I have a handful of friends who like to post writing prompts, and I occasionally humor them with my take on a scene. Here’s the first one. Maybe I’ll write the whole book someday.
Prompt:Create the beginning of a murder mystery novel. Your beginning must include the following: You are in the New Orleans French quarter, naked and holding both a live turtle and dead chicken.
Lorraine stood on the corner of Bourbon street, watching the bright headlights flash by and waiting. She shivered as sweat trickled down her naked spine, in part from the heat of the night, and in part from fear. Something else dribbled along her left arm and she glanced down at the drooping head of the once white chicken, now soaked red in its own blood.
The street emptied and quieted.
She shifted a rounded, heavy load further up her right hip and crossed quickly, the blood of the chicken leaving a speckled trail across the pavement. There was a hissing sound and she tightened her grip on the large object as she walked. “No, Beau, it’s okay.” she said under her breath as the small snapping turtle stretched out its long, snake-like head to look around. Beauregard looked her in the eye and nodded before retreating back and presumably going to sleep.
On the other side of Bourbon street stood an ivy covered, many leveled restaurant. The bouncer at the door took one look at her and started cursing. “Where are your damn clothes, woman? He sent you out for a chicken five hours ago and you come back naked and covered in blood. What else you got there? Is that a fucking snapping turtle?”
Lorraine raised her eyebrows at him but didn’t answer. She eased past him when he opened the door and entered the well appointed kitchen.
Mason glanced up from the last of the dishes at the sound of the door, and quickly dropped a soapy pan when saw her. “Jesu Christe. What happened to you? Why is Beaureguard with you?”
Lorraine dropped the bloody chicken carcas on the freshly cleaned counter top and walked past him to the staff dining room before putting Beau on the table. She walked back into the kitchen, rinsed off her bloody arm, and donned a spare chef’s coat. Then she returned to the dining room and sat down. Mason joined her with a glass of sweet tea. “I’m going to need something stronger than that.” She remarked, but chugged the tea anyway.
When he placed two fingers of whiskey in front of her she sighed, crumpling into the chair. Beauregard shuffled over and she absentmindedly rubbed her head and she reached out and took the whole bottle of whiskey from Mason’s hand and upended it over her glass.
“Zach’s dead,” she said, placing the bottle on the table.
There was a loud thump and a wobble as Mason’s butt landed in a chair and nearly sent him over backwards. “What? How? When? What?” He stuttered his words as he tried to grasp at this new reality.
“It’s a long story,” Lorraine answered, picking up her glass. “But before I explain, we should probably call the police.”
Do you have a take on this story prompt? I’d love to see it! Feel free to email me at Amanda@highlightsandhotchocolate.com and I’ll share my favorites in a post!
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.
Estelle awoke to the sound of one of her neighbors clattering down the stairs. She rubbed her eyes, trying to think of a reason someone would make such a noise upon descending a perfectly normal staircase, before realizing that it must have been David and his dog, Roger. Two sets of feet, one large, the other small, could definitely have made the racket which dragged her out of her dreams. She finished ridding her eyes of sleep and pulled back the duvet.
Coffee was a wondrous thing. Some days the only thing that got her out of bed was coffee. Not today though, she thought as she sipped from a steaming mug while gazing into her closet. It was smaller than the one at her last place, but she hadn’t decided yet how to pare down her wardrobe. The mountain of laundry peaking out from the bottom of the closet pointed to there being a hefty donation to the secondhand shop in her future. She sighed, choosing to put off the decision until the weekend, and pulled out a pair of grey slacks and a forest green sweater.
Hair, check. Makeup, check. Estelle picked out a set of simple pearl earrings and spritzed on her favorite perfume before giving herself a final once-over in the hall mirror. They had hung it on the outside of the bathroom door so they would stop fighting over the actual bathroom, and the arrangement had worked out remarkably well. Estelle shuffled back into her room to grab her shoulder bag and pick out shoes. Low, chunky, everyday black heels made the outfit complete, and she smiled knowing her mother would approve of the choice. Her mother insisted that flats made her walk like a duck. The image was unattractive enough that Estelle almost always chose heels when she had the opportunity to do so. Running with Miles tomorrow would hurt when her achilles was all scrunched up from today, but occasionally a little beauty was worth a little pain. She slid her bag onto her shoulder, called goodbye to her roommates, and headed for the stairs, turning the lock behind her.
A Morning with Estelle – Short Fiction by Amanda Woods
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.
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.
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.
This post is going up a little late this month. Mostly because I was completely unmotivated to write it until today, but also because I have kind of a lot going on at the moment.
I’ve moved! I’m still settling into my new home, but I promise to share pictures of my space once my bed arrives. Until then I’m sleeping on an air mattress, which is not ideal, but still better than I thought it would be.
Grad school is going well so far! I’m only two weeks in, but I’m loving my classes and the professors are great. There aren’t a huge number of opportunities to socialize, but I’m working on that. I’ve signed up to be a fiction reader for the graduate-student-run literary journal on campus, Redivider, and I’m hoping to get some opportunities to gain more copyediting experience as well.
There has been nothing but radio silence on the actual paying job front. I don’t understand why companies can’t at the very least have an automatic e-mail sent to anyone they throw into the ‘no’ pile. No answer is just plain rude. Even places that I’ve been able to go into in person and talk to a manager about hiring opportunities just redirect me to online applications that are then met with silence. Thank goodness it’s autumn again. Most retail places are looking to hire for the holidays now, so I should be able to get a position at someplace like Target or Macy’s. I’m sending out those applications today or Sunday.
Tomorrow, I am attending Boston Teen Author Festival (BTAF) at the Cambridge Public Library and Cambridge Rindge and Latin School! Over 40 YA authors will be there, and while I’m pretty sure I haven’t read any of their books, I can’t wait to learn more about their work and get excited to read it! Best of all, the event is totally free!! I am most excited to meet Lindsay Cummings and Sasha Alsberg. Lindsay and Sasha have written a space opera called Zenith that is due out in January, and I preordered it months ago. Sasha is also one of the reasons I am where I am today. If I had never watched her videos about Emerson and their publishing program, I wouldn’t have looked into graduate school here, and I would probably still be living in New Jersey and trying to get a job in Public Relations while I attempted to write my book and actually working in retail. Instead, I’m chasing my dreams in a city I adore. So thank you, Sasha, and welcome back to Boston! Lindsay is also one of the reasons The Alchemists of Loom by Elise Kova was on my TBR that day I walked into B&N to find Elise doing a signing. She was so nice and gave some really amazing advice about writing and publishing that further convinced me that working in publishing is what I want to do with my life. So thank you, Lindsay, for sort-of introducing me to Elise. Once I get a job I can’t wait to pick up the sequel in the Loom saga, The Dragons of Nova! I was thrilled to participate in the cover reveal for this book!
Next week I’m seeing Patti Smith at an event for Harvard Bookstore, and I am so so excited. After reading her book M Train this summer (twice!) I am psyched to hear her speak and to pick up a copy of her new book, Devotion, which is supposedly about writing. You might only know her for her Springsteen-co-written hit “Because the Night”, or because of her marriage to Fred Sonic Smith, but believe me, her writing is something downright magical.
When I’m not working on homework, filling out job applications, or making multiple trips to the store to buy apartment necessities, I’ve been reading voraciously and re-reading my WIP. It’s amazing how many things I didn’t need during undergrad that I need now (like a teakettle). I haven’t read my manuscript in its entirety since I wrote it last November. Reading it again is like greeting an old friend. It’s a relief to know that I still love it and that the story is still solidly in my head as well as my heart.
I know I’ve been pretty terrible so far with the Friday Files posts, but I think they’ll pick up soon. I just needed to take a beat and figure out how to incorporate them into my life. Expect one on time management next week that should help explain my process. In the meantime, if you haven’t read my first Friday Files post, check it out here. It’s all about building a grown-up wardrobe without breaking the bank.
That’s what’s going on with me this month. Let’s check and see how I did on my goals in August.
Walk over 40 miles: My total for August was 43.45!
Get a job: Apparently, I am not the only graduate student struggling with this. Thankfully the holiday season is fast approaching and all of the retail stores are hiring. Who would have thought that two years out of college I would still be struggling to find a job? Not me. I’m also looking into how I can work as a virtual assistant or freelance copyeditor (once my copyediting class is over). I think this whole financial situation will get a lot easier if I can learn to diversify my income and pull from many places rather than one.
How are you doing on your goals? Are you still struggling to find a job? Do you have any advice about diversifying your income? Let me know in the comments, or shoot me an email at Amanda@highlightsandhotchocolate.com.
It’s July! Which makes it my birth month, the anniversary of this blog (starting its FOURTH year!!) and also time for a new theme of the year, or as I like to call it, TOTY. If you’ve never read one of my TOTY posts before, allow me to explain. Every year around my birthday, I like to select a broad theme for the next year of my life, to help guide my decision making for the next 365 days. I’ve focused on things like experience, health, and writing. You can find links to all of my previous TOTYs at the bottom of this post.
It’s been one heck of a year. Being 24 was one of those strange in-between years like 19 and 20, where you’re not really sure what the objective is except to survive. I’m turning 25 today, which to 12-year-old me seemed impossibly old, but to be honest I still feel fairly young. Turning 24 helped me to take a little control of my life. I wasn’t so much in my early 20s anymore, and people stopped expecting me to go out and party with them every night, which definitely allowed me to come into my own skin a little more. Now that I’m turning 25 and officially in my mid-twenties, I feel completely free of that party-hard culture that tried to suck me in during college, and people have stopped looking at me strangely when I talk about career opportunities like the important things they are. I’m extremely happy to be out of that age where people say ‘oh, you have plenty of time! Just concentrate on having fun!’ instead of taking my job inquiries seriously.
The last year started off by helping two of my friends plan their respective weddings, both of which were at the end of August/beginning of September, on back-to-back weekends. Cue tons of crazy drama, none of which is mine to share but I was somehow a part of anyway. Let me just say: WEDDING PLANNING IS HARD! Thank goodness I had both of them to bounce ideas off of for each other. I was able to fill in the holes in both plans based on what each was doing to make sure all of the bases were covered, down to vases on the reception tables for the bridesmaid bouquets. At the end of October, I made the huge decision to leave my part-time retail job of 10 months in Allentown, Pennsylvania to become a nanny for my then seven-month-old cousin in Boston, Massachusetts. It turned out to be one of the best decisions I have ever made, though I do still miss my amazing coworkers.
One of my goals for last year was to write every day. While that didn’t happen, I did do quite a bit of writing, and I’ve definitely adjusted mentally so that writing is at the forefront of my mind 90% of the time. I participated in National Novel Writing Month, and you can find my weekly updates from November here. Besides NaNoWriMo, I’ve worked hard to locate some of my favorite coffee shops in the city where I can work besides my room, and it’s helped immensely.
Another goal was to apply to graduate school, which I was intensely nervous about. I was pretty sure I wouldn’t get in right away because of my lack of writing experience aside from this blog, and I would need to reapply a few times before I got accepted in another year or two. BUT I WAS WRONG! I have been accepted to the Publishing and Writing Master’s Degree Program at Emerson College here in Boston, Massachusetts where I will be starting in September! I think because I didn’t expect to get in right away, this all still doesn’t quite feel real. I have to pinch myself a few times a day just to remind myself it’s all happening. Just thinking about it makes me tear up from joy. *as I start to tear up*
My last goal was to apply to full-time jobs. This one has been a little complicated because I took the nannying job in October, and I’ve been pretty happy doing it. I cannot, however, continue doing it once I start graduate school for logistical reasons. So I am back to square one, but with a lot more writing under my belt than I had last year. I’m ideally looking for an Editorial Assistant or Copy Editor position, but I would take something like an administrative job if need be.
Last year around this time, I was contemplating my current nannying position and the general idea of Boston. I had only been here twice, both briefly, and yet the city enthralled me. I’ve now lived here almost nine months, and if possible love this place even more. Sometimes I take a train to a random part of the city and then walk back to my aunt and uncle’s place, just to explore. I guess what I’m saying is, not only do I have to remind myself that I got into grad school but I also have to remind myself that I live here and that I get to go on living here, not leave when a semester or internship ends. It’s an amazing feeling: a mix of freedom and adventure, the world an open book in front of me.
This feeling is fueling my theme for the next year: RESPONSIBILITY I need to continue working things like time management skills, becoming financially literate, and getting better at cooking and baking. General skills all adults should have. Looking towards a future that includes moving out on my own, it would irresponsible of me not to learn these basic skills. So, how do I plan to achieve these things?
To become more financially literate, I’m going to start reading about it. From finance and money management blogs to Finance for Dummies, I’m going to try to read something every day for the next year to help me better manage my money and understand the finance industry (ie, stocks, bonds, bank account types). I also started a spreadsheet to track my spending in January 2017, and starting January 2018 I’ll be able to make fairly strict budgets to help me get the most out of my time in grad school and still pay off my debt in a reasonable amount of time.
To become a better cook, I’m rounding up family recipes to practice. I want to combine these into a cookbook that I can refer back to anytime I need a meal idea, which should take the pressure off of making a full meal for dinner when I live on my own. I’ll probably be moving out of my aunt and uncle’s house and into my own apartment this Fall, so knowing how to make more than Mac and Cheese and Chicken Parm should be pretty helpful.
Fridays this year will consist of a mix of lifestyle posts. Finance posts will share secrets to money management I’ve picked up, and share some cool blog posts to help you with your own money skills. Food posts will share my favorite family recipes. In addition, Fashion posts will chronicle my building of an adult wardrobe appropriate for all aspects of life, Fitness posts will share snapshots and thoughts on how to get back in shape your way, Focus posts will share study and writing tips to help you get the most work done in your spare time, Family and Friends posts will teach you how to deal with your family as a new adult, and Faith posts will share ways to incorporate your faith into your everyday life. Obviously, I won’t have a chance to share on all of these topics every month, since there are seven of them and only four or five Fridays per month. My plan is to mix it up a little, and we’ll see what we get.
If this all sounds like a lot to do on top of grad school, finding a new job, writing book reviews, and continuing work on my novel(s), that’s because it is. But I’m excited to share this journey with all of you! I feel that at the age of 25, these are the things I should know how to do. I’ll be on my own next year for a lot of grown up things (like healthcare), and I think that makes it important now more than ever that I know how to take care of myself in any kind of situation.
What are some things you want to work on this year?
That’s right! I’m working on a new novel! Camp NaNoWriMo starts today, and I’ve decided to push The Everest Chronicles off to the side a bit to work on something new.
Last November, during NaNoWriMo proper, I had a dream that turned into 13 handwritten pages of something, which I then tucked away so I could focus on the project I was trying to work on at the time. I’m not going to reveal a whole lot about what occurred in the dream because that would give away the entire plot of the book. In fact, I’m going to keep this project fairly secret. Seriously. I shared the dream notes with one of my sisters back in November, and I just told one of my writing buddy friends about it last week. No one else knows anything about anything. I will say though, that it is a Regency Romance, and that for citing purposes I’ll be referring to it as Aunt Bea’s Pearls.
I’d like to write 25,000 words towards it this month. I’m only doing half the normal goal because I have a hundred other things to write this month, what with my birthday and the TOTY (Theme-Of-The-Year) going live among other cool projects for the blog. I’m excited! It should be a fairly intense month of writing, trying to balance fiction and blog posts while still getting my reading done for book reviews, but I think I’m up to it.
And honestly, I need something to distract myself until September when Grad School starts because I am B-O-R-E-D and my job search is going nowhere fast.
My writing buddy, and one of my oldest friends, Shannon is going to be doing Camp NaNoWriMo with me, so I am very excited to get started. I’ve been doing writing exercises for the last week trying to stretch my brain into shape so I can use my imagination to it’s fullest potential. Fun times.
You can expect writing updates just like last November here on the blog in the coming weeks. I’m planning to post them on Saturdays this time around if that works for you guys.
I have wanted to watch this movie since it was released in 2011. Paris? Check. Artists, writers, and time travel to some of the most iconic times to be alive? Check. Great cast? Check! It just had so much to recommend it.
I should probably tell you that aside from Antz, which I hated, this is the first Woody Allen film I’ve ever seen. I swear that Annie Hall is on my list, but I haven’t gotten to it yet. I finally watched Midnight in Paris at the beginning of this month, and I was not disappointed. The imagery is beautiful, the premise and plot are very well done, and the intermingling of the present day with the past was just fantastic.
Owen Wilson’s character, Gil, is a screenwriter turned struggling author. He dreams of moving to Paris and renting out an attic like Hemingway and Fitzgerald did in the 20’s. In effect, he is living Fitzgerald’s life in reverse, since Fitzgerald was an author and became a screenwriter. Gil’s fiancé, Inez, played by Rachel McAdams, comes from a wealthy family and dreams of living a lavish lifestyle in California. She thinks Gil would do well if he would just concentrate on what he’s good at – writing and rewriting scripts for big blockbusters.
Gil and Inez travel to Paris with Inez’s parents, who are in the country on business. At dinner one evening they run into Paul, Inez’s close friend and biggest crush from college, and his fiancé Carol. Paul is in Paris to give a lecture series at the Sorbonne and invites the couple to accompany them on various sight-seeing expeditions. After each trip, Gil decides to walk home rather than cram into a taxi, and each time he walks home he comes across a Peugeot Type 176 (a car from the 1920’s) that picks him up and takes him to famous places in 1920’s Paris. Along the way, he meets the likes of Hemingway, the Fitzgeralds, Gertrude Stein, and Picasso among others.
In between trips to the 20’s, Gil makes progress with his novel and in his life, and the film ends with his decisions being made and feeling a sense of accomplishment and happiness he hasn’t had in years.
I would highly recommend this film to anyone who enjoys movies about writers and time travel and love, but most of all stories of self-discovery.
Maybe it’s the weather, the last dregs of winter that hang on until you want to scream or spend your meager savings and fly somewhere tropical, but this time of year always makes me want to sit down and assess things in my life. What do I want to accomplish this year? Where do I want my blog to go? Am I making my brand work for me? What can I do to make my content better?
The results of all my brainstorming usually end up getting published in my annual Theme of The Year post in July, but it all starts spinning around in my head now – in March!
This year, I’m tossing around a few big ideas for the blog including consolidating (and possibly rebranding!) as well as tons of post ideas on a variety of topics. I can’t wait to share everything with you!
I’m also processing some very big news that I recently received: I got accepted into graduate school! I will now officially be attending Emerson College in Boston this Autumn to get my MA in Publishing and Writing! Of course, this means I have to figure out how to pay for it all, and where I’m going to live, afford textbooks, etc. I suddenly have a lot on my plate, but I’m not going to let it slow me down. I’m taking it all in baby steps: planning for school, working on my book(s), making this space the best it can be… there is a lot to get done before September, and I’m excited to dive in!
I’ll write a more in depth grad school/life update after I attend accepted graduate students day next month, but until then let’s take a look at how I’m doing with my goal tracking.
TOTY 24 Goals:
Write Every Day: The writer’s block is real, but I’ve been re-reading my favorite series from my childhood and it’s really jumpstarting my imagination again. Some of these are the books that inspired me to write The Everest Chronicles! It is also almost spring, and that always gives me the urge to write contemporary, so I’ll be diving back into a contemporary mystery series I started writing last year that I’ve tentatively titled The Catchachatchamunga Diaries (try saying that 10 times fast!)
Apply to Full-Time Jobs: I have a full-time babysitting gig, but with grad school expenses I may need a full-time salaried job in order to pay tuition and maybe get an apartment closer to campus.
Apply to Grad School: Complete! As you read in this month’s intro, I just got accepted to Emerson College! WOO HOO!!! I won’t find out any scholarship/fellowship information until later this week, but I am so incredibly excited to have been accepted into this program!
2017 Goals: Stick to My Budget: This has really been more like building a budget and assessing how I spend, but so far it’s going better than I expected.
Pay Lots of Student Loans: My bank account is saddened by this, but it’s really not so bad.
Build Savings Account: I’m getting there! I know most of what I’ve saved is going to end up going towards a security deposit and/or tuition payments, but it’s comforting to see the money sitting in there right now, haha!
Spend Less Than $500 on Books This Year: I’ve managed to get all the books on my read/review list for the year and stay under $300, so I feel like I’m doing okay. I’ve also taken advantage of sales and sale sites to save money, which has been helpful. #FirstWorldProblems
Only Buy New Clothes Seasonally: I’m trying to come up with a list of what I might need to replace or add to my wardrobe for the spring/summer before I do my shopping either the end of this month or the beginning of next before everything is sold out. I hate that I have to do my summer shopping when it’s still snowing.
Get 8+ hours of sleep/Go to bed by 10 pm: It’s been more like six-seven hours with all the reading I’ve been doing, but not terrible.
Only Watch Three Movies/Five Episodes Per Week: With the season finale of BBC’sVictoria behind us (SO GOOD YOU GUYS), and having finished The Crown at the end of February, I have now moved on to Stranger Things. I can’t say it’s amazing yet, but that could be because I’m watching it alone and therefore have no one to theorize with. There’s also not a lot of explanation, and I’m doubting that anything is going to be resolved by season end (I’m only three episodes in out of eight total). Next, I’m planning to watch The Last Kingdom.
Finish Craft Projects: I am now more than halfway finished with all three of my projects. That’s as much as I can say. I’ve been reading a lot and neglecting everything else.
Post Regularly: Ha. As usual, I have big plans and then they never see the light of day. I’d be a great content planner for anyone except myself. I’m going to keep hacking away at this goal though because I think I’m starting to break through!
Keep Up With Book Reviews: If only I had Wi-Fi in my room. We’re getting a booster this month, but as it stands now I am writing to you from the kitchen island, which I’ve taken over for the day so I can write a few reviews and pay my taxes. Fun stuff. (update 3 days later: we moved the Wi-Fi box and now I have a download speed of 89 and upload speed of 13. For comparison, last week’s speed readings were 0.39 for downloads and 0.04 for uploads.) Everything is ridiculous.
Plan Monthly Post Schedules: Still not keeping to them, but at least I glance at them every now and then.
Read 50+ Books: I’m at 13 for the year so far, which is slightly ahead of schedule now. Yay! But I have two books to finish by the end of the month that I’m no longer excited about, so that stinks.
Get In Shape: I did get some running in two weeks ago when it got up to 70 F, but it’s been snowy and frigid since then. I’m trying to fit in some yoga and pilates to make for being cooped up.
Walk 40+ Miles Per Month: I walked over 50 miles last month! WOO HOO!
Finish Everest Draft: Not even close.
Write 20,000 Words Per Month: I wrote three sentences last week, and I’m hoping to write a good chunk today.
Run a 5K in under 30 Minutes: Too cold and snowy to run with a baby, so I can’t get anywhere near this goal yet.
Walk 40+ Miles: I’m close to 28 miles already and it’s the 20th. Not too bad considering I spent a whole weekend in bed sick.
Run 12 Miles: If it ever warms up outside, sure.
Learn Stretching Exercises: YouTube is a cool place.
Do Yoga 8 Times This Month: I debating whether or not to get a subscription to One0Eight.com. I love Yoga Girl and everything they’re doing at Island Yoga, but I’m not sure if it’s a financial thing I can do at the moment. It’s $14/month for yoga, meditation, and nutritional content.
Read 7+ Books: (* indicates finished)
*The Last of August by Brittany Cavallaro
*Uprooted by Naomi Novik
*The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale Fallout by Gwenda Bond We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie Pretty Happy by Kate Hudson
Write 4+ Book Reviews: The Last of August by Brittany Cavallaro Uprooted by Naomi Novik Fallout by Gwenda Bond We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Get more involved at church by going to an event: I attended a very nice dessert potluck at the beginning of the month, and there’s a group of us going to the Museum of Science. Yay for making friends!
Write 20,000 Words of Everest: This is meant to be the same 20,000 words discussed before, and yes, I am failing hard.
Find a Hair Salon: I have a lead on one that I need to check out, but I’m also going home to New Jersey because I need to make a visit to my Dermatologist, so I think I’m putting off the hair salon decision for anther month and just having my stylist back home do a touch up while I’m there.
DO NOT BUY BOOKS: This is a given.
So, those are my goals. What are some of your goals right now? Are you working for a promotion? Getting ready to graduate college or high school? Working towards a summer beach body? Join the discussion in the comments!