Writer’s Weekend Resources – Why Art Matters More Than Ever

 

pin-tell-stories-ecoI haven’t got my usual list of favorite blog posts and recently read books for you today. It’s been a long week and, like many people, I’ve been distracted from my usual routines by current events. I’m behind on client deadlines and pretty much irreversibly behind on my NaNoWriMo novel (a reality I’ll address in a future post).

As a writer, it’s never a good feeling when we become – for whatever reason –temporarily disconnected from our work; but I also know that writers are “writing” even when they are unable to put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. Everything we experience is part of our process. Everything.

So, while I don’t have a long list of links to share today, I did want to share links to a few pieces that helped me center and ground myself in the midst of all the chaos, uncertainty, and fear:

From Creating Art Matters More Than Ever by @KendraLevin:

I’ve heard many people talking about how trivial everything seems in comparison with national events and their global reverberations. Many writers were a week into National Novel Writing Month at the time of the election. To resume as if nothing has changed seems impossible; to focus on our own work when such massive changes are going on all around us can feel solipsistic and naïve, or the work can seem trivial.

But it’s not.

From On Going High by @danijshapiro:

To be a writer, and to be a teacher of writing, is to constantly, steadfastly open oneself up to what is.  To not shy away.  To feel fear and embrace that fear — otherwise known as courage — and to find a voice for what feels impossible to say.

From 5 Reasons Writing is Important to the World by @KMWeiland:

[podcast w/transcript]

Stories are, fundamentally, truths. Even when the author didn’t intend it to be so, even when he is unaware of it—even when the readers or viewers are unaware–a story is always a statement. If it is to ring true, then what it says must reflect reality—it must reflect what is true.

And what is true is always good—whether it is beautiful, whether it is dark, whether it is healing, whether it is painful. Truth is always a beacon, a guiding light pointing us back to the best things in life.

In a follow-up post, Weiland shares the personal stories of her readers/listeners as they wrote about why writing is important to them: 15 (More) Reasons Writing is Important – In Your Own Words.

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I hope that these posts might provide some comfort and inspiration to anyone who is struggling to reconnect with his or her writing. And I hope that maybe they will get us all thinking about the importance of connecting through story – of sharing and listening and learning.

 

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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. 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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Writer’s Weekend Edition – Writing About Issues

Desiree Burch, Writing Excuses Guest, Episode 11.45

Desiree Burch, Writing Excuses Guest, Episode 11.45

It’s no secret that I’m an avid fan of the fabulous podcast, Writing Excuses, hosted by Brandon Sanderson, Mary Robinette Kowal, Howard Taylor, and Dan Wells. I have learned so much by listening to these smart, funny, generous authors and their many guests. This season’s series is about “Elemental Genres,” a fascinating topic that has given me a whole new perspective on what defines the different kinds of stories we write  and why readers love them.

The November 6th episode was relevant not only as a continuation of the conversation on writing craft, but also in the context of all that is happening on the global stage. The elemental genre the panel tackled in episode 11.45 is “Issue,” and in addition to sharing their own insights, the usual team welcomed actor, writer, and comedian Desiree Burch as their guest.

In the wake of the U.S. presidential election that took place earlier this week, I have heard from many writer and artist friends and acquaintances who are struggling with a wide variety of hard questions: How do I find the energy and heart to create? How much of my personal belief system should I incorporate into my stories? Is the writer really separate from the writing? What’s my purpose as a writer? How can my writing help me become the change I want to see in the world? And so on.

I don’t have silver-bullet answers for those questions. I believe that the answers to those kinds of questions are very personal and unique to each individual. As I’ve been thinking about my NaNoWriMo novel, I’ve begun to tease out the themes that drive my primary plot and subplots. Listening to this podcast, I realized that I may be writing a hybrid (note: most stories are hybrids when it comes to elemental genres) that includes aspects of Wonder and Issue.

I encourage everyone who wants their stories to “make people think” to listen to this episode.  It’s only twenty minutes long, but there’s a lot of great information and inspiration. Here are a few “teaser highlights” that really struck home for me.

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Understand the Balance Between Feeling and Thinking

Mary points out that while other elemental genres typically want to make the reader feel something,  stories in the Issue elemental genre want the audience to think about something.

While Mary’s 30,000-foot statement is ultimately true, Desiree also points out that, “Getting [readers] to think about something goes hand in hand with them feeling things … for the most part, people don’t do one or the other. They do a kind of back and forth of both.” So, being specific and making a story really personal is also a good way to amp up your ability to make the reader feel something, which will – in turn – get them thinking.

Stay off the Soap Box

The biggest risk with stories in the elemental Issue genre is that they might become preachy or polemic. The key to avoiding this trap is to remember that Issue stories raise questions, polemic stories answer questions. As a bonus, Desiree rightly points out that raising questions is a much more interesting line of exploration for both the writer and the reader. She recommends that when you experience an emotional reaction to something, you ask yourself questions like What is that feeling? Why does that make me angry? Why does that make me feel so wounded? Why does that make me feel so giddy?

But don’t ever forte that even Issue stories need to be entertaining first. In other words, don’t get so mired in your issue that you aren’t telling a good story that keeps your reader turning pages.

Use Specificity to Reach More People

Desiree also makes an excellent point about the most effective way to tell an elemental Issue story:

“My work is intensely personal. I think that the more specific a work gets the more broadly it relates to other people.  The more you want to reach people, the deeper you have to dig and the more specific you have to be.”

Read that one again: “The more you want to reach people, the deeper you have to dig and the more specific you have to be.” Inexperienced writers who try to take on an Issue story often make the mistake of trying to tell EVERYTHING about the issue. This won’t work. As one of the men on the panel explained when he described his approach to an Issue story, “I’m not speaking for a population. I’m speaking for an individual who is part of a greater discussion. When you do that, the issue becomes personal.”

Using specificity in this way also helps you, as the writer, avoid situations where readers try to punch holes in your work. As Desiree put it, “If you make it very specific and say, ‘But, no. For this person, this is absolutely true and this is the story of this tiny world of everything,’ the more people have to go, “Well ok, respect, I will respect the rules of your world because you didn’t try to diminish mine in the creation of yours.'”

Write Better Villains by Learning to Understand Them

Everyone on the panel acknowledged that it’s hard to write characters who are on the other side of an issue about which you are passionate. But they still encourage writers to make a real effort to explore those characters. “Find the other side of the issue and discuss it in a way that’s intelligent,” one of the men on the panel explained (sorry, I can’t always tell their voices apart). “For instance, racism – you find someone whose life has been impacted by racism at the other side of it. It’s hard for me to empathize with them because I don’t like their position, but it is also much easier to understand them when you describe how their life as a racist is affected when race relations change. And until you understand that, until you can articulate that, you can’t tell a story about that changing without being preachy and polemic.”

Desiree summed is up nicely, “This is an exercise in being a better human being in some ways. I think we tend to easily demonize anyone who has fallen outside the realm of ‘normality.’ However, everybody is a person. Everybody had a series of actions and circumstances that led them to be where they are. Even that villain is his own hero and has a whole arc in which what he is doing is for some kind of greater good, even if it is just for his or her greater good. In looking at ‘let’s empathize with the racist that we don’t empathize with or that we don’t want to empathize with,’ the scary part is the more you start to, the more you realize that you are pretty much the same in so many ways and that you are potentially a racist for something else or that much of a bigot in some other kind of way where you don’t understand the person on the other side of the table that you’re pointing that finger at until you take the steps to get there and go, ‘Oh, I can be that person, too.'”

Acknowledge the Grace of What You Are Doing

And finally, Desiree offered this observation which I think applies as much to real life as it does the the writer/reader relationship, “It’s important to note that your audience is doing you a gracious thing by listening to you, just as you are doing a gracious thing by sharing your unique and very important perspective on some aspect of the universe with them. Both of you are coming with something that should be respected as it’s really tender and important and generous to do.”

Absolutely.

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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. 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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Crime Bake Time Again

It’s Crime Bake time again! The New England Crime Bake is a small, writer focused, crime fiction conference. I am on the committee, which means this week is about preparation. On Saturday I am leading a discussion of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd in a “Reading Like a Writer” session. On Sunday I am hosting a game show of sorts we’ve called the Wheel of Why, where three teams of writers (thriller, police proceduarl, cozy) are all given the same clue, the Wheel of Why is spun for motive, and they need to tell a story from the angle of their genre. I will report back on both of these.

Other things I am looking forward to? Seeing friends, including my fellow Wicked Cozy Authors. Hearing William Kent Krueger speak about the writing life. (He is the GoH. AMAZING writter.) Having lunch with my agent. Meeting with an editor. Being renewed and inspired by being around other writers.

When I first went to Crime Bake, being published was only a dream. This conference has a lot to do with the path I find myself on. Being grateful for that is a big part of the weekend.

Friends, what conferences do you go to? What do you like best about them?

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J.A. Hennrikus and Julianne Holmes are the same person. They both write mysteries.

Building Confidence As a… Writer (8)

Moving along in a series on building confidence as a writer, we’re building on prior weeks of: early morning feel good, daily writing, eating for energy, act-as-if, focus on others, plan to avoid panic, and appreciate your differences.

This week we’re tying back into the first week where the tip was to start your day off doing something that makes you feel good. For me, I go out on my deck and greet the morning / new day giving thanks for new opportunities. Others snuggle with their children, spend time journaling, enjoying coffee and quiet… the options are limitless and unique to each of us.

create-an-end-of-day-feel-good-listToday, a way to help build confidence in your writing (or life, or any particular focus you may have) is at the end of the day, make a list of activities, accomplishments, experiences, and so on that made you feel good during the day.

This can be an actual list, a journal page, notes, a few moments meditating on the positives of your day – it can be whatever form you like, but take a few minutes at the end of your day to think back and realize:

  • you crossed off 1, 2, 3, or more items on your ToDo list
  • you wrote for 5 minutes, 24 minutes, or 45 minutes
  • you managed to edit 3 pages of a story you want to submit
  • you tried a new food and liked it
  • you caught a glimpse of the sun through a tree
  • someone said ‘thank you’ for a job well done
  • you turned a project in early
  • the man down the hall who never smiles, actually smiled
  • you have more than one thing on your end-of-day Feel Good list
  • you found the perfect gift for someone special
  • you laughed
  • you received a hug
  • you received a check
  • your cat/dog/child let you sleep until the alarm clock chimed

It can be just about anything that made you feel good. I felt good about having fleece socks on last night – they were so soft and warm. I also felt great getting 2,234 words written for a work in progress. I felt good about getting this blog post done. I enjoyed last night’s sunset. It felt good to help my neighbor with her grocery shopping.

The list can be as long or as short as you like – try to have a minimum of 3 or 5 items a day and at the end of a month read back through (if you keep a written copy) and I bet you’ll be amazed at all the good / happy / things that made you feel good become more and more related to your writing.

It’s like giving yourself a pat on the back when you focus on the good and take a moment to appreciate all that you’ve done.

What form does your list of end-of-day ‘feel good’ items take?

Lisa_2015Lisa 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 her on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Writer’s Weekend Resources and Writing as Rebellion

dark-mermaidI had forgotten what it feels like to sit down at the keyboard with a steaming mug of tea to my right and a purring feline curled up in the cat bed to my left, to watch as a world of my own devising opens up in front of me on the modest screen of my aging MacBook.

Though I spend hours and hours each day sitting in this same spot, it doesn’t feel anything like this. The vast majority of my time at the keyboard is spent stringing words together for other people. Day in and day out, I work diligently on brand messaging and website copy and ebooks and blog posts; but it’s not at all the same as sitting here with the prospect of creating something unique and wholly mine.

There is something rebellious about writing. As storytellers, we get to recreate the world as we like. We get to mete out justice as we see fit. We get to decide who wins and who loses, and why. Through our stories, we get to say exactly what we believe and feel about this crazy adventure of being human. And we get to dream about all the possibilities that exist outside the realm of our personal experience.

So, when I sit here preparing to work on one of my own stories, the contentment I feel at having carved out time for writing floats on the surface of a gently undulating ocean of brewing insurrection. Just below my conscious thoughts, shadows glide. I sense them more than I see them – the deeper elements of my story, the truths that drew me to sit here, with my tea and my cats, at the keyboard. They are a little scary because they will make demands of me that push me outside my comfort zone, but they are also exciting to me because I know that their presence is what drives me to write in the first place. I can’t quite make them out, but I know that they will eventually reveal themselves to me, and then it will be like the floodgates have opened and the story will come pouring out.

_jamie sig

 

 


 Books I’m Reading:

book-long-dark-teatimeSometimes, the best antidote to real-world craziness is to pick up a book about a world that’s even crazier than the one we’re living in. That’s why this week I reached for an old favorite that I haven’t read in a while. The Long Dark Tea-time of the Soul by Douglas Adams is one of two books about Dirk Gently and his Holistic Detective Agency.

From the Amazon description:

When a passenger check-in desk at London’s Heathrow Airport disappears in a ball of orange flame, the explosion is deemed an act of God. But which god, wonders holistic detective Dirk Gently? What god would be hanging around Heathrow trying to catch the 3:37 to Oslo? And what has this to do with Dirk’s latest–and late– client, found only this morning with his head revolving atop the hit record “Hot Potato”? Amid the hostile attentions of a stray eagle and the trauma of a very dirty refrigerator, super-sleuth Dirk Gently will once again solve the mysteries of the universe…

If you’re in need of something to take your mind of stressful news of, oh, I don’t know … the election, perhaps, this or any one of Adams’ other works might be just the thing to distract you while also giving you a sense that everything will be okay in the end, no matter how insane things get.

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My Favorite Blog Reads for the Week:

CRAFT

PUBLISHING & MARKETING

INSPIRATION

THE WRITING LIFE

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Finally, a quote for the week:

pin-blood-sport

Here’s to finding your moments of contentment, leaning closer to the truths in your stories, and fighting crazy with crazy (especially in the month of November!). 
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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. Introduce yourself on FacebookTwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.

Photo Credit: mermaid_crystal Flickr via Compfight cc

This post originally appeared on the Live to Write – Write to Live blog.
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Writer’s Weekend Edition – NaNoWriMo Week 1 – Embracing the Crazy

diving-cloudsLast Wednesday, I dove into the NaNoWriMo fray a day late and 1,667 words behind. I set up my author page on the NaNoWriMo site and opened a Scrivener doc for my project. Today, I’m five days in and 6,829 words behind; but I’m okay with that.

You want to know why?

First, because I went into this knowing full well that I may not have a 50,000-word “win” in me this year. Accepting that reality from the get go took some of the pressure off.

Second, because just saying, “Yes!” to the NaNo challenge seems to have flipped some kind of creative switch in my brain. It’s like part of my mind has been asleep for a while, but is now waking up and ready to rumble. I didn’t plan on doing NaNoWriMo this year, so I didn’t do any prep in October; but now that I’ve thrown myself into the middle of things, my brain seems more than happy to churn out ideas.

Finally, because I’ve discovered a new and super helpful resource as a result of my flailing attempts to get my story organized quickly and effectively. I’ve actually been following K.M. Weiland  for a while and even own her book, Structuring Your Novel; but I hadn’t yet plugged into her excellent podcast, Helping Writers Become Authors.

If you’re trying to get your NaNo novel together late, or if you’d just like some smart, actionable, step-by-step advice on how to get your head around your story, I just listened to and LOVED these three podcasts from Weiland:

Over the weekend, I’ll also be listening to:

I was thrilled when I listened to the 2nd and 3rd episodes in this NaNoWriMo series because they provided me with some specifics and structure that I could apply to what my gut was telling me to do: Ask questions about your story.

I also loved that Weiland makes outlining sounds FUN … and that her podcast site includes full transcripts of her podcasts so that you have a written version to refer to. Brilliant!

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I’m not saying that I’m going to completely derail my NaNoWriMo writing efforts like I did back in 2012 when I blamed Larry Brooks for my #NaNoFail. Though I have long realized I am a dyed-in-the-wool plotter (vs. a panster), I’m not going to let that truth give me an easy excuse to give up. Not this time. This time, I’m going to work on my outlining and story structure WHILE I am simultaneously writing whatever my little heart desires – random scenes, character sketches, backstories, etc.

I may not come out of this with a novel draft or even with 50,000 mostly random words, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t put some words down. The experts say that with writing, you learn by doing. So – I’m going to do some writing. Right Now!

PS – If you’re also crazy enough to play along with NaNoWriMo this year, please look me up and, if you’re so inclined, add me as a buddy and drop me a line. :) 

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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. Introduce yourself on FacebookTwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.

Photo Credit: MY2200 Flickr via Compfight cc

This post originally appeared on the Live to Write – Write to Live blog.
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I’m a nun and I ain’t go nuthin’

“I’m a Nun and I ain’t got nuthin’.”

Little kids say the funniest things. This gem came courtesy of my cousin on a Halloween night many moons ago. I was a young teenager and he was little, maybe 5? He was sitting in a mustard yellow upholstered chair that was grossly oversized for his slight frame. He wore a Spiderman costume and constantly kicked his legs, ever in perpetual motion, as little kids are want to be especially, hopped up on sugar post Halloween candy collection.

J, his parents and his older brother came to our house because they lived in an apartment complex and we lived in a neighborhood where the houses were spitting distance apart. I don’t remember the exact context of the conversation that was going on at the time, but I suspect his Dad and my Bonus Dad were talking about their days in Catholic School.

Out of the blue it came, a complete non-sequitur.

“I’m a Nun and I ain’t go nuthin’.”

Conversation ceased and we all burst out laughing. He had no idea what he’d said or why it was funny but he guffawed right along with us. Then, he said it again. And, just in case we hadn’t all heard him, he said it one more time. As time went by, the line became a family catch phrase for sheer exhaustion, or being out of ideas, or even just a way to break tension.

J as an adult dressed in a Spiderman costume fighting crime with his two young sidekicks Captain America and Ironman

A grown Spiderman schooling emerging Captain American and Ironman (J with his boys this past Halloween ©2016 Used with Permission)

“I’m a Nun and I ain’t go nuthin’.”

As recently as this summer, I had a list of topics going for Live to Write, Write to Live blog posts. It was a piece of notepaper from a local bra fitters shop. No connection to the blog, just what was nearest when I was inspired the first time.

“I’m a nun, I ain’t got nuthin’.”

As previously noted, I’m a planner.  When I sign up for NHWN slots, I try to sign up to post on Thursdays. After I’ve selected my dates, I go to GQueues my personal to-do list manager and add 3 tasks for each blog post.

  • Blog post idea (due the Friday before)
  • Blog post draft (due the Monday before)
  • Blog post due (due at 8am on that Thursday, although my goal is to have it completed Wednesday evening if possible.)

The next time I sign up for blog posts I’ll be adding a fourth task, Locate blog post graphic, but I digress.

Sometimes I have an idea in the wings, so the Friday task is an easy check-off.  If not, I have all weekend to ponder and review what I’ve been reading and or writing to see if there is something “bloggable” there. Usually something rises to the surface.

“I’m a Nun and I ain’t go nothin’.”

Last Friday I saw the task and grabbed for my trusty idea list. Ugh, there was nothing left. As time has passed, I’ve used the idea for a post, the idea has ceased to be relevant or I just couldn’t develop the idea into a full blog post. ‘That’s ok,’ I thought, ‘I’ve still got time’. Except I don’t. I’m slammed with a work project.

Honestly, I thought about bailing, but, out of necessity I had to bail several times last summer during the Family Health Crisis that WOULD.NOT.END. My NHWN teammates aren’t sitting around eating bon bons by any stretch, they are all busy too, so Suck it up buttercup and come up with something to write about.

I did the Winnie the Pooh Think, Think, Think, thing several times over the weekend but with zero success. When I sat down to draft this, the old family catch phrase sprang to mind.

“I’m a Nun and I ain’t go nuthin’.”

I chuckled to myself because hey, it is once again Halloween and the little boy is now a dad to two boys of his own and has a successful career in law enforcement. To see him now, he’s kind of intimidating, and I’d recommend against crossing him while he’s working. But, I knew the boy that wore Spiderman Underoos and cracked us all up with his wit. I know the man who would go to the ends of the earth for his sons. He doesn’t scare me, we just don’t talk politics. Although I had absolutely nothing to do with it, I’m super proud of the man he has become. His uncle, the man who inspired me to write in the first place, would be proud too.

“I’m a Nun and I ain’t go nuthin’.”

So I hope my tale of writer’s block woe has entertained you. I’ll do my best to have a more writerly post next 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 typing her first novel, a work of contemporary, romantic fiction on a mechanical keyboard.