Weekend Edition – Just Be Yourself. Yeah, Right. Plus Good Reads and Writing Tips

The not-so-easy art of being yourself

pin who you wereBeing yourself is hard. Maybe you’re more evolved than I am, but I’m pretty sure that when it comes to who I am, I’m still figuring it out. I know I’m supposed to be a grown-up, but I still feel like an awkward kid half the time. I still have so many questions and doubts. I still feel like an unfinished story.

People say “just be yourself” as if it’s a simple matter. They mean well. They intend their words as reassurance or encouragement, but whenever I hear that bit of advice, it’s as if someone opened a trap door beneath my feet.  As I hurtle down into who-knows-what, my head echoes with the question, “But … who am I?”

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When I was in high school, I was what you might call a “floater.” I did not belong to any of the usual cliques. I wasn’t a jock or a brainiac, a drama geek or a teacher’s pet. I wasn’t a cheerleader or a goth chick, a troublemaker or a goody-goody. While part of me is grateful that I was able to avoid the noose of any particular label, another part of me recognizes the possibility that I just wasn’t willing to commit too heavily to being any one version of myself.

Even now, almost three decades later, I still feel a sense of fracture in my identity. This isn’t unusual. Most of us live multiple lives that are defined by the many different roles we play – child, parent, spouse, friend, lover, worker, boss, artist. The situation becomes exponentially more complex as we layer on other aspects of the self – nationality and ethnicity, political and religious leanings, financial and social standing, etc.

And then there’s the fact that we are always changing. New experiences and perspectives change how we perceive and feel about the world and ourselves. We learn and adapt and evolve. We try new things. We change our minds. We change our style. We change our lives. We change who we are.

I just listened to a passage in Buddhism for Busy People that explained how our bodies are constantly regenerating so that every seven years or so, we are – in essence – an entirely new person. Perhaps that idea is what inspired the concept of the “seven year itch.” It certainly inspired one inmate to petition the courts for release after serving only seven years of a much longer sentence on the grounds that he was, literally, no longer the person he was when he was incarcerated.

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I have always thought of myself as a kind of chameleon, subtly changing myself to match my environment. I admit, with some amount of self-reproach, that I am generally a people pleaser. It’s not that I present myself falsely. It’s more that I present myself in pieces, only showing the parts that are relevant and acceptable while keeping other bits to myself. While this approach to dealing with people is an excellent one for minimizing conflict, it’s not necessarily a great personality trait for a writer.

As writers, we depend on the courage of our convictions. Our beliefs and the identity they create are not only fuel for our work, they are also the source of our writer’s “voice.” As E.B. White said, “Writing is both mask and unveiling.” Even if we craft fictional stories, they still – if they are good stories – contain elements of truth, and those truths spring from our identity – from who we are.

This is why learning to “be yourself” is so important to a writer, to any artist. Knowing who you (really) are is the mandatory first step to developing your writer’s voice.

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Because we work so hard to develop our characters and are also trying to hone our writer’s voice, we writers usually have more angst than the average bear about personal and artistic identity. For many of us, writing is more than a profession or even a vocation. It is part of who we are and a large part of how we interface with the world. Having our work rejected cuts us as deeply as it does because, on some level, the work is an extension of who we are.

This connection between self and art creates a challenge in a marketplace that expects consistency and continuity. The public does not always want artists to “be themselves.” In fact, the public is often outraged if a writer who is known for one thing tries to be something else. Take the case of J.K. Rowling, for instance. Loved around the world for her Harry Potter series, she was initially widely ridiculed for her work under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. But, whether the books she’s written under that moniker are good or bad interests me less than the fact that she felt the need to publish any non-Potter writing under a pen name.

Why isn’t Rowling allowed to be a whole person, instead of *just* the author of the Harry Potter series?

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I think that many writers hold back for fear of being pigeon-holed. We sense the threat of permanence that hovers menacingly at the edges of success. Once we have become known for any one piece of work, we realize we will be expected to deliver more of the same. It comes back to that question of commitment – are you willing to commit wholly to any one kind of story, or even – as in Rowling’s case – one particular story?

The rub, of course, is that in saying “yes” to one thing – one self, one voice – you risk saying “no” to something else.

Most artists, writers included, are – once they have achieved some level of success – almost forced to work within constraints defined by their “public.” Though paparazzi and fans might fawn all over a celebrity, they do not really love her as a person. They love the idea of her and what she represents. If she steps outside the boundaries of their expectations, the fans can turn on her and feel justified in doing so because, to them, she has violated a trust … just by being herself.

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My personal concerns about how I define myself and develop my writer’s voice exist on a much smaller scale than those of a global celebrity, but they still exist. The conflicts in my world are not dramatic, but they still pose a challenge in terms of how I see myself and how I present myself and my work to the world. For instance, I make my living as a content marketer for business-to-business companies, but I am also an essayist here on the blog, a columnist for my local paper, and an aspiring fiction writer. Just the simple act of choosing which articles to post on Twitter (business & marketing vs. writing and art) can start my head spinning.

Sure, I could split my identity into its component parts and create separate personas to address each audience, but I don’t like the idea of perpetuating this division of self. Even when I am “being” a content marketer, I am still a lover of fantasy fiction. And when I am “being” a columnist or a blogger, I might be thoughtful one day and funny the next, gently exploring a topic in one piece and taking an adamant stand against some injustice in another. There are many facets to who I am as a person, and also to who I am as a writer. Though I understand that some facets will shine brighter than others in certain situations, I do not want to have to shroud the others.

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People often talk about “sacrificing for your art.” Usually, they are referring to an artist who gives up wealth, ease, peer acceptance, or a relationship. But, there is also a less recognized risk of inadvertently carving away pieces of yourself so that you can, ironically, live up to other people’s expectations about who you are – as an artist/writer and also as a human being.

Hanging on to your true identity is hard. First you have to discover who you are, and then you have to learn to inhabit that identity fully, wholly, and without inhibitions. Starting with first things first, look for clues about who you are by noticing what makes you laugh, what makes you cry, and what makes you furious.  Pay attention to who and what you make time for in your life – these are the people and things that matter to you most. Notice what spurs you to action, what compels you to get involved.

Be careful of labels. Try to rid your mind of all preconceived notions. Don’t get fooled into thinking that if you are one thing, you can’t be another. Go ahead and create your own crazy combinations. This is the art of being you. The rules were made to be broken. Know that the person you are today is different from the person were ten years ago, five years ago, yesterday. Don’t let that worry you. Change and growth are natural. Nothing stays the same for long, and you are no exception to that rule.

Maybe that’s the trick to “being yourself” with ease – simply letting go of any expectations and acknowledging that this question of identity is one that can never be definitively answered because the question is a moving target with an ever-changing set of variables. “Being yourself” becomes, then, not a destination, but a journey – an adventure with an unknown ending. I guess we are each of us, after all, an unfinished story. And that’s just as it should be.

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What I’m {Learning About} Writing:

risk graffitiAlthough I have been a busy, little B2B content marketer lately, and my personal writing time down to a nub (I seriously need to take some of my own advice about how to make time for writing) I still have my bi-weekly column deadline to keep my creative writing muscles flexing. This past week, I published a fun piece about the evils of clutter. Like many of my columns, I tried to fuse a little storytelling with a little humor and a dash of introspection. I was pretty happy with it, until I read my fellow columnist’s piece.

My fellow columnist is more of a traditional, op-ed style columnist. He’s also a bold humorist. The piece he wrote this week was a brazen condemnation of a local developer and the planning board that allows his irresponsible building projects. It was funny. It was entertaining. And it also very effectively addressed a real problem. It reminded me of the work that Jon Stewart did on The Daily Show (an compliment I don’t toss around lightly … I adore Steward).

While my column was “nice,” it lacked the “punch” of the piece on the ill-reputed developer, and the contrast between the two got me thinking about whether and how I should take more risks in my writing. Risks require commitment. They demand that we are audacious – speaking our minds, being unapologetically ourselves.

I do not yet know how this line of thinking will develop, but I’m interested to find out.

Have you ever taken a risk in your writing? What made you do it? How did it turn out?

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What I’m Reading:

bk one only ivanLife has been a little extra hectic lately, and when life gets too crazy I tend to seek out a good children’s book for comfort. After finishing Alice Hoffman’s magical and romantic The Nightbird last week, I turned to Katherine Applegate’s story of friendship, art, and hope – The One and Only Ivan. As it turned out, this was one of those “children’s” books that holds a great deal for readers of any age.

Here’s the description from Applegate’s website:

Ivan is an easygoing gorilla. Living at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade, he has grown accustomed to humans watching him through the glass walls of his domain. He rarely misses his life in the jungle. In fact, he hardly ever thinks about it at all.

Instead, Ivan thinks about TV shows he’s seen and about his friends Stella, an elderly elephant, and Bob, a stray dog. But mostly Ivan thinks about art and how to capture the taste of a mango or the sound of leaves with color and a well-placed line.

Then he meets Ruby, a baby elephant taken from her family, and she makes Ivan see their home—and his own art—through new eyes. When Ruby arrives, change comes with her, and it’s up to Ivan to make it a change for the better.

The story is told in the first person from Ivan’s point of view. The chapters are short and the style of Ivan’s delivery is very straightforward. As he explains early on, gorillas are all about brevity when it comes to how they use words.

On the surface, the story is about the plight of the animals at a roadside attraction, but just below that narrative there are deeper veins of meaning. Applegate deftly addresses the horrors of poaching (a topic that has been in the news a lot lately after the tragic murder of Cecil the lion), the mysteries of the creative process, the idea of freedom, the value of family, the weight of a promise, and so much more. Through the experience of her ape protagonist, she makes many astute observations about human nature.

This is a book that manages to expose some of life’s deepest tragedies and some of humanity’s ugliest tendencies, but still gives you a tangible sense of hope and joy. As a writer, it inspired me because of Applegate’s artistry, and also because of the messages in the story about the importance of art in our lives.

You don’t have to be a kid to enjoy this book, and I highly recommend it for an afternoon’s read.

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

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Finally, a quote for the week:

… because we shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously …

pin be a unicorn

Here’s to knowing who you are and holding onto that even while you enjoy the journey to the next iteration of yourself. 
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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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Risk Graffiti Photo Credit: greenhem via Compfight cc

Friday Fun — What One Book Would You Recommend?

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

QUESTION: Someone recently asked me if I could recommend a book on writing for a beginning writer. What one book would you recommend?

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon: I’d recommend Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, by Anne Lamott. I know I’ve mentioned this book before on this site, but this is the book that gave me permission to stop taking writing to seriously and just get something on the page. I re-read this book at least once a year and I always find something new to process every time I do!

LisaJJackson_2014Lisa J. Jackson: Outwitting Writer’s Block and Other Problems of the Pen by Jenna Glatzer. I have this book so marked up with stickies that I can barely flip the pages. The word “Outwitting” caught my attention in the bookstore’s writing section. Instead of “beating”, “conquering”, “eliminating”, and other well-used bully-sounding words, ‘outwitting’ is clever.  enjoy the conversational tone, the exercises, and the fun I have each time I open this book.

JME5670V2smCROPJamie Wallace: That’s easy. I’d go with 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.

book ueland want writeThere 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.

Deborah Lee Luskin

Deborah Lee Luskin: All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony all the lightDoerr. This is a book that kept me on the couch, unable to move anything but a finger to turn the pages. I was caught by both the story and the language. Wonderful.

 

 

Report on Camp NaNoWriMo

Hey, Everyone! I’m back! Camp was great! I’m a little sunburned and a lot tired, but I had a wonderful time!

Seriously, though, I’m glad I went to Camp NaNoWriMo this summer. I learned a few things:

  1. It’s easy to say you’re going to write 25,000 words (or whatever your word goal is), it’s hard to actually do it.
  1. Writing every day is hard. (I wrote most days, but not every day.) I’m not a multi-tasker, so finding the time to write at least 807 words a day was difficult. I knew it was going to be—that’s one of the reasons I signed up to do Camp NaNo—I wanted the accountability to force me to write more than I’ve been writing lately.
  1. Screen Shot 2015-08-06 at 1.51.46 PMEven with a deadline like NaNo, I don’t write every day. While I wrote something most days, I didn’t work on this project every day. I worked on my Camp NaNo project in chunks on certain days when I had more time (or made more time, which seems more accurate to me.)
  1. Some things had to fall off my To-Do list in order to accomplish this goal. Most days I feel that I’m only doing the things I really need to do, but I had to cut the list even more in order to make this goal.
  1. 50,000 words in November may not be a realistic goal for me right now.

I’ve been looking forward to winning NaNo (the official NaNo in November) ever since I had to bail on it in 2009 when I had my son (who was due at the end of November) on October 29th. But I don’t know if I can write 50,000 words on one writing project in November. If I sign up for NaNo, I want to win. So I need to really think about whether or not I can accomplish this goal this year.

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I’m proud of myself for meeting my word goal for Camp NaNo (25,000 words) and I’m even more proud of the fact that I’ve won NaNo (written 50,000 words) twice in the past.

I’m going to print out my current project and start editing while I consider whether or not I’ll keep editing or attempt NaNo in November.

Did you meet your writing goal for July?

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon, MD, is a writer, blogger, life coach, and family physician. You can find more of her writing at www.dianemackinnon.com/blog.

 

 

 

Reading as a Writer

I am co-chairing the New England Crime Bake this year. I have a few duties that weekend, mostly involving making announcements, greeting people, and helping make the weekend run smoothly. I am also going to do an interview with our Guest of Honor, Elizabeth George.

I’ve already begun to prep for the interview. Though I can’t read (or, in most cases, re-read) her entire canon, I polled a few friends, and have a list. I started with A Great Deliverance, her first book, while I was on vacation. The book was published in 1988, and I read it over twenty years ago. I remembered the story line, though I didn’t remember all of the details.

While I’ve always written, twenty years ago being a writer was barely an idea, so I read the book as a mystery reader. This time, I read it as writer. What a layer to add to my appreciation of Ms. George’s first book. New observations include:

Meeting the characters. The book introduces her cast of characters, including and especially Inspector Thomas Lynley and Sargent Barbara Havers. She neatly weaves in tremendous amounts of backstory without slowing down the tension of the book.

Using different points of view. Ever since I wrote my thesis on Agatha Chrstie’s use of point of view, I always notice how authors use it, particularly in mysteries. Ms. George uses third person, from multiple points of view. In some instances, she moves in very closely to a specific character and his or her thoughts. In others, particularly when she moves to Lynley and Havers, she creates distance.

Setting. The Lynley books take place in England, even though Ms. George is an American and lives in the States. Twenty years ago, I considered that a fun fact. Now, as a writer, I have to wonder about the amount of research she must have to do.

The series. She is eighteen books into this series. She also has a YA series. (My nieces are reading those books as well, so I can get a second hand reader experience. You can’t turn off reading like a writer, and first impressions get skewed. But I digress.) I have to wonder if she had any idea that she’d still be writing these books twenty-five years in. Don’t worry, I’ll ask her about that.

Re-reading A Great Deliverance with my writer’s hat on has been a great experiment. I’m looking forward to more of my homework, and to learning by observing.

How about you? Have you reread anything now you are writing? Do you ever get stuck looking at the mechanics of a novel, forgetting to just go with the flow of the prose?

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Julianne Holmes writes the Clock Shop Mystery series, which debuts this fall.

Short and Sweet Advice for Writers – Embrace Your Dark Side

charging knightI once wrote a post called Get Mad: Marketing from Your Dark Side. I’ve mentioned it before briefly in the context of Terry Pratchett’s passing, but I’d like to come back to it again because I recently read two blog posts that touched on how artists use their personal fears, conflicts, and even tragedies to infuse their art with passion that resonates far beyond their own experience.

In my original post about marketing, I talked about how a strong brand is defined as much by what it stands against as what it stands for:

Without an opposing force, a hero is just a person who is going through the motions.

Without an opposing force, there is no fire in the hero’s soul. There is no sense of greater purpose, no fierce commitment, no do-or-die mission.

Without an opposing force, we never get to see what the hero can really do.

Like it or not, your enemy is a big part of who you are and why you are.

As writers, we are defined in a similar way – not just by what we write, but WHY we write it. Often the “why” behind what we write is grounded in some deep ache or longing, desire for justice, or mission to be a voice for the voiceless. These voids and wrongs that need righting are our “dark side.” They are the issues and experiences that touch us so deeply that we feel compelled to write about them.

Over the weekend, I read an interesting piece by Scott Belsky on Behance’s 99U blog. In Creativity is Nourished by Conflict, Belsky tells the tale of his friend, the young musician Rachel Platten, who – after ten years of relative anonymity – just hit big with “Fight Song,” an anthem that was born out of her own fears and frustrations:

This song is Rachel’s first major hit (we’re talking morning shows, rabid fans, sharing the stage with Taylor Swift, etc.), and like all great art, it came from a dark place: desperation, exhaustion, and the desire to prove oneself amidst universal doubt.

And then this morning I read The Secret of All Art (cc Louis CK, Kurt Vonnegut, JK Rowling, Casey Neistat, etc.) by James Althucher in which the Choose Yourself author talks about the importance of having an “emotional anchor” for your art:

Heres what I think all great artists do:

– They have a deeply personal emotional anchor they can tie their work to:

For Kurt Vonnegut, he was dramatically effected by the firebombing of Dresden, Germany, where he was a prisoner of war.

130,000 people died in a single day. Compared with 90,000 in Hiroshima. Kurt Vonnegut survived and his job after that was to dig up all the bodies.

When he ANCHORS a book (in Slaughterhouse Five, for instance, he anchors to the most horrific moment of his life – Dresden), he can go CRAZY after that: time travel, other planets, placing the author as a side character in the book, all sorts of experimentation.

It doesn’t matter because he can always pull back to the emotional anchor when he needs to. And then we all relate.

No emotional anchor = no art. No meaning.

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So, while your stories may reflect what you find beautiful and precious in this world, remember that they are also a place where you can do battle against the darkness that would harm the things you hold dearest. And know that your most powerful writing will often be born of that dark side and your impassioned willingness to fight it with everything you’ve got.

Oh, and by the way, writing from your dark side can make a difference in the world. In her recent Writer Unboxed piece, The Power of Fiction, Jo Eberhardt shares some fabulous examples of how different stories changed the world, one life at a time. Pretty inspiring stuff.

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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. Join me each Saturday for the Weekend Edition (a fun post and great community of commenters on the writing life, random musings, writing tips, and good reads), or introduce yourself on Facebooktwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
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Weekend Edition – Writing and Money Plus Good Reads and Writing Tips

Let’s get down to brass tacks: Writing and Money

Art by Hugh MacLeod of Gaping Void

Art by Hugh MacLeod of Gaping Void

I realize that this little blog post is to the topic of writing and money as one ice cube is to the 200,000-ton bulk of your average iceberg. Nevertheless, the topic has been on my mind lately so I’m going to go ahead and share my ice cube’s worth of random thoughts.

I have been self-employed since my divorce in 2007 – first as a web development project manager, but since about 2009 as a copywriter and content marketer. I may still be driving my 2002 Pathfinder and wearing many of the clothes that I packed for my move out of the “marital home,” but I have also managed to successfully maintain an income that’s kept me and my daughter well housed, well fed, and – while not exactly living in the lap of luxury – happily enjoying life’s little pleasures.

It hasn’t always been a clear or easy path, but I wouldn’t trade a single day of it for a “secure” job as a full-time employee.

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Most of us drag around some kind of emotional baggage related to money. It might be guilt or fear or a lifetime of feeling undeserving. Throw a creative pursuit like writing into the mix, and you have the added “fun” of doing battle with the “starving artist” stereotype (unheated garret, anyone?).

I’m sure I have yet to plumb the depths of my own money-related hang-ups, but the one that consistently surfaces each time I get brave enough to sit down across the table from this particular demon is the unfounded belief that I can only make “real” money (aka, the kind of money that pays the rent and utility bills) doing work that is a) difficult, b) business-related, and c) let’s just say not all that close to my heart.

Because I’ve bought into this belief, I’ve allowed my fear to keep me from even experimenting with different kinds of writing business models. Despite the fact that ten years ago I would not have believed I could support myself doing what I’m doing today, I seem unable to take a similar leap of faith to the next step in my writer’s journey. The crisis of divorce (and the prospect of being unable to stay home with my then three year-old daughter) pushed me to jump into the wild world of freelancing without a shred of experience or much of a safety net. You would think that after all these years (and learning first hand that I can do this) I would have developed the courage to jump again, but – no. I have replaced my former doubts about my ability to become a freelance writer with a new set of equally limiting doubts about being able to make a freelance living doing anything other than the kind of work I do today.

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I try not to beat myself up about these doubts. After all, they seem to be a natural and hard-to-shake part of the freelancer feast-or-famine mentality. After nearly twenty years of working jobs with steady paychecks, my transition to a freelance lifestyle included its share of sleepless nights wondering where the hell the next gig (and infusion of cash) would come from. I had to work hard to learn to believe and trust that the “next thing” would show up when I needed it.

So far  (knock on wood), it always has; but that doesn’t put my anxiety to rest. On the worst days, I can even use my past good fortune to convince myself that my luck is due to run out. (Talk about self-sabotage.)

The ebb-and-flow nature of the freelance world means that – like most self-employed folks I know – I tend to say “yes” to almost every job that comes my way. Most of the time this works out fine. Sometimes, I wind up regretting it. (There are some jobs that aren’t worth any amount of money.)

When I’m suspended in limbo between gigs, coming off a particularly hellatious project, or just feeling a little insecure, I reopen my ongoing investigation into the different ways writers make money. You know – just for “fun.” I look for writers who have crafted an even more flexible, consistent and fulfilling writing life than I have. (Because, at these low points I figure there has got to be a better way.) I look for alternative business models, interesting product launches, and unique publishing strategies.

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Very few writers make a full-time living writing fiction. There are many complex reasons for for this sad-but-true reality,  including (in no particular order) the labyrinthine mess that is the traditional publishing industry, the equally confusing sprawl of the burgeoning self-publishing trend, the post-Kindle challenges of convincing the average person to pay more than $.99 (or, in some cases, anything at all) for a book, the Herculean effort required to get noticed in the saturated book market, and so on.

The fact that we can’t all be J.K. Rowling or Stephen King does not, however, mean that there aren’t many writers who make a good living with a variety of writing-related jobs and projects. The “entrepreneurial writer,” a creature of the Internet age, typically builds his or her writing business around multiple streams of diversified revenue that may include fiction and nonfiction book sales, blogging, copywriting, speaking, teaching, etc.

Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn is a champion of the “author entrepreneur” and very generous about sharing what she’s learned on her own journey from business consultant to full-time author/speaker.  She even periodically shares detailed information about how her overall revenue breaks down across the different parts of her writing business. Joanna’s content is helpful – informative and inspiring in a step-by-step, “real world” way.

Of course, there are the anomalies of the self-publishing world – the Kindle Millionaires like Amanda Hocking, John Locke, and J.A. Konrath – who have cracked the code to making a very nice living selling fiction via Amazon’s Kindle platform. The stories of these self-published stars offer inspiration of a different sort – more Cinderella story than Penn’s nuts-and-bolts breakdown.

When the Internet begins to lure me farther and farther down the rabbit hole and away from any relevance to my current life (I mean, let’s be honest, I’m not going to become a superstar Kindle author any time super soon). I forcefully guide myself back to articles that are more directly related to my current earning potential as a content marketer. Alexandra Franzen’s 50+ ways to make money as a writer is one interesting take on the topic. Peter Bowerman’s down-to-earth, no-nonsense voice at The Well-Fed Writer is always a comfort. And there are others out there who share their stories and advice freely on their blogs: James Chartrand, Ed Gandia, etc.

And then I suddenly realize that my investigation has brought me back to where I started. Though I struck out in search of the new, the bold, and the creative, I have come full circle and am once again focusing my attention on what is instead of what might be – what I have already achieved instead of the things that would push me outside my comfort zone and into the next part of my adventure.

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It’s at this point in my well-worn routine that I come face to face with the real question: Why not me?

My inner critic is practically salivating to answer this one. That insidious voice hisses eagerly in my ear, mocking me for daring to think I might succeed without experience, training, or a massive audience. Who am I, the voice asks earnestly, compared to these obviously more qualified individuals about whom I’ve been reading?

I am momentarily cowed by this line of questioning, but then I counter with a question of my own: who were they when they started?

Everyone has to start somewhere. Who’s to say that these superstars and role models didn’t come from beginnings as modest as my own? Who’s to say they didn’t face the very same demons jeering me today? In fact, is there any other way for them to have embarked on their writer’s journeys than as a nobody, a newbie, a wannabe? My guess is that there is no more fertile soil for success.

It’s cliche, but it’s also true that the people who succeed are the ones who show up. Stellar talent, unique concepts, and connections in high places are nice, but optional. The one non-negotiable is showing up. You have to be brave, be bold, and do the work. You have to leap into the gap even though you’re not sure you have wings. That’s how we learn to fly.

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In the end, the thing about writing and money is that the writing has to come first. I don’t just mean that you must deliver the work before you can get paid; but also – and more importantly – that your choices must be driven first by creative impulses, not money. As a single mom, I know only too well the real-life necessity of including financial factors when deciding how to spend my precious time. However, I also know that consistently putting financial considerations before artistic ones is like building your own prison – each time you choose money over passion placing another brick in the wall.

Though I am deeply grateful for the writing life I have created so far, I do feel like I need to create some windows and maybe even a door or two in the walls of this structure. It’s scary to  think about removing pieces of what I’ve already built, but I know that unless I start blowing out some walls, the view will never change and I’ll never find the openings that lead to new and exciting spaces in my writer’s world. It will take a both intentional plotting and opportunistic pantsing to craft the next iteration of my writing life, and I’m excited about both parts of the adventure.

How about you?

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What I’m Writing:

hello strangerI’m happy to report that I’m gently easing back into my morning journaling practice. It felt strange, after all those long weeks of absence, to return to the page. I felt like I was having coffee with a friend I hadn’t seen in a while. I was happy to be there, but felt slightly awkward and even a little guilty for the long time apart. I didn’t know what to say at first, but once I settled in, the rhythm of the words began to flow the way it used to. The comforting familiarity returned and I lost my inhibitions.

Since getting back to this routine, I have noticed that my other writing  – blog posts, columns, even client work – seems a little easier. It’s like the free-form nature of the morning pages has begun to untangle what was becoming a bit of creative gridlock in my head. The experience reminds me that we cannot work all the time. We must sometimes come to the page simply to play – to dabble and meander and muse aimlessly about everything and nothing. Otherwise, our minds become rigid and unyielding. Everything about our work tightens and closes up. This is not a good place to be, no matter what you are writing.

Do you have a warm-up or letting-loose routine that helps you clear your head and get the juices flowing? Have you ever fallen out of sync with that routine and started to feel the effects of the loss?

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What I’m Reading:

book nightbirdI bought Alice Hoffman’s middle-grade novel Nightbird for my mom as part of her Mother’s Day gift. The film adaptation of Hoffman’s Practical Magic is one of my family’s favorite movies, so I thought that we might enjoy this contemporary fairytale set in a fictitious Massachusetts town not that different from the one we live in.

The tale had many of my favorite elements – magic, spells, a good witch, a small community, and even owls. There was a bit of mystery, a bit of history, and the touch of several romances strung out over the centuries.

This wasn’t a story that had me sitting on the edge of my seat, but I enjoyed it nevertheless. It was the comforting kind of read where you know that everything is going to turn out alright in the end, so you aren’t troubled if you have to set it aside for a few days. Things were, in fact, tied up a little too neatly at the end. Though I’m all for happy endings, the perfection of the way things worked out felt a little contrived. Though one might argue that this is appropriate for the intended reader (middle grade, not adult), I would counter that there are many middle grade books that handle difficult situations in a more realistic manner.

Despite the Hollywood ending, I enjoyed Nightbird.  It was a quick read that let me escape for a few hours to an idyllic town in rural Massachusetts – a place with pink apples, black owls, and a magical history.

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A break from the blogs …

silent treatmentI took an unintentional break from blog reading this week. The pockets of time usually reserved for reading blog posts were spent on other things, mostly “real life” things. But, perhaps the pause in my blog consumption was well timed since it dovetails with the start of my friend Shanna Trenholm’s annual social media sabbatical – The Silent Treatment.

She hasn’t yet posted about this year’s time away from the Internet, but here is last year’s Silent Treatment announcement post, and here is her wrap-up of what she learned after last year’s second annual sabbatical.

I don’t know that I’m ready to unplug from social media completely, even if it’s only for a month, but I love the concept behind her time away from the noise of social media. Learning to not only exist, but to work amidst all that chaos and distraction is a serious challenge for writers. Maybe I could start small with a week or even just a few days away.

Have you ever taken a leave of absence from the digital life? How did you make it work? What differences did it make in your creative life? 

Finally, a quote for the week:

pin price of anything thoreau

Here’s to facing your (money) demons, getting to know yourself (again), and finding pockets of quiet amidst the (Internet) chaos.
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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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Friday Fun – Favorite Weather for Writing

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

QUESTION: We’ve written before about our favorite time of day to write, but today we’re thinking about which kinds of weather inspire our muse – sunshine, rain, fog, wind? Is being snowed in more inspiring than a summer afternoon with the windows flung wide? Which of Mother Nature’s moods gets your fingers tapping on the keyboard?

JME5670V2smCROPJamie Wallace: Rain inspires contemplation, wind makes me happily restless. I believe fresh air is a good ingredient for any art, including writing, so a day that invites open windows and provides a good cross breeze is a good day for penning my thoughts. Pretty much any type of weather other than what we’ve had this week – hot and humid – feels like a good fit for creative endeavors. This oppressive summer scene mostly makes me want to zone out in front of the A/C. But, a writer must write no matter what the weather, so despite the fact that my fingers have been sticking to the keyboard, I’ve still been tap-tap-tapping away at various deadlines. Yep – tapping away, and dreaming of crisp, clear fall days. ;)

photo by M. Shafer

photo by M. Shafer

Deborah Lee Luskin: No matter the weather, writing’s still work. It’s easier to work when I don’t want to go outside and play – and I like to play outside in all seasons. So rain, excessive heat, fierce winter – these are times I’m happy to be inside, staring out.

 

 

 

wendy-shotWendy Thomas:  I have to agree with Jamie and Deborah, as a writer I am forced to write in all kinds of weather in order to make deadlines so I make do with what I have. But the type of weather that *really* inspires me is very specific.

I grew up in the sight of water on the coast of Connecticut. There is no better day than an almost cool one (cool enough so you need to pull on an over-sized, ocean-faded sweatshirt) that is a little overcast and maybe even has a fine spray of salt water in the wind. There have to be seagulls flying and screeching overhead and it’s the absolute best if you are close enough to hear the waves constantly lapping at the shore.

Forever and always, those are the conditions under which I could write for miles.