Cognitive Dissonance and Writing II

I recently wrote about Cognitive Dissonance and Writing. One of the ways I’ve dealt with my own cognitive dissonance (in many areas of my life) is to find small ways to “prove” both of my conflicting beliefs true. One way I do this is to use a concrete exercise I learned from Martha Beck[i]. I call this exercise the And/Or Exercise, but Martha calls it by its more correct psychological name:

Unifying False Dichotomies

To shake yourself free of falsely dichotomous thinking, try making a list of either/ors in your life. These could be any pairs of opposites, contradictory things that you could be, have, or do.

My Dichotomous Life

I can either be __________________________ or ______________________________.

I can either have ________________________ or ______________________________.

I can either do __________________________ or ______________________________.

Now, rewrite those very same things in the spaces below.

My Creative Life

I intend to be both __________________________ and __________________________.

I intend to have both ________________________ and __________________________.

I intend to do both __________________________ and __________________________.

The more resistance you feel to rewriting these either/or statements into “and” statements, the more likely you are holding onto false beliefs.

Here are some statements I’ve worked with over the years:

  • I can either be a doctor or a mother.
  • I can either have a family or a career.
  • I can either write novels or practice medicine.

Rewritten, these statements become:

  • I intend to be both a doctor and a mother.
  • I intend to have both a family and a career.
  • I intend to write novels and practice medicine.

These days, I can rewrite all those statements with an “of course I can!” feeling, but back in the day, I had a hard time believing them. Seeing the statements written out made them easier to believe.

I continue to do this exercise every once in a while, as a way to see what I’m thinking and to discover where I might be experiencing cognitive dissonance in my own life.

At one point I came across this dichotomous belief: I can be either an artist or a productive member of society.

How’s that for a creativity blocker? Pretty good, it turns out.

I intend to be both an artist and a productive member of society is a statement that works much better for me, and allows me to see the creativity I bring to every part of my life, from my writing to my parenting to my cooking. It’s a shift in perspective that allows me to see myself as the creative being I am.

Do you think you can either be a writer or something else? How about both?

[i] Adapted from The Joy Diet: 10 Daily Practices for a Happier Life, by Martha Beck. Used with her permission.

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon, MD: is a writer, blogger, master life coach, and family physician. You can find her at http://www.dianemackinnon.com.

Weekend Edition – Idea Math for Writers Plus Good Reads and Writing Tips

Writer = Idea Machine

From "a little market" via Pinterest

From “a little market” via Pinterest

If someone asked you to name your stock in trade as a writer, what would you say?

Your knee-jerk response might be “words.” Words are the building blocks of our stories. They are like the painter’s pigments or the sculptor’s clay.

But, are they really your stock in trade? No.

As a writer, your stock in trade is your ideas.

Without ideas, there are no words. Ideas are where the process starts. They are the seeds that blossom into word-laden forests. My dad has always told me that the ideas -not perfect execution – are the thing. Anyone can learn to do a thing well, whether that thing is painting a picture, taking a photograph, or writing a story. These are technical skills you can practice and hone until you achieve a high level of mastery. But, without a good idea to drive your technical excellence, all you have is an empty exercise in rote execution. What you create will have no purpose, no meaning, no soul.

And, that’s no good.

··• )o( •··

So, ideas. Where do they come from?

The Muse, you say? Really? I like to think the Muses are kind of like Sharon Stone’s character in Albert Brooks’ film, The Muse. (If you haven’t seen this, please watch it. It is fabulous from any angle, but from the writer’s perspective it’s especially funny.) Stone plays Sarah Little, a modern day Muse whose tactics are more than a tad unconventional. She is petulant, feisty, demanding, and – more to the point – she never actually gives anyone ideas. She doesn’t consider that to be part of her job.

So, if not the Muses, where do ideas come from?

They come from you, silly.

And, like any other skill, idea generation is something you can practice. It’s not magic or a creative gift or the whispers of those pesky Muses. Idea generation is about treating your brain like the muscle it is and working it out to improve flexibility, stamina, and strength.

··• )o( •··

Though he is sometimes a little over the top for some people, I kind of adore James Altucher. He’s more of a business/finance/entrepreneurship blogger, but many of his ideas apply beautifully to writing. One of my favorite posts of his is The Magic of Idea Math, in which he outlines seven different ways to generate ideas:

  • IDEA ADDITION: Take a big, popular idea and add something to it.
  • IDEA SUBTRACTION: Think you’re stuck in a situation with no options? Consider your situation without the roadblocks. Just take all the “can’ts” out of the equation, and see where you go.
  • IDEA EXPONENTIALS & SUBSETS: Start with ten ideas and then add ten ideas for each of your original ten, and so on. (This, as Altucher points out, is a good recipe for writing a book.)
  • NEGATIVE IDEAS: Look at opposites and opposing forces to get a completely different perspective that opens your mind to new possibilities.
  • IDEA MULTIPLICATION: Take a good idea and figure out how to scale it through replication.
  • IDEA DIVISION: Take a good idea and divide it again and again in order to break it down into its component, “niche” parts. I picture cell division that breaks one big cell down into dozens of smaller, more specialized cells.
  • IDEA SEX: This is similar to idea addition, but more integrated. Altucher uses the example of “sampling” in the music industry. The popular term “mash-up” also applies here.

Go ahead and play around with these ideas in the context of your writing or your writing career. This is all about “thinking outside the box,” as the tired cliché says.  It’s about training your brain to think about problems (and possibilities!) in different ways.

··• )o( •··

I use the word “training” intentionally. As I mentioned earlier, you need to treat your brain like a muscle. You need to exercise and stretch it constantly. It’s the old “use it, or lose it” idea.

My daughter and I recently discovered, courtesy of another mom, a great show from the National Geographic channel called Brain Games. The series is a fascinating exploration of how our brains work. Much of what we’ve learned by watching so far has surprised the hell out of me.

One thing that didn’t surprise me, however, is the fact that our brains are amazingly adaptive machines that learn at an incredibly fast rate, but will atrophy if not properly exercised. I’m no expert, but it seems to me that brain training falls into two categories: strength and flexibility.

Strength exercises help you hone your memory, analysis, observation, and problem solving skills. I subscribe to a great brain-training tool called Lumosity to help me with these kinds of exercises. Using my desktop computer or their handy mobile app, I play fun games that are scientifically designed by neuroscientists to help me improve these basic mental skills. It’s easy, fun, and kind of addictive.

Flexibility exercises are the ones that help you improve how creatively you think. This is where the “outside the box” stuff comes in. One of the best ways to increase your thinking agility is to “think like a kid” by removing any assumptions you have about how a certain problem “should” or can be solved. A Brain Games episode we watched recently demonstrates the power of thinking like a kid by asking adults and kids to describe what they see in an abstract drawing. Adults can usually only come up with one or maybe two ideas, while kids can go on and on (and on!) as their imaginations rev up.

··• )o( •··

That’s kind of what ideas are all about, right? Imagination. And isn’t imagination the domain of a writer?

We writers ply our story trade by repeatedly asking the all-important question, “What if?” This deceivingly simple question is the key to opening a world of possibilities. Though the process may start slowly with a grinding of the wheels in your brain, once you get going all kinds of ideas jump out at you.

“Possibilities” – you may notice I’ve used that word a number of times in this post. That’s because ideas are about possibilities. Ideas aren’t intrinsically right or wrong, they are just potentialities to be explored and tested.

And they aren’t just for stories, either. There are countless possibilities to explore in your real life, too. We often get stuck thinking about our world and our lives from only one perspective and based on one set of assumptions. But, what if we looked at our situation with the eyes of a child?  What if we used Altucher’s negative ideas mind math to remove the obstacles that we assume are keeping us from achieving our goals? What if we let our imaginations uncover new solutions to our problems?

··• )o( •··

Your stock in trade as a writer is your ideas. They are what set you apart from everyone else. They are what capture a reader’s attention, whether you are writing fiction, nonfiction, or marketing copy. As much as you practice the craft of writing – style, voice, syntax, and all that good stuff – you must also practice the craft of idea generation. Give your brain the opportunity to stretch and play. Make coming up with new ideas part of your daily writing routine. Drop your assumptions and inhibitions and see how bizarre and silly you can get. You never know what bit of brilliance will emerge from the chaos.

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What I’m {Thinking About} Writing:

Wall art by spellandtell via Etsy

Wall art by spellandtell via Etsy

As I mentioned above, considering “what if?” possibilities isn’t an exercise that’s only good for writing stories. It can be a powerful and transformative tool for shaping your life and your writing career.

I have been working as a freelance marketing writer for almost the last decade because I asked myself, “What if I gave the copywriting thing a whirl?” I’m so grateful that the answer to that question turned out to be the successful business I’ve got now. But, even while I deeply appreciate each and every client and project that enables me to keep a roof over our heads and Boboli pizzas on the table, I can’t quite seem to stop asking, “What if?”

  • What if I tried my hand at nonfiction … maybe writing a book about writing?
  • What if I did a self-publishing experiment around a serialized story?
  • What if I offered custom stories about people’s pets?
  • What if I …

You get the idea. Sometimes we get too tied up in thinking about “writing” in only one way. We think that being a writer means being a novelist or a journalist or a screenwriter. We stop seeing other opportunities, we forget that there are all kinds of species of writers and all kinds of different ways that stories and information permeate our world and our lives. If we stop assuming that, as a “writer,” we can only exist within the confines of a very specific identity, all kinds of new possibilities open up to us.

It’s something worth thinking about.

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What I’m {Remembering About} Reading:

Jessie Willcox Smith - Mother and Children Reading

Jessie Willcox Smith – Mother and Children Reading

Last week’s Friday Fun was all about early influences on our writing. My response took me on a walk down memory lane where I recalled the books I’d read as a child. It was interesting to look back on my long list of favorite children’s and young adult reads and see some patterns in the kinds of stories, characters, and themes that I’d been drawn to. It’s also interesting to see how my preferences have evolved over the years.

But, one influence I thought of after the Friday post was published was how my mom read aloud to my sister and I right through our teen years. Though the specific stories she shared with us did influence me, what was more important was simply being exposed to and enveloped in my mother’s love of books and reading. Experiencing that passion first hand made a lasting impression that has sustained my own reading and writing ever since.

Now that I’m someone’s mom, I have spent countless treasured hours reading aloud to her, starting with picture books and graduating over the years to easy readers and novels. Now that she’s almost too old for bedtime stories (at least, she thinks so), I’ve introduced her to the wonderful world of audio books. She has spent dozens of hours this summer, listening to fantasy novels while coloring or doing some other creative activity. I just love knowing that her head is filling up with stories and adventure.

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A Personal Announcement:

By SusanBlackArt on Etsy

By SusanBlackArt on Etsy

So, in case you missed my post about the influence of “place” on writing, my daughter and I have been dealing with some upheaval in our housing situation.  I am excited to share with you today that as of this past Monday I am, once again, a homeowner. After nearly three years of house hunting, the demolition-driven crisis we were in turned out to be  just the thing to push me out of the nest, or … er … into the nest?

Either way, we found a charming cottage-style cape that is in the same neighborhood we’ve come to love over this past eighteen months. My daughter is over-the-moon thrilled, and – even though there’s some work to be done and money to be spent – I’m pretty much right there with her.

So, if my posts over the next month or so start to wander off into home-related tangents, you’ll know why. I promise to stay as focused as possible on writing-related topics, but I’m sure that some domestic themes might sneak in there. At the very least, I’m sure our mini renovation adventures will yield some worthwhile anecdotes.

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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:

Image from Pinterest

Image from Pinterest

Here’s to lots and lots of new ideas, having fun playing with possibilities, and finding (and making) your own, sweet home. 
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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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Friday Fun – Where do you get your story ideas?

Friday Fun is a group post from the writers of the NHWN blog. Each week, we’ll pose and answer a different, get-to-know-us question. We hope you’ll join in by providing your answer in the comments.

QUESTION: We recently invited you to submit your questions about writing, and Bethie asked about where we get ideas for our writing. 

headshot_jw_thumbnailJamie Wallace: Everywhere. That’s probably not very helpful. But, it’s true. I love asking “Why?” and “What if?” I like to daydream. I guess you could say that I’m incurably curious, and my curiosity creates an endless stream of ideas for essays and stories. I mean, from where I’m sitting at my desk, I quickly looked up and the first thing I saw was a Hawaiian scarf with a batik-style fish print on it. Looking at that, the following thoughts ran through my head:

  • I wonder what goes into making one of those. Is it even made in Hawaii, or just labeled there? What are the industrial and financial stories behind that simple scarf?
  • I wonder who sold it – maybe the owner of a family-run shop struggling to survive against the competition of the big-label stores in the newer, fancier malls. What kind of conflict is there between the different store owners or family members?
  • Is that a traditional Hawaiian motif? What kinds of Hawaiian myths might have inspired that design? What if Hawaiian gods met the old Greek or Norse gods? How would they get along?
  • The fish are grouped in schools of five. Why would there be only five fish per school?
    • What if that was an actual natural phenomenon – how would the fish determine which of them went into which school, and what would happen to the odd fish out? Would there be in-fighting, manipulation, or even fish murder for spots in a school?
    • How might this thing play out with humans – like cliques in school? What if in the future people were only allowed to interact in groups of five – how would that affect relationships, privacy, emotions?

You get the idea. Be curious. Ask questions. Let your mind free associate. Don’t judge your ideas. (The above list proves I’m clearly following an “anything goes” approach.) Just have fun.

And, here are a couple other posts that you might find helpful:

Your Writer's Mind

Your Writer’s Mind

or maybe …

4 Steps to Capture the Muse

4 Steps to Capture the Muse

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Deborah Lee LuskinDeborah Lee Luskin: While I was waiting my turn to drive through a construction site where the state was rerouting a highway, I wondered what Vermont was like before the Interstate, how it was built, and how the state changed as a result. And so began the research that turned into Elegy for a Girl, Into the Wilderness, and the untitled novel I’m working on now. Ideas for my VPR commentaries, editorials, and blog posts arise in similarly mundane and mysterious ways: I see something, I hear something, I read something – often something quirky or ordinary – and it sparks thoughts that make their way onto the page. It’s a good job.

wendy-shotWendy Thomas: Some of my story ideas seem to come out of the blue. I’ll be driving and a thought will become a sentence which then becomes the idea for a story. Because I write a lot of non-fiction, many of my ideas also come from asking questions. If I want to know an answer, chances are someone else will want to know it as well. The toddler’s “what if” and “why” questions that are constantly asked (to the point of exhaustion) never seemed to have left me. Lastly, my ideas can come from a quiet place of observation. I’ll sit and look at what is around me. I’ve seen this with my blog, where I’ve been writing about my flock of children and chickens for the last 6 years. You’d think I’d have run out of things to say at this point – nope, there are days when I feel like I’m just getting started.

Susan Nye: I bump into ideas everywhere. In the news. In random conversations with friends, family and strangers. In the supermarket and farmers’ market. (I do a lot of food writing so ingredients inspire me.) In books, magazines and in the nooks and crannies of my wandering mind. I walk almost every day and find it really helps. No music, no phone and no distractions, I let my mind ramble and amble in search of inspiration.

Coming up with something new week after week for my newspaper column/blog is probably the biggest challenge. Next week makes 448 stories and recipes plus another couple hundred menus and party ideas. When in doubt I check the calendar. Holidays are always good for a post. Who doesn’t have something to say about Mom on Mother’s Day, family cookouts on the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving dinners? That said, after nine years it can be tough to find a new approach to Memorial Day.

Creating images for blogs and other social media sites

033015_imageOver the weekend I learned a new skill: creating a header image for an organization’s website.

I was intimidated, nervous, and wondered if there was enough time left in that day to actually accomplish the task at hand.

Canva.com has been mentioned as a resource on this blog in the past few months. Deborah’s post lists several resources for culling free images, and Julie’s post mentions canva in passing as something she uses quite a bit.

As I was in need of the image for the mystery writer’s group I belong to with Julie, she’d mentioned canva.com to me a few times and said it was easy to use.

I couldn’t put the task off any longer, so I clicked on over to canva.com and found I could log in with a Google account. I liked not having to create an account. Ahh!

And then I was ready to go.

First up is to select the type of image to create – one for a Facebook post, Facebook cover, presentation, poster, and so on. I needed one to use as a website header, so chose Use custom dimensions, entered the dimensions and entered a new screen.

I was ready to create my header image. There is a keyword search box to get you started, and also a super short but informational tutorial to get the not-yet-designer up to speed.

I played around with layouts, different text, and backgrounds. It really was easy to move back and forth and play with colors, styles, and images.

I personally like playing with different text layouts and fonts – those are word-related. Visuals are challenging, but this site gives me hope that I can create images when I need them.

Once done creating an image there are options to download, share through social media, and save.

The image included above isn’t going to win any awards, but I created it in less than 3 minutes. It’s two images in one — and I needed some color today. Winter may be over, but spring colors have yet to start appearing outside my window yet! Browns and dirty white isn’t all that appealing.

This is the first image I created:

Heroes, Villians, and Sidekicks

*Not all images are free on the site, but if there’s a fee ($1), it’s noted on the image.

I’m not endorsing this site, simply sharing my experience. It was worthwhile to me to use, and I plan to continue using it (I bet I can create something without green in it, too!) — as it keeps the process of designing images simple and gives me what I need.

What do you use to create visuals for you social media accounts?

LisaJJackson_2014Lisa 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 Lisa on TwitterFacebookGoogle+, and LinkedIn.

Improvisational Writing

I took an improv class in Cambridge this winter. It’s something I’ve wanted to do since 2008, when I did improv during a Master Coach training. Since taking the class, I’ve been using some of the techniques I learned to get more words on the page. Here are two of the ways I’ve incorporated improv into my writing life.

Warm-Ups: Every week, at the beginning of class, we would do a series of game designed to warm us up; to get us out of our heads and into our bodies. I’ve started doing warm-ups at the beginning of my writing sessions. One (silly) warm-up I do is write a word that begins with each letter of the alphabet, relating each word somehow (even tangentially) to the previous word (not all the previous words, just the word before that word).

An example: Apples Bruise Colors Design Elements Forever Granite Houses Invite Jollies Kites Lift Metal Nails Overbite Perpetual Queen Red Shoe Trees Undulate Visually Wonderful X-Ray You Zephyr.

One of the first things you learn in improv is the idea of “Yes, and…” No matter what your partner in the scene says, you don’t disagree with them. You accept the reality of the world they have created (that’s the “Yes,”) and you expand upon it (that’s the “and.”)

If your partner says, “Oh my God, your head is on fire!” and you say, “No, it’s not,” you have completely negated the premise they gave you and now there is no movement, no energy. The scene is completely dead.

But if your partner says, “Oh my God, your head is on fire!” and you say, “Oh my God, it’s on fire and we’re standing in the middle of a match factory!” now you’ve got something. There’s energy and movement to the scene and the audience gets to see what these two characters are going to do next.

In my writing, I’ve started taking my characters and letting them do some unexpected things. Whatever they do or say, I respond, “Yes, and…” then I see where it takes me. Not every part of this exploration will make it into my finished piece, but I find it’s making my characters more interesting and giving me a lot more flexibility as to what happens next.

Once I expand my character this way, he doesn’t go back to the narrow person I first imagined. He doesn’t necessarily remain totally outrageous, but he definitely becomes more three-dimensional.

What happens to your characters when you say, “Yes, and…?

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon, MD: is a writer, blogger, mom, life coach, and family physician. I’ve also found the stories I tell my son are getting more fun and I find it much easier to find new ideas since I took that improv class.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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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.