Maintaining healthy habits while working from home

Working from home is great, isn’t it?

You can roll out of bed, get to your desk and work in your pajamas or yoga pants without any stress or strain. Heck, you could even skip brushing your teeth, showering, or eating breakfast if you wanted.

And sleeping in? Well, without any commute or the need to get up and get ready for work, you’ve at least gained an hour every morning from the past daily commuter traffic drama, haven’t you?

Working from home is convenient. And for some, myself included, maybe too convenient at times.

It’s so easy to wake up and walk a few steps to the office chair — and sit… for hours, easily absorbed by our work and not being interrupted.

GetUpAndMove

With no one to tell us how we look, it’s easy to even stop worrying about appearance. We can work longer hours when we work from home, too. There’s always one more thing to get done, and we might as well tackle it sooner rather than later, right? Heck, there aren’t any dark parking lots to deal with or traffic to contend with – working from home gives us so much MORE time to work!

Event though these things sound like they might be benefits, without discipline, working from home can become unhealthy. We can get out of eating regularly, not drink enough water, forget to get up and move, and even sacrifice must-needed sleep.

When I worked in a corporate office I made sure to drink a lot so I had to get up several times during the day. Working from home, I got out of that habit, so now set a timer for an hour so that I’ll remember to drink something.

Exercise is definitely easier during the warm weather months. This winter was difficult in terms of getting outside to exercise, or even drive to the gym. But it’s necessary to find ways to stand (standing desk, anyone? I know Lee has talked about the benefits at least twice) and move around to get the blood flowing and the slouched back straightened out.

I gained several pounds over the winter due to not moving enough and grabbing junk food out of the pantry instead of taking the time to prepare healthy meals. Convenience isn’t always a good thing!

Have you come upon any health concerns or challenges since you started working from home? How have you dealt with them? What do you do to make working from home a healthier option than the typical office job?

LisaJJackson_2014Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with Lisa on TwitterFacebookGoogle+, and LinkedIn.

Weekend Edition – On “Real” Writers Plus Good Reads and Writing Tips

How to Tell If You’re a “Real” Writer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Why?

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

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

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

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

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

The question of skill is equally as misplaced.

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Morning Gather by Terri Unger

Morning Gather by Terri Unger

You only get one chance to make a first impression.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

What I’m Reading: Peaches for Monsieur Le Curé

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Finally, a quote for the week:

pin real writers

Here’s to being as real as you can be – as a writer, and as a human being. Happy writing! Happy reading! I’ll see you on the other side. 
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Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content marketer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian and aerial arts (not at the same time), and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Introduce yourself on Facebooktwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.

Friday Fun – Your Dream Writer’s Life

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: Spring is finally showing her pretty face around here. As gray turns to green, our hopes and hearts are raised with new optimism and enthusiasm. Anything seems possible. So, let’s have some fun with that. If you could have your dream writer’s life, what would it look like? What would your days look like, your readers, your work? What would it feel like to be you in all your writing life bliss?

 

wendy-shotWendy Thomas: As I already write and teach all day, I’m pretty much living the life I want, however, when I think of what my life would be like if I made it big (NYT bestseller big) I think of a beautiful writing room with large windows that look out onto a gorgeous view (mountains or the shore, I’d be happy with both.) I see clean lines, furniture with history, and everything organized for my day. What I clearly see is *my* space set aside from the rest of my family’s (don’t worry, I also see a nice office somewhere in the house for Marc.) That doesn’t mean my children can’t live there, I just see my working space as being separate (which is one of the reasons I obsess about a  tiny writing cabin which could also work.)I see a writing sanctuary.

My ideal writing day? Get up in the morning, have some coffee and sit down at my desk to write. I’m one of those people who could easily write for hour after hour with no interruption. Being able to write gives me the same high that I got when I was a long distance runner.

I also see time each day for exercise and a long walk to clear out any writing cobwebs.

Because I am a natural performer (clown) I also see giving workshops or presentations on my pieces. I love being able to teach others, it’s all the better when I can make them laugh.

Oh and lastly, I see myself as being introduced as “Wendy Thomas, author of …”

 

headshot_jw_thumbnailJamie Wallace: I SO wanted to take more time to think about my answer to this question, but the realities of my current writing life mean that I just can’t spare more than a few minutes to luxuriate in the fantasy. (A girl still has to sleep.)

Once upon a time, I would have answered this inquiry with a glib crack about wanting to be the next J.K. Rowling … only me … and better. But, if I really stop to think about the reality of her writing life, would I really want it? I’m not so sure. I mean, there’s no doubt that she has achieved a level of commercial and financial success that no other writer can touch, but I have a feeling that there’s been a price to pay for all that fame and fortune.

Though I love the idea of touching so many hearts and minds with my own stories the way Rowling did with her Harry Potter series, I do not think I am built for being in the limelight. I’m too much of a homebody. I don’t even like to leave my cats alone for the weekend when we escape for a quick trip to the mountains. I can’t imagine going on a book tour the likes of what Ms. Rowling has endured.

No, for me, I think a quieter kind of writing life is a better fit. I would like to make a (very) comfortable living with my stories (as opposed to the decent living I make wrangling words for my content marketing clients). I would like to have creative freedom and the ability to work on a wide variety of projects. (I’m even brewing up some ideas for new ways to package stories and create different kinds of reading experiences.) I would like to continue working from the comfort of my own home, but I would like to be able to work at my own pace – giving myself time to enjoy the journey and the process as much as holding the finished product in my hands.

My writing and creative time would include enough space for journaling, experimentation, creating, and engaging with my community of readers and fellow artists & writers. My days would also be spacious enough to accommodate time with family and friends, time to volunteer, time for self-care (yoga, riding, hiking, juicing, enough sleep), and time for completely aimless meandering.

Though there are some days when this dream seems too pie-in-the-sky to ever grasp, I know that I’m slowly getting closer and closer to making it a reality. Step-by-step, I’m getting there. Some days it almost feels like I’m already living this life. :)

Happy Birthday, Hans Christian Andersen

When I was a kid, I loved reading all kinds of stories, myths, and fables, but I especially loved the fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen. I preferred his stories to the sanitized Disney stories portrayed in the movies, as many kids (and grownups) do.

I’ve been thinking about Hans Christian Andersen lately as I’ve been listening to a story collection by Neil Gaiman, called Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances and they remind me of all the old stories I loved to read as a child.

It turns out today, April 3, is the date Hans Christian Andersen was born, in the year 1805. His career is inspirational. He published a collection of his “children’s stories” every couple of years for decades. His first collection of tales for children included “The Princess and the Pea,” and he also wrote “The Ugly Duckling,” (one of my favorites when I was a child), “The Little Mermaid,” and “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”

I wonder when I stopped reading myths and fairy tales? I’m sure it was before I started medical school, but residency was the time when I really started to avoid fiction that didn’t have a happy ending. For a while there, I read only genre fiction as I needed to know, in my reading life if not in my real life, that there are happy endings. And fairy tales are great stories, but not everyone in them ends up happily ever after.

But now I’m back to reading anything and everything. I realize any story can be told as a fairy tale or a tragedy and the author’s art is partly in now they choose to tell the story. I recently wrote the story of my own life in my journal—two versions. In one version I was the victim, in the other version I’m the hero.

I’m really enjoying Trigger Warning, with it’s heroes, villains, and victims. Reading this book prompted me to rummage around in the basement and find my collection of Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales. I think it’s time to start reading these to my son so he can see the full range of characters available to him—he gets to be the author of his own fairy tales, as we all do.

Happy Birthday, Hans Christian Anderson. Two hundred years after his birth, I’m so grateful he lived and wrote.

What’s your favorite fairy tale?

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon: is a writer, blogger, mother, life coach, and family physician. I’m celebrating Hans Christian Andersen’s birthday by sharing his stories with my son.

The Most Important Page on Your Author Website (Plus a Chance at a Freebie Consultation)

all about me notHello, there.

How are you? Good? Good.

I’d like to talk with you for a minute about what is probably the most important page on your writer/author website: The About Page.

The About Page may seem like a fairly run-of-the-mill page, but it’s statistically one of the most frequently visited pages on a site. No matter where people enter your site (your home page, a blog post, your books page, etc.) there’s a pretty good chance that they will also take a look at your About Page. Is your About Page doing its job?

A while back, I wrote a post for my marketing blog: How to Write an About Page – 5 Steps to Get It Right. The post is a bit of a rant, but I prefer to think of it as a loving intervention. In it, I explain – in detail and with common mistakes & solutions – the 5 steps that will ensure you’ve got a great About Page that helps you catch and hold the interest of your site visitor, convey the value of what you do (to them), and – bonus points! – get them to take one step closer to being an actual reader.

The 5 Steps I review in the post are:

  1. Remember that it’s never about you
  2. Include all the important information
  3. Make it personal
  4. Make it visual
  5. Show ’em what’s next

I hope you’ll check out How to Write an About Page – 5 Steps to Get It Right. And, I hope it helps you make your About Page a real workhorse.

[AUTHOR UPDATE]: Please note that as of Saturday, April 4th at ten AM EST, I am considering comment entries for the free About Page consultation closed. Please feel free to leave a comment if you like, but please note that I will be selecting the two winners from those folks who have already left a comment. Thanks! 

In fact, I’m so revved up about improving the world one About Page at a time that I’d like to offer two readers a free About Page consultation.

If you think your About Page could use some help, and you’re willing to let me publish a “Before & After” here on Live to Write – Write to Live, let me know in the comments (and include a link to your website!). I’ll pick two winners, and get in touch via email. Then, over the next few weeks, we’ll work together to give your About Page a bit of a makeover.

You in?

Excellent.

Talk to you soon. Now, go check out that post! :)

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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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Image Credit: Mark Falardeau

Speaking in Public

Photo courtesy of Phyllis Groner

Photo courtesy of Phyllis Groner

As nice as it is to enjoy casual dress every day of the week and labor in solitude behind a computer, there are times that require a writer to get dressed, leave home and speak in public. I will be doing this next week.

Washing my face and finding clean clothes aside, I’m looking forward to it. Speaking in public allows me to meet readers, network with colleagues, and connect with potential clients.

There are several types of public speaking a writer can expect to do in the course of her career. What they all have in common is a chance to build audience organically, by showing, not telling. Just like writing.

Know your audience.

photo courtesy of Marc Nozell

photo courtesy of Marc Nozell

Like writing, it’s essential to know your audience. Next week, I will be talking with the New England Adobe Users Group about writing for the web. My audience is primarily one of web developers. They have a lot of computer savvy, and they’re technically oriented. I will talk about the technical aspects of language and syntax for clear web content and short, powerful, blog posts.

Educate and entertain.

As with writing, content matters. I have to deliver worthwhile information, and I have to deliver it in an interesting manner. In short, I have to educate and entertain to make attending this talk worth my audience’s while.

Suit the medium to the message.

For this talk, I will use projected visuals to demonstrate how diction, word order and concision work to hone a message with laser precision, and I’ll give attendees lots of examples, so they can see these techniques in action.

A technical talk like Words on the Web is more about education than entertainment. When I give author talks, it’s the reverse.

Entertain and educate.

Brooks Memorial LibraryWhen I make an author appearance for Into the Wilderness at a library, historical society, reading group or bookstore, I have a chance to give readers extra content, similar to “web extras” offered in print journals – only in reverse. Instead of going on-line for extra content, they show up to meet me in person.

Readers are curious about the historical background to the novel’s setting and the backstory to writing the book. Readers frequently want to know what’s autobiographical and what’s made up and how I create and sustain a fictional world. Because fiction is magical, readers want to hear about the alchemy of writing it, whether I use a pen or a keyboard, write in the morning or at night.

Meet and greet.

Just as an author appearance allows readers to see the writer in the flesh, it also allows a writer to meet her readers in person. This kind of validation is a wonderful change from the months – sometimes years – of working in the relative isolation of one’s imaginary world.

Public speaking.

Deborah Lee Luskin at VPR's Upper Valley Studio.Because I’m also an editorial writer and a radio commentator, I’m sometimes asked to speak on a specific issue or for a particular event. These are the hardest public speaking events for me, because they require me to think in real time and speak without the benefit of revision, which I always do before sending anything out for publication in pixels or print.

Speech making is theater.

These events also require some theatrical talent to insure a lively delivery. For me, this means speaking from an outline rather than reading from a script. Reading a speech is guaranteed to send your audience to sleep; do that and you miss your chance to be heard.

Dress up.

But being heard isn’t enough. If it were, my radio audience would be satisfied with the broadcast of my voice. When a writer is invited to speak in public, the audience wants to see the person behind the words. And for this reason above all, speaking in public requires a writer dress up.

Deborah Lee Luskin is an author, blogger and pen-for-hire, as well as a frequent public speaker.Deborah Lee Luskin

Creating images for blogs and other social media sites

033015_imageOver the weekend I learned a new skill: creating a header image for an organization’s website.

I was intimidated, nervous, and wondered if there was enough time left in that day to actually accomplish the task at hand.

Canva.com has been mentioned as a resource on this blog in the past few months. Deborah’s post lists several resources for culling free images, and Julie’s post mentions canva in passing as something she uses quite a bit.

As I was in need of the image for the mystery writer’s group I belong to with Julie, she’d mentioned canva.com to me a few times and said it was easy to use.

I couldn’t put the task off any longer, so I clicked on over to canva.com and found I could log in with a Google account. I liked not having to create an account. Ahh!

And then I was ready to go.

First up is to select the type of image to create – one for a Facebook post, Facebook cover, presentation, poster, and so on. I needed one to use as a website header, so chose Use custom dimensions, entered the dimensions and entered a new screen.

I was ready to create my header image. There is a keyword search box to get you started, and also a super short but informational tutorial to get the not-yet-designer up to speed.

I played around with layouts, different text, and backgrounds. It really was easy to move back and forth and play with colors, styles, and images.

I personally like playing with different text layouts and fonts – those are word-related. Visuals are challenging, but this site gives me hope that I can create images when I need them.

Once done creating an image there are options to download, share through social media, and save.

The image included above isn’t going to win any awards, but I created it in less than 3 minutes. It’s two images in one — and I needed some color today. Winter may be over, but spring colors have yet to start appearing outside my window yet! Browns and dirty white isn’t all that appealing.

This is the first image I created:

Heroes, Villians, and Sidekicks

*Not all images are free on the site, but if there’s a fee ($1), it’s noted on the image.

I’m not endorsing this site, simply sharing my experience. It was worthwhile to me to use, and I plan to continue using it (I bet I can create something without green in it, too!) — as it keeps the process of designing images simple and gives me what I need.

What do you use to create visuals for you social media accounts?

LisaJJackson_2014Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with Lisa on TwitterFacebookGoogle+, and LinkedIn.