Short and Sweet Advice for Writers – Write Like a Puppy

Writing is serious business. Doing it well requires study, commitment, and dedication. There is a lot to learn – form, structure, style, voice – more craft nuances than I can name. “Real” writers sacrifice for their art. As Hemingway said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

BUT …

Sometimes, you just gotta play.

I mean, you don’t want to be this guy, do you?

Victor Hugo

Victor Hugo

I didn’t think so.

Writing may be hard work, but that doesn’t mean it can’t also be fun. The trick is learning to approach it with a different mindset. Instead of coming to your writing with the weight of the world on your shoulders, try thinking about your time at the keyboard as a play session.

Going for it

Going for it

Which brings me to puppies.

Puppies know how to play. They can make a game out of almost anything, and they let loose with wild abandon. They aren’t concerned about following rules or worried about looking silly. They aren’t playing with purpose or comparing their play to another puppy’s. They are simply having fun – being joyful in the moment, exploring, and experimenting.

To a puppy, nothing is sacred. There is no “right” or “wrong” way to play. There is just play. Water = play. Ball = play. Stick = play. Slipper = play. Tail = play. It’s all just one big, happy game – a frolic, a romp, an excuse to roll around on the ground with your paws in the air.

What would happen if you “played” with your writing? 

There is power in unleashing your enthusiasm, so go ahead and loosen up. Follow the example of my friend Shanna’s adorable rescue puppy, Milo, and just let ‘er rip.

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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. Join me each Saturday for the Weekend Edition (a fun post and great community of commenters on the writing life, random musings, writing tips, and good reads), or introduce yourself on Facebooktwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
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Puppy Splashing Photo Credit: cobalt123 via Compfight cc

Weekend Edition – Optimism, Being a Pro, and Niche Audiences

robin williamsActing Out Optimism

My daughter and I had just returned from our first trapeze class after a year’s absence from “flying.” It was late (we’d stopped for dinner on the way home), and I was whirling around the kitchen, simultaneously shooing her into the shower, feeding our two cats, and having a quick catch-up call with my beau. In the midst of the chaos, I heard my beau say, “It’s awful about Robin Williams, huh?”

Before I could answer I had to pause to holler up the stairs at my daughter (again), and aggressively tap the remaining bits of canned cat food off the spoon I was wielding. “What?” I asked. He explained. About the death. About the suspicion of suicide. None of it registered. I made some meaningless response, something about it being a terrible tragedy and such a shame; and then I said I’d call back later and hung up.

Early the next morning, still tucked in under the covers, I was scrolling through my Facebook feed in an effort to come fully awake. As I read the dozens of posts honoring Williams and grieving his death, I began to cry. Even now, as I sit here typing this post, tears are welling up.

I’ve come a little unglued.

After all, I did not know Williams personally. I have been a fan since his Mork & Mindy days, but I haven’t even seen all of his movies. I admired him and his work; but I if you’d asked me a week ago to name my top ten performers, he wouldn’t have made the list. And yet, knowing he is gone broke something in me. Like so many other people I’ve talked to, I find myself unexpectedly touched by his sudden absence.

I’m still processing my emotional response to this loss. I’m still trying to figure out why of all the heartbreak in the world, the loss of this one entertainer has left me so bereft. I need some private writing time before I can share my thoughts with more clarity. There is one quote of Robin’s, however, that I would like to share. There are so many making the rounds on the Internet now that he is gone. I think the one that I’ve seen most often is “You’re only given a little spark of madness. You mustn’t lost it.” Though I love that one, there is another that I find more intriguing, “Comedy is acting out optimism.”

Despite all the death and injustice and sorrow in the world, despite being locked in constant battle with his own demons, despite the intense pressure of life that we all feel – whether we are Hollywood icons or simply a member of the PTA – despite all of this, Williams chose laughter. He chose joy and kindness and generosity. In the face of all the darkness, he chose light. And he shared that light with the world. This, to me, is the highest purpose of any art – to express hope and optimism.

I think Zelda William’s said it perfectly in her lovely statement about her father:

“Dad was, is and always will be one of the kindest, most generous, gentlest souls Ive ever known, and while there are few things I know for certain right now, one of them is that not just my world, but the entire world is forever a little darker, less colorful and less full of laughter in his absence. We’ll just have to work twice as hard to fill it back up again.”

 

What I’m Writing:

tweet conv professionalsI continue to swim upstream against a strong current of crunchy deadlines for fairly intense projects. I’m grateful for the work on my plate, but that gratitude does not dispel the stress that comes along with juggling multiple clients and projects.

Last week, I had a quick little Twitter exchange with fellow copywriter, Donnie Bryant. I had never met Bryant, but a quote he tweeted caught my eye, “Amateurs wait for inspiration; professionals do it with a headache.” It just so happened that on the morning I read that quote (as retweeted by Craig McBreen) that I was sporting a doozy of a headache and was working off of only four hours’ sleep. Though I felt physically awful, Bryant’s quip made me smile.

Though I am now and always will be a work-in-progress as an author and storyteller, I earned the right to call myself a professional writer years ago. It wasn’t the caliber of my clients or the monetary value they placed on my work that gave me the confidence to call myself a pro. It was the fact that I always got the job done. No matter what. A hobbyist has the option to say, “Not today. Maybe tomorrow.” A dabbler can decide to go to bed early instead of staying up to meet the deadline. A poser can happily act the part without actually producing anything. But a professional? A professional must deliver. An MIA muse is not an acceptable excuse. A sick kid is not an acceptable excuse. A headache is most definitely not an acceptable excuse. If you’re a professional – paid or not – you get the work done. Period. End of story.

It’s that simple, and that hard.

What about you? Do you call yourself a professional? Is that even important to you? What’s your take on being a pro vs, being a dabbler?

 

What I’m Reading:

faerie magWhen I’m not so exhausted that I’m falling asleep on the way upstairs to bed, I am still managing to fill any remaining nooks and crannies in my day with small but still joyful moments of reading. I am not, however, finding making enough of these moments to get through some of the bigger reads I have on my plate at the moment.

So, while I continue to enjoy those in bite-sized morsels (and will share here once I’ve finished off the last, delicious bits), I’ll share with you today a little diversion that arrived at my PO Box this week: Faerie Magazine.

It happened like this: I was scrolling through Facebook (geesh, I seem to spend a lot of time on Facebook), and saw a picture of a beautiful fairytale cottage. (It may have even been fellow Live to Write -Write to Live blogger, Wendy, who posted it. I’m not sure.) Anyway, the image had been shared from the Facebook page of this beautiful print publication. It was rather late at night and I was struggling with the day’s final deadline, so – of course – I decided to take a little side trip via a click to the magazine’s site. A few minutes later, I was a subscriber.

The reason I share this with you is to illustrate the power of the niche audience. This is a beautifully produced and written print magazine (supposedly a dying breed) that is on its 27th quarterly issue, so it’s been in print for nearly seven years now.

If you have a passion for a particular topic or genre, there is a publication out there that is serving other people who share your passion. In fact, there are probably multiple publications (especially if you consider both digital and print) catering to the exact audience who would most appreciate your writing on that beloved topic. Find these publishers. Get to know their work and their readers. You never know when you might find a perfect home for the writing you love to do best.

 

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:

spark madness williams

Here’s to hope and optimism and finding the courage and joy to let your spark of madness shine. 

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

Too tired to write – self-care for writers

Physically, writing doesn’t require much energy. You need to push a pen or pencil across the page, or tap your way around the keyboard. That’s not a lot of effort. In a pinch, you could probably do it lying down with your eyes half closed (though the resulting prose might be somewhat lacking in brilliance).

No, the difficult part of writing is the part that happens on the inside – coming up with ideas, sorting out how to convey them, winnowing out the just-right words and arranging them in patterns that are both meaningful and beautiful. Writers may not need to be super-humanly strong on the outside, but they definitely need a certain intellectual fortitude and stamina.

At the moment, I’m feeling a bit drained of both fortitude and stamina. My commercial copywriting business (and the marketing strategy that accompanies it) has been going gangbusters all year. I am not complaining (at all), but I am worried there might be a brick wall looming in my headlights soon.  For months, my days have been whirlwinds of client calls, planning, research, copywriting, editing … and that doesn’t even include all the blogging. I sat down today to write this post and spent nearly a full half hour staring at the screen, waiting for a topic to pop into my head. Nothing. Crickets.

Pretty ironic given that I just wrapped up a four-part series on writer’s block.

But, this isn’t a case of writer’s block. I’m not feeling fear or pressed for time (any more than usual) or unsure of how to write a blog post. I am just tired – plain, old tired. The eyes are open, but the mind is not firing all cylinders. I’ve been running and running and running and now I’m running out of steam.

Something’s gotta give …

… and it’ll probably be me.

There is more to being a writer than finding your muse, learning your craft, and building your platform. Writing is a creative practice, and – like any creative endeavor – writing requires life energy … juice … mojo. If you run yourself so ragged that you can barely manage to crawl up to bed at night, you’re way past the point of being able to feed your creative fires. You’re in survival mode – dealing strictly in self-preservation, not inspiration.

So, when you find yourself too tired to write – stop. I know it’s hard. Life slows down for no one. There are still bills to be paid and deadlines to be met and children to be fed, bathed, and put to bed. If you’re like me, you’re pretty damn sure that you don’t have time to indulge in self-care for your inner writer. You just have to get things done – forget the woo-woo ways of writing coaches and creative gurus and just power through it. Keep moving. Right?

Wrong.

If you choose to blow past the warning signs you will certainly pay the price. You may not pay it today or tomorrow. You may not even be fully aware that you’ve paid it, but your work will suffer, your creative process will stall, and you will start to lose sight of the joy of writing.

Giving your inner writer a little TLC doesn’t have to be a big deal. You don’t need to go on a two-week retreat. You don’t need to dedicate fifty percent of your time to writing the novel you’ve been talking about for years. You don’t even have to do your morning pages or take yourself on artist’s dates (though I highly recommend both). All you need to do is give yourself a little time to breathe, daydream, play, and rest. Replenish your creative well by making room for fun. Goof off without guilt. Let your mind wander off the rails and see where it takes you. Schedule down time – just a little. Take five deep, intentional breaths. Go to bed early.

A writer’s tools are many and varied – software and hardware, favorite pens, special notebooks, style guides, frameworks, and a good thesaurus. When it comes right down to it, however, the most important tool a writer has is a well-rested mind that is ready to explore, examine, and express. So, when you’re feeling too tired to write, go ahead and indulge in some self-care. You can thank me later.

How do you know when you’re about to hit the wall? How do you bring yourself back from the brink? Do you have a favorite ritual or routine that helps you replenish your creative well? 

Image Credit: Danielle Elder (with color edits)