Weekend Edition – Dear Writer, You are weird. Plus Good Reads and Writing Tips

Writers are not normal people.

Image from Screencraft

Image from Screencraft

It started when I was a kid. I would often carry a notebook with me, scribbling everything and nothing on its welcoming pages as I sat alone in a quiet corner of the playground, or – later, when I was older – at the end of a long table in study hall. When I entered the working world, my notebook accompanied me on the commuter train and was my lunch date on the Boston Common. Now, in my life as mom and freelance writer, my notebook is an even more constant companion. Tossed in the back seat or tucked into my bag, it is always at the ready. Whether I’m idling in the pick-up line at school, sitting at the edge of the arena watching my daughter ride, or waiting in the doctor’s office, my notebook is never far away.

Just yesterday, I joined a few friends for a late afternoon beach run. While the kids swam, the adults engaged in the kind of ebb and flow conversation that often develops at the edge of the sea. It wasn’t long, however, before I felt an urge to take out my notebook. Even after a lifetime of doing my “writer thing,” I felt a little awkward, but I needed to work out an idea for this week’s newspaper column. Happily, my friends are totally nonjudgemental and, after initial curious inquiries, left me to my own, writerly devices.

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Writers are weird. And, the sooner we acknowledge and embrace that fact, the better off we’ll be and the better our work will be.

I don’t often think about the ways being a writer makes me different from other people; but, when I do stop to think about it, the differences can be pretty striking. For instance, as a writer, I take on a lot of voluntary work that eats up hours and hours of my “free” time. While other people are heading out for a day on the boat or the beach, I’m often sitting (happily, I might add) at my computer, writing. I routinely dedicate substantial chunks of time each week to doing work that is not only unpaid, but often unseen by anyone but me.

Then there’s the fact that, despite being fortunate enough to have wonderful friends, I often choose solitude over time spent with others. It’s not that I don’t enjoy being with other people; it’s just that sometimes I prefer the company of my own thoughts. Without time to myself, I begin to feel restless and edgy and “not me.”

As a writer, I tend to question pretty much everything. I may not always do it out loud, but my writer’s mind is always asking “why” and “how” and “what if” while digging around for new ideas and truths. My mind runs off on all kinds of wild tangents that can leave other people a bit baffled. Like a slightly mad daydreamer, my thoughts can leap from one concept to another, connecting the dots in strange ways. I am sure that sometimes people wonder if I’m seeing the same world they see.

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Writing in my notebook has always been a way of exploring the world while hiding from it. Like the Elven cloaks worn by the Hobbits on their way to Mordor, my notebook has the magical ability to render me almost invisible. In the same way that reading a good story transports me to another time and place, slipping between the pages of my notebook is like stepping into a shadow dimension. Though I remain physically in this world, my mind is traveling elsewhere, and people tend not to notice me. The movement of my pen across the paper is like a spell that allows me to peer unseen into the inner workings of our world. From this vantage point, I can observe life from a slight distance.

This is the strangest dichotomy of being a writer. Though I feel a frequent need to step back and away in order to observe and think in solitude, I also have an equally strong and seemingly opposite desire to connect deeply with the world and people around me. Though on the surface I may be perceived as something of a loner, my solitude is actually a means to creating stronger connections to others.

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Writers, like all other artists, are people with something to say. We may share that something via stories, essays, or comics. We may write letters to the editor, screenplays, or poetry. Our words might be quirky or bold, gentle or inflammatory, academic or fantastic. Our stories may be frightening, inspiring, or heartbreaking. We might hope to make people laugh, or cry, or just see the world from a slightly different perspective. Though motivations, intentions, and styles vary wildly from one writer to the next, each of us goes out into the world wanting to share a piece of ourselves and our experience through our writing.

We are willing to invest an inordinate amount of time figuring out what we want to say and then crafting the piece of writing to say it. While most non-writers are content to either keep their opinions to themselves or share them on a much more modest scale, writers are compelled to “share big.” We are odd in our need to splay our inner thoughts across the page for others to read. With each word we write we say, “This is me. I am here. This is what I have seen. This is what I imagine.” Because we possess some crazy mixture of unintentional hubris and quiet courage, we are able to offer ourselves to the world – transparent and vulnerable.

This makes us weird.

But, as E.B. White once said, “All that I hope to say in books, all that I ever hope to say, is that I love the world.” And love, as cliché as it is, may be the answer. Though it may seem weird to others, we writers profess our love for the world with every word we write. We try, as best we can, to capture the essence of this life and our hearts, of dreams and the vast landscape of human imagination. Everyone lives his or her own internal life. Writers wear that internal life on the outside for all to see.

Whether we love nature or history, romance or vampires, talking cats, magic rings, or simply the diversity of human nature, we  let that love sweep us off our feet. Even when we write about tragedy or war or cruelty, if you read between the lines you will find love for the underdog, the valiant, and the kind. As writers, we are willing to make fools of ourselves for the things we love. We babble a lot. We do the unexpected and the absurd. Sometimes we fail, but our love is strong enough that we are willing to get up again and again, to keep trying.

If love is what makes us weird, I’m willing to wear that label with pride. They may look at us askew and think us odd or quirky, but that’s ok. The geek shall inherit the Earth, and I’m happy to be a love-crazed wordsmith who wears her heart on her sleeve. I’m good with that.

 

What I’m Reading:

book buried giantThe Buried Giant is the first Kazuo Ishiguro novel I’ve read, but I have a feeling it won’t be my last. Though the story and genre are a marked departure from his other works (you may have heard of a little title called Remains of the Day), it is more than my love for fantasy that made me fall for this novel.

Some books rely on an early burst of attention-grabbing action to hook a reader. Though I like an exciting read as much as the next girl, I sometimes feel like these kinds of stories are trying too hard. They are like the clichéd pick-up artist leaning on the bar who has to weave his salary, the make and model of his car, and some name-dropping into the conversation because he’s afraid that just talking to a girl won’t be enough to keep her interested. He may be a perfectly nice guy, but the approach feels slightly desperate.

Not so with The Buried Giant. This book felt more like a quietly refined guy sitting at the next table over in a little coffee shop, reading. This guy isn’t pushy or flashy. In fact, he’s probably more interested in his book than he is in you, but – happily – he’s still willing to engage in a real conversation. He has a slightly antiquarian air about him, something a bit out of sync with the modern world, but his presence is that of a person who has been places and seen things. As you begin to talk, the coffee shop starts to fade and you find yourself transported to another place and time that feels both completely foreign to you, and also like home.

This is the spell Ishiguro casts so well.

Though this story’s cast of characters includes ogres, a warrior, a dragon, and Sir Gawain, it is never about these things. Like Ishiguro’s other works, this is, as described on the publisher’s web page, a story about “the act of forgetting and the power of memory, a resonant tale of love, vengeance, and war.”

Also from the publisher’s web page:

The Romans have long since departed and Britain is steadily declining into ruin. But, at least, the wars that once ravaged the country have ceased. Axl and Beatrice, a couple of elderly Britons, decide that now is the time, finally, for them to set off across this troubled land of mist and rain to find the son they have not seen for years, the son they can scarcely remember. They know they will face many hazards—some strange and otherworldly—but they cannot foresee how their journey will reveal to them the dark and forgotten corners of their love for each other. Nor can they foresee that they will be joined on their journey by a Saxon warrior, his orphan charge, and a knight—each of them, like Axl and Beatrice, lost in some way to his own past, but drawn inexorably toward the comfort, and the burden, of the fullness of a life’s memories.

Though I have already said that I enjoyed this book for many reasons other than my love of well-written fantasy, it does seem that Ishiguro’s novel may have far-reaching influence on an often-maligned genre. An article for the New York Times quotes David Mitchell, the author of Cloud Atlas, as saying, “Fantasy plus literary fiction can achieve things that frank blank realism can’t.” Mitchell apparently went on to say that he hoped The Buried Giant would help “de-stigmatize” fantasy. Three cheers for that.

Ishiguro is very aware of the fact that his latest novel treads in new territory. The NYT article provides some back story about how be worried about whether or not his readers would follow him into these strange new lands (a topic I touched on in last week’s post, Just Be Yourself. Yeah, Right.) I am no expert on Ishiguro’s audience, but I cannot believe that many will abandon his beautiful prose based simply on a setting. More to the point, I’d be willing to bet that Ishiguro will gain a new audience with this book – people like me who might not have picked up Remains of the Day or Never Leave Me without having read The Buried Giant.

The fact that he was recently featured in an interview with fantasy rock star Neil Gaiman certainly won’t hurt Ishiguro’s reputation with this new audience. In Let’s Talk About Genre for the NewStatesman, these two heavyweights explore the idea of genre and make some pretty interesting observations that make a strong case for genre being nothing more than an industry-manufactured filing system.

But, I digress.

I highly recommend The Buried Giant for readers of all types. Whether you are a lover of fantasy or a disciple of the literary form, Ishiguro’s novel holds something for everyone.  It is a beautifully crafted story that manages to successfully balance the magical and mythical with the very essence of our mundane world. I have a feeling I’ll be returning to its pages before too long.

 

What I’m {Learning About} Writing:

imitation bunniesI have been meaning, for a while, to write a post about the art of imitation in writing. I have read many times about writers who “grease the wheels,” so to speak, by writing in a way that channels a favorite author. Some writers will even copy passages verbatim from some favorite text as part of their writing warm-up.

Though novice writers may fear imitation (assuming that everything they write must be entirely unique), seasoned writers seem to accept imitation as part of the creative process. In a piece for The Write Practice, Joe Bunting cites several examples of “copier” writers including Steven Pressfield, Cormac McCarthy, and even Shakespeare.

While you ultimately want to discover your own voice, allowing your writing to be influenced by writers you admire is a good way to get a feel for patterns, cadence, and overall style. Often, you’ll find you’re influenced whether you want to be or not. For instance, looking back over a few recent entries in my morning pages journal, I noticed that even my “brain dump” writing took on a very different tone while I was reading The Buried Giant. To get myself rolling on these entries, I usually start with a very basic listing of where I am, what I’ve done so far that morning, the weather, etc. It’s painfully mundane, but it gets my hand moving across the page, and then I can go on from there.

Written before I’d read The Buried Giant:

Meghan is just up. Bella is sleeping in the bay window and Cinder is running amok, all jazzed up from a play session with her fleece-y whip toy. Funny girl. The crows haven’t been by yet, and even the sparrows are scarce. It’s just too hot and humid. And I’ll be riding in about an hour. Yikes!

Written while I was reading The Buried Giant:

All the animals are fed and the composting is out at the curb. A scourge of sparrows feasts greedily at the feeder, which is more than half pillaged even this early in the morning. The crows have been, but many peanuts still lie on the deck. A strange cry from distant trees sent them wheeling away across the road, and they have not yet returned. It is a cry I have not heard before, but – though it made me catch my breath – I would hear it again to try and name its source.

Is the second entry any less “my” writing because my choice of words was influenced by the book I was reading? I tend to think not, but this is a topic I’ll need to explore further in another post.

 

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

Finally, a quote for the week:

Melissa Frances - Blackboard Canvas Print - Blessed are the Weird

Melissa Frances – Blackboard Canvas Print – Blessed are the Weird

Here’s to embracing your own brand of weirdness, not being afraid to be influenced by other people’s weirdness, and finding a little magic in even the most mundane of days. 
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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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Imitation Bunnies Photo Credit: adametrnal via Compfight cc

Weekend Edition – Be Your Own (Writing) Idol Plus Good Reads and Writing Tips

Be Your Own Idol

idol joeyI have a confession. I watch American Idol.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I couldn’t adore her more.

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

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

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

 

 

What I’m {Learning About} Writing:

Portrait from the BBC article.

Portrait from the BBC article.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

What I’m Reading:

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

Finally, a quote for the week:

pin no one is you

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