Writer's Digest & HOW Books team photo

Love Letter to Cincinnati (#4)

It will be hard to think back on Cincinnati without thinking about F+W, the whole reason I moved to the city in the first place. It was a promising and lucky career start, even though I wanted to leave the company— and city—initially. I had dreams of joining Peace Corps or teaching English in Korea. […]

Love Letter to Cincinnati (#3)

Note: Read the earlier installments in this series, #1 and #2. My favorite places in Cincinnati are mostly tied to ritual. But I didn’t even believe in ritual until recently, around the time I read Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. She writes: This is what rituals are for. We do spiritual ceremonies as human […]

Art vs Commerce by Tom Giebel / Flickr

Starving Artist Vs. Slimy Marketer: How to Strike a Balance

Today’s guest post is from one of my UC students, Jarrod Welling-Cann. He is facing the issue—as we all do at some point—of how to making a living from his art. His thought process here is particularly relevant for any creative professional wondering about the role of marketing, sales, and promotion in the artistic life. […]

Aurelio Asiain / Flickr

What Can Stop Your Career From Ever Starting

Today’s guest post is by Emily Latham. Emily has been one of my students this past academic year at the University of Cincinnati and will graduate soon. In response to Jonathan Fields’ new release, Uncertainty, she wrote the following. The honesty was so remarkable that I asked her if she’d allow me to share her […]

Red Maple by Bruce / Flickr

Placing Too Much Importance on Passion

Passion has become a cheap word. I’m starting to roll my eyes when I hear it. But it hasn’t always been this way. It all started when I read a 2010 post by Siddhartha Herdegen, “Why You Don’t Need Passion to Be Successful.” It was the first time I questioned one of my dearly held personal […]

Joe Vastano

Why Creative People Are Walking Paradoxes

In the latest Glimmer Train bulletin, Joe Vastano has a lovely essay on how writers have to acknowledge the duality inside them in order to achieve artistic triumph. I couldn’t agree more. Here’s a brief snippet: Creative people are walking paradoxes; both shrewd and naïve, libidinous yet prudish, and so on. I believe that this […]

Grunge Social Media Art

How Social Media Can Change Your Life

Sometimes I find myself defending social media to the experienced user and beginner alike. It can be easily accused—and rightly so—of being full of shameless self-promoters, shrill marketing, and naked people. That’s only one side, though, and it doesn’t have to be the side you engage in or tolerate. Just because you have to throw […]

Glacier National Park

3 Questions Every Creative Person Must Ask

I’m starting to find that the same dilemmas come up again and again when I talk with a group about online media and marketing. These are dilemmas that I can’t solve. They boil down to three questions you have to ask yourself—and be able to answer honestly—to find a path that’s your own, not mine. […]

The Memoir Project

Don’t Write a Memoir to Get Revenge

The following is excerpted from The Memoir Project: A Thoroughly Non-Standardized Text for Writing & Life by Marion Roach Smith. It would be impossible to count up just how many people over the years have come into my class hell-bent on writing a revenge tale. So here’s some hard-won advice: Never write a story because you […]

Melanie Rae Thon (photo by Andi Olsen)

7 Reasons to Tell a Story in 2011

In the latest Glimmer Train bulletin, there’s an amazing piece by Melanie Rae Thon, “The Heart Breaks, and Breaks Open: Seven Reasons to Tell a Story in 2011.” Here’s a small snippet: … [E]very time you remember an episode of your life, you are reinventing it: embellishing, deleting, altering it through fusion and imagination. If […]

Reading Notebook #33: Enlightenment (and Love) Taste of Freedom

From “How to Know It’s Real Love” by Martha Beck, in Oprah magazine. Buddha once said that just as we can know the ocean because it always tastes of salt, we can recognize enlightenment because it always tastes of freedom. There’s no essential difference between real love and enlightenment. While many people see commitment as […]

Alan Watts

I Am Always Sincere, But Never Serious

I am always sincere, but never serious. —Alan Watts When I started my first professional blog, I struggled to give it a name. While I thought I could offer helpful information, the truth about writing advice is that it’s only helpful if you’re the kind of writer who benefits from it. Not all writers do […]

Chiang Mai wat and yellow buddha

Don’t Feel Guilty About “Playing Around” Online

“The master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his education and his recreation, his love and his religion. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence at whatever he does, leaving others […]

List Making & The Creative Process

I love making lists. Big-picture lists, daily lists, grocery lists, checklists … you name it, I list it. I even make little list tools that sometimes other people enjoy. (For example, click here for my Weekly Goal Sheet. Here are specific instructions on how to use it.) Lists are a personal thing—they speak to the ineffable […]

When You Have Anxieties About Change

Yesterday, I was a guest over at Writer Unboxed, discussing the anxieties that surrounded my move from “Writer’s Digest blogger” to “independent blogger.” Here’s a snippet. When it comes to personal change, I feel protective of what story gets told about it. As writers, we should be super-cognizant of the power of storytelling in our […]

Look for People Who Believe What You Believe

[Update: The discussion in the comments—on this site and on some of my other profiles—has made me realize that my post title, “Look for People Who Believe What You Believe,” is misleading and unintentionally provocative. It isn’t meant to be a blanket statement about how to live life. Rather, it’s about how we develop meaningful […]

Reading Notebook #33: Marriage Is About Solitude

I have my friend Nath to thank for this, who sent me a book in the mail with no note, only passages highlighted. From Rilke On Love and Other Difficulties: I hold this to be the highest task of a bond between two people: that each should stand guard over the solitude of the other. […]

Reading Notebook #32: Happiness Is About How We Intertwine

From “Social Animal” by David Brooks (The New Yorker, January 17, 2011) I guess I used to think of myself as a lone agent, who made certain choices and established certain alliances with colleagues and friends. Now, though, I see things differently. I believe we inherit a great river of knowledge, a flow of patterns […]

Reading Notebook #30: Existential Reasons for Procrastination

From “Later” by James Surowiecki, The New Yorker (October 11, 2010). Click here to read the full article online. But before we rush to overcome procrastination we should consider whether it is sometimes an impulse we should heed. The philosopher Mark Kingwell puts it in existential terms: “Procrastination most often arises from a sense that […]

Jane at AWP 2011

3 Boring Elements of Success

I don’t think my age is a secret, but just to be clear: I’m 34. Sometimes when I speak at conferences, people say they expected someone older. I’ve been hearing this since 2002. I think there are a variety of reasons for this—not least among them that many decision makers in publishing are younger than […]

Solitude by Anthony Storr

Reading Notebook #28: Happiness Without Close Relationships

From Solitude by Anthony Storr: Many fortunate people do make intimate relationships which continue until death, and which constitute their major source of happiness. But even the closest relationship is bound to have flaws and disadvantages, and it is often because people do not accept this that they are more unhappy than they need to be, […]

Chief Culture Officer

Study Slow Culture, Not Just Fast

When I attended TEDxCincy in October 2010, there was one session where I was furiously taking notes: the session by Grant McCracken, author of Chief Culture Officer. Click here to find out more about the fascinating McCracken. [For more on my so-so experience of TEDxCincy, read “7 Lessons for Delivering a Powerful Message.”] So, here’s […]

Solitude by Anthony Storr

Reading Notebook #27: What to Do When Your Existence May Need to Be Reappraised

From Solitude by Anthony Storr: The capacity to be alone is a valuable resource when changes of mental attitude are required. After major alterations in circumstances, fundamental reappraisal of the significance and meaning of existence may be needed. … Changes of attitude take time because our ways of thinking about life and ourselves so easily become […]

C.G. Jung

Reading Notebook #26: Difficulties Are Necessary for Health

From C.G. Jung’s The Transcendant Function: Collected Works: The new attitude gained in the course of analysis tends sooner or later to become inadequate in one way or another, and necessarily so, because the flow of life again and again demands fresh adaptation. Adaptation is never achieved once and for all. … In the last […]

C.G. Jung

Reading Notebook #25: Accepting the Positive and the Negative

From an essay by C.G. Jung, where he quotes a patient: Out of evil, much good has come to me. By keeping quiet, repressing nothing, remaining attentive, and by accepting reality—taking things as they are, and not as I wanted them to be—by doing all this, unusual knowledge has come to me, and unusual powers […]

Solitude by Anthony Storr

Reading Notebook #24: Our Life at the Office Is (In Fact) Important

From Solitude by Anthony Storr: Human beings need a sense of being part of a larger community than that constituted by the family. The modern assumption that intimate relationships are essential to personal fulfillment tends to make us neglect the significance of relationships which are not so intimate. … The fact that a man is […]

I Heart Social Media

The Pure Heart and Pure Superficiality of Social Media

One of the classes I’m teaching at CCM requires me to study up on the history and practice of public relations. I’m not exactly a stranger to the profession. I worked for a major media company that has always employed publicists. I’ve written press releases. I count publicists and PR folks among my friends, right? […]

Reading Notebook #22: Love, Grief, & Letting Go

From “A Cruel Country” [excerpts from Roland Barthes’ journals after his mother’s death] in The New Yorker (September 13, 2010): [Intro] Those who love Barthes are reminded, by his writing, of what true intimacy entails: supreme attunement alternating with bewildered estrangement. Instability—the instability of meaning, in particular—is his constant theme.  … In these excerpts, grief […]

My Most Valuable & Destructive Physical Possession

I’ve been keeping a journal off and on ever since I was about 12 years old. The earliest journals, written in hand, survive. During high school, for a brief period, I switched to disk, and promptly lost every disk by the time I graduated. So I got smarter, and started a habit of only journaling […]

The Way of Zen

Reading Notebook #20: Humanness Is Superior to Righteousness

From The Way of Zen by Alan Watts: It was a basic Confucian principle that “it is man who makes truth great, not truth which makes man great.” For this reason, “humanness” or “human-heartedness” was always felt to be superior to “righteousness,” since man himself is greater than any idea which he may invent. There are […]

Reading Notebook #19: Death As Liberation

From “Letting Go” by Atul Gawande in The New Yorker (August 2, 2010): Almost all these patients had known, for some time, that they had a terminal condition. Yet they—along with their doctors—were unprepared for the final stage. … Surveys of patients with terminal illness find that their top priorities include, in addition to avoiding […]

Svejk at 515 N Madison

I Distrust Too-Happy People

I may get myself into trouble with this one. But I’ve always been suspicious of happy people. I do NOT mean these people: People who are generally cheerful and fun to be around People who look for the opportunity or advantage in situations that don’t go their way People who love and accept who they […]

Reading Notebook #16: Life Interferes With Work & Vice Versa

From Bill Murray interview in Entertainment Weekly (via TerryStarbucker.com): “I just really want to work when I want to work. Life interferes, you know. When you’re young and all you have is your career, some of your life can be in second place. And then you want your life to take first place, and other […]

Do Pain and Struggle Constitute a Fundamental Part of Love?

Artwork by Tonia Davenport—from her wonderful series “B&W and Red All Over” A while back, I read this relationship break-up anecdote at Galleycat, from a poetry-devoted reader: The book was a collection of love poems by William Carlos Williams. The poem was “Asphodel, that Greeny Flower.” And the specific line of the poem over which we […]

Have the Courage to Follow Your Heart & Intuition

A wonderful commencement address from Steve Jobs. I love that he mentions life can only be lived forward, and understood backward (yeah! see my bio), and that, ultimately, we have nothing to lose. It sounds deceptively simple; most people don’t live by the advice he’s giving here.

Six Feet Under

Reading Notebook #13: What Makes You Happy Comes From the Inside

This is taken from a Salon interview with Alan Ball, creator of Six Feet Under—my most favorite TV series, with the most hard-hitting ending of all time. [Nate] just has the wrong idea of what’s going to make him happy. He feels that happiness comes from someone or something outside of himself. So he changes […]

Wonder Woman at Work

Can Excellent Advice Make You Unhappy?

There are a few people I read religiously for insight and perspective on work/business life. Probably on the top of the list: Seth Godin Mark Hurst (Good Experience) Jason Fried (37 Signals), read this Inc. article I’ve just had a sudden epiphany about this reading I do. Maybe you can tell me if it’s really […]

Reading Notebook #12: Existential Angst at Work

From Kenny Moore’s blog post, “Losing Your Job? Psychological, Spiritual & Practical Advice.” This is the most meaningful discussion I have ever read about what causes angst/anxiety at work. Must-read. (All of Kenny Moore’s posts are valuable and thought-provoking; he’s a former monk who now counsels corporates.) In corporate life, if you’re good at solving […]

Reading Notebook #11: The Source of (My) Anxiety

Transcribed from Examined Life (Zeitgeist Films), the words of Avital Ronnell. If we’re not anxious, if we’re okay with things, we’re not trying to explore or figure anything out. So anxiety is the mood of ethicity. Now I’m not proscribing anxiety disorder for anyone. … This is something Derrida has taught. If you feel that […]

The Story of Your Life IS Your Life

On my Facebook profile, I state my religious beliefs as “The story of your life becomes your life.” After my happiness post, I realized I didn’t comment on one of the key linchpins in happiness: storytelling. Daniel Kahneman, in his excellent TED talk above, speaks to two different kinds of selves: The experiencing self, or […]

Jane - 1997 in Cambridge - maudlin and idealistic youth

You Are Bad at Making Yourself Happy

My job as Writer’s Digest publisher often leads people to remark what a great life I have. So young, so accomplished, so happy! Well, you know the old cliche about people who appear to be living the perfect, enviable life? Right—well, I am thankful and lucky for what I have. I won’t go into the […]

Jane Friedman (1994)

The Art of Losing Things Isn’t Hard to Master

I am very careless with my belongings. This past week, when I flew to NYC for Digital Book World, I left my purse and coat in the plane overhead bin. I walked right out of JFK after claiming my bags, climbed in a cab with a colleague, and it never occurred to me I didn’t […]

12 Actions and 12 Diversions

12 Self-Creating Actions and 12 Preoccupational Diversions

[Click here for full-size image.] On the last page of my 2009 Museum of Lost Wonder calendar, I found the following. Find out more about Museum of Lost Wonder by Jeff Hoke. 12 Self-Creating Actions Not seeing: or not-knowing, leads to Wonder and curiosity. This starts the whole big wheel rolling. The lost blind man is […]