Tag Archives: education

Reading Challenges: A Year of Reading, and more!

books-552572_1280How many of you have a stack of books you’re planning to read? Someday, right? And how many of you add to that list every year? I’m with you! I needed to know what happened in the Lunar Chronicles too!

books-1841116_1280That’s why I love the reading challenge created by Estella’s Revenge called #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks. I joined up last year and read 38 out of 131 books. I think I started with double that amount on the shelves (and floor), but one of the books I read was The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up and I sold/gave away 125 books.

I’ve created my current bookshelf list for 2017, should you wish to peruse my shelves.

(And it’s safe to say I’ll be doing this reading challenge for years to come, because let’s face it, I will keep buying books. But now, I do read more that I currently own versus buying QUITE so many.)

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51j4xd2ntcl-_sx355_bo1204203200_I’m also using the book A Year of Reading to diversify what I read this year. This guidebook separates each month with a theme and gives six different book ideas for that theme. I love its diversity in authors and in genre.

It’s inclusive of authors of color, something I was looking to include more of this year in my reading, and the genre options include fiction and nonfiction, but also more marginalized categories like graphic novels, poetry, and short story anthologies.

The themes range from serious to fun, with a mix of genre styles within them. January was all about happiness, so very timely for that new year, new you vibe.

This month, I completed The Principles of Uncertainty by Maira Kalman. 

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Kalman’s book is different than most books I’ve read because it is also an art book. The pages are her colorful paintings and photography of people, places, and things that catch her eye – whether passing by on the street or musing over a historical figure.

This is a book you could read in a day. But I chose not to. I wanted to savor it.

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On a surface level, it’s an easy book to read for reading’s sake. But I wanted to muse along with her. Sometimes I learned about a historical figure, or a family member of hers, or even the intricacy of a tassel on a chair. So what you really get out of Kalman’s book is that happiness is found in the little things. The day to day moments where we stop. And just look. Just listen.

What reading challenges are you doing this year, formal or otherwise?
What books have you read recently that made you think? 

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The Happiness Project: Now An Educational Blog Series!

Hello Friends!

I know, it’s been awhile. I’ve been a naughty blogger. I didn’t post at all last week cause I was sick with a cold and pretty much had no idea what to write about. I did get some work done on my book though, which is good and bad. Good – because my goal is to be a published, professional writer. But bad – or maybe more accurately sad, because I missed you all and felt guilty for ignoring you in favor of sweatpants, Echinacea, kleenex, and the Harry Potter marathon that was on all day Saturday.

Which leads me to an update. As much as I hate to say it, and I really do, I’ll be cutting my posts back to once a week. I have to focus on edits right now, and I need the extra time to get them done. There’s going to be a lot of this going on…

Life of a WriterI will have some awesome guest bloggers joining me next month so stay tuned for guest posts from animal expert Amy Shojai and mystery writer extraordinaire Kathy Owen – both of whom have new books coming out! Holla!

In procrastinating writing a new blog post, I perused my recent blog stats page to see what amazing search terms led people to my blog.

You know what I learned?

I’m apparently writing an educational blog series!

I mean, people are popping over here to learn all kinds of information. Just in the last 30 days, here’s a list of topics I’ve been their go to source for:

  • Mount Rushmore holes in eyes – um, ok
  • how to do the Peanuts dance – well sure
  • dino erotica – this will not be on next year’s syllabus
  • Barret Oliver
  • what defined the 80’s
  • things to blog about that start with ‘S’ – don’t ask me about the letter ‘E’, I have no idea!
  • do older ouija boards work better – I don’t know, I don’t plan to touch one ever again.
  • wicked musical party supplies – I’m better with Oscar parties.
  • reports of vampire attacks in 2013
  • claimed vampire attacks in 2013
  • covered up vampire attacks
  • vampire attacks – For. Realz.
  • missing your dad who died from positive quotes – I have a question for you, how does one die from the power of affirmation phrases?
  • travel necessities in Korea
  • how long does it take for a tarot reading to come true
  • how many nominations did The Hobbit get

I’m so pleased I could be your reference on so many broad topics. I shall strive to elaborate and educate on many more in 2014.

Now, raise those hands. Who’s got a topic they want to talk about in class?

 

 

 

Why I Decided NOT to Go Back to College

I’m fresh off of WANAcon this weekend which was AMAZING! Seriously, if you get a chance to go (and it’s all online, so there’s no reason not to) you should go!

Rumor has it there’ll be another one in February…

WANAcon is an online writers conference hosted by social media guru and writer shepherd, Kristen Lamb. WANA stands for We Are Not Alone, which is the title of her first book. Big thanks to Kristen and her partners in crime – Jay at Tech Surgeons and Jami Gold – for helping host WANAcon this month.

The conference had a mixture of craft and business classes for writers with a slew of awesome presenters. One class alone made me sign up.

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Several months ago I made the drastic decision to quit my job in sales management with the intent of getting my Master’s Degree in writing.

Like a good little student, I researched schools and programs, made lists of extracurricular writing opportunities, and talked to people who had completed the programs.

Then May rolled around and I jetted off to the Dallas/Fort Worth Writers Conference. Over lunch one day, with several of the WANA tribe, we were talking about our current writing plans. In my best puffed-up, “I’m not having a quarter life crisis AT ALL!” voice I shared my brilliant plan of going back to school and getting the education I needed to move forward. *hands on hips, matter of fact-style*

And then my friend, Rachel Funk Heller, asked me a question…

Why do you want to pay all that money for a glorified critique group?

I was stunned.

You mean, you don’t think my plan is brilliant??!

Well…it wasn’t.

Note:  This post is not a bashing of academia. I would never tell someone not to pursue their graduate degree if that was important to them. This post is my story about MY decision to pursue a different path on my road to publication. If you’re considering going back to school, then research it! Get all the information you can before making your decision because it matters.

Rachel’s point to me was that everything I had stated I needed help with was available…in our WANA community…for a lot less than that $40,000/year tuition I was looking at. She pointed out what’s available to learn at conferences and who to get in touch with online.

She was right.

All I want to do is write a book. I don’t need a Master’s Degree to do that.

If my goals had been to teach writing in a college environment or to open my own publishing house someday, then YES, a Master’s Degree would be necessary. To write a book? It’s just one path of many.

Making an Action Plan

What butt in chair writing looks like.

What butt in chair writing looks like.

Back from DFWcon, unemployed, and desperately wanting everyone to believe I’d made the right choice, I put together my action plan.

I wrote.

That was step number one. And in a little over 3 months, I completed the first draft of my book.

Support.

I found support all around me. I got a writing partner, one that I knew and shared a work ethic with *Hi Gene!*, I used social media to boost my word counts, and I joined a local writers group to get feedback on my work.

Education.

I admit I do not have all the answers. If I did, I’d be published by now! I also would’ve quit my life-suck of a past job a LONG TIME AGO!

Now, I read books on craft. I devour books in my genre to get a sense of pacing and voice. I read through Writer’s Digest and blogs about writing.

A bonus to not paying tuition money – I have money to attend conferences! It’s my plan to attend more writing conferences this next year.

Balance…As Much As Possible

This has always been my struggling point. I’m a yes-person. I think that I can do it all and then don’t ask for the lifesaver when I’m drowning.

It took me awhile to find a job that makes me happy and healthy. A job that challenges me, utilizes my talents, appreciates my input, and is flexible. That’s an incredibly rare find. And it took time.

In my past job I worked 50-60 hour work weeks where I was on my feet presenting “happy manager” face all day long. When I got home, I was exhausted! I wanted to write, but I never had energy to get far.

My unemployment, though incredibly difficult on my budget and my relationship, was a gift. It was time. Time to finish my book. And not having a paycheck was a damn big motivator to plant my butt in the chair and get that page count up, let me tell ya! Little things like Crystal Light packets became a huge treat when I got my writing done.

Perspective.

Before I was offered “Awesome Job,” I accepted “Get’s Me a Paycheck Job.” It was a drastic pay cut, where I was overqualified, and still putting in more hours than I asked for.

The Regional Manager literally spent half a day’s training discussing “The Importance of Using a Planner.”

*crickets*

It was another push. Take the job that is less stressful, and puts food on your table, and GET THAT WRITING DONE!

In order for that to happen, I had to let go of my pride and stop worrying what people would think of me.

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So WANAcon had a class that really sparked my interest.

Gabriela Pereira’s DIY MFA

Is that not the coolest sounding program ever?!

Gabriela Pereira is the instigator behind Do It Yourself – Master’s Program for Writers! She has an MFA herself because she wanted to be a creditable individual that can teach Master’s level education to others having experienced the programs first hand.

After sitting through her presentation on the core areas of MFA programs, I was psyched to realize that I was already doing 75% of them! Adding in a few other elements and getting tips from Gabriela’s program will be a great resource to build my skills in the rest!

Check out her website DIY MFA: Tools and Techniques for the Serious Writer

She even offers a FREE DIY starter kit with over 30 pages of techniques and tips, so I encourage you to get more info if this interests you!

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I’m grateful that Rachel took the time to ask me my true goals in life. I would much rather spend my hard earned money traveling across the country to network at writers conferences than rack up more debt in student loans that may or may not get me any closer to publication than I am now.

I realize that I was only able to make that decision after years of dealing with the things I knew I didn’t want.

I hope my blog post helps at least ONE person out there make a drastic change in their lives for the better. If I knew then what I know now, I would’ve made these changes a lot sooner.

I’ve read the books written by happiness experts and life coaches and the problem with those books is they gloss over the gritty parts. They quit their jobs like it’s no big deal while at the same time start a collection and go shopping for trends! Most of us cannot do that. I couldn’t do that!

It was a learning process the whole way. But ultimately, a good one.

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If anyone wants more details or you’re looking for a listener who’s been there, please reach out to me! I’m more than happy to chat with you all in the comments, message me on Facebook, or send me an email (jessi(dot)witkins(at)gmail(dot)com)! You can vent to me in 140 characters or less on Twitter!

Knowing you have choices is an incredible empowerment, and you deserve that!

What were the tough decisions that you struggled with? What helped you survive?

Oh Captain, My Captain

Robin Williams as Professor Keating, or "Oh Captain, My Captain"

Have you ever seen the movie The Dead Poet’s Society?  I love that film.  Growing up feeling estranged from my small town upbringing and a writing future that looked bleak and penniless, it meant the world to me to have a few teachers throughout the years that encouraged passion for writing and creativity.  In the film Robin Williams plays an english teacher who introduces his students, impressionable young men with a thirst for freedom and newness, to the Dead Poet’s Society.  The society is a secret group that meets to read poetry about everything raw in life.

With a helpful nudge from fellow blogger, CM Stewart, I was given a quick review of what my blog says about me as a platform, or writer’s profile.  “Close to Home” she said, and urged me to expound on my About page and explain why I panicked the moment college graduation started ticking down.  Here goes.

I wanted to be a writer since I was three.  My first story, entitled “Ho-Ho and the Missing Key” was a story about a bear named Ho-Ho who loses a key.  It ended with him finding the key, in case you were curious.  My parents were always supportive of my writing endeavors and praised me as their gifted youngest child.  Now and again, as I got older, my father would be pouring his morning glass of orange juice and fill his cup with flax seed, stare up at me and ask, “What are you going to do for money?”  Sitting on the counter top staring out the same kitchen windows I had for years, swinging my sock feet over the cupboard door my mother repeatedly told me not to do as it would break the hinges, but it never did, I shrugged.  I’ll figure it all out. You all know what I thought.  I’ll be so brilliant the agents will clamor at my door and beg to publish my work.  I’m going to be the next Adrienne Rich of poetry, the next Sloane Crosley of satire, the next best thing to hit Hollywood!

My middle and high school years included some amazing literature teachers who read my scribbles and said “bravo!”  In fact, I got the greatest written recommendation letter for a college scholarship I’ve ever read from one those teachers.  She described me as having an arsenal of strength.  Who wouldn’t be flattered?  This teacher had also stood up for me and spoken to the principal about my senior exit interview.  My interviewer was a retired Doctor Hartwick.  He was a tall, midwest bellied man who always wore a tie.  He had combed wavy gray hair and typically read Bible passages at the Catholic church I grew up in.  Going through my portfolio, he skimmed right over all my extra writing samples, my forensics awards, my extracurricular activity participation and told me I didn’t have enough math examples.  And that writing was fine for free time, but what was my fallback plan?  When I told my teacher about how I was grilled about making a better realistic choice for my college plan, she went straight to the principal, “You don’t tell a top 20 honor student that her dream is unrealistic!”  Dr. Hartwick was never asked to help with senior exit interviews again.

In college, I found similar professors who encouraged my out of the box project delivery.  Instead of papers, I often wrote and performed spoken word pieces.  I became involved with performance pedagogy groups and worked on a few literary journals.  Hell, I was a student slave in the English department copy room, making copies of all the professors’ class assignments and reading!

My senior year I joined the company I currently manage for.  It’s a higher end retail department store, and I began in customer service.  Happy in my new job, I was drawn to their service manager position, which focused on answering the customer issues on the floor.  I spoke with the store manager several times that I’d be interested in doing it.  I hadn’t made any plans after graduation, stalling at the time unsure of how life would affect the relationship I was in and suddenly unsure of what I wanted to do with my life anyway.  A month before graduation and I seriously considered not going through with it and changing my major to business management!  Chaos broke loose.  I was interviewing with Americorp, I had bookmarked the peacecorp site on my computer, and talked to my boss again saying please please please.  Obviously, you know where I ended up.  I was given a full time sales position to learn the floor before moving a few months later into the service lead, and few months later into the sales manager position I currently am in.

I go back and forth remembering my decision making process after graduation.  I am currently in a well paying job that is allowing me to pay off my student loans much faster than my siblings were able.  And I hadn’t wanted to go to grad school right away anyway.  My panic about what field to study made adding more loan payments on while being unsure of the course seem like a bad idea.  So, I decided I’ll work a few years and then decide what and where I really want to be.

The problem, which now brings you all up to speed, was that two going on three years have passed and I miss writing.  I wasn’t doing it anymore.  And this blog, which I started to document my return to words, has been difficult to maintain regularly, but feels like the best thing going on in my life right now.  So, here I am, talking about things “close to home,” sharing stories, memoirs, and support for anyone making a teensy weensy change or a monumental move in their life.  If your ambitions are in writing like myself, I highly recommend you check out Kristen Lamb and her book We Are Not Alone.  She is just one of the many wise men I am meeting on my happiness project.

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