As little girls we daydream about what our wedding day will be like.
I was so obsessed with it I wore my grandmother’s old slips and paraded around our front porch, two steps at a time and always in a straight line. I went through boxes of kleenex by piecing together homemade gowns for my Barbie dolls.
Now that I’m actually wedding planning, I can’t wait for the day to be over and the stress of really planning a wedding to be gone.
Soooo THAT’S the reason all the Disney movies go from first kiss to wedding to credit roll. It wouldn’t be a fairytale anymore if you had to listen to Cinderella talk about table settings with her stepsisters. Or see Snow White hit her prince over the head with the registry scanner because she wants 500-thread count sheets and he wants low ball glasses on clearance.
But as of last week, I made the last payment on my wedding gown and got all my accessories.
Let’s hope it’s an improvement from my dress-up box days.
What things did you daydream about as a kid that were different once you experienced them?
Last weekend I attended UW-Madison’s writers conference, the Writers Institute. The conference is in its 25th year and has definitely grown. It’s two and a half days long and they have so many classes, the first two days go from 8am – 8pm!
My brain is now leaking.
Honestly, I love attending writers conferences because they are so energizing. It’s the best feeling in the world to connect with your peers, learn about your craft, mingle with people who “get it,” and return home ready and raring to write!
Plus, this year I won 3rd place in the First Page Contest for nonfiction. *does Peanuts character happy dance* It’s been a long writing journey the past 4 years, and now I feel like I’m writing what I’m supposed to when I’m supposed to be writing it. So overjoyed.
I’d have been even more productive had I not forgotten where the parking ramp I parked in was and spent 45 minutes walking around downtown Madison in heels for a wind-about, nighttime stroll. Oh well, I was sitting most of the day, so the exercise was probably good. *grins sheepishly*
Here are my favorite takeaways from the conference.
1. From Opening Keynote, Nathan Bransford:
Rule #10: Keep writing.
Cultivate your failure. Be afraid of “If I don’t publish my book…” Use that to set deadlines, talk with other writers, be heard, find success stories, and write what you love.
2. From UW-Madison Creative Writing Program Coordinator, Ron Kuka:
Go through your pages like a camera. What does the reader see?
This may easily have been the best class on deep edits I’ve ever attended. Sharing examples of one page of work during four rounds of edits was so fascinating and he really nailed the points about giving our readers both a wide and close-up view of the story through all the senses.
3. From Author and Journalist, Roy Hoffman:
There is powerful emotion in home.
Roy’s class on Writing About Place was one of the most talked about sessions at the conference. He focused on adding details when writing about place to inspire memories and feelings in our work. I had a chance to chit chat with the Kentucky gentleman one morning, and he is so kind and supportive of writers. A great teacher.
4. From Debut Author, Dale Kushner:
Things around us beg to be experiences. Learn to relax and play to overcome block.
Second keynote speaker of the conference, Dale is a fabulously intuitive and spiritual writer. She recognizes that to be creative, we mustn’t lose our sense of wonder in the world. A poet and now novelist, Dale believes in learning from your writing and embracing the emotions that go along with that. Each revision we do teaches us more about our writing.
5. From New Yorker Cartoonist, Ken Krimstein:
Accept that you have no idea how good your work is. You never know what will sell, just do it, and do it, and do it.
Step into your artist’s pants.
One of Ken’s rules is to “knock dignity off its pedestal.” When it comes to writing comedy, you have to be willing to rework the rejections. Never try to explain a joke. If you have to explain it, it isn’t working. Write the draft and then color it in.
6. From Wisconsin Author and Keynote, Michael Perry:
Don’t overlook the exotic in your own backyard.
In both his keynote address and author panel at the conference, Michael Perry talked about the strength in writing what you know. He left his hometown in Wisconsin to work as a cowboy on the ranches of Wyoming, and he intended to write a book about that. As providence would have it, that book would never see print, but what would become his first book was the story about the people in his hometown, New Aubern, WI.
I had the pleasure of meeting Michael at a book reading last year, and I interviewed him on my blog as well. You can check that out here if you like. He is a delight to hear speak and a very humble man. :)
7. From Former Writer’s Digest Publisher and Author Resource Extraordinaire, Jane Friedman:
Seduce the agent into requesting your work. Make them feel special and say why you think your book is a good fit for them.
I had the pleasure of meeting Jane in one the conference’s new “Fireside Chats,” a small group Q & A session and got her view on trends in the publishing industry.
*Note to self: Check out wattpad. Have you all heard about this? It’s popular among young writers (teens-early 20′s) and allows you to post portions of your work at a time and readers can comment on the work and wait to read the next installments. Jane says it’s a more positive environment than Goodreads right now. And I LOOOOOVE Goodreads, but there are some mean folks out there leaving reviews without ever having read the books they’re reviewing. What do you guys know about this?
I also attended Jane’s class on writing queries and it was PACKED! She kept the class simple and said to lead with your strengths in your query letter in order to wow the agent.
8. From Creative Writing Educator and Public Speaker, Sue Roupp:
One word will unstick you.
First off, Sue has the greatest laugh ever. It’s big and bold and it fills the room with her excitement for storytelling. Sue taught a class on memoir writing and emphasized that you are the hero of your own story. Through you, the reader learns that it’s ok to fail, to learn, and to gain knowledge.
That’s what inspired me this past weekend.
Who or what inspired you this week?
So begins Erin Morgenstern’s book The Night Circus. It’s a short, simple line, but I was intrigued.
Well that, and we know I have a soft spot (read: scar) for circuses. ;)
The Night Circus is the story of two illusionists who must compete to the death inside an arena of circus tents. But neither of them knows that. All they know is that they’ve been raised to perfect their skills for a competition they know nothing about, and that they’re falling madly in love with each other.
The book can be classified as magical realism, which is a growing genre trend that involves magic, but in a way where it is unmentionable. To clarify, for example with this story, both of the main characters have the ability to create things and distort reality with their illusions, but it’s never said outright that they are magic. The setting is considered normal world. And it’s believable.
I did an exercise at the writers conference I just attended for a class on setting. We took the idea of ‘home’ and wrote a scene that was detailed both in the senses and feelings. The activity was captivating. Everyone who attended the class was talking about it the whole weekend, because as we shared examples the scenes were so varied yet we each created a picture of a place and an emotion that emanated there. Where Morgenstern succeeds in this novel is that the world of the circus is very astutely described.
I have a confession. Place has never drawn me into a book. When I read Wuthering Heights, I skimmed over the moors. When I read The Thorn Birds, I flipped the pages right past Drogheda. But the Night Circus?
I wanted to know more.
My Favorite Setting Stand Outs in The Night Circus:
- Colors – Everything in the circus is decorated in black and white. The tents, the walls, the costumes. They are only ever black and white. So, when you have a scene where a character very deliberately changes her gown from emerald green to black to green again – the visual becomes more intense. The color stands out a little brighter. The “Revers” (meaning ‘dreamers’, AKA: circus folk) all wear red scarves so they know one another. In a crowd of black and white, the red pops.
- Clocks – A fascinating side character is a clock maker who works closely with Celia, the female illusionist. The main clock over the circus tent is described as transforming from day to night as the hours pass with dancing scenes floating by like the most elaborately created cuckoo clock your imagination could describe.
- Circus Tents – Of course the circus itself is described in great detail. There are rooms of mirrors in which you only see yourself, but when glancing over your shoulder, there is a crowd behind you. Another room is all white – floors, walls, and ceiling – and it snows there, but there is a great bonfire inside.
If you haven’t read The Night Circus, I highly recommend it.
Its world and its story are rich. A very good read indeed.
Have you read it? What did you think?
What’s your favorite book that highlights a place – fictional or not?
Meet my parents.
Here’s another glimpse into my writing project this week. I’ve spent more time editing the chapters about my family’s restaurant than any other chapters. So much to fit in.
This throwback thursday features another themed New Year’s Eve Party – pajama jammer. My pops wore long underwear, and if I know him, the butt flap was probably open. (But he would have had undies underneath!) At least, I hope so.
I’m pretty sure I had a Christmas dress at one point that matched my mother’s nightgown.
And you can see I’m modeling a very similar plaid ensemble. (pronounced un-some-bleh)
I’m calling this shot…Escanaba in da Moonlight meets The Berenstein Bears.
What’s a funny memory you have of your parents?
Can’t think of one…what about the way they dressed you? Huh, huh?
Well, I finally did it. I joined Pinterest.
Are you happy now?
After months of my mother and sister insisting I get on Pinterest – purely to look at the wedding ideas they’d pinned – I finally relented and joined.
I spent the weekend surfing the internet and pinning half of it down. Pinterest is addicting.
Here’s a few samples of what you can find on my Pinterest page!
Writerly Wish List
Are these not the coolest sheets ever?
Stop Making Me Laugh
What do you think they’re reading?
I must have this sweatshirt. MUST.
Places to Go
I cannot wait for our honeymoon in Greece!
Slowly, but surely, things are coming together.
So picture us – my mother, father, sister, fiance and I – sitting in the living room. I’m sitting between my parents on the couch, my sister is holding her 4 month old and her iphone across from us, and Joe is probably surfing Facebook on the loveseat.
It was like an airing of Who’s on First. Everyone was talking and sharing ideas but no one was on the same conversation path. My mom was talking about chair rentals, my dad is shouting at me not to use the color gold in the wedding scheme, and my sister is asking me questions I don’t understand?
“For your bouquet, do you want it loose or do you want it to look like a ball?”
What kind of a ball? Like a basketball or a golf ball?
“Do you want it to have tendrils?”
How can a bouquet have tendrils? It’s not a Regency era maiden! No I don’t want it to have tendrils.
Planning a wedding is hard. And with 3 people scrolling through pinterest pages and 2 people covered in piles of rental brochures, it was an interesting night.
I promise however, that my pinterest board is not all wedding stuff. So please follow me. I’m lonely over there. Follow Jess on Pinterest.
But be careful, Pinterest destroys families.
How was your weekend?
I’ve been a having a series of morbid dreams lately. I blame late night television. Marathons of Dexter, The Following, and The Walking Dead are starting to take their toll.
Seriously! Dreams about tracking serial killers, zombie attacks, and injecting tranquilizers in my enemies are happening on a regular basis at bedtime. And what’s worse is that these crime thriller/apocalyptic shows are blending themselves with my everyday life. Including wedding planning.
Here’s one of my latest
My brother, Justin, and I are on a road trip to go kill a guy.
Cause that’s what older siblings are good for.
But the guy we’re coming after is a total scuzzball, so he deserves what’s coming to him. Problem is…we have to find him first. So we make a pit stop at this party to talk to another guy who can tell us where the first guy – the guy we want to kill (still with me?) - is.
Now, the party we go to ends up being someone’s wedding ceremony. So as we’re sneaking in, I stop us and pull up a chair to watch the wedding and start taking notes about what I like and don’t like about their ceremony.
I did not like the fact that they handed out skittles to everyone. Half of the guests dropped theirs on the ground, which is a safety hazard, and the other half had sticky palms. Ew.
We end up finding the guy we needed to talk to, and we bully him a little to get information. Then we head back to the car to take off again.
Are you ready for this?
My brother has dropped skittles all over the inside of the car and I’m furious at him for making a sticky mess on the car seats.
That’s when I woke up.
Here’s how the conversation with my fiance, Joe, went that morning:
Me: “Strange dream.”
Joe: “What’d you dream about?”
Me: “I planned to kill a guy. But I got distracted by candy.”
Joe: “Sounds about right.”
Had any weird dreams lately?
This blog is called Jess Witkins’s Happiness Project. You probably come here for tips on happiness, or to laugh at the stupid things I do in attempt to achieve it, thereby making yourself feel better about life. That is fine.
But sometimes, I’m not happy.
Sometimes I’m pissed off or stressed out or emotionally unstable. Often when I’m hungry. Which is why my fiance thinks I need this shirt…
I think my writer pal, Myndi Shafer, said it best:
Life is fucking hard.
Myndi wrote an honest blog post about feeling low in life, and I’m so glad she did, because I needed to hear that I wasn’t alone.
I’m known for being a really positive person and finding the humor in situations out of one’s control. But recently, it feels like everything is out of control. Which is scary because I’m a control freak!
We all go through chapters in our lives where things are out of balance or in transition. I just happen to be dealing with a few big ones all at once.
I don’t know about you guys, but I seem to be placing my coping skills in the weirdest of places too. For example, I feel like I have no control over the things in my life, so I’ve taken to controlling my fiance’s. Specifically, his healthcare.
Here are things I said in the last week that I never thought I would say. Ever.
-“You should floss tonight. We ate poppyseeds.”
-”Did you take more echincea? You really should if your throat is sore.”
-”I told you NOT TO BLOW YOUR NOSE SO HARD! You’re inflaming your nasal passages! God!”
Bless his congested little heart for putting up with me.
I know things will get better. My brain cells tell me this is so. But my soul is still unsure and spends way too much time worrying.
Know what I mean?
P.S. Free vitamins and neti pots all around.
I’ve encountered some hilarious YouTubing this week and I had to share. Have you seen any of these? Set down your morning coffee before hitting play on these bad babies.
Ever just had one of those days? 3 year old Mateo just wants a cupcake, but Linda (his MOM) isn’t having any of it.
Have you seen Kid Snippets before? They’re a series of videos filmed with adults lip synching to stories told by children. Here are two of my faves!
Do you fear the 80s are under-represented and misunderstood by the younger generations these days? Well, so does Kevin Bacon. And he’s here to talk about 80′s Awareness with you.
I found this one for work. Did you know most people do not know how to effectively use a condom? Bedsider’s series A Guy’s Guide has you covered.
What funny videos or stories made you laugh this weekend?
I adore Sloane Crosley. She’s been recognized as the female David Sedaris, which is high praise for comedy writers. I read her first memoir, I Was Told There’d Be Cake, last summer and LOVED it. Ms. Crosley and I share quite a bit of humorous childhood experiences and her essays – particularly the one about the atlas moth – had me laughing out loud. You see, I do not do bugs.
Working on a humorous non-fiction book myself, I’ve been guzzling down comedy books to get a sense of voice and see what works and what doesn’t. I was ready to check out more Sloane Crosley!
For Christmas, I added her next book, How Did You Get This Number, to my wish list and my sister obliged.
In this book, Sloane shares a love story, one of New York City and her own as well. Every gory detail about her relationship with the place she lives is there – from desiring to live in a haunted apartment complex that used to be a brothel to buying high class furniture that “fell off the back of a truck” from a guy named Doug. Along the way, this new adult finds a place for herself amidst the moments that shaped her life.
Frequently writing for The New York Times and GQ magazines, Sloane Crosley has a quick wit that burns off the page. She has a style of writing like your having a conversation with your bestie over coffee, and yet the comparisons she makes about life are so biting and enjoyable.
Travel buffs will also get a kick out of this read for her descriptions of things like hailing a New York taxi cab, getting lost in the streets of Turkey, bonding with fellow bridesmaids in the wilderness of Alaska, and trying to smuggle an antique thermometer out of France.
I read this book as part of my To Be Read Pile Challenge for 2014. I am now 2 books into the challenge, with 10 more to go. You can see my full reading list here.
What books are on your must read list this year?
How’s your reading going so far?
Got any recommendations for me?