How Shirking My To Do List Brought Me A Writing Breakthrough That Was Five Years In The Making

I had a to do list today, just like I do every day. Most days I check off nearly everything on them. In a normal job setting, I chip away at everything as a brisk pace without delay, though in my personal life I am a master of procrastination and working frantically in equal parts. I had quite the list today: apply to full-time editing jobs, apply to part-time internships, shop for groceries, do a load or two of laundry, write a book review, read a book, work on my homework. It was quite a long, and mostly inconsequential list that can wait for tomorrow.

As Tuesday is my only quiet, peaceful, truly self-ordered day, I decided to hide out in a cafe where nobody would look for me and write. Not my primary WIP, which I’ve been diligently chipping away at and should still make my self-imposed deadlines for, but the elusive portal fantasy that I poke at time and again. It’s been simmering for well over a decade now, and I go back to drop in new ingredients, add a dash of this or that, give it a stir, and occasionally add a new side dish to. Someday it will be ready, but since it doesn’t have a recipe, I just have to wait and see when that day will be.

I scraped through yesterday on heaps of coffee and well-timed naps, and though I slept deeply last night, I woke this morning to the sort of quiet world that exists in the liminal spaces of life – somewhere between sleeping and waking, where anything is possible. Every once in a while I wake to this sort of feeling, and I know that the day is ripe to dive through the portal once again and see what I can discover about the world I started inventing and exploring back in the early years of the millennium.

Today, I discovered a new character. I knew his name before but could not conjure an image of him to my mind. He had bits and pieces to his life, and I knew he was important, but whether to me or to another character I hadn’t yet puzzled out. Today I saw his face, and learned his motivations, even while I was writing the inner thoughts of another character with whom he comes into contact. It is always cheering to see a new face among my pages. Like an adventurer myself I leap excitedly into the breach that takes me to Everest, where I am always clearing out the fog and greeting the new faces I find there.

A lot of how I write this particular book is based purely on personal experience. I started it in sixth or seventh grade and fumbled through the dark of how exactly a novel was supposed to be written. I did take a novel writing class in seventh grade which helped a little, and the feedback from it helped me to shape the world that my characters now call home. However, the actual story has changed at least three times since then and probably more than ten. I blame reading The Eye of the World that same year for my enormous vision, but once I had begun to create it I was committed. I devoted entire summers and Christmas breaks during high school to developing it, and even though it’s hardly close to being finished, I’ve broken through a kind of barrier that seemed to keep the characters at arms length over the years.

Writing without a real outline while you attempt to populate a planet is both a challenge and a delight. The world is always just at the edge of my thoughts, and even when I have writer’s block or can’t for the life of me see where a scene is going, I can go back and dive into the minds of my main characters and attempt to see the world through their eyes. What would they focus in on in this scene? What would they do in this situation? How would they remember a particular moment if they reflected on it? I can hardly recall now the date when my characters came into being, or where I plucked them from, only that they were the kind of heroes I wanted to read about, and that if I were to go on an adventure I should want to be like them as I did it. They have become my most constant companions, and I’ve learned to lean into their adventures when I become stuck in my own, and vice-versa. What would R do in this situation? I ask myself, and even occasionally translate my own experiences into the context of their world so I can play them through it. Some of these writings even maneuver their way into the actual manuscript, though that is not always the case.

Today has been one of those magical days where I was able to dive into the mind of a character without becoming wrapped up in world building, and walk through their thoughts and memories of a scene I haven’t even written yet. It was through writing their memories of a scene that I came across the face of my character – he is neither new nor so old to be called that either – and finally saw the scene as they must have, meeting him for the first time. And finally, finally, I knew how to finish a scene that I have been bemoaning for at least five years. Writing is magical that way. Sometimes you have to look at a scene from every direction (including backwards into a character’s memories) to realize what needed to happen.

I am ecstatic, to say the least, that I finally know where that particular scene is going. It’s been an ongoing itch, the need to fix and finish it, and the character I met today has also been at the edge of my mind. To find that they belonged together is immensely satisfying. I feel like I just finished reading a book with a perfect, happy ending because the narrative of my story is smooth and strong once again. This scene has been a chink in my armor for nearly five years if I estimate correctly, and finally fixing it absolutely makes up for the awful day I had yesterday, not to mention all the frustration I’ve felt over the scene since I first came across it.

And now, back into the breach I go. Adventure awaits.

February Wrap-Up/March Goals 2019: Why Five Days Without Social Media Put Me Back On Track

February and March are always the most challenging months of the year for me. One is incredibly short, and the other features the start of Daylight Savings here in the USA, making my mornings pitch black in place of the sunshine I love so much. They are both dark and cold, with spring seemingly nowhere in sight. So I do a lot of planning and hibernating, and then once spring comes I usually regret not doing anything active to keep up my energy and fitness levels.

In February, I took a five-day break from social media.

I was knee-deep in blog posts to write, papers and homework to complete for graduate school, and cover letters and resumes to finish for job hunting. On top of that, I wasn’t sleeping well due to all the stress these things were adding to my life, and I wasn’t eating or hydrating well, much less working out on a regular basis. I was a wreck, and I was distracting myself by spending copious amounts of time on social media.

Now, I love social media. I have friends I talk to exclusively through my social media accounts, and I didn’t relish the idea of not talking to them for five days. Touching base with them is one of the highlights of my day, reassuring me that I’m not the only one going through a crazy time and that life is complicated for even the best of us. But I was online too much. Instead of sitting down and attacking my to-do list like I decided I would every morning, I was scrolling for an hour or more through everyone else’s updates: proof that they were living life, but also evidence that I was not.

So, I moved all of my social media apps to the back of my phone and vowed not to check my notifications for five days.

I turned on some music and rolled out my yoga mat. I had planned to go for a run, but I was so anxious that I bordered on nausea and didn’t want to risk it. The ‘yoga’ turned into an hour-long nap on my yoga mat as my brain ran itself into the ground, trying to find solutions to life’s many problems, a crash that I’ve probably been headed for since November. I felt better after that, but I spent the rest of the day taking it easy – I hydrated, I read a couple books, and I went over to the coffee shop with my roommate and put in some research time on a paper.

By day three, I had finished my paper for school and a blog post. I also had a spontaneous heart-to-heart with my professor after class one night. I prepared to head to Connecticut to visit my grandmother for the weekend, where we ended up cooking and watching Crazy Rich Asians, Hallmark movies, and The Great British Bake Off. I finished reading two books and slept in.

Of course, I also spent plenty of time trying not to pick up my phone or log into social media from my laptop. I missed my ‘internet friends’ if you will, but I also knew that I needed to concentrate on living and getting the work done.

On day four, I sat in a Starbucks, writing blog posts like this one, but also peaking through my old writing. I do that every so often because it reminds me that I’m creative. I so seldom have time to be truly creative that if I don’t remind myself it can be done, I’m likely to dig myself a new hole and drag myself back into a STEM field for stability. Some of my story ideas (mostly the ones based on vivid dreams I’ve had) are hilariously insane. And sometimes I come across a fully outlined romance novel that makes me grin from ear to ear. Just another reminder that I contain multitudes, and that not everything has to be great, or even good. Everything has value, even if that value is just to remind me what crap looks like.

Since my social media hiatus ended, I have felt much more grounded and calm. I feel like I’ve come back into myself, tapped into what my body needs (sleep and food and physical activity), and screwed my head back on where it belongs. I’ve been able to hang out with friends without feeling like I should be doing a thousand other things, and focus on the thousand other things one at a time without worrying about ditching my friendships. It’s like one long exhale.

February Goals:

Usually, I would have shared my goals at the beginning of the month, but I decided to play it close to the vest this time. Here’s what some of my goals were for February and how well I completed them:

Read 8 Books: I only ended up with 7, but I’ve already finished two in March, so I’m not too mad about it.
February Reads:
Slightly Married (Bedwyns, #1) – Mary Balogh
The Bridgertons: Happily Ever After (Bridgertons, #9) – Julia Quinn
The Serving Leader – Ken Jennings and John Stahl-Wert
Temptation Ridge (Virgin River, #6) – Robyn Carr
Paradise Valley (Virgin River, #7) – Robyn Carr
Nora Roberts Land (Dare Valley, #1) – Ava Miles
Ghosted – Rosie Walsh
January Reads:
Shelter Mountain (Virgin River, #2) – Robyn Carr
Watch Hollow (Watch Hollow, #1) – Gregory Funaro
Whispering Rock (Virgin River, #3) – Robyn Carr
A Virgin River Christmas (Virgin River #4) – Robyn Carr
Gift of the Shaper (Highglade, #1) – D.L. Jennings
Second Chance Pass (Virgin River, #5) – Robyn Carr
On the Way to the Wedding (Bridgertons, #8) – Julia Quinn

Write 8 Reviews: I wrote two, but I’ve written three more now that Spring break has started!

Apply to Full-Time Jobs and Internships: I made no progress in this department officially, but I did a lot of behind the scenes work, creating outlines for Cover Letters and basic resumes that I can more easily adapt for surprise opportunities that come my way.

Workout More: I worked out exactly 3 times this month, and one of those was my yoga-nap. I did manage to come up with some semblance of a workout schedule for the next few weeks, however, so hopefully, I won’t be so miserable when spring finally shows itself. The constant snow has really been putting a damper on my running plans.

Zero Dollar Days: These are an attempt to curb and/or make me hyperaware of my spending habits. It’s much harder than I expected it to be because living in the city requires that I buy train passes all the time and if I get caught out for too long I have to buy food or starve. I’ve been trying to stay closer to home to compensate, but then I get cabin fever.

Write One Chapter of My WIP: (Work in Progress) – I’m attempting to write one chapter a month this year in order to complete a manuscript draft by December of 2019. So far so good.

Work on Big Projects: I have a 15-page case study, a 10-minute group marketing presentation, and a 10-page paper/10-minute presentation on a publishing company of my choice due this semester. Working on them in chunks is the only way I’m going to survive them amidst the shorter weekly assignments. My partner and I met up last week to finish 80% of our presentation, and I have some sources and an extremely rough outline for my case study. The publishing presentation was due last week, and didn’t go as badly as I thought it would.

March Highlights:

This month I am enjoying spring break, which consists of working at my new part-time cafe job, chipping away at the last of my marketing presentation, hopefully completing 80% of my case study, and possibly visiting Salem for the first time! It’s hard to believe I’ve lived in Boston for almost two and a half years and haven’t made the trip up there yet.

My cafe job is so chill y’all – nothing like my old retail job. I’m loving it so far, but I’ve only just started. It’s giving me a small sense of security while I continue the hunt for jobs in publishing, and that security is the reason I started sleeping better last week. It’s also helping me readjust my sleep schedule. As I mentioned in January, retail work left me horribly sleep deprived and for the last few months I’ve barely been able to get out of bed before noon, much less go to bed before midnight. It’s been a vicious cycle, but having a low-stress commitment like this new gig is already helping straighten out my sleep schedule. I should be back to being a morning person by the end of March, just in time to be able to enjoy spring.

Below are some of my goals for March!

March Goals:

Write 10 Reviews: I’m trying to build up a bank of reviews to post from when I don’t finish the book I had planned on time to share on a given Tuesday. These are mostly stand-alone books or romance novels that I’ve read during my commutes around the city.

Read 10 Books: If I can read 6-8 books in the shortest month of the year, I should be able to read 10 in one of the longest.

Apply to Internships and Full-Time Jobs in Publishing: March is going to be pretty focused on applying to summer internships and any publishing jobs that come my way. T-9 months until graduation.

Workout More: To avoid the lethargy I’ve felt every spring for the last 8 years, I need to start a better workout routine now. A mix of running and yoga to start out, but eventually, I’d like to visit the gym on campus with some of my classmates. We have a group chat to keep us all accountable!

Write a Chapter of my WIP: Just like February, I need to complete one chapter of my WIP to stay on track to finish the manuscript by the end of the year.

Cook More Real Food: I’d like to practice my kitchen skills some more before I lose them for good. Less Kraft mac n’ cheese, more chicken pot pie. On Monday night I made chicken over rice with peas in a cream-of-chicken-soup sauce, and it was delicious!

Finish a Craft Project: I have a pile of unfinished projects in my room that just take up space, so I’d like to finish them and maybe make some room for a reading corner.

Have 15 Zero Dollar Days: I’m going to attempt not to spend money for half the month. This might be insane, but it’s worth a shot.

Top 10 Reads of 2018


Despite working full-time and attending graduate school, I managed to read 36 books in 2018. I’m pretty happy with that number given 16 of those were in October or later. I think this means I’m learning to balance everything a little bit better. The fact that I’m getting around to sharing them before May is a visible improvement as well. You all just got gift certificates to bookstores for the holidays, right? Now you have something to spend them on! In no particular order, here are my Top 10 Reads of 2018.

1 – Sorcery & Cecelia, or, The Enchanted Chocolate Pot – Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer
Magic is in the air in Regency England, and I am totally into it. Kate and Cece are two cousins whose narrative is told solely through letters written to each other. The escapades these two get into rival some romance novels and magical adventure novels. The letter format is a little strange to get used to, but once you’re in it, it blows you away.

2 – A Dark and Stormy Murder – Julia Buckley
A struggling writer is handed the opportunity of a lifetime when her best friend sets her up with a job as the assistant and ghostwriter to her favorite author of all time. Chaos ensues when someone shows up murdered on the property. Small towns, Gothic houses, lots of mystery and a dash of romance set this series in motion. Always a recipe for success in my book.

3 – The Secret – Julie Garwood
If your name is some variation of Julie/Julia, chances are I read and loved your book in 2018. This one takes a well-born British lady and drops her into the Scottish Highlands. Secrets and midwifery abound, as do hefty doses of rivalry and romance. No secret that this is one of my all time favorites, and my mom’s favorite as well. A review is forthcoming!

4 – Supergirl: Being Super – Mariko Tamaki, Illustrated by Joëlle Jones
Aside from the obvious parts of this origin story, I’d like to take a moment to truly appreciate the diversity in the town of Midvale. Sure, Kara still looks like the quintessential American cheerleader, but her friends and colleagues have varying appearances, making Midvale much more realistic than in past renderings.

5 – The Bear and The Nightingale – Katherine Arden
As if you all didn’t already know of my love for fairytale retellings, let this be a testament. The Winternight Trilogy features god-like sorcerers, dangerous winters in the Russian highlands, and one girl who is the key to peace between life and death, should she accept her fate… And she’s not sure she wants to.

6 – Geekerella – Ashley Poston
An absolutely wonderful Cinderella retelling, bringing together all of my favorite things: fairytales, Sci-Fi fandoms, and food.

7 – Ready Player One – Ernest Cline
Except for a strange sex-doll scene that I could have done without, this book was exceptional. The 80s references are all on-point, and I’m sure I even missed a few that I might catch in a re-read. While the movie was a totally different experience later in the year, the novel was a Sci-Fi and Game lovers dream.

8 – Virgin River – Robyn Carr
Small mountain town chock-full of retired marines, check. Old Doctor who needs a young assistant, check. The Virgin River series is different from others because it’s not just about the romances, but about rebuilding a town that has all but gone to seed. Each book builds on the businesses and townsfolk in a new twist on a constant front-running genre. A review is forthcoming.

9 – The Lido – Libby Page
I can’t get over how wonderful this book was. Showing loss, depression, and anxiety in a completely understandable and real way while depicting a town on the verge of community collapse, it rocked my socks. Libby Page is a debut author and I am already dying to read anything and everything else she is willing to write.

10 – The Viscount Who Loved Me – Julia Quinn
This may be the second book in a series, but it is undoubtedly my favorite in The Bridgerton Saga. The characters are so colorful and their actions are laugh-out-loud funny. Kate and Anthony are hands-down my favorite Bridgerton couple, and my face always hurts from smiling while I read this one.


What were some of your favorite reads in 2018? I’m always looking for great recommendations!


Other Best of the Year Lists:
Top 10 Reads of 2017

Flashes of Life – Episode #1

Back to school season always hits the retail business hard, my store especially so. The line to check out stretches all the way to the back and then twists and loops its way around the store as new and returning students take their first of many tests in patience.

Every register is open. Someone made sure they all got the necessary repairs to be functional during this crucial two week period. The new cashiers struggle with how to do split payments, and a supervisor shuffles around fixing small mistakes that could have far-reaching ripple effects. Someone at register six wants a purchase delivered, the cashier in charge of alcohol sales needs to know if we accept driver’s licenses from Puerto Rico for the fifteenth time, and the number of customers at the returns desk who don’t have their receipts only grows exponentially.

I arrived an hour early because I finished my other errands and it is too hot to sit outside.

My mood is off because I stayed up until three finishing one of the books I was reading. I can’t go to work today tired and angry because the students’ and parents’ patience will already surely be running thin.

I purchase a very large hot chocolate and sit at the window, in the air conditioning, to drink it and put some of my emotions down on paper. It helps. A playlist blares through my earphones and drowns out the chaos behind me. The hot chocolate soothes my soul in a way that coffee just can’t, and the words flow out, tumbling over one another to bring you this story.

A few moments of peace to put my mind and body back in order, centering my soul. And then it is time to dive into the fray.

The Inner Critic, and The Inner Best Friend

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I’ve been listening to many, many podcasts as of late, and one of them recently hit very close to home. Rachel Brathen (From the Heart: Conversations with Yoga Girl) finished a Yoga Teacher Training last month by interviewing all 52 of her trainees about what their Inner Critics and Inner Best Friends tell them. The interview is so long she actually split it into two episodes, and I cannot decide which half I adored more. It got me thinking, “What do my Inner Critic and Inner Best Friend tell me?”

 

My Inner Critic says – 

I am not prepared. I will never be prepared to make any kind of leap into the unknown, and if I leap, I will fail. It says that I will never work in freelancing, that I will never break into publishing.

I am not creative enough. I will never finish writing any of my books because I am not a good enough writer, that I don’t have a big enough imagination.

I will die alone. I will never find the love of my life or build the family I desire.

Others are more qualified. I will never get the job/internship of my dreams because I am not worthy of it. Others will always be chosen over me.

I am too intimidating, or not beautiful enough. I will never end up with that guy I’m crushing on because he will always choose someone else.

 

My Inner Best Friend says – 

I am more prepared than I know. I can see the truth of this every day when I talk to customers at work, or classmates in grad school and drop knowledge bombs that amaze and astound (My Inner Best Friend is pretty full of herself, for good reason. She has a lot to stand up to.)

I am so creative it’s painful sometimes. It’s no wonder I am always daydreaming and cannot stay focused on one story. I keep coming up with more! I dream vividly. After a lot of practice, I can even control what I do in my dreams, and sometimes if I’m woken up, I can return to the dream I left off in. I am creatively powerful, and I will succeed through pure force of will if nothing else.

I am never alone. I have my huge family (just going back two generations I already have over 40 close family members: Siblings, Parents, Cousins, Aunts, Uncles, Second Cousins, Grandparents, Great Aunts, Great Uncles.), and I have quite a few close friends whom I can call up at the drop of a hat whenever I need them, not to mention my internet friends, who I speak to nearly as much as everyone else and love just a dearly. I just need to have a bit more patience and faith, and God will lead me to my forever partner, my future husband.

I am just as qualified as others. And I have a lot of skills that I don’t know how to put on a resume, which probably means I’m actually overqualified for everything I’m applying to. The right position will present itself, and I’ll know it when I see it because it will be the one I don’t give up on so easily.

While I never doubt that I am beautiful, everyone has their own personal views on beauty. It’s completely possible that the guy I’m crushing on at any given moment doesn’t find me beautiful because his standard of beauty is completely different from mine. I always hear my Inner Best Friend start screaming at me when I think I am too intimidating, because **** that. If a guy can’t handle me on daily basis – my beautiful, smart, strong self – than he doesn’t deserve my best or worst. He’s not the guy for me, and I just dodged a bullet. I need a strong man who is not afraid of being matched in wits, and is also looking for an equal to share a life with.

 

 

Other Things My Inner Critic and Inner Best Friend have fought about:

In Elementary School, my Inner Critic told me I would never make real friends. This was in part because I moved when I was eight, and had a lot of trouble meeting new people with similar interests. My Inner Best Friend reminded me that I had built in best friends in my siblings and cousins, and we are all the closer for it, even now that I have close friendships with people who are not related to me by blood.

In Middle School, my Inner Critic told me I was terrible at sports. And it almost won. But Freshman year of high school I had one of the track coaches as my gym teacher, and he helped me find my athletically inclined side.

In High School, my Inner Critic continued to tell me I wasn’t good enough to succeed at athletics, as well as in theatre and in classes. My Inner Best Friend gave me the fortitude to keep running, making my success about beating my own records, not the records of others. I found the courage to go out for the play every year and even had a few line-solos senior year. I studied hard and took each setback as a challenge. I was nearly a straight-A student, even though I wasn’t in all AP classes like most of my friends.

During Undergraduate Studies, my Inner Critic told me I was stupid. That I had taken on too much. That the friends I made in high school weren’t going to be there for me always. That I was in way over my head, and that there was no way out. My Inner Best Friend fought back tooth and nail and finally convinced me to transfer schools and start over. My Inner Critic told me I would be letting everyone down. My Inner Best Friend said this had nothing to do with anyone but myself.

Just after graduation, my Inner Critic told me that I would never get a job I even remotely enjoyed, that I would be unemployed forever, that all of my friendships were terrible and falling apart, that I would disappear from existence, and that I would never amount to much. My Inner Best Friend immediately went into overdrive, found me a job, and made the most of it.

A year after graduation, my Inner Critic told me that I could never move out of New Jersey (where I loved living but didn’t have many job opportunities), and would work soul-sucking jobs while never reaching my dreams. My Inner Best Friend said, “Let’s move to Boston?”

18 months ago, my Inner Critic told me I would never get into graduate school or get the chance to pursue my dream career. My Inner Best Friend said “Hold My Beer.” and did it anyway.

Right now, my Inner Critic is still trying to hold me back, tell me I am afraid, and that I will never get any cool jobs I apply to, so why bother applying? My Inner Best Friend is already in full armor on her white horse, ready to beat my Inner Critic into submission.

Because what my Inner Critic will never be able to understand is that courage is impossible without first being afraid. I am not fearless, running blindly into things without a thought to their outcome. I live with fear every day. And every day I have to choose to put on my armor one piece at a time, saddle up my horse, and ride into battle. The prize? Everything I’ve ever wanted.

Maybe I’ve watched too many John Wayne movies, or maybe it was the steady diet of fantasy novels I read as a child, but I believe that with courage, goodness will always prevail.
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13 (KJV)
“Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway.” ~John Wayne

 

What do your Inner Critic and Inner Best Friend tell you?

 

Until next time,

~Amanda

TOTY – 26: Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise

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Today is a few days after my 26th birthday, and I am sitting in a Starbucks tearing up as I read my old TOTY posts. These yearly summaries serve as such a huge reminder of everything I’ve accomplished, and just how much has changed over the past four years. This will be my fifth consecutive year of blogging, and probably my fifteenth year since I started messing around with the idea of having a blog and playing with Blogger, WordPress, and Wix. I’ve loved long-form writing for a long time, and it amazes me that I have the freedom to do something like this every day. Of course, it’s been a bit of a struggle keeping up here over the last year, but there are some wonderful reasons for that.

 

I am attending Emerson College for graduate school in publishing and writing. You all helped me get here by reading this blog and encouraging me to follow my dreams. It’s a lot of work, but I am adoring every second of it! I have met wonderful, interesting, inspiring women who I might even go so far as to call bosom friends. I have had some spectacular professors who have helped shape my image of what the publishing world is and is not, and have pushed me to trust my instincts and pursue my passions. I have learned an incredible amount, and that was only the first year! I still have three semesters left to soak up as much as I can, and I am beyond grateful to be able to be here now.

Last September I moved out of my Uncle and Aunt’s house and into a rented room. It’s not my first time in an apartment – I lived in two apartments during undergrad – but it is the first apartment I’ve had where I have my own room and the first place I’ve paid for completely on my own. To pay for it, I took an assistant supervisor position at a large retail store, where I work 40+ hours a week in addition to going to 8 hours of class and doing 6+ hours of homework. I haven’t had a lot of time to look for a corporate job or an internship, but I haven’t given up. There are a couple very cool opportunities on the horizon that I am aiming for!

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while now, you know that school + work = not enough things to keep me motivated. This has led to me sleeping a lot, which has been necessary with my crazy work schedule, but not productive or overall healthy for my life. I’m hoping to hone my daily schedule this year to make room for what matters most – family, health, and writing.

 

Speaking of health, mine has been a roller coaster this year. Last June I started Accutane for my acne, and after almost nine months had clear skin for the first time in almost eight years. I had forgotten how good my skin looked when it was clear, and while the acne had never really hurt my image of myself, having clear skin definitely improved my confidence. It’s almost like I didn’t realize how awesome of a woman I had grown into until the acne cleared up. Like wiping off the grime of adolescence to see clearly the woman growing underneath. My acne didn’t make me feel bad, but it did keep me trapped in that ‘not a girl, not yet a woman’ stage of life that I was craving an escape from.

On my first day of work at my retail job in October, I sprained my foot at the bottom of my apartment stairs and ended up at the hospital for myself for the first time since I was born. I was bedridden for a week, had crutches for a month after that, and wasn’t allowed to run or do strenuous activities for six months after that.

I got off my crutches just in time for my first Black Friday in retail, and all of the new germs I was around 40 hours a week finally caught up with me. Thankfully, my store had a very quiet Black Friday, because the cold I caught robbed me of my voice for a week and it would have been a nightmare. I am beyond thankful for small miracles.

My six months without exercise ended just about the same time I was finally in the clear post-Accutane. My foot still aches occasionally, and my alcohol tolerance is crap because I wasn’t allowed to drink on the Accutane. It also took longer to finish the Accutane (about nine months vs six) because I had to stop taking it while I was on painkillers for my foot. Organs are precious, and I didn’t want to put mine at risk by pumping them full of chemicals.

 

Cut to about a month ago, when I traveled to Boise, Idaho to visit one of my best friends in the whole world, Jordan. This girl was my radio show co-host in college and has since become part of my family (seriously, we bring her on family-only trips because she blends in as one of us despite being the only redhead). She flew up to Boston last September to help me move into my apartment, and I cried when she moved across the country in January. I flew out there to spend the week between our birthdays together, and it was simply wonderful.

We spent most of the week in various pools, waterparks, and rivers because it was topping 100 degrees and we were super pale. For once, we were on our sunscreen game and avoided getting sunburn. I have my first tan in three years. I spent quiet mornings on her balcony reading and listening to podcasts (I’ll share my favorites soon!), and we explored the city with her local friends (who are just lovely and I miss them already!) late into the evening because the sun doesn’t set until 10:30pm in the treasure valley. We rounded off the week with my first hike since moving to Boston, climbing Table Rock  (follow the link for trail map!), which is 900ft above Boise’s already 2,600 ft elevation. My poor body is used to Boston’s whopping >50ft above sea level, and reaching the top of Table Rock (3,500 ft) was a struggle. It was worth it for the accomplishment and the views of the city and valley, ringed in rolling mountains, but oh boy did I feel it the next day.

 

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The cold I caught in Idaho was nearly but not quite gone when I flew back east a few days later, and I ended up with an ear infection and just two weeks remaining on my parent’s health insurance. Cue more little miracles. I tried to take it slow, which is why this post didn’t go up on my birthday like it usually does.

Just as I was recovering from the ear infection, I went home for my soon-to-be sister-in-law’s bridal shower and wasn’t feeling too well. After yet another last-minute doctor’s appointment, I found out I also had strep, so now I’m on medication for that as well. I cannot tell you how thankful I am that all of this happened while I was on my parent’s health plan. To be fair though (in the long list of small miracles in my life) I was able to sign up for my graduate school’s student health care plan until I graduate. God is so, so good y’all.

 

I’m back from vacation and back at work, which right now is mostly training some new assistant supervisors, but I am trying to appreciate the methodicalness of it all as I prepare for my second year of graduate school to begin. Before classes start up again, I will be moving into a new apartment that includes a real kitchen and living room, and yet somehow costs less than what I am currently paying. How I found it beats me. (again, small miracles!)

I’ll be living with a few of my classmates, and I am beyond excited to be A – living with friends rather than strangers, and B – living with these friends who I can be completely myself with, whether that’s loud, quiet, happy, or sad. I think it is one of life’s biggest gifts to live somewhere you can relax and unwind and be your authentic self without having to monitor what you do or say or worry about offending someone just by living your life. These girls inspire me to do my best, but they also encourage me to take time to process life and be my true introverted self. I am so blessed to have them.

 

Starting my second year/third semester of graduate school means I finally know what’s coming and can build a schedule around it. I know my general work schedule, and my class schedule, so I can plan writing time around them, and even *gasp* make time for a bit of working out.

In June of this year, my co-worker/friend Patricia and I signed up for a month of Yoga classes, and I fell in love with it. Two weeks ago I met with one of the studio managers where we attend classes and signed up for their Seva program. I’ll be volunteering there a few hours a week to help keep the studio running smoothly! This particular program includes free access to a few classes in exchange for my volunteering, which is just beyond amazing, but I would probably do the program even without that carrot. I always have a craving to help ‘mother’ people and organizations, and I so rarely have the opportunity to feed that craving.

Yoga has been even more life-changing than I imagined. It is simultaneously harder and easier than I thought it would be, but the inner peace that I find in the practise is another one of those small miracles I’ve been experiencing all year.

 

This brings our total of ‘things Amanda does’ to three. Why stop there?

My theme for this year is Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise like the Benjamin Franklin quote, “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” I’ve had that quote taped to my childhood bedroom wall for years, but I noticed it for the first time in forever last time I was at my parents’ house. It’s been floating through my subconscious ever since, and it finally occurred to me last month that that’s what I’ve been searching for. During my vacation, I took some time to sit with my thoughts and see what bubbled to the surface, and I came up with a few truths about myself I haven’t been acknowledging lately.

I am a morning person. My days are best when I get up before 7am and go to bed around 10pm.

I thrive on having too much to do because it forces my brain into organization mode. I was at peak working ability when I was working 4-5 positions and attending undergraduate classes my senior year, and again when I had to schedule my writing time around my cousin’s nap schedule as a nanny. I thrive on slim-to-no time, and I am very good when I am down to the wire. When I don’t have enough to do I procrastinate, and things fall to the wayside and get forgotten easily.

I need to mother. Whether it’s a person or a company, I need to get into the nitty-gritty of what’s going on and fix it, whether physically or through advice. I’ve had a ton of people tell me over the last year that I give great advice, so I guess it’s about time I embrace the title of advice giver and own up to my need to fix things. I will continue to endeavor not to smother people, but also to help them be their best selves through self-care and organization.

 

These revelations led me to create a list of things I want to accomplish this year, each of which falls under healthy, wealthy, or wise.

Under the Healthy category, we have the following tasks:

#1 – Do Yoga Every Day.
I’ve been following Yogi Rachel Brathen for… Well, probably longer than this blog has existed, to be completely transparent, and I’ve always been fascinated by the practice of yoga. My mother has the cold, hard proof in the form of a VHS copy of Yoga for Dummies from probably 2002 that I used to use! It’s taken me sixteen long years, but I’ve finally caught the yoga bug and I don’t plan on letting go of it any time soon.

#2 – Get Eight Hours of Sleep Each Night.
Sleep is the most important thing you can do for yourself. My current job has my sleep schedule all over the place. Most recently in June, there was a fortnight where I fell asleep between 2am and 5am on any given day. It was trippy. As a morning person, working late night hours isn’t good for my creative side or my health, but until I find something 9-5, my sleep schedule is something I need to be proactive about and focused on if I want to avoid getting sick again.

#3 – Cook Three Nights a Week.
The new apartment I am moving into in September has a full kitchen, so I’ll actually have space to spread out and make a full meal – with side dishes – to fix my diet, which has been minor meal prepping and a lot of sandwiches over the last year. If I get a more normal job, I’ll be home for dinner most nights and can actually take advantage of the new kitchen!

 

For Wealthy, I came up with:

#4 – Shop Small.
I want to only shop in used and vintage clothing stores this year. Not only will this help confine my spending, but used and discount clothing hunting is a skill I think everyone should perfect at some point in their lives. By hunting for clothes that come from across multiple years, I think I’ll finally start to build a personal style rather than jumping on whatever the current trend is. I’m excited to see where this resolution takes me.

I also want to only shop indie and used bookstores this year. This is a goal every year but at some point, I end up in Barnes & Noble or Books-A-Million spending money like water. Canceling my B&N membership card didn’t help, I just pay full price now. To combat my horrible book-buying habit, I am going to attempt to go on a 98% book ban this year. Meaning I will do everything in my power not to buy or acquire any new books and to solely use my library card. Unless there is something I am dying to the read and none of the local libraries will stock it for me.

#5 – Save Money.
As I continue my Master’s program, I can feel my loan payments creeping up on me, just waiting for graduation to pounce. I also have a million other things I want to be able to do over the next few years – weddings to attend, overseas trips I want to take, writing staycations, book conventions, etc. To combat all of this, I am going to attempt to curb my general spending (and my eat-out budget) so that I can save at least $400 each month.
– $100 for my emergency fund
– $100 for my loan fund
– $100 for my weddings fund
– $100 for my travel fund.
If this means I have to cut even my book budget and only get books from the library, I will suck it up. It’ll pay off in the end, right? The only things that make you richer by spending money are books and travel, so I’m just trading one for the other. Library cards let me have my cake and eat it too.

#6 – Pursue Passions.
This year I want to focus on what matters most. In the job sense, that means being aggressive and going after those competitive internships and positions that I’m afraid I won’t qualify for. I need to have courage like the Gryffindor I am and charge at my fears head on if I want to overcome them. I can’t just sit around and wait for fate to do its thing when I have the power to help it along in the direction I want so desperately to go. I can do this by grabbing every freelance opportunity I see and giving it 100%, allowing it to build up my writing resume for more permanent positions. This will also up my ‘things Amanda does’ count, which will help me be more productive overall.

 

And finally, for the Wise category:

#7 – Write more.
It probably won’t be every day, because I’ve never been able to keep that promise, but I want to write for myself more regularly than I do now. Blog posts, book reviews, short stories off the top of my head, work towards completing one of the numerous longer-form things I have in the works – I really want to have something I can show people and be able to say “Hey look what I can do!” or “Here’s how I write, take a look!”. I spend so much of my imagination in my head that it never makes it onto the page, and people only know I write at all when they read this site or ask me about my writing and I go down a rabbit hole of explaining my characters and their motivations.

I really want to attempt writing short stories this year. I have a habit of starting and not finishing novels, and I think it will be an interesting exercise in editing myself to try a short-form story. I need to learn how to describe things succinctly, instead of letting the world building run off with my plot. I feel like it’s time to start leaving my mark on the world, and this is how I want to start doing it.

#8 – Become more business literate.
Through podcasts, workshops, webinars, and online classes, I want to educate myself about how to run an actual business, so that I can manage my freelancing and my soon-to-be crushing debt in the best ways I can. This includes learning about advertising and marketing, finance, and SEO.

#9 – Pursue Peace, Grace, and Simplicity.
Through it all, I want to focus on cultivating grace, not perfection. I want and need to organize my life in little ways to make a big impact. I’m taking Emily Ley’s advice and running with it. After reading her book Grace, Not Perfection last year, I am inspired to read her A Simplified Life, Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic, and Shauna Niequist’s Present Over Perfect. All three promise to be inspiring.

 

This year, I want to learn to have patience and grace with myself and others. I want to focus less on what the world thinks of me and more on what I could be doing for the world while taking the best care of myself. I want to reach for the stars but in order to get there, I need to build a solid catapult, or a ladder, or a tower. Clearly, I am not an engineer, but you get it. I can’t get anywhere without a solid foundation, and that foundation has to be me.

 

Here’s to my fifth year of blogging. I am so looking forward to all of the cool things I will accomplish and experience this year, and I hope you will join me on this journey.

 

 

Sincerely,

Amanda

 

 

Previous Theme Of The Year (TOTY) Posts:
TOTY – 22: Why Soul Searching is Not my Theme of the Year
TOTY – 23: Wellness and Becoming my Best Self
TOTY – 24: Me Doing Me
TOTY – 25: Responsibility

 

 

Top 10 Books I Read in 2017

2017 Top 10 (1)

It’s already MAY, but I had such a hard time choosing between the 56 books I managed to read last year. I am SO PROUD of that number. I worked hard for it. I figured that now is as good a time as any to share them with you because maybe you’ll want to pick them up over the summer. People read then, right?

In an effort to shorten the judging process that got me to this point, I decided to only nominate books that I read for the first time, and to exclude all re-reads from this contest. In no particular order, here are the top 10 books I read in 2017.

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Source: Goodreads

1 – Grace, Not Perfection – Emily Ley
This book changed my life. I read it while I was nannying for my baby cousin, so even the more maternal bits really hit home. Whether you are young and virtually single like me, or raising a bunch of munchkins, or just living your best life, this book will help you make it even better. I can’t wait to pick up Emily’s second book, A Simplified Life, this year.

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2 – The Diviners – Libba Bray
1920s New York City + strange magical abilities + teens sleuthing to stop a supernatural serial killer? SIGN ME UP. This is one of those books that you pick up at the library because of the cool cover and then run away with it once you finish reading the blurb because it’s so cool. And even at a whopping 500+ pages it just flies by because the writing is just that good. I’m saving my reviews of this series for October. Look out for it then!

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Source: Goodreads

3 – A Novel Bookstore – Laurence Cossé
Let me just say… WOW. This birth-of-a-bookstore/mystery novel about the fictional The Good Novel bookstore in Paris and its founders blew me away. A tiny bit slow in some places, but the intertwining narratives of the founders, reviewers, and their loved ones was wonderfully written and lovingly translated from the original French.

shades-of-magic-a-gathering-of-shadows-v-e-schwab
Source: Goodreads

4 – A Gathering of Shadows – V. E. Schwab
This whole series is wonderful. I’ve never read anything like the Shades of Magic trilogy, and I am so SO excited that Schwab will be blessing us with a spinoff sequel trilogy, as well as a prequel comic book. Of the trilogy, the second novel was my favorite, and the cover art especially drew me in. The character development is just expert level here, and I can’t wait to get my hands on more of Schwab’s work.

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Source: Goodreads

5 – Uprooted – Naomi Novik
This book. THIS. BOOK. I haven’t read a story like this since I picked up the actual Grimm’s Fairytales. The plot is phenomenal, the characters aren’t perfect, or entirely lovable or hateable, and the forest. is. alive.

Uprooted gets a lot of hate for the romance aspect of it, but I think it was handled really well and people need to get used to the idea that semi-immortal beings need love too. You don’t hear people complaining about Bella and Edward being together because Edward is like 900 years older than her, do you? So don’t come at me about Agnieszka’s romance. It’s as healthy a love as she is going to get in these crazy times.

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Source: Goodreads

6 – Elantris – Brandon Sanderson
An arranged marriage alliance + a religious war + a mysterious plague that only effects the god-like people of Elantris? Trust me when I say the roughly 600 pages are worth it. I haven’t read worldbuilding like this since Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time saga — which makes sense if you think about it because Jordan chose Sanderson to finish his work when he was passing.

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7 – M Train – Patti Smith
I’ve never read a memoir written by a musician before, and let me tell you, this was delightful. Patti Smith is not just a musician, poet, and author, but also a mother, wife, icon, and member of a former mysterious society. This memoir is written mostly stream-of-consciousness style, but that only adds to the magic of the words. From writing in coffee shops (like I am now), to traveling the globe, to singing in cafeterias at midnight, M Train is sure to inspire you to write more of your own work and see the everyday magic around you.

Tyme-Disenchanted-The-Trials-Of-Cinderella-Megan-Morrison

8 – Disenchanted: The Trials of Cinderella – Megan Morrison
It’s no secret that I adored the first Tyme novel by Morrison, Grounded: The Adventures of Rapunzel,  but Disenchanted did me one better if that’s possible. “Cinderella” comes from a family of fashion. Her new stepmother is a trial, but she probably means well. The private school she goes to is full of rich and royal brats, most of whom will grow up to work in the family business: that is, fashion. The entire Blue Kingdom runs on fashion. But not everyone loves it. Ella knows which families use sweatshop labor, and sets out to bring. them. down. Even if it means ruining her chances with the cute but cursed prince in the process. I can’t wait for the third installment (involving the Frog Prince!), due out in the next year.

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9 – In Other Lands – Sarah Rees Brennan
If you’ve been reading fantasy your entire life and wondering why tropes are what they are — the guy gets the girl, everyone loves the hero, the maidens need rescuing, etc. etc… LOOK NO FURTHER. Brennan turns every single trope on its head and it’s flawless. Not only does everyone hate Elliot, he doesn’t even get the girl, or get to save the world, or have a touching reunion with his parents. Nope. Elliot gets shipped off to a school in a war zone in a magical land because his teacher doesn’t like him, and spends most of his time in the library wishing he could meet mermaids despite everyone telling him how dangerous they are. Elliot is not a hero, and he certainly doesn’t like the would-be hero, Luke Sunborn, with the beautiful golden locks. Nope. Not one bit.

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10 – Lois Lane: Fallout – Gwenda Bond
I didn’t even know I needed a series about Lois before Clark until I saw Bond’s book on the shelf, and now I need her to be consulted with on anything and everything to do with Superman and Lois Lane that is ever created in the future. I have always loved Lois, but never before have I gotten the chance to really get to know her. Now that the military brat has settled in one place for the first time, attending a Metropolis high school and interning at The Daily Planet, she has a bit of free time on her hands, and a lot of bad guys to take down. Now if only she could convince her online crush SmallvilleGuy to meet in person.

Honorable Mentions:
Elise Kova’s The Alchemists of Loom
Helen Simonson’s Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand
Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451