Spell Against Self Doubt

This summer, I almost turned down a writing residency.

Before fully considering the offer, doubt crept in. A friend pointed out that I was more focused on my self-doubt than the opportunity in front of me. And so, I cast a spell against self-doubt.

The spell was quite simple; it was to complete four actions before starting work.

Those actions were:

  • An act of kindness
  • An act of strength
  • An act of creation
  • An act of bravery
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My Spell Against Self-Doubt

In the weeks leading up to the residency, and during the residency itself, my spell against self-doubt became a daily practice. Each action was an antidote to my most frequent doubts.

The manifestation of my casual witchcraft was to:

  • Make coffee for my partner  (Act of Kindness)
  • Bust out 30-50 Pushups (Act of Strength)
  • Sketch a quick cartoon (Act of Creation)
  • Scribble three pages of automatic writing (Act of Bravery)

The culmination of this practical magic was that when I started work on my play I was energized, centered, and eager to tap into the fictional world I was creating. Whenever doubt started to murmur, I refuted it, with my proof of kindness, strength, creation, and bravery

Centering my writing practice on acts of kindness towards others (and myself) let me shed my fear that writing is a selfish pursuit. The adrenaline rush from my act of strength let me draw with energy and abandon. I started sketching because it was a form that had no repercussions on my sense of self as a creative.

Satisfaction

Satisfaction: holding a grudge / letting it go

I gave up on “learning to draw” in seventh grade when I was unable to render a realistic bouquet of flowers. Last July, when I decided to start drawing, I was unencumbered from any pressure to be good. Unlike writing, it’s not something I’ve practiced.Surprisingly, I fell in love.

Armed with paints, I was full of stories. Freed from any understanding of technique, I was able to let go of my bias that realistic is good. Drawing in my own perspective, freed me to write in my own voice.

After the joy of splashing my thoughts into colorful cartoons, I was able to face myself on the page and write.

By the time the residency started, the spell had taken hold. Instead of bringing my toolbox of doubt, I brought my watercolors and a play I was excited to share.

ToolsFlat

Ready, Set, Draw!

Over the past six months, the spell has stuck. I continue to count acts of kindness, feats of strength, and drawing as an essential to my writing. What started as an act of desperation has become a source of inspiration.

Do you have your own version of the spell against self-doubt?

Have you ever tried drawing/dancing/singing as a way to warm-up before writing?


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Naomi is a writer, performer, and project manager.  She has dueling degrees in business and playwriting.

 

Hey, writers. Need a laugh?

So, if you happen to have caught any of my recent posts, you already know that the election has thrown me for a bit of a loop. I’ve been coping with the unexpected and violent shift in my perspective by exploring how to successfully write about issues in fiction, reading comforting words from other writers (here and here), learning how to use my civic voice, and looking for the silver lining.

But, sometimes, the best medicine is laughter.

If you need the sweet release of some plain, old-fashioned, silly fun, I highly recommend you listen to the November 29th bonus episode of the fabulous Writing Excuses podcast.  The podcast’s topic is fantasy food, but – while I did find the subject fascinating (and full of world- and character-building potential) – what I loved most about this particular episode was the uncontrollable laughter and full-on, spontaneous hilarity that seemed intent on derailing the discussion at every turn.

Please, do yourself a favor and check it out:

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11.Bonus-04: Fantasy Food, with Elizabeth Bear and Scott Lynch

Elizabeth Bear  and Scott Lynch joined Howard and Dan at GenCon Indy to talk about fantasy food, and how we engage our readers’ appetites with our fiction. We talk economics, logistics, sensory engagement, and we goof off quite a bit in the process. We might have been hungry at the time. There is good fun to be had here, and plenty of (pun intended) food for thought.

 

And, if you don’t already, I highly recommend listening to the Writing Excuses crew on a regular basis. I have learned SO much from these authors. Not all episodes are as rowdy as this one, but I always feel like I’m hanging out with a group of warm and inviting writer friends when I tune in. I love them so much that I’m a supporter of their Patreon.

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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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Short and Sweet Advice for Writers – Do Your Writing Exercises

vintage classroomSo, you think writing exercises are just for beginners, or writers who don’t have a “real” project to work on? Think again.

It’s back-to-school season for many of us, and time to give ourselves some homework. Writing from prompts is an excellent way to keep your creative and craft muscles strong and limber.  Whether writing exercises are the primary focus of your writing, or just a small part of a broader practice, they help you hone your skills while simultaneously stretching your imagination. It’s a win-win.

Each time I take a writing class, I am reminded just how effective writing exercises can be. Whether the assigned exercise is intended to spark the imagination through random association (e.g., write a story that involves a pelican, a key, and someone who has lost something or someone) or to challenge students with constraints (e.g. write a 100-word story in the second person), writing exercises work because they force us to focus on something. They are like a puzzle that needs solving. Even if it’s a tough puzzle, it’s easier to start with something than it is to start with nothing but a blank page.

You can find writing exercise prompts all over the place, but here are a couple of resources that I’ve found and can recommend:

Sarah Selecky’s Daily Writing Prompts: I have not yet treated myself to one of Sarah’s workshops, but I’ve heard great things. Meanwhile, I have subscribed to her daily writing prompts email and have been impressed by the variety of her exercises. Easy, free, and inspiring – doesn’t get much better than that.

The Write Practice Blog: This multi-author blog includes a “Practice” section at the end of each post. What’s helpful about this approach is that the post gives you some context, instruction, and examples that help you get the most out of the writing exercise assignment at the end. Great format!

So, there you go: writing exercises – do them.

(And, don’t forget to have fun!)

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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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Photo Credit: roujo via Compfight cc

6 Super Resources for Writers

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It’s a veritable treasure chest of resources!

The Internet is an absolute boon for writers. It connects us to all manner of resources, communities, and learning opportunities. It throws wide the doors to a digital world where we can communicate, collaborate, and commiserate with other writers from all across the globe. It connects us to editors and other potential employers.  For many of us, this wonderland of pixels and platforms is what affords us the chance to make a living (and a life) with words.

I spend more than my fair share of time cruising these virtual streets – peeking in windows, dropping in on conversations, and devouring all the juicy bits of wisdom and wit from writers who have traveled farther ahead on this road than I have. Today, I’d like to share some of my recent finds from the road, so to speak: two podcasts, two online classrooms, and two writer communities. I hope you enjoy them!

Best,

Jamie

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PODCASTS:

I have already gushed over the wonderful new podcast from Brad Reed called Inside Creative Writing. But, Brad is only able to produce one show per week (he is only human), and some weeks (oh, the horror!) he has to take a week off. What’s a writer to do?!? No worries. She can check out one of these two podcasts – each unique and informative in its own way:

Writing Excuses

I loved this snappy, little podcast right from the start. Their tagline won me over: “15 minutes long, because you’re in a hurry, and we’re not that smart.” This is a dynamic show with four hosts: Mary, Brandon, Howard, and Dan. Each episode features these four writers bantering about the topic at hand in an off-the-cuff manner that is very engaging. Though there’s plenty of good-natured ribbing to go ’round, the show still manages to impart some great information. So – if you just need a quick fix, Writing Excuses might be just the thing to hold you over.

Author Edit: Please note that Writing Excuses focuses on genre writing, specifically SciFi and Fantasy in all its fabulous forms and formats. That said, the topics they talk about have application well beyond these genres. 

Writers on Writing with Barbara DeMarco-Barrett

If you’re looking for something a little more in-depth, Writers on Writing might suite your mood. The format for this blog is a more traditional interview style show. Each week, the host welcomes a different writer into the studio for an extended chat that might cover a range of topics including craft, the writer’s life, publishing, etc. The show features a wide variety of authors and poets, attracting names as well known as Anna Quindlen and Margaret Atwood. This is the podcast to choose if you want to curl up with a cup of tea and feel like you’re having a tete-a-tete with a writer you admire.

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ONLINE CLASSES

Though I love to take Real World writing classes, life is not always accommodating. Luckily, the Internet brings us a bevy of online courses that allow us to study our craft from the comfort of our own homes (and, even in our PJs). There are countless digital destinations for all kinds of writing classes, but here are two that I think deserve a second look.

Grub Street Writers

Grub Street is a vibrant and growing writers’ community and resource. In fact, it is the second largest independent center for creative writing in the United States. Not bad for an organization with such humble beginnings. I have taken a Real World class at the Grub Street location in Boston (and loved it!), but I’m also very excited that they have just begun to offer online courses as well. Grub Street offers classes in all genres and for all levels of writer. They even offer courses on how to be more productive! This is a quality organization that offers top notch teaching on all aspects of writing. Highly recommended.

Creative Nonfiction 

Unlike Grub Street, I do not (yet) have any personal experience with the courses at CreativeNonfiction.org, but I have been impressed by their content and have heard good things from fellow writers. Creative nonfiction is a genre I’m interested in exploring, so discovering this little gem of a site through a writer friend was right up my alley. They also apparently publish an ink & paper print magazine that is beautiful.

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COMMUNITIES

I know not everyone is on Facebook, but it is a great place to meet and hang out with other writers. There are so many public writing groups to choose from, but here are two that I have been participating in for a while and which I think offer great value in terms of both the content shared and the conversations.

Writing & Publishing

Founded and managed by Marcia Meier (www.marciameier.com), this group offers connections and conversations with many other writers. The post topics range from craft to publishing to funny writer quotes and random bits of literary advice. The community is open and welcoming and a great place to find some inspiration or get an answer to that writing-related question that’s been burning a hole in the back of your brain.

A Writer’s Bucket List Action Team

This new and growing group is the brain child of Dana Sitar, author of the spunky (and free!) ebook, A Writer’s Bucket List. Per the page’s description, “A Writer’s Bucket List Action Team is a place where writers can gather to swap ideas, ask questions, and share inspiration for the writing life. A bucket list is no good sitting dusty on a shelf! We’re going to pull those things out and get started.” I haven’t been able to spend as much time as I’d like conversing with the members of this group, but from what I have seen, they are a lively and diverse group who are open and helpful.

What great resources have you come across in your travels through the writing highways and byways of the “Interwebz?” Anything to share? We’d love to know your great finds!  

Photo Credit: Sebastián Rubiano via Compfight cc 

Run, don’t walk, to listen to Inside Creative Writing

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If you’d like, you can listen to this post.

I am a writer, but I am not yet the writer I want to be.

I have had very little in the way of formal training. I do not have a college degree or an MFA. I have taken a few, scattered writing courses (most recently a class on writing fantasy at the wonderful Grub Street in Boston), but mostly I’ve cobbled together random bits and pieces – like a magpie collecting shiny things to adorn its nest.

Though my journey has followed a somewhat circuitous path, I believe that I have made progress. From a seven-year-old scribbling in a notebook that I pilfered from the supply closet at the bank where my dad was a VP, I have evolved into someone who makes her living with words – crafting content for my marketing clients, writing a column for my local paper, and even occasionally penning a feature piece for a regional magazine.

But, I am still not the writer I want to be.

I ache to write fiction, but as a single mama workin’ this gig, I can’t easily afford time to play in the speculative and financially unstable world of fiction. The writing that pays my bills takes precedence. Making time to practice and study the craft of fiction is a challenge for me, to say the least.

Enter the power of the podcast.

Those of you who’ve been hanging around here awhile already know that I am a huge and unabashed fan of audio books. If it weren’t for audio books, I’d probably only manage to read a handful of novels each year. But with Audible in my pocket, I am able to “read” while I walk, drive, do the dishes, run the vacuum, etc. It’s a beautiful thing.

Podcasts are another audio format that allow me to connect with content while I’m doing something else. I have been listening to several marketing podcasts for a while, but only recently decided to investigate writing podcasts. Long story short, I struck gold with a brand new podcast called Inside Creative Writing.

[Author Note: Sadly, Inside Creative Writing appears to be on hiatus. I’m not sure if Brad will return to podcasting, but am hopeful that he will manage to get back to the mic one of these days. In the meantime, his archive of existing recordings is still very much worth a listen … or, two.]

Brad Reed is the writer and educator behind this podcast. As a frequent podcast listener, I can be a bit of a critic, but this guy is doing a fabulous job. His shows are highly informative, entertaining, and actionable. I frequently pause in my walk to jot down a note so I don’t forget what he’s said about a particular technique or insight. He has put a lot of thought into his format – alternating one-man shows with interviews and always including a couple of closing elements – “Wise Words” (inspirational and thought-provoking quotes) and a writing assignment (not a prompt, but an assignment on applying the techniques discussed in the show). His production quality is great, his show notes are thorough, and he even has a way for listeners to participate in the show by leaving him a voicemail with a quote for the Wise Words segment, which he then edits into the actual show. (You can hear my debut appearance in Show #8.)

Can you tell I’m a bit of a fan?

The thing is, we’re only eight shows into this podcast, and I have already learned SO much. Reed covers topics in a way that is clear and non-threatening. He makes great use of examples to bring each of the concepts and techniques to life. He isn’t afraid to take deep dives on a topic, making sure you – as the listener – really have a chance to fully absorb and process the idea. Also (and this counts in my book), he’s a really nice guy. I emailed him a quick note of appreciation and wound up having a very pleasant email chat. I can tell that Reed is doing this with his community firmly in mind.

I really can’t recommend the show enough. I was talking to a group of writer friends earlier this week about our favorite writing resources – the go-to books, blogs, and magazines that help us get a handle on what the hell we’re doing. All the usual suspects came up, but then the conversation took a turn as one of the writers sputtered, “They’re all great, but I never have time to read them!” Too true.

I subscribe to Poets & Writers. It’s an excellent magazine (probably one of the very best on the topic of writing). I always learn something when I read an issue, but – like my friend – I can’t always find time to read them. As a matter of fact, I have four unread issues sitting in a pile next to my desk right now. I feel guilty and frustrated and a little defeated when I think about how long those magazines have been sitting there, waiting for me to find a few minutes to crack their crisp covers. Alas, I don’t see that happening in the near future. However, the Inside Creative Writing podcast is filling that gap in my education quite nicely. I can honestly say that I am learning as much (if not more) about good story writing by listening to Reed as I would poring over the pages of Poets & Writers. (And, that’s saying something!)

I guess the most telling thing I can say about how much I like the show is this: I’m willing to pay for it.

In the most recent episode, Reed invited listeners to become supporters by making a voluntary donation to help offset show costs. He called it the “public broadcasting model.” I immediately went to www.insidecreativewriting.com and clicked the “Donate” button. I plunked down $36 – what I might pay for a year’s subscription to a quality, writing magazine – and was happy to do it.

After all, I can certainly forego a few lattes in the name of becoming the writer I want to be.

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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 voice and trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.

Writers are teachers. Are you ready to teach?

In the spring of 2011, I let my intuition guide me and – on the spur of the moment – signed up for a course that has inspired, encouraged, and educated me in ways I never expected, but for which I am very grateful. The course is called TeachNow and it was created by the lovely Jen Louden and Michele Lisenbury Christensen.

Looking back, I’m not sure what made me decide to sign up. I had never considered myself a teacher per se. I thought of teachers in traditional terms – in a classroom or on a college campus. The only teaching I’d done, I thought, was when I was a child and had taught my younger sister to name all the parts of a horse. “I’m not a teacher,” I said, “I’m a writer.”

But, writers are teachers.

TeachNow changed my understanding of what it is to be a teacher. I learned that the teacher doesn’t need to know everything. I learned that teaching is less about instruction and more about helping students rediscover what they already know. I learned that teaching is also about holding space and giving students permission to explore and experiment and create.

My friend just posted this quote on Twitter and it reminded me of everything I learned with TeachNow:

“The role of the teacher is to create the conditions for invention rather than provide ready-made knowledge.”
~Seymour Papert

So … how are writers teachers?

Writers write to share what they know – of the world, of themselves, of the human condition. We tell stories to illuminate, to inspire … to teach. Our words reach out to the reader and draw her in, bringing her into our world, letting her see through our eyes. We bring characters to life to serve the same purpose – to provide an experience that teaches about another life, another person, another truth.

I believe that every writer is a natural teacher. You may not think so (yet), but think about it. Why do you write? What are you hoping to accomplish? For many of us, the answer is that we want to create some kind of change in the world. We hope that, through our writing, someone will gain a new perspective, try a new challenge, see the world in a new light. Our words are powerful catalysts for change and growth – for learning.

Not all writers teach in the traditional sense … 

True enough.

Maybe you have no interest actively teaching, preferring to take the role of a passive teacher who instructs through story. That’s an absolutely noble cause. But, maybe there is something you’d like to teach. Maybe there’s something you can teach that would complement and supplement your writing. Maybe teaching would open up new opportunities for your writing. After all, teaching brings people together in creative and inspiring ways and people who teach are often more well-known and respected because of their teaching work.

… but, if you think you might have something to teach … 

I highly recommend TeachNow.

The links I’m sharing here are affiliate links – which means I get a little kickback if you sign up. I am not an affiliate for any other course. I am not in the habit of promoting other people’s materials, but TeachNow is one I believe in so strongly that I can’t help myself. I have to share.

In January of this year, I taught my first online course. Inspired by the knowledge and support I’d gained from Jen, Michele, and all the wonderful TeachNow students, I finally got brave and ran a beta class about branding. When a student, who had not yet taken the TeachNow course, asked me my opinion of it, here is what I said:

“I don’t want to sound like an infomercial, but I can’t recommend TeachNow enough. I have taken quite a few classes about the technical and strategic side of online teaching, but TeachNow was the first class that gave me what I really needed – a way to approach the possibility of teaching from the inside out. It provided not only confidence, but a working framework that supported me in my creation of this course (which, I promise, will be the first of many). The community has been wonderful, and the energy stays with me. This is the only class that I have taken more than once AND the only class materials that I have returned to multiple times (and learned from with each new listen).”

It’s all true. Just last month I was feeling blocked on a project. I listened to a few of my favorite interviews from TeachNow and found the answers I needed to move forward.

So – that’s my spiel, such as it is. This is a course I love. This is a course that has made a difference in how I think about myself, how I value my knowledge, and how I see my potential to bring about change in the world. It has given me the tools, courage, and support system to launch a class of my own with more to come.

Are you curious?

If any of this piques your interest, Jen and Michele are offering a free intro/preview/teaser class on Wednesday, September 19th at 10AM Pacific/1PM EST. You can register for the call here: The Triple Bottom Line of Teaching: More Contribution, Income, and Evolution.

I hope you’ll check it out. Love to hear what you think if you do.

🙂

Jamie

P.S. I should mention that this course is not “just” inspiration and motivation, it’s also brass tacks and straight talk. The conversations on calls and in the Facebook group have been priceless as fellow teachers share their journeys, tips, and insights. Nothing is sacred. No question is dumb. Also, the course is for anyone who wants to teach anything anywhere – new teacher, experienced teacher; online, offline; knitting, marketing, investment, yoga, writing …

P.P.S. I chose the picture of Jen and Michele (above) because it perfectly illustrates how much fun they are. These are women with big hearts, big ideas, and the ability to elicit big laughs and epiphanies at the same time. Pretty cool.

Reading like a writer

My passion for all things literary sprang from a love affair with reading and grew up to embrace a love of writing. Today, I am at least as much a reader as I am a writer. I read for pleasure, but I also read to learn. There is no better classroom for the writer than the pages of a well-written story. By reading like a writer, we can learn the magic of our craft by example.

Each week, the teacher of the Grub Street class I attended this summer invited her students to bring a “perfect sentence” to share with the class. At first, the exercise seemed like a bit of fluff; but as I combed through favorite books for particularly striking lines, I came to see the value in it. Consciously being on the lookout for sentences that made my writer’s heart sing inspired me to read more carefully, more consciously. Reading was still the most exquisite form of escape and entertainment, but now it had another layer of enjoyment – the study of what makes good writing.

In some ways, a story is like a tree.

We look upon a tree and appreciate its beauty, the sound of the wind in its leaves, the shade it provides on a sultry day. We are thankful for the fruit it bears, for the strength of the boughs that hold up a swing. We perceive the tree as a singular entity, a whole. But, if we look more closely, we begin to see that there are many pieces to the tree. There are the roots that dig deep, down into the earth and spread out underground like thousands of curious fingers. There is an intricate and elegant system of channels within the tree – carrying nutrients and water and sap. There are the leaves, with their alchemy of photosynthesis. There are blossoms and fruit – blooming and ripening, evolving one into the other before our eyes. There are seasonal changes – the budding of spring, bursting of summer, harvesting of fall, and dormancy of winter.

Suddenly, the tree is no longer just a tree. It is a vast collection of individual pieces and parts that are connected into an organic harmony via a complex ecosystem. We can see, as if we have X-ray vision, all the inner workings – how the leaves rely on the roots and how the roots must have good soil. We know what makes the leaves whisper in the wind and why they change color in the fall. We understand each of the tree’s parts in the context of the whole.

Reading like a writer gives you similar insights into the nature of story.

You become aware of the shape of each “leaf,” see the roots that hold the story up, and understand how all the pieces – character, plot, conflict, language, and so on – come together to create a single, cohesive experience that carries the reader away.

Although I still love to get lost in a good story, I now read with two minds. On the one hand, I am simply a girl going on adventure in the pages of a book. On the other hand, I am a writer, studying the inner workings of good writing –dissecting author’s choices and execution. I pay attention to characterization, setting, plot, and theme. I notice and appreciate particular touches of scene construction, voice, and dialog. Learning by example brings me a whole new level of understanding that sticks with me when I sit down to write. In fact, I may start keeping a writer’s journal of examples to help inspire me when I get stuck.

How about you? Do you read with a writer’s eye? Do you keep a collection of favorite sentences, characters, examples of scene setting? Do you think reading makes you a better writer?

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: José Manuel Ríos Valiente