Writer’s Weekend Edition – Finding the Silver Lining When You’re Lost in the Dark

Every journey begins with a first step.

Every journey begins with a first step.

A writer friend I hadn’t spoken to in a couple of years called me earlier this week, and I’m grateful she did. She’d picked up the phone, she said, because she could tell by my Facebook updates that she and I were experiencing a similar post-election state of mind. Like me, this woman is a freelance marcom (marketing & communications) writer, an animal lover, and a nature nut. We met a few years back while doing projects for the same agency, hit it off, and just were beginning to get to know each other a little bit better when she and her husband moved halfway across the country. We’ve kept in touch via Facebook, but haven’t really talked.

Until Wednesday.

I was on my way to pick up my daughter, so our conversation was brief; but it went a long way toward making me feel less awkward about the emotions and creative challenges I’ve been facing in recent days. I learned that I am definitely not the only one trying to feel my way through a dark and disorienting maze of guilt, confusion, fear, indecision, and all manner of other emotions that seem to be (at least on the surface) decidedly unhelpful to the creative process.

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The truth is, I have been struggling to come to the page lately. Client deliverables are taking me much longer than usual, I completely gave up on NaNoWriMo, and even crafting blog posts – one of my favorite writing activities –  is only possible with great effort. I realize, however, that my hesitation and inability to focus aren’t due to the usual culprits. Though she still has plenty to say, it isn’t entirely my inner critic who is to blame for my feeling so inept at the keyboard. My procrastination can’t be attributed to the expected demons associated with fear of failure or expectations of perfection. My distraction and anxiety are rooted in much deeper questions about my writing life. This goes beyond craft and practice into the realm of purpose and vision.

This line of thinking isn’t new for me. As I pointed out in a recent post, I’ve clearly been having a kind of “crisis of writing faith” for a while now. At first, I was disheartened and scared by the idea, but I’m starting to believe that maybe this is something I need to go through … something all writers need to go through.

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My friend pointed out that one of the silver linings to what has otherwise been a deeply divisive and disheartening election is that dark times have the potential to bring people together, and she’s right.

I am beginning to see that in addition to creating new conversations and connections, these trying times also have the potential to help artists of all kinds – writers very much included – clarify the purpose, meaning, and strength of their creative efforts. Clarity has great power to not only inspire a writer, but to motivate her and shape her work so that it creates a more lasting impression on readers. So that it makes a difference.

We know there is no story without conflict. Can it also be said that there is no writer without conflict?

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Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve found myself thinking more than once that this moment in history feels like the “all is lost” point in the story – the moment when the protagonist’s hopes are dashed to the ground, when the possibility of success has been torn from her grasp and it seems there is no possibility of redemption.

But, while tragedies may end on that beat, I don’t think life in general is a tragedy. I believe the story goes on. And I am finding that, while it’s uncomfortable and scary, being thrust into the action of the story ultimately empowers a writer. In recent days I have been reading much more about everything that’s happening in our country and around the world than I ever have before. And I am paying attention not only to the stories, but to how those stories make me feel. I am using my experience to forge a more defined and distinct identity as a writer. Each day, I learn a little bit more about who I want to be as a writer, who I’m writing for, why I’m writing, and what kinds of stories I want to write.

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I will continue this journey, and I plan to share it with you. My dispatches will likely be messy, but I hope you will forgive that and maybe share some of your experiences, too. I don’t think there’s a playbook we can follow here, but perhaps if we share our different perspectives and insights, we can help each other along the way. If nothing else, it’s good to have company on the road.

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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: Pictures of Wales Flickr via Compfight cc

This post originally appeared on the Live to Write – Write to Live blog.
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On Being Human and a Writer Plus Shareworthy Reading and Writing Links

multiple identitiesBeing human is complicated. And, being a human who writes adds a whole other layer of complexity to your existence.

Unlike animals who live simple lives that inhabit a single identity, we humans must constantly shapeshift between myriad roles, sometimes changing who we are multiple times over the course of a single day. In any given twenty-four hour span, I am mother, lover, daughter, sister, neighbor, mentor, and friend. I am a professional freelance content creator, an aspiring fiction writer, and a nascent entrepreneur. I am a caretaker, housekeeper, and accountant, a cook, laundress, and student.

We slip in and out of these skins in a matter of seconds, like chameleons adapting to the colors, textures, and shadows of a rapidly changing environment. With each transition, we must rebalance ourselves around a new set of expectations and priorities. We change our behavior and make choices based on new criteria, which are defined by a reordered set of obligations and responsibilities.

I wonder sometimes if writers, and perhaps actors, are better suited than other humans to the constant “costume changes” of life. We are, after all, used to creating characters and stepping into their lives as if they were our own. Our vocation requires that we regularly shift out of our own existence and preconceived notions, letting our words carry us to different times, places, and situations so we can see the world from a different perspective – explore, imagine, and experiment.

But, even if our writing does make us slightly better suited to the life of a quick-change artist, it also puts extra strain on our most precious resources: time, attention, and energy.

And so, I sometimes wonder if my life would be simpler if I didn’t write. I wonder if my days would feel more manageable if I didn’t insist on cramming this “extra” identity of “writer” into the limited number of hours available to me. I wonder if I would feel “lighter” if I could somehow turn off the part of my brain that is always running in the background – processing every experience and feeling through the lens of my writer’s mind, squirreling away story ideas, wrestling with my inner critic, and constantly bearing the heavy weight of guilt about the writing I’m not doing.

Because trying to blend and balance all these identities can be draining and frustrating. We cannot have it all. More to the point, we cannot have it all at the same time. As my dad is fond of saying, “You can have anything you want. You just can’t have everything you want.” Every accomplishment demands its pound of flesh. The road to any goal is paved with sacrifices and compromises. You cannot simultaneously pursue two different goals any more than you can simultaneously inhabit two different identities. One pursuit, one role must always take center stage while the others temporarily fade into the background.

Whenever I try to be and do two things at once, I fail miserably. When my daughter is home sick from school, for instance, I repeatedly make the mistake of trying to combine being a doting mother with being a dedicated freelancer. The result is that I am, in those misguided moments, terribly inadequate in both areas. There is no such thing as multi-tasking. We simply aren’t wired that way.

So we are left to try and figure out how to build lives that can accommodate all our identities and goals. Maybe we adopt a big-picture, phases-of-life philosophy that requires us to set certain roles aside for years at a time while we focus the lion’s share of our resources on another role. Perhaps we take a more granular approach that structures each week or even each day into separate blocks of time in which we can inhabit each role.

Whichever strategy we try, we will doubtless still have challenging, heartbreaking days that make us question the sanity of continuing to fight for our writer’s identity.

But even on my worst days, even when I feel like an utter failure in all my roles and am so tired and worn out by the effort of shifting back and forth that giving up seems like the sanest choice, even on those days I know in my heart that I turning away from being a writer is never really an option. Because being human is complicated. And being a human who writes is the only way I know to navigate the complexity of life.

_jamie sig

 

 

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What I’m Reading:

While I’ve been racing to keep up with client deadlines, I have had precious little time to inhabit my Reader identity, but I did complete two books a couple weeks ago that I haven’t yet had a chance to share:

Clariel by Garth Nix

book clarielHaving recently finished reading the third book in Nix’s Old Kingdom series, Abhorsen, I was delighted to discover that he had written a prequel: Clariel. I chose, as I did with the others in this series, to listen to this story via Audible. I was slightly disconcerted in the beginning because the audio version of this fourth book in the series is narrated by a different voice artist than the first three. I had so enjoyed Tim Curry’s performance, that it took me a while to get used to Graeme Malcolm, but I eventually came around.

I don’t have much experience with prequels, but I enjoyed this one very much. The protagonist is a complex character whose nuanced inner conflicts make it difficult if not impossible to draw hard lines between good and evil, right and wrong.

I recommend this whole series, and would almost say that this was one of my favorite books in the series. It doesn’t follow all the rules, and I liked that. I also liked discovering that Nix has a fifth Old Kingdom novel set to release this October. Goldenhand will continue Lirael’s story, and I can’t wait!

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrick Backman

book grandmother sorryThis book took me by surprise. It was yet another serendipitous find at the RiverRun bookstore in Portsmouth, NH. I have the best luck there, discovering new books. Here is the description of My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry from the publisher’s site:

Elsa is seven years old and different. Her grandmother is seventy-seven years old and crazy—as in standing-on-the-balcony-firing-paintball-guns-at-strangers crazy. She is also Elsa’s best, and only, friend. At night Elsa takes refuge in her grandmother’s stories, in the Land-of-Almost-Awake and the Kingdom of Miamas, where everybody is different and nobody needs to be normal.

When Elsa’s grandmother dies and leaves behind a series of letters apologizing to people she has wronged, Elsa’s greatest adventure begins. Her grandmother’s instructions lead her to an apartment building full of drunks, monsters, attack dogs, and old crones but also to the truth about fairy tales and kingdoms and a grandmother like no other.

This book has so many endearing and admirable qualities that it’s hard to know where to start. It left my heart feeling a little more opened and my soul feeling a little more comforted. It wove the magic of story and the complexity of love into a warm and protective blanket of understanding and hope. I am glad that I chose to purchase this one, rather than borrowing it, because I have a feeling it’s one I’ll return to.

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My Favorite Blog Reads for the Week:

 

Finally, a quote for the week:

pin writing heals

Here’s to embracing being human and a writer, crafting a life that encompasses all your identities and your goals, and never giving up on any part of yourself. 
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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.
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Photo Credit: Paris Seawell via Compfight cc

Small Writing – Big Changes

miniature bookWhen you imagine success as a writer, what does it look like? Do you see yourself sitting on the couch across from your favorite late night host, exchanging witty banter about your latest bestseller? Do you think about receiving honorary degrees from prestigious schools just before delivering awe-inspiring commencement speeches that go viral on YouTube? Do you see yourself traveling from your writing cabin in upstate New York to your cottage on the Cape to your creative hideaway in the Pacific Northwest? Do you picture yourself on set, consulting with the director on the film adaptation of your latest runaway hit?

It’s okay. There’s no need to blush.
 
 
Maybe you have more modest dreams, but many of us would admit – if pressed – to having Big Dreams for our writing careers. There’s nothing wrong with that. We writers are known for our imaginations, after all. We have Big Ideas and Vision and are pretty damn adept at daydreaming, too. Why not go for that brass ring and envision a life as the next Stephen King or JK Rowling

Anything is possible.
 
 
I confess that I’ve wondered what life would be like as an iconic author with a rabid following. If I think about it for more than a moment or two, I will admit that it’s not a life I’d enjoy. I don’t like to leave my cats alone for too long and am easily overwhelmed by crowds of more than two or three.

Still, I would like to make my living writing essays and stories instead of web copy and white papers. More to the point, I’d like for my work to be read by thousands, even tens of thousands. I’d like to be able to reach a Big Audience and make a Big Difference with my Big Ideas. I’d like to be able to change the world with my words.
 
 
In her post, What It Takes to Change the World, the lovely and insightful blogger and career coach, Jennifer Gresham, takes a look at the mechanics of change. Hint: It might not be as much about Big Things as you think. Often, change is the result of many small and unassuming actions.

I think it is especially so with writing.

Though our story may be about a Big Idea, that idea is conveyed one word, one scene at a time – in bits and pieces that eventually come together to tell the whole story. There is no single, defining moment; all the small moments add up to create a shift in the reader’s perception or understanding. It is the combined collection of minute observations and subtle events that ultimately affect a change of heart or mind.

A bigger (longer) work does not have more power to change than a smaller (shorter) work. A poem may transform a life as much as a novel; a short story may break open a heart as readily as a screenplay. With writing, it’s not about quantity as much as it is about quality. A single, well-written essay has a better chance at delivering life-changing insights than a thousand-page tome of questionable quality.
 
 
Though I hope to someday publish stories and even novels, at the moment my published work consists of short-form blog posts and columns. It is easy for me to marginalize these pieces as insignificant, as simply stepping stones on the way to Something Better … Something Bigger. But, each of these pieces – no matter how small or ordinary – has the potential to create change.

Though I tend to refer to them as “just my little columns,” I have had dozens of people tell me how much they enjoy reading my bi-weekly installments in the local paper. Sure they are short, little essays, and sure the paper is a tiny local publication with a very unimpressive circulation, but that shouldn’t take away from the work. If my words can improve one person’s day by giving them hope, making them laugh, or helping them see something in a different way, I have created change with my writing. I have made a small difference.

And that, as Jen points out, is how you change the world.
 
 
So the next time you’re tempted to belittle your current work or your modest writing aspirations, don’t. Remember that each word, each scene, each idea that you share has the potential to inspire change in someone’s heart. The change may be small, but even small change has a habit of rippling out into the world and creating more change. You never know how far your words might reach. You may not wind up on late night TV, but that’s okay. You can change the world right from your own couch.

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.

Photo Credit: lamont_cranston via Compfight cc