Weekend Edition – Writing is My “Real” Job

“Real” is overrated.

pin opinion and perspectiveWhen someone asks what you do, how do you answer? Does the label “writer” trip lightly off the tip of your tongue, or do you keep that identity to yourself and instead talk about your day job? It seems like a small thing, but how we “label” ourselves  – to others and in our own minds – has a big impact on what we believe about ourselves and how we behave.

I actually do make my living as a writer, but the writing that pays my bills is not, in my estimation, “real” writing. When asked what I “do,” I usually say that I’m a messaging strategist and content marketer (and, then I have to explain what the heck that means). Even after nearly a decade of stringing one word after another for cold, hard cash, I still hesitate to grant myself the honorary title of “writer.” I don’t feel that writing (“real” writing – as in fiction and creative non-fiction) is my “real” job. It’s just something I do on the side.

But how do we define “real,” and are we doing it wrong?

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Your vocation is said to be your professional calling. It is your career, a serious pursuit that in a perfect world is specially suited to your specific talents and skills. An avocation, on the other hand, is a hobby, something you do outside of your “real” work. The subtext here is that it’s something you do for fun, in part because you’re not good enough to make a living at it. Most writers think of their writing as an avocation. At best, they think of it as a side hustle; at worst, they think of it as an indulgence. Because of these perceptions, we feel obligated to prioritize our vocation  (sales manager, accountant, plumber, etc.) ahead of our writing. Our day job is, after all, our “real” job, right?

I don’t think so. I think that we have the idea of “real” seriously backwards. We erroneously assume that “real” requires permission, external validation, financial compensation, and the lion’s share of our time. Based on these criteria, we’re left with a very narrow description of what a “real writer” looks like: A real writer has permission to write; she has been ordained by the powers that be and (after jumping through multiple hoops and prostrating herself before members of the publishing world’s mafia) has been accepted into a cadre of the literary elite. A real writer is practically drowning in third-party validation – degrees, awards, recognition, respect, acclaim – she has earned the stamp of approval from all the important people. A real writer writes for a living. She can attach a (significant) dollar amount to her word smithing labors. And, finally, a real writer does not have time for other things. Her life is completely consumed by her art. She not only avoids the time drain of a j-o-b, she also finds it difficult to tear herself away from the keyboard for any reason. Family, friends, and housework be damned. I’m a writer!

First of all, this version of “real” does not sound like something I want. Secondly, I’m not even sure how we got so caught up chasing “real” in the first place. We’re writers, for heaven’s sake. “Real”  – by that definition – is not where we live.

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Let’s forget, for a moment, about that version of “real.” Let’s divest ourselves of years (maybe generations) of misconceptions about what it takes to earn the title of Real Writer. Let these falsehoods drop away like pieces of an ill-fitting and uncomfortable costume you were wearing without even realizing it. Shrug off the suffocating and prickly cloak of permission; it kept tripping you up anyway.  Set aside the heavy and precariously balanced headpiece of validation; its weight and your fear of it toppling have always kept you from dancing. Slip the burdensome chains of financial expectations from around your neck; you used to think they were beautiful, but now you realize they were just a glittering noose, one that clinked and clanked in a most distracting way. Finally, shimmy out of the constricting garments of inflexible and unrealistic dedication; breathe deeply of everything the world and your life have to offer – the art and your work, yes, but also the joys of family and friends, the delight of wasting time, and the magical adventure of chasing your curiosity.

Doesn’t that feel better?

“Real” is not something outside of you. It’s not something you can buy or earn. “Real” is not what you do or how you do it. It’s who you are. It’s what’s left after all that external stuff is stripped away or laid gently aside. It is everything about you that cannot be stolen.

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When you look at your life so far, what is real to you? Is it the money and professional titles you have earned, the material things you’ve bought, the perceptions of others? Do you judge yourself and your life on how you have acquired and spent money and stature? I doubt it. I bet if I sat down over a cup of coffee with any one of you, we’d end up talking about the importance of authenticity, taking time to enjoy life’s small pleasures, and being true to ourselves.

And yet, we we have a hard time judging the value and validity of our writing based on these values. We talk a good game, but then we make choices that belittle our writing. If we aren’t earning our living or great acclaim with our words and stories, our writing takes a back seat to the things that are more “real” – the things for which we are recognized (performance at work, for instance) and which put food on the table. And even if we have had some professional success, it’s never enough.

The danger lies in repeatedly prioritizing the falsely real over the “really real.” Our lives are shaped by the choices we make. Sometimes it’s hard to see the life we’re creating when we’re so immersed in the day-to-day, but when we step back we suddenly realize how all those small decisions come together to create the Big Picture of our life.

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When someone asks you what you do, you don’t have to say you’re a writer. But, when you think about who you are, I hope that you consider “writer” a part of your real identity – your true self, the part that cannot be taken away or changed by external forces. You may earn your living selling shoes, waiting tables, teaching sixth grade math, designing ad campaigns, or servicing cars, but that’s not your “real” job.

Your real job is writing. It’s work you feel called to do, work you do even though you may not get paid, work that keeps you up in the middle of the night (in the best possible way) and makes you excited to be alive. Your real job is writing because that’s the work that gives you a sense of purpose and your life a deeper meaning. Your j-o-b is simply a means to an end. You may be good at it. You may even enjoy it. But, that doesn’t make it any more “real” than your writing.  You may receive money in exchange for the work you do at your job, but think about what you receive in exchange for your writing – a sense of discovery, understanding, fulfillment, joy, pride, connection – which is ultimately more valuable?

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The point of taking care to elevate your perception of yourself as a  “real” writer is to ensure that you take that role seriously and give it the time and energy it deserves. You deserve respect as a writer. You deserve the chance to pursue your writing without guilt or shame. Your job is a short-term pursuit; your writing is a lifelong journey. Your job is a series of tasks; your writing is the expression of your unique vision. Your job is defined by what you earn; your writing is defined by what you learn. Your job is about doing; your writing is about being.

So, go ahead. Write. Be real. Be a real writer.

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What I’m Reading:

book raven boysA few weeks ago, I read a book called The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater. Though I enjoyed the book, the funny thing is that when I was writing last week’s Shareworthy notes, I completely forgot that I had read it.

The Raven Boys is a straight-up paranormal YA read. I didn’t realize this when I first picked it up. I had bought the book a year or two ago at the earnest urging of a youngish bookshop employee who raved about it. When I finally picked it up off my shelf, I almost gave up after reading less than the first hundred pages because it was a little too angst-y for me. But, ultimately, I decided to stick it out and enjoy it for what it is.

This book is part of a series. I believe there are three books so far. Warning – book one ends with a major cliffhanger/teaser, so if you’re not down with that kind of thing, you may not want to take the ride. But, if you like dark, slightly cynical stories about the unlikely camaraderie of rich and poor young adults going on paranormal adventures together, this might be just the thing for a winter read. Plus, it has a raven named Chainsaw, so there’s that.

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I also really enjoyed the essay This Body by Zsofi McMullin on Full Grown People.  I haven’t had the time recently to enjoy all the great writing that’s published on this indie blog from Jennifer Niesslein, but every once in a while the title of a piece or the intro Jennifer writes in her email update (I highly recommend you subscribe to the emails) makes me put aside what I’m doing to indulge in a few minutes of reading.

I especially loved this bit, because I can relate:

I miss being unaware of my body. I can’t remember when that was—maybe in my twenties?—when my body just did what it was supposed to do and I never gave it a second thought. I didn’t think about my weight or about being healthy or eating healthy, or whether I should exercise or not. I didn’t think about whether my stomach was too big to wear that shirt or if those jeans will make my butt look big. My body was just there, doing its thing. It never protested, it didn’t put on ten pounds in one stressful year. It didn’t ache, it didn’t bloat, it didn’t feel heavy and stiff in the mornings. It just was.

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I also loved this funny piece from Jane Roper: Life Moves Pretty Fast: 5 Ways to Ditch Your Phone Addiction.  It includes great and well-written advice about how to wean ourselves off our phones. Plus, it has Ferris Bueller. I loved Jane’s I’m-mad-as-hell tone:

Pardon my French, but I’m sick of this merde. I’m sick of having to dodge pedestrians looking down instead of up. Sick of everyone being so glued to their mini screens that they’re oblivious to the world and the people around them, zoned out, rude, distracted, and isolated. And I am FURIOUS when I see people looking at their phones while they’re driving.

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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 feel good inside

Here’s to feeling really real in all the best ways and for all the best reasons. Happy writing & happy reading. See you on the other side!
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Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content marketer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian and aerial arts (not at the same time), and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Introduce yourself on Facebooktwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
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Weekend Edition – Be Your Own (Writing) Idol Plus Good Reads and Writing Tips

Be Your Own Idol

idol joeyI have a confession. I watch American Idol.

There are worse things I could do, I know, but spending several hours each week plugged into my DVR definitely feels like a guilty pleasure.

My beau is my enabler. We’ve been watching together for a few years now, and have become self-educated aficionados on the art of the song choice, the correct way to do runs, and the fine balance that must be struck between a great vocal performance and mesmerizing stage presence. What keeps me watching the show is not, however, the display of technical vocal prowess or even the thrill of finding out who wins. What keeps me watching is the chance to witness the transformation of these young performers as they unfurl and stretch into being their own artists.

A couple of months ago, I shared my phrase for 2015: Believe in your own magic.  I think of this simple phrase often as I watch the American Idol contestants work through the sometimes arduous task of finding (and owning) their unique identities and voices And, I think of how it also applies to writers, from newbies to the uber experienced and successful.

Because art is art. Whether you are singing or writing, painting of dancing, sculpting or acting, or even throwing clay pots, art is only art if you imbue it with your own magic – that thing that is uniquely and beautifully yours. You have to give a little piece of yourself away with each creation. That is what touches people. That is what makes them want to be part of your world.

Having watched hundreds of American Idol performances, I have seen plenty of excellent performances that are technically impressive. I have heard immensely talented vocalists execute flawlessly on tough songs, hitting all the high notes and nailing each run. I have also learned that those performances pale in comparison to the not-so-perfect but deeply unique and heartfelt artistry of the singer who takes a chance on sharing her own magic, her own voice, her own true story.

I have a favorite this season. I have no idea if she’ll be able to take it “all the way” on with the fickle American Idol audience, but I will buy her album (there will be one) whether she “wins,” or not. Her name is Joey Cook, and this is her completely Joey-ized performance of Iggy Pop’s single, Fancy.

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I couldn’t adore her more.

I love her style, but more than that, I love her courage and her willingness to be different. I love that she plays a squeezebox and wears 50s-style dresses and dyes her hair blue. I love that I can feel her emotions each time she sings. And, I love watching her gain confidence each week as she slowly realizes that people are loving her just for sharing her own magic.

What magic do you have to share? What’s holding you back from putting it out there?

singerIf you are grooving along with my American Idol/art/writing train of thought, you may also like this post I wrote back in 2011 (I told you I’ve been a fan for a long time!) about 15 Tips To Make Your Writing Sing – American Idol Style. And, hey, if you watch the show, I’d love to know who your favorite is. 😉

 

 

What I’m {Learning About} Writing:

Portrait from the BBC article.

Portrait from the BBC article.

Sir Terry Pratchett, the author perhaps best known for his unique and long-running Discworld series, died earlier this week at the age of sixty-six. The BBC News post announcing his passing gives a thumbnail sketch of his career (some seventy books written across a span of forty-four years with total sales in excess of $70million) and his very public battle with rare form of early-onset Alzheimer’s.

The only Pratchett book I’ve read is the one he co-authored with Neil Gaiman, Good Omens. It’s one of the few books that makes me laugh out loud each time I read it (and, I’ve read it multiple times). Gaiman and Pratchett were not only colleagues, but also friends. Last September, knowing that his friend’s death was imminent, Gaiman wrote an essay for The Guardian titled, Terry Pratchett isn’t jolly. He’s angry.

In the short piece, Gaiman writes about the fury that drove Pratchett to write so uniquely and prolifically,

There is a fury to Terry Pratchett’s writing: it’s the fury that was the engine that powered Discworld. It’s also the anger at the headmaster who would decide that six-year-old Terry Pratchett would never be smart enough for the 11-plus; anger at pompous critics, and at those who think serious is the opposite of funny; anger at his early American publishers who could not bring his books out successfully.

I was saddened to hear of Pratchett’s passing. The world has lost a great storyteller. But, I hope that maybe we can find some small lesson in the beauty of how he used his anger to create beauty and laughter and bring a little more truth into the world.

charging knightA while back, I wrote a piece for my business blog called Get Mad: Marketing From Your Dark Side. Gaiman’s essay about Pratchett reminded me of this piece and the power of giving ourselves a villain to fight … a cause to write for.

 

What I’m Reading:

book ueland want writeCaught up as I have been this week with the idea of excavating and sharing your unique experience and style, I returned to an old favorite – Brenda Ueland’s If You Want to Write. This slim tome is aptly (and, I think, beautifully) sub-titled, “A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit.”

There is hardly a page of this book that isn’t criss-crossed with pencil underlinings from previous readings. In some places, I’ve actually drawn hearts and stars in the margins. Originally published in 1938, this book is as relevant as ever, perhaps even more so. With a gentle, but no nonsense voice, Ueland quietly transforms the often overwhelming task of writing into a simple magic that feels simultaneously accessible and miraculous.

If you have ever felt daunted by writing or doubtful about your right to write, please read this book. I promise you that it will warm your heart, ease your mind, and stoke your creative fires.

 

And let’s not forget the blogs. Here are a few of my favorite writerly posts from this week:

This week has an extra dose of crazy, so I didn’t get to spend as much time reading my favorite blogs as I would have liked, BUT here are a few reads that I enjoyed and thought were worth sharing:

 

Finally, a quote for the week:

pin no one is you

Thanks, as always, for being here. And thanks for being you and sharing your own magic with the world. Happy writing. Happy reading. See you on the other side! 
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Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content marketer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian and aerial arts (not at the same time), and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Introduce yourself on Facebooktwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
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Writing. If you’re not scared, you’re doing it wrong.

etsy print by Andrekart

etsy print by Andrekart

I keep a magic wand on my desk. It’s a simple, unassuming implement made of basswood. I picked it up at a Renaissance Faire a couple of years ago because I liked the feel of the smooth wood and the look of the ash-gray striations that run along its slender length. Also, I didn’t have a magic wand.

I use my wand all the time. I have yet to see it display any overt magical properties, but it is a comforting talisman when I find myself confronted with a writing task that feels beyond my ability. This happens almost every single time I sit down at the keyboard.

I had an honest conversation with some writer friends about this recurring and paralyzing lack of confidence. It was immediately clear that this condition is common among writers. Each of us could relate. Each of us had her own methods for getting past the fear. Whether we chipped away at our anxiety word-by-word, or tried to slingshot past it, each of us knew this chronic ailment intimately.

To be clear, our commiseration was not about suffering from a lack of creativity or battling that shape-shifting foe known most commonly as writer’s block. This was a little different. This was more about feeling like a fraud. More specifically, this was about feeling like a fraud who was about to screw up big time and expose herself as a fraud. This feeling of despair and dread is sometimes called The Impostor Syndrome, and it’s not pretty.

Very often (almost always) when I sit down to write something (an essay, a column, a page of website copy, a case study, a blog post … pretty much anything), I am immobilized by the certainty that I have no idea what I’m doing. Despite the fact that I have been making my living as a writer for nearly seven years, I am sure that the entire experience has been a fluke.

There is a (not so) helpful soundtrack that plays in my head as I sit, staring at the blank page on my screen. It whispers in my ear that the jig is up. It tells me what I think I already know – that there’s no way I can pull off this heist again. The whispering voice marvels at how lucky I’ve been so far, at how gullible my clients have been to accept my work as The Real Thing.

I sit and I stare. The voice rattles on, subduing me with its hypnotic babble. I am sure that the voice is right. After all, here I am – sitting and staring and not writing. Clearly, I have no idea what I’m doing. Clearly I have just been faking it all this time, but my luck was bound to run out and today is the day and oh-my-gods-what-will-I-do-now?!? I type a few words and delete them. Type. Delete. Type. Delete. Type. Delete. Everything sounds staid, crass, cliched. The whisper is getting louder and louder and …

Cue the sound of a needle scratching across a record that has suddenly stopped spinning.

Breathe.

Know that this is completely normal.

You are not a fraud. You are a writer. And this is part of the writing process. At least, it’s part of the writing process for most of the writers I know.

Sure, there are those glorious and golden moments of pure  inspiration when the words fly from your fingers as though coursing through you from some alternate universe where writing is as easy as eating pie. But most of the time, writing is hard. Most of the time, each assignment feels like a new territory and you feel like a lone explorer who is venturing forth without a map or proper supplies or any idea of how to get from point A to point B. You feel like you faked your way here based on false bravado, but now as you stand on the edge of the jungle you’re finally realizing what you’ve promised to deliver and you’re scared.

It’s all going to be okay. Remember – you’ve stood here before and you’ve made it through to the other side. You will do it again.

Each of us has her favorite tricks for hacking past the fear and doubt and paralyzing lack of confidence. Some of us start in the middle. Some of us go for a walk. Some of us set up our page with placeholder headlines and subheads. Some of us read the praise of past clients and editors. I’ve used all these tricks and then some, but the thing that ultimately gets me through a rough start is invoking the thing that scares me most – being an impostor.

Instead of cowering before this supposed flaw, I embrace it.  After all, what is a writer if not a person who makes things up? A writer conjures places, characters, and ideas with words. Why shouldn’t we use this same skill to our own advantage? When I am most stuck, I take “fake it ’til you make it” to a new level. I fabricate a story for myself and I step into it with all the conviction of a method actor. I transform myself into the writer who knows exactly how to tackle the project at hand. I inhabit my role so completely, that pretty soon I have forgotten about the ruse and am thinking only of the words that are flying from my fingers like sparks from the tip of a wand.

That’s when I pause for just a moment and smile to myself. The trick, you see, is not about fooling anyone else into believing I’m a writer. The trick is about fooling myself just long enough to figure out that this writer identity I’ve created for myself is the reality, not the role. I am the writer who knows exactly how to tackle the project at hand. I’d just forgotten my own magic.

Marketing Mindset: You have a right to be here.

Knights Tale LegerThe scary part isn’t the writing. The scary part is putting your writing out into the world.

We writers can hack the long hours at the keyboard, wrestling with the blank page and coaxing our muses forth. We have grown accustomed to the voices in our heads – characters, critics, and editors. We and our personal demons have arrived at a working truce that allows us to get the words down.

But that’s just the first part of the battle, isn’t it?

If you’re hoping to get published, you have to not only create, but also promote. You must market yourself and your work to an audience. You must put everything out there where other people can see it, consume it, and judge it worthy … or not.

THAT is the scary part.

That is the thing – as much as, if not more than, lack of drive or talent or productivity – that keeps wannabe authors from becoming published authors.

I bring this up because this is my last post here at Live to Write – Write to Live until after the New Year and I didn’t want to miss my opportunity to give you a little 2013 pep talk.

I know that December is a time for reflecting back on the year gone by and scrying into the year ahead. This is the time of year many of us make resolutions and intentions. We try to cast off bad habits and establish new, healthier ones. As writers, many of our thoughts orbit closely around our creative work and dreams: What have I accomplished? What do I hope to accomplish? How will I reach me writing goals in 2013? Do I really have what it takes? Should I even bother?

If you’re not careful you can go careening off a cliff of self-doubt and insecurity.

That’s not good for your marketing.

How can you confidently and competently market yourself if you don’t believe you have anything to offer? How can you make the right connections and impressions if you feel like you don’t deserve to be here?

You can’t.

In my day job, I help my clients develop standout brands and craft great content. Though I work mostly with large companies, I do sometimes have the pleasure of working with authors, artists, designers, creative entrepreneurs, etc. In my experience, the first order of business with these folks isn’t establishing a value proposition or unearthing the brand story or developing the voice for the website. The first order of business is getting the client into the “marketing mindset.”

If you’re going to have to go out there and sell yourself and your work (which, you will have to do if you want to be published), you need to get into a marketing mindset, too. You need to believe that you have a right to be here.

I wrote a post about this on my home blog at Suddenly Marketing. I’d love for you to head over there and read Marketing Mindset 101: You have a right to be here. It’s my soapbox pep talk. It’s what I say to friends and clients who seem unsure, tentative, and doubtful when it comes to marketing themselves. It’s my rallying cry to incite people to action.

2013 is a brand new year, people.

Anything is possible.

This might be your year.

Are you ready to make the most of it?

Do you have the right marketing mindset?

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 voice and trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.

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Image from A Knight’s Tale © 2001 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. All Rights Reserved – sourced from IMDB