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?

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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

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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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.

Writer’s Block Cause 4 (and Big Hope): Your Vision

Epiphanies are not common, but I recently had two whoppers about the writing experience. One sidled up between the lines of Ann Patchett’s book, The Getaway Car: A Practical Memoir About Writing and Life. The other coalesced while I listened to Jen Louden’s wonderful Shero’s Journey class. The one-two punch of these realizations is still settling in, but I couldn’t wait to share them. 

Writing is a big deal. It carries a certain responsibility. Unlike speech, which hangs in the air for only a moment, the written word can long outlive its creator. The written word can be shared from person-to-person – pushing the writer’s thoughts and ideas far outside her immediate realm of influence. So, when we writers put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, we want to get it right … whatever “right” is.

And therein lies the problem.

Our vision for our work – our story, poem, or novel – can play a huge role in holding us back. Though it may be the thing that inspires us, it can also leave us feeling unworthy, incapable, small. The fear of failure that we talked about in the first post of this series attacks us from the outside with blatant negativity. No one wants to be rejected or ridiculed, but at least those demons are easily identified. They can be fought head on.

Fighting your vision is like fighting yourself. You cherish your opponent so much it hurts. The only feeling I can liken it to is the feeling of an expectant mother who is elated about the birth of her child, but at the same time paralyzed by a fear that she will not be a good mother.

In her book The Getaway Car: A Practical Memoir About Writing and Life, Ann Patchett writes about how she creates a novel in her head before ever writing a word. She describes this unwritten book as a butterfly companion that moves with her through her days:

This book, of which I have not yet written one word, is a thing of indescribable beauty, unpredictable in its patterns, piercing in its color, so wild and loyal in its nature that my love for this book and my faith in it as I track its lazy flight is the single perfect joy in my life. It is the greatest novel in the history of literature, and I have thought it up, and all I have to do is put it down on paper and then everyone can see this beauty that I see. 

The metaphor turns dark as Patchett explains what she must do to put the novel down on paper:

… I reach into the air and pluck the butterfly up. I take it from the region of my head and I press it down against my desk, and there, with my own hand, I kill it.

This is how our vision keeps us from writing our stories. It is more than a fear of being unable to capture the essence of the thing. It is a deep inner knowing that the process of writing a story will destroy that essence – the vision we have of it in our heads. Patchett says that the book she writes is “the dry husk of my friend, the broken body chipped, dismantled, and poorly reassembled.” She has betrayed her story. She has killed the thing so that she might see how it works and show it to others.

And here is where, for me, Jen Louden picks up the story.

In her Shero’s Journey class, Jen speaks about self-trust and self-betrayal. She talks about how we strive to achieve the one, but will always fall prey to the other. It’s human nature. We will make promises to ourselves, and we will break those promises. We will set goals and fall short. And that’s okay.

The important thing is to keep moving forward. Jen sees the cycle – which I believe applies to writing as well as to life – as making a promise, betraying yourself, forgiving yourself, beginning again. Most of us are probably already well versed in the promising and betraying parts of the process. (I know I am.) But how well do we even acknowledge the need for forgiveness and new beginnings?

If you have a beautiful story inside you, and you are afraid to commit it to paper or screen because you know to do so will mean maiming or outright killing your vision, remember this: you are the only one who can tell your story. You are the only one who has the vision to see its beauty. Without your sacrifice, the world will never be able to share in that beauty.

If a story were a living, breathing creature, I would never condone its murder for the purpose of letting others see it. But a story is not alive in that way. In fact, one might argue that a story must be killed in order to truly live. Think of your writing as the alchemy that transforms the idea of a story (which only you can enjoy) into a “living story” that can entertain, teach, and inspire others. The writing, then, is a kind of birth at least as much as it is a death. Without that transformation, the story will simply dissipate into nothingness. It will never make its way into the world as something of substance, a force that can move people to see the world and themselves in new ways. Without your sacrifice and labors, its spark will be extinguished, its light and color snuffed out.

Sure, its brilliance may be diminished in the process of being written. It may seem crippled to you – you who have seen it in all its original and pristine glory – but even crippled, it will have a new life and freedom. It will no longer be imprisoned inside your head. It will have the ability to go out into the world – touching minds and hearts, making a difference.

And, isn’t that why we write in the first place?

Tell me, is your vision holding you back? Are you willing to make the sacrifice to bring your story to life?
 
This is the fourth (and last!) post in a series about the causes of that fictitious condition known as writer’s block. In previous entries we talked about fear, finding the time to write and getting started. I don’t mean any disrespect to anyone who feels they have suffered from this inability to put words down. I just believe that if we can uncover and face the root causes of this uniquely literary affliction, we can slay the writer’s block dragon and get back to the work at hand. Who’s with me?
 

P.S. I highly recommend both Ann Patchett’s book Getaway Car: A Practical Memoir About Writing and Lifeand Jen Louden’s class Shero’s Journeyand – no – those are not affiliate links. I just love both enough to share them. 🙂

 

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

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Image Credit: Curious Expeditions