Friday Fun – Summer Reading List (What’s on Yours?)

Friday Fun is a group post from the writers of the NHWN blog. Each week, we’ll pose and answer a different, get-to-know-us question. We hope you’ll join in by providing your answer in the comments.

QUESTION: Each year around this time, as the longer days of summer beckon with the promise of afternoons on the beach or in the hammock immersed in a good book, we start to compile our list of summer reads. Which books are on your list this year, and – for bonus points – what are the attributes of a perfect summer read?

LisaJJackson_2014Lisa J. Jackson: I don’t have any particular books in mind to read (yet), but my idea of summer reads are those that I can devour in a couple of hours and move on to the next book. Historical romance falls into that character, or quirky fun books like Janet Evanovich’s. Now having said that, I’m on vacation this week and plan to finish Idyll Threats by Stephanie Gayle and Death Troupe by Vincent H. O’Neil!

hennrikus-web2Julie Hennrikus: My summer reading list is also New England Crime Bake homework. I am going to be interviewing Elizabeth George, and need to reread her books. I am also planning on catching up on friends’ mysteries. I’d love a good “can’t put it down” book for vacation, and am more thank open to suggestions!

SuddenlyJamie AvatarJamie Wallace: Oh, summer! You tease me with visions of long afternoons stretched out on the beach or the deck, book in hand, mind miles away in the throes of a good tale. Lately, I’ve found my summers to be just as chaotic (perhaps more so) than the rest of the year, so these lovely expectations do not often come to fruition. However, a girl can dream, right? Of course! SO, with that in mind, here are a few books that are on my radar for the summer:

bk viciousBecause I recently read (and loved!) her most recent novel, A Darker Shade of Magic, I am really looking forward to reading Victoria Schwab’s earlier work, Vicious. Hoping it’ll hold me over until the second book in the Darker Shade of Magic series comes out next February. Here’s the blurb for Vicious from Goodreads:

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

bk grace keepers illusI am also excited about a book called The Grace Keepers by Kirsty Logan. I heard about this book from the lovely Jen Campbell, whose blog, This is Not the Six Word Novel, is a fabulous resource for good reads of all kinds. This sounds to me like the kind of book that will take you away to another world, but one that seems to real you end up lbelieving you could really go there. We’ll see. Here’s the blurb for The Grace Keepers from Goodreads:

As a Gracekeeper, Callanish administers shoreside burials, laying the dead to their final resting place deep in the depths of the ocean. Alone on her island, she has exiled herself to a life of tending watery graves as penance for a long-ago mistake that still haunts her. Meanwhile, North works as a circus performer with the Excalibur, a floating troupe of acrobats, clowns, dancers, and trainers who sail from one archipelago to the next, entertaining in exchange for sustenance.

In a world divided between those inhabiting the mainland (“landlockers”) and those who float on the sea (“damplings”), loneliness has become a way of life for North and Callanish, until a sudden storm offshore brings change to both their lives–offering them a new understanding of the world they live in and the consequences of the past, while restoring hope in an unexpected future.

Inspired in part by Scottish myths and fairytales, The Gracekeepers tells a modern story of an irreparably changed world: one that harbors the same isolation and sadness, but also joys and marvels of our own age.

And, while I’m at it, Logan’s collection of fairytales, The Rental Heart and Other Fairytales, also sounds fabulous.

bk wave in the mindFinally, on the nonfiction side, I’m a huge fan of Ursula K. Le Guin’s novels, short stories, and essays, so I know I’m going to enjoy her collection, The Wave in the Mind: Talks & Essays on the Writer, the Reader & the Imagination. Once again, the blurb from Goodreads:

Join Ursula K. Le Guin as she explores a broad array of subjects, ranging from Tolstoy, Twain, and Tolkien to women’s shoes, beauty, and family life. With her customary wit, intelligence, and literary craftsmanmship, she offers a diverse and highly engaging set of readings. The Wave in the Mindincludes some of Le Guin’s finest literary criticism, rare autobiographical writings, performance art pieces, and, most centrally, her reflections on the arts of writing and reading.

I do hope this summer holds time enough to read more than three books, but these three are definitely at the top of my list. Looking forward to hearing what everyone else is reading this summer!

Diane MacKinnon: I don’t have a summer reading list but I do have a stack of books in my office waiting to be read. I was lucky enough to meet Robin Cook a couple of years ago at Crime Bake, and I bought his newest book, called Nano. When I caught sight of it the other day, I immediately added it to my pile of things to take camping with me this weekend.

photo by M. Shafer

photo by M. Shafer


Deborah Lee Luskin: One of the fun things about a summer is the freedom to not know what I’ll read next. That said, for work I’m reading Northern Woodlands magazine,  The Mindful Carnivore and Girl Hunter. I’d welcome any suggestions for great narratives about fishing,  hunting, and living in the landscape – particularly in the northeast.

Weekend Edition – When the Going Gets Tough, Keep Writing Plus Good Reads and Writing Tips

Writing Through Life

DragonflySMEarlier this week, as I was setting out to walk a friend’s dogs, something small and dark fluttered past me at eye level. Though it didn’t move like one, closer inspection proved it to be some kind of dragonfly. Instead of narrow, translucent wings that move almost too fast for sight, this insect had broad, smoky wings that swept through the air like the oars of a rowboat, dip and pull and rest.

The dark wings contrasted sharply with the sun-bleached pavement as the delicate creature flew in poetic circles into the space above the road. Entranced, I watched as the looping flightpath reached the yellow line, and then held my breath as the wind resistance of a passing car buffeted the tiny aeronaut, sending it spinning for several terrifying heartbeats. It had only just righted itself when a second vehicle pushed past, and another wall of air pummeled the dragonfly with such force that it was driven suddenly to the ground. The tires of the third car just missed crushing the insect, and the vortex of air beneath the under carriage sent the now limp body tumbling awkwardly across the unkind asphalt.

The dogs strained on their leashes to be off, but I couldn’t bear to leave the once airborne soul stranded, just waiting for the impact of the next car. I hauled my canine charges towards the opposite side of the street, pausing to pluck the fallen traveler from the road. As I laid the iridescent body reverently in the leaves at the base of a tree, I realized that I’d been touched by its unintentionally intrepid persistence in part because I saw something of my writing life reflected in its valiant efforts.

··• )o( •··

Life is busy for each of us. We have jobs and families, friends and social obligations, housekeeping, meal making, and laundry folding. Making time to pursue creative work is a challenge. Sometimes it seems like life is intentionally trying to run us down. We’re like that tiny dragonfly trying to cross the road, but being blocked again and again by overwhelming circumstances beyond our control. It can feel as if the Universe is conspiring against you.

I promise that it isn’t.

Like the cars that forced the dragonfly out of the air, life is completely unaware. Your life isn’t out to get you, or your writing, any more than those cars were out to get that dragonfly. What happened was simply a matter of two opposing forces colliding. There was no malice, no intent at all.

··• )o( •··

The difference between the unfortunate dragonfly and a writer is that, as a writer, you can weave difficult times into your work; as part of your journey, they become part of your story. Our darkest hours can be the catalyst that enables us to capture our deepest truths. Grief, despair, and exhaustion can serve us by peeling away the layers, leaving us raw and capable of ferocity in our writing. Like the heroes and heroines of our stories, we reach the all-is-lost moment, and find that we still have something more to give.

And this journey into and out of darkness happens over and over again. This is life. The tragedies can be minor, annoyances even, and still provide us with grist for the writing mill. The untimely death of a dragonfly is a small thing, yet in the hands of a writer, it can become so much more.

··• )o( •··

The point is not to let difficult times keep you from writing. Let them fuel you. Let them push you to the edges where things get really interesting. And let the writing that comes ground and comfort you.

When I stop writing I feel hollow. I feel unmoored and aimless. I lose my perspective, and my interest in the world fades. It is as if I am a ghost, wandering aimlessly through the world, unable to speak. Words are my lifeline, connecting me to the world, nourishing me. They are a safe haven and a reality check. They bring the world and my life into focus, helping me untangle thoughts and dreams and ideas.

In her touching piece On the Page as Your Mirror, author Dani Shapiro wrote, “Everything I know about life, I know from the page. Everything I know about myself — about love, maturity, grief, joy, loss, redemption — I have learned by sitting alone in a room (or on a plane) sorting it out.”

And in her piece, Just. Keep. Writing, author Victoria (V.E.) Schwab wrote, “So when everything is going well, and when everything is falling apart, you have to keep writing. It is your tether in the storm, and your grounding when you might otherwise float away. It’s easy to lose focus, to get caught up in the successes and failures, but you must. keep. writing.”

··• )o( •··

I did not return to the place where I left the dragonfly at the base of the tree. I like to think that perhaps it was only stunned, and eventually came to and continued in its scalloped dance across the greener landscape, leaving the cruel motorway behind.

What I’m Writing: Itsy-Bitsy Stories

Miniature book art from Denver-based animator, illustrator, and graphic designer

Miniature book art from Denver-based animator, illustrator, and graphic designer

The weeks are flying by, and so are the assignments in the flash fiction course I’m taking via Grub Street’s online classroom. The prompt I chose to tackle last week was writing 25-word “hint” stories. I’ve always loved miniatures, and you can’t get much smaller than that with a story.

Probably the most widely known “tiny” story is Hemingway’s 6-word masterpiece, “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” Here are a few other examples that were shared in class:

The Widow’s First Year
“I kept myself alive.”
-by Joyce Carol Oates

At the party, he tells her he’s a painter, meaning of houses.  She misunderstands, assumes he’s an artist.  Harmless, he thinks.
-by Don Lee

The Return
They buried him deep.  Again.
-by Joe R. Lansdale

And here are my first draft attempts at this teeny-tiny story type:

’Til Death Do Us Part

Entering my marriage took only blind faith and the idealism of the young. Leaving it took a steady hand and a .22 gauge shotgun.

Home on the Range

She chose the mustangs. Life was hard, but they loved her more honestly than Frank ever had. He gave her predictability. They gave her purpose.

Tiger, Tiger In the Night

The cub was fit for a princess, she said. I’ll feed him Gongura mutton and curried chicken. But, grown, the tiger had more royal tastes.

How about you? Care to share a 25-word story in the comments? Come on. I know you want to! 

What I’m [Not] Reading & Where I’m Stashing It

pocket app iconThese past couple of weeks have been so full of life and deadlines, that my only reading time has been during stolen moments over hurriedly eaten meals and while waiting in the pick-up line at my daughter’s school. (I almost rear-ended the mom in front of me last Thursday because I had my book propped up on the steering wheel and wasn’t paying close enough attention to the stop and go of the line.)

Even my work-related online reading (which I usually do after bedtime stories while my daughter is drifting off to sleep) has taken a hit because end-of-school activities have been keeping my girl up past her usual bedtime, causing us to forego the stories in favor of a little extra sleep. Because I haven’t had time to read all the various posts and articles in my Feedly queue, I’ve had to save some for later using a great little app called Pocket:

Sorry the video is a little hokey, but the app is really quite helpful and user-friendly. I love that you can categorize and tag things so it’s easier to find them later. I also use Evernote, but I tend to use that for longer term storage, while Pocket is the place where I keep things that I want to reference in the near future.

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

Hmmm … seems I read plenty this week after all. Perhaps an intervention is in order.

Finally, a quote for the week:

pin new beginnings

Here’s to putting your whole life into your writing – the good, the bad, the ugly, and the beautiful – so that your writing is as full and fully realized as your life.
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 – Truth in Blogging Plus Good Reads and Writing Tips

Truth in Blogging

writing mask smSometimes, I feel like a fraud, like one of the shiny, happy people who populate the Internet with grievously sparkly accounts of their perfect lives. (Those people make me crazy.) I hope I do not actually do that, but sometimes I feel like certain omissions in what I share make me less authentic, even slightly dishonest.

This is mostly ridiculous, of course.

The world of digital publishing – blogging and social media in particular – puts writers in a strange new land. I sometimes feel like we’ve been pulled out of our cozy writing caves and plunked down on a stage in front of an audience we cannot see beyond the bright footlights. Dazed and blinded, we take out our notebooks and laptops and start, tentatively, to scribble and tap; but the experience is different in front of a live audience. Before, there was only the work – the words. Now, we are up on the stage with our stories, expected to share not only our work, but ourselves.

But, the reality is: no one is obligated to share anything. As the sole curator of our online persona, each of us has the right to pick and choose what we show and and tell, and what we leave unsaid.

Though I shared a little about my situation, history, and fears in A Writer’s Circle (and, was delighted that so many of you reciprocated by sharing details about your writing lives), these days I usually steer clear of putting too much personal stuff into the ether. I save that for my private journals. But, sometimes I wonder if I’m either missing out myself, or shortchanging readers by holding back.

There’s a scene from the first season of Desperate Housewives that still makes me tear up after more than a decade. In the scene, Lynette, played by the fabulous Felicity Huffman, is an overworked, stressed out mom of four who has become addicted to her kids’ A.D.D. medication. She feels like a complete failure because she can’t do it all herself. She doesn’t understand why everyone else makes it look so easy. When she finally crumples – literally – to the ground, her friends come to her side, and admit to their own messy lives full of failures and fears. “Why didn’t you ever tell me this?” Lynette asks, choking back sobs.

Why don’t we tell each other this stuff?

Well, as one of Huffman’s co-stars says, “No one likes to admit they can’t handle the pressure.” Nope. We sure don’t. We want people to think we’ve got it all together and know what the hell we’re doing. We don’t want to appear weak or stupid or needy. And with the digital window the Internet gives the world into our lives (if we choose to open the blinds), the pressure to project perfection (or something close to it) is exponentially greater than ever before.

If you blog, you’ve opened the blinds. The question then becomes, what are you going to share? How transparent and vulnerable are you willing to be? And, why?

I haven’t yet figured out where I sit on the spectrum of transparency and vulnerability. Most of what I publish online is, I think, more professional than personal. Even though my first foray into blogging came when I unintentionally became a mommy blogger writing about her divorce, I would still call myself a “careful” blogger. Though I readily share my thoughts, musings, and opinions, I rarely “let it all hang out,” as they say.

But, I wonder if maybe I should.

I write to connect with my own thoughts and emotions, with the world around me, and with other people. How deep can those connections be if I keep everyone at arm’s length? How integral are these connections to my identity as a writer? And, conversely, how important is privacy to my writing? Exactly where does my personal identity meet my writer identity, and how do I successfully blend the two? Is that even the goal?

I am always so touched and flattered when someone compliments my writing or tells me how impressed they are by my ability to make a living writing. I am gratified when someone acknowledges my hard work and perseverance. Making time and space to write is not an easy task for any of us. But even as I glow, for a brief moment, in the kindness of someone else’s words, I want to reach across the digital divide and confess that I’m just winging it. I want to admit that there is no grand plan. I don’t have the answers. I do so many things wrong. I miss so many opportunities. I run in the same damn circles year after year, fleeing from the demons of fear and procrastination.

But, instead, I just smile and say Thank You.

For now.

What I’m {Learning About} Writing: When you feel you have to write a certain way to be taken seriously

cemetaryI’m really enjoying the flash fiction course I’m taking via Grub Street Writer’s online classroom. Despite being up to my eyeballs in client deadlines, I’m managing to keep up (mostly) with the reading, assignments, and peer reviews. One thing I’m struggling with, however, is my own perception that Literature (with a capital “L”) has to be dark, tragic, or otherwise show the ugly underbelly of human existence.

My life is neither dark nor tragic  (touch wood). I’m all for stories that put the protagonist in a sticky spot, even in mortal danger, but I am not typically drawn to stories that focus thematically on the evils of human nature. It’s just not my thing.

But, I have this perception (and, it may be a misperception) that only “dark” stories are taken seriously by Important People in Literary circles. (We won’t even get into why I care one whit about what Important People think – that’s another whole post.) It’s kind of like the Oscars (ahem, Academy Awards). Very rarely does a comedy, musical, romance, or other “light” genre film win top honors. Culturally, we seem to consider stories with humor and happy endings as less important, somehow. Perhaps we (mistakenly) think that they are easier to write. Perhaps we think that enjoying them makes us “light.” Whatever our reasons, we definitely do not (in my humble opinion) give the non-tragic stories their proper due.

So, as I’m working on my flash pieces for class, I feel like I ought to be writing in a certain way about a certain type of sad or dark story. (It’s important to note that this is my baggage. The instructor and students have done nothing to make me feel self-conscious about this issue. That’s all me.)

But then I read a piece by Stephanie Vanderslice called The Geek’s Guide to the Writing Life: Having Something to Say and Saying It. It was exactly what I needed to hear:

But most importantly, giving yourself permission to write what you need to write will, eventually, lead you to the next thing you need to write. Maybe not right away — sometimes after you finish a big project you need to let the well fill up — but soon enough.

That’s how it works.

Each of us has a voice that deserves to be heard. Tragic or elated, serious or irreverent, cynical or mystical, all our stories deserve to be told. Doesn’t that make you feel better?

What I’m {Learning By} Reading: Two Things You Must Do to Engage Your Reader

book changerAlas. I have abandoned another book.

Though I know, intellectually, that my time is precious, and should not be squandered on books that fail to move me, I still feel guilty when I leave a book unfinished. As a writer, it’s hard to give up on a story that you know a fellow writer slaved over.

Setting my guilt aside, I am making an effort to pay closer attention to exactly why I abandon a book. In the case of the latest casualty, Changer by Jane Lindskold, it came down to two faults: un-relatable characters and a lack of tension.

Before I go any further, I just need to say that I feel like an absolute heel for criticizing this book or Lindskold’s writing. I do not usually post negative reviews. If I don’t like something, I just don’t write about it. Making this even trickier is the fact Lindskold’s stories are very appealing to me in terms of subject matter, themes, and concepts. But, try as I might, I just couldn’t find an emotional foothold.

Changer is about a group of immortals called the “athanor” who live among us. Each athanor has a sort of “core identity” as a character from one of many world mythologies – Anansi the spider, King Arthur, Neptune, Merlin, Lilith, etc. But today, each takes on a contemporary identity that changes every few decades in order to avoid detection by humans. The novel is described by the author as, “a story of revenge, of political intrigue, and of adventure,” and I think the concept does have that potential.

Unfortunately, though I read nearly half the book, I didn’t identify deeply with any of the characters. Wendy wrote about the importance of creating this reader/character connection in her post, Frank Underwood Saves the Human Society. I think that part of the challenge may have been the multiple POVs. There was no one voice to draw me into the story, and something about moving in and out of different characters’ heads created a narrative distance that made me feel one step too far removed from the story.

The second problem – the lack of tension – also took me by surprise. After all, we have a story that starts with a heinous murder, involves a colorful cast of gods and demi-gods, and – when I left off reading – was building towards a political coup. All the pieces are there. It seems that we should be on the edge of our seats, turning pages frantically. But, something was missing. The progression of events moved too slowly (pacing), and the energy of the conflicts seemed to lose something in the telling. The language did not stir me; again, it seemed a bit too removed. It reminded me a little of journalistic coverage – kind of detached and impartial. Just the facts, ma’am.

I did not hate this book, and I may return to it one of these days. But, even if I never finish it, I’m grateful for the lessons it’s helping me learn about how to capture a reader and keep her engaged.

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:

dangerous masks

Here’s to writing, connecting, and always being true to who you are.
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.
Cemetary Photo Credit: Roger Smith via Compfight cc

Weekend Edition – Writer in a Fish Bowl Plus Writing Tips and Good Reads

Of Fish and Stories and Living Life:

cinder benny

The younger of our two cats, Cinder, having a little chat with Benny the betta

Last year, my daughter gave me a fish as a birthday present. It’s a blue betta that is astonishingly like the one she’d asked for several hundred times. She acquired the fish with the help of her father (my ex-husband) who knew I did not want a fish, and I’m sure found the whole situation quite amusing. Part of me wanted to send the two of them packing to exchange the fish for a case of cat food; but then I thought about the depressing tower of small, plastic containers holding sad, wilted bettas, and my resolve wavered.

I named the fish Benedict, Benny for short. Though his arrival solicited from me only the most begrudging welcome, this little fish has managed to become a member of our family. Even the cats seem to enjoy communing with him through the Plexiglas walls of his house. (Though the pattern of feline teeth marks on the corner of the tank may indicate interest of a more gastronomical kind.)

Other than occasionally cleaning the tank, bettas require very little care. There are no daily litter box chores or demands for walks. There are no clawed chair backs or chewed shoes. A domestic betta’s life is contained, solitary, and painfully predictable.

I find this quite sad.

I watch Benny swimming around in his one-gallon world, and it makes me think about the ways our lives as writers can sometimes feel like life in a fish bowl.

On the one hand, each time we publish a story or idea, we put a little piece of ourselves on display. Anyone can stare through the transparent walls into our watery world, and – via reviews and blog comments – tap on the glass. We are naked and exposed, a curiosity. On the other hand, the nature of our work requires a certain amount of self-imposed solitude, leaving us feeling isolated. Like Benny, we must each spend time alone in our private universe, apart from the camaraderie of “normal” life. Observers.

The routine of a writer’s life can feel as monotonous (and pointless) as life in a fish bowl. Each day, we swim in the same circles, repeating the same routines and practices. We work on the stories, send out the queries, and try to keep up with all the “platform building” tasks. Around and around and around we go, and most of the time it looks pretty much the same. Though such an existence might be okay for the fish with no short-term memory, for a writer, it can become wearisome.

Luckily, unlike our finned friends, we do not have to stay in the fish bowl, swimming in those same circles. We can get out. Leap the barriers. Dive into the real world. Seek out new experiences. Sometimes, we forget this. We start to believe that there is no way out of the tank. Not true. Not true at all.

I hope that Benny is happy – as much as a fish can be happy – in his small, predictable world. And, I hope that you and I always remember that the walls of our fish bowls worlds are only an illusion. There is a whole, big, wide world out there. We don’t have to swim in the same circles day in and day out. With a little effort, we can break free from the same old-same old, and try something new. Write a different kind of story. Submit to a different kind of publication. Share a different side of yourself. Meet different people in different places and talk about different things. There is more than one plastic castle in the world. Go. Explore. Experience. Then, come back and tell us all about it.


What I’m {Learning About} Writing:

Part of the classwork for the flash fiction course I’m taking is responding to craft questions about the sample stories we read. Each week, the lesson materials include questions about how each writer did this or conveyed that, about how a certain theme was expressed, or about how a particular technique worked.

To be perfectly honest, I’m a little intimidated by this part of my homework. It’s been a long time since I’ve been in school, and I don’t have any relevant degrees in literature or writing or anything else that might help me properly analyze a story’s meaning or structure or style. I feel slightly out of  my depth. To make it even more challenging, the online format of this class means that I have to put my thoughts into coherent sentences and post them for everyone else to read. This is, in my opinion, way more stressful than engaging in a live conversation.

Despite my reservations, I have made it a point to participate in almost all of the craft conversations, and to read all the comments from the other students. While this isn’t my favorite part of class, I have come to realize that it’s an important part of learning how a story works. It’s not enough to simply read a story. You will learn more if you take the time to pull it apart and consider each choice the author made in putting it together. In a beautifully crafted story, there are no random choices. Especially with short fiction and flash, each word is selected with care, each sentence constructed with intent, each twist and turn placed for a very specific reason.

VW bug cutawayI’ve written about this idea before in a post called Break Your Story Down to Build It Up, but I think it’s an idea and a practice that’s worth mentioning again. We learn best by doing, but we can also learn a lot by watching how other people do a thing. Find great stories and ask good questions. See if you can get inside the writer’s head to better understand why the story is the way it is. You’ll be amazed at what you’ll learn.

What I’m Reading:

wattpadWhile I continue wading through a couple of novels, I took a little reading side trip to check out Wattpad, an “online community of readers and writers.”

I visited the site because of a comment Jane Friedman made in her post, The Age-Old Cynicism Surrounding the Dream of Book Writing:

I’ve had more than one conversation with adult writers who just don’t understand why anyone would take Wattpad seriously.

But it’s a mistake not to take it seriously. (If you’ve never heard of Wattpad, I encourage you to watch this video to begin to understand it.) It’s where young people are learning to write, in front of a “live” audience if you will, and going on to publish with traditional houses.

I was intrigued by the video, and decided to create an account. I’ve picked out a few stories to try, but haven’t yet read anything. I must admit that I’m already a little turned off by finding grammatical errors in the story descriptions. On the other hand, some well-known authors publish on Wattpad, Paulo Coelho, for instance.

I’m curious to know if any of you have experience reading or writing on the Wattpad platform. Anyone experimented as a reader or writer? What is the community like? Have you found quality stories and writing? Have you had any response to stories you’ve posted? 


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:

vonnegut wings

Here’s to swimming outside your comfort zone, experiencing new things, and learning how things work so that you can make your own magic. 
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 – Time to Write Plus Good Reads and Writing Tips

On Making Time to Write in a Real Life

paris clockI’d been having trouble with my computer. The machine, a beautiful MacBook Pro, is only a few years old; but something seemed to have snapped in its shiny, silver brain. No matter what task I set it – opening a program, popping a new tab on my browser, saving a document, loading a web page, etc. – it froze. Whether its paralysis was born of fear or confusion or obstinance, I’ll never know. All I know is that each move I made resulted in the same outcome: the spinning, rainbow pinwheel of death.

At first, I was frustrated. Then, I became furious. I had so much to do and no time to waste. Precious minutes were sucked down that candy-colored vortex as I sat, blood pressure rising, tapping finger tips trying to pierce my wooden desktop.

Until I realized that those minutes were still mine.

True, I wasn’t able to use them as I’d planned, but they were still mine. I did not have to spend them staring in dumb rage at an immobilized computer screen. I moved a small pile of random reading material from its perch on the bookcase behind the couch and placed it next to my ailing computer. After that, each time that psychedelic harbinger of  technological doom appeared on my screen, I simply smiled and reached for something to read.


Time is our most finite and precious resource. We cannot create more of it, or slow it down. We cannot bend it to our will. We can only hope to use it wisely.

People often ask me how I find the time to fit consistent reading and writing into my life. My answer is that I do not find the time, I make it. Sometimes, I steal it.

The hard truth is that we rarely, if ever, stumble upon spare time. Most of our time is spoken for by our daily responsibilities and obligations – work, parenting, caring for family members, keeping house, shuttling kids hither and yon, shopping, cooking, taking out the trash. The rigors of our daily lives devour time in huge, hurriedly consumed bites. We get out of bed in the morning, and it seems moments later we are crawling back under the covers, barely aware of what transpired in the intervening hours.

Sometimes, it’s challenge enough to get from Point A to Point B without misplacing any kids, losing any clients, or forgetting (for the fiftieth time) where you put the car keys. How then, do you make the time for seemingly nonessential activities like reading and writing?

Well, first of all, you stop thinking of them as nonessential. From there, you can start to explore some of the tricks I’ve developed to make sure that each day of my life includes some reading and some writing.


Trick #1: Forget Optional

The first step is simple: Acknowledge and accept that your writing matters. You can’t prioritize something if you’re constantly pushing it to the bottom of your To Do list because it’s “only a nice-to-have” and not a necessity. Too often (and, I’m speaking especially to the women now) we marginalize the things we want out of shame or guilt or some misplaced sense of duty. Stop that. Pursuing your creative journey is not a “bonus” that you get to enjoy if, and only if, you get everything else done first. “Everything Else” will never be done. Ever. There’s always more of everything to add to your list. That’s the way life is. If you’re going to make time to read and write, you need to make it now, not “someday.”


Trick #2: Make Intentional Choices

Though we may ache for time to read and write, we routinely sacrifice that time voluntarily to other people’s small gods. We let ourselves be talked into participating on yet another committee, taking on another project, or attending another social event. We talk ourselves into saying “yes” by telling ourselves that it’s “only” one meeting a month or three hours on a Saturday or four weeks of overtime. Sometimes, the “yes” springs from guilt. Sometimes it comes from fear of missing out (aka – FOMO). We worry that we’ll never be invited again or get work again or whatever. Sometimes it comes from fear of failing, because if we’re too busy doing Everything Else, we’ll never have to try writing and we’ll never have to fail.

Sometimes, we don’t even need someone else to ask us to sacrifice our time. Sometimes, we sabotage ourselves by voluntarily giving up time for less important (though still enjoyable) pastimes. Watching television is a common one. But, even “good” personal choices (working out, for instance) can mean giving up writing time.

It all comes down to making intentional choices – learning to weigh out your options in the moment, and make your decision from a Big Picture perspective. The next time you’re tempted to say “yes” to someone else’s request or make a personal choice that will infringe on your writing time, picture your writing as a small, helpless creature being led to the sacrificial altar. Look at the poor creature’s big, frightened eyes. Know that you are the one who is going to have to do the deed. How are you feeling about your choice now?

Or, for those too squeamish for an actual sacrifice, imagine that you are the Old Woman in the Shoe and each of your “children” represents a part of your life – Work, Relationship, PTA, Clean House, Goal Weight, etc. You “feed” your children by giving them time. Each time you say “yes,” each time you choose one thing over another, you are feeding one of your children, but the others go hungry. (Remember, time is a finite resource; there just isn’t enough to go around. You’re the Old Woman in the Shoe, not Strega Nona with her magic stew pot.)

Who are you going to feed today?


Trick #3: Don’t Overlook Small Opportunities

There’s a common misconception that more is better, but less can sometimes serve just as well.

As writers, we often pine after long stretches of time free from other duties and obligations. We crave whole mornings and afternoons in which to immerse ourselves in the world of our stories. But, sadly, life doesn’t often offer up such opportunities. More often than not, we have to make do with small “pockets” of time, pieced together like a patchwork quilt made of scraps snipped out of other pieces of the day.

This is okay.

A minute stolen is still a minute, even if it has to stand on its own.

Like my story about using my computer’s temper tantrum time to read a few lines, you likely have countless chances throughout your day to take baby steps towards a more consistent writing and reading practice. What can you do in a minute? In three minutes? In ten?

I usually try to read one book every week or week-and-a-half. I am able to do this not by curling up for hours at a time with my book and a mug of tea (though, that sounds lovely). I am able to keep up with my reading by using the caches of minutes and moments that I’ve hidden throughout my day. I read while I eat my breakfast and lunch, while I’m waiting in the pick-up line at my daughter’s school,  while I watch my daughter at her riding lesson, while I’m stirring the pasta for dinner. I always carry reading material, either physical books or digital ones stored in my iPhone’s Kindle app.

I also always carry something to record my ideas. I may not be able to fit a long writing session into each day, but I can capture ideas in a notebook or an app. It may be challenging to work on a long-form piece like a novel a minute at a time, but you can do a lot of writing in fifteen minutes, or even three! Sketch out a character, map out an essay, craft a first draft of a piece of flash fiction, pen a poem. Bigger isn’t always better.


Trick #4: Find Your Joy

The power of enthusiasm can take you far. Where there is a will, there is a way. And there is always a will if we are passionate about something. We fight for the things we love. We choose the things we care about most. If you can rediscover and nurture your love of writing and your joy in the process, you will have tapped into an almost magical source of energy and drive.

Let yourself be swept up in the fire of your creative urges. Embrace your curiosity and your hunger to learn and explore and play. Remind yourself of the excitement that comes from trying new things. Make it FUN.


Trick #5: Build a Habit

Habits. Hard to break and hard to make.

Find one thing – reading while you eat breakfast, writing on your lunch break, penning a few lines before bed – and stick with it for thirty days. Establish a pattern. Train yourself to do this thing almost by rote … by habit.

I write morning pages – three handwritten pages of whatever tumbles out of my head. I write these weekend editions. Come hell or high water, I make the time, and I get them done. I write a bi-weekly column. It’s a small deadline, but one I refuse to miss. I read blog posts (to learn, explore, and keep up with what’s happening in publishing) each night on my iPhone while I wait for my daughter to drift off to sleep.

Each of these habits is a small thing, but together they create a broader writing life. I didn’t begin doing them all at once. I started one and then added another and another. It’s an organic process, but you have to start somewhere. Pick one thing. Go. Do it.


Trick #6: Be Flexible and Adaptable

Circumstances won’t always be perfect. Sometimes, even your plans to steal a few minutes will go awry. Sometimes, your time will be compromised by noisy neighbors or a bad cold. If you want to do this thing, you have to work with the circumstances at hand.

My daughter listens to audio books as she’s falling asleep. We read stories, and then turn on Audible so she can listen to an old favorite while she drifts off. She usually prefers that I stay with her for a little while, so I stay there in the dark and I catch up on reading blog posts. In order to do this, I had to learn to read one thing, while another thing was playing in my ear. It took me a while, but now I can focus completely on the words I’m reading, and I don’t even hear the story that’s playing on my daughter’s iPod.

I can also write just about anywhere. Noise and discomfort are only small annoyances, not roadblocks. I often work in a local coffee shop amidst the hustle and bustle of conversations, music, and other “ambiance.” People ask me how the heck I can get anything done in all that racket. Easy – I have adapted.


Annie Dillard said that, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” It makes perfect sense, and yet it’s so easy to lose sight of that simple truth. I would take the idea one step further and say that how we spend our moments is how we spend our days. We do not need to measure activity in days or even hours. If we can only carve out minutes to practice the thing we love – to read and to write and to live like writers – that can be enough. It can give us a toehold on the writing life we crave. So, make that time – one minute at a time – and use it to create the life you want. After all, it’s your time, no one else’s.



What I’m {Learning About} Writing:

"Catsquatch" by Shyama Golden

“Catsquatch” by Shyama Golden

This is a lesson I have to learn over and over (and over) again.

New projects are scary. They are big and unknown and complicated. They are full of stuff I don’t understand. They make me feel stupid.

Earlier this week, I almost passed on a new client project because it seemed too darn scary. I looked at the material in front of me, and I thought, “There’s no way.”

I was disappointed because it was a good project with a client I enjoy very much. But, I felt overwhelmed and out of my element. Because I didn’t want to let them down, I almost walked away.

And then I took a step back. I started to pull the thing apart. Instead of looking at it as a whole, I broke it down into smaller pieces. Suddenly, I began to see more clearly what it was. Suddenly, it wasn’t a huge and frightening beast, it was just a collection of small, mostly tame beasts.

Imagine that.



What I’m Reading:

book dog star never glowsI’m just about finished with the excellent craft book, The Field Guide to Flash Fiction, but I’ve also spent some of my precious reading time this week in the world of Tara Masih’s short (and short short) stories.

I came across Masih’s stories because she is the editor of the field guide, and when I posted about that book a few weeks ago, she was kind enough to reach out with a thank you. Because of our conversation, I ended up purchasing her short story anthology, Where the Dog Star Never Glows, and I’m so glad I did.

There is such a bounty of variety in this collection – of places and characters, voice and subject matter, style and length. Though they take us around the globe and invite us to inhabit, for a moment, the lives of a wildly diverse group of narrators, these stories each contain a pulsing thread that brings a sense of cohesion and balance.

Each story seems to live in a place in between. Characters hang, spectacularly or quietly, in the gap between what was and what might be. There is, to use a cliche, a quiet desperation that creates tension, but also gives a sense of familiarity. They are adapting and evolving. They are growing and learning. And we are growing and learning along with them.

I love the touches of the natural world that weave themselves in and through Masih’s stories. She subtly touches each of the five senses, bringing us fully into the moments her stories inhabit, so that we feel more of what the characters feel. And, her narratives are sprinkled with bits of poetry, images that persist in the mind long after the book has been closed.

I’m looking forward to experiencing the rest of the stories in Masih’s collection, and I’m looking forward to the next collection, which I believe is in the works.

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:

Art print by Thyme is Honey on Society6

Art print by Thyme is Honey on Society6

Here’s to carving out little nooks and crannies of time for your reading and your writing, making moments in your days and days in your life to do the things you love most. 
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: 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.


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.


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.


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:

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. 

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 – 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! 
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.
Forest Road Photo Credit: WarzauWynn via Compfight cc