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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Weekend Edition – Resurrecting Your Love Plus Good Reads and Writing Tips

Resurrecting Your Love

Happy Valentine’s Day.

I am not a big fan of this, one of the most awkward in our vast panoply of overwrought and over-commercialized holidays, but I am all for Love in all its glorious manifestations. I am a fan of swoon-worthy romantic love and the binding ties of familial love and the supportive, unconditional love of good friends and the unspoken, almost magical love between humans and their animal companions. I am also a fan of love in the more abstract, do-what-you-love-love-what-you-do sense.

But, that’s often a tragic love story, isn’t it?

Because, too often, we don’t do what we love. We do everything else first, and the thing we love to do gets pushed further and further down The List until its presence in our life feels like a sad, little ghost.

When I was a kid, I spent my days reading, writing, drawing, and building things. I loved exploring different worlds, ideas, and characters through stories, pictures, and other creations. I wrote bad poetry, short stories, and countless journal entries. I drew the “real” world I saw around me and the fantastical world that existed only inside my head. I built faerie houses, time machines, space ships, and snow dragons. My days were full of creative work and play.

But then, as children will do, I grew up. And in the process of growing up, I betrayed the things I loved to do. I set them aside. I tucked them away for some unnamed day in an uncertain future. I could make all kinds of excuses. I had new responsibilities, obligations, and demands on my time. I had to make sensible decisions. I had to put food on the table. I had to be an adult.

It’s all true. I think. I’m pretty sure. I mean, maybe I could have done things differently. Maybe what I thought was an impossible situation actually held more possibilities than I’d originally thought.

But, that’s all in the past now. You can’t go back. You can’t undo decisions you’ve already made. You can only start from right now.

And that’s okay. Now is a good time. Now is the best time. Now is the only time.

It’s time to resurrect your love. No one but you can do it. No one but  you can make it a priority – breathe new life into that old passion and let yourself surrender to the delightfully unreasonable demands of true love. You don’t need a formal invitation and you definitely don’t need anyone’s permission, approval, or blessing. This isn’t a matter for rules or regulations or red tape. This is a matter of the heart, and you know what they say about matters of the heart.

And don’t start feeling guilty because you think that following  your heart is selfish and self-indulgent. It’s the exact opposite. You have a purpose and a gift to give. You need to discover what that is and then by fiercely generous in how you share it with the world. Let love take over and make you do crazy things. Sometimes crazy things are exactly what the world needs.

 

What I’m Learning About Writing: Practice may not make perfect, but you should do it anyway.

In 2009, Ira Glass gave an interview about the art of storytelling. As the iconic host and producer of This American Life,  Glass knows a few things about storytelling. He also knows more than a few things about developing  your ability to tell good stories.

Filmmaker David Shiyang Liu took an excerpt from the interview with Glass and created a beautiful visual interpretation of Glass’ advice to beginners. I’d like to share it with you today because if you’re anything like me, his heartfelt advice will hit home in a big way. In this excerpt, Glass acknowledges the scary and frustrating gap that exists between your good taste – the thing that drew you to create in the first place – and the not-so-great fruits of your initial labors.
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Ira Glass on Storytelling from David Shiyang Liu on Vimeo.

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What I’m Reading: The Chronicles of Harris Burdick

book harris burdickI picked this book up a few years back at a library book sale. I was drawn in by the illustrations, which it turns out were created by Chris Van Allsburg, the artist behind such beloved children’s books as Jumanji and The Polar Express.  The Mysteries of Harris Burdick is a collection of fourteen short stories written by a wide variety of authors including Lois Lowry, Kate DiCamillo, Stephen King, and Cory Doctorow (to name a few). I would not say that these are necessarily children’s stories, but they are certainly full of mystery and wonder.

I still feel fairly new to the “art” of reading and appreciating short stories. These stories all feel a bit dark and most leave things unresolved. They are mysteries without solutions – more questions than answers. I’m learning to be okay with that. The stories in Lucy Wood’s collection, Diving Belles, share similar traits. If I had to compare the two collections, I’d have to say that I prefer Wood’s stories and prose.

What I find most intriguing about The Mysteries of Harris Burdick is the collaborative creation of the book. Not only are the stories written by fourteen different authors, but each author worked with Allsburg to combine story and picture into a multi-faceted piece of art.

 

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 quantity bradbury

Here’s to resurrecting your love of stories and writing and  following it like a lovesick puppy. Go create. Create today and tomorrow. Do more. Fail faster. Have fun.
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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 – More Than a Writer Plus Good Reads and Writing Tips

You are more than a writer.

cosmos

I am a collection of experiences that is unique in all the expanse of space and time.

You fight hard for your art.

You create time where there isn’t any. You make hard choices and sacrifices.

You make your writing a priority.

Sometimes life gets in the way, and the best you can manage is a little time to think about a story, or an idea, or your craft. You have to be satisfied with nurturing your creations in silent, secret, intangible ways.

Other days, you give yourself the gift of time to put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. Sometimes, this feels like slipping smoothly down into a pool of inspiration, you submerge yourself and drink deeply. Other times the writing feels like hard labor on the chain gang, your whole being aching with the effort of chipping each precious word from an impassive wall of stone.

But, bliss or agony, you keep working. This is the process. This is your writing. This is what you fight for.

I understand. This is what we do. This is who we are.

Or, is it?

I am a writer. But, I am also a mother, a sister, and a daughter. I am a friend and a lover. I am a student and a teacher and a witness. I am a voice and a memory and a hope. I am a collection of experiences that is unique in all the expanse of space and time.

I am a writer, but I am more than a writer. And, you are, too.

You are are not just the writer writing or the words that are written.

You are the story.

You are the story that exists whether it is written down or not. Writing is simply the way you capture and share the story you are, how you make the immaterial material so that it can be perceived by others. Everything you write is an echo of the story that you are – a story about love, redemption, courage, justice, wonder, vulnerability … truth.

But, be careful. Do not confuse the pursuit of writing with the pursuit of truth.

Writing may help you discover your truth – the essence of your story – but writing does not create that truth.

Be a writer. Be the best writer you can be. But never forget that you are more than a writer. You are the story being written.

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What I’m Learning About Writing: Your Brilliance is Fleeting

xanadumuseBack in the summer of 2010 (can it really be that long ago?!?) I wrote a post titled Capturing the Muse that laid out a 4-step process for capturing brilliant ideas before they evaporate into the ether. This week, I was reminded that I really ought to take my own advice more often.

I experienced several moments of clarity. They were lovely, hopeful moments. Each one was like a perfect flower, opening up before my mind’s eye like a blossom captured with the magic of time lapse photography. Unfortunately, each time I had one of these moments of insight, I was engaged in an activity that made it difficult to capture either the essence or detail of the idea. I was either in the shower, brushing my teeth, or driving.

I should have tried harder.

As you might have already guessed, these moments of brilliance sparkled but briefly before sputtering out of my consciousness, leaving only a sense of loss and regret for what might have been, had I only taken the time to make a note or record a quick voice memo.

Your writer’s mind is always working. It just doesn’t always work according to your schedule. You will have wonderful, inspiring ideas at the most inopportune moments. Don’t let them get away. Do as I say, not as I do. Make it a priority to snag your ideas out of the air before they vanish. Make use of the apps on your phone, carry a notebook, keep scribble pads in each and every room of the house. Do whatever you have to. Believe me, you’ll be glad you did.

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What I’m Reading: The Pocket Pema Chodron

book pocket pemaThis book has been sitting on my bedside table for years. I picked it up at an indie bookstore somewhere along the Maine coast, Camden perhaps. It was an impulse purchase. I remember standing at the counter paying for the other books I’d selected (a novel for myself and a picture book for my daughter). The bookseller and I were making small talk while she rang up my receipt when my hand reached out, almost of its own accord, to pick up this diminutive, but inexorably cheerful looking volume.

Not much larger than a deck of playing cards, this tiny tome has been a small but powerful touchstone in my life since that day. Though I still know little about Buddhism, I have found that each time I need comfort or guidance, this book is there for me. More times than I can count, I have opened to a random page and read just the words I needed to hear in that moment. It’s almost like magic.

The book contains 108 short selections from Chodron’s other books. The topics she addresses include fear, courage, patience, kindness, and goodness. Her voice is sure but gentle, her words unadorned but piercing. When I think about writers who touch on truth, Chodron always comes to mind.

This book may not have all the answers, but it has a way of asking all the right questions.

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

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Finally, a quote for the week:

beginning

Here’s to being not only a writer, but to being the story worth writing. Have a great weekend. 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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Cosmos Photo Credit: Martin_Heigan via Compfight cc

Weekend Edition – Why You Write Plus Writing Tips and Good Reads

Why You Write

Though perhaps I should spend less time questioning and more time simply doing, I have always had a fascination with why human beings create art and, in particular, why we write. When you spend as much time as we do putting words down, it’s only natural to be curious about the engine that drives such persistent effort.

In What Your Writing Is Missing and How to Get It, I wrote about finding the “why” behind your urge to write. Based on Simon Sinek’s fabulous TEDx talk about starting with why, that post was a call to arms, urging writers to dig deep and discover the personal beliefs and quests that power their creative urges.

Half a year later, in a post titled Why We Write – A Novel Answer, I shared insights from Mario Vargas Llosa’s slim tome, Letters to a Young Novelist. I was intrigued by his theory that we write as an act of rebellion against the way things are. This felt familiar to me, and for the first time I saw patterns in the themes and characters that exist in the stories I love to read and write.

Though it’s an endlessly interesting topic to explore, I don’t expect I’ll ever have a definitive answer to the question, “Why do I write?” My guess is that the answer is a complicated mixture of elements that have to do with our cultural exposure, personal history, and the fact that creating art is simply part of human nature.

I mean, how can anyone look at the art and mythology of ancient races and, not see that making art is simply part of who we are? Throughout the ages of recorded time – from prehistoric times to contemporary ones – we have always spent precious time and resources making art. We have always adorned ourselves and our habitations with beautiful creations that served primarily to express ideas or aesthetics. We have even brought artistry to the building of our shelters and fabrication of our most basic tools. And, we have always told stories.

Some stories served a specific purpose. A story about a fellow cave man being eaten by some savage beast, for instance, would have served as a cautionary tale. Other stories taught particular skills or morals or the history of a people. At the most basic level, stories have been a way for us to say, “I was here.”

And perhaps that is still, in large part, why we write stories today. We write to make our existence tangible, to share our experiences, and to help us make sense of the great enigma that is life. (I’m betting on the answer to the question being “42.”) We write to connect the dots – in our minds, between events, and between people and ideas. If I think about it too long, the concept begins to feel like a dizzying bit of fractal geometry.

Again, I concede that the main thing is not to know why we write, but simply to do it. Still, as writers, we are naturally curious about what makes people tick and why things happen the way they do. We are compelled to follow the myriad paths of the What If; and we never stop asking questions. Also, there is something to be said for understanding our motivations in order to better channel and focus our efforts.

What do you think? What inspires you to write? What do you find most satisfying about the process and the result? Do you feel like there is some primeval urge embedded in your DNA, or do you think the artistic need to create is something more personal?

 

What I’m Learning About Writing:

A meditation on the similarities between writing and shoveling snow. 

My daughter, Meghan. My, but they do grow up fast! ;)

My daughter, Meghan. My, but they do grow up fast! ;)

As my fellow writers here have mentioned, we had a bit of snow here in New England earlier this week. The blizzard of 2015 dropped more than thirty inches of snow in my neighborhood and created quite a mess in the process. Although I am fortunate enough to have the support of dedicated snow removal crews armed with plows and other clean-up equipment, there were still places (like my second story deck) that required hands-on attention.

Clearing that deck took the better part of two hours. As I huffed and puffed heaving shovelfuls of the white stuff over the railing, I got to thinking about how writing can be like shoveling. It may be an odd metaphor, but hear me out.

Facing a writing project is not that different from facing a massive pile of snow. At first, the task seems insurmountable. There is so much to do and you have no idea where to start. You’re just one person with a modest tool (be it pen or shovel). How can you hope to accomplish so much with so little?

But, eventually, you realize that there’s nothing for it but to dig in – one word, one shovelful at a time. The work is not glamorous. There is no magic involved. You simply put your back into it and make progress one small step at a time. With each word on the page and each shovelful moved from here to there, you can see a little more of your story or (in my case) a bit more of my deck.

As you surrender to the process, you think less about the ultimate goal and focus more on the work that’s right in front of you. The world falls away until there are only words, only snow. You settle into a groove. Your mind and body ache, but you keep going because this is now all you know.

And then, you pause and look up and realize how much you’ve accomplished. You see the pages and pages of your story or the expanse of snow-free landscape behind you, and you wonder – for a moment – how it happened. It seems like magic, but you know better. You’ve learned that you can move a mountain one spoonful of dirt at a time, and – likewise – you can write a story one word at a time. In fact, there is really no other way to accomplish either task.

Interestingly, after I’d reached the opposite end of the deck and could declare this small piece of my world satisfactorily clear of snow, I went back to where I started and found that my early work had been a bit shoddy. At the finish line of my snow shoveling marathon, my attention to detail had swept the decking free of nearly all evidence of the storm. At the starting line, I had left patches of snow here and there, and the edges were a mess. Despite being exhausted, I set about tidying up the one end to better match the “good” end.

And so it is with revision and editing. Though you may not realize it, each word you write helps you improve your technique and skill, so that when you return to the beginning, you will find things that need improvement. But, this will not be disheartening at all, because part of the fruits of your labor will be the hard-won skill to remedy such shortcomings.

In the end, whether your accomplishment is a clear deck or a good story, you will know that you have earned the win.

 

What I’m Reading:

book station 11Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel, is a dystopian novel that has won great acclaim from critics, readers, and authors alike. Though I’m not usually a fan of the genre, Station Eleven does not read or feel like your typical post-apocalyptic story. Set in a frightening and bleak world ravaged by a fatal pandemic flu, it manages to tell a very human story without resorting to the usual artifices of extreme circumstance or saccharine tropes. Though Mandel strips away the facades that mask the darker sides of human nature, she does so in a way that also illuminates the most beautiful and admirable qualities of our species.

From the book jacket:

An audacious, darkly glittering novel set in the eerie days of civilization’s collapse, Station Eleven tells the spellbinding story of a Hollywood star, his would-be savior, and a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts of the Great Lakes region, risking everything for art and humanity.
 
One snowy night Arthur Leander, a famous actor, has a heart attack onstage during a production of King Lear. Jeevan Chaudhary, a paparazzo-turned-EMT, is in the audience and leaps to his aid. A child actress named Kirsten Raymonde watches in horror as Jeevan performs CPR, pumping Arthur’s chest as the curtain drops, but Arthur is dead. That same night, as Jeevan walks home from the theater, a terrible flu begins to spread. Hospitals are flooded and Jeevan and his brother barricade themselves inside an apartment, watching out the window as cars clog the highways, gunshots ring out, and life disintegrates around them.
 
Fifteen years later, Kirsten is an actress with the Traveling Symphony. Together, this small troupe moves between the settlements of an altered world, performing Shakespeare and music for scattered communities of survivors. Written on their caravan, and tattooed on Kirsten’s arm is a line from Star Trek:“Because survival is insufficient.” But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who digs graves for anyone who dares to leave.

As a writer, I was particularly drawn to Mandel’s exploration of how art might survive in (and even influence) such a harsh world. Though people in her future reality are reduced to the meanest existence and must expend almost all their energy and resources on mere survival, there are still those who live to preserve, create, and share art.

Though the scenes of desolation, cruelty, and heartbreaking loss were difficult to read, I took comfort in knowing that even in such an altered and seemingly ruined world, the artistic urge was not only alive, but ultimately an integral element in the rebuilding of a better tomorrow. Maybe that’s the point, after all.

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

The blizzard derailed much of my blog reading for the week, but I managed to take in a few posts that are well worth sharing:

Finally, a quote for the week:

survival insufficient

Here’s to finding your why and embracing the inevitability of art each day of your life. Explore. Discover. But also remember to just accept that the art is in you.

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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.