“So, what do you do?”


I met someone recently and attempted to do that small talk thing, which, as an introvert, I generally find as pleasant as a paper cut to the eyeball. But just when I was expecting that boring old “So, what to you do?” question  – she shocked me by asking me how I “spent my time.”

I loved that. That had such a sense of depth to it. Because none of us need to be defined by our jobs.

Since bailing on my acting career and starting over, I’ve done a lot of things. I’ve been an animal shelter volunteer, voracious reader, homemaker, student, yogi, wife, blogger, dog mom, bills manager and a quilter of quilts for all my friend’s babies.

But none of those really fits what people are looking for when they meet you at a party and ask what you “do” – they want to know what you get paid for, it’s become a short hand for easy categorization. It’s all about money and striving and external perceptions of success.

I’ve always found it an uncomfortable question. When I was an actor, that answer tended to take the entire conversation hostage, and instead of being able to quietly listen to someone else, I’d have to say for the 764th time that yes, Mrs. Doubtfire was fun to film. Then, when I became a writer, the answer didn’t get any easier, because I didn’t feel like I was allowed to say that I was a writer. Often, creative jobs don’t come with official credentials. Claiming to be an artist is sometimes greeted by a head tilt and an eyebrow raise that might be an appropriate response to a toddler claiming to be a seahorse.

Even for those who have more traditional jobs, titles hardly tell the whole story. My husband’s job in marketing doesn’t communicate his soft spot for iambic pentameter or his devoted yoga practice. So why do we often tend to start, and stop, with that one limiting question?

All my life I’ve wanted to contort myself, Cirque du Soleil-style, into a neat box that is easily labeled and categorized. I’m now beginning to wonder why such a restrictive confinement and sharp corners look so attractive to me. Because in truth, all the various ways that I “spend my time” now, make me feel like I am making a more significant contribution to the world than my old acting gig that came with the paycheck and the prestige.

When did contribution to the world become only measured in dollars? Why do we think we understand someone if they say that they are an interpretive dancer or a construction worker or a banker? Their job might tell us something superficial about them, but isn’t it more meaningful to know that they they raised foster kids or speak Italian or won a Frisbee golf championship?

Maybe your job is your passion. Maybe it’s not. Maybe it fulfills you, maybe it doesn’t. A job is merely one aspect of a person. You can live a meaningful life, one full of passion and purpose, even if your job is less than ideal. There is so much more to life than work and it doesn’t have to define who you are.

Even though I absolutely love what I do, being a writer is not the whole story of who I am and what my life is about. When I was an actor, I let that job define my entire identity – and that didn’t go that well for me. I’m trying to do it differently this time.

So, this is just a sincere thank you to those who do not define another’s worth by what they fill out on their tax form. And a gentle reminder to myself that asking someone what they “do” might not be reflective of their entire being.

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An open letter to artists (I’m sorry, but it’s for your own good)

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“Throes of Creation” – Leonid Pasternak

Dear writers,

I love you. You are my people. But please, please – stop whining about writing.

I recently read the introduction to a book that started with the author going on for eight pages about how hard it is to write a book. At the end of it, I felt like telling her – good God, don’t write a book then! Go knit a sweater or paint something or join a soccer team! Do something that makes you happy! Why do I want to participate in something that you call a misery?

But this seems to be a trend with writers.

“Writing is hard work and bad for the health.”

 – E.B. White

“A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than other people.”

– Thomas Mann

“There is nothing to writing. All you do it sit at a typewriter and bleed.”

– Ernest Hemingway

I don’t mean to be calling bullshit on Hemingway, but let’s face it – no one complains like writers. No one can translate suffering into such beautiful prose.

But I have a problem with it. It perpetuates the myth of artists as fundamentally tortured and mentally unhealthy. Personally, I want the world’s artists to be okay, to stay alive and vibrant and pour their joy into their work. I don’t want to think that the book I hold in my hands nearly sent you over the edge. And I certainly don’t want my own life’s work to be the death of me.

Why don’t we see contractors or veterinarians flinging themselves to the proverbial fainting couch over their vocations? Why are there no quotes about scuba diving instructors torturing themselves for their work?

I have a theory. I think it’s because as writers we worry that we need to earn our place in the world. If we tell everyone how hard writing is, we can justify the importance of our work. We think that suffering means we are serious.

It’s time we let go of that.

There is nothing glorious in pain. Let’s stop inflicting artistic misery on the world and thinking that makes our work seem vital.

Our work is vital.

Art is vital.

You know how I know this? Because the first evidence of humans making art is forty thousand years old. The first evidence of any sort of agriculture is only ten thousand years old. This means, as a species, we thought about making beautiful, essentially purposeless things thirty thousand years before we thought about coming up with a reliable way to feed ourselves.*

Yes, writing can be hard. It is emotionally engaging in ways that can be uncomfortable. It makes you dig deep into your own stuff, finding harsh truths and accessing universal struggles. You are inventing entire worlds. But it is also among the most cushy jobs on the planet. You’re not tending to leprosy victims in a rural clinic or calling the parents of a car crash victim. You are not picking strawberries for twelve hours in the blazing sun.

The world will not have a greater appreciation for our work if they think we are dragging our souls through the mud for it. We don’t have to be martyrs to do impactful work. Scars are not badges of honor.

Everyone has a voice. How amazing is that? So, let’s use it. Proudly. Let’s enjoy the work that we chose to do. Let’s sit down to our work and pour our love and enthusiasm and passion on to the pages. Let’s ooze delight all over the keyboard. Let’s ditch the insecurity and believe that we earned the right to tell our story, just because we are alive. Let’s not contribute to the negativity of the world – the tortured writer is such a cliché. It’s boring.

And if writing is really that painful for you, if the vulnerability of creative expression really does send you to bed, paralyzed with endless writer’s block and shivering with agonizing self-doubt…maybe it’s time to close the Word document do something else.

There are plenty of other jobs available that are filled with rejection and pay next-to-nothing.

*for more on this, check out Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book Big Magic

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Speaking events in Elizabethtown, PA


Pennsylvania, I’m coming to visit! I’ll be at Bowers Writers House at Elizabethtown College this weekend!

There will be three public events:

Dinner and Conversation with visiting author Lisa Jakub. Friday Oct. 16th, 6-8pm (wherein I try not to talk with my mouth full.)

You Look Like That Girl book signing. Saturday Oct. 17th, 2-3pm (wherein I try to spell your name correctly.)

Reading and Reflection: a special evening with visiting author Lisa Jakub. Saturday, Oct. 17th 7:30-9pm (wherein I read and reflect and try to make it special for you.)

For more information and to reserve your spot – click here.


Last call for my online writing class!


My online memoir class starts this weekend – want to join us?

This class is open to all levels – from experienced writers to those who have only written emails. All we require is passion and enthusiasm. You’ll learn a lot about memoir craft, we’ll do fun exercises to open the creative floodgates and I’ll offer feedback on your work. We’ll read great writing samples and totally nerd out about words. It’ll be awesome fun.

Here are some of the topics we’ll be covering.

  • Class #1 – Where to begin: on beginnings, middles and ends
  • Class #2 – The Hero’s Journey: structure and story arc
  • Class #3 – “Truth” and dealing with the real life people you write about
  • Class #4 – Living like a writer: deadlines, scheduling and writer’s block
  • Class #5 – Go deeper: show don’t tell and finding your voice
  • Class #6 – Covering a few Ws: Character, dialogue and settings
  • Class #7 – What’s next? Pitching, queries, agents, publishing and editing

The class will be held ONLINE – on seven Sunday afternoons:

Sept. 27

Oct. 4, 25

Nov. 8, 15

Dec. 6, 13

 From 12 – 2 pm PST  (3 – 5 pm Eastern)

I hope you’ll join me! No grades, no stress, just great information and motivation for your book. Sign up here.

(And if you want a little writing tip to get you started – here you go!)

Want to hang out with me and write?

I’m teaching an online memoir writing class with Writing Pad! It’s open to folks with all levels of writing experience – you just need to be courageous enough to want to share your story.  This is going to be a fun, supportive environment where we can all work together and create something wonderful.

The class will be held ONLINE – on seven Sunday afternoons: Sept. 27, Oct. 4, 25, Nov. 8, 15, Dec. 6, 13

 12 – 2 pm PST  (3 – 5 pm Eastern)

I hope you’ll join me! Sign up here.

(And if you want a little writing tip to get you started – here you go!)

The art of stealing: books I loved while writing mine


Since my book was published, I’ve been getting a lot of book-ish questions.

I was recently giving a talk to writing students and they asked me what I like to read, and what I think writers should be reading. I found myself saying, “I think it’s important to read great work and then steal it.”

I quickly backtracked – okay, I’m not encouraging you to ‘steal’ as in ‘plagiarize.’ I mean steal like…borrow another author’s voice and try it on. See what it looks like with your own spin. A voice is just like a dress, it’s not going to look the same on me as it does on Heidi Klum. But learning how writers we admire use words and tone, and then seeing what that looks like when reflected through our own unique lens, can be really beneficial.

This doesn’t just apply to writing. Inspiration about how to live well and work better is all around us – it can come from anywhere. We get to observe the world around us and decide what aspects we want (or really don’t want) in our own lives.

Here are some books that inspired me while I was writing my book.

Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim – David Sedaris

I love to read anything and everything from this man. I attended his reading once, so it’s fantastic to hear his cadence in my head as I read his books and New Yorker articles. His attention to detail and ability to find side-stitching humor in mundane circumstances delights my soul. Because of this book, my book got funnier.

Stories I Only Tell My Friends – Rob Lowe

Hands down the best celebrity memoir I’ve ever read. He tells great stories and is honest and I loved it. I found it interesting that he was able to stay throughly engaged in the actor’s life – something I personally was not able to do. It’s the perfect example of people needing to pursue their bliss – whatever that is. Because of this book, my book got more candid.

A Prayer for Owen Meany – John Irving

This one is a classic for me and I reread it often. The characters are what bring me back. They are developed and flawed and confusing. They are real to me. I wonder about how they are doing now. Because of this book, my book got more interesting characters.

1Q84 – Haruki Murakami

This was my first Murakami book and I freaked out over it. It was so strange. I’ve always been worried about fitting in and being seen as “normal” and this book was wacky and totally okay with it. Such a fun, crazy read. Because of this book, my book got a little weirder.

The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt

I fell madly in love with this one. The detail of the narrative was exquisite and I felt every detail of that world in all five senses. It was all so vivid to me that I still miss that world, and I have an enduring literary crush on Theo, the main character. Because of this book, my book got more detailed.

Liz Gilbert – TED Talks

“Liz Gilbert is your spirit animal” – my husband.

When I was writing, I read The Signature of All Things, which was beautiful, but it was really her talks that got me. Her TED Talk on creativity broke my world open. I think every writer/artist/creative soul should watch Your elusive creative genius.

Still Writing – Dani Shapiro

A lovely little book about writing, meditation and presence. Some of my favorite things. My writing process got more easeful, as I remembered to breathe through the challenging parts and remember that it’s all part of the bigger picture. Because of this book, my book got more spiritually connected.

On Writing – Stephen King

One of my very favorite books about writing. Part practical instruction, part memoir, this book ignites my soul on those days when sitting down in front of the computer feels too painful to even contemplate. Because of this book, my book got done.

We are constantly evolving and changing as human beings, whether you are a writer or a painter or a dental hygienist. It’s a wonderful thing to keep reassessing what you want for yourself and your work – because that is always in flux. That’s the beautiful thing about life – we get to start over, every day, and decide who we want to be.

Books are an incredible way to explore your options, and the world…and you don’t even have to leave your couch.


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Embrace your weird

Me. At my wedding.

Me. At my wedding.

I’ve always felt like I was weird.

I’m goofy and dorky and awkward. I make faces like that when I’m supposed to be a composed bride.

Sometimes people stare at me. There is pointing. And whispering.

I didn’t go to school the way most other people did. I had different experiences and I didn’t know things that other people knew about. I didn’t know how to play hopscotch or jacks, I knew how to play poker and craps – those were the kinds of games we played on set.

I was super insecure about that. I liked my job as an actor, I enjoyed working, but I also felt ashamed because it made me different.

I felt like I’d never fit in anywhere.

But I’ve realized that the vast majority of people feel like they are different for one reason or another. They think that they don’t fit in. That they have to hide something about themselves, so that other people will accept them.

But the problem with that fear is that it isolates us and keeps us in situations that stifle our talent and true purpose.

That thing that makes us feel weird is actually really important. That thing can make us powerful. Because if we can learn to embrace that, we can do anything. If we embrace our weirdness, we can be our true selves and bring our own unique perspective and experience to the world.

Hiding and feeling ashamed just doesn’t work. The desperate desire to fit in only makes us invisible.

I was always terrified to share my writing because I was worried that people would tell me that I sucked…and I didn’t know if I could recover from that. But I realized that I’d never be happy if I didn’t at least attempt thing I was most passionate about. It got to the point where it was more painful to stifle what I loved, than it was to be criticized for it.

After I started this blog — that really scary thing actually happened. There were some people who told me I sucked. Anonymous Huffington Post commenters said all the terrible things I worried people would say, that I was washed up and irrelevant and a bad writer and it made me cry and feel miserable.

It felt like a punch in the face.

But it didn’t kill me.

Because, actually, it didn’t matter what they thought of me. There are plenty of other things those people can read on the internet. There are lots of things about cats wearing sunglasses and endless Buzzfeed lists — and I hope they enjoy those more than my work. Eventually, I stopped crying and went back to my desk and I wrote more. Because my job is to write. Because it’s none of my business what those other people think about me – it matters most what I think about me.

That’s what happens when you embrace your weird.

When you get comfortable with your weird, then you no longer feel the need to pick on someone else for theirs.

In embracing my weird, I wrote my book. I started giving talks at colleges, high schools and conferences. I brought to light everything that I was once ashamed of. I talked about how I never graduated from high school, that characters in books were my best friends, that I struggle with anxiety and panic attacks.

I’ve gotten to the point where I would rather fail than quit – and that’s when cool things become possible.


(By the way, this is pretty much what I talk about when I do workshops and talks. If you think your school/conference/company might want to hear more about embracing your weird – contact me – LisaJakub108@gmail.com)
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Fighting the demons: typos

The missing the: just one of the many typos in my book

I started acting when I was four years old and by the time I was five, directors had nicknamed me “One Take Jake” because I tended to be well-prepared and didn’t usually need more than one take. I’ve always prided myself on my ability to get in there and get it done. Get the shot. Nail it the first time.

But this means I give myself very little wiggle room when it comes to making mistakes.

I could not be more thrilled that my book is being published, and the day it went to print was overwhelming/exciting/terrifying. Then, a few days later, I started recording the audio book. In recording the audiobook and reading each one of my words out loud – I came face to face with my demons.


I found typos.

I had read through the final version of my book at least four times, but some typos got through. My husband read it, but some typos got through. My publisher’s editor and proofreader read it, but some typos got through.

How have I dealt with this discovery of typos?

I decided I didn’t want to publish my book anymore.

I decided I didn’t deserve to call myself a writer.

I decided that the years of hard work that I put into this were worthless because the book is completely ruined.

I’ve been essentially having a temper tantrum, like a toddler who dropped her ice cream cone. I’m frustrated that I didn’t catch these typos and I’m worried that readers will think I’m dumb. I want to run and hide in shame. But there is nothing I can do about these typos – the book is printed. If we do another printing, we can fix them, but there is simply nothing else to be done about it.

That’s the thing about life. We can’t always go back and fix our mistakes. Sometimes we just have to surrender to whatever it is, even if that means accepting that we are disappointed. But being disappointed is not going to kill us.

The Serenity Prayer might be cliché at this point, but it is so very valid. I just make a slight edit to it:

God grant me the serenity to accept the [typos] I cannot change; the courage to change the [typos] I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.

I have a hard time accepting the perfectionist label for  myself because I don’t feel the need to be perfect all the time. I don’t care about my hair or makeup or clothes, I don’t care if my house looks like the Pottery Barn catalogue or if I have whatever thing is the cool thing. But I do care about my work. It’s the thing that I feel most vulnerable about. It is an expression of my soul, and apparently, I want it to seem perfect.

Brené Brown talks a lot about perfectionism. It is essentially the idea that if you are perfect and have everything under control all the time, that you will escape criticism, blame and ridicule. It’s a shield that we carry around, thinking that it will protect us. But all that shield does is weigh us down and keep us from really being seen. It doesn’t protect us from suffering at all, it just masks our authentic selves. It’s different from healthy striving, which is internally focused – perfectionism is driven by the fear of what other people will think.

It’s pretty clear which of these I’m dealing with.

I have caused myself a massive amount of suffering over these damn typos. My perfectionism is causing pain, not protecting me from it. And when I look around me, there is not a single person in my life that I love because they are “perfect.” There is no one I respect more because they seem to do everything right. If anything, the people I love and respect are the ones that screw up and laugh it off, the ones who do things in a way that works for them, regardless of what anyone else thinks.

So, of course, I’m still going to publish the book. It just has some mistakes in it. I tried my best, but I’m not perfect. I’m not One Take Jake anymore. I’m just me. I’m messy and I’m whatever is the opposite of a Grammar Nazi (a bunny rabbit who takes creative license?) and I don’t write perfect, typo-free sentences. I write sentences that are full of life and passion and sometimes an extra word gets thrown in with all that excitement, or I forget to add an article. And although I do know the difference between chose and choose – that one got by me, too.

I hope you enjoy the book, anyway. Because typos and all – it’s just me.


If you want to know more about Brené Brown’s work, check out The Gifts of Imperfection. I reread it in two days during my Typo Breakdown Spiritual Awakening.

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Pondering profanity

I was probably eight years old the first time I swore in front of my parents.

I was playing outside and saw a garter snake. I love snakes and – being the stupidly enthusiastic animal lover that I am – I said, “I love you, snake, come here” as I rushed to pick it up. The snake wisely turned and bit me. My affection quickly extinguished, I dropped the snake and screamed “You bastard!”

(Now that I think about it, this was an accurate foreshadowing of my love life through my early 20s.)

My parents, after a moment of wondering if we needed to go to the emergency room, started laughing.

I learned something really important that day: swearing is funny.

Swearing is funny for a number of reasons, but mostly it is funny because it is unexpected. It jolts us out of the regular flow of things. It wakes us up.

I love swear words for this simple reason — I love words.

Words have long been my closest friends. I learned to read when I was three years old, and since I started working as an actor and traveling for shoots when I was four, books were more commonly my companions than other children. Whenever I was lonely, I could dive into that literary world that was populated with characters who would always be there for me. I have a deep and everlasting love affair with the written word.

That’s why I refuse to believe that there are words that are “bad.” I just can’t think of them that way. (Okay, maybe except for the word “slacks” which is just a terrible word and it should be banished from the English language entirely.)

But words themselves simply can’t be good or bad. They just are, and that’s the beauty of them. They can only be infused with our intent. They can be used in ways that are beautiful or ugly or heart wrenching or enlightening. The only way I won’t use words is to degrade other people, so words that are commonly used in that way don’t show up in my work. But as for the rest of them, they are fair game in all their magical combinations.

I know some get offended when I swear. People say that I’m not a “lady” because of my language (don’t even get me started on that) and I think some people forget that I’m no longer 14 years old and so I can say whatever I’d like, which is one of the many perks of being a 36-year-old person. But I figure if I can drop the F bomb in front of my grandmother and she never flinched, no one else should get overly worked up about it.

I don’t swear because I can’t think of a different word. It’s not out of ignorance or a desire to annoy anyone. I use profanity as a punctuation mark. It brings the reader fully into the moment of the piece. It’s meant to express how I truly feel, the words come from the depths of my heart out of my fingertips and onto the keyboard. And sometimes what comes up is a curse word.

I use them sparingly, because with overuse, any word can lose its power. I use them thoughtfully, because I choose every word I put on the page with the loving care that one might use to tend a rose garden.

And I know that it makes some clutch their pearls in horror, but the simple truth is that I swear because I love my garden of words.

Even the words with thorns.

***This post was inspired by an episode of Pop Culture Happy Hour. If you are not listening to it, do yourself a favor and go download immediately. It’s pure joy.***

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The writer’s bloodline

When I was six, I learned how to tell a good story by sitting on the diving board of my grandmother’s pool.

Every night, Gramma would swim laps before bed. Her best friend would come over and as the two of them sliced slowly through the water, I told stories. I was obsessed with a stone owl statue that stood guard over her garden, and I chronicled his adventures with the toads and butterflies and squirrels.

As I perched on the edge and dangled my toes in the water, I played with story arc and character development.

I leaned about suspense and foreshadowing.

I learned how to utilize supporting characters to bring out the essence of your hero and how to use humor to illuminate an essential truth.

I learned how to be a writer.

After the swim, Gramma would critique the story as she toweled off, telling me the parts she loved and the parts where she lost track of the plot line. She never coddled me, never gave praise when it wasn’t due. I’d nod and thoughtfully furrow my brow and considered how I could refine the owl’s story for tomorrow night’s swim.

My Gramma knew how to use words. She came up through the newspaper world. She was one of those gutsy young broads of the late 1940s – working long hours as an editor at the place she reverentially referred to as “The Paper.”

She lived at the Y, and wondered if the fellas in the newsroom were saying she looked tired when they told her she had “bedroom eyes.” One day, with shaky hands, she marched into her boss’s office and demanded to be paid on par with those men. After that, they respected her more and started offering her cigarettes. She tucked them away in her purse, saying she’d smoke them later. She didn’t like cigarettes, but her boyfriend did, and the man who would become my grandfather couldn’t afford his own smokes.

Her love of words traveled through the bloodline and directly into my heart. However, unlike me, her spelling was impeccable. She slaughtered me at Wheel of Fortune.

In so many ways, she made me a writer.

And I am so deeply grateful. For that, and a million other things.

My grandmother is not here anymore, she passed away two weeks ago and I’m still learning to talk about her in past tense.

But the stone owl from her garden now stands watch over mine.

And he reminds me of where this writer’s soul of mine came from.


Me and Gramma, a few months ago, visiting a winery in Virginia. One of my favorite days ever.