On Being Human and a Writer Plus Shareworthy Reading and Writing Links

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

_jamie sig

 

 

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What I’m Reading:

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

Clariel by Garth Nix

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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My Favorite Blog Reads for the Week:

 

Finally, a quote for the week:

pin writing heals

Here’s to embracing being human and a writer, crafting a life that encompasses all your identities and your goals, and never giving up on any part of yourself. 
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Jamie Lee Wallace Hi. I’m Jamie. I am a content writer and branding consultant, columnist, sometime feature writer, prolific blogger, and aspiring fiction writer. I’m a mom, a student of equestrian arts, and a nature lover. I believe in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Introduce yourself on FacebookTwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
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Photo Credit: Paris Seawell via Compfight cc

Writing class and the power of self-awareness

When I walked into the first session of the class I’m taking at Grub Street Writers, I felt like I was walking onto hallowed ground. It had been so long since I’d taken time out of my busy life to invest in my writing. I made my pilgrimage into the city, my head filled with undefined expectations. Other than what I’d read in the class description, I wasn’t sure what I’d find or even what I hoped to find.

One thing I didn’t expect was to find a silver bullet that would solve all my writing challenges. Writing is not a mechanical skill that can be taught by rote. There is no black and white way to do it. It works differently for each person who dares harnesses its creative spirit and climb aboard for the ride. Most writing teachers will tell you that they cannot teach anyone to write. They can only provide the space and the framework within which their students explore their own processes and ideas. Happily, I arrived at that first class with no specific expectations. I was just glad to be there.

Just being there – in that space dedicated to the pursuit of the writing craft – was good for my inner writer. I felt her stir the minute I stepped off the elevator. The years of sticky slumber that had kept her lying quiet and dormant began to melt away.  She stretched experimentally and was delighted to find herself in a space without the usual boundaries of deadlines, school pick-ups, phone calls, and endless social media chatter. This place –wrapped around the time I’d carved out to spend within its walls – was a fortress against the usual onslaught of interruptions and distractions.

Without those distractions, my mind slipped easily and readily into “student mind.” Open, eager, and focused, I waited to see what the class would bring. Stepping outside my normal routine let me step away from my monkey mind – that incessant and annoying inner dialog that prattles away non-stop about the slow driver in front of me, my grocery list, the client call I had earlier, what I’m going to have for dinner, when my daughter’s last dentist appointment was, and so on.  I let go of my usual need to be constantly doing, and sat back – ready to receive.

That first class was full of ideas on how to approach my stories, create my characters, and build my worlds. I also heard about the lives and work of my fellow students. Some of them read their free writes aloud. That was when the insidious side of human nature kicked in. As though I suffered from a mutant form of Turret’s, I began systematically comparing myself (and my writing) to everyone else in the room. When, at the end of class one, the instructor asked each of us to commit to a writing goal for the upcoming week, all I could offer was that I would show up to the next class. Next to others who were committing to 2 – 6 hours of writing a day, my intention felt weak and pointless. The voices of fear and judgment began whispering in my head:

“Wow, she’s really good. You’ve never written anything like that. You don’t even know what ‘narrative altitude’ is. How can you even call yourself a writer when you haven’t written so much as a short story. These people have finished novels, for gods’ sakes! If you really wanted to write, you’d make more time…”

But then I told those voices to shut up.

I said, “I’m here, and that is enough. This is where I start.

I adopted a businesslike approach. I thought about writing not as some romantic endeavor fueled by the capricious good will of anonymous muses, but as a profession. Without inflicting so much as a scratch on the surface of my creativity, I replaced the “magic” of creation with the “science” of study, practice, and solid execution. I reminded myself that this fiction-writing thing is not so different from the non-fiction writing I do each and every day to make my living.

The beauty of making these observations about myself as a writer is that they gave me some clarity about my strengths and weaknesses as well as the opportunities and potential pitfalls that I will encounter on my journey. As I watched myself ride the ups and downs of my emotions, I could see my fears and pick them off, one-by-one. I also realized that I could recreate this class experience for myself. So can you:

  1. Set aside some time, but don’t limit yourself by setting specific expectations.
  2. Find a space that fills you with energy and maybe even a little reverence.
  3. Adopt the “student mind” (and shut down the monkey mind – use a sledgehammer if you must, he’s a resilient little bugger).
  4. Give yourself a minute to compare yourself to others – your favorite authors, your writer friend who just landed an agent – but just enough to get it out of your system.
  5. Get down to the business of approaching your writing like the professional you are. Keep the magic in your heart, but don’t let it cloud your mind. You know what you have to do. Do it.

There is no definitive guarantee that a writing class will make you a better writer. It depends on the writer, the class, the teacher, the subject matter, and a hundred other variables. But any writing class – even one you create for yourself – will increase your self-awareness and provide you with a broader perspective. Just the act of being in that space and engaged with the craft will help you sink more deeply into being the writer you are. And that is worth the price of admission every time.

What do you think? What have your class experiences been like? Do you think you could create a class-of-one for yourself? 

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.

Image Credit: Lyre Lark