50 words to use instead of authentic

I'm tired of sounding like everyone else.

Like any industry, the online creative entrepreneur world has plenty of buzzwords. One of the most popular buzzwords is "authentic." It's right up there with "inspire" and "empower" on the overused words list. What was once a bold, fresh idea is now an empty buzzword that can blur your message with the masses. 

Is there a better way to say what you mean when you say "authentic"? 

Maybe you're trying to convey originality, honesty, or transparency. Maybe by saying "authentic" you really mean certifiable, professional, or ethical. 

Instead of using the same tired phrase, try saying exactly what you mean. Don't say "our products are authentic" when you can say "our ingredients are natural." Use plain language instead of keeping customers confused by buzzwords, jargon, and vague adjectives.

Being clear is more important than being catchy. 

Here are 50 words to use instead of "authentic."



  1. original 
  2. real
  3. honest
  4. true
  5. transparent
  6. trustworthy
  7. credible
  8. believable 
  9. proven
  10. sound
  11. supported
  12. tried 
  13. valid 
  14. powerful
  15. reliable 
  16. moving
  17. faithful 
  18. telling
  19. certain
  20. ethical 
  21. fair 
  22. direct
  23. genuine
  24. just 
  25. open
  26. plain
  27. reputable 
  28. sincere
  29. straightforward
  30. absolute 
  31. positive
  32. established
  33. surefire
  34. natural 
  35. gospel 
  36. simple
  37. certified 
  38. first
  39. pioneer
  40. primary
  41. bright
  42. pure
  43. clear
  44. complete
  45. total 
  46. heartfelt
  47. live 
  48. stable 
  49. tangible 
  50. essential 

Should you call yourself a coach?

"Copywriters, like lawyers, are advocates for the client. Just as lawyers use all the arguments at their disposal to win cases, so do copywriters use all the facts at their disposal to win consumers over to the product." - Robert W. Bly

I love the word "coach." Maybe it's because I was a jock in high school, or maybe it's because I think "coach" is right up there with "teacher," "policeman" and "firefighter" on the list of modern day superheroes. Whether you're in charge of little league or giving life advice, I think to be called "coach" is an honor.

Unfortunately, my clients don't always see it that way. They're fashion and design coaches, spiritual coaches, fitness coaches, writing coaches, and more...But they're scared to say that out loud and own that title in their branding copy.

They call themselves "spiritual mentors" or "sales gurus." Instead of giving readers a crystal clear impression of who they are, what they do, and how they work, they hide behind "creative" titles.

Calling yourself a coach can feel intimidating because coaches are go-getters who take charge. They're leaders — of teams and ideas. Coaches train champions. Coaches are influential, strategic, and sometimes, iconic. Oprah invites coaches onto her show! Those are big shoes to fill.

See, I believe you should own the skills you bring to the table when someone hires you. You don't need a special certification or course — the evidence is in your experience. 


If you're helping others be their best selves, you're a coach.

If you teach others how to improve a skill, you're a coach.

If you're helping others change, you're a coach.

If you're helping others learn, you're a coach.

If you're helping others make decisions, you're a coach. 

If you're encouraging others, you're a coach.

If you're challenging others, you're a coach.

If other people look to you for leadership and advice, you're a coach.

Calling yourself a coach is smart writing. No one is Googling "fitness sorcerer" or "food guru" — they're looking for a health coach. Google algorithms don't exactly award creative points, and neither do your customers. They simply want to find the solutions to their problems. By saying exactly who you are and what you do, you make the "next step" easier for your audience. 

Tell me, what hangups do you have about the word coach? How did you choose your business title?

3 things to know before hiring a copywriter

Think it's time for a copywriter? Thankfully, real life is not like English Comp — you can hire someone to turn your big ideas into an A+ piece of work. Small business owners and soulpreneurs hire me for all kinds of reasons.

Some are great writers, but they need help organizing and prioritizing their messages. Others hate writing and want to avoid it all together. Others, still, have mixed feelings about writing for their business, so they need a confidence boost and fresh pair of eyes. 

Whether you're a seasoned salesperson or rookie entrepreneur, you could benefit from working with a professional writer. But to get the most out of your time with a copywriter, you need to do a little homework.

Here's what you need to know before hiring a copywriter


1. Why you're in business
What beliefs shape your business? During our time together, I'll help you sift through the many ideas, inspirations, and experiences that make up the DNA of your work. But while I can help refine and communicate your values, I can't define them. Only you can do that. 

2. How you're making money
Know what you're selling, how you're selling it, and who you're selling it to. A copywriter can help you position your offerings and services in a unique and clear way, but I'm no business coach (at least, not today). I can't design or decide the right business model for you. As the expert of your business, only you can do that. 

3. Who your audience is
Much of your time with a copywriter will be spent talking about, thinking of, and writing for your dream customers. Who is your ideal client? And I'm not talking about the hypothetical figure in your wildest business fantasy... Who are you selling to right now that you absolutely love? What about them makes the exchange special, for both of you? What motivates, inspires, or moves them to buy you? If you don't have a real life dream client yet, hold off on hiring a copywriter until you do. 

Being Boss Miami


I checked into The Palms Hotel at 5 A.M. Last minute deadlines, redeye flights and the anxiety of a new adventure left me bleary-eyed and barely functioning. I just wanted a bed. But as cleaning crews worked quietly around dimly lit lamps, I decided to skip fresh sheets and a dark room for an ocean sunrise. Outside, the light was pale. I walked past calm pools, empty beach chairs and lifeless tiki hut bars looking for a gate to a boardwalk, picking up the pace with every step. I swung the gate open, almost at a run as my bare feet thumped hard against the wood until I hit sand.

Ahead was the ocean, an empty beach, and the most perfectly soft sunrise.

I felt like I was exhaling for the first time in a long time.

I made it.

This was Being Boss Miami.


Being Boss is a podcast for creative entrepreneurs, hosted by Emily Thompson and Kathleen Shannon. Being Boss Vacations are for listeners who are ready to turn online connections into a real life, offline wolf pack.

I couldn't wait to travel again with these amazing and fierce boss women just six months after Being Boss NOLA.

Being Boss Miami was exactly what I needed after a long, hard winter. I said goodbye to the corporate world in November to run my own online business as a content creator and manager for small businesses. The work, thankfully, has been non-stop. But life as an online soloprenuer can get lonely. It certainly gets tough. And some days, in the thick of it, I can forget why doing this was so important to me in the first place.

Worst of all, I forget that I don't have to do this alone.



That's what Being Boss vacations are about. They're an opportunity for creatives of all kinds — coaches, yogis, writers, designers, branding experts, developers, photographers — to come together. We share personal stories, professional lessons, and encouragement. We talk business over organized roundtables and disorganized dance floors. We party on yachts, stay up talking until 3 A.M., and laugh until our stomachs ache. We come bearing all the weight of our businesses and dreams and spend the weekend talking it out, dancing it out, or (sometimes) crying it out.

Because while we can play it cool at cocktail parties and dinner dates with friends and family who don't quite "get" how we make money, we cannot coast through conversations here. Instead, we have to show up — fully, for real, and for each other.


Brene Brown once said that "courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen." Showing up is messy, vulnerable, and deeply uncomfortable. It's also necessary for business, life, and growth. It's about asking tough questions, learning new things, and being incredibly honest. Showing up is having  the courage to be kind. It's giving everything you know away for free.

At the end of the day, showing up isn't just about you and what you need. It's very much about the people who need your words, hugs, laughs, and encouragement as well.

Showing up grants us the opportunity to say and hear "me, too" — the most soul-soothing and life-giving words we can ever exchange.



So what else did we do on this Being Boss vacation? 

We listened to a live Being Boss podcast recording and attended a master class on creating digital products.

Some of us spent hours on the beach while others explored local culture in Little Havana.

I swam in the ocean with Kathleen Shannon and told ghost stories under a full moon with Emily Thompson.

We watched LEMONADE  in awe.

We listened to Prince on the beach while oohing and ahhing over Merry Beth Myrick's jewelry.

We explored the Wynwood Arts District and drooled under gorgeous murals.

We read tarot cards and shared secrets.

We Periscoped and partied our faces off.

Image via Jenny Karlsson

Image via Jenny Karlsson

Image via Jenny Karlsson

Being Boss changed my business. Hell, it changed my life. I have the privilege of working as a writer, making friendships and hanging out on yachts. This is my career. I'm living the dream.

Maybe you're reading this and wondering what we know that you don't. Let me promise you: information isn't the catalyst that will change your life— connection is. 

Pack your bags, book your tickets, and show up. Send emails, ask questions, get vulnerable and give it all away. Make friends with your idols. Reach back and help those just a step, or many steps, behind you.

Show up, show up, show up and don't ever give up.

That is what Being Boss Miami was all about.

Image via Jessica Bramlett



A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats // Emily Thompson

Being Boss Miami - Finding Your Tribe // Jessica Bramlett

Being Boss Miami // Jenny Karlsson


Why Beauty Is Boss // Being Boss

2 Easy Ways to Increase Traffic to Your Site // TIME

15 Writing Tips From Today's Top Entrepreneurs //  Green Goose Freelance Writing

 Kismet Crafted // Branding Copy

Cashmere Suitcase // Branding Copy

How To Become A Better Writer (Without Actually Writing)


"Gosh, I wish I could write. I'm a horrible writer."

"You're so good with words."

"I was a good writer in school....I just never write anymore."

When I share what I do for a living, I usually hear something similar to the statements above. Everyone wants to improve their writing skills. Some just want to write better emails, others want to write novels. No matter what you want out of writing, chances are your life would be better, richer, and clearer with improved writing skills. Your emails would elicit desired responses. Your website would bring in dream clients. Your article would go viral, or your "thank you" card would heal an old wound. I'm going to show my nerd here and quote Professor Dumbledore from Harry Potter, who said “Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic."

That being said, I know writing is fucking hard. I write anywhere from 1,500 to 3,000 words a day. Some of what I write is magic, a lot of it is shit, and a good portion is somewhere in-between. You become a better writer by writing, of course, but that takes time and tears and the occasional bottle of wine. We don't always have time for that. Luckily, you can become a better writer by engaging in activities that have nothing to do with putting pen to paper, or pounding relentlessly on a keyboard.

Below are some of my favorite ways to become a better writer (without actually writing).

 1. Read Fiction

Entrepreneurs and small business owners love reading self-help books. Some of us only read self-help or business-related non-fiction material. While learning how to improve your coding skills or personal brand is great, exclusively consuming this type of stuff is killing your writing. Why? Well, for starters the writers of these books aren't writers by trade or training. They're venture capitalists or world champion boxers or yogis or nutritionists. They wrote a book, yes, but with the massive help of editors and content coaches. Typically, they aren't master storytellers by nature. So, a lot of what you're reading is helpful but it isn't exactly moving prose. As Michael Pollan once said, fiction writers are better writers. So if you want to become a better writer, in all facets of writing, then read all facets of writing. If you want to write better, then read better. Read challenging fiction, or corny cult fiction. Read poetry. Study how iconic writers fashioned their own sense of style, or how they structured a sentence. Learn what shitty writing is, and what makes it so. Because while it's much easier to become a published writer today than ever before, writing well is not a given, and we need to know what true prose looks, sounds, and feels like before we can create it ourselves. You can only write as well as you read.

 2. Take A Music Lesson

The second best thing I ever did for my writing was learning to read and play music. Good writing operates on rhythm, and mimics the visceral rhythms of our bodies, like our breaths and heartbeats. Michael Pollan once said that "writing is music." I believe it. We often hear how musical poetry is, and how the greats mimicked the music of their time in their own writings. Langston Hughes infused jazz into his poetry. But we don't often hear is how that same principle applies to prose. Learning music can teach you how to build anticipation and action not just through words, but through rhythm. You'll learn how to pack a punch with a staccato sentence. You'll learn how to send messages through your sentence structures, because it's there that really evokes reactions in your readers. You'll learn how rhythms piece together to create what feels like an effortless flow to the listener (and reader). Create depth and dimension in your writing by blending musical truths into gorgeous prose, and that can start with a simple music lesson. (Shh...I want to take violin lessons in 2016.)

 3. Practice Public Speaking

In high school, I was a state champion prepared public speaker. Competitive public speaking was like Dance Moms but for speakers — adults coached us for months, allegiances were formed to knock out competitors, and judges were influenced to stack points in favor of high profile schools. Highly competitive arenas make me salivate with excitement and adrenaline, so I threw myself into making the top three in my division — public policy. Specifically, my subject was agricultural public policy. I was competing with hot topics like GMO foods, organic vs. conventional agriculture, and animal welfare vs. animal rights. Winning an audience (and judges) over required a unique blend of science, passion, perception, and pure performance. We had to stand and deliver.

I wrote my own speech (unheard of, adults usually did the writing) and delivered it from memory, TED-talk style. No matter how many times I delivered in front of legislators or business leaders, my stomach still turned in knots, my hands shook and my heart raced. I would eat an entire box of Pepto-Bismol chewables before going on stage. Once, I threw up while waiting on deck. It was exhilarating and life-altering, and it was by far one of the greatest things I've ever done for my own writing.

See, it's one thing to write; it's another thing to stand and deliver on those words. Speaking is a magnifying glass on your sentence structure, cadence, style, conviction and passion. What is weak on the page will absolutely fall apart in spoken delivery.

I think writing without ever speaking is like reading music without ever hearing it played aloud — you can pull it off, but you're really missing the magic. You're also missing the mastery. When you write, stand, and deliver, you deepen your understanding of words and their ability to impact a crowd or a single person.

To practice publicly speaking your written words, try writing out a response to a common question you receive. It can be anything from "How are you liking your new job?" to "Where did you find that?" Whatever. Choose a common and simple question, write out and memorize your answer. Learn it by heart, and deliver it when the moment arises. Listen to yourself, study the reactions. Were your words believable? Did they fall apart when said aloud, leaving you stumbling over the sentence? Study, write, speak, rewrite. Do this over and over until the written words sound so believable, it's as if you spoke them casually for the first time in a conversation.

I do all of these things, and often. Still, sometimes my writing is clunky or my sentences fall flat. It's a process. But I do know that the good has been made great thanks to the things I learned through reading poetry, playing music, and delivering speeches.

Now go out there and read some fiction! And tell me, what are you struggling most with in your own writing? Organization was my longtime enemy. What is your writing enemy?

Here's How to Find Your Writing Voice


Hey guys! This post first appeared in The Wild Series — letters for creative entrepreneurs who want to improve their voice, content, and vibe of their business. You can get the letters here "Find your voice. Write how you talk." This is the overwhelming message of, well, every creative entrepreneur on the internet. I agree. But how do you know what makes your voice uniquely yours?

Writing well requires a blend of outside influence and individual expression. There will always be 100,000 other blog posts on your chosen topic. So it's not what you write, but how you write it.

In the same way two painters can use the same popular, overused color palette and create dramatically different works of art, two bloggers can speak on the same topic and still create fresh content.

Below are some tips for finding out how to define your writing voice so you can create truly you copy.

1. Style Quirks

Quirks are tiny, consistent style choices that pop up in your writing. Maybe you tend to start transitional sentences with a preposition (not a great idea, but we'll get to that in a moment) or you love ending a passionate paragraph with a punchy one-word sentence. These tiny style choices result in hugely different, deeply individual cadences that help define your personal voice.

To identify the quirks that mark your writing as uniquely yours, print out a newsletter or blog post and begin circling the syntax patterns you notice. You cannot use, maximize, or develop what you cannot see. Once you identify these quirks you can begin to improve them and use them to your advantage.

2. The Rules You Chose to Break 

Mediocre writers follow all the rules they were taught in high school english. Great writers break the rules in ways that elevate their personal voice and cut through confusion and clutter.

Your voice and your message are far more important than any grammatical or structural formality. Fight for your message. If that means slaying some rules in the process, then so be it.

3. Intangible Passion

You will only fail as a writer if you fail to write about the things you care about. This week I received a magazine article critique by my mentor. Before he delved into my style choices or the story's structure, he said this:

"Two intangibles really shine through the entire piece – 1) your respect for the subject and 2) your passion for the story. You can always tell when a writer doesn’t care about their story. It shows in their writing. You cared and it was reflected."

Passion is the X factor of writing and speaking. It is what separates quality content from constant internet noise. Passion is the greatest, truest, most reliable well of inspiration.


If you don't really care to write about systems or fear or any of those "en vogue" entrepreneurial topics, don't! Write about what excites you, or even makes you nervous. You'll know it’s right when you feel that creative anxiety— nothing evolutionary feels comfortable. There is nothing more exhilarating and humbling than being identified not by your name, but by the quality and distinctiveness of your work. We all know what Jackson Pollack's art looks like, or what the Disney experience feels like. But what if your audience could identify your sound with the same assurance? A consistent, individual voice is a lasting one.

Hit 'reply' and let me know what you're struggling with in writing right now. Let's chat.

Stay Wild, J.

Magic in New Orleans


New Orleans "How do you know each other?"

We don't. 

"What brought you to New Orleans?"


At least, that's how most of my initial conversations went in New Orleans. Seventy five strangers, all women, gathered in New Orleans for a mini weekend vacation. Most of us had never met in real life but we shared a few things in common: creativity, entrepreneurship, and a willingness to show up and be seen and heard by people just like us.

We are writers, designers, health and wellness gurus, photographers and makers that just so happen to listen to Kathleen Shannon + Emily Thompson on Being Boss, a podcast for creative entrepreneurs. We connected online but wanted to experience the magic of meeting people just like ourselves, in real life. So by train, planes and cars we flocked to NOLA.

New Orleans + Magnolias

I admit, it seems a little weird to go on a vacation with people you don't know. But there's a lot of power in seeking out and sitting down with people just like you. We all used the same words, laughed at the same things, and asked the same questions. We had similar struggles and aspirations in our businesses. I didn't need a buddy or sidekick...I was 100 percent comfortable no matter whose table I sat at or what group I took a walk with. Going with the flow never seemed easier.  Every woman felt like a sister, an aunt, or a friend I was meant to meet in this lifetime.


Frenchmen Street, New OrleansIMG_2571

While some of us were full-time entrepreneurs, others were hustling a 9-5 and a side business (like me). For the first time in a very long time, I didn't feel abnormal in owning a side business. I came to NOLA half-expecting to be exposed as "not enough" by all these other amazing women and business owners. Instead, New Orleans was the wash of worthiness I needed. I wasn't alone, weird, or behind in my business. I'm doing it right, and right alongside so many others. I didn't feel ashamed in the least to say "I don't really have it all figured out right now...But I'm getting there. And I'm making money doing what I love."

I wasn't the only hippie girl with woo-woo ways in New Orleans. As we wandered the notoriously mysterious and mystical French Quarter, we stopped for tarot card readings and crystal shopping. New Orleans is a Scorpio city: seductive and haunting. When you're there, you feel like someone is with you — following you — whispering a spell with hot breath,  making you fall in frenzied infatuation with every decrepit building, drooping balcony, and dive bar. You get a sense  that something else is there, and by the time you whip around to get a better look, it's gone. Now, days after leaving, I still feel the ache for New Orleans. She becomes a ghost in your memory — a lingering energy, like a dream you can't explain or shake.

New Orleans Tarot Cards


I ate seafood for days. During one lunch, a girl who had never stepped foot in the south cried over her very first bowl of gumbo. That's how wide open our hearts were in New Orleans.

And the drinking. Oh, the drinking.  Thanks to New Orleans, my heart may never be the same. Neither will my liver.

French Quarter, New Orleans

Le Meridien, New OrleansBourbon Street, New Orleans

All in all, it was a trip I will never forget (well, for the most part...I forgot a few hours on Bourbon Street). I came back to all my client work with a bigger heart and a greater sense of possibility. As creatives, we are the makers and doers and rebels of this world. We are messy and wild and imperfect. But the work we do matters, no matter how small and "on the side" it may seem. It's vulnerable and scary to own your life as a creative. But, every vulnerable and scary moment propels us to create and serve in bigger, fuller ways.

We are the magic makers.



Why I Wrote It: Banking on Miracles

I typically help the non-writers of this world - the scientists, the researchers, the engineers, and the doctors - weave their story into words that resonate with real people. Stories are filled with dates, facts, accolades and - more than anything else - emotion. That last bit can be hard to conjure, especially if your story is about the work you love. Before I help people sort through the timelines of their accomplishments, titles, awards, or discoveries, I have to help them sort through the often wildly diverse emotions they feel about their work.  



My latest published feature is a story about rare blood disorders and how doctors, patients, foundations, and scientists are working to combat them. Storting through the emotions of medical science, and the patients impacted, was challenging.

The assignment came at an interesting time:  I was dealing with my own frustrating and sometimes depressing health issues. I became friends with someone undergoing experimental cancer treatments. I watched another good friend go from being full of life to lifeless because of an aggressive disease. Health was weighing heavily on my mind, and this story made me feel better. I hope it give you a little hope as well.

Yet, more than anything, I hope you read it and feel invested in the outcome. Like most people, I didn’t become a champion of a problem until it became my problem. Like people who rage against the “R” word because they have a Down syndrome child, or walk for charity because a relative has breast cancer, or vehemently reject tanning beds because a significant other has Melanoma, I didn’t care about a particular problem until I had it. I didn't think about it until it was all I could think about. Your health, and the health of the people you love, is nothing until it becomes everything.

Don't wait for that scary moment, or phone call, or test result to care.

In banking-on-miracles, read about people taking crazy chances and beating the odds against leukemia.



The Hustle Never Ends

Working creatives live habitual lives and work around daily rituals. I usually wake up around 8 a.m. and mosey over to my kitchen table. I catch up on blog posts, podcasts, and vlogs. I schedule out social media for the day, eat breakfast, and answer emails that came in over night.

The truth is, I work about 45 hours a week on my side hustle that is writing for money. One client alone takes up about 25 of those hours. Being a working creative is constant. The hustle never, ever ends.

Still, no matter how much I do, I always hear an inner critic. Earlier this week a fellow creative emailed me about feeling jealous of where I was, and I laughed out loud. I'm flattered and humbled by the email, of course, but it's hard not to laugh when you realize you spent all this time thinking you aren't doing enough when someone out there thinks you're the shit.

Today I'm over at Spitfiregirl Design talking about how to be a total boss in your internship or full-time gig. I include all my favorite little nuggets from my experiences, but if I had to sum it all up to one thing I would say this: take initiative. Being perfect or ready or well-branded can, and will, come later. Right now all you need is the lady balls to begin working on what you want, sharing you work, and building a creative community. It can be messy and imperfect and full of potential - that's okay.

I get all these emails from readers who want to quit their job, or start an Etsy shop, or finally pick up the craft and talent they've ignored for far too long. All you have to do is start: initiative and enthusiasm will carry you, sustain you, and elevate your work. Just begin.

If you want to read more, head over to Spitfiregirl Design.

Every week, I'm sending out an email newsletter about the wild side of life as a working creative. You can sign up here.



The Wild Series: A Newsletter for Creatives

I've spent a long year in the thick of creating, working, and learning. About this time last spring I quit my shitty day job and threw myself into growing my brand, writing, learning, and meeting anyone who is anyone in the blogging world. It was hard. I grew calloused in spots, became exhausted, got lost a few times. But when you're on this journey as a working creative, the hard stuff is part of the adventure. You keep going, keep climbing, ask for directions. Eventually, you summit. And the view is freakin' amazing.

So what do I actually do? I do internal and external communications and marketing. I write features and personal profiles, for print and the web. I write for heavily trafficked websites like Bustle. I do editorial blogging, content consulting, and marketing copy. I write for a living, I get paid to voice my opinion and put it out into the world.

It's hard and wonderful and weird and wild all at the same time. Now, I want to share the behind-the-scense about it all.


Are you a working creative? Do you want to know more about SEO, blogging, writing, mentorship, and the grind of being the youngest person in the office? Then my new newsletter is for you. The Wild Series is a newsletter about the wilder side of life as a working creative. You can subscribe below, and I'll see you in your inbox.

Why I Wrote It: A New Journey

"I called my mom and told her I wasn't coming home," said Anna Stehle. She shared with me one of the great paradigm shifts of her life. Anna, a student at the University of Washington, wanted more time immersed in Argentina to improve her Spanish skills. So instead of returning to the United States, she postponed her flight for five months, moved out of her host family's home, rented an apartment with a couple of students from Buenos Aires and washed dishes at a local café to pay rent. Eventually she picked up a second job teaching English to locals.

When I heard her describe that moment - that once-in-a-lifetime recognition, that no-going-back place - I felt a shift of my own.  I was working a bad 9-5 job, but hearing her describe that moment with her mom - not asking permission, not feeling guilty, and full-tilt going for what she wanted - made me realize I needed to do the same. Life is short, do what you need to do for yourself right now, even if that means washing dishes and sounding crazy.

That's what Anna taught me.


Anna was somewhat of a chosen one at the Noble Foundation. I heard about her before I was ever assigned her personal profile for Legacy magazine. She was a star, they said. Interviewing her allowed me to hear all about her academic accomplishments and personal life - rising out of a national scholarship selection process, being chosen as a Scholar in Agriculture, generally kicking all kinds of ass. In the end, the thing that impressed me most about her was that phone call she made as an undergrad. She was so unapologetic about it. Imagine calling your parents and not asking permission to continue your stay in a foreign country. Not "can I stay, mom?" but instead "I'll see ya in five months."

The best part? Her bravest moments weren't anything special to her. She didn't think twice about it all. She recalled her journey as surely as if she was explaining the color of the sky, or a scientific certainty.

Right after our conversation, she left to spend a year in Brazil with other Noble employees.

I think about Anna often, and her brave phone call. She was sharp, no doubt, but I think it was her bravery that separated her from everyone else.



Read Anna's personal profile.

Other posts in the Why I Wrote It series:

Why I Wrote It: Second Chances

Why I Wrote It: Sweeney's Secret

Why I Wrote It: Sweeney's Secret

jwillingham-how-i-wrote-it2 Why I Wrote It is a behind-the-scenes series about feature writing. Feature writing is hard - from the initial interviews to the blinking bar in a blank Word document. These are stories about stories - how they started, where they took me, the people I met and why they matter.

"Eh, just wait a few. We should have one coming in any minute now," said the pre-med student. He was pacifying me, completely uninterested in whatever it was I wanted. After all, he saw this kind of thing every day. So I waited and watched through the medical station window.

The little girl came scrambling out of the lake and onto the boat dock, water flicking off her life vest and onto a nearby group of sunbathing teens. She ran/waddled - in the way baby girls do -  from the lake to the medical station door.

The medical station we stood in was a small hut, enough room for a few adults and a couple wee-sized campers. She was dripping water everywhere and it started to pool on the floor around her, soaking through my office-appropriate flats.

The pre-med student opened a mini fridge and began crafting a buffet of medical supplies - syringes, vials, antiseptic wipes, bandages. He assembled a tray, and set it on the counter. Baby girl stepped up, taking her place in a very silent ritual that I had never witnessed before. She proceed to prick, prod, and inject herself. Then she slapped a waterproof princess bandaid on a bleeding finger, made a final notation onto her designated medical chart and she was out the door again.


I grew up dreaming of going to summer camp. My fantasy was a  little less Parent Trap and a little more Heavy Weights - ditching arts and crafts in lieu of starting a cafeteria food fight or stringing a camp counselor's underwear on the flag pole. But these kids weren’t at Camp Sweeney to find a long lost identical twin or even to lose a few pounds - they came to claim their lives back from juvenile diabetes.

My day at the camp was saturated with information about carb counts, insulin, midnight medical checks and the many other nuances of managing diabetes. I could barely remember to put my clothes on right side out at six years old, let alone what my carb allowance was.

The babies told me about their craft projects, the teens dished on summer romances. They all got real with me about the financial toll their condition took on their families - big brothers not being able to join the traveling soccer league, little girls who couldn't afford to take ballet and their insulin. These campers felt like burdens to everyone, and in every situation, aside from the magic of Camp Sweeney. In every other environment, they were the constant object of adult worry and attention. Here, they were empowered to make their own positive decisions about their health.

Screen Shot 2015-02-19 at 6.30.39 PM

Many campers attended Sweeney with supplemented money from grants and scholarships. I got into a an interesting, very impassioned discussion about Medicaid and the national healthcare system with a 12-year-old blonde boy with a Justin Bieber haircut. I was standing on the edge of the basketball court, listening to him rant while he simultaneously passed a ball between his legs.

“Do you think I could be here if all I had was my parents health insurance?” He snorted in disgust before answering his own question. No.

“I wouldn't have a clue about how to manage my diabetes if it wasn't for this camp, and if it weren’t for scholarship money and Medicaid, I wouldn’t be here.”

I left the camp that day and wrote one of my best features to date. Every time I turn on the the news to watch grown ups argue about healthcare, I think about those kids. Are they taking their doses? Can they afford to come back to camp next year?

Political undertones are always present in my feature subjects. Writing these features is not about writing around the politics, but through the politics. Juveniles with diabetes aren't a platform, a barb for Fox News debates or a warm-and-fuzzy for donating foundations - they are real kids who needed our attention, our support, and our cold hard cash. I needed to make them as real to readers as they were to me on that hot summer day, pushing each other off the docks and into the water.

I think about them all the time.




Read the feature article on Camp Sweeney.

Feel like donating? You can help a kid go to camp.

Like the Why I Wrote It series? Check out the last one.

Meeting Lauren Clark

lauren-clark-4 I first met Lauren Clark in 2010. I liked her work, I knew she lived close to me, so I asked her if I could profile her for a college class assignment. I revived some of that text and brought it in to this post. 

When I entered Lauren Clark's home on Doty Street in Stillwater, Okla., the scent of dog was overwhelming. Deep growls and aggressive snorts advanced quickly, and soon I was found by two blue and speckled dogs the size of Clydesdales. Drool dripped from their impressively large mouths and smacked to the hardwood floor. At 5'2, I was sure these two had taken shits larger than me. Lauren laughed and assured me her Great Danes, London and Meridian, meant well.

Lauren gave me a tour of her newly remodeled home, characterized by chic back splashed tile, canvassed images of clients, and quirky flea market finds. A chandelier made of trinkets hung from a tree in the backyard, spoons clinking together in the wind. Lauren Clark, it seemed, had an eye for unique beauty.


We wandered around the house, discussing some of the work on display and her style of photography. She was obviously doing something right - by this time her work had been featured in The Knot, The Texas Knot and Southern Weddings Magazine. Gap used her work to inspire an ad campaign. When asked to describe the elusive "I-made-it" moment all creatives crave,  her tan freckles quickly disappeared behind a cherry blush. Even then, she was uncomfortable with the fame.

In the years following this meeting, she left the rat race - big clients, and big money - behind to focus on her faith and raising three adorably adventurous boys. Today, I look at her work and see her centeredness reflected, and I remember what she told me back then: realness and authenticity is more than an aesthetic design choice - it's a life choice as well.


We finally settled her office. Looking back, her nostalgia for a simpler life was evident: pictures clipped to chicken wire with clothes hangers, print patterns reminiscent of depression-era flour sacks creeping in to an otherwise minimal, modern office. I was there to hear her opinions on style, art direction, developing an authentic aesthetic, and client management. She was ready to dive in, but quickly insisted she had to show me a new website she discovered - a crazy little thing called Pinterest. We pulled it up on her gargantuan desktop Mac. Pinterest was in its first month of creation at the time, and the site could barely keep up with the traffic, often crashing mid-search. I went home and made an account. The next week in the university library I was on Pinterest and a girl leaned over to me to ask, "What is that? Where do I go to sign up?"

Pinterest had us, and the entire creative industry, at hello. 

Eventually, Lauren got around to sharing her ideas with me. Since that interview I've had the privilege of working with a multitude of fantastic photographers who believe in storytelling. And, of course, we've seen Pinterest change the pace of the photography industry. Whether I'm working for a client, working as a second photographer, art directing an ad, or laying out a feature article, photography is always on my mind. Photogs are a writer's kindred spirits, after all.

Later this week, I'm sharing professional photographer's tips for clients. Have a Q you want an A to? Comment below!



P.S. You can hear more testimonials about Lauren's work here, and read more about her journey on her blog.


jon-favorite-webjon-box-webjon-hands-webjon-reel2-webreel-fav-web Watching other people do what they're passionate about is the most creatively fulfilling and energizing thing I can ever do. And I get to write about it, take pictures of it, design around it, and get paid for it. And that's pretty damn cool.

Happy Friday, y'all. Go do something you love this weekend.



On Writing

Everyone, it seems, wants to be a writer. At least, that seems to be the case in many creative circles. Graphic designers, web developers, artists, makers, bakers, creators..the people who do things with their hands often fantasize about doing and making things with their words. I’m not sure where the romance of writing morphed into legend, but most people think of writing as packing up and going away to the woods with nothing but paper, pen, and bourbon in order to properly wallow in angst and self-examination. Then, a couple months later, they emerge from the forest with the next American classic in hand.

Writing is sometimes like that. It can be excessively isolating - writing is like dying in that no one can do it for you. You can dick around about it, drink around it, talk around it or work around it but you cannot pay or plead with someone else to do your work for you. It’s your task, and yours alone. You are born alone, you die alone, and you write alone. That is just the way it is.

Writing is a little moody. Moody may not be the right word, however. “Emotional” is more like it. Writing is emotional. It is heavily dependent on your own intuition and ability to absorb the energy around you, sort through it and define it and describe it and transcribe it. That is moody work, indeed. The best writers, I think, inherently absorb the energy of what is going on around them - of the people they meet and the places they visit. That is an inherent characteristic that is hard to turn off and hard to contain. It can bring a lot of grief. Writing requires a certain brand of sensitivity that isn't necessarily helpful in other areas of life or work.

Writing is harsh. Maybe not shot-of-bourbon harsh, but almost so. The hardest part of writing is understanding that you can write great words or paragraphs or entire works and that does not mean they should ever reach publication. Good writers edit themselves and others with unmerciful skill. Good writers are enemies of the ego. Good writers can write a great line and, with equal determination and confidence, scratch it completely. Good writers do this because they work for the highest good of the piece, the publication, and its readers.

That is what writing is like.


Related Posts:

On being published

Latest written stuff around the 'net:


Favorite resources on writing: 

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

Nicely Said by Nicole Fenton and Kate Kiefer Lee

The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White

First Home: Dreaming

firsthome_seriesWith what I am now calling the great migration west has come a flurry of last-minute decision making, dreaming and scheming. The best of which has been house hunting, offers and finally going under contract on our first home.

We decided that we were so, completely, one-hundo-percent done with apartment living. I didn't give a husky shit what it was going to take, if all we could afford was a 1850's renovated mining shaft on the mountain top....we were going to have a home in Colorado. I learned the hard way that living in a new and unfamiliar place is rough enough without having to deal with hearing your neighbors 3 a.m. sex sessions through a thin wall and suspicious carpet stains you can't explain. Don't even get Cory started on the size of the average apartment kitchen.

We were done. We were going to stick our flag in some ground, no matter what. It's no Aspen ski lodge but it's no mining shaft, either. And best of all? It's ours.

I'm super proud of it, especially, because I did all the hunting and financial wheeling and dealing to get this house. And some really interesting things happen when I am doing "big kid" things like this, sans husband's presence. I am almost always dealing with older white men. These guys look at me in one of two ways: a) where is your husband/chaperone, or; b) this sweet thing reminds me of my daughter/granddaughter and proceeds to do that fatherly/grandfatherly, let-me-take-care-of-you-darlin' thing. Usually, they ping-pong between the two approaches. And I ping-pong between strong-arming my way through it or playing up the doe eyes.

So when I finally made an offer that was accepted, it was a sigh of relief. I was done with the BS and could now focus on having and making a home. It's 2014 - and although some things haven't changed - I can do what many generations could not: I can own property, not just decorate it.

But I'm really excited about decorating it.

The new house has a killer brick wall and a funky, stone-stacked entryway. I day dream about dark, moody walls and rich textures - something like Sirius Black's house meets the Burrow meets the Aunts' home in Practical Magic.

apartmenttherapy_goldbright and bold Chicago apartment, apartment therapy

desiretoinspire_plumwallwork of stylist, art director and interior designer Catherine Huckerby, desire to inspire


fiber art weaving, Barbara Rourke

urban outfitters

antoinette fainting sofa, urban outfittersLulu-Frost-for-Glitter-Guide-by-Trent-Bailey-Photography-00067

home of lisa salzer of lulu frost

I can't wait to share some before and afters of our first home. I collect all my inspirations here.



Whole30: Part Two

whole30_theend Our Whole30 adventure has finally come to an end. And I feel amazing.

Around Day 20 of the 30-day program, I started to slip in a big way. I was traveling to San Francisco to, of all things, work as a correspondent for Wilton Cakes at Re:Make 2014. It was basically my job to go eat cake. So the occasional pastry, iced mocha, Guinness, or granola bar started cropping up in my diet again. While I spent the first two thirds of the program about 95 percent compliant with "the rules," that number probably dropped to 65 percent compliant in the last ten days of the program.

The interesting thing here is that of all the people I know who have done a Whole30, most are cheaters. It's just damn near impossible to afford, schedule, and maintain 30 days of complete compliance. But if you do your absolute best, you'll find yourself making better choices even when you "cheat"  - and that's not out of guilt, but rather a simple change in your taste, preferences, and the way you know your body feels after an apple vs. a fried apple pie.

Completely cutting grains, sugar, and legumes from my diet was a game changer. I didn't deal with cravings past the first three or four days. The only exception is beer…I crave beer and I'm not even a beer drinker. A friend commented that it's probably my body's way of saying "Please, for the love, just give me some carbohydrates."

But let's talk about what you really want to know: how affective is the program in terms of losing weight and changing your body. I've lost 7, 8ish pounds in the last 30 days. I haven't done a single workout, I'm not starving, I'm not grumpy or dealing with any headaches or any of that other crap that typically comes from "dieting." So I lost in 30 days what had taken me five years to put on. At 5'2, a 7-8 lb. drop is dramatic. My face is skinnier, my jeans are way loose, and people notice.

My parents did the program with me - Mom is in her skinny jeans and dad looks like he's been on a crack binge or something….he seriously looks thinner by the day. For him, it hasn't been pounds lost so much as inches - they're just melting off him. Granted, he is working out on a regular basis.

While the official thirty days are up, I think the Paleo habit will be hard to kick - for all of us. I love how I feel eating this type of food and hope to continue eating mostly Paleo - something I never thought I'd do prior to trying the Whole30.

So, should you I do it? I think that kind of depends on your general relationship with food. I think Whole30 is great if you're ready and willing to kick a bad habit - sugar, overeating, mindless snacking, etc. But only do the Whole30 if you are really at that place of willingness. If you d0 it on a whim, chances are you won't be able to stick it out through those first few cravings.

Whole30 was also good for me because I'm not the type to get into fad drinks, cleanses, Cross Fit or posting my "meal prep" on Instagram. I'm just not good with rules around fitness and nutrition in general, but Whole30 didn't feel like a hardcore commitment or depravation. It just felt logical: eat whole food, eat when you're hungry, workout when and if you want to, and lose weight.

It's as simple as that.



P.S. You can read about my thoughts on food, why I started Whole30, and my first half of the journey here.