Writer’s Weekend Edition – Illuminate the Beautiful

On the multiple roles of The Artist …

My Instagram feed @suddenlyjamieI have made no secret of the fact that my worldview has been irreparably changed by bearing witness to the recent U.S. election and the ensuing fallout. As someone who has spent most of her life avoiding political discussions because it “wasn’t my thing,” I am now engaged in a self-guided crash course in civics so that I may speak and act responsibly and proactively in the days ahead.

That said, I am and always will be a writer – an artist – at heart. While I feel an urgent responsibility to actively engage in standing up against tyranny in all its forms, I do not want that battle to consume my every thought, or indeed, my ability to appreciate all the beauty and magic the world has to offer.

Earlier today, a friend of mine posted on Facebook inviting friends to find and share the “beauty in the madness.” Peter Beach is a designer/illustrator/photographer who, among other things, has created a startling and piercing collection of black and white photographs documenting the lives of the homeless of Miami Beach. Here is what he said in his Facebook post:

… let this image begin a new series: “Beauty in the Madness” – random observations of beauty in everyday life.

The goal: to create an awareness… acknowledgment… a conscious effort to notice, embrace and celebrate the smallest and most insignificant things that life presents each day — ultimately and most importantly, to counterbalance the daily negative onslaught we’re experiencing.

>>> feel free to extend the series – your own observations and personal interpretations of beauty throughout your daily travels – can’t wait to see them – the creative soul awaits!

This is an invitation I have accepted and would now like to extend to you.

Whether you are capturing your observations of beauty with a camera, a paintbrush, a pen, or a keyboard, I invite you to share them far and wide. Link to them in the comments. Tweet them. Instagram them. Snapchat, Facebook, and YouTube them. (Sorry for the grammatically incorrect use of nouns as verbs. My inner editor is cringing, but I’ve asked her to count to ten and move past it.) Send them in letters. Leave them on café tables. Tuck them into library books.

Seek and cherish images, words, and stories of beauty, and let your definition of beauty encompass all the world in all its astonishing mystery and diversity.

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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 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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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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Weekend Edition – Freedom of Writing Plus Good Reads and Writing Tips

The Importance of Your Freedom to Write

Artist - Lucille Clerc

Artist – Lucille Clerc

On Tuesday evening I was sitting in a cold, dimly lit indoor riding arena, bundled against the biting cold that arrives just after sundown. As I watched my daughter trot and canter her lesson pony around the ring, I started putting together an outline for this week’s post. I was going to write about the difference between writing as marriage and writing as passionate affair. But then Wednesday arrived and with it news of the fatal terrorist attack on the Parisian offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

I rarely talk about politics or religion. They are not my area of expertise and I have learned that almost all such conversations (regardless of good intentions) lead to misunderstandings and strife. In the case of this atrocity, however, politics and religion are so closely interwoven with art that it is difficult for any artist – writer, cartoonist, painter – to hear about this tragedy without experiencing a shiver of fear.

Here, an ocean away from the site of the crime, my fear is not for my physical wellbeing. My creative work is many times removed from the material published by Charlie Hebdo. Still, though we are geographically, philosophically, and creatively worlds apart, I feel I must stand in solidarity with these writers and artists who were killed for no reason other than expressing their thoughts through their art.

Isn’t that what we all, as writers, do – express ourselves through our art?

Author Salman Rushdie, himself a target of Islamic fanaticism, made a statement (originally published on The English Pen), condemning the attack on Charlie Hebdo:

Religion, a mediaeval form of unreason, when combined with modern weaponry becomes a real threat to our freedoms. This religious totalitarianism has caused a deadly mutation in the heart of Islam and we see the tragic consequences in Paris today. I stand with Charlie Hebdo, as we all must, to defend the art of satire, which has always been a force for liberty and against tyranny, dishonesty and stupidity. ‘Respect for religion’ has become a code phrase meaning ‘fear of religion.’ Religions, like all other ideas, deserve criticism, satire, and, yes, our fearless disrespect.

In her Wall Street Journal piece, Salman Rushdie, Meet Charlie Hebdo, Peggy Noonan recounts the day in 1989 when Rushdie was sentenced to death by the Ayatollah Khomeini because the writer’s novel The Satanic Verses criticized Islam. She goes on to write about other religiously offensive artworks that have been exhibited to the horror of, for instance, the Catholic church, but which never inspired anyone to pick up a gun and shoot the artist. There may have been disgust, but it did not lead to murder. PEN American posted a fitting Noam Chomsky quote on their Tumblr page, “If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.”

I have no plans to create political, religious, or otherwise controversial art. My creative aspirations are not confrontational. But, apart from their sheer brutality, these types of attacks scare me because of their potential to silence the voices of artists. Censorship in any form leads us towards the precipitous edge of a slippery slope that is slick with nuance. Violent censorship gives us an all too terrifying look over that precipice into the dark abyss below.

 

What I’m Writing:

morning pgs 2013Most mornings, I start my day by writing my morning pages. This practice is a habit I formed after reading part of Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way (I must admit that I never finished the book). It is one I hold dear. Sitting in the predawn or early morning light, pen in hand, scribbling down whatever comes into my still sleep-addled head has turned out to be a form of cathartic creativity that never fails to deliver insight.

Part of my ritual for welcoming in the New Year is to sit down with the previous year’s morning pages notebooks and look through them for patterns and themes, threads of meaning woven into my entries. As I write in these journals, I put a small star in the margin next to passages that I think I may want to return to. Most days, there are no stars, just random ramblings that help me clear my head at the start of the day. But, sometimes an idea or a phrase will seem worth marking.

A year ago when I looked back through my entries, I found that most of my stars referenced notes about my marketing business. I was working on plans to evolve it in a new direction. This past year – 2014 – my stars led me to passages that were much more focused on my creative work, on my writing. Like an inked constellation, spreading across the pages of these notebooks, my little stars formed a very different picture this year. Although my outer circumstances do not appear to have changed dramatically (business copywriting still generates the lion’s share of my income), an important shift is happening beneath the surface. This makes me happy … and hopeful.

 

What I’m Reading:

book FGPSometimes, after finishing an especially good novel (like The Little Country, which I finished just last week), I find myself unwilling to dive immediately into another long-form story.  I feel like I need to create some space between my literary experiences. It seems somehow irreverent to glide blithely from one world to the next without even taking a moment to savor the story that has gone before.

So, this week, instead of picking up another novel, I read an anthology of personal essays, the first published by Jennifer Niesslen, founder and editor of the blog Full Grown People. Here is the review I posted on Goodreads:

I am rarely inspired to write actual reviews, but my love for this anthology and the blog that inspired it moves me to pen a few quick words of praise and gratitude.

Jennifer Niesslein’s Full Grown People is an ever-growing collection of beautifully written essays about navigating, as she puts it, “that other awkward age.”

I enjoyed many of these essays when they were first published on the blog, but it was a delicious pleasure to experience them again, curled up on the sofa with a real book in my hands. The Internet is convenient and quick, but there will always be something more intimate about a real book. The collection careens wildly across a vast terrain of topics, lifestyles, tragedies, and discoveries. Each voice is unique, but somehow together they create a beautiful harmony that leaves me feeling both more vulnerable and stronger than before.

Although I have been blogging for nigh on a decade now, and writing a biweekly column for the past two years, I have never considered myself either a master or an aficionado of the essay form. I can say, however, that these are quality pieces of work – honest, piercing, and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny. Through their words, these writers give us a glimpse into their world and in doing so reveal the infinite variations that make each life unique and the constant themes that weave all our lives together. At the end, I am reminded that no one is ever alone.

I am grateful to Niesslein for putting this group of writers and collection of stories together. I know I will return to it again and again for solace, inspiration, and perspective.

 

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 camus purpose

Here’s to courage and conviction in your creative endeavors. Here’s to saving your little piece of civilization with your stories. 

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Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of the equestrian arts, voice, and – occasionally –  trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.

How to Be Creative in 5 Steps with John Cleese

creativity fun

By charity elise on etsy

What is the secret to being creative?

Is it something you can learn? Is it something you are born with? Is it something you can practice? Is it something you can do on demand?

These are questions that plague artists of all kinds. We worry that we’ll never be creative, or – if we’ve had a creative breakthrough – that we’ll never be creative again.

I worry. You worry. Famous writers and artists worry. We all worry.

BUT … we don’t have to.

I spent part of this morning watching a video of John Cleese presenting on the topic of creativity. (Hat tip to @anna_elliott for her post on Writer Unboxed featuring a link to the video.) Cleese’s presentation is nearly forty minutes long, but SO worth the time. I really (really) would love for each of you to watch it because I think it will make you feel relaxed and excited about being creative (instead of anxious and freaked out). But, I totally get that you may not have a spare forty minutes lying around, so I’m writing this post to share some of my favorite bits from Cleese’s talk.

Ready? Here goes:

Creativity, According to John Cleese

“It’s a mood in which curiosity for its own sake can operate because we’re not under pressure to get a specific thing done quickly. We can play. And that’s what allows our natural creativity to surface.”

Cleese talks about two “modes” of being: open and closed. As you might guess, the open mode is the one in which creativity comes out to play while the closed mode is the one in which we put nose to grindstone.

7:45 – How Being in the Open Mode Helped Discover Penicillin

Cleese tells how Alexander Fleming’s curiosity about an unexpected result was critical to his eventual discovery of penicillin. Instead of simply being annoyed and disappointed that a particular culture did not grow as planned, Fleming followed his curiosity in order to answer the question, “Why?” (Or, in this case, “Why not?”) By keeping an open mind, Fleming was able to see and follow an important clue. Had he been in closed mode, he would have dismissed the missing culture as a failure – within the context of his expectations – and missed an important discovery.

8:55 – How Hitchcock Used Irrelevance to Beat Block

Cleese tells another story – this one about Alfred Hitchcock. Apparently, when he and his co-writers came up against a creative block on a screenplay, Hitchcock had a habit of telling irrelevant stories. This often made his co-writers frustrated until they realized it was an intentional way of lessening the pressure and helping the team relax so they could find a creative solution.

9:34 – Creative Work Requires Both the Open and Closed Modes

Though we tap into our creativity in the open mode, we do need to be able to step back into the closed mode in order to get work done and apply the fruits of our creativity to our work. Once we have come up with a creative solution, we need to commit to seeing that solution through. We need to close the doors on additional brainstorming and so forth in order to take action.

John Cleese’s 5 Steps to Getting into the Creative Open Mode

Cleese then shares what he considers to be the five requirements for increasing your odds of getting into the open mode and being creative:

  1. Space – You need to remove the pressures and demands of your daily grind, seal yourself off, and hang up the “Do Not Disturb” sign.
  2. Time – You need to set a specific start and stop time in order to create an oasis from everyday life – to set your open mode or “play” time apart from everyday life. At 15:22, Cleese makes special note to leave yourself extra time to settle in and switch gears by describing a scene that we’ve all played out upon sitting down to be creative. Very funny. Not to be missed.
  3. Time – Yes, he lists “time” twice. In this second instance, Cleese focuses on the importance of taking as much time as you can to solve your creative problem. Don’t just latch onto the first solution that presents itself – dig deeper. We are tempted to accept the first solution because it’s our quickest way out of the uncomfortable space in which we have not yet solved the problem, but if we hold on a little longer, a better and more original solution is usually just around the corner.
  4. Confidence – The biggest obstacle to creativity is fear. We are afraid of making a mistake, of looking silly. This is why creativity is best fostered in an environment of play – because when you are playing there are no wrong answers. There are no mistakes. Everything is an experiment and anything can happen. As Cleese says, “Any drivel can lead to the breakthrough.”
  5. Humor – Finally, Cleese contends that humor is essential to creativity. He says that it is the quickest way from the closed mode to the open mode. So … stop taking yourself (and everything) so seriously!

The rest of the video includes some additional suggestions on how to keep your mind “gently around the subject” and engage in successful creative play with other people and find new ways to connect disparate frameworks and references in order to generate creative solutions. But, I’ll let you watch those yourself:

Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of the equestrian arts, voice, and trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.

Image by Charity Elise on Etsy

You can have anything you want, you just can’t have everything.

practice art vonnegutMy life would be a whole lot easier if I wasn’t a writer.

I would have a lot more time on my hands.
My To Do list would be a lot shorter.
Time management wouldn’t be such a bear.

But, I am a writer.

My dad is fond of saying, “You can have anything you want, you just can’t have everything you want.” This particular bit of wisdom annoys me, partly because it feels limiting, but mostly because it’s so damn true.

You can’t say “yes” to one thing without saying “no” to something else. All choices involve sacrifice.

Artists are known for sacrifice. Writers, painters, performers – all of them choose their art over other things – security, comfort, leisure, even relationships.

We make ourselves vulnerable by opening our hearts up to the world. We sacrifice the safe anonymity of the non-artistic life, choosing instead to willingly subject ourselves to judgment. We are willing to do without material goods, social acceptance, and the false security that comes with a more traditional lifestyle.

We commit more of our time to work than play. We are painfully aware that the hour spent vegging out in front of the TV could be much more wisely invested in our latest project. We get up earlier and stay up later in order to carve out time for our art. We sleep less, and even when we do sleep our dreams are filled with thoughts about our art.

We will even sacrifice relationships, walking away from people who don’t understand or aren’t willing to accommodate our need to create.

You can have anything you want, you just can’t have everything.

You are a writer, an artist. You make choices each day in favor of your art. You weigh the rest of your life against your work and make the hard decisions that keep your creative endeavors alive no matter how busy or distracted or bogged down your life gets. You fight for your writing life and your weapon is sacrifice.

Be proud. Your path is not easy, but nothing worthwhile ever is. Be a writer – an artist – and your life will be richer for the journey.
 
 
Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of the equestrian arts, voice, and trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.

When a book unlocks your writer’s heart

free writers heart

If you’d like, you can LISTEN TO THIS POST.

Have you ever lost your way as a writer?

Has your passion for the unwritten page fizzled into a dull yearning that remains unrequited because you just can’t seem to find your inspiration? Have you labored on, chipping doggedly away word-by-word, even though you know the piece is going nowhere?

We’ve all been there, probably more than once.

I used to think that I got lost because my muse abandoned me. That was never the case. She is always there at the ready.  I am the one who forsakes the path – my path. I let my curiosity and insecurity lure me off into the wilds of Other People’s Opinions. As I wander deeper and deeper into the tangled bracken of writing advice, looking for some unnamed treasure, I am ensnared in thorns and tripped up by roots until I finally collapse, confused and disheartened and unable to write.

This happened to me recently, but a book rescued me.

Affiliate Link


My Name Is Mina is the prequel to David Almond’s Printz Honor novel, Skellig (Printz Honor). The full title of the book is My name is Mina and I love the night. Anything seems possible at night when the rest of the world has gone to sleep. Just reading that, I knew I’d found something special.

But, this is not a book review. This is the story of how one small and unassuming book opened a path through the brambles and underbrush so I could find a way back to my writer’s path – back to my point of inspiration, to the thing that drew me to writing in the first place – the pulling apart and looking inside, the wonder and awe, the flights of fancy and words and ideas. My Name is Mina reminded me how stunningly beautiful simplicity is and how utterly fantastic the truth can be. It reminded me that sometimes the biggest events in our lives take place in the smallest moments and that those moments are as worthy of ink on the page as the monumental events that lie blatant and bold across our days.

This book – which is a slow and quiet story that hardly seems to be a story at all – gave me a chance to drink deeply of the quiet, to withdraw for a moment from the chaos. It gently pulled me back and in, but somehow opened me up to the mysteries of the Universe

Mina invites the reader to do “extraordinary activities” – many of them involving language and writing, poetry and stories, but others just meant to create moments of solitude and reflection. I was reminded of the many days I spent up in the boughs of a sugar maple that was in the front yard of my childhood home. I felt like I’d been given permission to slow down and ask myself the Big Questions – if I could remember what they are – not “What’s for dinner?” or “Who will win the election?” but “Why are we here?” and “How do we find joy?” and “Can we fly through the night while we’re sleeping?” Mina taught me things. Did you know that a flock of goldfinches is called a “charm?”

I have read so much lately about story and structure – inciting incidents, first plot points, character arcs, etc. – that I had lost sight of what originally drew me to writing. I forgot that the books I loved as a child, the books that inspired my love of stories and of writing, were not always so much about living vicariously through some adventure or other, but about answering questions in my own head and heart. Even the adventure books I loved invited the reader to stop once in a while and just think bigger, wilder, more improbable thoughts.

Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.”  Mina is a girl of ideas – the intermingling and interdependence of dreams and reality, hope and experience, answers and questions. She is not afraid to ask questions. She is not afraid to give answers. But, she’s also not afraid to be without answers. She is open to everything and anything – the endless possibilities of life, the Universe and everything. She blends stories into real life – giving new meanings and depth to small, everyday moments. She sees the world in all its glory. Nothing is mundane. Each leaf and twig, stone and egg is filled with possibility and the magic of life. She is brave – challenging assumptions, speaking out of turn, and swallowing her fear in small bites. She is connected to everything and everyone around her because she not only sees everything, but she bounces her observations off the rich interior landscape of her mind to create new connections and stories and realities.

Unafraid to ask questions, give answers, or be without answers. Open to everything and anything. Imaginative. Observant. Brave. Connected. Mina is a writer.

She reminded me why I wanted to be a writer. The way she tells her story – in loosely connected vignettes presented as journal entries – is how I began writing when I was a child. I didn’t write cohesive stories. I kept journals. Starting at the age of seven, I wrote what I saw and heard and experienced. I wrote how it made me feel. I wrote what I wondered and supposed and dreamed. Oh, the dreams! The night is such a fertile plain. As Mina said, “Anything seems possible at night when the rest of the world has gone to sleep.”

Even now, decades away from those blissful hours of writing without inhibition in battered notebooks decorated with unicorn stickers, I am still journaling and looking out into the night to wonder and suppose and dream. Though she will soon outgrow it, my daughter still frequently calls me into her room in the pitch of the wee hours to sit on the edge of her bed until she falls back into her own nighttime reveries. No longer the child, I still find my mind wandering out into the dark and down the street or up into the trees, making up stories, asking questions, exploring. It is often during these moments awake under the small, sharp light of the stars that I am stuck by an idea that needs to be pinned upon the page.

Do you remember what first drew you to writing? Have those waters been muddied with all the technical talk of craft, technique, marketing, and publishing? Clear them. There will be time enough for technical things later. First, create from your heart. Bring that which is only yours into the world and let it take flight in the hearts of others. That is what you do with words. That is what makes it all worthwhile. That is what Mina would do, and what you can do, too. No one is stopping you. You just need to get your feet back on the path – your path. You need to find a book to rescue you – to re-open your writer’s heart. Which book will it be?
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Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of the equestrian arts, voice, and trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.

Image Credit: Alice Popkorn