How do you write like you're running out of time?

Since the original cast recording of the Broadway sensation Hamilton was released, I've realized through a single line that I completely deserve my middle name (and being named after our "ten dollar Founding Father without a father"):

Song: My Shot
Hamilton: Oh, am I talkin' too loud? Sometimes I get over excited, shoot off at the mouth.

I talk. A lot. Sometimes too much. And sometimes too loud. And the huge majority of the time, too fast and over zealous. I know this about myself and I try to control it when I can, but it's always been a part of me. Maybe that's a Hamilton gene I just can't escape.

The lines that I wish I deserved are these:

Song: Non-Stop
Burr: How do you write like you're running out of time? Write day and night like you're running out of time? /.../ How do you write like tomorrow won't arrive? How do you write like you need it to survive? How do you write every second you're alive?

I used to be like this. I used to spend hours writing, writing, writing with so many words and stories flowing out of me, nearly falling asleep at an old desktop computer after finishing my homework just so I could keep writing. I filled notebooks with story ideas, titles, paragraphs, pages, whole chapters, character descriptions, themes, anything that had captured my imagination at the time. I wrote like there was no tomorrow, like I needed it as much as air. And a piece of me truly did.

Now, I can go long stretches without writing, and that bothers me. I like writing! I'm doing it right now! I'm a freelance writer for crying out loud! The problem is my old writing habits of fiction, poetry, and personal essays have dwindled. Those are the ones I need to get back to.

Sometimes I blame technology. "If there weren't so much instant free entertainment to distract me, I'd be writing more!" Sometimes I blame my education. "If I hadn't learned so much about writing, I wouldn't be overthinking it, I'd just be doing it!" Sometimes I blame myself. "I'd write more if I just turned off my phone and Netflix and all games and made myself do it!" Sometimes I hate myself. "I procrastinate too much. I'm too afraid of writing something that's not good. Might as well not write anything at all. If I didn't think these things, I'd be writing! Stupid me."

Occasionally, any of these things is true. Back when I could only write with a pen and paper in bed, back when my phone didn't have texting and wifi, way back when I was your age and walked 17 miles in the snow to my typewriter, I wrote more. Back before I learned about making my stories "marketable" and how to use precise structure, I wrote more for pleasure and now have a hard time getting past the "but can I sell this?" mindset. I do procrastinate a lot (some of these posts on here sit for months in the draft folder before being published, and considering how long I've had this website, I should have way more than double the amount of posts - like this post, it's been 5 MONTHS since I started writing it) and I am easily distracted. I need to get more control of that. And I am especially susceptible to impostor syndrome when it comes to my writing and art. Since that's a deeper psychological issue than just willpower, it's a lot harder to control than distractions. 

But I'm finally publishing this post that I began in January (omfg) because it's time to do something about this writing. I'm tired of having this sit here and waiting for the "perfect moment" to publish or putting too much time into editing when really, what matters in this moment is the content, not the fanciful way it was written.

How do you write like tomorrow won't arrive? How do you write like you need it to survive?

Maybe I'll remember soon.

Who says I can't do everything?

Everywhere you look online, someone's telling you:

Find your niche!

Know your exact customer!

Focus on one thing and become an expert!

What if I don't want to do any of those things? Why should I focus on one single niche, and a tiny one at that, when I have so many areas and interests and skills at my disposal? How can I possibly know my exact and ideal customer when each one I've met is completely different? My customers & clients are varied, both when it comes to the type of work (like writing vs. decor) and they are varied inside those types (one wants factual articles that read like stories, and another wants press releases, and another wants personal essays, and another...) 

And why, why, why would I focus on just one thing to be an expert? I understand that specializing in certain areas and developing a reputation of expertise is a good thing for some people in specific industries or areas within industries, but why on earth would I give up my writing for jewelry design? And why would I give up making jewelry for illustration? And why stop drawing for gardening?

There's no point giving up things just so I can "brand" myself. And I hate the idea of becoming a "brand" - you know, the new buzzword that everyone likes to throw around in the same articles where they discuss your "niche" and "expertise" and "ideal client". I'm not a brand. I'm me. I'm not a name on a product or service. I'm a human being, a mind-body-soul combination that you are paying for when you hire me. I am an awesome person with a face and a voice and a name that I've had since birth, not since a couple years ago when I got a © or  or  after filling out a bunch of paperwork and sitting around thinking up a good brand name for myself. 

I am Jessica Hamilton Turner: author, artist, amateur archaeologist, jewelry maker and garden raker, crafter of silly rhymes in blog posts, with a so-called brand of Hamiltonian Designs that encompasses everything that is and ever will and could be me

Mad Libs

I really like books that have directions or blanks to fill. I like books that tell me what to do or ask me questions and then want me to write the answers inside of them instead of just babbling on to the next sentence. I've always liked surveys that ask questions other than name, age, sex, race - a.k.a. surveys that aren't standardized tests. And if they ask me opinions or are some sort of personality quiz or writing / art prompt? Cue Stevie Wonder singing, "Signed, sealed, delivered, I'm yours!"

I have never finished any of those books. I have "read" them countless times, browsing their pages, occasionally filling in a blank here and there, sometimes doing what it says...but more often than not, I ignore their pleas and questions and end up collecting mountains of them. Less-than-half-finished prompting books and thoroughly-read-yet-never-put-into-action books line my shelves and the floor around my bed.

Why is that?

Is it a fear of finishing something? A desire not to have "wrong" answers to certain questions? A worry about running out of space if I write too much and want to add to it later? Or maybe just laziness? Or the excitement of those blanks yet to be filled, brimming with potential?

I really don't know. What I do know is that I'll always be collecting books like these and enjoying every one of them.


Eight months and two weeks ago I left city life, apartment life, and 9-to-5-florescent-lights life behind me to return to the suburbs. And not just the next town over suburbs. I'm talking about 25 miles outside the city suburbs, the kind where the train takes 45-50 minutes to get you downtown.

And I love it.

Growing up in the burbs was great and I didn't think of myself as a city person until college. I fell in love with sidewalks and subways and ease of access to a million different things I couldn't even list if I tried. Moving home for a year post graduation when the economy was in the tank was rough. I was optimistic about my prospects, but an hour away from the city after four years of being a walking personification of the LOVE statue...ugh.

I was obnoxious and found my home to be full of "townies", as if every place doesn't have its "Glory Days" lifers. There was nothing to do. There was nowhere to go, especially if you didn't have a car. You could walk into the small town, but half of the walk was on a speedy road without sidewalks.

Oh, how I missed those sidewalks.

Then I got the miracle call of a job downtown in my field, and boom! I was a city girl once again! Living in a new neighborhood that gave me a scenic and safe 30 minute walk to work, proximity to great bus lines and affordable shopping...this was the life.

Life changes.

Sometimes, what we think we want isn't what we want at all. Or maybe we do want it, but our opinion and desire dwindles over time. Joining the local swimming pool doesn't make you an Olympian, and taking violin lessons doesn't mean you get to lead orchestras. Most of the time, it's you. You know you don't practice enough or maybe you didn't have enough of the raw talent (Yes, I am of the "you can accomplish anything!" mindset, but come on. You can't be a surgeon if you faint every time you see blood, and you can't run marathons if you have a heart condition that doesn't allow it.) And sometimes, your teacher or coach doesn't really care and if you don't have the means to find another one, the mental anguish can beat you down.

After three and a half years, the city and my industry were both too gray, too noisy, too sad. I still loved many aspects of them, but like a dear friend who's gotten into some stuff you don't agree with, I needed to take a step back. A giant step back. A quit your job without a 100% solid plan or other position lined up kind of step back. A move back to your hometown even though you're expecting the same annoyances step back because at least it's green there instead of gray.

And then I fell in love again.

My town had grown up in such a short time. More businesses popped up and helped each other out. People were actually coming here as a destination instead of just passing through, or, as a local said how it used to be 30 years ago, "avoiding it completely."

There's a big difference between small town life out in the middle of nowhere and small town life that with sprawling neighborhoods and surrounding towns. When you're isolated, it gets weird. No place or person is perfect, but at least when your tiny town is part of a larger whole and is beloved by people from all walks of life, you get the friendliness and diversity of an earnest community instead of glares from the clique known as You're-Not-From-Here-Are-You.

(And the city definitely has its share of multiple You're-Not-From-Here-Are-You cliques, so you need to change attitudes between neighborhoods, between single blocks, between the length of crossing a one-way street.)

I've been incredibly lucky to find fellow locals and small town transplants who stay out of those cliques. They are welcoming, excited to be here, and genuinely concerned for the well being of fellow locals and local businesses, whether or not they are in competition or know them personally. After years of meeting amazing people who end up being Red Riding Hood's wolf in her grandma's clothes, it's nice to walk through the dark woods, get to Grandma's house, and find that it's actually Grandma inside. 

Grandma isn't perfect. She has some outdated ideas and forgets things and really hates the neighbor's cat, but she's comfortable. She's loving. She shares her cookies and wisdom. She has the best dog in the world. She's willing to learn new things and is excited to hear about your journeys - through the woods and beyond. And she wants to help you on any future journey that she can.

Grandma knows she has changed since her youth, for better or worse, and knows that she and everyone around her will continue to change forever. But she smiles and welcomes Change to have tea with you both and you learn a lot.

I went over the river and through the woods and sang some David Bowie along the way, but I made it back to my small town hometown and finally wake up to look out my window and smile.

Let Go or Be Dragged

Let go or be dragged is a Zen Buddhist proverb that is new to me and deserves the reflection of everyone.

It sounds so simple, so easy. Too easy, in fact. If you're being dragged behind an animal or a vehicle and you're holding onto the rope that attaches you to the runaway thing, why not just let go? Your skin, your clothes, your ego, your sanity - everything is being scratched and scraped away in unbearable pain. There is no reason to hold onto a rope that is dragging you faster to death. Let go.

But what if you're scared to let go? What if you're blindfolded and handcuffed while you're being dragged? You don't know where you are, and you're not up for a fight. You might be in the middle of nowhere. You might have been followed by an even bigger runaway, and the only thing stopping it from running you over is being dragged. Maybe the adrenaline of holding on is the only thing keeping you alive. If you let go, are you free? Or are you already dead?

Death is a horrible analogy to use for this, but it is literally what happens if you've been pulled through actual gravel for long enough. Since the proverb shouldn't be taken literally, I refer to the death of one's sanity and spirit. When you're being dragged metaphorically speaking, it's still hard to tell whether or not to let go. And it's not easy to let go of a rope that doesn't exist physically.

Sometimes, it feels safer to be dragged behind for a while. Maybe whatever you're attached to is moving slowly for the moment or pulling you through soft grass or a shallow stream. It's not so bad until it picks up again and charges onto pothole-riddled concrete. 

I think you can't let go every single time because you're not always being dragged at every moment. This one project is dragging you but it will be done in two days? Finish it. You have the strength and stamina to have gone this far. If you "let go" constantly as soon as you assume you're being dragged, then you just end up sitting on the side of the road and no one's going to let you hitchhike.

But when things are bad, when things are breaking off bits of your sanity and spirit and overall well-being, when the pain is so intense that you'd rather be run over by a hypothetical force behind you...that's when you absolutely have to let go. Far easier said than done. Abused spouses know this for sure. When it comes to saving your life, sitting on the side of the road for a bit - having the chance to actually breathe in the air around you, to be still, to look up, even when you don't have a plan - is much better in the long run than being pulled by wild horses.