Sunday 31 Jan – Shareworthy Reading and Writing Links and Sundry

So, we finally busted out of Mercury retrograde this week. I don’t know about you, but I definitely felt a creative shift. (If you’re not sure what that’s all about, check out this post where I explain a little about Mercury retrograde.) We’re also having a bit of a mid-winter warm up around here. Though we New Englanders know better than to let our guard down, it’s nice to be able to get outside without quite so many layers on. The scent of spring is on the air and it’s got my imagination stirring.

To help boost your creativity and inspire your imagination, here are this week’s links and picks for all things writerly (and some that are on the fringe, but still worth exploring).

Enjoy!

Jamie


Books I’m Reading:

book magicians landLast week I finished the final book in Lev Grossman’s Magicians trilogy, The Magician’s Land, and now I’m having fiction world withdrawal. Often described as Harry Potter for a (much) more mature audience, the Magician’s books are, in my humble opinion, very worthy reads. Yes, they are action-packed fantasy stories that feature sex, violence, and loads of swearing; but there’s more to them than that.

Grossman’s magical world is unique in the way it intersects with ours. As a friend (and fellow Magicians fan) pointed out, Grossman does an excellent job of anchoring his fantasy construct in our modern world without sacrificing wonder or charm. The story is also, at its heart, not about magic, but about becoming yourself. In the same way that J.K. Rowling’s books are really about friendship, the Magicians novels are well-rendered coming of age stories.

I won’t risk any spoilers about this final book in the triology; I’ll just say that I was very impressed with how Grossman wrapped things up – brought them full circle without resorting to 100% neatly tied bows. I’ll also say that despite the heartache readers have to endure throughout the story, the series ends on a hopeful (if unexpected) note. I found that refreshing.

Coincidentally, just as I was devouring the final chapters, SyFy premiered its series based on Grossman’s books. I’ve watched the first two episodes (how could I not?), and I’m still undecided about whether I love it or not. My loyalty to the books is influencing my judgments of the adaptation, which takes a fair number of liberties with Grossman’s world and story. (They even changed the name of one of the primary characters for no apparent reason.) It may be too soon for me to fully enjoy the show. We’ll see.

··• )o( •··

book old countryBecause I’m still hungover from my time at Grossman’s Brakebills Prepatory College of Magic and the world of Fillory, I’m not yet ready to dive into a new novel. Instead, I picked up a novella from my own collection, something I read a while back, but couldn’t quite remember. The Old Country by Mordicai Gerstein is a classic-style fairytale full of talking animals, faerie folk, peasants, and royalty.

I enjoyed being able to recognize many fairytale tropes – the old granny telling a tale to her inquisitive granddaughter, the journey into the forest, the protagonist doing the one thing she was warned against, transformation, the creation of a team of unlikely allies … it was all there; but there were also enough twists (including a surprise ending) that I never felt like I knew what was going to happen next.

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My Favorite Blog Reads for the Week:


Sundry Links and Articles:

Podcast Series: The Elemental Genre

writing excuses season 11I know I gush rather a lot about the Writing Excuses podcast, but I just can’t help myself. I’m already looking forward to a re-listen of Season 10 which walked listeners through the story creation process from idea to first draft to revision and beyond. This year’s season – Season 11 – is all about the “Elemental Genre.” Here’s how they introduce the idea of the Elemental Genre in the season intro:

The word “genre” has a lot of weight to it. Arguments about whether a particular work is, or is not, part of a given genre are long, and tedious. Season Eleven will not be engaging in those arguments. We’re giving all that a wide miss by adding an adjective, and defining a new term: Elemental Genre.

During 2016 we are going to explore what we write, why we write, and how we write in much the same way as previous seasons have, but our guidepost this year will be this concept of Elemental Genres. In January we’ll stay high-level and firm up the framework. Starting in February we’ll drill down on each of the Elemental Genres, and explore the writing process.

I’m really looking forward to this!

··• )o( •··

Free Online Course: Literature and Mental Health – Reading for Wellbeing

future learnThis free online course is offered by the University of Warwick and begins tomorrow – February 1st. It’s part of the FutureLearn program that offers “a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.”

Literature and Mental Health – Reading for Wellbeing is taught by Professor Jonathan Bate and Dr. Paula Byrne. Here’s a little bit about the course from the FutureLearn site:

The great 18th century writer Dr Samuel Johnson, who suffered from severe bouts of depression, said “the only end of writing is to enable the reader better to enjoy life or better to endure it.”

This free online course will explore how enjoying literature can help us to endure life.

Taking Johnson’s phrase as a starting point, the course will consider how poems, plays and novels can help us understand and cope with times of deep emotional strain. The reading load will be flexible, and you will have the opportunity to exchange ideas and feelings via the online discussions with other learners.

I’m looking forward to exploring these ideas further. Maybe I’ll see you there!

··• )o( •··

 

Finally, a quote for the week:

pin you can king

Thanks for sharing part of your weekend with me.  Hope you enjoy exploring the links. Happy reading! Happy writing! Happy New Week! 
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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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Time Is Flying!

It was almost two years ago that I signed my contract for the Clock Shop Mystery Series, which I am writing under the pen name Julianne Holmes for Berkley Prime Crime. Last week, on Wicked Cozy Authors, I wrote about how Julianne Holmes came into being. Today, I thought I’d write about the journey of the book, Just Killing Time, which will be published October 6, 26 months after I signed the contract. In a lot of ways, that is a long time. But in others? Yeesh, it is flying, especially since there are three books to write.

Just Killing Time debuts October 6!

Just Killing Time debuts October 6!

Just Killing Time has taught me a lot about the process of writing and publishing a book. Although other journeys will be different, many of the steps will be part of the process. Here’s what the past year has been like for me:

  • Writing the first draft of Book #1 (Just Killing Time). Seems obvious, but until you write the book, which can be a slog, you can’t move forward.
  • Reading, revising, and editing it yourself.
  • Having someone else read it, to see if it is a book. My friend Jason is my first reader. He loves the genre, reads a lot, is supportive, but can also give me tough love.
  • Take those notes, make changes, and polish it a bit more.
  • Have an editor look at it. That person can help in two ways. First, to make sure the story hangs together logically. Second, with wordsmithing, grammar, and other stylistic choices. There are a number of folks on this blog who are freelance editors. Finding one to work with can be tough. You need help, but you don’t need someone to rewrite your book.
  • Work on those suggestions. Polish, polish, polish. Then take a deep breath, and hit send to your publisher.
  • Wait for comments back. This can days, weeks, or in some cases months. My editor at Berkley is incredibly attentive, and it didn’t take long for her to come back to me with her editorial letter. This is the moment where you really need to get out of your own way. I had to do a massive rewrite on Just Killing Time. The rewrite made it a better book, but my ego had to step aside so that the writer could get to work. I also had to put Book #2 aside, so I could work on Book #1. That has been something that I am still learning how to do, keep two projects moving forward at the same time.
  • Resubmit, and wait for the next round of comments. This dance can go on for a while, but at some point the work will be done, and the book will be accepted. Do not, however, lull yourself into thinking the next time you will see it will be when it arrives as a book.
  • Around this time, I got to see the cover. I love it! I was asked for some ideas for the artist, but left it in their hands.
  • Copyedits are the next phase. These edits are from another source who is looking at consistency, making sure you are following the style sheet for the publishing house, and making clarifying edits. At this phase you can add, subtract, change. But it is a dialogue. Again, there is some back and forth.
  • Ask other writers to read it, and give you quotes that can be used in marketing. I will admit, this was a vulnerable moment for me, since I had to let the public see my baby. It all worked out, and was made easier by my Sisters in Crime relationships. Knowing other writers makes all the difference in so many ways. Don’t wait to find those networks.
  • Proofs are the next step. This is what I am working on now–reading the book again, looking for mistakes. This is not a time to rewrite. One great part of this phase is that I get to see how the book will be laid out, how the chapters look, etc.

These are all the book steps I’ve gone through so far. Next up will be marketing, getting ready for the launch (figuring out what that will be!), and hitting send on Book #2 by July 15.

These days there are lots of paths to publication, but the steps are going to be very similar. I am one of the lucky ones. This is a lot of work, but it is a dream come true, and it is getting more real by the day. Now, back to the editing of Book #2…

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J.A. Hennrikus writes short stories. Julie Hennrikus is an arts administrator. Julianne Holmes writes the Clock Shop Mystery Series. They all look alike.

Weekend Edition: Love Your Mistakes Plus Good Reads and Writing Tips

 

It’s All Part of the Process

Wise Owl says, "There are no mistakes (only happy accidents)!" (Lovely altar to mistakes compliments of my sweet and creative friend Kristin Cutaia)

Wise Owl says, “There are no mistakes (just happy accidents)!” (Image of a lovely “altar to mistakes” compliments of my sweet and creative neighbor, Kristin Cutaia)

Earlier this week, my friend Emma (fellow writer, mama, and – unlike me – a woman with a very chic style) shared an excerpt from an interview with Mike Patton of the band Faith No More. I am not cool enough to be an aficionado about Faith No More, but I loved the theme of the sound byte Emma shared: the value of making mistakes. Here’s a snippet:

But all the mistakes are little tiny little technical things, anyway, like, I shouldn’t have sung that that way, or, Oh, I was flat there. It’s not like, Oh, I shouldn’t have made this record. Because I feel like even if maybe I don’t like a particular record, it was a step in the process and I must have learned something from it. I think that’s more of a mature viewpoint. If you’d asked me that ten years ago, I’d have gone, “Oh, this record sucks and that’s bullshit,” but it all had to happen.

It all had to happen.

We forget that sometimes. We read – humbled, awed, and perhaps a little bit green – the inspiring (and somewhat intimidating) work of a writer we admire, and we forget what went into making it what it is. She wasn’t born with the ability to make that kind of art. She had to make a lot of mistakes to hone her craft. She had to try and fail and learn, and try and fail and learn again.

It’s all part of the process.

Whether you’re striving for brilliance or mere competence, you have to go through being clueless, inept, and moderately capable to get there. There are no shortcuts.

You have to learn you way to the top, one screw up at a time.

In my post about how to tell if you’re a real writer, I commented on the ludicrous demands our culture places on people who want to call themselves “Writer.” In most cases, simply practicing a thing – running, yoga, gardening – is enough to earn you the right to call yourself by that title: runner, yogi, gardener. Not so with writing (or, any other art for that matter). Likewise, there is something in our collective consciousness that tries to convince us of the infallibility of the “real” artist. Some primal part of our id wants us to believe that the road to literary greatness bypasses inadequacy via some kind of magical detour. Steven Pressfield would probably name this horrific misconception Resistance.

Whatever it’s name may be, you need to get rid of it.

We acquire skills through learning. Learning, by its nature, requires failure. Think about any skill you’ve learned – walking, talking, reading, baking a cake, tying your shoes, driving a car, dancing the waltz. Were you perfect the first time you tried? Of course not. You stumbled and tripped over your own feet and your partner’s toes. You mispronounced words, ground the gears, and watched – heart broken – as the perfect, golden arc of your faerie cake caved in on itself.

You made mistakes.

And, more importantly, you learned from them.

There is nothing like learning by doing. Being in the trenches trumps theory. Every. Single. Time. We study to gain knowledge, but we must practice in order to gain experience. And, only through experience can we ever hope to achieve mastery. Who would you want by your side if you were heading out for a week in the jungle – the guy who has read a thousand books on the jungle ecosystem and learned enough to earn himself a PhD in environmental science, or the gal who has bushwhacked her way through the heart of the tropical forest a dozen times and has already experienced torrential downpours, snake bites, and the hospitality of the indigenous people?

That’s right. You want the person who has “been there and done that,” the person with hard-won experience that I can guarantee you was riddled with mistakes and failures.

Don’t apologize for your mistakes. Welcome them. They are proof that you are making progress, that you have stepped outside the confines of your comfort zone. That you are growing. You practice and you fail and you learn from that failure, so that you can do better next time. You learn to see what works, and what doesn’t. You learn to understand not only where you went wrong, but why. You start to get your head around what makes a story tick because you’ve taken so many apart in order to figure out what was missing.

Making mistakes is also a great way to lighten up a little already. Never take yourself too seriously. Don’t just sulkily accept that you’re going to make a mess of things. Revel in it. Go into the process with your eyes wide open and your heart filled with a sense of adventure. Think of all the amazing things you’re going to learn along the way! Last fall I took a Fiction I class at the Grub Street Writers Center. To help us learn about how to write strong dialog, our super smart and warmly encouraging teacher (the fabulous KL Pereira) had us write a scene that included all the worst dialog gaffes in the book. We had to try and cram every dialog-related transgression we knew into that one scene: stilted language, filler, exposition, naming characters, overuse and variation of modifiers, too much faithfulness to speech (um, y’know, like), dialect exaggeration, excessive direct address, etc. The exercise was fun, and it drove home the lesson she was trying to teach in a way that simply reading about the mistake could never do.

In addition to helping us learn, mistakes provide fertile ground for new discoveries. Many of our best-known scientific advancements are attributed to happy accidents – things that happened while a scientist was “playing around” with an idea. When we practice writing in a way that embraces the possibility of making mistakes, we open ourselves up to a world of previously inaccessible opportunities. Instead of letting fear of failure keep our creative feet glued to the straight and narrow path, we can step off into the wilderness of creativity and imagination. When we set our muse free to explore and experiment, there’s no limit to what can happen.

But, no matter what happens, regret nothing.

Remember, mistakes are part of the process.

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What I’m {Learning About} Writing:

One of the images from my nature-centric Instagram account

One of the images from my nature-centric Instagram account

I am repeatedly amazed by how much I don’t know about all the different writing markets out there. Though I have mentioned the power of niche markets before, sometimes life gets so busy that I forget to apply what I’ve learned to my own career development. Thankfully, I have friends who remind me.

This past week, I had the pleasure of a phone chat with my friend, YiShun Lai. In addition to being a talented writer, mindful philanthropist/volunteer, and sharp wit, YiShin is also a generous human being who gave me a valuable gift simply by pointing out what was right in front of my nose. She noticed that some of my social media profiles include the descriptor “nature lover,” and asked me if, in addition to loving nature, I also write about it.

I hadn’t really thought about it before, but it turns out that I write about nature a lot. I laughed and said that I guess I’m kind of an “accidental” nature writer.

And then we talked at length about what a nature essayist does and where. She shared some reading resources and generally opened my eyes to a new potential outlet for some of my writing. How cool is that? More importantly, she gave me a lens through which to view some of my work in a way that will help me focus my efforts. Again – so cool.

Are there themes or topics that you return to again and again in your writing? Pay attention to them. Explore them. Think about how they fit together and where they might fit out in the world. You might be, like me, missing an invitation to walk a particular path just because you didn’t notice it was there.

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What I’m Reading:

bok darker shade magicI heard about A Darker Shade of Magic, the new book from Victoria (V.E.) Schwab, via Jen Campbell’s vlog, This is Not the Six Word Novel. Thank you, Jen!

I have had several recent disappointments with fantasy novels lately. I grew up reading fantasy and SciFi almost exclusively, and I’ve been itching lately to recapture that feeling of being swept off my feet and into another world. The trouble is, my tastes seem to have evolved, and it’s been a challenge to find stories that feature the kind of world-building prowess that makes me suspend disbelief, even at my – ahem – mature age.

Enter Schwab’s world of four parallel Londons.

From the book jacket:

STEP INTO A UNIVERSE OF DARING ADVENTURE, THRILLING POWER, AND MULTIPLE LONDONS.Kell is one of the last Travelers-magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel universes, connected by one magical city.

There’s Grey London, dirty and boring, without any magic, and with one mad king-George III. Red London, where life and magic are revered-and where Kell was raised alongside Rhys Maresh, the rougish heir to a flourishing empire. White London-a place where people fight to control magic, and the magic fights back, draining the city to its very bones. And once upon a time, there was Black London. But no one speaks of that now.

Officially, Kell is the Red Traveler, ambassador of the Maresh empire, carrying the monthly correspondences between the royals of each London. Unofficially, Kell is a smuggler, servicing people willing to pay for even the smallest glimpses of a world they’ll never see. It’s a defiant hobby with dangerous consequences, which Kell is now seeing firsthand.

Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs into Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She first robs him, then saves him from a deadly enemy, and finally forces Kell to spirit her to another world for a proper adventure.

Now perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, they’ll first need to stay alive.

Sounds fabulous, right? It is. 

This is the first book I’ve read by Schwab, but I have already added other titles of hers to my Want to Read list.

A Darker Shade of Magic is a perfect example of thorough and engaging world building. Once I opened the cover and stepped into the story, I was immediately drawn into Schwab’s alternate reality of four, parallel Londons and the magic that binds them together. Her characters are well drawn and her magic system is full of unexpected possibilities without being at all implausible (as magic systems go).

Once she had me hooked, Schwab led me through her story at a perfect pace. Though my overall impression of the book is that it’s something of a swashbuckler, the action is balanced with pockets of “smaller” action. It never feels like a Hollywood car chase, but I still couldn’t stop turning the pages.

Perhaps most importantly, I cared about what happened to these characters. Having recently abandoned a book because I just didn’t care what happened to the story’s protagonist, I was delighted to feel actual anxiety about what was happening to Kell and Lila. I reacted physically to some scenes, cringing and tensing as I read.

Perhaps the most complimentary thing I can say about this book is that it was good enough that I found myself making all kinds of excuses to read “just one more chapter.” I even carted it with me when I went to wait in line to pick up my daughter at school. (And, yes, I may have left a little earlier than usual to extend my waiting/reading time.)

Bottom line: I recommend this one highly, and I already can’t wait for the sequel, A Gathering of Shadows, which is due out next February.

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

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Finally, a quote for the week:

This week we have so much more than a mere quote. Big thanks to the lovely Sara Foley (aka The Practical Mystic) for finding and sharing this gem in her Twitter feed this week.

Here’s to embracing your mistakes, learning from them, and creating a writing world that sweeps you off your feet and into a new life. Happy reading! Happy Writing! See you on the other side. 

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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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Weekend Edition – Finding Your Readers Plus Good Reads and Writing Tips

So Many Fish in the Sea, So Many Readers in the World

wooded roadWriting is an intrinsically challenging task. To do it well you must corral and harness many different parts of your intellect and spirit. You must learn to manage the diverse elements of your vision, imagination, and craft so that they move in tandem, pulling your story forward. The process requires varying degrees of earned skill, innate intuition, and stubborn stamina.

If, in addition to getting the words on the page, you also hope to have others read those words, you introduce an entirely new layer of complexity to your literary endeavors. In essence, you invite strangers to collaborate in your creative process. Because, make no mistake, crafting your story with a reader in mind (even an as yet unknown reader) changes both the writing experience and its outcome. As Samuel Johnson said, “A writer only begins a book. A reader finishes it.”

As if the prospect of putting your words out into the world where they will be subject to comment, critique, and interpretation isn’t scary enough on its own, there is the matter of finding readers in the first place. The road to connecting with your audience can be a long and lonely one. Leading you through dark forests and across parched stretches of desert, it is pockmarked with potholes of doubt, misleading detours, and (on the worst days) roadside hecklers. This is not a path for the weak of heart or intention.

And yet, for those of us with a writer’s heart, it is not so much a matter of courage as it is a matter of simply putting one foot in front of the other. As it turns out, we are not separate from the path; we create it with each step we take.

But, sometimes, we forget this truth.

We falter, unsure of our next step, and we wind up putting our feet down on someone else’s path. We are distracted by the story of another writer’s success or swayed by other people’s presumptions about the kind of writer we should be. Though it looks as though we are still making progress, we have actually lost our way. We trudge happily (or, laboriously) along the road, hoping at each turn to finally meet our audience, completely unaware that we have taken a wrong turn and left our audience somewhere back there in the wilderness.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to find your audience by writing the Great American Novel, hitting the bestseller list, or having your books turned into box office gold. These are lofty goals to be sure, but that does not make them any less worthy. A word of caution, however, is warranted against allowing a single goal to consume you to the point of creative blindness.

The world of writing is vast, diverse, and always evolving. While it is admirable to commit, heart and soul, to reaching a specific audience by accomplishing a particular writing goal, it is not the best creative practice to let your pursuit of that one achievement blind you to other writing opportunities that might be uniquely yours.

For instance, while publishing a novel is a common, almost ubiquitous, goal of aspiring writers, it is only one of many possible ways to share your writing skills and stories. In addition to the long list of literary genres applied to novels (literary, historical, romance, mystery, cozy mystery, science fiction, fantasy, epic fantasy, urban fantasy, realism, magical realism, erotica, parody, paranormal, paranormal romance, fan fiction, dystopian, etc., etc., etc.), the world of writing also includes many different forms: essays (opinion, humor, editorial, lyrical), short stories, flash fiction, poems (in all their various forms and structures), scripts, non fiction (on every and any topic under the sun), journalistic stories, creative non fiction, educational texts, business writing, copywriting, and the list goes on and on and on.

If you have chosen to commit the lion’s share of your writing time to the pursuit of a particular goal, that’s fine. Just be sure it’s your goal, and not someone else’s. Also, don’t let your focus on that goal keep you from doing the two things that all artists must do to keep their creativity alive and connect with other artists and potential audiences: LEARN and PLAY.

Even if you are bound and determined to become an award-winning, bestselling novelist, know that there is still a lot you can learn about not only novel writing, but about writing in general. Be committed. Pursue your dream. But, make time to EXPLORE and EXPERIMENT.

Do not let your writer’s world get small.

READ EVERYTHING. Let your curiosity guide you. Taste all the different formats and genres. Indulge in the experience of reading the work of unfamiliar authors, new and old. Crack the stories open. Analyze them. Look at them through the lens of your life experience and your writing experience. Take away what serves you, and leave the rest. Remember that most innovations are mash-ups, putting two things together in a new way to create something new and exciting. Try out new combinations.

WRITE EVERYTHING. Don’t box yourself in with restrictions about the kinds of things you write or the way you write them. PLAY. Dabble. Turn things upside down. Try “translating” a story from one form to another. If you consider yourself a short story writer, take one of your stories and rewrite it as a poem or a play script. If you think of yourself as a serious journalist, take a piece you’ve written and make it into a humorous parody or a fiction story. Give yourself writing prompts that stretch you beyond your comfort zone. Don’t let your writer’s road take you in circles. Remember, each step that you take creates that road in front of you. Step off the beaten track and explore some new territory.

The search for your audience, your reader, may not be a linear journey. It’s more likely that the path will wind much, taking you through strange lands full of unfamiliar people and giving you the chance to discover unknown parts of your creative self. It is only by taking this journey and learning about yourself that you will finally be able to recognize your readers when you meet them.

The world of writing is vast, and so is the world of readers. You do not need to co-opt someone else’s readers or dream of writing success. Dream your own dream. No matter how crazy you may think your idea is, there is a reader out there waiting to read exactly the thing you are writing. The possibilities are truly endless. Not all of them have mass appeal, and that’s okay. That’s more than okay. Explore. Play. Experiment. An audience of one is still an audience, and if you are able to truly connect with one person, that one person will help you connect with another person, and another, and another. And, suddenly, your audience of one is growing.

What I’m {Learning About} Writing:

In a recent episode of the Writing Excuses podcast, Mary Robinette Kowal (one of the four regular hosts of the show) said this about books:

“The book is a way to hack the brain … When people pick it up, they are picking it up to produce a specific emotional state in themselves.”

Think about that for a minute.

What kind of emotional state are you promising your readers? What emotional promise does your story make? How are you going to keep that promise?

Thinking about your story in the context of the reader’s emotional state is subtly different than thinking about the “kind” of story you’re writing.

What I’m Reading:

I’m about two-thirds of the way through a new novel. I’m really enjoying it, but not quite ready to share. In lieu of writing about that particular reading experience, I thought I’d share a wonderful source of reading recommendations who has been around for quite a while, but whom I’ve only just recently discovered: Jen Campbell of the blog This is Not the Six Word Novel.

The book I’m currently reading is one I picked up because of one of her recommendation videos. Here’s her most recent one. I hope you find something interesting to check out!

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 write what you wish

I wish you luck and joy on your writer’s road. Happy writing. Happy reading. See you on the other side! 
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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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Forest Road Photo Credit: WarzauWynn via Compfight cc

Weekend Edition – Imagine A World of Writers Plus Good Reads and Writing Tips

Imagine a World of Writers

"Dear Earth" by Katie Daisy via etsy

“Dear, Earth” by Katie Daisy via etsy

More people should write.

They should write about their days and their dreams, about their hopes and their fears, about their families and their histories and their possible futures. They should write lists and poems and wild ramblings that sound like the intoxicated rantings of a idiot savant. They should tell stories, wonderful, improbable, made-up stories. They should sink or dig or dive or fall or claw their way into that place inside where the stories live, and pull them out like blunt-edged gems from deep within the living, breathing earth. They should write lies that are true and truths that uncover lies. They should weave secrets into the spaces between the words, and then give those secrets gladly to the world.

For those of us bitten by the writing bug, it is near impossible (and quite terrifying) to imagine life without the ability to put our thoughts, ideas, and stories into words and onto the page. This simple act of using language to articulate the inner workings of our mind and heart serves to free the former and to ground the latter. Writing is both our wings and our roots.

I believe that the world would be a better place if more people would write.

I don’t mean writing professionally or even publicly. I mean that the world would be a better place if more people took the time to simply slow down and put into words how they are feeling, what they are experiencing, and why. We move too fast most of the time. We fly through our days and collapse into our oblivious nights. We live our lives in the context of other people’s stories, hardly giving a thought to our own.

It is all too easy for a lifetime to slip by unquestioned. And if we do not take the time to ask the questions, how will we ever know our answers? Not that the answers are all that important. It is the questions that matter. Writing helps us grasp the questions; and, in the process of seeking an answer, it helps us to understand the question more fully. Writing forces us to think more deeply and broadly and carefully. It  breaks a question open and invites us to explore. The process of writing – the digging in, the discovery, the meandering and wondering, the finding of the right words, the connecting of ideas and generating of more questions – makes it impossible for any question to be answered in simple black and white terms.The process of writing introduces not only all the grays that live in the thousands of stories behind a question, but every beautiful, brilliant color of life.

When it comes to writing, it is difficult to keep from slipping down the slope of my good intentions into a pit of proselytizing. And, even if I didn’t abhor the concept of coercive conversion, it would be silly to attempt such a thing here where I am, I imagine, preaching to the proverbial choir.

To write is a uniquely human skill that gives us the ability to transcend time and space, break the boundaries of reality, and understand the nature of life more fully. Writing connects us to ourselves, to others, and to the world around us. It is a powerful tool of self-discovery, communication, and self-expression. Writing gives us a magic lens through which to view our experiences with more depth and clarity, making us able to see into a moment in a different way. Writing helps us unlock questions and answers through analytical thinking, and it helps us create context and evoke empathy through creative play.

Imagine a world where writing is not considered a chore, a frivolous hobby, an indulgence, or the privilege of the few and gifted. Imagine a world where writing is simply part of what it means to be human. I wonder what that world would look like. I wonder.

What I’m {Learning About} Writing: You Need to Make Your Reader Care

book aurariaI downloaded Auraria by Tim Westover partly because it was free, but mostly because the highlighted promotional blurbs included this bit from Publisher’s Weekly: “Weaves tall tales and legends, Carrollian surrealism, and a fascinating cast of characters into a genuinely inventive novel that reads like steampunk via Mark Twain. Fact and fancy are intertwined cleverly and seamlessly in a top-notch, thoroughly American fantasy.” – Publishers Weekly (starred review) Sounds fabulous, right?

Unfortunately, I just couldn’t connect with the protagonist. Though the writing was lovely, and the setting and cast of characters was undeniably creative and whimsical, I just couldn’t muster much in the way of caring what happened.

Looking back, it’s interesting to note that the Publishers Weekly blurb does not mention the story – what is happening or why – in any way. It describes how the story is presented, but it doesn’t tell you what the story is about. It doesn’t ask a question that needs to be answered. It doesn’t even hint at the premise or the “what if” behind the novel.Sadly, this novel has earned a place on my “Did Not Finish” list in Goodreads.

Note to self: Make sure that you give readers a gripping reason to care about what happens to your protagonist and in your story. You don’t want to wind up in the unfinished pile.

What I’m Reading:  The Fairytales of Hermann Hesse

book hesse fairytalesAfter abandoning what was left of Auraria, I wanted  to read something that I knew would not disappoint. Since Auraria struck me as a bit fairytale-like, I decided to revisit an old favorite, The Fairy Tales of Hermann Hesse (translated by Jack Zipes).

I can’t recall exactly when I first began reading Hesse. It was quite far back in my youth, I think, a time when I was a little more starry-eyed. My memory of reading his books and stories was a feeling of being enlightened in small ways. It was a little surprising, then, that after all these years, these simple stories still held a sway over my head and heart.

There are three stories in this collection that are about the theme of artistic pursuits vs. worldly life. I read all three, “The Poet,” “The Fairy Tale About the Wicker Chair,” and “The Painter.” I also reread a story called “Iris,” primarily because it’s one that I remember reading. Though I could not recall the story’s details, I knew it was one I’d especially liked.

Interestingly, though the characters in Hesse’s fairy tales are, as is traditionally the case with the genre, only briefly “sketched” rather than being fully fleshed out, I was still able to feel a connection to them and to their stories. Unlike the challenge I had with Auraria, I cared enough about these people to continue reading to the end. Granted, short stories require a much lesser investment of time than a novel, but – still – I was not for a moment apathetic about the plight of the story’s players, or the discoveries they made. I’m looking forward to rereading more of these stories and thinking about how traditional tales like these might be adapted to a more contemporary kind of story telling. Hmmm … that might almost be a writing prompt. 😉

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 writing salvation gaiman Until next time – I wish you happy writing and happy reading! . 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 – On “Real” Writers Plus Good Reads and Writing Tips

How to Tell If You’re a “Real” Writer

Even the Blue Fairy can't make you a real writer ~ Inspirational Illustration by Gustaf Tenggren

Even the Blue Fairy can’t make you a real writer ~ Inspirational Illustration by Gustaf Tenggren

There has been a bit of a kerfuffle around the Internet for the past few weeks. Like drunken participants in a virtual bar brawl, the topics of MFAs and creative exclusion have careened from blog to blog, crashing into our headspace and spilling beer on our reading material. While I’m glad that people are talking about writing (even if they are being a little unruly about it), I’m discouraged that the conversation focuses so heavily on the idea of external validation – of whether or not (and how) someone else can say that you are (or are not) a “real” writer. And, for that matter, what’s with this term “Real” Writer?

This isn’t the first time we have been caught in the crossfire, but this particular row began with a piece penned by former MFA professor Ryan Boudinot. Published on The Stranger, Things I Can Say About MFA Programs Now That I No Longer Teach in One is less a personal expose and more a personal attack on both the students he taught and the institution he worked for. My favorite bit of his diatribe was this, “Just because you were abused as a child does not make your inability to stick with the same verb tense for more than two sentences any more bearable. In fact, having to slog through 500 pages of your error-riddled student memoir makes me wish you had suffered more.” I have no words.

As you might expect, Boudinot’s article raised the ire of other writers far and wide. Here are a few of the responses I found most interesting:

An Open Letter to That Ex-MFA Creative Writing Teacher Dude by Chuck Wendig on Terrible Minds – Though Chuck’s prolific use of obscenities and colorful metaphors (such as, “peeing bees”) may not be your thing, Mr. Wendig makes some very good points and he gets top marks for passionate presentation.

On Ryan Boudinot and the Goddard MFA by poet Bhanu Kapil provides a much more restrained rebuttal, but a rebuttal nonetheless. The piece is given additional weight by the fact that the author also taught at Goddard.

Open Letter to Crabby Writing Teachers Everywhere by Karin Gillespie offers not only a satisfying rebuke, but also hope to emerging writers with her debunking of The Myth of the Real Deal.

 

I have never taught in an MFA, and I don’t expect I’ll ever enroll in one. I have, however, been a writer for my entire life. My journey began at the age of seven, when I put pencil to paper in my first journal. I have been on my writing adventure ever since, and although I have not hit the New York Times Bestseller List (yet), I definitely consider myself a “real” writer.

Why?

Because the result of doing something is not the thing. Doing the thing is the thing.

Being published or even financially compensated does not make you a “real” writer. Earning public acclaim, industry awards, or the envious admiration of your peers does not make you a “real” writer. All you need to do to be a “real” writer is commit to the practice of writing. All those other things – income, fame, academic acknowledgement – are just possible results of writing. They are not the writing. And – one more time – they do not make you a writer.

When you think about the question of whether or not you are a “real” writer in the context of other things we do, the idea becomes kind of silly.

If I run for fitness, but have not been paid to run or won any marathons, I can still call myself a “runner” without fear of anyone questioning the veracity of my claim. If I practice yoga in the privacy of my own home without any hope of applause for my downward dog or tree pose, I can still confidently call myself a yogini. If I tend a garden purely for the joy of nurturing green things, without any intent to make a profit from the flowers and vegetables that grow in my care, I can still call myself a gardener.

When people like Boudinot judge (as if it was their job in the first place) whether or not someone is a “real” writer, the criteria they use is all wrong. Income, acclaim, and all the other external trappings of their “real” writer have little to do with the actual writing. They are simply the outcome of a person having written. It was the act of writing that made that person a writer, not cashing a check or accepting a trophy. You may not be a professional writer, but that does not mean you are a not a real writer any more than not being paid for my zinnias keeps me from being a real gardener.

The question of skill is equally as misplaced.

Just because I’m unable to stand on my head perfectly (or, at all) doesn’t mean I’m not a yogini. Just because my tomato plant didn’t win first prize at the county fair doesn’t mean I’m not a gardener. Skill is something we can acquire only through practice. And, if we are practicing a thing, we are a practitioner of the skill in question, which in turn earns us the title of runner, writer, gardener, etc.

In her lovely and deeply inspiring book If You Want to Write, Brenda Ueland asserts that everyone has talent and everyone has a story worth telling. She has no tolerance for critics. In the very first chapter of her book, she writes,

So often I come upon articles written by critics of the very highest brow, and by other prominent writers, deploring the attempts of ordinary people to write. The critics rap us savagely on the head with their thimbles, for our nerve. No one but a virtuoso should be allowed to do it. The prominent writers sell funny articles about all the utterly crazy, fatuous, amateurish people who think they can write.

Ueland wrote her book in 1938. Clearly, this isn’t a new problem.

 

I hope that if you have been troubled in the past by worries about whether or not you are (or, ever will be) a “real” writer, that this post will help you move past that concern and free you up to focus on the joy of your writing practice. Put your heart and mind fully into the effort. Study and learn. Discover. Uncover. Experiment. There is no such thing as a “real” writer. If you write, you are a writer, and it doesn’t get any more real than that.

 

And, the next time someone asks you what you do, tell them, “Professionally, I’m a [fill in your job title here]; but in my real life, I’m a writer.”

 

What I’m {Learning About} Writing: You don’t have to put all your eggs in one basket.

Morning Gather by Terri Unger

Morning Gather by Terri Unger

You only get one chance to make a first impression.

This may be true. It may also be one of the primary reasons writers stress out about sharing their work.

Fear of rejection often keeps us from putting our work out into the world. Whatever opus we’re working on, we hide it away to protect it from critical eyes and sharp tongues. We have worked too long and too hard to risk others tearing the product of our labors apart, or (perhaps even worse) ignoring it completely. How many manuscripts are out there, languishing in the proverbial bottom drawer?

But, what if, instead of putting all your effort into your Big Project (only to lock it away from the light of day), you put some of your creative energy and time into shorter, less momentous works?

This idea is one of the reasons writing practices like blogging, short stories, flash fiction, poetry, and other short forms are so valuable. They require less of an investment from you, and they provide you with many, smaller (and therefore less daunting) opportunities to share your words. Instead of having to serve an entire, five-course meal, you can just offer a cup of tea, a cookie, or an appetizer.

Sure, sometimes a reader won’t enjoy your tea or will think your cookie could have used a little less sugar and a bit more spice, but that’s okay. It isn’t as if one blog post (or essay or short story) can define your career or your identity as a writer. And, the more you put these little pieces of yourself out into the world, the braver you will become and the better your will be at learning to separate yourself from the work. You will worry less about getting hurt, and be more intrigued by what you can learn from reader feedback. You will start to see each moment of “exposure” less as a horrific moment of being naked on stage, and more as a chance to build connections that sustain and inspire you.

Give it a try. What small thing can you write and share today?

 

What I’m Reading: Peaches for Monsieur Le Curé

book peaches monsieurChocolat is one of my favorite movies. Based on the novel by Joanne Harris (which I’m sorry to say I’ve never read), it has a wonderful sense of place, interwoven themes, and an underlying current of magic. Imagine my delight, then, to find a copy of Harris’ companion novel, Peaches for Monsieur Le Curé, on the sale cart at my local library. Oh, happy day!

Set in the same provincial French town as Chocolat, Peaches for Monsieur Le Curé also features the same characters as Harris’ original story plus a new cast who bring heightened stakes and greater tension to this culturally-charged story. I was hooked by the book’s very first lines,

Someone once told me, that in France alone, a quarter of a million letters are delivered every year to the dead.

What she didn’t tell me is that sometimes the dead write back.

Harris’ protagonist, Vianne Rocher, is fascinating to me. She is at once apart from and deeply entangled with the lives of the people around her. Her gifts of small magic, of being able to see people’s “colours” and flashes of visions, are both enchanting and believable.

I enjoyed my return trip to the small town of Lansquenet, and it may be that I will soon journey to other lands of Harris’ creation. Having taken a closer look at her catalog, it seems she offers a wide variety of destinations to her readers.

 

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 real writers

Here’s to being as real as you can be – as a writer, and as a human being. Happy writing! Happy reading! I’ll see you on the other side. 
.
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 – Writing When You Don’t Feel Creative plus Good Reads and Writing Tips

Writing from the Gray Space

fog riverI had an entirely different post planned for today. I outlined it while watching my daughter ride, jotting notes during the down time between jumps and canters. I was happy with the way the ideas were coming together on the mind map and in my head. I was really looking forward to writing my first draft. That was Tuesday.

Today seems a world away from Tuesday.

It’s not that anything awful happened, but my energy has taken a bit of a nose dive, and I seem to have lost the wonderful groove that had me dancing almost effortlessly through the early part of the week. Now, my mood and outlook match the sluggish gray that hangs on the world outside my window. The crows that usually appear full of mischief and mirth now hunch along the telephone lines wearing a foreboding countenance. Their calls sound lonely.

It’s okay. I know it’s only temporary.

It may not always be convenient or enjoyable, but I have learned (oh, yes, the hard way) that it’s wiser to ride the ups and downs of my energy and creativity than to try to control them. Once upon a time, I would have ignored the signs of a descent into a fallow period. I would have pushed doggedly forward, forcing myself to produce even though my heart and head weren’t invested in the effort. I would have told myself that there was no time to rest and no time to lose. Write, girl, write. Get that job done. Make it happen.

But, while persistence and commitment are both generally admirable qualities, sometimes they aren’t the answer to your creative question. Take today. I could have sat myself down at the keyboard and done my best to write the post I outlined on Tuesday. I could have tried to recapture my sense of enthusiasm on the page, but I knew that in my present state of mind I wouldn’t do the topic justice.

If I’d had a client deadline to meet, I wouldn’t have had the option to delay writing the piece. I would have had to buckle down and make the best of an imperfect situation. (The writing gods know I’ve done this many a time.) But, happily, in this case, I could switch gears and write about something that was better suited to my emotional bent. Which is what I did.

My creative cycle feels like one of those hypnotic Mandelbrot fractal designs, made of the same pattern repeated over and over at different scales. My creativity (and energy to create) ebb and flow over the course of each day, each project, and over the course of weeks, months, seasons, and years. The trick is in learning to work in harmony with the endless undulations of those natural patterns instead of against them.

Of course, each of us must be careful not to mistake Resistance for a natural part of the creative cycle. We must not surrender to a state of total creative paralysis. That is not the same as switching gears or letting projects lie fallow for a time. That is the lizard brain’s default response to fear, and it’s never helpful. Even when I feel unable to work on a particular piece or a certain type of creative endeavor, I strive to always be moving forward in some way.

I look out the window now and the heavy gray has undergone a subtle transformation. No longer heavy and colorless, the sky now appears gently lit from within, the edges deepening to a chalky blue-gray that liquifies in the still surface of the river. Gray can be beautiful – even inspiring – if we can accept it for what it is and learn to create in accord with its rhythms.

 

What I’m {Learning About} Writing: A Story Framework Can Help Jumpstart Your Writing

The more you learn about the writing craft, the more valuable reading will be to your education. Here’s why.

You’ve heard, of course, that there are two things every writer must do: write and read. It makes a lot of sense. If you are attempting to create a thing, you will benefit from studying that thing in its finished form, getting to know it inside and out, understanding how all the pieces fit together.

Even if you haven’t yet sunk your teeth fully into your study of the writing craft, reading provides much value simply by giving you the experience of being inside a story. Though it may not be immediately obvious, each story you read is teaching you something about the craft. Through broad experience, comparing, and contrasting, you are developing a more critical eye and a sense of what makes a story work for you.

Then, when you’re more invested in your exploration of the craft, you will feel as though your eyes have suddenly been given superpowers. You will read and, instead of just experiencing the surface of a story, you will see all the story’s insides – the clockwork and “magic” that make it come alive and give it the power to pull you into a different dimension. You will notice the key milestones in the story’s structure, the way the author has used direct and indirect characterization to bring life to her players, instances of foreshadowing, and all kinds of other details.

I have been noticing the power of a structural framework in a story. I don’t mean story structure in the archetypal sense, but in a more concrete sense – the way the writer organizes the pieces of the story. I’ve recently read a series of novels that each use a unique pattern to tell the story. For instance:

  • In The Moon Sisters, Therese Walsh tells her story from the points of view of two sisters, Jazz and Olivia. The narration alternates between the two women, switching with each chapter. In addition each chapter begins with a flashback that fills in some of the back story. There are also a series of letters that are revealed throughout the story, adding another layer of context. Finally, the entire book is organized into sections that mirror the five stages of grief.
  • In The Little Country, Charles deLint tells a story within a story, deftly weaving the two together to create a unique reading experience in which we get to experience the two adventures simultaneously.
  • In The Bookman’s Tale, Charlie Lovett shifts point of view and time periods ((Shakespeare’s day, the late 1800s, the mid-80s, and the mid-90s) with each chapter, carefully crafting the story across these characters and eras so that by the end, everything comes together.

While these may seem like complex approaches to storytelling, in my experience having any kind of framework can be immensely helpful to the writing process. Whether I am writing a blog post, an essay, or a marketing ebook, knowing how I’m going to break the piece down into parts gives me a “skeleton” on which I can begin hanging my story. It’s similar to having an outline, except that it doesn’t have anything to do with the actual content of what I’m writing. It just gives me some parameters and constraints about how to organize my content.

If you’re stuck on a piece of writing, you might want to try coming up with a structure and playing with “filling in the blanks,” so to speak. Looking at your story from a different perspective might help you break loose from what you thought was writer’s block.

 

What I’m Reading: Timeskip by Charles deLint

book timeskipI recently shared my delightful discovery of Charles deLint’s Facebook group, The Mystic Cafe.  This community of more than 3,500 fans of myth and fantasy posts a steady stream of links to interesting articles, artworks, and – of course – books. Because of a recent post in that group, I downloaded a copy of Charles deLint’s novella, Timeskip.

Timeskip is one in a series of stories and novellas set in deLint’s fictitious city of Newford. I have loved several of his Newford novels, including Widdershins and Onion Girl, enough to be happily anticipating rereads.

But, Timeskip didn’t thrill me the way that I had hoped. I feel guilty even writing that, like the way I felt as a kid the first time my mom made a dinner that I didn’t like. I wept quietly over my plate, sure I had somehow betrayed my mother.

But, even those we love and admire the most cannot be expected to hit a home run every time. And a single disappointment does not ruin a reader/author relationship. I am already eyeing up my next deLint read. I’m intrigued by another in his Newford Stories series, Crow Girls. I’ll let you know how it is.

 

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 deLint seeing

Here’s to creating something – anything – even when your heart and head are a bit foggy. Happy writing. Happy reading. Happy learning. 
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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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Weekend Edition – Spring Cleaning Makes Writing Easier Plus Good Reads and Writing Tips

How Spring Cleaning Helps You Write

She just wants a place for everything and everything in its place.

She just wants a place for everything and everything in its place.

So, yesterday was the first, official day of spring.

It didn’t much feel like it around here, with temps hovering around freezing and gray skies hiding the solar eclipse from view. Still, according to the calendar and the wheel of the year, the Spring Equinox had finally arrived. Hooray!

I unintentionally spent a good part of this week doing what I guess might pass as a sort of spring cleaning. I didn’t dust any drapes (I don’t have any drapes), defrost the freezer (I’m not even sure how to do that), or air out the linens, but I did make a dent in wrangling the frightening amount of administrative loose ends that had accumulated in my life.

You know the kinds of things I mean – returning calls, following-up on project statuses, figuring out your new insurance premiums, paying your excise tax, finding a new CPA, getting to inbox zero … stuff like that.

As a freelance writer, I am often swept up by the crush and hustle of needing to get the job done. Though I work for myself, in truth I have many bosses (even if I don’t include my cats, which I do). Sometimes, keeping everyone happy means that these small, household-type responsibilities fall to the bottom of the To Do list. Eventually, they pile up and pile up until what used to be a single, simple, five-minute task has mutated into a growing horde of could-become-catastrophic-at-any-moment chores clinging to my back like so many manic monkeys.

Perhaps I exaggerate, but not by much.

At any rate, this week, I shifted some deadlines so that I could focus on clearing out some of the physical and karmic debris caused by my long-term neglect of these clerical obligations. The work was tedious and without acclaim or monetary reward, but I have to tell you that I came away from the effort feeling refreshed and fulfilled and even empowered. There was suddenly more breathing room in my day. I felt lighter, and more optimistic than before.

I have long held that there is an important, if somewhat ineffable, relationship between The Maid and The Muse. My muse is fairly tolerant of disarray, but at a certain point, she takes in the scene, crosses her arms, and looks at me as if to say, “Seriously?” And, I have to admit, she has a point.

On the other hand, my internal maid can’t stand any amount of clutter, and the weight of things left undone is a heavy burden to her, indeed. Because of her slightly OCD nature, she tends to just vacate the premises when things start to spin out of control. It’s a matter of self preservation, kind of like how I’ve learned that if I’m going to make my deadlines, I have to compartmentalize my life a little.

But, eventually, The Maid and The Muse get together and stage an intervention.

I think that The Maid just reaches her breaking point. There is just too much clutter and too many things that should have been done weeks ago still hanging over our heads. She just can’t stand it anymore. The Muse becomes an accomplice out of necessity when the hand-wringing and griping of The Maid make it impossible for anyone to concentrate on creative endeavors.

So, I get to organizing, clearing out, and checking things off lists. Like I did this week.

Whether you realize it or not, having all those little tasks biting at your ankles takes a toll on your creativity. Even if you’re not actively thinking about them, all those worries linger somewhere in your consciousness and distract you from your work. They are like a shadow that you can only see out of the corner of your eye. You’re not exactly sure what it is, but it makes you uneasy.

When you finally confront that shadow, it’s not nearly as scary as you’d imagined. A few hours of focused effort, and – voila! – your head is clear and you’re ready to get down to your real work. I also believe (warning: woo-woo alert) that clearing your plate of physical and virtual clutter opens the way for new opportunities and possibilities. By creating more space, literally and metaphorically, you are free to invite more of what you want into your day and your life.

Ok, I’m stepping off my soapbox, but I do wish you a happy spring and (if the spirit grabs you) happy spring cleaning!

 

What I’m Writing:

nuthatchIt’s been a while since I’ve linked to a piece of my own writing, but in honor of the Spring Equinox, I’d like to share a recent column I wrote in admiration of our feathered friends and the way they help usher in the warmer weather and the new season.

I wrote Spring on the Wing after the phrase “held aloft on hollow bones filled with promises and sky” popped into my head just before I fell asleep. I’d been wanting to write a little something that expressed my love for and enjoyment of the many birds that frequent the feeder just outside my office window; and when I had that little piece of the puzzle, I knew it was time.

I hope you enjoy the piece and would love to hear from anyone who’d like to share his or her own piece on the arrival of spring.

 

What I’m Reading:

book bookmans taleJust  yesterday afternoon I finished Charlie Lovett’s novel, The Bookman’s Tale. I had three girlfriends coming over later and probably should have been running the vacuum or making some other domestic preparations; but I only had a few pages left to read, and I just couldn’t put the book down.

The Bookman’s Tale felt to me like a delightful mash-up of ages and genres. The story weaves in and out of four different time periods (Shakespeare’s day, the late 1800s, the mid-80s, and the mid-90s), and tells the tale of a recently widowed antiquarian bookseller who is drawn into a literary adventure when he discovers a mysterious portrait hidden in a book. There’s a love story, a mystery, and quite a bit of history. There’s a bit of the DaVinci Code’s intrigue and a bit of the gothic flavor of books like The Thirteenth Tale.

And, of course, as a lover of literature and books as works of art, this story held a particular allure. Lovett, a former antiquarian bookseller himself, clearly has a reverence for all aspects of the bookmaking art. Certain passages made me long to hold one of the literary treasures he describes in my own hands – a bit of paper and ink, but also a piece of history.

 

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

Marketing & Other Business-y Topics:

Inspiration:

Craft, Process, and Productivity:

Just for Fun:

Bookish:

 

Finally, a quote for the week:

A twofer this week – to cover both sides of the clean desk debate.

pin tidy deskpin cluttered desk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy spring. Happy writing. Happy reading. 🙂  

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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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Housemaid Sketch Photo Credit: april-mo via Compfight cc

Weekend Edition – Be Your Own (Writing) Idol Plus Good Reads and Writing Tips

Be Your Own Idol

idol joeyI have a confession. I watch American Idol.

There are worse things I could do, I know, but spending several hours each week plugged into my DVR definitely feels like a guilty pleasure.

My beau is my enabler. We’ve been watching together for a few years now, and have become self-educated aficionados on the art of the song choice, the correct way to do runs, and the fine balance that must be struck between a great vocal performance and mesmerizing stage presence. What keeps me watching the show is not, however, the display of technical vocal prowess or even the thrill of finding out who wins. What keeps me watching is the chance to witness the transformation of these young performers as they unfurl and stretch into being their own artists.

A couple of months ago, I shared my phrase for 2015: Believe in your own magic.  I think of this simple phrase often as I watch the American Idol contestants work through the sometimes arduous task of finding (and owning) their unique identities and voices And, I think of how it also applies to writers, from newbies to the uber experienced and successful.

Because art is art. Whether you are singing or writing, painting of dancing, sculpting or acting, or even throwing clay pots, art is only art if you imbue it with your own magic – that thing that is uniquely and beautifully yours. You have to give a little piece of yourself away with each creation. That is what touches people. That is what makes them want to be part of your world.

Having watched hundreds of American Idol performances, I have seen plenty of excellent performances that are technically impressive. I have heard immensely talented vocalists execute flawlessly on tough songs, hitting all the high notes and nailing each run. I have also learned that those performances pale in comparison to the not-so-perfect but deeply unique and heartfelt artistry of the singer who takes a chance on sharing her own magic, her own voice, her own true story.

I have a favorite this season. I have no idea if she’ll be able to take it “all the way” on with the fickle American Idol audience, but I will buy her album (there will be one) whether she “wins,” or not. Her name is Joey Cook, and this is her completely Joey-ized performance of Iggy Pop’s single, Fancy.

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I couldn’t adore her more.

I love her style, but more than that, I love her courage and her willingness to be different. I love that she plays a squeezebox and wears 50s-style dresses and dyes her hair blue. I love that I can feel her emotions each time she sings. And, I love watching her gain confidence each week as she slowly realizes that people are loving her just for sharing her own magic.

What magic do you have to share? What’s holding you back from putting it out there?

singerIf you are grooving along with my American Idol/art/writing train of thought, you may also like this post I wrote back in 2011 (I told you I’ve been a fan for a long time!) about 15 Tips To Make Your Writing Sing – American Idol Style. And, hey, if you watch the show, I’d love to know who your favorite is. 😉

 

 

What I’m {Learning About} Writing:

Portrait from the BBC article.

Portrait from the BBC article.

Sir Terry Pratchett, the author perhaps best known for his unique and long-running Discworld series, died earlier this week at the age of sixty-six. The BBC News post announcing his passing gives a thumbnail sketch of his career (some seventy books written across a span of forty-four years with total sales in excess of $70million) and his very public battle with rare form of early-onset Alzheimer’s.

The only Pratchett book I’ve read is the one he co-authored with Neil Gaiman, Good Omens. It’s one of the few books that makes me laugh out loud each time I read it (and, I’ve read it multiple times). Gaiman and Pratchett were not only colleagues, but also friends. Last September, knowing that his friend’s death was imminent, Gaiman wrote an essay for The Guardian titled, Terry Pratchett isn’t jolly. He’s angry.

In the short piece, Gaiman writes about the fury that drove Pratchett to write so uniquely and prolifically,

There is a fury to Terry Pratchett’s writing: it’s the fury that was the engine that powered Discworld. It’s also the anger at the headmaster who would decide that six-year-old Terry Pratchett would never be smart enough for the 11-plus; anger at pompous critics, and at those who think serious is the opposite of funny; anger at his early American publishers who could not bring his books out successfully.

I was saddened to hear of Pratchett’s passing. The world has lost a great storyteller. But, I hope that maybe we can find some small lesson in the beauty of how he used his anger to create beauty and laughter and bring a little more truth into the world.

charging knightA while back, I wrote a piece for my business blog called Get Mad: Marketing From Your Dark Side. Gaiman’s essay about Pratchett reminded me of this piece and the power of giving ourselves a villain to fight … a cause to write for.

 

What I’m Reading:

book ueland want writeCaught up as I have been this week with the idea of excavating and sharing your unique experience and style, I returned to an old favorite – Brenda Ueland’s If You Want to Write. This slim tome is aptly (and, I think, beautifully) sub-titled, “A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit.”

There is hardly a page of this book that isn’t criss-crossed with pencil underlinings from previous readings. In some places, I’ve actually drawn hearts and stars in the margins. Originally published in 1938, this book is as relevant as ever, perhaps even more so. With a gentle, but no nonsense voice, Ueland quietly transforms the often overwhelming task of writing into a simple magic that feels simultaneously accessible and miraculous.

If you have ever felt daunted by writing or doubtful about your right to write, please read this book. I promise you that it will warm your heart, ease your mind, and stoke your creative fires.

 

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

This week has an extra dose of crazy, so I didn’t get to spend as much time reading my favorite blogs as I would have liked, BUT here are a few reads that I enjoyed and thought were worth sharing:

 

Finally, a quote for the week:

pin no one is you

Thanks, as always, for being here. And thanks for being you and sharing your own magic with the world. Happy writing. Happy reading. See you on the other side! 
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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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Goals and the Working Writer.

Earlier this year, Cara McKenna wrote a blog post over at Wonk-o-mance entitled The Last Taboo, What one Writer Earns. In the post, she reveals that after 6 years of being published (six writing), she has finally accomplished her goal of earning in a year the same annual salary she made as a full-time graphic designer. McKenna is traditionally published in the erotic romance genre (definitely a popular genre at the moment). She is careful to stress that this is HER experience and your mileage may vary. In response to my question in the comments she said depending on the week, she works anywhere from 20-40 hours a week on writing and the associated tasks (revising edits, promotions etc.).

“It’s a full-time gig, but I don’t do well if I work much more than 40 hours. And I can’t procrastinate—I work terribly under pressure. I have to set weekly goals to make sure I don’t get stuck writing 5,000 words a day in the run up to a deadline, since I can’t physically do that. I thrive on discipline, not adrenaline.”

I’d love to be a best selling writer; New York Times, USA Today, Amazon Bestseller, I’d be tickled purple to top those lists. It would cool to be a recognized name like Nora Roberts, or Steven King. BUT, I’m a pragmatist. Some might go so far to say I’m practical to a fault. It’s my belief that to achieve that kind of success, you must work hard, be committed to your goals and have a laser focus. I write contemporary romance, I’m a mom and a wife and out of necessity, I work as a marketing communications professional. I’m not afraid of hard work, and I am committed, but laser focus for my fiction work-in-progress? Yeah, not so much, I just don’t have 20-40 hours a week to dedicate to my writing. Yet.

Right now, my goals are focused on being a working writer and after reading McKenna’s post. I’m ok with that. I have to maintain reasonable definitions of success or I’ll lose my mind. I’m a goal-oriented person, but I’m also easily overwhelmed by large goals. I have a tendency to put the cart before the horse and become paralyzed thinking about things like promotion or getting an agent. Neither of which is ANY concern without a story!

Don’t get me wrong. You should always be challenging yourself, pushing your personal comfort zone and striving for improvement. But sometimes it’s important to set intermediate success goals and to be cognizant of HOW you are defining success. Is your definition of success reasonable or even attainable give your current circumstances?

The Last Taboo was an eye opening and educational post. Even if it is just one author’s experience (although a few others share their earnings in the comments). In the next 2 years I’d like to earn $1,000.00 from my writing with that number increasing as my kids become more independent. What are your Short-term goals for your writing? Long-term? Share them in the comments. Use monetary figures if it suits you, but don’t feel obligated.

Lee Laughlin is a writer, wife, and mom, frequently all of those things at once. She blogs at Livefearlesslee.com. She has been a member of the Concord Monitor Board of Contributors. Her words have also appeared in a broad range of publications from community newspapers to the Boston Globe.