Friday Fun – What is your piece’s purpose?

Friday Fun is a group post from the writers of the NHWN blog. Each week, we’ll pose and answer a different, get-to-know-us question. We hope you’ll join in by providing your answer in the comments.

QUESTION:  

Success is having a flair for the thing that you are doing; knowing that is not enough,

you have got to have hard work and a certain sense of purpose.

Margaret Thatcher

When I teach my writing classes I always devote a few good discussions on identifying a piece’s purpose. Without knowing what the purpose or reason is behind what it is you write, I tell my students, you are simply stumbling blindly in the dark.

Having a consistent purpose is the lifeblood of all writing. When the purpose switches the piece loses its footing. Doubt me?  – take a look at many editorial letters that start off talking about one thing and then they switch purpose by adding “and another thing” or “yeah, but..” The writer may begin explaining what is wrong about a new town ordinance, but then he switches to being angry about some unrelated, unfair event. What’s going on? The purpose has switched from informing others to venting about a perceived injustice. The purpose of those types of letters changes mid-stride resulting in the piece losing all credibility.

The purpose (along with the audience, tone, and topic) are so important, that I advise students to write it (them) out on a sticky note and post in on the corner of their monitor when writing so that they don’t forget. If they get lost in their writing (writer’s block) they need to do a check to see if they are still on message. (And sometimes as a piece evolves, the purpose might change.)

Let’s talk about your writing purpose today, think of your latest work or project, – what is its purpose?

And is this purpose consistent throughout your entire piece?


Wendy E.N. Thomaswendy-shot: My latest project is an account of the border-to-border walk I took this summer with my son. My purpose is a few-fold, to teach, entertain, and to inspire. It’s a long piece, so yes, I have found myself inadvertently switching purpose a few times. Most notably I see this when I start getting angry about how my son with chronic Lyme was misdiagnosed for so long.

When I catch myself doing this, I remove the passages and save them in a file for later. The time will come for a piece on chronic Lyme where the purpose will be to show my anger. It’s just not now in this piece.

Lee Laughlin CU 7-13

Lee Laughlin: My WIP is a novel, first and foremost, it is a romance, so it’s purpose is to get the hero and heroine to happily-ever-after. The secondary purpose is to introduce readers to the concepts of food deserts and multiple chemical sensitivities.

I don’t want to be preachy, but many people don’t know anything about either, so I view the story as a brief introduction to both topics.

JME5670V2smCROPJamie Wallace: I think there are two aspects to this question. One has to do with your “why” – the thing that drives you to write, the truth you’re trying to illuminate, the change you want to see in the world. The other is about how to build a piece of writing around that why, how to keep it focused so that your words and stories can have the greatest impact.

These are both topics that I’ve written about before, so I’ll offer up a few past posts as possible fodder for ongoing exploration of these ideas:

  • What Your Writing Is Missing and How to Get It – in which we talk about finding the “why” behind your urge to write based on Simon Sinek’s TED Talk.
  • Why We Write – A Novel Answer – in which we look at Mario Vargas Llosa’s book Letters to a Young Novelist and explore the idea of writing as rebellion.
  • Writing About Issues – in which the team from the excellent Writing Excuses podcast is joined by guest author Desiree Burch for an insightful conversation about how to write about issues without screwing it up.
  • Get Mad. Marketing from Your Dark Side – in which we take a trip to my marketing blog to learn about the importance of villains.
  • Embrace Your Dark Side – in which I expand on the idea in the previous post with the help of some other creative folks.

Top 5 Writer’s Weekend Edition Posts of 2016

As I mentioned in a recent post, I’m having a little trouble getting back in gear after the holidays. It’s the start of a shiny New Year, but I’m not quite all the way into the swing of it yet. Though part of my malaise may yet be due to holiday hangover, I think I must admit at this point – nearly two weeks into 2017 – that it’s also partly due to my continuing struggle to process and deal with all the crazy things happening in the news … in my country. The results of last year’s election have awakened my inner activist, and I find that I am frequently distracted by the latest developments on the political scene. (Those are words I never thought I’d write.)

That said, I am a writer, and I must write. So, while it may take me some time to adjust to being consistently productive in this new environment, that is what I will do.

For today, however, I would like to share the top five Writer’s Weekend Edition posts from last year. I’ve selected them based on the number of comments they received, because I figure if someone likes something enough to take the time to comment, that is the truest measurement of how much that piece of writing has done its job.

Looking forward to another great year of sharing my random (and not-so-random) thoughts with you, and hopefully once again having the privilege of engaging in dialog with you about those ramblings.

_jamie sig

 

 


Number 5: Stillness, Solitude, and the Practice of Writing

Retreat HesseWriting is a solitary act, but being a writer is not.  We live in the Real World with everyone else, and our lives are just as full and noisy and chaotic as the next person’s. We have friends and family to care for and enjoy. We have day jobs (with meetings and emails and conference calls) and households to manage (via negotiation and sometimes bribery). We are subjected to the same onslaught of news, social media, and sundry other local and global communications as every other non-luddite member of this hyper-connected human race.  [Read more …]

Number 4: 3 Steps to Your Perfect Writing Life

Image from megankatenelson.com

Image from megankatenelson.com

Do you remember the first time you wrote? I don’t mean the first time you formed the letters of the alphabet or wrote your name. I mean the first time you sat down alone and wrote something all your own. Do you remember what  you wrote, why you wrote it, or what it felt like to put words – your words – down on the page? Did you have any idea then that you would keep writing – day after day, year after year?

Today marks thirty-nine years, one month, and thirteen days since I wrote my first journal entry. I was seven years-old at the time, and the words I chose for the first page of my first notebook were not my own. They were Shakespeare’s.  [Read more …]


Number 3: Why Writing Matters (How to Justify Your Passion)

free diverSometimes, the gravity of real life threatens to pull me out of my creative orbit. The inescapable responsibility of being human weighs heavily – the “Real World” of work, relationships, and surviving on this fragile planet crushing in on me like pressure on an ascending deep sea diver. The closer I get to daylight, the further I am from the intimate, interior depths of my creative endeavors. That inner life disappears into the darkness below as I’m drawn toward the surface, my tenuous connection lost until I dive again.

Above the waves, my belief in the importance of the world below fades.  Submerged in the process, my work felt real and worthwhile. [Read more …]


Number 2: A Writer’s New Year

Like the years, the days are each part of a continuum.

Like the years, the days are each part of a continuum.

The New Year is a time to reflect and plan. It’s a time to reevaluate our priorities and our progress toward our goals. Midnight on December 31st marks the seam between the old and the new; it is the boundary between the past and the future – the threshold over which we must step in order to enter the next phase of our lives.

Damn. That’s a lot of pressure.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the idea of a fresh start. I also relish poring over the old year’s journal entries looking for thematic patterns in my thoughts and dreams. I love the creative process of finding the perfect word to embody my intentions for the year ahead, and the more arduous work of drilling down to discover exactly what those intentions might be. I love the myth and magic of the many New Year’s traditions that help us whisk away the old and ring in the new. [Read more …]


And the Number 1 Writer’s Weekend Edition Post of 2016 (based on number of comments): What’s Holding You Back from Your Writer’s Life?

Don't be scared of paper tigers.

Don’t be scared of paper tigers.

I’m in need of a writer-to-writer pep talk today, so I’ve decided to give myself one.

This isn’t going to be easy. I’m realizing, to my chagrin, that being optimistic and upbeat comes much more naturally when things are going well. Who’d have thought? Maintaining a good attitude is a bit more challenging when you’re stuck at the bottom of the proverbial well with no rope and no ladder (and a creeping suspicion that something malicious may be lurking down there with you, just waiting to jump out from the shadows and give you a nasty bite, or worse). [Read more …]


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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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Writer’s Weekend Resources – Why Art Matters More Than Ever

 

pin-tell-stories-ecoI haven’t got my usual list of favorite blog posts and recently read books for you today. It’s been a long week and, like many people, I’ve been distracted from my usual routines by current events. I’m behind on client deadlines and pretty much irreversibly behind on my NaNoWriMo novel (a reality I’ll address in a future post).

As a writer, it’s never a good feeling when we become – for whatever reason –temporarily disconnected from our work; but I also know that writers are “writing” even when they are unable to put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. Everything we experience is part of our process. Everything.

So, while I don’t have a long list of links to share today, I did want to share links to a few pieces that helped me center and ground myself in the midst of all the chaos, uncertainty, and fear:

From Creating Art Matters More Than Ever by @KendraLevin:

I’ve heard many people talking about how trivial everything seems in comparison with national events and their global reverberations. Many writers were a week into National Novel Writing Month at the time of the election. To resume as if nothing has changed seems impossible; to focus on our own work when such massive changes are going on all around us can feel solipsistic and naïve, or the work can seem trivial.

But it’s not.

From On Going High by @danijshapiro:

To be a writer, and to be a teacher of writing, is to constantly, steadfastly open oneself up to what is.  To not shy away.  To feel fear and embrace that fear — otherwise known as courage — and to find a voice for what feels impossible to say.

From 5 Reasons Writing is Important to the World by @KMWeiland:

[podcast w/transcript]

Stories are, fundamentally, truths. Even when the author didn’t intend it to be so, even when he is unaware of it—even when the readers or viewers are unaware–a story is always a statement. If it is to ring true, then what it says must reflect reality—it must reflect what is true.

And what is true is always good—whether it is beautiful, whether it is dark, whether it is healing, whether it is painful. Truth is always a beacon, a guiding light pointing us back to the best things in life.

In a follow-up post, Weiland shares the personal stories of her readers/listeners as they wrote about why writing is important to them: 15 (More) Reasons Writing is Important – In Your Own Words.

 ··• )o( •··

 

I hope that these posts might provide some comfort and inspiration to anyone who is struggling to reconnect with his or her writing. And I hope that maybe they will get us all thinking about the importance of connecting through story – of sharing and listening and learning.

 

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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.

This post originally appeared on the Live to Write – Write to Live blog.
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Writer’s Weekend Edition: A Question of Purpose

Who is behind your words?

Who is behind your words? Image by Katie Lion

In last week’s round-up of favorite blog posts, I shared a piece by Steven Pressfield that posed the question, “What kind of writer are you?”

Pressfield shared an epiphany he had about his writing career while struggling to find common ground between the stories he wanted to write and the box office hits his movie studio clients wanted him to churn out. The conflict between his own aspirations and those of his employers caused him to take a good, hard look at his identity as a writer:

In other words, for the first time in my twenty-plus year writing life, I found myself confronting the questions, “What kind of writer am I? Why am I doing this? How do I define success as a writer?”

Am I a writer for hire?

Am I a genre writer?

What kind of writer am I?

··• )o( •··

I have not yet come to a point in my own writing journey where I can clearly and definitively label myself as any particular kind of writer.  Honestly, I’m not sure I should want to. I’m a blogger and a columnist, a copywriter and a developer of marketing messages. I’m also an aspiring fiction writer who constantly berates herself for her inability to make more time for that particular pursuit. I’m also a writer simply by dint of my lifelong journaling practice, which I started at the age of seven.

Defining the “what” of my writing life has always seemed less important to me than defining the “why.” Digging into why I write is a topic that I return to again and again. I have written countless entries in my personal diaries and journals, and I have also written on the topic here, and here, and here (and probably elsewhere, but I can’t recall).

But now I wondering if “Why?” is the wrong question to ask.

··• )o( •··

What if, instead of asking what kind of writer you are, or why you’re writing, you asked yourself who you’re writing for?

Who?

Because – here’s the thing – I can guarantee that you aren’t writing into a void. Even if no one else ever reads what you write, you’re writing for someone.

That someone might be an individual, or it might be a group of people. It might be your mother or father, a long-lost love, or your child. You might be writing for people who have experienced a loss or trauma similar to one you have endured. You might be writing for people who feel alone. You might be writing for immigrants. You might be writing for people who need a source of hope, or people who believe in right vs. might, or people who search for magic in the world … just like you do.

You might be writing for you.

You might be writing for your younger self, telling the stories that would have made a difference in your life, had you read them when you were a child or a young adult.

You might be writing for the person you are today. Giving yourself a pep talk or the chance to reflect or a simple diversion from the trials of life.

You might be writing for the person you keep hidden from the world, or the person you know you could be if you could only find the passion or the courage or the joy.

··• )o( •··

So, ask yourself – who are you writing for?

And then ask yourself why you’re writing for that person or group of people. Are you trying to make them laugh, smile, or cry? Are you trying to show them something new, change their minds, prove to them that they matter? Are you trying to inspire or humble?

And that will help you understand what kind of writer you are.

Start with “who,” and the rest will fall into place.

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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.

This post originally appeared on the Live to Write – Write to Live blog.
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Photo Credit: Katie Lion Flickr via Compfight cc

Writer’s Weekend Edition – The Power of Story in the “Real” World

alice-in-battle

Alice: Another character embracing the great responsibility that accompanies her great power.

About a month ago, I published a piece here called, Remember. The World Runs on Stories.  It was mostly a note of encouragement to writers who felt that their pursuit of the writing craft was either a waste of time or a selfish indulgence … or, perhaps, both.

But, there’s another aspect to the idea of stories running the world that’s been nagging at me.

··• )o( •··

My daughter was home sick from school on Thursday, and we watched the 2002 Spiderman movie starring Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst. One of the most quotable lines from that movie is when young Peter Parker’s uncle tells the emerging superhero that, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

It’s a great line.

While it’s reported to have made its pop culture debut in the Spiderman comic back in 1962, the origins of the quote go much farther back in history. Some researchers  cite similar phrases showing up throughout history: in 1793 at the French National Convention; in 1817 at the UK House of Commons; in 1854 in a text published by Reverend John Cumming, a Minister of the Scottish National Church, and so on.

Clearly, this isn’t a new concept.

··• )o( •··

A while back, a Livingston Taylor song inspired me to write a piece called It’s Good to Be the Writer. The funny, little song about an author arguing with his protagonist over the storyline highlights the power an author ultimately has over the creation of worlds, characters, and plots. Writers are, in a way, like the gods of our own realities.

But, what we sometimes forget is that the worlds we create can develop lives outside the confines of their reality. In fact, that’s their purpose, isn’t it?

··• )o( •··

While some may argue that certain stories are nothing more than “pure entertainment,” I’m not sure I believe that. Stories are the writer’s thoughts, ideas, and beliefs packaged up into a format that is entertaining; but the fact that the format – whether written, audio, or visual – is entertaining does not strip a story of its meaning.

When I read Mario Vargas Llosa’s Letters to a Young Novelist, I was intrigued by the idea expressed in this quote from the book:

What is the origin of this early inclination, the source of the literary vocation, for inventing beings and stories? The answer, I think, is rebellion. I’m convinced that those who immerse themselves in the lucubration of lives different from their own demonstrate indirectly their rejection and criticism of life as it is, of the real world, and manifest their desire to substitute for it the creations of their imaginations and dreams.

Rebellion? Interesting.

··• )o( •··

I have always been especially drawn to and enchanted by works in the “speculative fiction” genre – science fiction, fantasy, alternative history, surrealism, and magical surrealism. While many relegate these kinds of stories to that “pure entertainment” category, they are, in fact, some of the most influential and persistent narratives in our culture.

Storytellers working in these genres have an unparalleled ability to explore alternate realities and possibilities, spinning tales off in unexpected directions in pursuit of a particular line of reasoning or “What if?” scenario. These writers can push characters and storylines beyond the boundaries imposed by “real” life, and yet their fantastical stories often put us in closer touch with what’s happening in this world, right now. And, often, their works turn out to be startlingly prophetic.

··• )o( •··

As writers, we are responsible for the stories that we put into the world.

I’m not, by any means, advocating for a world full of morality tales. I’m saying that writers need to be aware that each story they create becomes part of the fabric of reality. Stories are not exactly inanimate. When a reader’s mind encounters a story, a chemical reaction takes place that changes both reader and story. We cannot consume any story without internalizing some aspect of it … hero, villain, belief, possibility.

The stories we internalize color our reality, throwing shadows of themselves across our experience on both a conscious and subconscious level. Some stories offer wish fulfillment, others serve as cautionary tales. Some stories give us courage and motivate us to step more fully into our potential. Some stories make us slow down and rethink the reality we’ve come to take for granted. Some stories help us cope with pain and fear through laughter, acceptance, and shared experience. Some stories provide forgiveness, others hold us accountable.

··• )o( •··

It doesn’t matter if you write for an audience of one or a readership that spans continents. Your stories make a difference. Just by writing them, you change yourself, and the effects of that change ripple out from you into the world via every interaction you have with others. And when you share your stories, the effects expand exponentially as each reader takes a little piece of your world view and incorporates some aspect of it into their own.

The world really does run on stories, and each one has the power to change the world. Remember that when you’re writing and when you share your writing with others. There is great power in words and stories. Wield the power wisely. Take responsibility.

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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.

This post originally appeared on the Live to Write – Write to Live blog.
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Writer’s Weekend Edition – A Crisis of [Writing] Faith

Photo by R. Keith Clontz

Photo by R. Keith Clontz

There’s obviously something going on with me and my writing.

You only have to scan my latest posts to see what I mean:

And, if we go back a little farther, starting at the end of 2015, my selected archive is a string of somewhat angsty, slightly rebellious, occasionally forlorn posts:

Holy crap. I haven’t exactly been a ray of sunshine, have I? (Which is weird because I am actually one of the most optimistic – sometimes annoyingly so – people I know.) Honestly, I knew something was up, but listing those posts out like that … whoa. I have to admit that even I’m a little dismayed at the story arc that’s showing up.

··• )o( •··

Maybe it’s good to confront these themes of doubt and fear and an apparent need for permission. As ugly as they are, they are obviously a part of my writing journey. I love writing, but it is clearly not a walk through a rainbow-bedecked, unicorn-infested woodland. I am not tripping down a sunlight-dappled path, picking daisies and trilling cheerful tunes that attract bluebirds and butterflies to my outstretched fingertips.

Neither, however, am I walking through a tangled forest of doom and foreboding. There is no dark past or traumatic event that hangs over me like a curse. I have no deep-seated emotional scars or daily crises to drive my purpose and shape my words. I am not on a mission for catharsis (at least, not that I know of).

Instead, I’m just a “regular” person leading a “normal” life. And somehow, that feels like a liability to my creative work.

··• )o( •··

I have no insights or answers to offer up today.

Despite the weekend deadlines hanging over my head today, I took a few moments this morning to sip a hot, cinnamon chai down at my favorite coffee shop. From my seat at the corner table, I watched people coming and going. I wondered about their lives and their dreams and their creative journeys. I tried,  once again, to sort out my thoughts about my own creative life – what it is, what I want it to be, and where it’s headed. All I could come up with is this rather random list of questions:

  • Am I having a crisis of writing faith? Have I been blindly pursuing writing because it’s been a part of my identity for so long?
  • Is the medium really the message, or am I missing my message?
  • Is writing What I Do, or is it how I process and share What I Do? (And, are those two options really all that different?)
  • What is the purpose of a life? (Oh yeah – I went there.)
  • Am I overthinking this? Am I taking myself WAY too seriously?
  • Is the unexamined life really not worth living (Thanks, Socrates, for that brain twister) … or, is ignorance bliss?
  • What do I really want to say? Do I have anything to say?

··• )o( •··

While this inner battle has clearly been brewing in my head for a long, long time, it was a post from Dan Blank (Double down, with vigor) that was the catalyst for me putting these scary thoughts out into the world. So, thanks, Dan.

I hate the thought of being a whiner or being self-indulgent. But, I also live in dread that I will reach the end of my days only to realize that I missed my path and wasted all my precious time. I worry that I’m not being “authentic.” I worry that I’m basing all my decisions on fear and caution. As Dan said in his post, you need to focus on what you want as if you’re drowning. Forget best practices. Forget the safe and the boring ways of doing things. Go ahead and make “the biggest ruckus you could possibly make.”

Maybe that’s the answer. Even though (knock on wood), life is good, it feels like I’m drowning sometimes. Life is like that for a lot of people, even the regular ones who lead normal lives.

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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: R. Keith Clontz via Compfight cc

Short and Sweet Advice for Writers: Remember. The World Runs on Stories.

tiny storiesI have yet to meet a writer who doesn’t routinely doubt the sanity of writing. Despite realizing that writing is an inextricable part of our identity, we can’t help but question its usefulness and value. We feel guilty and self-indulgent. We worry (and sometimes believe) that there are other, more Important Things we should be doing with our time. 

Rubbish.

No matter what our culture may try to make you believe. Writing is Important. Your writing it important.  Writing is your “real” job. It matters. And, you know why? Because the world runs on stories.

If you don’t believe me, I challenge you to go through ONE DAY without consuming or sharing a single story. Go ahead. I dare you. I double dog dare you.

It’s impossible.

Spend thirty seconds on social media – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, whatever platform you choose – it’s all stories. Watch the news, a movie, a TV show, or a documentary – all stories. Listen to the lyrics of a song, the banter of radio DJs, or the gossip of the little old ladies at your local coffee shop – all stories. Every commercial and advertisement you’ve ever seen – stories. Every whisper of the voices in your own head telling you you can or you can’t –stories. The dream your child told you over breakfast, the email your friend sent you about her trip out West, the joke your coworker told you at the water cooler – nothing but stories.

And not only do we have an insatiable hunger for stories, our appetites are as diverse as we are. While we crave stories in general as human beings, as individuals, we seek out particular kinds of stories – fiction and nonfiction, romance, fantasy, horror, historical, and so on. No matter what kinds of stories you write, there are people out there who want to read them, need to read them.

So, dear writer, when you are feeling low or confused or doubtful of your path, when you are questioning the sanity of spending an entire life putting one word down after another, remember that the world runs on stories: big stories and small, the stories heard round the world and the stories written only for your own heart, sad stories and happy, comforting stories and stories that upset the status quo, realistic and fantastic stories, tragic and funny stories … all kinds of stories, created by all kinds of people, and consumed by every human being on the planet. Remember this, and keep writing.

 

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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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