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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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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Weekend Edition – What would Bowie do?

charlie brown david bowie

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My daughter knew him as the Goblin King, but to countless fans around the world and across generations, he was so much more. Since Monday morning’s announcement of his passing, the Internet has been abuzz with lamentations for, tributes to, and a veritable flood of shared memories about David Bowie – the man who fell to earth.

I have spent more time than may be appropriate consuming these digital sound bytes in great gulps, trying to come to terms with the loss of a beloved artist and the feelings that loss has stirred in me. It is disorienting to feel such a genuine sense of sorrow over the death of someone I never met. Bowie was, after all and despite appearances, just another human being. But great artists change us. We are moved by their work and fooled, because we have access to their public personas, into believing in an illusion of intimacy. We weave their personalities and their art into the fabric of our lives, tying their threads to ours with inextricable knots.

For the alienated and the disenfranchised, the prosecuted and the lonely, Bowie was a kind of savior – a beautifully vulnerable yet rebellious demigod of originality and self-expression. Over the course of this past week, I have read dozens of heartfelt stories from grieving fans who relate how Bowie and his music made them feel less alone and inspired them to embrace their weirdness, despite the world telling them they were freaks.

I don’t have a story like that. I can’t lay claim to a moment of teenage epiphany while listening to Space Oddity or Ziggy Stardust. I never wrestled with issues of gender, and my tussles with sexuality were your garden variety coming-of-age affairs. And yet, Bowie was still an important and persistent presence in my life. His music was a linchpin of my personal soundtrack, and his larger-than-life persona was a staple of the room-sized collages that adorned my bedroom door, bulletin board, and eventually the cinderblock walls of my college dorm.

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Great artists – writers, musicians, actors, painters – touch our hearts with their work. They become a proxy for our feelings, saying the things we are afraid to say, don’t know how to say, or aren’t even aware we need to say. This ability to capture and convey human emotions in a story, a song, a performance, or a painting is the closest thing to magic we humans have discovered. The transference of experience and emotion is a powerful tool for discovery and connection. Perhaps the most powerful tool.

But, if we go beyond our experience of great art – if we get a little meta (because that’s where my musings about David Bowie have brought me) – we find that there is something very moving about  the creative act itself.

Bowie was fascinating. He was an enigma, a rebel, an otherworldly force of nature. But, that wasn’t what drew me into his orbit and kept me there for all these decades. Yes, I loved his music and appreciated the message of the lyrics he wrote, but there was something else that went deeper than that. I’m only just now beginning to realize that the something else was the spirit in which he made his art – his creative drive and integrity, his insatiable curiosity, his courage and his commitment, and – not any less important – his sense of play and mischief.

Even more than the overt messages of his songs or the outlandish flair of his stage personas, my artist’s heart responded to the way he threw himself into his creations, the way he believed unwaveringly in the importance and value of what he was doing, the way he never gave up.

And, his road wasn’t easy.

Earlier this week, I watched a documentary about his very early years and learned just how hard Bowie had to work to develop into the artist he became. His earliest albums were wildly erratic explorations of strange territories, many of them very dark. He tried so many different styles, experimenting his way to becoming David Bowie. And with each step he pushed against personal, professional, and cultural boundaries in order to create the art he wanted to create because he believed it mattered.

That’s what makes my throat tighten and brings a tear to my eye – his faith in himself as an artist and his belief that the art – his art – mattered. How many people have that? How many people give themselves permission to create at all, never mind giving themselves carte blanche to create without constraint – to put it all out there, to be outrageous and beautiful, to ask the hard questions, to dive into the darkness, and yet – at the end of the day – to still be amazed that people take any of it seriously?

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I never needed Bowie to be my champion as an isolated or abandoned youth. I didn’t need him to tell me it was okay to be different. What I needed, though I didn’t know it, was someone to show me what it looks like to have faith in your art.

I’ve been mourning Bowie’s death because we lost a one-of-a-kind artist, but there’s more to it than that. As fans, ours is not the deep heartbreak of Bowie’s friends and family; but our grief is no less real. We may not have known the man – David Jones – personally, but he was a part of our lives nonetheless. When he died, a little piece of me died, too. My connection to my past became a little more tenuous. The reality of my own death became a little more concrete. As a friend of mine said on Monday, “It was only today that I realized he was mortal.”

And so, we come to the heart of the matter.

As human beings, we routinely forget that we are mortal. We grant ourselves a kind of immortality born of denial. We have time, we think. We have tomorrow. But then we lose someone like David Bowie, an artist who touched our lives deeply and who seemed to exist outside of the limitations of mortality, and we are reminded how little time we actually have, how fragile we really are.

As artists, this realization is terrifying; but it’s also a wake-up call. If I am honest with myself, I have to admit that my mourning for Bowie is tangled up with gut-twisting feelings of regret and remorse for the time I’ve lost. The dark side of my admiration of his commitment to his art is the cruel comparison to my own creative shortcomings – all the times I’ve failed to follow his example, instead choosing the safe and comfortable path.

There will never be another Bowie, but each of us can learn from him. Bowie taught us many things about how to create art and how to live a creative life. Now, it’s up to us. You don’t have to be a rock star. You don’t have to be outrageous or famous. You just have to be the artist you already are. You have to embrace your own creative spark and spirit and find the courage to share that with the world.

Times columnist Caitlin Moran may have put it best,

When in doubt, listen to David Bowie. In 1968, Bowie was a gay, ginger, bonk-eyed, snaggle-toothed freak walking around south London in a dress, being shouted at by thugs. Four years later, he was still exactly that – but everyone else wanted to be like him, too. If David Bowie can make being David Bowie cool, you can make being you cool. PLUS, unlike David Bowie, you get to listen to David Bowie for inspiration. So, you’re already one up on him, really. YOU’RE ALREADY ONE AHEAD OF DAVID BOWIE.

Fans, critics, and even the people who were closest to him are calling Blackstar Bowie’s parting gift, but I think Bowie’s true parting gift is so much bigger. Teaching by example, he gave us an inspiring blueprint for how to believe in and commit to our own art. He didn’t hold back, and he never stopped creating. He remained eternally curious and enthusiastic. He experimented, collaborated, and played. And, perhaps most importantly, he embodied a steadfast belief in the intrinsic value of art and of the creative process.

What would Bowie do? No matter what, Bowie would make art. Thank you, Mr. Jones, for setting the example. Thank you.

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Jamie Lee Wallace David Bowie fan, evolving writer, and creative human being. Introduce yourself on Facebooktwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.
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Weekend Edition – Why I Blog, One Writer’s Convoluted Tale

Blogging – Why I Do It & What It Does For Me

hands keyboardThis week’s Friday Fun post asked, “Why do you blog, and is it worth it?” It’s a valid question. Blogging can be a very time consuming pursuit. I spend an average of five hours each week planning, writing, and commenting here at Live to Write – Write to Live. That’s a pretty substantial chunk of time in my world, hours some might say I should spend working on other writing projects – a novel, a nonfiction book, a short story collection, etc. Though I sometimes worry that maybe those people are right, and my blogging habit is just an elaborate procrastination scheme, those moments of doubt don’t last long. I know there’s much more to my blogging than mere avoidance.

Anyway, since client deadlines kept me from chiming in on yesterday’s Friday Fun post, I wanted to take some time today to share a little bit about why I blog, what it means to me, what it does for me, and to invite you to share your thoughts on the topic.

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My blogging journey began more or less by accident. I’ve shared my blogging genesis story before, but the short version is that I began by publicly journaling about my divorce, which led to a gig as a mommy blogger, which gave me the confidence to launch a marketing blog with five other professional copywriters, which eventually landed me here (since one of those other copywriters was our own, dear Wendy). I no longer mommy blog, or write for my own or any other marketing blog, but I continue putting in my five hours each week here.

Why?

Good question.

There are several different kinds of bloggers. Some bloggers …

  • Develop blog properties with the focused intent of monetizing them via products, ad revenue, or affiliate sales
  • Use their blogs as content marketing, not expecting any direct monetary return from the blog, but using it to promote their expertise in order to land clients for their business
  • Do what they do simply to express themselves, share their knowledge, and build communities around common experiences and interests
  • Writers and artists, create a blog to be both a portfolio and a community hub for their fans and patrons, using it to increase awareness of and support for their work
  • Use their blogs as a public chronicle of a personal journey, exploring their lives, thoughts, and emotions
  • Blog purely to keep themselves accountable to a writing practice

When you understand which of these reasons motivates you to blog, you’ll have a much easier time setting expectations, making blog-related choices, and reaching goals (whether your goal is selling 1,000 copies of your novel or simply sticking to a consistent writing schedule for three years). When you’re clear about why you’re blogging and what you hope to get out of it, you gain a lot of valuable clarity. You can be more intentional about what you write, and this will help you evolve as a blogger (and a writer!) more quickly and in a more meaningful way.

I definitely started out as a blogger who wanted nothing more than to express myself and find a community of people who could relate to what I was going through. I had little knowledge of what blogging actually was, no idea how it’s popularity would explode, and no clear vision of where I wanted to go with it. I just wanted to get stuff out of my head and into the world. I loved that people responded to what I wrote, and was giddy when someone offered to pay me for my writing.

My professional blogging about marketing and copywriting was straight-up content marketing. As someone new on the freelancer scene, I needed a way to demonstrate to prospective clients that I knew what I was talking about and could wrangle words. Blogging helped me build an archive of articles on relevant topics that I could later use when pitching a client. I even had a few instances where clients found me through the blog (though, because I didn’t do any heavy promotion for the blog, those were few and far between).

Today, my hybrid motivation is a mash-up of professional (build a portfolio, create a platform), personal (explore ideas, connect with others), artistic (improve my craft, hone my voice), and pragmatic (stay productive and accountable) reasons. It’s a lot to expect of any practice, but – in my experience – blogging delivers.

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In her book, The Power of Vulnerability, Brené Brown talks about the importance of having a creative outlet. She says, “Unused creativity is not benign – it metastasizes. It turns into grief, rage, judgement, sorrow, shame.” She also touches on the importance of doing work that fulfills you – work with a purpose that is meaningful to you. She’s quick to clarify that she doesn’t mean you should quit your day job in order to pursue work that won’t keep a roof over your head. She explains that people who live “whole-heartedly” make time in their lives for meaningful work, but that very few of them actually do such work as their main profession. In most cases, the meaningful work is something they do outside of their regular jobs: a plumber who paints on the weekends, an accountant who is also a jewelry designer, a marketing assistant who spends three weeks a year volunteering as a relief worker in third-world countries.

She also points out that the meaningful work doesn’t have to be grandiose. Your meaningful work doesn’t have to receive accolades, make money, or earn you any major recognition. It just needs to make you happy by providing you a way to express your own unique creativity. She gives the example of a woman who makes handmade candles to sell on Etsy. The woman doesn’t make any money selling the candles, and she only makes four each month, but that’s enough. For her, that is meaningful work that allows her to share a little bit of herself with others in an authentic and vulnerable way. Brown says, “The only unique contribution that we will ever make in this world will be born of our creativity.”

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In his book, Show Your Work, artist and writer Austin Kleon talks about the importance of putting your work out into the world – sharing it, even if you’re scared. He encourages artists to think in terms of “process, not product,” and to share what you’re doing in order to “gain a following that you can then use for fellowship, feedback, or patronage.”

This idea of showing your work can be, in both a literal and a meta way, the very essence of your blogging. As a blogger, I do not pretend to have all the answers. I do not present myself as a “guru” or an “expert.” I prefer to think of myself as a fellow traveler, someone with whom you may share some part of your journey, but who may also have traveled roads as yet unknown to you. While I am happy to share what I’ve learned along the way, I tend to ask more questions than I answer. I am, as Kleon recommends, fully immersed in the process.

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I share the work of these two writers because, together, their insights illuminate the primary reasons I blog: to express my creativity, create meaningful work in my life, share my experiences and ideas, and to stay grounded in the process as much as – if not more than – the outcome of my writing.

I am not discounting my professional and material reasons for blogging – portfolio and platform building, etc. My work here on Live to Write – Write to Live serves those purposes as well, but – to come back to the original question about why I consistently spend five hours each week blogging – my motivation for showing up here has less to do with my career goals or the prospect of any financial reward and everything to do with my drive to explore my experience, connect with others, and practice my craft.

Blogging has become, for me, an integral part of my creative journey, and as such, the greatest rewards are in the doing work, in giving myself the time and head space to step out of my day-to-day and be fully here, with my thoughts and with other writers who are on their own journeys. And, if that’s not worth it, I don’t know what is.

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Shareworthy:

This week, two of my writer friends published pieces that are worth reading:

Illustration by Rick Brown

Illustration by Rick Brown

Tracy Mayor, my friend and accomplished essayist, wrote an insightful and inspirational piece about “The Gap Year” for Brain, Child Magazine (the smartest, sassiest, most entertaining parenting magazine out there). A “gap year” is a year period of time that students take off from school, usually between high school graduation and college, or after their freshman or sophomore year at college. Typically, students will put their formal education on hold for a year or so in order to pursue travel, outside studies, an internship, or another kind of purposeful journey or exploration.

My daughter just entered middle school this year, and I know that the next few years are going to fly by. It may seem like a long way off, but I realize that before I’m ready, we’ll be facing decisions about what she wants to do after high school. I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of a gap year, and the research Tracy shares in her essay points to many benefits including increased maturity, greater focus, and even better study habits and academic performance.

I also love that Tracy tweeted the piece with this comment:

tracy m tweet

We’ve decided that our mommy gap year will take place in Iceland.

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Photo by Eneas De Troya

Photo by Eneas De Troya

This week also included a treat of a read from my friend YiShun Lai. Her short story, “Next of Kin” (published by Atticus Review) is an exemplary piece of work that reminded me how satisfying a short story can be.

The story begins …

At the consular offices in Mexico City, the dress code is nearly always casual. Open-necked shirts, light-colored trousers that won’t stick when you get up from a park bench after your lunchtime meeting afuera.

Your father is not as interested in this new posting, but then, he’s always thought the jobs that required a suit and tie were the only ones ever worth living. At your last posting, in Hong Kong, it was suits and ties every day.

You prefer this casual option. Yes, Dad, it has buttons on it. No, Dad, I’m not buttoning that top button.

Your first few weeks are an absolute mess. Dad has decided to come for a visit before his airline miles expire, conveniently a month after your arrival in Mexico.

Read the rest here …

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

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Finally, a quote for the week:

Rather than a quote, this week I’m sharing a lovely video about the art of bookmaking. Stories are magic, and books are the vessels that hold that magic. The art of crafting books using traditional techniques is, then, a magic all its own.

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Here’s to discovering and embracing your creative journey (whether it includes blogging, or not), and to enjoying the process as much as the product. Happy writing!  
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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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Hands on Keyboard, Photo Credit: Anonymous Account via Compfight cc

Friday Fun – Does your writing have a message?

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: Do you believe that your writing is built around a particular message or theme? If so, is the inclusion of that element intentional or unintentional? 

JME5670V2smCROPJamie Wallace: Definitely. I can’t recall starting out with any intentions to deliver a particular message, but the more I write, the more I notice that certain themes keep creeping into my work. Whether I’m writing a blog post, a column, a story, or even a feature piece for a magazine, I tend to weave in observations and details that encourage readers to slow down, step back, and notice the little things. I always look for ways to incorporate different kinds of magic into my writing, everything from the awe-inspiring beauty and vibrancy of nature to the miracles of the human heart to the hidden realms of faerie and folklore. And, I am (and forever will be) a die-hard Pollyanna – optimistic and hopeful to the last.  I also love to offer encouragement via my writing, whether it’s a straight-up pep talk, or a more subtle approach through a story where the underdog comes out on top. If I had to pick one “theme” in my writing, I think it would be “connection” … to others, to the world, and to the self. I find that all the other “messages” in my writing – small joys, slowing down, beauty, magic, hope – all roll up under that one umbrella of connecting in a deep and honest way.

LisaJJackson_2014Lisa J. Jackson: I’d like to think I have a theme or message whenever I write; and that is to be happy in whatever you’re doing – to enjoy life and the experiences you have each day. We have a finite amount of time and living with regrets or waiting until “later” doesn’t lead to feeling great. I hope to inspire people with my experiences and stories, whether personal or work related.

wendy-shotWendy Thomas: Like Jamie, I find that my writing has settled into themes with those being – teaching, parenting, and life lessons (which includes the chickens :-))  Pieces around those themes are the kinds of stories I have always loved to read and those are the strongest stories that I tend to write. For this, I have to blame my kids,  once you have children you are all about passing on life lessons and trying to guide them along the right path. It’s a natural progression that this desire to teach shows up in  the rest of your work.

I also tend to be incurably optimistic, not so much the sunshine and glitter kind of optimism, but more the – okay, let me think about this, I’m sure we can come up with a solution kind. I’m all about facing a difficulty with creativity, determination, and bravery. Over the years, most of my best writing had tended to reflect this.