Writer’s Weekend Edition – Illuminate the Beautiful

On the multiple roles of The Artist …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content writer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian arts, and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Introduce yourself on FacebookTwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.

This post originally appeared on the Live to Write – Write to Live blog.
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Short and Sweet Advice for Writers: Remember. The World Runs on Stories.

tiny storiesI have yet to meet a writer who doesn’t routinely doubt the sanity of writing. Despite realizing that writing is an inextricable part of our identity, we can’t help but question its usefulness and value. We feel guilty and self-indulgent. We worry (and sometimes believe) that there are other, more Important Things we should be doing with our time. 

Rubbish.

No matter what our culture may try to make you believe. Writing is Important. Your writing it important.  Writing is your “real” job. It matters. And, you know why? Because the world runs on stories.

If you don’t believe me, I challenge you to go through ONE DAY without consuming or sharing a single story. Go ahead. I dare you. I double dog dare you.

It’s impossible.

Spend thirty seconds on social media – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, whatever platform you choose – it’s all stories. Watch the news, a movie, a TV show, or a documentary – all stories. Listen to the lyrics of a song, the banter of radio DJs, or the gossip of the little old ladies at your local coffee shop – all stories. Every commercial and advertisement you’ve ever seen – stories. Every whisper of the voices in your own head telling you you can or you can’t –stories. The dream your child told you over breakfast, the email your friend sent you about her trip out West, the joke your coworker told you at the water cooler – nothing but stories.

And not only do we have an insatiable hunger for stories, our appetites are as diverse as we are. While we crave stories in general as human beings, as individuals, we seek out particular kinds of stories – fiction and nonfiction, romance, fantasy, horror, historical, and so on. No matter what kinds of stories you write, there are people out there who want to read them, need to read them.

So, dear writer, when you are feeling low or confused or doubtful of your path, when you are questioning the sanity of spending an entire life putting one word down after another, remember that the world runs on stories: big stories and small, the stories heard round the world and the stories written only for your own heart, sad stories and happy, comforting stories and stories that upset the status quo, realistic and fantastic stories, tragic and funny stories … all kinds of stories, created by all kinds of people, and consumed by every human being on the planet. Remember this, and keep writing.

 

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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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On Creative Drought Plus Shareworthy Reading and Writing Links Jul 31

Even a withered stalk can generate a beautiful flower.

Even a withered stalk can generate a beautiful flower.

While our situation is not as severe as the one in California or many others around the world, this summer has been one of the driest in recent history for our little north-of-Boston town. Water bans are in effect all across the region, causing lawns to wither and crisp under the cruel and oppressive rays of the sun. Garden plants and flowers wilt and fade during the day, recovering as best they can in the slightly cooler and blessedly darker overnight hours. Rooted in the ground, the parched plants have no escape from the heat or the searing touch of the sun’s rays. They can only endure in silence and hope to survive long enough to feel the life-giving caress of a good, soaking rain.

For weeks now, we have been watching the weather reports for any signs of precipitation. On a few occasions, the meteorologists have forecast rain, but it seems like our tiny town has some kind of forcefield around it. Again and again, our hearts are lifted by the promise of rain, but more often than not, the storm detours around us, or the drops evaporate before reaching the ground. Even last weekend, when towns on all sides were ravaged by impressive thunderstorms, we had only a brief shower that barely managed to properly wet the dry earth before rushing out to sea.

I feel for the plants. I can imagine how they pine for a long, slow drink of water. I can imagine this because I have been feeling the same way about my creative work lately. Summer arrived at my doorstep with a flurry of client projects, and while I’m always grateful to be gainfully employed, keeping up with the deadlines has meant putting aside not only my Big Picture creative projects, but all of my daily creative and self-care routines as well.

My morning pages practice has dwindled to only a few pages every couple of weeks. I have only done yoga (a practice which provides me with time and headspace for nurturing random thoughts and writing ideas) a half dozen times in the last four or five months. My pleasure reading has been slow to the point of having to sometimes back-track when I return to a book because it’s been so long since my last read that I’ve forgotten what was happening in the story.

Each of us faces period of creative drought. Whether we’re overwhelmed with work, dealing with a personal crisis, or have had our creative time usurped by the family and social obligations of summer, there will be days (or weeks, or months) when we simply can’t make the time we’d like to nurture our creative projects. Though I’m in the middle of such a period, and – I won’t lie – am feeling a little cranky about it, I can still step back and offer a little encouragement to others who might be going through a similar experience right now:

  • Number One: This too shall pass. Yes, I know it’s a bit trite, but it’s also true. Whatever is taking up your time and keeping you from your creative endeavors will eventually move on and out of your life. You will get back to your projects and your dreams. You might have to be patient for a while, but that’s not such a bad thing. Just try to roll with it.
  • Number Two: Even in times of creative drought, you can create. While I have been feeling frustrated and put out by my inability to make time for my usual creative pursuits, I am trying to remember that there are tiny creative acts that only take a few minutes. I may not have large chunks of time to write on a story or tackle the complex task of organizing source materials for a larger work, but I can pen one or two lines or edit a photo for Instagram or doodle in the margin of my notebook. Those may not be impressive accomplishments, but something is better than nothing.
Despite it's diminutive size, our smallest tomato plant is yielding the most robust crop of the season.

Despite it’s diminutive size, our smallest tomato plant is yielding the most robust crop of the season.

We must remember that we are not the drought. The drought is just an external circumstance, not a reflection of our creative spark or spirit. Even if we are unable to engage in the external act of creation, the source of our creativity is alive and well – hunkered down beneath the cracked earth, just waiting until the rains some so it can burst forth and blossom.

Just you wait and see.

_jamie sig

 

 


My Favorite Blog Reads for the Week:

CRAFT

PUBLISHING & MARKETING

INSPIRATION

THE WRITING LIFE

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Finally, a quote for the week:

I’m stealing borrowing this week’s quote from the lovely and delightful Sara Foley, who borrowed it in turn from Raising Ecstasy:

pin vonnegut edge

Here’s to getting close to the edge, weathering the droughts, and always being ready to emerge from underground when the rains finally come.
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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.

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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.

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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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Befriending Doubt

Red-headed_vultureIf hope is the thing with feathers, then Doubt is the thing with claws. After writing gloriously since August, I’ve come to the end of yet another draft of Ellen, a novel. No sooner did I lay my keyboard aside, then Doubt barged in and started clawing at my confidence.

Hope sings the tune without the words; Doubt whispers: This story’s no good, you’re no good, and who cares about Ellen, anyway? Doubt might as well just pluck out my liver and be done with it. I think about consigning my typescript to the wood stove and getting a day job with Dilbert.

But Doubt is no stranger to my door. By now, I know he’ll always return at my most vulnerable moment – when I’m flush with achievement and have a new draft in the box. By now, I know that I can’t lock my doors against Doubt; I can’t starve him, poison him, or get a restraining order to keep him away. So this time, I’m trying something entirely different: I’m befriending Doubt. This time, I’ve offered him a perch in the corner.  Now, at least I know where he is.

I don’t think I’m unusual; aren’t all writers plagued by Doubt? First come the doubts of ability: How can I possibly tell this story? Then the doubts of endurance: Will I live long enough to finish? And finally, the doubts about worth: Is it any good?

If the questions don’t paralyze me, the answers might – but only if I lay down my pen in despair.

For years, it seems, I’ve exhausted myself locking Doubt out of the house, and I’m tired of toiling against the same old demons. So when Doubt arrived last week, I smiled weakly and said, “Come on in.”

I figure Doubt’s like one of those relatives we all endure, the cousin who never misses a family gathering, always drinks too much, tells off-color jokes, brags about things you don’t care about, and asks in a tone of slimy superiority, So, have you written a best-seller yet?

Like  Emily Dickinson’s Hope, my Doubt also wears feathers – shaggy black ones, like a vulture. And he’s hulking in the corner right now, as I write this. It turns out, he’s splashing his tea, pecking at a Christmas cookie, and making a mess. But that’s okay, because he’s also leaving me in peace. And I’m comforted to know he’s there, comfortable by the fire and unlikely to blindside me at the moment. In fact, he’s just about to nod off.

I’ve come to the radical belief that while Doubt isn’t my best friend, he’s not my enemy, either. Doubt is just something a writer lives with, like hope.

Wishing you all light and love as the earth turns back toward the sun, and holidays filled with hope.

dll2013Deborah Lee Luskin is a novelist, essayist and educator. She’s a regular commentator for Vermont Public Radio and the author of Into The Wilderness, an award-winning love story set in Vermont in 1964.

Writer’s Block Cause 4 (and Big Hope): Your Vision

Epiphanies are not common, but I recently had two whoppers about the writing experience. One sidled up between the lines of Ann Patchett’s book, The Getaway Car: A Practical Memoir About Writing and Life. The other coalesced while I listened to Jen Louden’s wonderful Shero’s Journey class. The one-two punch of these realizations is still settling in, but I couldn’t wait to share them. 

Writing is a big deal. It carries a certain responsibility. Unlike speech, which hangs in the air for only a moment, the written word can long outlive its creator. The written word can be shared from person-to-person – pushing the writer’s thoughts and ideas far outside her immediate realm of influence. So, when we writers put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, we want to get it right … whatever “right” is.

And therein lies the problem.

Our vision for our work – our story, poem, or novel – can play a huge role in holding us back. Though it may be the thing that inspires us, it can also leave us feeling unworthy, incapable, small. The fear of failure that we talked about in the first post of this series attacks us from the outside with blatant negativity. No one wants to be rejected or ridiculed, but at least those demons are easily identified. They can be fought head on.

Fighting your vision is like fighting yourself. You cherish your opponent so much it hurts. The only feeling I can liken it to is the feeling of an expectant mother who is elated about the birth of her child, but at the same time paralyzed by a fear that she will not be a good mother.

In her book The Getaway Car: A Practical Memoir About Writing and Life, Ann Patchett writes about how she creates a novel in her head before ever writing a word. She describes this unwritten book as a butterfly companion that moves with her through her days:

This book, of which I have not yet written one word, is a thing of indescribable beauty, unpredictable in its patterns, piercing in its color, so wild and loyal in its nature that my love for this book and my faith in it as I track its lazy flight is the single perfect joy in my life. It is the greatest novel in the history of literature, and I have thought it up, and all I have to do is put it down on paper and then everyone can see this beauty that I see. 

The metaphor turns dark as Patchett explains what she must do to put the novel down on paper:

… I reach into the air and pluck the butterfly up. I take it from the region of my head and I press it down against my desk, and there, with my own hand, I kill it.

This is how our vision keeps us from writing our stories. It is more than a fear of being unable to capture the essence of the thing. It is a deep inner knowing that the process of writing a story will destroy that essence – the vision we have of it in our heads. Patchett says that the book she writes is “the dry husk of my friend, the broken body chipped, dismantled, and poorly reassembled.” She has betrayed her story. She has killed the thing so that she might see how it works and show it to others.

And here is where, for me, Jen Louden picks up the story.

In her Shero’s Journey class, Jen speaks about self-trust and self-betrayal. She talks about how we strive to achieve the one, but will always fall prey to the other. It’s human nature. We will make promises to ourselves, and we will break those promises. We will set goals and fall short. And that’s okay.

The important thing is to keep moving forward. Jen sees the cycle – which I believe applies to writing as well as to life – as making a promise, betraying yourself, forgiving yourself, beginning again. Most of us are probably already well versed in the promising and betraying parts of the process. (I know I am.) But how well do we even acknowledge the need for forgiveness and new beginnings?

If you have a beautiful story inside you, and you are afraid to commit it to paper or screen because you know to do so will mean maiming or outright killing your vision, remember this: you are the only one who can tell your story. You are the only one who has the vision to see its beauty. Without your sacrifice, the world will never be able to share in that beauty.

If a story were a living, breathing creature, I would never condone its murder for the purpose of letting others see it. But a story is not alive in that way. In fact, one might argue that a story must be killed in order to truly live. Think of your writing as the alchemy that transforms the idea of a story (which only you can enjoy) into a “living story” that can entertain, teach, and inspire others. The writing, then, is a kind of birth at least as much as it is a death. Without that transformation, the story will simply dissipate into nothingness. It will never make its way into the world as something of substance, a force that can move people to see the world and themselves in new ways. Without your sacrifice and labors, its spark will be extinguished, its light and color snuffed out.

Sure, its brilliance may be diminished in the process of being written. It may seem crippled to you – you who have seen it in all its original and pristine glory – but even crippled, it will have a new life and freedom. It will no longer be imprisoned inside your head. It will have the ability to go out into the world – touching minds and hearts, making a difference.

And, isn’t that why we write in the first place?

Tell me, is your vision holding you back? Are you willing to make the sacrifice to bring your story to life?
 
This is the fourth (and last!) post in a series about the causes of that fictitious condition known as writer’s block. In previous entries we talked about fear, finding the time to write and getting started. I don’t mean any disrespect to anyone who feels they have suffered from this inability to put words down. I just believe that if we can uncover and face the root causes of this uniquely literary affliction, we can slay the writer’s block dragon and get back to the work at hand. Who’s with me?
 

P.S. I highly recommend both Ann Patchett’s book Getaway Car: A Practical Memoir About Writing and Lifeand Jen Louden’s class Shero’s Journeyand – no – those are not affiliate links. I just love both enough to share them. 🙂

 

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

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Image Credit: Curious Expeditions