One Way to Manage Procrastination

I’ve come to believe we don’t put things off because we’re lazy or disorganized, we put things off because we don’t think we can deal with the feelings that come up for us when we even think about doing whatever it is that we want to/have to/need to do. 

For writers, I think we have to deal with a lot of fear just to sit our butts down in the chair and start typing. Especially if it’s something creative or something you feel passionate about. 

Our primitive brain starts yammering as soon as we walk toward the writing desk: What if it’s no good, what if I have nothing to say, what if nobody likes it, what if I make everyone angry?

Have you noticed how often that primitive brain, that critical voice, talks about “everyone” and “no one?” It’s scarier that way—and more vague, so harder to refute. If our primitive brain said something like, “what if my brother doesn’t like it?” my evolved brain would just answer, “That’s nonsense. He likes everything I write.” 

So it sticks to “everyone” and “no one” to keep us from writing. To keep us out of our chairs. To keep us in fear. 

Because the primitive brain doesn’t care about your book, your blog post, or your email. It only cares that you survive until tomorrow, and it’s fine with you living a very small life. It thinks turning on Netflix is a great idea. 

And because fear is such a difficult emotion for us to manage, we often do just turn on Netflix. The brain does not distinguish between fear of physical danger and fear of what others will think of us. We have the same physiologic reaction to the thought of others not liking what we’ve (not yet) written as we do to being cut off in traffic while driving. Our hearts start to pound, our hands get clammy, we find it hard to breathe. 

But we can manage the fear that’s not related to physical danger. There are ways. Here’s one that works for me:

As you approach your writing desk and you start to hear all those negative questions, write them down. Start a journal entry or grab a pad of paper and write it all down, all those thoughts. 

Acknowledge your fear and notice the physical symptoms that come up. Also notice you are not in any actual physical danger. All is well. 

Then tell that part of yourself that is so scared that you’re just going to write. You’re not going to show it to anyone, not going to publish it right now. You’re just going to write. 

Then, after all those reassurances to that primitive (scared) part of yourself, stay in your chair and write. 

*******

Diane MacKinnon, MD, is a Master Certified Life Coach who used to work as a Family Physician. She’s passionate about writing and journaling and is (still!) working on her first book, a self-help book for medical peeps. You can find her at her website, www.dianemackinnon.com.

Top 5 Writer’s Weekend Edition Posts of 2016

As I mentioned in a recent post, I’m having a little trouble getting back in gear after the holidays. It’s the start of a shiny New Year, but I’m not quite all the way into the swing of it yet. Though part of my malaise may yet be due to holiday hangover, I think I must admit at this point – nearly two weeks into 2017 – that it’s also partly due to my continuing struggle to process and deal with all the crazy things happening in the news … in my country. The results of last year’s election have awakened my inner activist, and I find that I am frequently distracted by the latest developments on the political scene. (Those are words I never thought I’d write.)

That said, I am a writer, and I must write. So, while it may take me some time to adjust to being consistently productive in this new environment, that is what I will do.

For today, however, I would like to share the top five Writer’s Weekend Edition posts from last year. I’ve selected them based on the number of comments they received, because I figure if someone likes something enough to take the time to comment, that is the truest measurement of how much that piece of writing has done its job.

Looking forward to another great year of sharing my random (and not-so-random) thoughts with you, and hopefully once again having the privilege of engaging in dialog with you about those ramblings.

_jamie sig

 

 


Number 5: Stillness, Solitude, and the Practice of Writing

Retreat HesseWriting is a solitary act, but being a writer is not.  We live in the Real World with everyone else, and our lives are just as full and noisy and chaotic as the next person’s. We have friends and family to care for and enjoy. We have day jobs (with meetings and emails and conference calls) and households to manage (via negotiation and sometimes bribery). We are subjected to the same onslaught of news, social media, and sundry other local and global communications as every other non-luddite member of this hyper-connected human race.  [Read more …]

Number 4: 3 Steps to Your Perfect Writing Life

Image from megankatenelson.com

Image from megankatenelson.com

Do you remember the first time you wrote? I don’t mean the first time you formed the letters of the alphabet or wrote your name. I mean the first time you sat down alone and wrote something all your own. Do you remember what  you wrote, why you wrote it, or what it felt like to put words – your words – down on the page? Did you have any idea then that you would keep writing – day after day, year after year?

Today marks thirty-nine years, one month, and thirteen days since I wrote my first journal entry. I was seven years-old at the time, and the words I chose for the first page of my first notebook were not my own. They were Shakespeare’s.  [Read more …]


Number 3: Why Writing Matters (How to Justify Your Passion)

free diverSometimes, the gravity of real life threatens to pull me out of my creative orbit. The inescapable responsibility of being human weighs heavily – the “Real World” of work, relationships, and surviving on this fragile planet crushing in on me like pressure on an ascending deep sea diver. The closer I get to daylight, the further I am from the intimate, interior depths of my creative endeavors. That inner life disappears into the darkness below as I’m drawn toward the surface, my tenuous connection lost until I dive again.

Above the waves, my belief in the importance of the world below fades.  Submerged in the process, my work felt real and worthwhile. [Read more …]


Number 2: A Writer’s New Year

Like the years, the days are each part of a continuum.

Like the years, the days are each part of a continuum.

The New Year is a time to reflect and plan. It’s a time to reevaluate our priorities and our progress toward our goals. Midnight on December 31st marks the seam between the old and the new; it is the boundary between the past and the future – the threshold over which we must step in order to enter the next phase of our lives.

Damn. That’s a lot of pressure.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the idea of a fresh start. I also relish poring over the old year’s journal entries looking for thematic patterns in my thoughts and dreams. I love the creative process of finding the perfect word to embody my intentions for the year ahead, and the more arduous work of drilling down to discover exactly what those intentions might be. I love the myth and magic of the many New Year’s traditions that help us whisk away the old and ring in the new. [Read more …]


And the Number 1 Writer’s Weekend Edition Post of 2016 (based on number of comments): What’s Holding You Back from Your Writer’s Life?

Don't be scared of paper tigers.

Don’t be scared of paper tigers.

I’m in need of a writer-to-writer pep talk today, so I’ve decided to give myself one.

This isn’t going to be easy. I’m realizing, to my chagrin, that being optimistic and upbeat comes much more naturally when things are going well. Who’d have thought? Maintaining a good attitude is a bit more challenging when you’re stuck at the bottom of the proverbial well with no rope and no ladder (and a creeping suspicion that something malicious may be lurking down there with you, just waiting to jump out from the shadows and give you a nasty bite, or worse). [Read more …]


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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. In addition to my bi-weekly weekday posts, you can also check out my Saturday Edition and Sunday Shareworthy archives. Off the blog, please introduce yourself on FacebookTwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.

This post originally appeared on the Live to Write – Write to Live blog.
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Writer’s Weekend Edition – You’re Still You

qt-knost-broken-world

Today’s post will be a short one. I really only have one thing I want to tell you:

You’re still you.

Maybe you’re feeling like the world has gone mad; or maybe it seems like it’s always been mad, but you’re only noticing now, and it’s like waking up to find out that your bad dream wasn’t a dream at all.

What’s happening isn’t normal, but you’re still you.

Maybe you’re feeling disappointed about the way 2016 turned out for your personally. Maybe you didn’t meet your goals. Maybe your heart was broken. Maybe you lost your way.

I know it hurts, but you’re still you.

Maybe you are feeling doubtful or guilty about your creative endeavors. Maybe you’re worried that they are an indulgence, or that they don’t matter in the grand scheme of things. Maybe you’re second guessing yourself.

I understand your fear, but you’re still you.

No matter what happens around you, no matter what people say, no matter how many setbacks you experience – You’re. Still. You. You are who you’ve always been and you’re always growing into the person you’re meant to be. What happens around you can touch you and influence you and affect your emotions, but it can’t change who you are unless you let it. All those forces exist outside of you. They aren’t really part of who you are in your heart, and  your heart is where your stories come from.

It’s okay to take time to grieve. It’s okay to give yourself space to worry and question and process all the change in your life. And, it’s okay to step back for a minute and just let it all wash over you. Just remember, always remember, that you are still you. Your stories are still your stories. Your voice is still your voice. That hasn’t changed. That will never change. And, that is your greatest strength and your most brilliant light. So, be you, be strong, and shine your light in the darkness. We need it more than ever.

xo

··• )o( •··

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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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Friday Fun – Biggest Writing Fear

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: Halloween is only three days away, but we’re not scared of ghosts or bogeymen. That’s nothing. We do, however, each have our own worst nightmare scenarios when it comes to our writing …

JME5670V2smCROPJamie Wallace: Oh, yeah. Writing fears. Creative fears. Life fears. I have all the usual fears about rejection, but I’d have to say that my absolute worst nightmare is reaching the end of my life and knowing that I didn’t do everything I could … everything I wanted to, that I didn’t put myself out there, express my ideas, share my inner world, let my freak flag fly. And yet, that fear isn’t always enough to motivate me to DO the things I need/want to do. I guess maybe I should let myself taste that fear a little more deeply … really put myself in that place and believe that there isn’t any more time. Ugh. Chills just went up my spine. For real.

Lisa_2015Lisa J. Jackson: Pushing out of the comfort zone and trying something totally new is always scary, but so rewarding. Like Jamie, I don’t do it enough — even though I’ve done it in the past and know how great the results can be! For instance, with writing, I belong to a great writing group for years where you’d show up weekly, decide as a group on a prompt, write to that prompt for an agreed-upon amount of time, and then read your result out loud. “Reading a first draft out loud!?” ACK! Who would want to do that? But it was a great exercise – even got my heart rate up. But the terror of reading first-draft-crap was the most wonderful feeling in the world after a while. I mean, everyone knew it was a first draft; everyone had individual fears and dislikes about what they wrote — the “act of” writing and reading, though, that was the inspiration.

Arrive at the group with nothing, leave with something. Face a creative fear and come out on the other side with a happy muse.

wendy-shotWendy Thomas – I’m not so much afraid of rejection as I get angry at myself (yeah I know) for not being able to figure out *exactly* what was expected. For some reason I’m always disappointed when I don’t have the super-power of mind reading.

But my biggest fear is similar to one of Jamie’s – that I will have ended my life without having put forth all that I can do. Acting like a true monster, this fear goads me, it keeps me up at night, and no matter what I accomplish in order to feed it, it still taunts me by wanting more.

 

Short and Sweet Advice for Writers – Gather Momentum

define momentum

I don’t know about you, but I often have trouble getting started on a writing project. I have no trouble with the pre-writing work – thinking about, exploring, and playing with an idea – but when I’m finally sitting in front off the blank screen, fingers poised over the keyboard, I freeze. I am suddenly gripped by self-doubt, fear, and indecision about what to do next.

This is to be expected. Getting started is hard. It’s like stepping off a cliff or out of a plane into … nothing. You’re on your own. You’ll probably fall for a while before you remember that you’ve got wings. It helps to have a process to get you going – a series of steps that you can lean on when you’re not really sure what to do first. (Here’s a 12-step process I use for many writing assignments. Feel free to borrow it!)

But, while starting is hugely important (I mean, you obviously need to do that first), it’s also important to KEEP GOING once you’ve started. This is where MOMENTUM comes in.

Say it with me: “Mo-men-tum.” It’s kind of fun to say. It almost has a rhythm that feels like you might be able to dance to it.

As defined by Merriam-Webster, momentum is:

  • the strength or force that something has when it is moving
  • the strength or force that allows something to continue or grow stronger or faster as time passes

I like the sound of that. Don’t you?

Think about it in terms of your writing. Have you ever been working on something and suddenly feel like you’ve reached the downside of a hill? You know – you’ve been slogging along and then something shifts and the words come more easily and your fingers can barely keep up with your brain? That’s momentum. It’s what happens just before you find “flow.”

So, how do you gain momentum?

You write. And you write and you write and you write. You don’t get up every two minutes to get a drink or check your email or dust the curios in the cabinet. You write. You get yourself started however you can, and then you keep going. You don’t give in to the temptation to step away. You don’t let the demons slow you down. You just keep putting one word after the other, even if you’re worried they might not be the right words. It doesn’t matter. You just keep climbing up that hill, one sentence at a time, and then – all of a sudden – you’ll feel a force at your back, pushing you forward and making the whole process easier. You’ll feel like you’re tripping lightly downhill instead of clawing your way up a steep slope. That’s momentum.

And it doesn’t just apply to the piece you’re working on right now. It also applies, on a larger scale, to your whole writing life.

Momentum. It’s a beautiful thing. Go out there and create it today.

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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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Weekend Edition – Battling the Writer’s Inner Critic

Illustraion by Zeeksie

Illustraion by Zeeksie

You know about your inner critic, right? It’s that unkind voice in your head, the one that belittles, discourages, and disparages, the one that tells you what you can’t do, how untalented you are, and why you will never (ever) accomplish anything worthwhile.

I think we writers have it tougher than most when it comes to the inner critic. After all, we are storytellers with fertile imaginations. Our writer’s minds conspire against us by bringing our inner critic to life with personality and character. We endow this internal naysayer with a sharp wit and give it all the best lines of dialog. And, perhaps most damaging, as if it weren’t bad enough that we allow our inner critics to unleash such venom in our minds, we also give them free reign to serve up near-spontaneous visions of a bleak future brought on by all our shortcomings.

Let me give you an example.

··• )o( •··

I have been paying more attention to my inner critic lately – not so that I might heed her words, but so that I might notice when she starts sniping at me (and, therefore, have the chance to counteract her negative influence). Sadly, I’ve come to realize that she attacks far more often than I ever consciously knew – pretty much every time I sit down to write. (The only writing space that seems safe from her derisive commentary is my morning pages, but all my client work and blogging appears to be fair game.)

The other day, for instance, I was working on a piece for a client when her voice (which sounds, confusingly, very like my own voice) began pecking at me. “You have no idea what you’re doing,” she said. “You’re just making this up as you go along, and they’re eventually going to figure that out.” I wavered, my fingers poised over the keyboard in doubt. Despite the fact that I’ve been successfully earning my living  as a freelance writer for almost a decade, her words made me stumble. Despite the fact that the assignment I was working on was one in a long string of similar assignments (each and every one of which had been very well received), faltered and wondered if maybe this was it – this was the point at which I was going to crack and it was all going to fall apart.

And that’s when my writer’s mind really went to work on me.

My inner critic’s voice faced only to be replaced by vividly depicted scenes of my downfall. In the space of only a few seconds, I had played out multiple scenarios that began with my being fired and ended with me losing my house. These lurid daymares branched out in a dozen directions at once to include scenes of loss and shame and grief: having to tell my daughter we were moving again, having to quit riding, having to take a 9-to-5 job and not being there for my daughter after school, my ex-husband gloating. I experienced it all as my fingers hung over the keyboard, frozen in terror at the prospect of such possible futures that all now appeared to hang in the balance of the next sentence I was about to write.

No wonder I felt blocked!

··• )o( •··

book self-talkOne of my dad’s favorite books is a little self-help number that was published back in the 80s. What to Say When You Talk to Yourself by Shad Helmstetter is something of a cult classic in certain circles. And, while Helmstetter’s “self-talk” approach to self-improvement may call up visions of SNL’s Stuart Smalley earnestly reciting affirmations into the mirror (“I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.”), I do believe there’s a lot to be said for retraining your inner critic, or – as Helmstetter puts it – “reprogramming” your brain.

Again, as writers, this concept shouldn’t be all that foreign. We know the power of words. We understand how real a story can become in our minds, the way a writer can create an entire world and characters so real that we feel like we know them personally. A well-rendered story can make you laugh out loud or bring you to tears in very much the same way a Real World experience can inspire the same outward display of emotions.

It’s no different with the stories you tell yourself in your head.

no spoonIf you let your inner critic hammer home the same “story” over and over and over again, you’ll start to believe it. You will embrace it. Own it. Become it. That is not a good thing. Your inner critic is not looking to help you succeed. If you listen to those tall tales and believe them, you’re seriously handicapping your ability to accomplish your goals. Think of it like The Matrix – your thoughts create your reality. (“There is no spoon.”) I know it sounds totally SciFi and maybe a little crazy, but Real Science has proven the truth of this over and over again. The power of our story-driven minds is immense. Honestly, we don’t give it enough credit.

Take something as simple as the way thoughts can trigger physiological reactions. You watch a scary movie and your heart rate goes up. You’re worried about an interview and you get nauseas. You have a nightmare and break out into a cold sweat. You anticipate a kiss and go weak-kneed with butterflies in your stomach. You think about the delicious ice cream you’re going to have and start salivating. All of these instances are examples of thoughts manifesting as physical reactions – words in our heads causing things to happen in the Real  World. How hard is it to extrapolate from this point to understanding that the stories we tell ourselves  (“I’m a bad writer,” “I’m lousy at saving money,” “I’m fat.”) also manifest in the Real World?

··• )o( •··

Defeating your inner critic may not be easy. In fact, it may not be possible at all. The truth is, our inner critic is part of who we are. I tend to think that if exorcising it entirely is how sociopaths are made. But, that doesn’t mean we have to give credence to every word that comes out of it’s mean mouth. I like the approach Amy Poehler describes in her memoir, Yes, Please.  In this passage, she’s talking about how her “demon” used to make her feel bad about her appearance, but I think the same approach makes sense for writers whose demons are belittling their creative efforts.

“Hopefully as you get older, you start to learn how to live with your demon. It’s hard at first. Some people give their demon so much room that there is no space in their head or bed for love. They feed their demon and it gets really strong and then it makes them stay in abusive relationships or starve their beautiful bodies. But sometimes, you get a little older and get a little bored of the demon. Through good therapy and friends and self-love you can practice treating the demon like a hacky, annoying cousin. Maybe a day even comes when you are getting dressed for a fancy event and it whispers, “You aren’t pretty,” and you go, “I know, I know, now let me find my earrings.”

That seems like a pretty healthy self-talk conversation to me.

 

_jamie sig

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P.S.  I know it’s only been a month since I said I was going to take a sabbatical from my Saturday posts, but somehow the “shorties” I keep meaning to write to accompany the Sunday reading & writing links keep outgrowing their intended word count. I’m not committing one way or another about Saturday posts, but I felt this one deserved a little space, so … here it is. Maybe that’s the best approach for the weekends: Don’t overthink. Don’t over plan. Just do what feels right.

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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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Big Magic

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear.

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear.

Not many books I’ve read about writing and staying inspired have confronted the fear factor, so I was eager to read Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. At long last, the library copy became available, and I have the book in my hands.

What I like about what I’ve read so far is that Gilbert expands creativity beyond the page and talks about “creative living . . . a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear.”

One of the things I love about being a writer is license to be curious, because while I may escape to my studio every day to face the same blank page, I’m also tasked with learning new information, meeting new people, asking questions, being curious.

Gilbert acknowledges that courage is necessary for creativity. Some days, sitting at my desk is scary and I wish with all my heart that I’d become a lawyer. Meanwhile, I have friends who are lawyers who ask me, “How do you do it?” meaning get up and go to work without someone else providing the expectations, the office and the paycheck.

Most of the time I reply, “How do you do it?” meaning pull on a suit, commute to an office, and follow instructions.

Sometimes I wish I had an office job. (pixabay)

Sometimes I wish I had an office job. (pixabay)

Sometimes I wish I had an office job just for the camaraderie, coffee breaks and photocopier. I imagine life would be easier if I had someone else telling me what to do and handing me a weekly paycheck. But these are just details, and they’re not mine.

I’ve chosen the blank page, which some days feels like standing in front of a firing squad, and some days feels like floating weightless through outer space. Most days, it’s a mixture of the two. As Gilbert says, “It seems to me that my fear and my creativity are basically conjoined twins – as evidenced by the fact that creativity cannot take a single step forward without fear marching right alongside it.”

Having established that “Bravery, means doing something scary,” Gilbert discusses the magic of inspiration and recounts the remarkable story of abandoning a novel on which she’d been working long enough to develop significant and specific portions of the characterization, plot and setting, only to discover that Ann Pachett was just starting a book with similar characterization, plot and setting.

There's no limit on creativity. (pixabay)

There’s no limit on creativity. (pixabay)

What I like about this story is not so much Gilbert’s explanation of inspiration floating around until someone catches it, but her refutation that 1) creativity demands suffering, and 2) the amount of inspiration and creativity in the universe is limited. Both these ideas are commonplace – and untrue.

Where I write joyfully when I overcome fear. www.deborahleeluskin.com

Where I write joyfully when I overcome fear.
http://www.deborahleeluskin.com

It is entirely possible to be creative and joyful! In fact, being creative brings joy to the maker and the receiver(s) of creation, whether it be the cooking of a good meal or the writing of a good story. We live in an expanding universe – there’s no limit on creativity. Gilbert writes, “The guardians of high culture will try to convince you that the arts belong only to a chosen few, but they are wrong and they are also annoying.”

Reading that sentence was Big Magic for me, so I closed the book and returned gleefully to my desk.

 

Into the Wilderness, is an award-winning love story set in Vermont in 1964.

Into the Wilderness, is Luskin’s award-winning love story set in Vermont in 1964.

Deborah Lee Luskin blogs weekly at Living in Place.

Weekend Edition – The Secret Truth About Writing

Morgan Freeman as God in Bruce Almighty, 2003

Morgan Freeman as God in Bruce Almighty, 2003

In the summer of 2007 my fourteen-year marriage was limping toward what would turn out to be a less-than-amicable divorce. I split my days between denial, mild panic attacks, and desperately trying to figure out what I would do to support myself and my three-year-old daughter. At the same time, my paternal grandmother passed away. After months of being in and out of rehab for various illnesses related to diabetes, she spent the end of her life in a hospice facility. I was there the day she died. We were not close, but she was the first family member I’d lost since I’d been grown-up enough to really understand what was happening. Only a few, brief hours before she passed, my Korean grandmother had gripped my hand in hers and told me earnestly that she was ready to take charge of her life now.

In the midst of all these big, traumatic events in my little world, Steve Jobs unveiled the first iPhone. The release of a shiny new piece of technology may not seem, at first glance, to have much to do with death and divorce; but that sleek device captured my imagination and quickly became the focus of a not entirely rational obsession.

With so many aspects of my life spinning out of control, the iPhone seemed to be an almost magical key to the life of order and control that I so desperately wanted.

··• )o( •··

On the day of the release, my daughter and I queued up outside the local Apple store along with hundreds of other shoppers who were eager to get their hands on this technological wonder. It took us three hours to gain entry into the bustling, white-on-white interior where Apple staff were delivering beautifully packaged new iPhones into the hands of customers who were as anxious and excited as expectant  parents.

Luckily for me, my mom and dad arrived to entertain my daughter just as she was beginning to lose patience with my constant admonitions about touching things and standing still. As my parents whisked her off to a less constrained environment, I finally took receipt of my own embossed box and the device that I was certain would give me all the tools I needed to organize, manage, and reinvent my life. I was ready, like my recently deceased grandmother, to take charge.

··• )o( •··

My ex-husband will tell you that I’m a control freak, though – from where I’m standing – my “managerial” tendencies pale in comparison to those of his current wife. I will admit, however, to having Type-A personality traits and maybe even a touch of OCD. These characteristics make me more susceptible than the average person to the allure of devices, software, and procedural practices that promise superhuman speed and efficiency. I have been known to swoon upon discovering a new piece of software or iPhone app. As a writer, I sometimes worry that my fascination with technology and systems might compromise my creative spark; but I’ve also come to accept that this is who I am.

As you’ve probably already guessed, that first iPhone did not give me the ability to effortlessly transform my life into a well-ordered, Zen-like existence. Neither did any of next three iPhones that I purchased.  Nevertheless, my love for Apple’s crown jewel remains undiminished. I’ve just had to learn to temper my expectations. Now that I’ve been around the block a few times, I have a more realistic sense of what an iPhone can and cannot do to improve my life.

··• )o( •··

I’m starting to learn a similar lesson about writing.

For all it’s creative and inspirational glory, writing is, at it’s core, an act of control. As writers, we create worlds, characters, and the plots that send our characters careening through our worlds on adventures of love and discovery, triumph and tragedy. We manipulate words into sentences and sentences into stories, controlling what our readers see, hear, smell, and feel. Writers are, in a sense, the gods of our own realities.

Writing is also a way to exert control over our own lives and emotions. The process of writing grounds us, offering solace and comfort through the ritual of regular practice and the relief of cathartic release. Writing gives us a set of powerful tools with which we can plumb the depths of our own feelings, attempt to make some sense of the world around us, and even reshape perceptions – ours and those of others.

Ultimately, writing is a bid not only for control of the here and now, but also for a certain kind of immortality. Like any artist, the writer seeks to create something that will live on after its creator is long gone. It’s not enough, apparently, to control the creation of alternate realities, our emotions, and perceptions. Writing also strives to control time itself by allowing the author’s voice to time travel across years or even centuries to whisper its story into the hearts and minds of new readers living in another era.

··• )o( •··

I don’t pass any judgments on the controlling nature of writing. It is neither good nor bad; it just is. Mostly, it makes me laugh to think how long it’s taken me to figure this truth out.

I’m also learning to laugh at the futility of any effort to control life. I’m finally old enough to realize that even if we do everything we’re supposed to, life always gets the last word. There are no guarantees. There are no silver bullets. There are, however, plenty of plot twists. Even the best laid plans can go awry, and even the perfectly planned story can turn out differently than you expected.

I haven’t yet fully grasped the nature of the relationship between life and writing. I don’t know if I ever will, and that’s okay. For now, I’m just grateful that writing is such an important part of my life. Though I can acknowledge that the control it gives me is only an illusion, I can’t think of a worthier or more lovely illusion to pursue.

A story can cast a spell, but writing is not a magic wand. Words have undeniable power, but they are only a reflection of life, not the real thing. If you can recognize the distinction and still write with joy and enthusiasm, you’re on the right track.

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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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Saturday Edition – In Troubled Times, Write

On Existential Dilemmas and the Creative Act:

When things get stormy, writing shines a light in the darkness.

When things get stormy, writing brings a light into the darkness.

I’ve been struggling with something lately. Though I intentionally minimize my news consumption (and try to restrict myself to the least sensationalist sources), I can’t help but notice that the world has gone a little mad. It’s scary out there. It’s as if the cruel and ridiculous worlds of satirical novelists like Kurt Vonnegut and Douglas Adams have come to life; and suddenly the jokes aren’t so funny anymore. Global warming, economic collapse, war, terrorism, political corruption, religious intolerance, discrimination of all kinds – these are the living nightmares that keep so many of us up at night. These are Big Problems – global issues that affect all of humanity and very fate of this fragile planet.

My struggle is knowing what to do in the face of all this insanity.

··• )o( •··

It’s an old saw, but a true one: Life is Short. This fall, I will celebrate my forty-seventh trip around the sun. I sailed past forty and even forty-five with hardly a second glance, but something about being this close to the half-century mark has made the sound of my personal countdown clock – tick-tock, tick-tock – a bit louder and more ominous. I have days where I channel Marisa Tomei’s character, Mona Lisa, from the movie My Cousin Vinny (you know the scene I mean), except instead of being worried about my biological clock, I’m worried about how to best spend my remaining time on this planet.

I mean, how do any of us live our Best Life, and what does that even mean anyway? I realize that the definition of a Good Life shifts wildly from person to person, and even –over the course of a lifetime – for each individual based on changing beliefs, new experiences, and the painful process of growing up. But lately I’ve been feeling more pressure than usual to, pardon the expression, figure this shit out.

I mean, what do we do? Do we embark on crusades and tilt at windmills, knowing full well that we have only the slimmest chance of making even the smallest difference? Or, do we focus on making our own tiny corner of the world more beautiful and kind, more tolerant and hopeful?

Or, maybe – just maybe – those two things are not mutually exclusive?

··• )o( •··

I don’t know about you, but I am often torn between my desire to create and my sense of obligation to Real Life and Other People. I do my best to walk a straight and narrow line doing all the things that responsible people do, but I keep losing my balance because the gray matter inside my head is spinning at such velocity that the centrifugal force pushes me right off my feet. I feel distracted and unmoored because my attention and intention are split between taking care of the Real World and creating a world of my own.

I worry that writing is a self-indulgent waste of time, an unearned privilege, and a misuse of my one and precious life . I worry about being perpetually caught up with chronic navel gazing. But, eventually, my inner Guardian of my Writer Self steps in (usually with a slightly exasperated sigh) and straightens me out:

Writing is not self-indulgent. Writing is brave and generous. It is the act of digging deep down inside your heart, mind, and soul; extracting the truth you find there; polishing it to the best of your ability; and sharing it with others. Writing is the opposite of self-indulgent. Yes, it requires that you look within, but ultimately that internal searching is an effort to connect. Stories are not meant to be kept inside. Stories are, by nature, shared. They are the best gift you can give.

Though my conviction wavers now and again, I really do believe this.

Since the dawn of human consciousness, stories have informed, educated, inspired, and comforted us. Cautionary tales let us benefit from the wisdom of those more experienced than us. Stories about heroes and heroines inspire us to be the best versions of ourselves. Happy endings give us hope.

And, as a writer, the act of writing helps us break free of the paralyzing forces of fear and doubt. Though the state of affairs in the world may leave us feeling helpless, putting words down helps us understand our feelings and – if we share our stories – helps others understand, too. Through writing, you can transform the pain and fear. Through the alchemy of story, you can turn the darkness of conflict, tragedy, sorrow, and anger into forces for good.

··• )o( •··

I have said before that I believe the world would be a better place if more people wrote. Writers never take things at face value. We are curious creatures. We ask questions. Lots of questions. We are happy to spend whole lifetimes exploring the endless possibilities of “What if?” We are observers, seekers, and storytellers. We are magicians who have the ability to make the otherwise invisible visible, thereby revealing the world as we see it to others – opening eyes and minds and hearts, creating connections, reminding readers that they are not alone. Never alone.

Writers have the potential to be beacons of hope – a light that keeps the darkness at bay. A small flame to guide and comfort us as we walk through our days and dream through our nights. Through our characters and our stories, our essays and our memoirs, we can be voices of reason, acceptance, and compassion. We can choose to write stories that embody kindness, empathy, beauty, and joy. We can inspire generosity, laughter, and understanding.

We can also expose evil. We can mirror the horrors that we see in the Real World, raising awareness through literal or metaphorical plot lines. We can imagine the outcome of some particular cruelty, folly, or corruption and enlighten people to the danger that lurks right under their noses.

Ultimately, stories – even the ones that reveal and teach – offer a momentary escape from the weight of the world. And, sometimes, this temporary reprieve from one’s problems is the greatest gift a story can give. The space created by a story gives us the chance to step back and take a broader view, to hear ourselves think, to connect the dots. Stories bring perspective and inspire us to think about our choices and actions in a different light. Whether we are writing them or reading them, stories help us step more fully into who we truly are.

··• )o( •··

I will never stop struggling with this dilemma, but that’s okay. “Balance,” I’ve heard, is a verb, not a noun. I must gently remind myself that my Best Life is not a destination that exists entirely in either the Real World or my Writing World. My Best Life is an ongoing experience that moves seamlessly between the two unique but deeply connected hemispheres of my life. I will not tear myself apart worrying about writing when I’m fighting Real World battles or worrying about the fate of the Real World when I’m writing. I will accept that my Writer’s Life exists in both worlds, it’s just my role that changes. In the Real World, I am the observer; while in my writing world, I am a creator.

As for the question of whether it is more “right” to fight the good fight out in the Big, Wide World or to focus my energies on creating something beautiful in my small corner, I think that in a perfect world my creative efforts – no matter how modest – may be the greatest contribution I can make. Writing is how I take my stand. It represents my beliefs and my dreams. It embodies everything I want to nurture in the world. And, because I share some of what I write, writing also gives me a way to connect with others and make the world a little smaller and a little less scary.

So, if the news has you feeling a little discouraged or downright despondent, please don’t give up hope and please don’t put down your pen. The world needs writers more than ever. Write your stories. Share your thoughts. Send up a beacon of hope. Inspire and educate us. Help us to see the world in a new way. Remind us that we aren’t alone and that the good guys can still win.

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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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Saturday Edition – Writer, Paused.

My view for 48 hours earlier this week

My view for 48 hours earlier this week

I must begin today’s post with an apology to regular readers who come here today expecting the second half of the conversation that we started last weekend with the post, Getting Paid to Write – Part I. My week did not go as planned, and – as the title of this post indicates – this writer was put on pause for a moment.

To make a long and mostly boring story short, Monday evening found me en route to the ER with acute stomach pains that had been building throughout the day. By the time my beau got me to the hospital, I was barely able to stand up straight. One three-hour wait and a cat scan later, I was admitted to the hospital proper where I was told by a sympathetic young doctor that I was going to need to have surgery to remove my appendix. I had never had surgery before. The only other time I’d been hospitalized was when my daughter was born, twelve years ago. I tried not to panic.

As far as I can tell (knock on wood), everything went swimmingly with Tuesday’s surgery; but it was still mid afternoon on Wednesday before I was finally able to get home. Wobbly and unexpectedly exhausted, I spent the remainder of that day and all of Thursday just resting. (Though, I will admit to taking a much-needed shower and doing a load of laundry.) On Friday, I made my way back to my desk to start back in on some client work. The going was slow, but each day I feel a little more like myself.

··• )o( •··

I tell you all this to explain why today’s post is somewhat off-topic, but also because I wanted to share with you (confess?) some of the thoughts that ran through my head during the forty-eight hours I spent in the hospital. While I was, of course, worried about my own health (and perhaps even more so about the well-being of my daughter, parents, and beau who were so worried … not to mention my cats), I was also distracted and entertained by a steady stream of unrelated thoughts that had less to do with my own situation than with the curious questing of my slightly addled (first on pain, then on pain meds, then on residual anesthesia) writer’s mind. It would seem that even in somewhat dire circumstances, my brain couldn’t stop coming up with “What If?” scenarios, character questions, and story ideas.

For instance, each person I encountered – beginning with the ER staff and patients – was a potential character. Though I was mostly distracted by how awful I felt, I still remember the following people from the ER waiting room:

  • The surly woman who checked me in at the ER desk, barely able to keep from rolling her eyes, and who my beau is convinced kept shuffling my name to the bottom of the pile despite the fact that I was curled in a fetal position in one of the waiting room chairs while the rest of the patients seemed content to watch game shows and sit coms on the large-screen TV that was mounted on the wall over my head … What made her so surly? Why would she knowingly cause a patient continued pain? Why did she do this job?
  • The young woman in plaid and dreadlocks who appeared to be homeless and who accepted vending machine food and a styrofoam cup of coffee from one of the orderlies (my beau said she reappeared the following night as well) … Did she stay in the ER to get out of the cold? Was she actually sick? Did the orderly know her personally? What was in the plastic bags she carried with her?
  • The twenty-something caucasian girl with a sprained finger who was accompanied by an older African American man with whom she laughed out loud while watching The Big Bang Theory … Were they father and daughter? What made them feel like it was okay to be so boisterous amidst people who were obviously not feeling well?
  • A heavy-set, middle-aged man who sat off to the side, dozing off with this hand over his eyes, as if trying to block out his surroundings … Was he here for a physical or mental ailment? What made him so tired he could fall asleep sitting up in a waiting room chair?
  • The youngish couple with their infant daughter – the mother wearing a surgical mask while she nursed the baby, the father in charge of their large collection of baby-related paraphernalia … she was the only person who made eye contact with me, but I couldn’t tell her expression because of the mask … Who were they here for – the mother, the baby? Was she afraid that I was contagious? Was she contagious?

··• )o( •··

Throughout the stages of my stay, my writer’s mind continued to wander and distract, observe and dissect, wonder and explore. It would take far too long to capture and document all the thoughts that ran through my head, but I can tell you that they ran the gamut from imagining the relationships between various staff members to the back stories and current crises of fellow patients to the home life of my surgeon and anesthesiologist to the possibility of haunted corridors. I wondered where my appendix would wind up and about how having a piece of the body removed – even an ostensibly unnecessary one – might affect a person. I overheard a social worker talking with a Latino woman who had been transferred because she didn’t have health insurance and wondered about the possible decline and collapse of the health system. I noticed how many patients seemed content to zone out in front of a seemingly endless broadcast of game shows and soap operas and wondered if it was possible to turn people into zombies by way of television waves. I wondered about the life of the designer who had created the graphic for the privacy curtains that hung around the beds on ceiling-mounted tracks. I gained some small insight into what it must feel like to deal with a long-term illness – being shackled to an IV and leg compression sleeves.

In short, my mind never ceased asking questions and posing scenarios. Though I was outwardly resting, on the inside my head was churning with countless thoughts and queries and ideas. Forced into stillness, I was even more aware than usual of all the stories that existed around me.  They wound back and forth, in and out of the room like so many threads – crossing, tangling, or running straight through without any contact.

··• )o( •··

My head is still a little foggy and my eyesight slightly blurred (a residual affect of the anesthesia, so they tell me), but the other thought that stays with me from my time in the hospital is how many times I worried about the things I have not written. It wasn’t as if I believed I was truly in any mortal danger, but any medical crisis (even one as common as appendicitis) serves as an abrupt and mostly unwelcome reminder of our own mortality. Faced with signing the liability releases with their long lists of things that could potentially go wrong, I couldn’t help but think about all the stories and projects that I’ve been meaning to write, but haven’t. It wasn’t exactly a life-flashing-before-my-eyes moment, but I was certainly granted a  moment of clarity about what really matters to me.

I don’t wish medical emergencies on anyone, but I do hope that reading this post might inspire you to stop for a moment and think about what really matters most to you. What would you regret most if everything changed tomorrow? What would you hate to see left undone? It’s hard to answer these questions in the absence of a dire circumstance, but worth the effort nonetheless. What do you want to work on today – right now?

Thanks for sharing part of your Saturday with me. I’m heading out now with my daughter to walk one of her dog walking clients and maybe take ourselves down to the local coffee shop for something tasty. I may still be moving more slowly than usual, but I can hardly wait to get out in the sunshine and fresh air. My writer’s mind is eager to revel in the possibilities of a new day.

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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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