Chris Bohjalian – The Guest Room, Social Media, and a Chicken

New York Times Best Seller author Chris Bohjalian is a class act. The first time I “met” Chris was by telephone. My editor had asked me to interview Chris for an article. The deadline was short and Chris, being Chris, agreed to talk to me on Memorial Day – a holiday where he could have spent time with his family.

Instead he talked with me on the phone for 1.5 hours. The article was written and submitted and Chris became one of my favorite authors.

However, even despite that fantastic phone interview, perhaps my most important connection to Chris is that I named one of our chickens after him. Years ago, I had the (admittedly genius) idea of offering authors the opportunity to have a chicken in my flock named after them in exchange for an interview. Chris was the first to accept my offer.

Chris-Bohjalian was a fine and much loved hen in our flock.

Since then, I’ve had a few chances to see Chris in public while he’s on book tour. Last night I saw him at Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord promoting his newest book – The Guest Room (on the NYT Best Sellers List.) If you are an author, do yourself a favor and go see authors on tour. It’s a rare opportunity to see a writer in action and you can ask them *anything* you want (it’s very similar to all the politicians that come to New Hampshire, you’re very welcomed to be here, but you’ll have to answer our questions.)

Chris has got the book tour thing down pat. He started off with a funny story. Last night’s story was basically about how he’s not such a big shot (even though he is.) It was a great way to endear himself with his audience.

He then did a reading from his book. I have to say it’s the first time I’ve heard a man “become” a 19 year old Russian escort, but you know, Chris pulled it off. It was a great read with the expected result that I (and everyone in the audience) wanted to know more.

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After the reading, it was question time. People asked about some of his previous books (Transistor Radio and Midwives came up a few times.) and how he got ideas. I asked him about Social Media and how he kept it from taking over his day (by the way he begins his writing day at 6 and writes until noon with a goal of reaching at least 1,000 words.)

Chris manages his own social media, he doesn’t have an assistant (so, as he answered one person’s question, when he responds to your comment, that’s really him responding.) But because he knows social media can be a time-suck (my words not his, he called it a time-vortex which is why he’s the best seller and I’m not) he schedules a lot of his posts the night before. He looks at social media early in the morning and then again later in the afternoon BUT NOT WHILE HE IS WRITING.

This is a bit of advice that *all* writers can take to heart and something that I’m still learning (read forcing myself) to do.

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After the talk, Chris signed books. When I approached the table and said who I was, he replied with “oh – the chicken lady!” and insisted on a photo together and then signed my book.

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Of course, he asked how the chickens were doing. I had to tell him that a coyote had decimated our flock this summer.

“Oh no, did my chicken survive? “

I had to break the news that much to my dismay, Chris-Bohjalian –the chicken was no more. But, I told him, I planned on getting new chicks in the spring and I had a pretty good feeling that one of them was going to be named Chris-Bohjalian-II.

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Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.

Winter Stories

I love a good story well told. I’m not a snob about my channel of entry. I read. I go to a lot of plays. I occasionally (very occasionally as I get older) go to the movies. And I watch television.

A few short years ago, admitting to watching television was not something I could admit freely in some circles. But these days? These days television is the place to be. Wonderful original series that need to be told on television (or streaming). Complicated narrative arcs. Terrific production values.

Since there is snow in the offing, I thought I’d share a few of my favorite series that are fun diversions for your consideration. Just in case you can’t leave the house for a few days.

Slings and Arrows. This isn’t a new series, but it is a perennial favorite of mine. Three seasons of six episodes each. It takes place in a Canadian Shakespearean theater company. Smart, funny, and a little too true if you work in the arts. Amazon’s Mozart in the Jungle has the same “inside” vibe, but for classical music.

The Worricker Trilogy. Usually if I miss something on television, I at least know I missed it. Finding this trilogy, written by David Hare, was a lucky find New Year’s Eve. Bill Nighy is wonderful, the cast is amazing, and the entire series gave me a lot to think about.

Have I mentioned that I love Marvel? If not, I’m outing myself. I’m a Captain America girl. I also enjoy the television series. The short runs Agent Carter, Daredevil, Jessica Jones, are particular favorites.

Longmire is a great series, and the move to Netflix was good for it.

While I enjoy these series as a viewer, I also admire them as a writer. Each episode tells a story, and chips away at a larger story that the season supports. There aren’t wasted episodes. Since I am writing a mystery series, I study how this is done.

At least that’s the excuse I use while I am binge watching.

Any series suggestions for these long winter nights?

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As Julianne Holmes, Julie writes the Clock Shop Mystery series. Just Killing Time came out in October. Clock and Dagger will come out in August.

 

Enough

I’ve written in the past about using Susannah Conway’s workbook “Unraveling the Year”. Last year, my word was Practice, my intention was to commit to a writing practice. I got off to slow start but I DID it!  Then came December, all bets were off, thankfully, I have picked it up again in January.

I flamed out at the end of 2015 (thus the drop off writing in December). The last quarter was non-stop and I did no one any favors by continuing to say “yes” and ignoring what my body was telling me.

2016 WILL be different.

Thankfully, 2016 is already different. My word for 2016 is: enough.

I am enough.

I have enough on my plate. I can’t take on anything else until something is taken away. Preferably several things are taken away.  I have to scale back. I can’t go through another quarter like Q4 2015. The challenge for me is figuring out WHERE to cut back on existing commitments and WHEN to say no to new commitments.

When I saw this post on Facebook from Jen Hatmaker, I almost cried. Don’t read too far into the comments, they go sideways pretty quickly, but Jen does respond and mentions Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKewon. I’m reading this slowly so it really sticks, but so far, I’m really loving this book. It’s just what I need right now.  I’m pretty sure there will be a blog post from me on the book down the road.

So far, I’ve stepped down from an existing commitment and turned down new work. Not gonna lie, both were hard to do. The existing commitment was something I care deeply about and I would have been a really good fit for the consulting position. I just keep reminding myself “I am enough.” and honestly, after the initial shock wore off, saying no to both was incredibly empowering and uplifting.

Determining what is essential to my life is still a work in progress, but writing is without a doubt essential to my life and it is my hope by eliminating the truly unessential, I’ll make more time for writing. My goal is progress, not perfection. I’m close to finishing the roughest of rough drafts of my work-in-progress. I have another DIY writing retreat scheduled for this weekend and my goal is to pitch this story at a conference scheduled for October. To make that a reality I have many hours of revision ahead of me but, at the same time, I’m trying not to get too far ahead of myself.

I start everyday reminding myself, I am enough.

Did you pick a word for 2016?

How do you determine what is essential to your life?

Haven’t set your goals for 2016 yet? If not, you aren’t too late, you are right on time.


Lee Laughlin is a writer, marketer, social media consumer and producer, wife, and mom, frequently all of those things at once. She blogs at Livefearlesslee.com. She writes for the Concord Monitor and her words have also appeared in a broad range of publications from community newspapers to the Boston Globe. She is currently working on her first novel, a work of contemporary, romantic fiction.

Back up Back up Back up Back up

Have you ever heard that you should back up your data? It’s an important philosophy to embrace, and with today’s technology there isn’t any reason to ignore it.

A couple of years ago I got an external hard drive and backed some folders and files up; nothing regular or on a particular schedule, but I backed things up every now and then.

Last January I started backing some things up ‘to the ozone’ (the cloud) to give me a piece of mind in case something bad actually happened to my computer *and* the external drive.

I thought of it as business insurance  that would allow me to re-create what I needed, if I ever needed to.

You know where this story is going, right?

My computer was having issues most of last year – freezing up at random times and not letting me do anything except a cold reboot (shutting it down via the power button, NOT recommended).

I knew the system needed to be cleaned up, but it was always “I’ll get to it later” and “I can’t drop my laptop off somewhere for a few days, I need to work!”

I pushed my luck to the end: My laptop died last week. Just. Stopped. Working.

It was a weekday (work day) morning. One moment I was productive, the next simply staring open-mouthed at the screen.

Shock, awe, anger, disbelief, all the emotions of grief and loss filtered through me. Anger was prevalent.

I brought the system to a geek shop and within 24 hours had the system back with a brand new (quite empty) disk drive and a fresh version of the operating system.

Nothing is retrievable from the original disk. I need to rebuild what I had.

So, what about the back ups?

An analysis helped me realize I had most data; I can re-create what I didn’t back up. But, then I remembered Outlook. Where was the PST file stored? Did I back that up?

For the last few days I didn’t think I had any version of the PST and it was crushing me to know I lost so many emails. But, as I was writing this post, I looked, once again, into the files I backed up and found a December version of the PST file! Yay! Not the most recent, but at least it’s something!

My tips:

  • back up your data regularly
  • know what data is most important to you and/or your business (and know where the folders and files are located in a file structure)
  • if you download and install software online, print out the install instructions and product keys
  • if you install software from disks, know where those disks are
  • unless you can bring your system to the vendor, or have the vendor come to you — get references (now, while your computer is working) of computer shops that can help you if you ever have system issues

It’s one thing to mourn the loss of vacation photos, it’s another to realize your entire business has to be rebuilt.

Don’t let your productivity drop to zero if/when your system has problems. Prepare for a worst-case scenario now, and it most likely won’t happen. But if it does come to fruition, you’ll keep moving forward.

Lisa_2015Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with manufacturing, software, and technology businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Weekend Edition, Part Two – Massive Catch Up on Writing and Reading Picks

Hello, fellow writers. Happy Sunday!

Regular readers of the Weekend Edition may have noticed that my last few Saturday posts have been missing their second half – the overview of what I’ve been reading, what I’ve been writing, great blog posts from around the web, and other miscellaneous “shareworthy” items. Today, I bring you a massive catch up on all the linky goodness that I’ve been collecting since before the holidays.

Ready? Let’s do this.

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BOOKS I’VE READ RECENTLY:

bella and booksThe Christmas holiday afforded me the luxury of several long afternoons of quiet solitude, so – of course – I took the opportunity to indulge in a good, old-fashioned reading binge. I felt like a kid – curled happily on my couch with my cats, a mug of tea, and a pile of library books. What could be better?

 

.book king on writingI began my armchair journey with a book that has been on my To Read list for a very long time: Stephen King’s memoir on the craft, On Writing. I know, I know – what took me so long? I have no good excuse. Although I have huge respect for King, I’ve never been a fan of his books because – quite frankly – they are too scary for me. (I tried reading It when I was a teen, and wound up with such terrible nightmares that I not only had to stop reading, I had to remove the book from the house.)

Now that I’ve finally read On Writing, I recommend it wholeheartedly. King’s advice is excellent, and his tone is a perfect mix of pragmatism and encouragement. He manages to be the voice of experience and reason without being at all pretentious or pedantic. In fact, the entire book is so damn readable that I found myself staying up quite late into the evening, reading.

I do still take some issue with King’s opinion on plotting. He calls himself a “situational” writer – someone who takes a character, puts him or her in a situation, and then stands back to see what happens next. While I agree that the “what it?” approach is an excellent way to start a story, I can’t quite bring myself to abandon the idea of story structure in favor of discovery writing. Though King may be able to craft stories without the aid of an outline or other planning device, I think this is mostly due to his innate sense of story.

Despite our differences on that point, I not only found this book extremely valuable, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it – cover-to-cover.


 

book byatt storiesNext up was a collection of stories by A.S. Byatt called Little Black Book of Stories. This was my first time reading Byatt, who is probably best known for her novel, Possession. The spine of the book caught my eye as I was wandering through the fiction section of my library – a gothic-style cover with gold leaf embellishments and a rather mysterious air about it.

The stories contained within sparkle darkly with images and ideas that have stayed with me. Though each tale is unique from the others, together they weave a sense that there is more to the world than meets the eye. They manage to create this feeling without compromising the feeling that Byatt’s characters are as real as you or me. And, of course, the language is beautiful. I will definitely be seeking out more of this author’s work.


 

book thirteen orphansAfter such a serious and dark read, I switched gears to something lighter. Thirteen Orphans by Jane Lindskold is another book that called to me from the library shelves. I had to stand on tip-toe to reach it, and was immediately intrigued the minute I read Charles deLint’s glowing cover blurb.

From the Goodreads synopsis: “When that world’s Emperor was overthrown, the Thirteen Orphans fled to our earth and hid their magic system in the game of mah-jong. Each Orphan represents an animal from the Chinese Zodiac. Brenda’s father is the Rat. And her polished, former child-star aunt, Pearl—that eminent lady is the Tiger.

Only a handful of Orphans remain to stand against their enemies. The Tiger, the Rooster, the Dog, the Rabbit . . . and Brenda Morris. Not quite the Rat, but not quite human either.”

I was nearly two-thirds of the way through this book before similarities in writing style and plot made me realize that I’d read another book by Lindskold, Changer. I liked Thirteen Orphans better than Changer. I found it easier to identify with the Orphans characters and their plight, and I also found the entire team of “good guys” quite likable. There’s a good chance that I’ll eventually read the other books in this series. I’d like to see Aunt Pearl kick some more ass.


 

book valour vanityMy last holiday read was Valour and Vanity, the fourth novel in Mary Robinette Kowal’s Glamourist Histories series. This was the first time I’ve read one of Kowal’s novels, though I’ve been a huge fan of her for ages because of her work on the best-ever writing podcast, Writing Excuses.

In the promotional blurbs, Valour and Vanity is described as “a magical adventure that might result if Jane Austen wrote Ocean’s Eleven.” The setting is a historically accurate Regency setting except for one, small detail – magic is real, in the form of “glamour.” Valour and Vanity is a heist novel that involves deception on many levels and two teams of conspirators who play out their game in the city of Murano, Italy. This was an entertaining and well-written read that was perfect for a quiet winter afternoon.


 

book magician kingWith the holiday break behind us, I have less time to devote to long reading sessions, so I’m re-reading (via audio book) the second book in Lev Grossman’s magicians trilogy. I had forgotten just how much I love these book. I love the way Grossman combines magic and other worlds with a modern sensibility that’s full of sharp wit, cynicism, and a delightful sense of sarcasm.

I’m re-reading this one in preparation for reading the final installment of the trilogy, The Magician’s Land. I borrowed it from the library earlier this week, and am just itching to crack it open.

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BLOG POSTS WORTH SHARING

While being bumped out of my usual routine temporarily handicapped my blog consumption, I think I’m pretty much all caught up now. Thank goodness many bloggers slowed things down a bit over the holidays, or I’d probably still be digging my way out!

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OTHER SHAREWORTHY ITEMS

NYPL images

Awesome New Image Collection 

A Mother Jones post tipped me off on the fact that the New York Public Library recently made 180,000 digital images available for free. This is great news for bloggers who are always looking for interesting and unique images that don’t smack of stock photography.

You can access the images via the NYPL’s website, and here is a post about their public domain collections. These images are available, “No permission required. No restrictions on use.” Wheeeee!!!


 

Sound Apps to Keep You Focused on Your Writing

A couple years ago I discovered a nifty little app called Coffitivity, an elegantly simple, scientifically inspired, and oh-so-fun online app that streams a soundtrack of ambient coffee shop sounds through your computer speakers. If you like, you can mix the Coffitivity soundtrack with the music stream of your choice. I use the app quite frequently, mostly when my daughter is home and work requires that I  block out distracting noises.

I recently came across a similar app called brain.fm. According to their website, brain.fm “converts auditory neuroscience into personalized brainwave training programs” that help you focus, relax, and sleep. Unlike Coffitivity, there isn’t a long-term free version of the app. You can, however, do a free trial that allows you something like seven listening sessions to try out the different sounds. I have only tried one of the “focus” sounds, but the concept of soundscapes scientifically optimized to induce particular mind states is pretty fascinating. Worth a try.


 

The 10th Annual Short Story Challenge

short story challenge

I’ve thought about participating in the Short Story Challenge before, but have never managed to take the plunge. Maybe, though, 2016 is the year. Per the website, this is how it works:

The 10th Annual Short Story Challenge is a creative writing competition open to writers around the world.  There are 3 rounds of competition.  In the 1st Round (January 22-30, 2016), writers are placed randomly in heats and are assigned a genre, subject, and character assignment.  Writers have 8 days to write an original story no longer than 2,500 words.  The judges choose a top 5 in each heat to advance to the 2nd Round (March 17-20, 2016) where writers receive new assignments, only this time they have just 3 days to write a 2,000 word (maximum) short story.  Judges choose finalists from the 2nd Round to advance to the 3rd and final round of the competition where writers are challenged to write a 1,500 word (maximum) story in just 24 hours (April 29-30, 2016).  A panel of judges review the final round stories and overall winners are selected.  Sound like fun?  Join the competition below and get ready for January 22nd!

Sound like fun? The deadline to register is January 21st, and the entry fee is $45. Even if you don’t enter, you can read winning stories from past competitions on the website.

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Finally, a great quote from Mr. Alan Rickman, another wonderful artist whom we lost this past week. For millions around the world, he will always be Professor Snape, but his body of work and his depth of compassion for humanity extends far beyond that single role. He understood the importance of art and of stories.

pin alan rickman

Thanks for sharing part of your weekend with me. Happy reading, happy writing, happy exploring and creating. 

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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 – What would Bowie do?

charlie brown david bowie

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My daughter knew him as the Goblin King, but to countless fans around the world and across generations, he was so much more. Since Monday morning’s announcement of his passing, the Internet has been abuzz with lamentations for, tributes to, and a veritable flood of shared memories about David Bowie – the man who fell to earth.

I have spent more time than may be appropriate consuming these digital sound bytes in great gulps, trying to come to terms with the loss of a beloved artist and the feelings that loss has stirred in me. It is disorienting to feel such a genuine sense of sorrow over the death of someone I never met. Bowie was, after all and despite appearances, just another human being. But great artists change us. We are moved by their work and fooled, because we have access to their public personas, into believing in an illusion of intimacy. We weave their personalities and their art into the fabric of our lives, tying their threads to ours with inextricable knots.

For the alienated and the disenfranchised, the prosecuted and the lonely, Bowie was a kind of savior – a beautifully vulnerable yet rebellious demigod of originality and self-expression. Over the course of this past week, I have read dozens of heartfelt stories from grieving fans who relate how Bowie and his music made them feel less alone and inspired them to embrace their weirdness, despite the world telling them they were freaks.

I don’t have a story like that. I can’t lay claim to a moment of teenage epiphany while listening to Space Oddity or Ziggy Stardust. I never wrestled with issues of gender, and my tussles with sexuality were your garden variety coming-of-age affairs. And yet, Bowie was still an important and persistent presence in my life. His music was a linchpin of my personal soundtrack, and his larger-than-life persona was a staple of the room-sized collages that adorned my bedroom door, bulletin board, and eventually the cinderblock walls of my college dorm.

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Great artists – writers, musicians, actors, painters – touch our hearts with their work. They become a proxy for our feelings, saying the things we are afraid to say, don’t know how to say, or aren’t even aware we need to say. This ability to capture and convey human emotions in a story, a song, a performance, or a painting is the closest thing to magic we humans have discovered. The transference of experience and emotion is a powerful tool for discovery and connection. Perhaps the most powerful tool.

But, if we go beyond our experience of great art – if we get a little meta (because that’s where my musings about David Bowie have brought me) – we find that there is something very moving about  the creative act itself.

Bowie was fascinating. He was an enigma, a rebel, an otherworldly force of nature. But, that wasn’t what drew me into his orbit and kept me there for all these decades. Yes, I loved his music and appreciated the message of the lyrics he wrote, but there was something else that went deeper than that. I’m only just now beginning to realize that the something else was the spirit in which he made his art – his creative drive and integrity, his insatiable curiosity, his courage and his commitment, and – not any less important – his sense of play and mischief.

Even more than the overt messages of his songs or the outlandish flair of his stage personas, my artist’s heart responded to the way he threw himself into his creations, the way he believed unwaveringly in the importance and value of what he was doing, the way he never gave up.

And, his road wasn’t easy.

Earlier this week, I watched a documentary about his very early years and learned just how hard Bowie had to work to develop into the artist he became. His earliest albums were wildly erratic explorations of strange territories, many of them very dark. He tried so many different styles, experimenting his way to becoming David Bowie. And with each step he pushed against personal, professional, and cultural boundaries in order to create the art he wanted to create because he believed it mattered.

That’s what makes my throat tighten and brings a tear to my eye – his faith in himself as an artist and his belief that the art – his art – mattered. How many people have that? How many people give themselves permission to create at all, never mind giving themselves carte blanche to create without constraint – to put it all out there, to be outrageous and beautiful, to ask the hard questions, to dive into the darkness, and yet – at the end of the day – to still be amazed that people take any of it seriously?

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I never needed Bowie to be my champion as an isolated or abandoned youth. I didn’t need him to tell me it was okay to be different. What I needed, though I didn’t know it, was someone to show me what it looks like to have faith in your art.

I’ve been mourning Bowie’s death because we lost a one-of-a-kind artist, but there’s more to it than that. As fans, ours is not the deep heartbreak of Bowie’s friends and family; but our grief is no less real. We may not have known the man – David Jones – personally, but he was a part of our lives nonetheless. When he died, a little piece of me died, too. My connection to my past became a little more tenuous. The reality of my own death became a little more concrete. As a friend of mine said on Monday, “It was only today that I realized he was mortal.”

And so, we come to the heart of the matter.

As human beings, we routinely forget that we are mortal. We grant ourselves a kind of immortality born of denial. We have time, we think. We have tomorrow. But then we lose someone like David Bowie, an artist who touched our lives deeply and who seemed to exist outside of the limitations of mortality, and we are reminded how little time we actually have, how fragile we really are.

As artists, this realization is terrifying; but it’s also a wake-up call. If I am honest with myself, I have to admit that my mourning for Bowie is tangled up with gut-twisting feelings of regret and remorse for the time I’ve lost. The dark side of my admiration of his commitment to his art is the cruel comparison to my own creative shortcomings – all the times I’ve failed to follow his example, instead choosing the safe and comfortable path.

There will never be another Bowie, but each of us can learn from him. Bowie taught us many things about how to create art and how to live a creative life. Now, it’s up to us. You don’t have to be a rock star. You don’t have to be outrageous or famous. You just have to be the artist you already are. You have to embrace your own creative spark and spirit and find the courage to share that with the world.

Times columnist Caitlin Moran may have put it best,

When in doubt, listen to David Bowie. In 1968, Bowie was a gay, ginger, bonk-eyed, snaggle-toothed freak walking around south London in a dress, being shouted at by thugs. Four years later, he was still exactly that – but everyone else wanted to be like him, too. If David Bowie can make being David Bowie cool, you can make being you cool. PLUS, unlike David Bowie, you get to listen to David Bowie for inspiration. So, you’re already one up on him, really. YOU’RE ALREADY ONE AHEAD OF DAVID BOWIE.

Fans, critics, and even the people who were closest to him are calling Blackstar Bowie’s parting gift, but I think Bowie’s true parting gift is so much bigger. Teaching by example, he gave us an inspiring blueprint for how to believe in and commit to our own art. He didn’t hold back, and he never stopped creating. He remained eternally curious and enthusiastic. He experimented, collaborated, and played. And, perhaps most importantly, he embodied a steadfast belief in the intrinsic value of art and of the creative process.

What would Bowie do? No matter what, Bowie would make art. Thank you, Mr. Jones, for setting the example. Thank you.

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Jamie Lee Wallace David Bowie fan, evolving writer, and creative human being. Introduce yourself on Facebooktwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
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Friday Fun – The Best Age to Be a Writer

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: Now there’s a loaded question, right? Very young and very old writers typically get more than their share of attention in the publishing world. Precociously young writers impress us with their early onset virtuosity while older first-time writers earn our respect for their perseverance and chutzpah. But what about all the writers who break onto the scene in the unimpressive years between, say, thirty and fifty? Are their feats any less impressive for having come in mid-life? Are there advantages to publishing super early in life, or super late? What say you?

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon: I just read that James Joyce wrote his short story, “Clay,” when he was 18. Yikes! When I was 18, I was working at Bradlees and going to the beach on the weekends with my friends, waiting for college to start in the fall. Once it did, I studied for my classes and spent the rest of the time having fun with my friends. I wasn’t staying up nights alone in my room writing.

I think some people have the drive to write early in life, but others need to have lived a little, to have had some experiences, before they can really become writers. There must be advantages to writing and publishing early, but I think there’s also a lot to be said for having a variety of experiences before really diving into a writing life. Also, many of us don’t have “permission” to write early in life. I started journalling at age 11, but no one in my family thought writing was a viable profession for an adult, so I was influenced to “do something useful.” Many of us decide to give ourselves permission to write once we’ve gotten a little older (or a lot older.) If you need permission from someone else to write, ask me, I will definitely give you permission!

Deborah Lee Luskin, M. Shafer, Photo

Deborah Lee Luskin,
M. Shafer, Photo

Deborah Lee Luskin: As both the oldest of the Live to Write bloggers and one slightly obsessed with The Middle Ages (one of my blogs), I have to take issue with cutting Middle Age off at 50! In a recent post about retirement, I note how three newly retired men are looking forward to concentrating on writing projects.  So no, I don’t think there’s any age limit on writing. The limits are those of dedication (doing the work and not just talking about it) and craft (learning how to control language). That’s the writing part; publishing is different: the publishing industry is cruelly slanted toward youth.

JME5670V2smCROPJamie Wallace: While I ooh and ahh along with everyone else when some startlingly young literary protegé hits the limelight with a bestseller, I tend to think that with age comes – if not wisdom – at least a more interesting perspective … depth … subtlety. I realize I am likely prejudiced by my own age (I am only a few short years away from the half century mark), but I do find the industry’s preoccupation with young writers rather pointless and mostly unwarranted. The worth of a book should not be at all judged by the age of its author – young, or old. Using an author’s age as a promotion tactic demeans the work on either end of the scale.

There is no universally perfect age to write or to publish. All writing is built on the foundation of the writing (and reading!) that came before. We cannot say that writers, as a group, mature at a certain age. They cannot be predictably aged like wine or whiskey. The “right” time for writing is always now, in this moment, consistently and persistently. As for when a writer breaks the code and suddenly becomes visible to the cultural consciousness, that happens when the writer has found his or her stride – when the writing that has come before has finally become a strong enough foundation to support a Good Story. It has little, if anything, to do with age.

That said, I encourage anyone who wants to become a writer to write as soon and as often as possible. It is not the passage of years that makes a great writer, but the writing that he or she has done.