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. 
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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.

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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Weekend Edition – A Writers’ Circle Plus Good Reads and Writing Tips

Tell me a little bit about yourself.

My favorite mug - mermaids and stars.

My favorite mug – mermaids and stars.

This is my 86th weekend edition. There’s no special significance to that number, but – hey! – we’ve been hanging out for a while! I looked the figure up in the archives mostly because I was curious. I also realized that, although the weekend edition series has evolved (rather beautifully) into a diverse and welcoming community, I don’t know nearly as much about you as I’d like.

I’d like to fix that.

Though we’ve never met in person (and probably never will … though, you never know), I really enjoy spending part of my weekend with you. The highest compliments I’ve received for this series are the comments and emails thanking me for posts that “felt like sitting down with a friend over coffee.” That’s exactly the feeling I hope to create with these weekend editions – a little moment out of time where I can invite you into our virtual space to share a cup of something hot and some casual (though often also passionate) conversation about the writing life, the writing craft, and really great reads. You guys are my virtual writers’ circle – bookish and writerly people coming together to talk about all things writing- and reading-related.

So, if you don’t mind sharing, I’d love to know a little more about you. What kind of writing do you do today, and what kind of writing do you aspire to produce tomorrow? Who are your writing idols? What are your writing fears? Are you a professional or a hobbyist? Are you into a particular genre? What’s your day job? Are you a parent, a kid, or an empty nester? What else do you love besides reading and writing?

I’ll go first:

  • I’m a single mom who makes her living as a freelance content strategist and copywriter for small- to mid-sized B2B (that’s business-to-business vs business-to-consumer) companies.
  • I have a wonderful and supportive family. My daughter is eleven years old and fabulous from head to toe. My beau and I will be celebrating our eighth year together this summer. My parents are also creative/artistic types – Dad is a photographer/illustrator/painter and Mom is a writer/editor. I have two cats – a mother/daughter pair named Bella and Cinder. I aspire to be as Zen as they appear to be.
  • As a professional writer, I earn the bulk of my income from my marketing-related writing (websites, ebooks, case studies, etc.), but I also write a bi-weekly column for my local paper and occasionally take on a feature piece for the paper or a regional magazine.
  • While I’m working in the copywriting “word mines,” I continue to study the craft of fiction and creative nonfiction via self-study (reading books, blogs, and magazines) as well as taking classes (primarily at the Grub Street Writers’ Center).
  • I hope to one day write and publish fiction, both short stories and novels. I’m also interested in all the emerging literary media and mediums, and I think that we’ll see some innovative authors experimenting with unique ways to reach and engage readers.
  • My writing idols include Neil Gaiman, Charles de Lint, Ursula K. LeGuin, Salman Rushdie, Bailey White, David Almond, and Ann Patchett. I’ve also recently discovered new favorites including Kristin Bair O’Keeffe and Rita Leganski. (Honestly, the list is always growing!)
  • My writing fears are many, but I’m working to get over them and get on with the writing. Mostly, I’m afraid that I will never make time for my fiction practice and go to my grave with my stories still locked in my head. But, I’m also afraid of being rejected, ignored, or just plain laughed at. And I’m afraid my head will never be able to capture and recreate the story magic that I can almost touch with my heart.
  • Though I am still learning about the complex geography of literary genres, I have to say that I am most interested in various forms of contemporary fantasy – urban fantasy, magical surrealism, and so forth. Though I loved science fiction and epic fantasy as a child (and still do enjoy reading some of that today), I have grown to love stories that bring fantasy into our world in sometimes overt and sometimes subtle ways. I love the potential of magic existing alongside our ordinary lives.
  • In addition to reading, writing, running my business, and (last but certainly never least) navigating the wondrous land of motherhood, I take riding lessons (at the same stable I rode at when I was a child) and am going to be getting back to a regular yoga practice. I’m also beginning to learn more about meditation and am intrigued by the concept of minimalism (though my penchant for collecting tiny, artistic treasures doesn’t bode well for me taking up a spare lifestyle). I also spend a lot of time walking, observing nature, and creating photos for my Instagram habit.

Ok, your turn.

Share one detail or the whole kit-and-caboodle. Use my random questions for inspiration, or make up your own. Cover just the personal, just the professional, or a mix of both. Whatever feels right is perfect. Oh! And if you’re so inclined, please share where you “live” online – your website, blog, or Twitter handle, etc.

Take your time. I’ll be back later with a mug of tea and some chocolate.

 

What I’m Learning About Writing:

For every author, there is a community.

Earlier this week in Writers and Marketing – What Makes Sense? I wrote about my attempts to figure out if (and how) my various marketing activities generate value. The exercise got me thinking about that all important question: how does a writer find readers?

The painful truth is that you can blog, tweet, post, and pin until your fingers bleed, but if no one sees any of it, it won’t do you a whole heck of a lot of good.

So, what’s a busy writer with no marketing budget to do?

Find a community (or two, or three!).

All over the Internet, people congregate together based on topics, passions, and beliefs. I guarantee that no matter what you write about or what kinds of stories you tell, there are already communities of people out there who would love to hear about your stories.

For instance, I love fantasy and I love the author Charles de Lint. Imagine how delighted I was to discover The Mythic Cafe Facebook page.

mythic cafe

The Mythic Cafe (with Charles de Lint and company) is a vibrant community of almost 3,500 members who are there to (according to the group description) “celebrate myth and fantasy, and to nurture readers, writers, artists and musicians who enjoy the mythic arts.”

Be still my heart.

Communities like these are wonderful on so many levels. They provide inspiration by immersing you in the world you love and connecting you with like-minded people. They give you valuable insights into the lives and minds of people who might be your perfect readers. And, in some cases, they can give you a ready-made platform upon which to share your work.

I don’t have any work to share with the fabulous members of the Mythic Cafe, but I am really enjoying my time there. I am learning so much about myth and fairytales, collecting links to inspiring artists and stories, and generally just feeding my fantasy-loving soul.

Where might you find a community of people who are a perfect fit for what you write?

 

What I’m Reading:

book darkest part forestSometimes you need a fairytale to get you through the week. You need something with a prince and some magic and something scary lurking in a deep, dark wood. That’s exactly what the (book) doctor ordered for me this week, and – luckily – I happened to have a copy of Holly Black’s latest YA novel at hand.

The Darkest Part of the Forest weaves classical faerie folklore into a contemporary setting. Tourists come to Fairfold to try and catch a glimpse of the Folk, and especially to see the horned prince who has lain asleep in a glass coffin in the woods for generations. Locals know to carry iron and oatmeal in their pockets, but tourists aren’t always so respectful of the old ways and sometimes come to a nasty end.

Hazel and her brother Ben have lived most of their lives in Fairfold. As children, they roamed the forest as a knight and a bard. But now, as teenagers, their world is turned upside down when the mysterious prince in the glass coffin wakes and the boundaries between the human world and the fey world begin to blur.

Full of secrets, boons, tricksy faerie bargains, and all-too-human betrayals, The Darkest Part of the Forest puts an interesting spin on traditional faerie lore. There’s plenty of action to keep you turning pages, and plenty of romance for a starry-eyed teenager. This wasn’t a life-altering book, but I don’t think that’s at all what Black was trying to create. It is, however, a very entertaining and well written story that provides a slightly spooky and eerily beautiful escape from the world. It was fun, and good enough that I’ll be checking out some of Black’s other titles in the future.

 

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 paralyzed

Thanks for being here. I’m looking forward to learning more about you and to many more virtual weekend visits over a mug of something yummy. 
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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 – The Magic of Clarity Plus Good Reads and Writing Tips

The Magic of Clarity

lightning treeWriting is an alchemical process that transforms modest words into entire worlds. We begin with an amorphous idea and the ability to string words together in a way that taps into our senses and emotions. We weave a spell that evokes a sense of time and place and experience. Using only these humble tools, we build an alternate reality. We give life to the players on our stage and send them off into adventures of our own devising. If that is not magic, I don’t know what is.

Imagination and creativity are oft-cited ingredients in the story-crafting elixir, but there is another, less frequently cited ingredient that is at least (if not more) important: clarity.

Clarity is both your inspiration and your North Star.

Though you may not know it, it is often the spark that ignites your imagination. It is that bolt of lightning that strikes you – a compelling character, thought-provoking question, or deep belief – that will eventually pierce the earth of your creative mind to become the roots of a story. And, once those roots have taken hold, clarity is the guiding force that shapes your story.

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

So, for your craft, clarity is a boon, a near-magical tool that gives you the power to sharpen your storytelling skills and put the weight of purpose and intention behind your writing work. But what about in your writing life?

Last Saturday’s weekend edition asked whether you are a plotter or a panster in your writing life. Are you intentional about where you want to go as a writer and how you get there, or are you kind of winging it and following the path of least resistance? About a month ago, I asked, once again, why we write and included links to some earlier posts on the topic.  This is clearly a question that fascinates me. What drives us to write at all? What drives us to write particular kinds of things?

I’m not here to say that one path or one purpose is better than any other. Each of us is on a unique journey.

I’m just curious about what might happen if in addition to applying clarity to our craft, we also sought clarity about the driving force behind our craft … the “why” of our writing. I wonder how digging down to the roots of our creative urges and desires might change or enhance our work.

What do you think? Have you already discovered the why that fuels your creativity, or are you unsure about where it all comes from? Do you think understanding your personal source would be good for your work, or somehow rob it of some power?

What I’m Learning About Writing:

zeus pippaSometimes the Universe has a funny way of getting our attention and clarity comes to us unexpectedly in a palm-to-forehead moment.

My daughter has a dog-walking business, and sometimes (when dogs need to be walked before school gets out, for instance) yours truly has the pleasure of taking one set of pooches or another out for an afternoon stroll. Yesterday afternoon it was the fine pair of Zeus, a handsome standard poodle, and Miss Pippa, a feisty little corgi.

As the three of us made our somewhat mincing way along the slushy roadside, I let myself get a little lost in thoughts about the value of clarity and intention and purpose in my writing. It was no small accomplishment to keep my train of thought while simultaneously managing Zeus in my right hand, Pippa in my left, and my own two feet. My exploratory reverie was interrupted only when Miss Pippa managed to get us tangled up in her leash. Unfortunately, this was a fairly frequent occurrence.

No matter how many times I tried to convince her to stay on my left side, little Pippa kept somehow kept winding up on my right. The trouble was that she got there by crossing behind me, a maneuver that meant I had to either twirl around (raising both leashes over my head as though I were some kind of human May Pole) or manage to nimbly jump (backwards, mind you) over Miss P’s leash. Obviously, neither of these were easy to accomplish, especially with Zeus tugging ahead and ice underfoot.

My moment of oh-my-gods-of-course epiphany came when I realized that all I had to do to avoid this knotted situation was to hold Zeus’ leash in my left hand and Pippa’s in my right. Problem solved.

You’re probably shaking your head at my inability to figure this solution out faster. I don’t blame you. But, the thing is, I was so set on doing things a certain way, that I never even considered how such a simple change could eliminate the issue. The same thing can apply to our creative endeavors. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in a certain approach or process that we become blind to all the alternatives. We get, almost literally, stuck in our ways.

But, a quick shift in your perspective or practice might be all it takes to unravel a knot or remove an obstacle.

How might you change things up to better facilitate flow in your creative work? Is there something you’re doing (probably without even realizing it) to hinder your progress?

What I’m Reading:

book pilgimage desireI don’t typically read memoirs, but last spring my friend Alison Gresik published her travel memoir, Pilgrimage of Desire. Frankly, I’m a little embarrassed that it took me this long to get around to reading it. I’m also very glad that I finally made the time to travel alongside Alison on her journey.

In the afterword, Alison beautifully sums up the purpose behind her labors on this book ~

I wrote Pilgrimage of Desire for all those who feel trapped in a life that doesn’t let them practice their creativity in a way that feeds their soul, for those who have so much to express but have boxed themselves in with rules and responsibilities.

The book is an account of several milestone events in Alison’s life including the adoption of her two children, and the reinvention of her domestic life when she and her husband embarked on an open-ended trip around the world when their kids were only five and three, and her battle with walking depression. Interwoven with these stories, Alison shares her experience of walking the “desire lines” writing passion.

Alison’s is a story full of simple yet poignant discoveries. As she says of why her modest story matters, “Because it’s not exotic and sensational. I’m not unusual or extraordinary. I’m just a woman who decided to stop trying to be a good girl and go after what she wanted. A woman who realized that she could do more for the world by being herself.”

One of my favorite passages in Pilgrimage tells of Alison’s experience of rediscovering her own god, Amma, while walking a labyrinth at a women’s retreat. I also loved the honest thoughts she shared about the fears and desires each of us has about her creative work such as, “I needed to reframe work as something I did for myself as much as others – a way of caring for myself, a source of meaning and joy, not just of money and approval.”

And this moment, when she addressed her work-in-progress, made me want to stand up and cheer,

Pilgrimage, let’s have some angels join us in the writing. The Angel of Flow, who wears watered silk in shades of blue. The Angel of Love in pink spandex. The Angel of Poetry, black and white words dripping off her fingers. The Angel of Getting Your Shit Together, in tight jeans and a rock-and-roll T-shirt. The Angel of Truth and Beauty, who combines the grace of Venus with the mouth of a trucker. Together we’re going to rock this manuscript.

At the end of each chapter, Alison includes exercises that you, as a fellow seeker of creative fulfillment, can use to help uncover your own patterns, motivations, and triggers. She draws on her experience as a student and creative coach, generously sharing words of wisdom and resources she has found on her journey.

If you are an artist and a seeker, if you are someone who is trying to find your way on a creative journey and might benefit from following the faintly luminescent trail of someone who has walked the labyrinth before you, Alison Gresik’s memoir, Pilgrimage of Desire might be the perfect traveling companion.

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 what it is

Here’s to gaining clarity and finding purpose, but always following your desire lines and being open to the obvious solutions that are right in front of you. xo
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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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Lightning Photo Credit: zachstern via Compfight cc

Weekend Edition – Plotting vs. Pansting Your Writing Life Plus Good Reads and Writing Tips

Plotting vs. Pantsing Your Writing Life

Following the path ... or not.

Following the path … or not.

Are you a plotter or a panster?

It’s a question you hear often in the company of writers, and one that can inspire spirited debate. While pansters revere the tempestuous graces of the muse, plotters bow down before the gods of structure. These two factions are the yin and yang of writerly creativity – though they appear to be exact opposites, they are actually two halves of a whole.

If I had to choose, I’d tell you that I’m a panster. I like to plan things out before I start writing. I love the story of how JK Rowling supposedly spent years (years!) outlining the Harry Potter books before ever putting down a single word of the series. I geek out on posts about how to “build” a great story and love dissecting my favorite books and movies so I can see their insides – the plots, character arcs, inciting incidents, pinch points, and all that good stuff.

But …

There are also plenty of times when I venture forth without any carefully crafted plans and simply abandon myself to the wild dance of the muse. The pages of my journals are filled with the inky footprints of such encounters as my pen careens between the margins, fairly leaping off the page. Often, my weekly columns (and, sometimes these weekend edition essays) begin with a premeditated design, but shift and evolve when some mischievous force takes me by the hand and tugs me off the path and into the woods.

And, that’s ok.

With art, the process is as important as the final product. The experience is what brings your creation to life.

But, what about life?

Are you creating your life as a plotter or a panster?

Is one approach better than the other?

These are not questions with right or wrong answers. They are simply questions worth asking. Though I am generally considered a very organized, productive, and responsible person (oh, the kiss of death for anyone wanting to be considered an “artiste”), I have spent a surprising majority of my days following the path of least resistance. It is only in recent years that I have begun to be more intentional in my choices. Took me long enough.

As with writing, I think that it’s best to live life somewhere between plotting and pansting. All things in moderation, they say, and perhaps it should be so when it comes to either planning or surrendering to spontaneity. Having a life plan can help you attain your goals, but if you stick too closely to your predetermined path, you will miss the transformative experiences and life-changing opportunities that live on the back roads and walkabouts of impromptu side trips.

And what about your writing life? Are you creating that more as a plotter or a panster?

As with my life in general, I have only recently begun to be more intentional about how I define myself as a writer, build my body of work, and set my writing goals. I am making a conscious effort to learn more about the logistics of a writing life (publishing, marketing, how to be an author entrepreneur, etc.) as well as the craft. I am revisiting childhood dreams of being a novelist while also exploring other possibilities that have presented themselves over the course of my wandering travels through the creative experience. If, for instance, you had asked me as a young wannabe writer whether I had any interest in writing essays or non-fiction books, I would have said no. However, having said “yes” to unplanned experiences with these forms, I have been inspired to consider all kinds of new creative prospects.

Plotting. Pansting. It’s all just figuring stuff out – some of it ahead of time and some of it while we’re in the thick of things.

 

What I’m Learning About Writing: Writing Excuses Takes Listeners to School

writing excuses logoWriting Excuses is, by far, my favorite podcast on the writing craft. Hosted by four diverse and talented working writers and often featuring well-known writer guests, this fun and brief (each episode is only about fifteen minutes long because, as the podcast’s tagline proclaims, “you’re in a hurry, and we’re not that smart.”) audio show is packed start to finish with eye-opening epiphanies, brass tacks tips, and loads of good humor. Listening to the show is like getting to eavesdrop on a coffee house conversation between a bunch of super smart, witty, and down-to-earth writers who really know what they’re doing.

ANYway …

Though I highly recommend each and every episode in their archives, I am especially enjoying the current season (season 10) which they’ve decided to structure as a sort of “mini master class” on the writing craft. They explain in the show notes of the season’s first episode, Writing Excuses 10.1: Seriously, Where Do You Get Your Ideas? :

We wanted to do something different this year. Something special. As we brainstormed we kept returning to something a listener said years ago: “Writing Excuses is like a master class in writing genre fiction.”

That’s a generous remark, as anyone who’s taken an actual master class can attest, but it inspired us to ask ourselves what Writing Excuses would look sound like if it were formatted like an actual master class.

The answer? It would sound like Season 10 is going to sound. This year we’re going to go to school! Each month will focus on a specific bit of the writing process, and each podcast will drill down on one of those bits. We’ll still have some “wildcard” episodes with guests, but for at least three weeks out of each month we’re going to stay on topic. If you’re new to the podcast, this is where to start! If you’re an old hand, don’t worry — this isn’t a return to the 101-level stuff.

As I recently said to a writer friend, I know I really like a podcast when I constantly want to hit “Pause” so I can take notes. Writing Excuses makes me do that all the time. I hope you’ll listen and would love to hear your impressions.

What I’m Reading: The Silence Of Bonaventure Arrow

book bonaventure arrowSaying that a book “casts a spell on the reader” is rather cliche, but in the case of The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow it’s a cliche that fits.

The novel is the debut of author Rita Leganski and it is the kind of book that envelopes you in its own reality, making the world around you fade into the background as you slip deeper and deeper into the life of the story. I was intrigued and enchanted from page one. Here is an excerpt of the description from the Harper Collins website:

Bonaventure Arrow didn’t make a peep when he was born, and the doctor nearly took him for dead. But he was listening, placing sound inside quiet and gaining his bearings. By the time he turns five, he can hear flowers grow, a thousand shades of blue, and the miniature tempests that rage inside raindrops. He also hears the voice of his dead father, William Arrow, mysteriously murdered by a man known only as the Wanderer.

Exploring family relics, he opens doors to the past and finds the key to a web of secrets that both hold his family together, and threaten to tear them apart.

Set in 1950s New Orleans, the book transported me through both space and time and into a world where ghosts and magic are part of the everyday world and where one little boy with very special gift peels away the layers of lives and reality to uncover family connections and truths that are both tragic and sweet.

Leganski’s prose is both lyrical and whimsical. She tells the story with the language and musicality of a poet without ever sacrificing character development or plot. Though my writer’s mind was aware of her gorgeous descriptions, metaphors, and stories within stories, I was never once drawn away from the action happening on the page.

The last few pages of this novel brought me to tears, but they were the good kind of tears, full of recognition and release. I recommend this book from the bottom of my heart. It’s a wonderful read and one that I expect I will return to both for the pleasure of rereading and the education of studying her craft.

 

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 somewhere else

Here’s to finding your way – planned or spontaneous – and always enjoying the journey as much as the destination.
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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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