Writers’ Freedoms and Freedom.to for Writers

Today, I’d like to share a couple of things that are, in a way, at opposite ends of the “engagement” spectrum:

On the #writersresist front, PEN America’s Daily Alert on Rights and Expression (aka: DARE):

pen-americaPen America is the largest of more than 100 centers of PEN International, a group that has been supporting the freedom of writers for more than 90 years. On their website, they state their mission as, “PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world.  Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.”

While most of their freedom-fighting work has been needed abroad, recent shifts in the U.S. government – perhaps, in particular, the new administration’s contentious relationship with the media – have shone the spotlight on instances of concern here in America. In response to this, PEN America has refocused its newsletter and begun publishing a daily (yes, daily) update on rights and expression at home and globally.  You can find all the editions of this on the PEN America blog. You can also subscribe to the PEN America newsletters and then manage your preferences to focus on just the DARE one if you like.

On the #savemysanity front, the Freedom app that allows you to cut off your access to specific websites:

app-freedomI missed the window to share my two cents in last week’s Friday Fun post. We were asked to provide tips for writing during times of turmoil.  As I mentioned in my recent weekend edition post, I’m definitely feeling some tension between my writing and my life.  As someone who hasn’t been previously engaged in politics or legislative activism, I’ve been feeling overwhelmed by everything I have to learn and all the news I feel I need to consume. I’m working on finding a saner, healthier balance, but – in the meantime – I’ve also armed myself with a handy little tool for shutting myself out of, say, Facebook for an hour or so at a time.

The Freedom app offers a multi-session trial so you can try it out. A couple of tips:

  • If you’re running a social media app on your smartphone, Freedom will not be able to block access to the app. (It works only on web browser protocols and cannot override app permissions.) If you find yourself reaching for your phone too often, may I suggest putting it in another room, or maybe locking it in your car.
  • I also found that on my MacBook Pro, if I have an instance of Facebook open in a browser tab, I can still interact with it a little once my Freedom session starts. Solution: I click to refresh the Facebook tab, and then I get a little message telling me that the website is unavailable. (At which point, I breathe a deep sigh of relief.)

I hope you find both of these resources helpful. While it’s important to keep our eyes open and stay aware of what’s happening in the broader writing community (including novelists, journalists, poets, nonfiction writers, etc.), it’s also important to carve out time for our own work free from distractions and all the “noise” that’s jamming the Internet.

Good luck in your battles on both fronts, and – no matter what happens – keep writing!

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.

Short and Sweet Advice for Writers – Showing Up

If it’s true what they say, that 80 percent of success is showing up …

80percentMost often attributed to Woody Allen, the maxim “80 percent of success is showing up” has earned its place in the collective cultural consciousness.  But, how does one actually “show up,” and is it as easy to do as it sounds?

According to a Quote Investigator rundown on the origins of the Allen quip, the context of the writer/director’s observation was a 1989 conversation with language columnist William Safire about how writers and playwrights who had actually written their book or script were well on their way to publication. Unfortunately, Allen also observed that the vast majority of people never write the play or the book. They just talk about writing it.

So, it seems that “showing up” isn’t the whole story. You have to show up with the work done. Trouble is, “80 percent of success is showing up with your finished manuscript” sounds much less inspirational (not to mention way more daunting) than the original quote.  It sounds like something that might happen “someday.” Well, “might” and “someday” never do you any good. They are too uncertain and too far away in the future. What you need is to show up NOW. Today.

And, you can.

You can “show up” every day. You can sit down at your desk, put your fingers on the keyboard, and add a few more words to that “someday” manuscript. Showing up isn’t something you only do when your work is finally finished. It’s something you have to do consistently and persistently over a long period of time in order to arrive at the day when you show up with the work done. I mean, think about it. How else are you going to show up on that Big Day, manuscript in hand, if you haven’t shown up on all the other days?

I won’t lie – showing up every day is hard. BUT, it’s the only way to get where you’re going. One way to make it easier is to keep all your tools and your project close at hand. Even better, keep them right out in the open. Think of your writing project like a puzzle. If you leave a puzzle in the box and you put the box in a cupboard, it’s extremely unlikely that you’re going to put the puzzle together. If, on the other hand, you take the puzzle out of the cupboard and spread the pieces out on your dining room table, there’s a pretty good chance that you’ll start popping the pieces into place. Because everything is right there in front of you, it’ll be top of mind and also easily accessible.

The same goes for your writing. Don’t squirrel it away in a desk drawer or computer file. Keep it out in the open. Leave it on the kitchen counter or your nightstand. Put it on the table next to the couch, beside the TV remote. (Better yet, put it on top of the TV remote so you have to actually move it to get to those clickers!) If you write on your computer, set your project doc to open automatically each time you boot up. Do whatever you can to keep your project in plain sight and easy to get to. I promise, if you do this you’ll suddenly find odd moments when you can sit down and scratch out a few words or ideas.

And before you know it, you’ll be an expert at showing up – for the daily grind and the Big Day when you can stand there, finished manuscript in hand and a big grin on your face.


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 long-form post on writing and the writing life – and/orintroduce yourself on Facebooktwitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. I don’t bite … usually.

Friday Fun – Favorite Writing Software or App

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: We’re all suckers for good pens and beautiful notebooks. Each of us has her favorite writing books and references. But, what about our favorite writing software and apps? Do you have a favorite writing technology that you just can’t live without? What is it and why do you love it so much?

hennrikus-web2Julie Hennrikus/Julianne Holmes: Scrivener. Hands down.  I am a plotter, so I write scene cards on index cards, then put it all in Scrivener. I can tag the cards with character names, add time  codes, add scene goals, and move things around if I need to. It takes a bit of learning (Gwen Hernandez can help with that!), but SO worth it.

Lisa_2015Lisa J. Jackson: I’m content with any word processing program (such as Word) that lets me type and search/replace.  🙂 Other than that, it’s paper and pen that I can’t live without!


Diane MacKinnon, MD, Master Certified Life CoachDiane MacKinnon, MD: Like Lisa, I don’t feel strongly about word processing programs, but I do find the notes app and the voice recording app on my phone helpful for getting ideas down before they disappear. I’ve also been taking my iPad with me everywhere so I can get writing time in wherever I happen to have some quiet time: parked in my car or sitting in a waiting room. Once I open it up, the whole world goes away.

JME5670V2smCROPJamie Wallace: I’m with Julie … Scrivener is fabulous. I’ve used it on a number of projects and found it so helpful in terms of helping me organize my thoughts and my document. I’m sure I’ve only scratched the surface of its functionality, but I love the parts I’ve learned to use so far.

I also love my outdated version of MindManager by MindJet. This is the best mind mapping software I’ve found so far, mainly because it allows you to attach copious notes to topics in your map and also hyperlink topics to outside web pages and locally stored documents. Sadly, this software is only available in a SaaS (software as a service/subscription) format now, and it’s pretty pricey. Still, if my current copy ever dies on me, I will give some serious consideration to buying a license for this powerful tool.

Finally, I have to give a nod to a nifty little iPhone app that has become part of my 10-minute writing practice. Werdsmith is a fairly simple writing app, but I enjoy using it more than the native notes app on my phone. It allows you to create projects with word count goals, track progress, and even set up specific writing rituals. There are also sharing features (which I’ve never used), and a subscription-based “Write Club” that allows you to edit your mobile creations on your desktop or laptop computer, and access other premium features like customized themes, etc. I’m happy with the free version (which allows you via email and a variety of apps like Evernote).

Other than that, I agree with Lisa – paper and pen rule. But … on the other hand, I’m also having iPad envy based on what Diane shared about her iPad writing habit. (Have you seen the new iPad Pro? I’m totally lusting after that!)

M. Shafer, Photo

M. Shafer, Photo

Deborah Lee Luskin: I’m so Old School: I use pen and paper and Microsoft Word.

Short and Sweet Advice for Writers – Break Your Story Down to Build It Up.

VW bug cutawayWhen we read a finished story, whether a thousand-word piece of flash fiction of a thousand-page novel, we perceive it as whole. It’s similar to the way we see each other. You don’t think of your friend as a collection of distinct elements. You don’t perceive her as a particular combination of skin and hair and eyes, scarf and jeans and shoes. You don’t see the individual bones, muscles, or cells that make up her body. You don’t consciously perceive all the discrete events and experiences that make up her personality and character. You just see Jane.

Stories are like that. We experience a story as the sum total of its parts. And, as with a person, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Still, those parts are there. Without them the person or the story would not exist, at least not in the form you perceive.

As a writer, you need to define each part of your story in order to create the whole. You need to break your story down in order to build it up. This will not only help you build a better story, it will make the process of writing even a long-form piece (like a novel) much less overwhelming. In her comment on last Saturday’s weekend edition, Jean Brown shared how studying the structure (the parts) of a particular piece had helped reduce the overwhelm she felt about writing a “A Whole Book:”

One of the major benefits of this exercise for me was imaging how the author had laid out the whole structure ahead of the writing, and how this structure basically chunked the book into 10 page sections. This made the idea of writing “A Whole Book” seem incredibly achievable, whereas before it loomed as nearly impossible in my mind.

I felt a similar sense of relief when I realized that writers I admire put a lot of thought and intention into creating and arranging all the separate elements that make up their stories. When you can think of a novel not as “A Whole Book,” as Jean put it, but as a series of much smaller pieces that all fit together (perfectly) to create that whole, it suddenly feels much more manageable.

Plus, I love a good puzzle and the idea of identifying and arranging all these pieces to create a particular experience is pretty intriguing to me.

I sketched this visual to help illustrate how I think about a story breakdown. I intentionally left off labels so that you can interpret it in the context of your own story. If, for instance, you are working on a novel, the top level would represent the finished book, the next level down might represent “beginning, middle, and end,” the circles might be chapters, the triangles might be scenes within chapters, and the dots might be individual elements within a scene – things like lines of dialog, setting details, reveals of character traits, etc.

story breakdown

As we drill deeper into the elements, breaking things down further and further, the gaps between the individual pieces close, creating that sense of wholeness and story continuity.

There are many different tools for doing story break downs, but so far I’m finding that Scrivener offers some helpful features. I love the cork board view which allows me to look at my whole collection of story elements along with more detailed notes about specific actions, etc. The “binder” in Scrivener allows me to organize different pieces of my story by section, chapter, scene, etc. There are also ways (which I haven’t yet fully explored) to filter my notes and draft so that I can isolate a particular thread (such as a character or a setting or a sub-story). This will allow me to focus on a single story element within the context of the whole.

Whatever tools and process you prefer, I encourage you to think about breaking your story down so that you can get “inside” it – really see how it’s put together. I promise that you will gain greater clarity and even, perhaps, some new inspiration.

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

Photo Credit: roger4336 via Compfight cc

View detours as challenges, not excuses

Whether you write down your goals, or just know what you need to do each day, life has a way of interrupting sometimes.

Detour Ahead signIt doesn’t matter if it’s writing, career, fitness, financial, or any other category — detours can, and generally do, happen to even the most successful people.

The challenge is to stay focused and see the interruptions and setbacks for what they are – delays – and not as excuses for giving up.

It can be especially difficult when you see your goal ahead to be waylaid by life, but if everything were simple, everyone would be doing it all, right?

Maybe we can’t always move forward as fast as we want, but we can always be determined to reach the goal, no matter what.

Some tips:

  • Keep in mind that the only way to fail is to quit. Honest. If you keep trying, you’re not failing.
  • Life happens – interruptions and setbacks are part of life. Accept this as you do the fact that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west.
  • View the setbacks as a detour – I see them as orange pylons put in front of me on a straight road – the detour could be short and sweet or long and meandering, but it’s still just a detour.
  • Realize that your endpoint hasn’t moved, you have — adjust course to keep going.
  • Stay focused on your goals and keep working. You’ll get there.

End Detour sign

When life interrupts your plan to reach your goal, how do you react? Do you realize right away that it’s just a detour? Can you get yourself back on course right away?

Lisa J Jackson writerLisa J. Jackson is a New England-region journalist and a year-round chocolate and iced coffee lover. She does her best to take her own advice when she needs it. She writes fiction as Lisa Haselton, has an award-winning blog for book reviews and author interviews, and is on the staff of The Writer’s Chatroom. Connect with her on Facebook or see what she tweets about as @lisajjackson on Twitter. 

Expand your platform with Twylah and Scoop.It

In my innocent travels through, across, and within the Internet over the past week, I discovered 2 new social media outlets. Twylah and Scoop.it.

One is Twitter-related. Twylah looks like a website, and in fact, you’re told to promote it like a website by sharing the URL. It also seems to be a bit like Google+ in that you have to request an invite in order to even start creating a Twylah page. (I do not have, nor do I plan to have, a Twylah page.)AS King's Twylah page

If you’re an author or use Twitter to promote your writing (screen shot is from the top of author AS_King’s Twylah page) , it might be interesting to play with. Twylah is connected to your Twitter feed and it selects the top 20 topics you tweet about the most. The top 8 keywords end up as tabs across the top of your Twylah page, the most recent and most frequently tweeted items show up on the page.

Like any social media platform, it’ll take a while to see results, but you’ll discover what is most attractive and engaging to your audience. It’ll help you narrow in on what matters most to your readers. I think it looks good for those who are Twitter-holics!

If you create a scoop.it page, the home page looks similar to a Twylah main page. Scoop.it helps you ‘curate’ an online magazine based on an interest you have. If you want to use scoop.it for a business, there’s a fee.

Basically, you submit keywords when you create your page and scoop.it will crawl the Web and deliver relevant content to you. Then you decide what you want to accept and have added to your page. You can also create your own content, grab/share content you find while traveling the Internet on your own, or accept content suggested by other users.

The screen shot I’m including here, is my friend and NH ambassador extraordinaire, Judi Window’s scoop.it page. It is focused on Manchester, NH.Judi Window scoop it Manchester page

It’s a great way to share your interests and expertise – and like other social media platforms, you’re able to ‘share’ your posts on Facebook and Twitter, and so on.

Both of these social media tools can help you build your brand/platform, are each is just another way to get your name out there in the search engines.

What do you think of these?

If you already use Twylah, scoop.it, or both, please share your links so we can visit. Also tell us what you think of the tool(s).

Lisa J Jackson writerLisa J. Jackson is an independent editor, writer, New England region journalist, and a year-round chocolate and ice coffee lover. She writes fiction as Lisa Haselton, has an award-winning blog for book reviews and author interviews, and is on the staff of The Writer’s Chatroom

A tool for organizing your brain

Welcome to 2012!

I found a new tool last week that I find quite useful for organizing thoughts and ToDo items.

It’s called WorkFlowy and it’s used to “organize your brain.”

As I finalize any yearly goals, I find I have sheets of paper that are so filled with goals broken into tasks and subtasks  that the sheets are more chaos than useful, especially since the ideas don’t hit the page in the order in which they need to be addressed.

What I initially think is subtask 3 becomes task2 and may eventually be subsubtask 14. A lot of crossing out, drawing of arrows showing where to move an item, I can even use colored ink to represent changes. My sheets become an total mess.

I always intend to rewrite the lists to make them legible, but of course I don’t. Goals and tasks get lost, and so do the sheets of paper they are written on.

WorkFlowy eliminates the mess. You start with the top goals and then can indent several times, outdent if you need to, and then even add and remove items as your brain starts making the connections.

I love the ease with being able to organize my goals – if I realize a small item should really be a quarterly goal instead of a daily task, I can easily adjust the listing. No scribbling, no small writing, just a clear list.

workflowy example

And WorkFlowy emails my changes to me each day. I can download my list at any time. There isn’t any limit to the number of bullet points I can have. And when I just want to focus on one goal, I can – I don’t have to stare at the full list all the time or scroll down and down and down to find the point I want to work on. I can drill down as low as I want and easily get back to any level in the list that I want.

Working in WorkFlowy has made me realize that I have way more things I want to do than I have actual time to do, and that’s a great realization. It’s helping me focus more and narrow in on what is important.

I don’t have to delete any of my goals, but I can move them to the bottom of the list. I won’t lose the piece of paper, I won’t have to give up on the goal, I can simply focus on it at a different time.

I’m not a WorkFlowy affiliate, but I am a fan already. They have a blog that gives a lot of insight into the tool. It’s an online tool, nothing to download. Create a username and password and start working. You can even use WorkFlowy from your phone or tablet.

The product has useful Help and fabulous short tutorials that get you being productive in minutes.

You can tag items with when you want to address them, ie. #Monday, #Sep, #soon.

There are numerous tags for the tasks you have including #links, @contacts, #checklists, #issues, #projects, and so on.

Knowing I can print out my list at any time feeds my desire to have paper copies to carry with me.

Your list can be shared with others or kept private. You can add notes; mark items as complete; move items up, down, in, or out.

You can use it for annual goals, shopping lists, working out story ideas, the options are numerous.

If you give WorkFlowy a try, or if you’re already using it, let me know what you think of it. Do you find it useful for anything?

Lisa Jackson is an independent editor, writer, New England region journalist, and a year-round chocolate and iced coffee lover. She writes fiction as Lisa Haselton, has an award-winning blog for book reviews and author interviews, and is on the staff of The Writer’s Chatroom where she gets to chat with best-selling authors, non-fiction writers, publishers, and other writing professionals on a weekly basis.

Grammar-ease: Gerunds

Hello, writers.

Have you ever rated learning grammar on a scale with jabbing a stick in your eye? Up until a few years ago, grammar wasn’t a topic I was proactive about. But I’ve discovered that the more I write and the more I edit, the more interested I am in anything related to words. Grammar rules are obviously a bit part of that.

Not all rules are easy to remember, so I look for ways to remember the ‘rules’ and share them in the hopes that something might do the trick for you on a particular grammar topic.

This month I’m chatting about gerunds, those identifiable words with –ing tails. I’m not much of a cook, but I have a simple gerund recipe for you today: take a verb, attach –ing and then use it as a noun. No baking required. Did you catch that? Baking is not required. A gerund is born!

Simple, right? Okay, well, almost. The rule is: every gerund ends in –ing, but not every word that ends in –ing is a gerund.

A gerund always functions as a noun, so you’ll find them as subjects, objects, and subject complements.

I find examples to be quite helpful, so here you go.

As the object of a preposition:

Before brushing her teeth, she washed her face.

After reading the details, he could make a decision.

Object of a verb:

The twins love playing in the mud.

He enjoys climbing up the tree.

Subject of a verb:

Writing is difficult.

Winning is fun.

Since he was five, whistling has been his passion.

Subject complement with a linking verb:

Her complaints were making him crazy.

His favorite hobby is drawing landscapes.

After a preposition (a verb after a preposition must be a gerund):

Please water the plant before leaving.

Wash your hands before eating.

We are sharing information about writing.

I hope these examples helped clarify gerunds. Don’t be surprised if you notice a lot of these -ing words in whatever you read over the next couple of days. 🙂

Please feel free to contact me with any grammar topics you can use a hand with and I’ll come up with some tips and tricks.

Lisa Jackson is an editor, writer, and chocolate lover. She’s addicted to Sudoku, cafés, and words. She writes fiction as Lisa Haselton, has an award-winning blog for book reviews and author interviews, and is on the staff of The Writer’s Chatroom where she gets to network with writing professionals on a weekly basis — and you can, too! © Lisa J. Jackson, 2011

Unless It Moves The Human Heart

If you are like me and chose not to pursue an MFA because you think no one can really teach you to write, and that writing is something you have to learn for yourself, then Roger Rosenblatt’s Unless It Moves the Human Heart: the Craft and Art of Writing is for you.

And if you have pursued an MFA because it made more sense than pursuing a PhD in English (as I did) or training in a trade (as I was encouraged to), and you have benefited from the lessons, the workshops, and the camaraderie and are still writing – this book is also for you.

And for those who fall in neither of those categories, but who like to read a good book, especially a good book about how to live – because that’s what writing is: a way of life – then you would also be well-served to read this small gem of a book.

Recounting a class Rosenblatt taught in the Winter of 2008 at Stony Brook University on Long Island, Unless It Moves the Human Heart is filled with lively dialogue and witty narrative as it tells two stories: the story of how his students processed the lessons he offered, and the story of his pedagogy. The book is both expository narrative and memoir; it is also profound and funny. As Rosenblatt explains in his preface, the book is a fraud: “Nobody really said what I say he said in class. But the ideas expressed here were expressed there . . . And the students themselves were just as gifted, lovable, and annoying as I have drawn them.”

This short book – it’s just over 150 pages long – follows the course of “Writing Everything,” Rosenblatt’s class in which students study short stories, essays, and poems. Rosenblatt introduces each of his students, and in each chapter he reports their reactions to the lessons at hand. He includes some of the students’ actual writing, and he refers to a wide variety of other authors’ work to emphasize the points he makes. If nothing else, a writer could cull an impressive reading list from the works Rosenblatt cites.

Even though I did not pursue an MFA, I did once long for the discipline of deadlines, the support of peers, and the access to writers, agents and editors that MFA programs offer. Now, I’m too busy living the writing life I’ve created on my own to care what I’ve missed. But when I do long for a dose of professional help or writerly companionship, I often read a writing manual or a writer’s memoir. Rosenblatt’s Unless It Moves The Human Heart is one of the best. It is less about the technical craft of writing and more about why writing matters. Rosenblatt says, “The trouble with much writing today is that is has been fertilized and nurtured in classrooms like ours, where the elements of effective writing have been isolated and studied in parts.”

Rosenblatt takes a holistic approach. “Writing,” he says, “is the cure for the disease of living. Doing it may sometimes feel like an escape from the world, but at its best moments it is an act of rescue.” He ends the book with an exhortation to his students –one that applies to all writers: “Your life matters. Now make it matter to others.”

Deborah Lee Luskin is the author of Into The Wilderness, “a fiercely intelligent love story” between two 64-year-olds, set in Vermont in 1964. Luskin is a regular Commentator on Vermont Public Radio, an editorial columnist, and a free-lance writer. In addition, Luskin teachers literature and writing in prisons, hospitals and libraries; she holds a PhD in English Literature from Columbia University. Learn more at her website: www.deborahleeluskin.com