Reblogged from Starting With Some Gratitude:
With Thanksgiving approaching, I thought I’d share one of my favorite blog posts from the past about gratitude and family.
This holiday is always special to me and my family because we’ve tracked our ancestry back to two of the pilgrims that crossed over on the Mayflower. John Howland and Elizabeth Tilley. John Howland came from England as an indentured servant to John Carver, one of the Leiden Separatists (AKA: pilgrim). John Carver was Plymouth colony’s first Governor and the first person to sign the Mayflower Compact, which he wrote.
But John Carver and his family did not survive the first winter in the new world. In fact, most of the original passengers on the Mayflower did not survive that first winter. My 17th Great Grandfather, John Howland, who was in his 20′s at the time, now found himself a land owner and became a prominent member of the community. He would later become quite a reputable fur trader, working with Native Americans along the coast of Maine, and ending his days as a farmer in Massachusetts.
Elizabeth was only a teenager when she made the voyage across the Atlantic with her parents. Her parents did not survive the first winter either.
Eventually, John and Elizabeth married in the new world, and over their life together, gave birth to 10 children! What is so remarkable about their story is that they all survived! The Howland line is the most common bloodline for pilgrim descendants to belong to because it was so rare that these people lived as long as they did. Elizabeth was in her 90′s when she passed!
I am fortunate in many ways. I’m fortunate that I know where my people come from. I know their story, or at least as much as I can know. And I know we are survivors. I’m also fortunate to have visited the land and place where they walked. The first time in 2010 with Joe, who was patient and understanding with me while I took photos of everything and felt like I was walking in a really good dream. The second time in 2013 when I took my parents to tour Plymouth and watched my mom have the same journey I did three years ago.
So Thanksgiving is a meaningful holiday for me. It’s a reminder of who we are and what we’ve been through. What we can endure, with hard work and family, in order to achieve our dreams. It’s a reminder to change for the better by learning from others and seeking understanding more than being right.
This month, I’d like to focus on thanksgiving. I’ve kept a journal since I was 13, but for the last few years I’ve turned it into more of a gratitude journal. At the end of each entry, I write five specific things I’m grateful for.
Here’s what I’m most grateful for today…
- My family. I’ve had a year with an immense high (my marriage) and an extreme low (the passing of my brother in law), and through both events my family rallied together and supported one another with love, patience, and grace.
- My spouse – because he lets me ignore him to focus on writing this month and supports my dream of being a published author.
- Tacos. Joe made them and they were delicious.
- Writing friends. For the many critique groups, write-ins, and classes I’ve been able to attend this month.
- Coffee. And blankets. (it’s cold outside)
What are you thankful for today?
for more Thanksgiving stories to impress your family at the dinner table,
check out my other Thanksgiving posts!
In search of the perfect Throwback Thursday post for this week, I happened upon a fascinating little book called…my first diary.
I was 10 when I started writing in it.
Classy right? I mean, nothing screams “Miss Havisham: The Early Years” like brocade fabric and a floral arrangement. Add some dust to the bears and I’m set.
No, seriously. If y’all catch me wandering the blogosphere in my wedding dress, wearing only one shoe…somebody better speak the fuck up!
Look at the lock on this thing?! I picked it with a bobbypin.
Who, exactly, is this going to keep out?
I guess it’s a good thing I at least hid the book somewhere safe because otherwise the kids on the playground might have decrypted my code names for the boys in our class.
“I’m sort of calling the boys names like tweeter butt, piddle skiddle, flem wad, emo ponco, tonto, estupedo,…”
I vote here and now we bring piddle skiddle and tweeter butt back!
*begins painting picket signs – Long Live Tweeter Butt! Piddle Skiddle is my Homie!”
Here’s another glistening dewdrop of an entry from my 10 year old self:
I decided I don’t want a boyfriend. I can wait.
I’m in a reading program!! It is fun.
I’m on break for piano lessons. I’m glad.
I’m not mad at anyone. That’s good, huh.
I have 3 penpals: Andrea, Jessica, and Katie. Their (yes, I know it should be ‘They’re’) from PA, WA, and WI.
Ok. Let’s just ponder this post shall we?
I think, rather I KNOW, my favorite part is “I’m not mad at anyone. That’s good, huh.”
In true form, I used my diary as a venting tool, and I’m betting I’m not the only one who did so. Therefore, the majority of its pages are filled with angry content about how mean all my siblings are and what backstabbers my best friends are.
Can someone say redheaded temper???
I can graciously say that I no longer fill my diary’s pages with name calling and hate letters. I’ve grown up since then. But there’s something to be said for the way a child gets things off her/his chest and moves on. They fume for the length of a page and then they wonder what’s for dinner. As adults, we don’t always heal so easily. As funny as these diary entries are, they are also a good reminder not to dwell on the negative things in life, but to move forward and enjoy the positive. Like reading programs. 😉
Did you ever keep a diary?
What shocking things did you scribble on its pages?
Do you journal now? What do you like/dislike about it?
I was so energized by the comments and support in my previous post depicting my struggle with outlining that I compiled a list of various ways writers can propel their work in progress forward. All of us have battles each day to face. Mine typically include: getting out of bed without hitting snooze 1-6 times, eating a healthy breakfast, trying to coach people with 20 years of bad habits under their belts, and getting home and not immediately grabbing a bag of chips and falling asleep on the couch missing the ending of yet another movie, and oh yah…writing consistently. I never used to live like this. Yah, right.
So, I started thinking about the different kinds of work writers do. It’s more complicated than ‘writers write.’ We write different genres, we write fiction or non-fiction. We build worlds and set construction, we develop characters for readers to fall in love with, and often, if we are successful, we’ve somehow infused real life into our work. It could be using an image we saw, a place we grew up, a person we knew. We transform the real world around us into great writing and reading. The process to do those things differs for every person. And what kind of Perseverance Expert would I be if I couldn’t help us all find ways to move forward when we’re stuck in one place.
1. Take a Walk Sounds too simple, right? No really. Try it. Sometimes we’re too close to our story to think openly about it. Taking a walk clears our head. We’re able to focus on new tasks, such as crossing the street safely (I look both ways to left and right, left and right, left and right, I look both ways to left and right before I cross the street). I was a Safety City Instructor for 2 years! **crickets** Ok, back to the point, honestly taking a walk could lead you in a thousand directions! Duh, Witkins, we’re walking! No, no, I mean writing directions. You could overhear a conversation that would spark up your own dialogue and give you insight into your characters. You could take a camera with you and snap photos of things that interest you along the way. Maybe an image will help spark a next scene you could jump to or assist you with world building.
2. Brainstorm/Free Write/Scene Build This was a difficult lesson for me. Back in November when I did my own version of NaNoWriMo, it killed me to stare at the cursor on my computer screen and think THINK THIIIIIINK what would come next. It didn’t occur to me I could write non-chronologically and piece the scenes together during editing. If you’re stuck in one place, or writing a particular scene has become daunting or less than fun, move to another scene you’re excited about and sketch it out. It keeps you writing your story and should help keep you passionate for it too.
3. Outline, Character Development If you like structure and that helps you focus, take a time out to list qualities about your characters or plot turning points in your story. Spend time asking yourself about the mask your protagonist/antagonist wears, what do they fear, what is their strength, motto, what characteristics do they admire in others (supporting characters), do they have a dark side, what is their core need and what will make them their best self? There’s lots of character development outlines available online, find one that piques your interest and spend time getting to know your characters.
4. Journal I had a big aha moment this weekend after reading the Freshly Pressed post by Jamie Lee Wallace. She wrote about the top 10 ways journaling can make you a better writer. I highly recommend checking out her post if you haven’t already because all the reasons are great. My favorite two are: it gets rid of the crappy writing by allowing you to get your ideas out on page and it makes it clear to you what you’re really struggling with because it’s a way to record your progress, good and bad. Just start journaling already! I love it. You might too, and there are no rules, the more you do it, the more beneficial, but whatever you choose to enter inside it is what’s right for you.
5. Share If none of the above seem to be helping, bring in another set of eyes. I used to think I couldn’t share my work with anyone until it was completely finished, thereby revealing the proverbial masterpiece that came from my mind alone! Muahahaha! But frankly, that’s stupid. It’s ok, I admit it. I was young and naive, and still am at times, but I’m moving forward and making smarter decisions. 😀 If you read the thank yous published authors write in their books, a lot of them thank the readers who read their work before it was on the shelf. Also, when I was at the Writers Institute Conference, all the agents said you should absolutely submit your work to a critique group before pitching/publication. So unless you’re the next Emily Dickinson or John Kennedy Toole, you should let others give you feedback, good and bad, about your work. Somehow, I don’t think most of us want the hidden papers in a mattress/shoebox approach anyway.
These are the strategies that have been the most helpful to me, because they cover whatever aspect you’re struggling with each day. If I need more structure, outline. If I’m feeling lackluster about a certain part, jump to a new one! Need to set it down for a minute? Ok, go walk or journal. And advice from other writers has always been eye opening to me, both in form and story development.
Many of you have been posting recently about the changes you’re making in your writing lives. Maybe it’s putting your name on your blog! Woohoo, welcome! Some have been blogging about their character developing strategies and what inspires them. And several of my pals are taking writing retreats and attending conferences this weekend. (Even though I just got back from one, I’m still jealous; they’re just so much fun!) So chat with me. What strategies are you focusing on right now with your writing? What changes or steps have you taken to be more successful? Do you have a critique group? How has that input from other writers helped you? How has blogging helped you? I know my community here means the world to me! *bats eyelashes at you all* Can’t wait to hear from you, and happy writing!
“I’ve been journaling since I was 15. It’s a wonder that I’ve managed to be a successful human being considering how pathetic I appeared in many of my daily musings.” –Oprah, in Oprah Magazine April 2011
I caved. I was standing in line at the grocery store waiting to check out and glancing over the magazines they strategically place right near the counter when I read the cover for Oprah’s newest issue. In the magazine, she shows you pages of her journals from 1970-1985. I had to read it. And wouldn’t you know, most every page had to do with some boy. She’s been keeping a journal since she was 15, and I’ve been journaling since I was 13. I’m sure a fair amount of my “daily musings” were about boys, in fact I’m positive they were. But, I also changed the purpose of my journaling just like Oprah did. At some point in her life, she began to use her journal as a place for gratitude and blessings in her life rather than recounting all the bad stuff. By allowing herself that positive space she allowed good things to enter her life. I’m not going to tell you it’s easy. It isn’t. Despite all the advice I get from Oprah, or from Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project, which I read last year and which prompted the beginning of this wayward blog, I by no means have it all figured out. But, I’m getting there.
I’ve also been reading the book Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine. It’s a young adult novel about a 10 year old girl with Asperger’s Syndrome, a disorder that makes it difficult to understand and express emotion. Despite her disorder, I find Caitlin extremely delightful as she practices naming emotions on the playground, making friends, and celebrating the things she’s good at like finesse. Here’s an excerpt that made me laugh, because I know exactly how she feels. The scene is Caitlin is in the school office talking to her counselor on the phone.
She says I have to be patient and keep trying. Sometimes things don’t work the first time but then eventually they do.
And making friends?
Even for me?
Absolutely. I have confidence in you. You just have to keep trying.
Josh is walking into the principal’s office when I get off the phone.
He turns his head to me and whispers, Loser.
I know, I tell him, but I’m going to keep trying.
To put it in Caitlin’s terms. “I Get It.” I know how she feels. Because I feel that way too. What does Oprah and a 10 year old with Asperger’s have to do with your blog, Jess, you ask? I guess they represent where my head is at in this writing journey of mine. I know I’ve come a long way, but I have to keep trying.
Case in point, an excerpt from my April 1, 2000 journal ( I was in 8th grade):
In the future I want…
- to be a famous, or at least published authoress
- to travel all over the world
- to happily marry a wonderful, handsome, God-loving man
- to some distant day have a baby girl and a baby boy
- to maybe direct or write or act in a good movie
- to meet my penpal, Andrea
- to be rid of this dreadful retainer!
Lylas (love you like a sister),
What do you think? What parts of your writing journey do you have to keep working at? What about your happiness journey? Do you have goals from childhood you’re still working on? Ever pull out your old journals and try to name the emotions in them? lol.
Don’t you wish writing was as easy as talking to God? No matter where you are, it will find you. Blessed is she who writes, for she shall inherit a publisher. Do not covet thy neighbor’s writing. Do unto other’s writing as you would have them do unto yours.
When I was little, I believed I had a direct line to God, or at least to my priest. When I was around 7 or 8, I used to write letters to the parish priest, Father Duane, and “mail them” by dropping them off in the collection basket. They never failed to get to him, and I always received a most prized piece of mail in return answering all my weird questions like “Don’t you get sick of singing These 40 Days of Lent, Oh Lord? I do. Did you happen to watch the Barbara Walters special last night? It was captivating. I hate squash and my family loves it, do you think God put me in the wrong family?”
It would be great if good writing was as simple as talking to God, or writing your priest a letter, but it takes a lot more hard work, and often it won’t receive as kind and accommodating a letter in reply. But good writing, like religion, can speak to your soul.
Thank God for the weekend! My awful cold has put my resolutions to shame and I’ve felt guilty for not getting to them all, but most nights I passed out at eight with my clothes still on and kleenex in my nose. It wasn’t until last night when I dreamed I was at the grocery store and I filled my cart full of tubs of cheese spread and cake that I new my appetite was back, and I was getting better. Of course, then I dreamed I got lost in St. Louis, and I have no idea what that means!
So it’s time for Resolution Weekend Madness! (man, I wish I had some WordArt to make that sound cool. ha!) I’ll have to blog ahead, clean my room, and journal for my own enjoyment. Not part of my resolutions, but important nonetheless, I’m also shopping for a superbowl party, Go Packers!, and catching up on some of the Oscar nominations before I host that party in a few weeks.
What are all you up to this weekend, writing or otherwise? I need motivators to basically start over the story I was working on. Yikes!
It’s the end of the week for my resolution to eat healthier and see how it would affect my energy and writing.
I can’t boast an amazing outcome as I’m now sick with some sort of cold and sore throat. I think my niece coughed in my face a couple times and that’s what I get for coloring with her. On the bright side, induced in a tylenol cold medicine sleep last night, I completely slept through some sort of war between my roommates. Apparantly at some early morning hour a taxi showed up at our house and began ringing the doorbell repeatedly. My boyfriend thought it must be our roommate and he locked himself out. We have a spare key hidden that our roommate knows about. My roommate, I guess, actually answered the door and figured out the taxi driver had the wrong house. Oops, sorry. However, my boyfriend, being in a particularly crabby mood this morning (unbeknownst to me in my medicated slumber) decided if he was up and awake, our roommate should be too. So my boyfriend calls our roommate and repeatedly knocks on his door to wake him up, and now my roommate is also crabby. I am positively delighted and cheery today because for once I slept through it all. Yay!
Final Day Diet:
green tea and cough drops, if feeling better later, soup
I’m hoping after the weekend I’ll have a better appetite, so I did spend the better part of last night looking at recipes to make. How does apricot chili pork chops with lemon spaghetti sound? And chicken enchilada skillet? And brown sugar steaks with parmesan potatoes? Oh, I can’t wait to cook again!
Back to writing:
Last post, I challenged us writers to give ourselves SPACE and I’m still impressed with the idea to make changes in our lives, so I’m going to include that in my week’s resolutions. I’d love to hear more about how each of you are giving yourself SPACE to grow, try something new, relax, reenergize. What do you do get motivated again? What are your guilty pleasures for writing? What prevents you from arranging SPACE to grow in? I can’t say thank you enough to the many bloggers/writers who have motivated me to keep going and think positive because any amount of change and any amount of writing is something proactive to have in your life.
This week I will give myself space by:
- Watching a Jane Austen movie.
- Cleaning my room of clutter.
- Journaling for my own enjoyment.
- Finish writing the icy mausoleum scene in my story.
- Blog ahead at least 2 posts.
Looking for more inspiration to get started? Here are some posts I really enjoyed.
AJ Zaethe Great post on incorporating magic in your world building.
Albert Berg A post on how to plot when you hate plotting.
CM Stewart How to write realistic disabled characters.
Kristen Lamb Humorous post on Celebrity Death Match Author Edition.
Margaret Reyes Dempsey Serving up blurbs and hot tea while she’s snowed in!
Olivia Tejeda A brand new online literary journal debuts!
Ollin Morales Sending love to writers who haven’t figured out how to write just yet.
Happy New Year! Being the sentimental schlub that I am, I spent the afternoon watching a favorite film that tells the story of another redheaded writer. When I was young, I wanted to be Anne Shirley, the title character of the films Anne of Green Gables and Anne of Avonlea. You would have often heard me making up new names for myself (“You can call me Cordelia”), reciting dramatic readings of poetry in the living room, and living up to the full potential of the stereotyped misgivings of a redhead. Anne, with an E, just may be my writing heroine. She is an extremely bright and witty young woman who can talk people into giving her the benefit of the doubt, just enough time to dazzle them with her talents. This film is one of my favorite guilty pleasures to remind myself that it’s ok to fail. Anne makes mistakes, but she also makes the best apologies. She writes terrible over the top romance stories before she finds her own and writes about the people she truly loves. A very happy six hours spent.
And along with so many others out there reexamining their lives, I too, dug out my bin of old journals to review resolutions and stories from new years of the past. To my surprise, my resolutions hadn’t changed a bit. Every year it looked like this.
- Act healthier. Excercise, eat better.
- Save more money.
- Take a vacation.
- Write more everything.
So, if anything, this blogging community and all the writer’s in the craft books I’ve been reading have said you’ve got to give yourself realistic set goals. So I’m making plans.
- Act healthier. 3 times a week, at least 10 minutes, excercise. Or take a walk outside.
- Make a specific dollar amount to save for the month. Deposit said amount in savings each month.
- Take a vacation. Joe and I are already thinking of going to Canada. I know, why? But why not?
- Write more everything. This is where I’m really focusing my time. I am enrolling in a writer’s workshop this April. I am going to write everyday. And am actively reading up on the craft of writing and seeking out writer’s groups, book discussions, etc.
What are your new year’s resolutions? And what guilty pleasures did you celebrate on new year’s eve?