Envisioning a Write New Year

This post is an edited version of the first posting of my newest column in the Rutland Herald called “All Write!” which ran January 2, 2016.

pen journalWriting isn’t only my career (something for which I am extremely grateful), but also has been my lifeline since I was a teenager. I started writing a diary at age 12 and began what I now call expressive writing, or journaling, a decade later while reading Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way.” The benefits I have personally experienced I now share with others.

In the spirit of the New Year, I offer a slight twist on typical resolution-setting: writing to help you envision your hopes and intentions for the future. There is something magical about dreaming and envisioning what you want out of your life. But it is also

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as necessary and practical as a map (or GPS) on a long road trip.

In “Life’s Companion: Journal Writing as a Spiritual Quest,” Christina Baldwin writes:
Before we can do something significant with our lives, we have to do three things: imagine it clearly so we know what we want, be willing to want it very, very much and take action that moves us to attainment … focused vision, focused longing and focused action.
To begin this process, you must first know where you are now, here in the present. Writing about your current situation and emotional state — what’s going on at home, work, with family, in the world — helps you to get a clear picture of your life and hopefully clarifies what things are working for you and what may not.
To then look forward to how you may want to make some changes, you can write about a currently unknown future. “Journal to the Self” author Kathleen Adams recommends a journaling technique called “Perspectives,” which is to write as if it is already a future date.
Writing from a different perspective can … hurtle you forward in time, allowing you to create a visionary picture of what you want your life to be like. This can be a very important factor in aligning your will with your unconscious desire, thus helping to ‘create your own reality.’
Allow those “impossible” dreams to have their say. This is your road map to the future. The trip may not take the exact route you thought it would, and you may end up somewhere slightly different than you imagined, but just be open to the journey.
Once you know where you are starting and you have decided on your destination, you can plan your first steps, or your action items. And think baby steps. Don’t overwhelm yourself with huge goals. Start with making one phone call or getting your resume in shape or buying a new set of paints. Just start the ball rolling, get the car started, put the walking shoes on. Starting is always the hardest part, but just do something, anything, no matter how small. And then celebrate each step.
New Year Writing Prompts:
  • “Where I am now in my life is …”

  • “It is January 1, 2017, and …”

  • “The first steps towards this future are …”

Happy New Year! Here’s to a 2016 that’s just write!

A Path to Publication, pt 10: Kicking open the creaking door

credit: Joanna Tebbs Young

credit: Joanna Tebbs Young

At this past Saturday’s conference of the League of Vermont Writers, keynoter David Dobbs encouraged us to kick open every door that creaks. This metaphor has been a repeating one in my life lately and I have been knocking on several.

What I didn’t expect was for some of these doors to not only creak, but, in one case,  swing wide open.

On the Friday before this conference I had a meeting at my favorite coffee shop with the editor of the paper for which I am a freelance columnist. I walked into the cafe with one column in full swing and one due to come off a summer sabbatical, and walked out with two brand new columns to add to my weekly roster which I hadn’t expected. My planning calendar just got busy.

Where would this leave my book, I wondered? I’m not great at multi-tasking (despite my claims to the contrary and the forced necessity as a mother at being so) and writing fourteen columns a month, plus the occasional cover story, while revising a book seems a scheduling nightmare. (And then there’s the up-my-alley, possible door-opening part-time job I applied for… but that’s another question mark for another day.)

Then came the conference where I pitched my book to three agents. At this point I will offer some advice. If you ever attend a “pitch fest,” one of these occasions where you are given the opportunity to pitch to your book in person to an agent, be prepared to:

1. Know your pitch inside out and upside down.

2. Throw the pitch out the window and be able to conversationally tell said agent about said idea without rambling or sounding staid.

I was prepared for only one of these scenarios (#1) and consequently didn’t come across as convincingly or elegantly as I had hoped when I was suddenly faced with the “Let’s just chat” scenario. However, I received good news and was asked by two of the three to send some follow-up material.

So, here I am on Monday morning facing one wide open door (with three deadlines right on the other side of it) and one slightly open one which for years has been nailed shut, and which I could put off for lack of time or–as is more probable–out of fear.

But that would be foolish. I don’t know what this creaking door will reveal, it could slam shut again, but I won’t know until I push at it a little further. I will push forward and get my follow-up materials ready to send off, even though the thought of doing so makes me feel slightly ill (you know that feeling of nakedness after you’ve sent off the resume/thesis/design/etc., that knowing you may have just set yourself up for rejection? That.)

Better to have knocked and found the wrong door, than never to have knocked at all.

(Next up: Some great questions to ask yourself when writing. What IS this book about?!)

Envision your Future and Fear Not

In March 1997 (I was 25), I wrote in my journal:

When I peer into an undated future (maybe 10 years)… I see myself in my own home, married… I never think of myself working [outside the home], no I’m writing… in a sunny room with birds singing outside the window…

In a blog post from January 2009, I wrote this:

Well, here I am twelve years later writing at a big desk in a sunny room… And next to me pinned to my cork board is a little magazine opened to an article with my name printed right below it.

I truly believe in manifesting your dreams, especially in writing. So many things have fallen into place for me because I had visualized and wrote about them first.

I have put in writing many times before my hope of becoming a freelance writer (and I am kind of partial to those paying types of jobs, please) but I am visualizing it here and now for you all to share (bear with me, s’il vous plait). I also have a new dream brewing.

OK, it’s 2014. It is actually sunny in my sunny writing room. My children are at school (because in this dream they are never sick and preventing me from working) and I have a deadline for an essay I’m submitting to Brain, Child (my 5th one for them). This evening I will be walking over to the studio I have created in our converted garage to teach a journal workshop.

Well, it’s 2013 and my deadline isn’t for Brain, Child (that one is still on my to-do list) but I am a freelance writer (and getting paid!) working from home and I am facing three deadlines for my two columns and a cover story. Now, that I could never have imagined!

And I am writing this from my “sunny” office with warm pumpkin orange walls. Tomorrow morning I will commute all the way across my yard to teach in that garage that has indeed been converted (into the Writers’ Room) as per my dream.

Recently I posted to Facebook my gratitude for actually living this life I had envisioned. In response a friend wrote:

That is SO great Joanna because I think most of us don’t have the courage to really follow our dreams. We aren’t risk-takers and so get stuck in lives where we work for someone else and aren’t truly happy. Bravo to you…..if you can give people one piece of advice for following our dreams – what would it be?

Here was my response:

Trust that if it is your authentic path/dream, it will happen. Walk in trust, not fear.

Although I seem to need to remind myself of this everyday, it is important to remember that if we never faced something we fear we would never change, never grow, never move forward.

Fear is a message; it is an invitation to participate in your authentic life.

I have written many times on this blog about facing fear. Here are a list: https://wisdomwithinink.com/?s=trust+fear


I am afraid of… but if I wasn’t I would…

In 5 years time, I …

Let there be light!

I must share my immense gratitude this morning. I write this with sleep-filled eyes and pillow-mashed hair. And a huge smile on my face.

I woke at 5AM. Too hot? Downtown train’s brakes extra squealey on the tracks? A cat pushed open the door? Whatever it was, I awoke to find my mind already engrossed in deep conversation with itself (panicked babbling, rather) about Wednesday. Wednesday, you see, is the first day I will be offering workshops in my new writing space, The Writers’ Room at Allen House and in my semi-conscious state at 5AM, Wednesday and everything I still have to get done loomed suddenly very large.

And my muddling little monkey mind, eager for occupation at that early hour, latched onto one thing in particular: Lighting.

Round and round it went, that silly old monkey: What about the lighting? It’s getting darker in the evenings and we have the motion detectors but something needs to be on all the time. Can motion detector lights be turned to be just on? The porch and deck lights will be on, will that be enough? It needs to be light enough for people to walk down the driveway. Surely motion detectors can be adjusted… on and on and on, he went. In England it’s called “mithering” – to fuss about something. Mither. Mither Mither.

Finally I got out of bed to try to escape this brain rattle. I could nothing about the lights at 5AM and I couldn’t go back to sleep. They  was only one thing I could do. Get out my journal, of course. It only took me a few minutes of writing to remember that we actually have a beautiful lamp at the end of our driveway (a neighbor called it a Harry Potter lamp but I think it is more reminiscent of the lamp in Narnia). It was here when we bought the house and I thought it a lovely, but kind of pretentious, addition to our humble front lawn. We rarely turned it on. And then one day we flipped the switch and nothing happened. We were curious what had happened but, oh well, no great loss. For four years that lamp has remained dark.

But, this morning I pondered on my journal page if we could look at it again, maybe get an electrician to see what was wrong. Then I (finally!) moved on from thinking about lighting to considering my potential students. I pondered whether I needed to do some more last minute promotion to fill out my numbers and decided yes, BUT also to allow myself to know that if someone needs to find my workshops, they will. So I did a little envisioning exercise where in my mind’s eye my cozy space was filled with writing, chatting, connected people. And at the end of my driveway the Narnia lamp was glowing brightly.

When I opened my eyes, I thought, what the heck? I walked over to the light switch which hasn’t been touched in four years. I flipped it. From the corner of my eye, through the crack in the curtain I thought I saw a touch of yellow. Just been a car’s passing headlight?  It had to be? But no. When I whipped back the curtain, sure enough the lamp was glowing brightly in the dawn’s grayness. And I beamed as brightly as it did.

I know – such a small thing in the scheme of things. And there are probably a dozen explanations why a lamp that hasn’t worked in years should suddenly do so this very morning, but I am choosing to believe – because I do know these things happen – that envisioning is a powerful thing. For one thing, I have long envisioned our neglected “guest house” one day converted into a writing space and here it is, open and ready for students to come join me! So whatever the reason the lamp decided to light up, I will say “Thank you!”

And Monkey Mind, you can go back to sleep now because All is Well, All is Well, and All Shall be Well.

Prompt: When have you experienced a “miracle”?

Workshop info in post below and at the Events tab above.

The Authentic Voice Project

For redefinition, I was thrown back to myself, to my inner knowing… Marilyn Sewell, Cries of the Spirit


Manifestations of our thoughts. Creators of our internal messages. Words have and continue to shape history and people – not always positively and sometimes with devastating consequences. Words have an affect on us, more powerful than we can rationally understand. The words we have heard all our life, depending on the context in which they were originally and/or continue to be delivered, shape our emotional response to them.

If a word has a negative effect on you, it is time to change it. Change its personal meaning – change your (unconscious) emotional reaction. Make it have authentic meaning for you.

So, with the dawn of a new year I am announcing a new writing project: The Authentic Voice Project.

Every two weeks, on the dates of the new and full moons, I will write a post based on a word, starting with A and proceeding through the alphabet until I reach Z on December 28, 2012 (that’s actually only 25 postings/moons so I’ll double up somewhere or just skip X). The words will be “trigger” or “loaded” words (or phrases in some cases), either according to society, women, or to me personally. I will attempt to sum up the general or accepted “meaning” of the word and then re-work it to be more personal, more positive, more helpful, more meaningful and authentic – in my own voice.* (And if you have suggestions for any of these words, please leave a comment.)

Obviously, my personal take on a word or phrase will not speak to everyone. But my hope is that it will get you thinking about your own definitions of words you may not even realize have an unconscious affect on you. Please feel free to comment with you own reactions and redefinitions (or possibly guest blog here or in response on your own blog)- every person’s experience is different and equally important, and may resonate with someone else on a level I may not have reached.

Please join me on this quest for Authentic Voice!

* This idea is loosely based on Kathleen Norris’ book Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith.

Dear Fearful Ones…

I offer you another recycled post about facing Fear. I wrote this two years ago during a time of transition. In hindsight I can see that 2009 was a pivotal year for me when I was learning that trying to control life (and the emotions that arise in response to it) is like trying to catch mist. As Eliza Doolittle said:

Without pulling it, the tide comes in,
Without your twirling it, the Earth can spin,
Without your pushing them, the clouds roll by…

Let go of the struggle of trying to build wings. Trust when you jump you will grow them.


Dear Ones,

I want to tell you a story which I hope will inspire and encourage.

I quit my job this past week; wrote a letter to the Board, “effective immediately.” I came into work at 9AM intending to do my job but instead spent it packing up my small office.

Was I angry? Impulsive? Stupid in this economic environment? No. No. Maybe.

No, not maybe. And let me tell you why.

I never really wanted a job – Little Lady was starting kindergarten full time, Tator was at pre-school a couple morning a week and I had PLANS. But I got afraid. Afraid we wouldn’t make it through the winter without an extra paycheck. So, a year ago I found myself looking for a job and had a horrible time finding one. I then decided not to look and to trust everything was going to be OK; it was then I was given a job.

Although I acted out of fear to begin with, I decided not to be afraid. I made a decision not to be afraid. Goethe says:

“…the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence [Serendipity] moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamt would come his way.”

And I got a job. A job I would have created for myself if I didn’t have other plans/dreams. I have learned some valuable skills, done my job well, met a wonderful new friend, supplied the family with health insurance and winter fuel…

… and figured out that my other Plans/Dreams were not about to let me give up on them.

Ten months later Plans/Dreams have become Reality. I am officially a published writer and a certified journal-writing instructor. While I plugged along at my ever-increasingly dream-thwarting job I knew my decision to stay there was one of fear – fear of success.

So, a week ago, after a invitation to be a guest on a local TV show to talk about journaling and a positive meeting with the director of a holistic wellness center where I will be teaching, I drafted an email to my boss telling her I must follow my passion. I gave her a departure date of July 2. I saved the message in my drafts to send when I felt sure of my decision.

Last Tuesday I went to work to discover everything had changed. While the tension in the office had been extremely high over the last month as a controversial change in administration was anticipated, the accountants swarming over everyone’s files was it for me. I had bigger and better things to do. I was poised on the edge of something great, afraid to jump, and here was my shove. Although a seemingly hasty move to resign “effective immediately,” my decision was rewarded immediately.

Serendipity stepped in.

The very next day I met with the director of another wellness center and found instant warmth and acceptance. I also had two phone calls resulting in more teaching engagements and an email letting me know I was to be published again.

And all this just two days after my new office was ready!

I have dreamed of being a writer, a freelance “something” for many years. I never thought my journal writing – which I would never admit was real writing – would one day become my career. And while you may say I am jumping the gun to say that it will be my “career,” I am envisioning it, I am thinking positively, and I know good will come of it – it may look different down the line, but it will still be good.

So, Dear Ones, Be Not Afraid.

Think Positively.

Dream Big.

Envision your future.

Believe in You.

Believe in your Dreams, no matter how unreal they may seem at the time.

And most importantly, make decisions based on Authenticity not Fear.

Tell ’em Goethe sent you.

Tolerating Fear

This is a recycled post from a couple of years ago. With summer in full , hot swing, the kids are home most days of the week leaving me very little chance to write (the beach and my laptop aren’t great friends). I am yearning to write but when I do have a moment I find myself wading through the ever-deeper seas of social media promoting upcoming workshops instead. 

I have chosen this post because of some particular events this week. One: I truly wrote through some fear in my journal – and came out not only unscathed on the other side but feeling much better; and Two, Three and Four: Some amazing things have landed in my lap this week that I wasn’t even looking for after I stopped worrying about, well,  EVERYTHING! Fear is a crazy, life-blocking thing and it’s time to stomp it on the head. I have written many posts about Fear and over the next little while I will re-post them (Recycling is Good!).

Oh, and P.S. Two years later my daughter is a fabulous belly-dancer (I can boast about my own child, right?) and the only one in her class who can balance a sword on her head while standing on one foot! Fear conquered!

“First recognize that you’re afraid and slowly build your tolerance for fear…

… You may still feel it, but you become willing to bear it as you write. You keep your hand moving, you stay there, you move closer and closer to the edge of what scares you.” – Natalie Goldberg, Thunder and Lightning

I have been working on an article for the past couple of months. It’s a biggie for me – the first one for one of the “Glossys” – and I am petrified. First I had to write the query and that scared the bejeezus outta me. But I wrote it and it was accepted. Toe in water. But now I have to swim, and swim damn well. The fear of writing something mediocre and having it rejected has me swearing never to call myself a writer again. I admit I am afraid that I’m not really a writer.

My daughter starts a belly dancing class tonight but she’s scared. What if they don’t like me? What if they laugh at me? It hurts my belly when I hula-hoop – won’t this hurt too? What if I can’t do it right? I try to convince her that everyone has to start somewhere (and sometimes hurt somewhere, like those en pointe ballet dancers who suffer through bloody toes for the love of their craft). I ask her, do you really want to not try this just in case you will have a bad experience? Why are you scared about something you don’t even know about yet?

Um, Mom? Do you hear the words coming out of your mouth? Maybe you need to be having this pep talk with yourself!

Natalie Goldberg was of course referring to writing in the above quote, but isn’t there a message for us all, for our life?  Get close to fear and experience it, feel it. Splash around in it. Like the ocean, its chill eventually becomes tolerable, even enjoyable. Run into a cold sea enough times and you get to know it will get better. Fear turns to “Frust” (faith + trust). And once you have faith there can be no fear.

Recently I experienced some Serendipity that slapped Fear right out the door and allowed Faith back in.

Anxiety and exhaustion over self-promotion, high-achievement, perfectionism, and self-doubt found me standing at the sink blubbering what-ifs over the dirty dishes. The lack of response from one particular cold contact and my insatiable need to save the world ten workshops at a time had triggered the melt-down. I was overwhelmed by all the possibilities and by my own potential to make a difference. What if I was missing opportunities to help people by not following up on every collaboration suggestion? Was I failing at my work by not contacting all the non-profits in town? It was suddenly all too much.

The networking and marketing was taking too much time and producing far too much stress. My name and work was getting known. So, I decided to let it go. To let people come to me.

And they did.

Four days later two lovely ladies walked in to the coffee shop where I was running an informal writing circle. They were from the very non-profit that had unintentionally instigated my fears. And the most amazing thing is that they weren’t there because they had received my email but just because they had seen my brochure somewhere and thought my work would be a good fit for one of their projects.

As I write my article for the “Glossy” I am thoroughly submerging myself in the Fear of it not being good enough. As I slowly let go and just write for the pure joy of writing and spreading my message, the Fear becomes more tolerable and starts to feel a little more like “Frust.” I have to trust that I do have talent and something important to say, and the faith to know that even if the article is rejected it is not a personal failure – rather a lesson for the next time.

Prompt: What are you afraid of? What are you willing to tolerate in order to move to a place of acceptance and growth?