Tag Archives: resolutions

Hits and Misses: A Comical Retelling of 2011

2011 proved to be an interesting year on the Happiness Project, from blogging through the first year to surviving my accident prone lifestyle.  So here is one blogger’s retelling of the hits and misses of 2011.  Hope you don’t mind this trip down memory lane.

The Highlights:


Last April I attended my FIRST EVA writing conference and I was downright giddy with excitement.  I blogged about my experience in The Do Re Mi of Conference Attending.  I’m hoping to attend the DFW Conference in Dallas, TX this May.  *crosses fingers*

Dad and I just off the Superman Rollercoaster

My Dad!  Apparently blogging about my dad is a big hit.  Readers can’t get enough of Saying I Love You, Whoever You Are, Audio Tracked Peacock Noises, and If You Give a Squirrel a Walnut…

The launch of the Life List Club.  We’re busy and boomin’ every other Friday!  Be sure to stop by!

The launch of Guilty Pleasure Fridays, in which I first publicly claimed that YES, I do love Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman in the first ever theme post, Guilty Pleasure?  Don’t Mind if I Do.

Vacations are a hit and necessary to my sanity.  Learn about Toronto, Canada in Survives Vacation, No Scars and  Niagara Falls Photo Blog.


The 10 Random Facts About Me posts are a phenomenal way to get to know someone.  I like reading these posts.

I’m a big fan of costume parties, so Halloween is my favorite holiday.  I am a great source for Costume Advice from the Perseverance Expert.

Aboard the Mayflower II

I’m also a descendant of two of the original pilgrims who crossed over on the Mayflower.  I shared what the true story of the first year abroad in The Mayflower: A True Story, and One You May Not Know.


Well, all I can say is don’t blog about eating bologna or you’ll never live it down.  In the infamous post of what dinner looks like on a bad day, Girl Gets Butt Kicked, Remedies With Sandwich I had more than my fair share of bologna jokes and references for blog posts well into the next month.  Sad to say, my menu hasn’t changed all that much as I ate a ham salad sandwich with a glass of fine Asti for dinner last night.  *shrug*

If you ever wonder why my boyfriend Joe gets 51% of the vote on which direction we go, it’s because of this:  Left for Dead in Hixon Forest.  Let the record state, I got us out.  Besides, his mom gave us a travel wine cooler, two compasses and two whistles for Christmas, so I think we should call do-over!

Is this a trail?

I would say that anytime you add a physical scar to your face, it qualifies as a miss.  Learn the history of the Circus and how I managed to run into an animal cage in Jess Takes on Circus World!

This final one is not really a miss, but a funny blast from the past.  One month into starting this blog I was battling writer’s block and tired from working retail in the holidays.  I shared this spinoff for my first three commentors.  Girl Gets Dickens Scared Out of Her.

  There you have it.  The ups and downs of this writer’s 2011.  What were the highlights and  pitfalls of your year?  Feel free to share a favorite link or two in the comments, I’d be happy to check them out!

Happy New Year Everyone!

Join the Hottest Resolution Club in Town: The Life List Club

I'll be sporting this look when I go out! (Meg Ryan from When Harry Met Sally)

Bon jour mon amies!  It’s almost New Year’s Eve and that means we’re all accessorizing our sequin gowns and full tuxedos with laser beams and microscopic eye wear.  Not catching my drift?  New Year’s means New You.  It’s the time to look back on the past year (hopefully without much regret) and make the resolutions you want to work on in the new year.

If you’re like the millions of us that struggle to keep your resolutions, or make the same ones every year without much difference in your lifestyle, then allow me to introduce you to The Life List Club.

The Life List Club is a group of writers and readers bonding together over life’s hardships, writing meltdowns, publishing successes, treadmills, dating advice, risky baby business, inner demons, and cyber drinks.  Sounds fun doesn’t it?  Here’s a little more about what we do.

The Life List Club posts every other Friday at our contributing members’ blogs.  You too can be a contributor, just send me an email to jessi (dot) witkins (AT) gmail (dot) com.  We blog about achieving goals and the life lessons that happen while we’re working towards them.  Anyone can be a member.  Just make your own Life List page on your blog.  Studies show that writing down your goals does help make them more real!  Every three months, we have a Milestone Party.  We share our progress on our goals and if there were any setbacks.  We have a party and you pick the theme!  I’ve decided on glow sticks at my celebration cause I’m obnoxious like that!

Pick a color and vogue, my friends!

I’ve been thinking for awhile about what my resolutions or new life list are going to be.  I’ve been able to complete several of my goals so far this year.  But where some faltered, I realized I hadn’t made a specific enough action plan.  You can see my full Life List from 2011 here, with my progress toward it, but I’m sharing with you all my new plan for 2012.  Why is it ok to change my list some of you may be asking?  Because it’s important to adapt!  My life changed this year, I’m working a different role at my job, I’m involved in several writing groups, I have different things I’m saving up for.  And let’s face it, I have a glow stick and I’m not afraid to use it!

So here it is!  Jess Witkins’ New Rules for Me, Myself, and I in 2012:

Write Everyday. 

This was a previous goal that didn’t always happen, so the specifics include the minimum of writing 5 things in my gratitude journal each day.  Also allowing myself to work on multiple projects, because sometimes (let’s face it) we do get stuck, and moving to a different project could free you up enough to get back to the main one (the BOOK).  I also plan to attend another writer’s conference.  In fact, this year I may be going to the DFW conference in Texas where I’ll actually get to *gulp* meet some of my fellow Life Listers, who are AMAZING by the way if you haven’t yet checked out their blogs, do so!  As much as I may hate it about myself, I’m a “scheduler.”  That means, I need to schedule myself time to write each week and stick with it, and as part of my checkpoint, I’ll be relying on my Warrior Writer Boot Camp friends to keep me in check and to inspire when I’m thinking of killing off my main character.  😀

Read 2 Books a Month

I’m keeping this goal as I loved it!  It helps my own writing and it is relaxing.  I’ll continue to keep a blog page of my 2012 bookshelf and write reviews.  I’m also participating in the 2012 To Be Read Pile Challenge, and if you hurry quick you too can join!  Now that Santa gave me gift cards, I’ll also be investing in an e-reader (I’ve finally succumbed!) so I’ll be able to travel easier with my books.  I also will continue with my book club and attend some at the library because any book becomes richer when you get to discuss it!

Save money. 

Between my car going kaputz this year, paying for a gym membership I never used, and eating out too much, the checkbook and savings accounts have looked better.  I’m now going to use a website that let’s you track your spending and see where I can cut back and put in savings towards my conference fee and summer trips.  I will finish reading Suze Orman’s book Women and Money and open the right savings account for me to get some frickin interest already (pardon my french) so that I can feel like my hard earned money is growing in savings.  I also plan to manage my finances at least once a month in accordance with the website so I don’t forget any purchases made.  And I plan to meet with a personal banker about what the right account type is for me to boost savings. 
Work out at least once a week.

I’m not sure if I’ll be keeping my gym membership, but I’m going to start using it now.  In the meantime, I’m going to get a welcome pass at the local Y and see if I’d consider switching there, since it is closer to my house.  I also want to set aside some funds to attend my best friend’s zumba classes more often.  In addition to work outs, eating healthy needs to be a commitment.  I’ve begun loading up on produce lately and am shocked at how few chips I’ve eaten in the last couple of weeks.  For those of you know I survived NaNoWriMo two years ago just eating cheetos and chocolate, this is a big step up for me!

There you have it folks!  My action plan for 2012.  I hope you’ll share your own with me!  What are your new year’s plans?  What goals are you hoping to accomplish?  What do you want the Life List Club to write about this year?  And ideas on improvements for us? 

Now, don’t forget to blog hop this party with us!  Prize giveaways at every stop!  I’m offering an I-Tunes gift card and a chance to either guest post or be interviewed here at the Happiness Project!

Prizes also include:  Amazon gift cards and a chance to guest blog from both Marcia Richards and Sonia Medeiros, a copy of Totally Cliche’ from newly published author Jennie Bennett, and more blog swapping or guest posts for you from Pam Hawley, Jenny Hansen, David Walker, and Gary Gauthier.  Visit their blogs by clicking their name in the sidebar!

The Happiness Project: The List

Photo courtesy David T. Robbins

Over six months of blogging, I’ve edited my about page several times, my blog no longer acting as a personal progress tracker.  Back then Albert was my only reader 🙂 during the “resolution posts,” so I’m taking a hint from fellow blogger, Emily, and updating my 26 Before 26.  I first heard about this list making tracking process on Emily’s blog, and she recently posted her progress on the infamous 26 this week.

The idea of the list is to write down things you want to accomplish before your next birthday.  I originally began this blog as a way to track my progress in writing, which it has helped with, but has also become a wonderful new community to engage with. So here is the list, as it stands so far.

  1. Write everyday.  (This one hasn’t happened yet, but I’m working on it.)
  2. Read 2 books a month for fun.  (I thought I’d only be able to do 1 a month, but I’m pleasantly keeping up with 2.)
  3. Submit my work for publication.  (Huge wake-up call THANK YOU to Nina Badzin for blogging this post on why it’s important to just do it and not be a snob about your publication opportunities.  Thanks, Nina!)
  4. Learn about the craft of writing.
  5. Learn about social media.  (Uh, Kristen Lamb.  Best Freshly Pressed post to ever stumble onto.  I feel a kinship to her as we both started out with turquoise colored blogs.  :))
  6. Attend a writing conference.  (Madison Writers Institute – Wonderful experience)
  7. Meet with other writers.  (Accomplished at the conference, started a writing critique group, and of course engaging with all of you!)
  8. Record my wacky family memoirs.  (You have read the posts about my father, right?)
  9. Write a fiction book.  (It’s my current work in progress.)
  10. Get my own office.  (Remodeling the upstairs is slow moving, my current best place for productivity remains Starbucks.)
  11. Eat healthier.  (I’m well of aware of the bologna incident, and the write like potatoes incident, and the double stuff oreos incident in spite of my mother.  It’s about progress, and part of progress comes from being aware.)
  12. Be more frugal.  (Save money, oh please start saving money.)
  13. Take a real vacation.  (2 weeks I’m off to New Orleans!)
  14. Leave the country.  (I have been to Italy and Ireland, but my boyfriend has never left the country, and I LOVE to travel, so we’re hoping to go to Canada in August.)
  15. Go to the beach.  (We actually do have one on the Mississippi, not that I’d dare to touch the water, but even if the sun HATES me, I want to relax at the beach with a good book more than the 2 times I went last year.)
  16. Go see live theater.
  17. Attend more events at the public library.
  18. Be a better partner.  (I always think relationships can improve and Joe and I will have been together 5 years the same month as my birthday.  We’ve both grown a lot, but the first year of living together is like taking the fast track training to someone’s personality disorder!  Now that we’re in year two of “domestic bliss,” I’m hoping we’ll able to balance a bit more.)
  19. Clean up my room more.  Make it my own.
  20. Take my vitamins daily.
  21. Keep up with my gratitude journal, 5 things each day.
  22. Track my progress of learning the social media and publishing world.  (I’ve been adding a second list underneath my gratitude journal that focuses on eye opening moments.)
  23. Spend more time with friends and family.
  24. Go for a bike ride.
  25. Get new glasses.
  26. Practice cooking seafood.

That’s my list.  Might seem boring, but it’s me and my goals in 26 things.  Most of them are writing focused, but that’s what this year is about.  I had a good 2 1/2 years of only random journal entries to show for it.  It became very clear, during the holiday season in my retail work environment, that it was time to start up writing again.  Nothing has made me happier than the actions I’ve taken towards this goal this year.  I feel like myself again.  Or getting there anyway.  I do feel like the poster child sometimes for “if you don’t use it, you lose it” when it comes to dumb writing mistakes.  So when I start to feel that way, I have to remind myself, hey, at least I’m writing again!

What things are on your list this year?

Top 5 Ways to Move Your Writing Forward

     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!

Sink or Swim, Why Drowning Could Improve Your Writing

I’ve been reading more of The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls.  Her book is positively moving.  Growing up in a home with an alcoholic father and unruly mother, Walls captures the spirit of childhood and adventure.  I’m continually amazed with how candid she writes and the amazing imagery to all the senses.  Recently a passage about her experience learning to swim struck a chord with me:

“Dad picked me up and heaved me back into the middle of the Hot Pot.  ‘Sink or Swim!’ he called out.  For the second time, I sank.  The water once more filled my nose and lungs.  I kicked and flailed and thrashed my way to the surface, gasping for air, and reached out to Dad.  But he pulled back, and I didn’t feel his hands around me until I’d sunk one more time.

He did it again and again, until the realization that he was rescuing me only to throw me back into the water took hold, and so, rather than reaching for Dad’s hands, I tried to get away from them.  I kicked at him and pushed away through the water with my arms, and finally, I was able to propel myself beyond his grasp.

‘You’re doing it, baby!’ Dad shouted.  ‘You’re swimming!’

I staggered out of the water and sat on the calcified rocks, my chest heaving.  Dad came out of the water, too, and tried to hug me, but I wouldn’t have anything to do with him, or with Mom, who’d been floating on her back as if nothing were happening, or with Brian and Lori, who gathered around and were congratulating me.  Dad kept telling me that he loved me, that he never would have let me drown, but you can’t cling to the side your whole life, that one lesson every parent needs to teach a child is ‘If you don’t want to sink, you better figure out how to swim.’  What other reason, he asked, would possibly make him do this?

Once I got my breath back, I figured he must be right.  There was no other way to explain it.”

Right here, in this passage, I feel a kinship to the author.  Just here.  I can’t say, and am fortunate to not have to, that my childhood was full of stories like Walls.  I wasn’t cooking my own food at age 3, I was never thrown from a moving vehicle rolling across a train track, I have never slept in a cardboard box, or had to pack up and move everything in the middle of the night.  I am grateful for that.  I know I am privileged coming from the working family I grew up in.  But that notion, “Sink or Swim,” now that I remember.

That is exactly how my dad said he and all his brothers learned how to swim.  And I can recall, with vivid fear, being tossed into the pool and flopping in the water until I could paddle my way to the edge and get the burning out of my nose and throat.  Once, my duck shaped waist floaty escaped my grasp while I was on the ladder and I jumped to grab it, missed, and sank right to the bottom.  Thank god my brother was there and dove in to rescue me.  Eventually, my mom insisted on signing me up for swim lessons.  I went one summer for like 2 or 3 weeks.  We practiced blowing bubbles underwater, but I don’t recall learning to swim.  Honestly, I think I just finally figured it out.  I stayed in shallow waters long enough to learn how to tread on my own and just get by.  Still, water isn’t my favorite element to be in.  I like air.  I’ll jump out of a plane no problem, in fact I have! But water still makes me a little nervous sometimes.

Then there was learning to ride a bike.  My dad also refused to put training wheels on.  We had them, he just refused to put them on.  Endless trips around the block involving me crashing into trees.  I had a record at school for number of bloody lips and bruises!  My siblings tried to help me out once by putting the training wheels on for me.  They had just tightened up the screws and told me to hop on.  I jumped on the bike, and started pedaling expectantly.  Nothing happened.  The training wheels didn’t work right and my bike became a stationary bike, good only for short term moderate exercise complete with unicorn banana seat and streamers on the handlebars.  I’ll admit a secret to you.  I didn’t learn how to ride a bike until 5th grade.  Go ahead, laugh, it’s embarrassing!  My sister, bless her heart, finally took the patience to spend all afternoon in a parking lot with me doing wavy circles.  I was getting the hang of it and feeling pretty confident so I looked across the street and yelled “Dad, look at me!”  As I was waving, and he was looking up, I biffed it in some sand and gravel and wiped out with the bike falling on top of me.

The point?  You’ve got to work at it.  In life.  In swimming “lessons” and in bike riding lessons and in writing.  I’ll admit I can be a slow learner when something scares me, hell, I’ve been known to occasionally still crash into people’s houses while on a bike.  But, I’ve persevered.  And I’ve overcome embarrassing setbacks and social timelines that prevented me from achieving my goals.  And right now, I’m starting all over again, with writing.  And let me tell you folks, I’ll win this bloody lip contest too!

What about you?  What scares you?  What have you survived and learned from?

The Happiness Project Case Files, pt. 1

“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.

Like finesse?


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.

On the Job Training

All this immersion in writing and meeting other writers has changed my thinking process.  Time, for instance, has taken on a new meaning.  How do I prioritize my time to the best of my ability while at work, so when I come home I can focus on my writing?  How do use my time off and properly divide it amongst projects?  I now think about writing as a second job, and if I want writing to one day be my only job, I need to devote my time and energy to it.

And speaking of jobs, I’ve had a few interesting ones.  I’ll tell you I appreciate every one of them because I like to view the world as being full of experiences.  Everyone has a story to tell, every situation has something you can learn from in it.

Babysitting was my first job, as I’m sure was many a first job for the average teenage girl.  I was even properly trained in a hospital class, learned CPR and carried the number for poison control with me.  The first family I sat for was full of devil children.  They were very convincing sweethearts to start out with, and suddenly the nights would take a horrendous turn onto Evil Road.  Evil Road is where bad things happen for no reason.  For example, one minute the eight year old boy would be vacuuming the living room to help out his mother, and the next he’d be dumping his milk on the floor and stomping his sock feet in it.  Evil Road is where you think the four year old has gone to sleep,  but really she sneaked to her mom’s room and started watching Road House.  Evil Road is where the three year old fools you with her red hair into thinking she is cute and angelic, but really she’s allowed to run around the house like a banshee at all hours of the night.  What did I learn from this job?  Tone of voice.  I learned if you’re going to use the line, “Bryce, stop throwing soup cans at your sister!” you’d better say it with some gumption.

My next job was a little something I coined Cake Pan Dishwasher Extraordinaire!  Sure I was only “hired” cause my dad owned the place, and sure he wasn’t actually paying me on a regular basis, and sure I lost a fair amount of skin cells from the bleach water, but it didn’t matter, I was helping out my Pop.  It was quality time of undivided attention to me.  What did I learn in this job?  The art of dialogue.  I learned if you’re going to have it, it better be good, and two-sided, otherwise your readers may end up putting your story down cause they have “errands” to do.

With all the people skills I was learning, I moved up in the job world, actually getting one that required legal papers and didn’t pay me in cash.  I became a clerk at the local video store.  This is where I got most my training.  I got to know my characters, I mean customers, their likes and dislikes.  I did endless amounts of research, sometimes six films a day, every genre!  I also quickly learned that the video establishment I worked in and loved was haunted and my boss refused to talk about it.  What did this teach me?  Rising action and climax.  The closer I got to learning about the spirit world, the closer and creepier the spirit world got to me.

When I moved away for college, I had to find a job that would help support me and allow for study time.  I found two working in my college dormitory, one as a front desk assistant and one as a dorm housekeeper.  I now know that:

  1. Front desk pizzas can solve any problem, no matter how drunk you are.  😀
  2. College dormitory bathrooms are THE nastiest places on earth.

What did these jobs teach me?  Time management and editing is not beneath you.  If you’ve spent the whole day researching and writing and the only time to clean your bathroom is at 2 in the morning, so be it!  And if the supplies you are given to clean simply do not cut it to take out the stains and clumps of hair information dump of words, then you need to get new tools!

Moving onward and off campus, I joked that I worked “part time all the time” as I juggled full time student with three part time jobs.  I worked as a copy room slave in the English Department, a student worker in the Diversity Center, and as a clerk in a madhouse conglomeration of Gift Shop meets Rubber Stamping Store.  To enlighten you on each of these varying titles, I spent my time in the English Department photocopying lesson tools and handouts, marking grade rosters, and endlessly fixing the jammed copier.  I became quick friends with many of the faculty, who subsequently assisted my writing endeavors to take advanced classes without the prerequisite.  Igniting a dwindling flame of the past, I was one of the “re-founding” members of the Diversity Center, a place on campus where students could go to learn about the diversity organizations on campus.  I spent my winter break working alone in dusty old rooms, cleaning out storage areas and rearranging furniture to give the center life.  Finally, job number three, in which I clerked and did odd tasks the owner hated doing inside a stamping/gift shop store.  I did lots of things like  vacuum the whole place using the small tubular attachment that required you to hunch over and slide the nozzle back and forth until it sucked every fuzz off the carpet (that’s the way Master wanted it).  Once she made me work in the display window on one of the hottest days of summer using a pliers to chip off these old, now caramelized, strips that held tubes of twinkle lights in them.  I was sweating, grunting, and getting slivers of plastic flying at my eyeballs when I looked up to see someone take my picture from outside!  What did this menagerie of minimum wage paychecks teach me?  How to make connections and build a foundation, and how to craft the perfect antagonist!

Wow, I’ve really learned a lot about writing from my past jobs.  And I know I’ll never be done learning, which is a good thing.  What are you learning about your writing process?  What are you battling against?  What helps you?  What can I do to support you?  Tell me, I really want to know!  Good luck everyone and happy writing!

44¢ to Mail out Your Soul

It doesn’t seem right that all it costs to send your work in is 44¢.  I spent a few months pounding out my ideas, a few weeks ignoring my characters and telling them to get out of my head (We’re through!), and two very arduous days starting over and crafting a whole new first page which resulted in a whole new setting, character voice, and possibly plot.  Yes I’d say 44¢ is too cheap.  Maybe, I should have sent my work in for the contest by stage coach, or submarine, or a bicycle delivery man.  He looks nice.

Photo courtesy of Stephen Tweedy

Alas, I would not have made the deadline.  Nothing like a looming deadline to kick your toucas into gear!  At least I’m making good on the resolutions I said I’d do.

I am:

  1. Enrolled in a Writing Conference this April.
  2. Submitting work for various contests.
  3. Writing, reading, and editing again.
  4. Not eating cheetos for dinner anymore.  I’ve upgraded, to bologna…with wine.
  5. Ashamed for mentioning the aforementioned yet again.

I have to go now.  *nervous shifty eyes*

How are you all doing on your writing journey?  How do you feel after you’ve just mailed out your soul?  Who is going to drag me out of bed and out of pajamas if this all goes miserably?  *Breathing, breathing*  One day, one word at a time.


Pope Joan, Rome’s Female Champion

Did you know that in the 800 AD’s we had a female pope?!  I had no idea either!

Published as fiction, author Donna Woolfolk Cross spent seven years crafting a legend into a full life novel.  So who was Pope Joan?  There is enough historical fact leftover to prove she did indeed exist, and depending on which version of the Liber pontificalis, or Book of the Popes, you read, you may just find out that she was in fact the pope.  Dressing in men’s clothing, Joan defied the times and became educated.  Spending several years as a monk and priest, she also became a great healer.  Eventually her skill and altruism towards the people elected her to the thrown of St. Peter.

Largely criticized as a mere myth, historians have battled The Vatican for years.  The Catholic church admits that documents from the time period Joan would have reigned were destroyed, but also claim that Pope Joan never existed in the first place.  There is, however, evidence proving that other women of the time spent their lives in disguise as a man in order to achieve greater education and life opportunities.

How is this possible you ask?  Well, that’s where fiction starts to blur the lines.  Most people in the 800’s were illiterate, so the number of records from that time, even about the male popes, is shoddy at best.  Cross has researched the time period, right down to the discovery of blue cheese, and narrated for us the imaginary, though possible, life of our story’s heroine.

After a terrible attack by Norsemen, Joan takes her brother’s clothes and dons them to escape.  Her interests are always in conflict, born of a canon father and saxon mother, she is learned of God, and also of her mother’s “heathen” gods and goddesses.  Cross depicts our lady as the utmost champion of debate, a woman who can argue her way out of anything.  Hmm, that sounds about right.

If you’re interested in checking out more of her legend, the article The Lady Was a Pope from the US News, Mysteries of History is an interesting one.  And, on author Donna Woolfolk Cross’ site, she has a nice summary in her FAQ’s.

I highly recommend this book if you enjoy historical fiction.  It reads very much like The DaVinci Code and Angels and Demons by Dan Brown, minus the mystery solver professor replaced with an early feminist in disguise!  Alright!  Make sure you add Pope Joan to your reading list!

What books are currently on the top of your recommending list?  I always love new titles.  And I know many of you have resolved to read so many books a year, how’s it going?  I’m happy to report my goal of one per month is turning into two a month!  Yay!  Happy reading everyone!

Girl Gets Butt Kicked, Remedies with Sandwich

Hello Readers, and welcome to the Happiness Project.  It’s been a particularly stressful day following a particularly stressful week involving closing my credit card because it was stolen and used fraudulently, driving sales day in and day out only to be pushed back in the negative sales plan by a blizzard preventing business, state budget protests, financial concerns, and zero time to write creatively or even read more than a few pages before falling asleep with the little LED booklight poking me in the eye.

But, Jess, you say, we come to you to provide us with the ever-positive, try again and try harder, funny outlook from a new writer!  All together now…”We shall overcome, we shall overcome…”

Right, right, we’ll kumbaya later.  So what is it that’s getting me through the end of the day this time?  A bologna sandwich and chardonnay.

My looming pile of books and writing ideas to get to, topped with the last few bites of my bologna and mustard sandwich and a cold glass of Chardonnay!

Time to make a manageable list, and I emphasize manageable.  Flashback to the store today, I think I spoke into the radio system something like: “Jess to Leadership Team, I’m stepping off the floor for a few minutes.  I just need to cry in a stockroom update the scoreboards.”

Pity party check in:  Me.  Check!  Junk food.  Check!  (I admit half a can of Pringles was downed before I made the sandwich.)  Looming deadline for two writing contests I’ve sworn to enter.  CHECK!  To Do List?  *rifles through some wine glass coaster papers, smooths out wrinkled edges*

  1. Quit whining.
  2. Take a sip.
  3. Take time to journal 5  things to be grateful for today.
  4. Get the bottle out of the fridge, swig!  No one’s watchin’.
  5. Finish reading Pope Joan, 60 pages to go, and one upcoming book review from yours truly.
  6. Designate time in your week’s schedule for writing devoted time to work on entry submissions.
  7. Freewrite a new section of your story-in-progress.  Deadline:  Saturday.
  8. Send out love, support, and kudos to your fellow writers!

How do you deal with meltdowns?  What sparks the creative juices in you when your life’s got you down?  What are your current happiness projects this week?

P.S.  Did I ever mention every Tuesday night is band practice at my house?  I find it strangely ironic that they’re learning Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” while I write about my crumbling grip on sanity.  You know what they say, you can’t make up real life.  Happy writing!

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