Reading to write

Reading is something I’ve always done. When I was a kid, my mom would take away TV as a punishment and once I got over the initial sting of being in trouble, I’d go find a book and that was that. As an adult, I’ve often said, I could live without a TV, but you’ll pry my kindle out of my cold dead hands.

I wish I could remember the first time I heard “To be a good writer, you must be a good reader.” I even Googled the phrase to see if I could find someone other than one of my teachers to attribute it to. I can find many an essay or blog post touting that as truth, but I can’t find a source.

Romance is my genre of choice, but I find my writing is enriched by everything I read, so I work to expand my horizons. That said, I’m an emotional person, and I can be deeply impacted by what I read. I read some mystery, but suspense stresses me out and I need to read thru to find out what happened. Sometimes, my schedule doesn’t allow for a marathon reading session.  Horror is a no go for me. The boogeymen take up residence in my brain and I can’t sleep. I enjoy memoir, biography and autobiography. I love in depth news articles about places and experiences different from mine.

My TBR (to be read) pile of Romance books is extensive, but I’m on a bit of a non-fiction kick at the moment. I read Born to Run by Christopher McDougal with plans to go back to fiction, but After I read Deborah’s review of Word by Word by Kory Stamper, I made that my next read.  I’m really enjoying it I didn’t expect to laugh so hard at a book about dictionaries.  Both books introduced me to new information about the world I live in.

I find that reading across genres strengthens my writing. Bits and pieces of what I’ve read get manipulated, massaged and woven into fictional tales. Now to be clear, I’m not suggesting I read someone’s biography and use their experiences verbatim to create a character. That’s NOT cool.  It’s like cooking, take a physical trait from one story and combine it with a personality trait from someone I’ve encountered and expose it to a life changing event from a from my imagination. Boom! I have a rich, three-dimensional character that people want to read about.

Reading about different geographies introduces me to different locals and potentially different motivations for characters and events. This is another area where it is important to do my research to make sure I really understand how things work. We don’t have typhoons in the Eastern U.S., but hurricane season is real. And, the way we prepare in the Northeast is likely a little different from a Floridian’s preparation. The devil is in the details.

These days, the news is sometimes stranger than the imagination, and plot twists and character flaws are the low hanging fruit. Talk about stressful reading! I do think reading makes me a better writer. How about you, can you read while you have a writing project active? What is your preferred reading genre? What genre stretches you?


Lee Laughlin is a writer, marketer, social media consumer and producer, wife, and mom, frequently all of those things at once.  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 the second draft of her first novel, a work of contemporary, romantic fiction

Late to the Party – Finally Reading The War of Art

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield is one of the books that, as a writer, you feel obligated to read. It’s right up there with Writing Down the Bones and Bird by Bird, but it perceives and talks about art in a completely different way. It takes a “harder” and more pragmatic view of the creative process and the writer’s life. It’s a no-punches-pulled, nose-to-grindstone, get-off-your-lily-ass-and-do-your-work kind of pep talk.

And, it isn’t.

Despite the fact that he employs a lot of  military and warfare metaphors, Pressfield actually has an almost lyrical view of how writers get their ideas and develop their work. He talks a great deal about angels and muses; and he’s not referring to them in a strictly conceptual way. He believes that there are various intelligences operating on different planes of reality who are helping the human race evolve by inspiring artists to bring their work into the physical world.

Pretty cool, right? Almost magical.

I found it interesting that a book titled, The War of Art, has so much to say on the subject of love. While Pressfield is unflinching in his admonitions to stop making excuses and just do your work already, he always circles back to love as a touchstone – as the driving force behind our creative impulses. This is always a helpful reminder. When you are, as my friend puts it, “slaving away in the word mines,” it’s important to remember that you crawled in there of your own accord, and you did it for love.

If you haven’t read this classic yet, I do recommend it. It might not be exactly what you expected, but I guarantee that you will come away with at least one (and likely many) nugget of wisdom to help you beat your Resistance demons. While I’ve had a paperback copy of this book sitting on the shelf forever, it wasn’t until I stumbled across the audio book version (read by one of my all-time favorite narrators, George Guidall) that I finally took the plunge. It’s a short listen – just under four hours including the foreword by Robert McKee.

Love to hear what you think of it if you have already read it or if you decide to listen now.

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Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content writer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian arts, and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. In addition to my bi-weekly weekday posts, you can also check out my Saturday Edition and Sunday Shareworthy archives. Off the blog, please introduce yourself on FacebookTwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.

This post originally appeared on the Live to Write – Write to Live blog.
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When Words Fail to Come

When words fail to come

Leo’s his usual, joyful, self – and very helpful when words fail to come.

What to do when words fail to come?

It happens sometimes. Yesterday morning, in fact.

I had a post due on Living In Place, and I didn’t have anything to say.

Worse, my brain was foggy, possibly due to the antihistamine I succumbed to the night before. Or maybe it’s my broken sleep cycle. I’ve been waking at 3:30 am and reading until daybreak, then getting on with my regular day. But I’m dragging.

I  lubricate my brain with coffee and head out with the dog for a walk, though I hardly have any forward momentum. Leo’s his usual, joyful self. I’m dull and cold, huddled in a hoodie and worried about how I’ll meet my deadline if I have nothing to say.

That this deadline is self-imposed makes no difference. When I started my blog, I tasked myself with an essay every Wednesday. In 135 weeks, I’ve never missed a week, though twice I’ve posted a day late.

I think of all the non-writing tasks I could console myself with: paying bills, filing papers, cleaning my winter clothes for storage.  Then I remember I have a blog due for Live to Write – Write to Live, too. I think maybe I’ll write  about how sorting and cleaning tasks often help me on days when I’m stuck on the page.  But I think maybe I’ve written something like that already, and I don’t want to repeat myself.

Then I remember that sometimes I do repeat myself – on purpose. Last summer, when I was hiking The Long Trail, I scheduled work from my archives for the weeks I was away. Could I do that again?

I pushed back my hood and looked up. The morning mist was lifting. I picked up my pace and flipped through my mental file, searching for something I could reuse. I remembered an essay I wrote about the summer solstice back in the pre-internet days. Maybe that would work.

The sun burned through the fog as I reached the apogee of my circuit. I unzipped my sweatshirt and strode back to my desk, where I drafted this essay with ease. Then I went to my files and found Hum Time, which I edited and formatted for the web. I polished this essay and queued it for today. I’ve done all the work that seemed unlikely just a few hours before.

It was a long journey, but all it required was a short walk. When words fail to come, I go for a walk. What do you do?

Deb wearing purpleDeborah Lee Luskin is a writer, speaker and educator, contributing regularly to this blog since 2011.

Keeping the Creative Fires Burning

“The world is violent and mercurial—it will have its way with you. We are saved only by love—love for each other and the love that we pour into the art we feel compelled to share: being a parent; being a writer; being a painter; being a friend. We live in a perpetually burning building, and what we must save from it, all the time, is love.”

Tennessee Williams

A friend posted this quote on Facebook this morning. It was a gem in my newsfeed, glittering darkly amidst a colorful cacophony of political posts, vacation pictures, and LOL cats. I held each word for a moment – violent, mercurial, love, burning – and then, as the bigger concept coalesced in my mind, I was surprised to realize that the idea of living in Williams’ burning building was actually comforting.

Making time in our lives for any creative endeavor is a challenge, but the effort seems particularly Herculean today. Not only is the house burning, but the entire world is ablaze – global warming, political unrest, racial tensions, Brexit, wars, not to mention the dumpster fire of American politics. And yet, even in these precarious times, we feel compelled to write. The fire in our hearts yearns to escape the secret confines of our minds and leap into the conflagration of the real world where it might ignite passion (or at least curiosity) in someone else.

The interesting thing about fire is that while it can be an instrument of destruction, it also provides inspiration, warmth, and fuel. Fire can consume, but it also helps us to build and create. Staring into a fire, it’s impossible not to be drawn into thoughts of the balance between light and dark, the truth of ashes to ashes and dust to dust, and the dream of the phoenix. It is impossible not to think about the metaphorical fires that burn inside us.

And yet, even when the fire burns down and the ashes turn cold, there is always a spark or a coal buried deep, just waiting for the right conditions to spring back to life as a dancing flame that lights up the darkness, bringing hope and warmth and the power to pierce the night. Our creative fires never truly go out. They may burn low for a while, or even disappear underground; but then something to turn the earth over, exposing the smoldering coals to the air, and we’re ablaze again.

 

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Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content writer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian arts, and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings.  Off the blog, please introduce yourself on FacebookTwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.

This post originally appeared on the Live to Write – Write to Live blog.
Photo Credit: Christian Ferrari Flickr via Compfight cc

Marketing Tool – Swag Boxes

Loot Crate, Bark Box, Snack Fever, whatever your interest, I’m pretty sure there is a swag box out there for you. What’s a swag box you ask? A swag box is a monthly subscription service that delivers a box full of goodies catering to a specific area of interest and often organized around a theme. Book related swag boxes cater to readers of mystery, YA, Inspirational, Jane Auston, Sci-fi and Romance, among other genres.

Recently, I caught up with Jeannie Lin, Ever After Box creator. The Ever After Box is a monthly subscription service, curated by romance writers for romance readers. Jeannie and her partners Shwantelle Madison and Amanda Berry, are multi-published in the romance genre.

How The Ever After Box Started

In 2015, the three women were discussing the rise in popularity of subscription boxes. It seemed there was a subscription for every interest, so they decided to investigate starting one for romance readers. They ran focus groups at the Romance Writer’s of America’s National Conference where they talked with readers and authors and found there was definitely interest and more importantly, enthusiasm for the idea.

The Romance Community is very tightly knit and the three knew with their reader base and industry connections they could make it work. It took six months to set up the company, they shipped their first box in January of 2016.

Lin is up front about the fact that this is definitely a collaborative effort. First the team develops a theme for a box. Theme ideas come from a variety of sources (readers, authors and sometimes even publishers and publicity people). To be clear, not every theme that is pitched becomes a box. “Once an idea is pitched or an author expresses interest, there is a lot of back and forth to refine things.” The team’s focus is on creating the best experience for the reader.

Content for the boxes is acquired in a myriad of ways. Sometimes publishers provide the books. Sometimes authors contribute back list books, free download cards or swag items. The Ever After Box team takes the job of curating the content very seriously., but there is also a delicate balance to keep shipping costs down.

Examples of the ever After boxes , the Regency Ball, The Birthday Box and the

Examples of Ever After Boxes, The Regnecy Ball, The Birthday Box and, the Badass & Beautiful Box. Images Courtesy of The Ever After Box.

What’s in it for authors?

Swag boxes are  another tool in your marketing arsenal. It’s like a giveaway, but a giveaway, to a highly targeted audience. In this case, women, aged 21 to 50+ with disposable income who already read romance (many across sub-genres), and are on the lookout for new-to-them authors or books. You may even be able to track your return on investment if you provide items that allow for that (such as downloads with a specific URL). According to Lin, authors who use downloads have seen a download rate higher than than those of random giveaways because people have paid for the product and are invested.

The Ever After Box is only in it’s second year of operation, so their focus has been spreading the word to authors and industry people alike. Subscription numbers fluctuate depending on the season, summer months have shown about 150 subscribers and a peak with numbers of just under 200 hundred around the Big 3 holidays (Christmas, Valentines and Mother’s Day).

The Ever After Box team works with interested authors to help them create something special for readers without breaking the bank for authors. They have lots of tips and tricks on how to stretch your promotional dollars.

The team is currently working on a box for writers for NaNoWriMo.

If you are interested in participating in an EverAfter box or subscribing, everything you need to know can be found on their website If interested in subscribing visit. http://www.everafterbox.com/.

How do you think a swag box fits into your marketing plan?


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 the second draft of her first novel, a work of contemporary, romantic fiction.

Word By Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries by Kory Stamper

Book Review of Word by Word

Word By Word by Kory Stamper

“Language is one of the few common experiences humanity has.”

So begins the Preface to Kory Stamper’s wonderful memoir, Word By Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries.

Hanging on Stamper’s personal narrative about how she came to be a lexicographer at Merriam-Webster and what that work is like is the entertaining history of the English words with which humans have recorded their knowledge, experience, beliefs and discoveries. This discussion of words also includes a discussion of linguistic prejudice, that attitude that self-appointed grammar police cop when someone doesn’t follow their[1]* prescribed rules.

You’d be correct if you imagined that dictionary editors spend eight hours a day in silent study, but you’d be dead wrong if for a moment you thought that reading about it would be boring.

Stamper writes with attitude.

That attitude arises from the little thought any normal person gives to the writing of dictionaries – including most lexicographers before they take the job. Before the internet, high school graduates received a dictionary before going off to college. I still have my red, clothbound Merriam-Webster Collegiate, which Stamper claims “is one of the best-selling books in American history and may be second in sales only to the Bible.” (In a footnote following this claim, she admits that this is more likely for having been “one of the oldest continuously published desk dictionaries around,” not because there’s any hard data.)

Merriam-Webster's Collegiate

I still have the 9th edition I took to college.

The Collegiate is a desk dictionary, not the big fat one that people use as booster seats for visiting grandkids. That one – The Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged – is, as Stamper notes, obsolete the moment it rolls off the press. Because even though most of us who use a dictionary do so to check meaning, spelling and usage, a dictionary is, ultimately, an historical document. It’s a snapshot of the language as it was during the ten or more years during which the lexicographers in a dingy building in Springfield, Massachusetts worked to update it.

As Stamper makes clear with humor and great stories, English is not static. Words can’t be caged on a page. How people use language changes all the time. And the history of those changes offer a glimpse into the history of those who use those words.

Word By Word is not just a terrific book about words, but also an excellently written personal memoir that tells the story about The Secret Life of Dictionaries, proving that any subject can spawn a compelling narrative when well told.

[1] Stamper explains that the singular “their” actually dates back to the fourteenth century.

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Deborah Lee Luskin is not ashamed to say that she owns about half a dozen English dictionaries – and regularly reads them.

My Miscellaneous Life

Sometimes, a day at the beach is more important than a day at your desk.

How often do you stop to think about your journey as a writer? If you had to choose, would you say you are plotting your life, or pantsing it? There’s no right or wrong answer here, and there’s no right or wrong way to create a writing life. It’s just been on my mind lately how intentional (or not) I have been of late when it comes to figuring out what kind of writing I ultimately want to do and how to start navigating toward that destination.

I have just completed Jennifer Louden’s course, Get Your Scary Sh*t Done (GSSD for short). It was a very practical and inspiring seven weeks of exploring my motivation and desire, digging deeply into what’s holding me back (surprise! it wasn’t what I thought it was), and generally working on sussing out some simple steps that I could take to move closer to the “finish line” that I’d defined for the course.

While the structure and exercises in the course were excellent and very helpful and enlightening, one of the most valuable gifts of the course was the simple but profound way that participating made me prioritize my creative project in a way that I haven’t been able to do for a while. The course gave me permission and created the “container” in which I could remember how to disconnect from the so-called real world and reconnect with myself. Totally worth the price of admission.

Around week five – while in the midst of all this discovery and focus – I had a column due for my local paper. I’d like to share that column with you today because it reflects on the idea of prioritizing what’s most important in our lives, whether that’s family or friends or writing or some other thing that makes you come alive. And, it reminds us to be careful of falling into the trap of focusing all our time and energy on the less important things … the things that may seem more important, but which – in reality – are maybe not quite as dire or life-defining as we might think.

Here’s to giving the truly important things in your life their full due.

 

 

 

My Miscellaneous Life

As I was searching through my computer’s hard drive the other day, I was struck by the fact that many of the documents that are most important to me live in a folder labeled, somewhat ignominiously, “Misc.” While my work, finance, and legal files reside in directories featuring appropriately descriptive and respectful names, digital information about life goals, creative projects, activist resources, personal interests, and social correspondence are relegated, like a huddled mass of misfit toys, to a virtual no-man’s-land.

Seeing these files, which represent some of the most “real” aspects of my life — especially when compared with the fleeting relevance of things like client projects and tax returns — I couldn’t help thinking of the saying, life is what happens to us while we are making other plans.

Though most often attributed to John Lennon, who featured a similar line in his song, “Beautiful Boy,” the earliest appearance of this oft-quoted line was published in a 1957 Reader’s Digest under the name of cartoonist Allen Saunders. Mr. Saunders was definitely on to something.

It’s a sad reality, after all, that most of us spend far too many of our days nose-to-grindstone taking care of all the so-called Important Stuff. Real Life, meanwhile, happens despite our misguided focus. Unfortunately, like my “Misc” computer files, the stuff that really matters is often swept into the corners where it is rarely given its full due.

That made me think of another old maxim, actions speak louder than words.

If someone asked what you care about most, how would you answer? You might mention your family, the environment, justice, beautiful artwork, good music, fine wine, sharing time with friends. But, how many of us can honestly say that our day-to-day choices reflect the things we say we love? How does what we do match up against our best intentions?

A few weeks ago, I was dutifully hammering away on a midafternoon deadline when my daughter asked if she could go to the beach with some friends. It was a perfect late-spring day — unseasonably warm and gloriously sunny — designed to inspire truancy. My daughter caught a ride with a friend’s mom, and I remained at my desk, chipping away at my task.

But as I sat there, my thoughts kept straying from the keyboard to the sandy shore of Crane Beach. Soft, warm winds buffeted me through the open window, and I could almost hear the small voice inside my head urging me to follow my thoughts and make a dash for the beach.

I hesitated out of habit, but the small voice was persistent. It reminded me what mattered most and assured me that the sky would not fall if I chose to play hooky for the rest of the afternoon.

The beach was even lovelier than I’d imagined. I smiled as I watched my daughter and her friends run along the water’s edge and practice ill-advised gymnastics maneuvers on the sand. And when the girls ranged out of earshot, I closed my eyes, tilted my head to the sun and the wind, and just sat. It was pretty darn close to perfect.

Seeing those computer files dumped unceremoniously in that “Misc” folder made me realize that it might be time to adjust my perspective. I had put these personal treasures in a digital junk drawer while the less-important things like work and finances had taken over the top tiers of my hard drive. I had everything upside down.

Similarly, it’s easy to go through my days looking at things from the wrong angle. How easy is it to mistake a career for a life? How simple to fall into the trap of thinking that we are what we own? How often do we get so wrapped up in keeping up that we forget where we were going? It happens all the time.

Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans, but it doesn’t have to be that way. We just need to remember who we really are, what we really love, and then go ahead and let our actions speak louder than our words.

 

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Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content writer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian arts, and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. In addition to my bi-weekly weekday posts, you can also check out my Saturday Edition and Sunday Shareworthy archives. Off the blog, please introduce yourself on FacebookTwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.

This post originally appeared on the Live to Write – Write to Live blog.
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