The Delights of Summer Irresponsibility

IG sunny flowersIn honor of the solstice and full moon coinciding yesterday to welcome summer – a once-in-lifetime event, by the way – I’d like to share something a little different. This is a piece that I wrote a year ago about the way summer entices us to shirk our duties and indulge in being deliciously irresponsible. I needed to remind myself that it isn’t a crime to surrender to summer’s sultry wiles. In fact, it’s something of a virtue. I’ve been putting in some extra hours lately, trying both to catch up and to get ahead; but while my inner writer wants to be super productive and diligent, I have to remember that all work and no play make Jill bitter and angry (not to mention exhausted). And when Jill is bitter and angry (and exhausted), her creativity suffers.

So, time to think about getting out from underneath the weight of the world. Even writers need to goof off once in a while.

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“How’ve you been?” someone asks.

My default answer is almost always the same, “Busy, busy but good.” It’s a knee-jerk response that pops out of my mouth before I’ve even had the chance to properly process the question.

I’m usually sorry the minute I’ve said it. It’s an impersonal and somewhat self-important reply that doesn’t really mean anything.

“Busy” has become a sort of modern virtue. If we are not running late for something, we feel inadequate. If we are not multi-tasking, we feel incompetent. If we are not buckling under the weight of a massive To Do list, we feel deficient.

We sit, each of us, at the center of our own personal universe of responsibilities and obligations. With a magnetic pull worthy of mighty Jupiter, we draw an endless procession of cares and concerns into orbit around our already-spinning heads, enough to keep us running in circles forever and then some.

We commiserate with each other over the undeniable demands on our time, lamenting our inability to extricate ourselves for more than a moment.

Even our children are too busy. With the best of intentions, we rush them from here to there and back again. We enrich their lives with all manner of events and activities, cramming each minute of each day full to bursting. I cringe thinking of how many times I utter the words, “Hurry up!” in the course of any twenty-four hour period.

But just in time to rescue us from ourselves, here comes summer – the season of playing hooky and letting things slide, of long lunches and impromptu evening get togethers that stretch out across the hours while the kids run amuck in the dark, hoping the grownups won’t notice the lateness of the hour.

Summer gives us permission to loosen our grip. It makes it easier to believe that we are not, in fact, responsible for holding the world together through sheer force of will. We regain our perspective, and most of our sanity. We are suddenly open to opportunities for play that until recently seemed too ill-conceived to even consider.

In the summer, almost anything seems possible.

As we slow down and come to our senses, time moves at a more leisurely pace, creating the illusion of longer days and nights. Our minds embrace a new kind of logic that makes it easy to justify choices that favor ease and indulgence over duty. We abandon the vacuum cleaner for a swim in the creek, accept being late to work so that we can enjoy an impromptu coffee with a friend, and find every excuse imaginable to knock off early so that we might savor just a little bit more of summer’s plenty.

The warmth and light, intensified by our increased proximity to the sun, seem to affect an involuntary shift from our usual pragmatic and responsible Yankee outlook to something more suited to the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, or perhaps the south of France.

We relax. We let go of expectations. We rediscover the joy and contentment that can be found in simple pleasures like unplanned meetings that blossom into afternoon adventures, the smoky taste of food cooked over an open fire, the gritty warmth of sand between the toes, and the magic of fireflies in the field.

Yes, here comes summer, our chance to be delightfully irresponsible. Our chance to give up being so busy all the time, and just surrender rebelliously to the spontaneous impulses of the season. In these sun-dappled days, we can recapture, for a moment, what it felt like to be a kid without a care in the world. I can hardly wait.

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. Join me each Saturday for the Weekend Edition – a long-form post on writing and the writing life – and/or introduce yourself on FacebookTwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.

Writers Play


Recently, I’ve been thinking about and researching the science behind play. As I was learning about play, I realized reading about play is actually play for me! One researcher talked about different play personalities and it got me thinking about how we play with words.

I still remember walking out of the medical school library one night with some friends. We’d been studying the lymphatic system (which is similar to arteries and veins but it carries lymph, which is fluid containing inflammatory markers and immune-modulating cells—okay, this is probably way more than you wanted or needed to know about lymph.)

Anyway—as we were walking along, my friend Alex suddenly shouted, “I’m emphatic about lymphatics!”

That was 24 years ago and I still think it’s funny.

Very simple word play, but I love it.

I imagine most writers like word play. I love to catch Will Shortz on NPR on Sunday mornings. He gives a listener a word puzzle to solve and I play along. Each week it’s a different game. Recently he told a listener a category and the listener had to come up with something in that category that started with the last two letters of the category.

One example I remember: Name a cereal. Cereal ends with the letters al, so the answer is a type of cereal that starts with these two letters. Mr. Shortz gave two answers to this one. Got them? See below to find out if you came up with the same answers as the Puzzle Master.

I think the list of games writers like to play is endless so I’ll just tell you my favorite: Quiddler. What’s yours?

Story writing games! Who doesn’t love a good story game? Even if it’s just between you and a writing friend. My sister, a friend, and I used to write installments of an adventure story. I’d write a scene and pass it along to the next person, who would write the next scene. Was it great literature? No. Was is fun? Yes!

Or it could be a writing contest. The Nashua Public Library recently asked writers to submit a 10-word love story. I saw a flyer about it as I was leaving the library one night and I thought about it for days. Here’s what I finally came up with:

He fell.

She stopped.

They hobbled.

She bandaged.

He fell…

Another (weird) writing contest I love is the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest. Bulwer-Lytton penned the words, “It was a dark and stormy night…” The first sentence of that novel ran on for 59 words, and the contest celebrates “wretched writing” by asking entrants to submit the first sentence of a story, with wordiness and multiple dependent clauses taking the place of brevity and word choice. I love reading the winning entrants each year.

There are plenty of ways to take our words and our writing seriously. I’ve mentioned a few ways to play with our words. The outcome is fun but, as with play in general, it serves us well: it increases our social connections, our creativity, and our moods.

How do you like to play as a writer?

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon: is a writer, blogger, life coach, and family physician. The answers to the word game I mentioned by Will Shortz are—you guesses them!—All Bran and Alpha-Bits. Happy playing and happy writing!





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!)

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.
Photo Credit: roujo via Compfight cc

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.”


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.

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.
Puppy Splashing Photo Credit: cobalt123 via Compfight cc

Word Play

At Toastmasters meetings, we usually have a “Word of the Day.” The word is introduced at the beginning of the meeting and everyone at the meeting is challenged to use the word whenever they get up to speak.

Recently, the word was “swivet.” I like to think I have a good vocabulary, but I’d never heard this word before. We were given the definition of the word and it was used in a sentence so we all knew how to use the word correctly. At the end of the meeting, the person who’d given us the word of the day said that we’d used the word “swivet” 15 times during the two hour meeting.

I was impressed. People who had prepared speeches ahead of time figured out a way to incorporate this new word into their speeches, but many others also used the word as they were fulfilling their roles during the meeting.

It got me thinking about playing with words, which I love to do, and also about the fun of playing with words with other people.

Once, when my stepchildren were still in high school, we had a conversation at the breakfast table about our favorite words. Mine’s “balaclava.” I told them I was going to use the word “balaclava” three times that day. They didn’t believe I could do it because it was May and I was seeing patients all day. But you can bet they asked me about it when I saw them that evening! And, no, I didn’t use it three times—but I did use it twice (once in a conversation with a patient about hiking in the White Mountains and once when I mentioned to the women I shared my office with that  the air conditioning was on so high I was going to need a balaclava to get warm!)

Playing with words is a fun way to pass the time or boost our moods, but it also enhances our creativity. If play is essential to creativity, it makes sense that playing with words would be good for a writer’s creativity.

Dr. Stuart Brown, the author of the book Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul, has been studying play for years. He says that play is, by definition, purposeless, all-consuming, and fun. Purposeless in the moment, but purposeful as far as our long-term health and well-being. Dr. Brown believes that play is a biological drive as important to our health as sleep or nutrition.

He also states that “we are designed by nature to flourish through play.”

So next time you think you are wasting time playing word games, think again.

How do you like to play with words?

Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon: I’m a mother, life coach, and writer. I’m working on rediscovering what kind of play I love best, aside from playing with my son, who is teaching me a lot about play. I had so many examples of playing with words when I thought about this blog post, but we each have our own favorites. I’d love to hear yours!