniffle might be the start of a cold. Skip it.
  • It’s going to rain, you don’t want to get we. Skip it.
  • It’s going to be hot and humid, you might die. Skip it.
  • You won’t know anyone there. Skip it.
  • You aren’t fully prepared. Skip it.
  • There’s no time to grab a meal first. Skip it.
  • There won’t be anything good to eat. Skip it.
  • You can attend the next one. Skip it.
  • You’ve never done that before so you’ll look silly. Skip it.

In 2016, I talked myself out of numerous activities for reasons like those above – basically, no good reason. I always said out loud, though, “I am purposely choosing not to go,” so that my true self wouldn’t pile on the guilt. However lame the reason was, I purposely chose to avoid activities, so took responsibility.

However, choosing to skip things resulted in numerous missed opportunities to meet new people, try new things, achieve new goals, and push myself out of my comfort zone. Negative results were particularly obvious from the physical activities I avoided.

This year I have made the commitment to myself, and told others, that I will at least “show up” for everything I commit to. And then once there, that is when I can choose whether or not to participate. I’m 99.9% confident that making the effort to show up will result in full follow through.

Isaac Newton said, “An object in motion will stay in motion unless acted upon by a equal or stronger force.”

I challenge you to stay in motion and “show up” for any commitment you’ve made – in person or online, whether personal or work-related – “then decide” whether or not to at least give it an honest try.

lisajjacksonLisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies and individuals tell their stories. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.