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Creative Process Fierce Encouragement (for Writing + Life) Writing Groups

Thoughts on Conformity & Cherry-Picking

February 12, 2017

“I attribute much of [my] self-discovery and resultant empowerment to Jena. To the space she has always offered me and so many of us. A space inspired but not overly scripted, a space accepting and not conforming.”

Emily Nichols Grossi wrote these words late last week, in a beautiful statement about returning to the Get Your Muse On group.

For a long time, I thought I was cheating by not bringing more scriptedness and convention to my work as a coach and a group leader. It felt easy, and therefore surely I was getting away with something, right? (Like the board chair who once told me, when I was a 20-something executive director of a nonprofit with a newborn trying to find my way, that I was “cherry-picking.” Ouch.) Starting to trust that this was actually a legitimate and sincere approach to connecting with and supporting people’s growth continues to be profoundly freeing.

Yes, some folks bring all kinds of forms and evaluative exercises to the table. I am just not one of them. For me, showing up as myself, being real, and trusting my intuition — these are my power tools. I used to be afraid of using them, as if they might cause harm to myself or others. But what I’ve found is that the more harmful thing is to deny what I’m good at. When I do, I make it about ME instead of about YOU. Ironically, this is where my ego gets all in a twist. When I’m just here doing my thing, that’s when I can get out of the way and just appreciate the gift of calling this my work in the world.

So here is what I want to say to you:

Trust the parts that come easily to you and question the ones that are always a struggle. It doesn’t have to be hard to “count.” Fuck conforming. Come be you and write from that place. The world needs your voice now more than ever. Go ahead, pick all the cherries.

* * *

Do you love writing but long for a place to practice and play with other fabulous and non-conforming humans? Come get your muse on. Madhuri Pavamani, author of the paranormal romance trilogy “The Sanctum” (St. Martin’s Press) calls the Muses “the best place on the internet.” Join us today.

Uncategorized Writing Groups

It’s All Made Up: Freewriting Fiction

October 27, 2016

chandelierAre you tired of your own stories? Keep writing about the same stuff? I get it! But guess what?

It’s All Made Up

One of the stories I tell about myself is that I suck at fiction writing.*

But from time to time, I do it anyway. And you know what? It’s fun. It’s freeing. It’s intriguing.

Whether you suck at fiction writing or just want an infusion of prompted inspiration and the camaraderie of a small group of readers, this new group’s just for you.

JOIN ME FOR three weeks of freewriting fiction.

Before I get into the details, let me tell you the back story.

***

“Want to go to an open house?” Aviva had just hopped in the car after an appointment one Saturday morning. We sat in the idling car not a block away from the realty sign that had caught my eye. “Ummmm, sure?”

We turned onto Sparrow Road and saw the “For Sale” sign about halfway down the dead-end street. It was a pale pink Victorian with white trim. As we reached the front door, a disembodied male voice called us to come inside.

“Hi, I’m Ross,” said the lanky realtor, who gestured first toward himself and then at the living room, as if introducing an invisible friend at his side. A vase of long-stemmed red tulips on a side table by the bay windows caught my eye. I introduced myself and my daughter as he handed us an info sheet. Though I’m not in a position to buy a house at the moment, somehow it didn’t feel entirely fake to be there. Well, ok, maybe it did. But I work my ass off, and a girl can dream.

Ross invited us to look around and said he’d be available for any questions. Aviva and I moved through the sitting room with the tulips and the crystal chandelier, then down a hallway that led to a cozy sunroom. The wood floors looked smooth and worn, like they had stories of their own to tell. Threadbare, faded cotton blankets in layers lent the south-facing daybed the appearance of a hundred-year nap. I could see myself falling asleep there like a cat.

When we stepped up into the adjoining kitchen, I think we gasped simultaneously. Holy mother of God, it was magazine-worthy: Funky, old, and rustic meets modern, hipster, and elegant. Adjoining deep porcelain sinks, exposed brick, a big attached pantry, windows overlooking the deep backyard. “If this house could talk…” I thought to myself, listening for its whispering bones as we made our way upstairs.

Four smallish bedrooms and what was clearly a new half-bath greeted us, all situated around a generous landing with a subtle slope.  Aviva and I immediately sussed out who would get which room, and I zeroed in on the smallest one in the back of the house as my Virginia Woolf space. A room of my own is among the things I miss most about owning a home with some “extra” space, and it remains high on my list of “someday” house wishes.

Mind you, I write all of this from the warmth of my kitchen in a beautifully maintained and cozy three-bedroom apartment; we have great neighbors, an awesome landlord, and more than enough room. So it’s not that I’m “complaining” as much as I’m letting my imagination of its leash. And when I do that, oh mama does she ever like to run free and sniff far. The craziest things catch her fancy, and sometimes I can’t find my special whistle that calls her home. She always comes back eventually, though.

Aviva and I completed our tour with dropped jaws — the house had a fully heated, two-story STUDIO space behind it that our accountant would love (perfect for the writing, yoga, and meditation workshops and retreats Mani and I will lead together!). We’d learned from Ross that the house was, as of that very morning, under contract. It was ridiculous that I felt disappointed, as I have neither the paperwork nor the down payment to make an offer. But rational emotions fled the scene as I looked around one last time, wistful that we’d never call this place “home.”

It took a few days before my imagination came bounding back home from her adventures. I’d been sitting around, just a tiny bit mopey maybe, working my way back to gratitude for the home we have rather than focusing on the one we don’t. Not a day goes by that I don’t feel  crazy thankful and amazed that we are able to pay rent here, cover our bills, and even have the ability to save, spend, and give away a little each month. The fact that my work as a promptress and writing coach afford us the ability to live in what is not an inexpensive town is a true blessing, one of the biggest of my life.

I went from bummed to inspired as I looked through the photos I’d taken during the open house.

Narrow closets covered in peeling wallpaper.
A single old-fashioned shoe, left behind.
The blur of exposed brick.
A circle of tree stumps.
An old cupboard.
A rusty letterbox.

Anything could happen in these rooms.

These fragments from fake house hunting could call anyone’s imagination in so many different directions — which is why I decided to use them for a brand new writing group. Because creating fictional stories sounds like way more fun than wanting what we don’t have or getting stuck telling the same stories we already know inside out.

Doesn’t it?

It’s All Made Up: Freewriting fiction

A three-week online writing group for people who love fiction and a) are totally intimidated by writing it and/or b) could use an infusion of inspiration and good company on your writing journey.

WHAT WILL WE WRITE ABOUT? 

I have no idea. Anything could happen! That is kind of the point.

Through a combination of guided freewriting and other creative exercises on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, we’ll try our hands at freewriting fiction three times a week for three weeks. Working with a trusty timer (10 minutes per freewrite) and evocative visual prompts, we’ll let our imaginations take the lead, running roughshod over our well-worn true stories and introducing us to moments, characters, and incidents we never before dreamed up, much less wrote down.

*What if I suck at it?

Sucking will not only be acceptable in this group; we will CELEBRATE SUCKING. The goal will be to loosen up the reigns and make some shit up, without worrying about submitting and publishing, without stressing about who’s better than us, and with good cheer and great fun.

group participation

There will be TWO sections of this group, each limited to TWELVE participants. These groups will be top-secret, so you don’t have to worry about anyone else seeing what goes on in that wild imagination of yours. Participation is optional, but it’s also super fun so I hope you’ll go for it.

will i get feedback?

Yes and no. We won’t be focused on craft so much as generous reflection and encouraging comments on each other’s forays into made-up scenes and scenarios. That said, if you find that you want feedback on a specific aspect of any of your writing, you are welcome to ask for it.

DATES:

Monday, November 14 — Friday, December 2

COST:

With the intention of this group being widely inclusive, I’m once again offering three different (confidential) payment tiers, based completely on the honor system. Please choose according to an honest self-assessment:

  • Tier 1: Folks who have to scrimp, squirrel, and save to participate in this kind of group.
  • Tier 2: Anyone who’s moderately comfortable and has some disposable income.
  • Tier 3: Those of you who have the ability and desire to pay it forward.

:: $63 ::
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:: $126 ::
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:: $189 ::btn_buynow_lg
We are going to have so much fun in these groups. Join me!

Dive Into Poetry Uncategorized Writing Groups

Too Cold for Ice Cream, Just Right for Writing

September 5, 2016

flavors

I saw this the other night while getting ice cream with Aviva, and it captures *exactly* how I feel about my website menu. Not all the groups are offered all the time!

So what IS currently on the menu?

If you’re itching to write and could use the encouragement and camaraderie of a supportive space to both hush your inner critic and keep you accountable to showing up, here are what scoops are available in the next two months. It might be getting chilly for ice cream, but it’s a perfect time of year to get your writing on.

1. Between the Sheets: Write Your Stories of Desire, Intimacy, and Pleasure
Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. Delicious choice.

This is a 2-week group I’m co-leading with my Inky Path partner, Cigdem Kobu. The theme has to do with stories of desire, intimacy, and pleasure — but like all prompts, they will take people in many directions. This group starts (and registration ends) TODAY! As in ALL of my groups: The writing is completely confidential, and the vibe is supportive and completely judgement-free. It’s $99.

inkypath.com/between-the-sheets-guided

2. On the Corner: Writing at the Intersection(s)
A new, experimental flavor, combining the tried-and-true tradition of writing prompts with swirls of exploring our identities, inside and out.

This group starts Monday, September 19 and ends Monday, October 10. Prompts will be 3 days/week, and all relate in some way to the many “parts” of ourselves, how the world sees us, what we’ve abandoned and what we want to reclaim or change. I’m super excited about it and would be so so thrilled for you all to join me. There are 3 payment “tiers” — $63, $126, and $189 — on a kind of honor system.

jenaschwartz.com/writing-groups/on-the-corner-writing-at-the-intersections

4. What If You Knew?
A classic flavor that will whet your appetite for more. Writing, that is.

My next 2-week group, with the original 10 prompts I ever wrote. I’m offering this one again as a kind of 2-year anniversary of promptressing and doing this work in the world. If you’re looking to begin, deepen, or expand a writing practice, please join me October 10-21. The cost is $99, though I’m often told it’s priceless.

jenaschwartz.com/writing-groups/2-week-writing-practice

3. Dive Into Poetry: October 1-31
If you’re like me, and want to sample everything, this might be the group for you.

A month-long poetry celebration, with 3x/week poems & images from me, to use as springboards + inspiration for your own poems! This group is straight-up great fun. No previous poetry-writing experience is required; in fact, the whole idea is to get to play. And it’s only $28.

jenaschwartz.com/writing-groups/national-poetry-month

**

Writing together and freewriting are ways to blast through the toxicity of comparing ourselves to each other. To show up to yourself, to what’s true, to back then and to right now and to someday. To practice being good to yourself. To quiet the voices telling you “too much” and “not enough.” To see what happens when you don’t have to be good.

We’re all 32 flavors and then some.

Come have a taste. 

And how could I possibly resist wrapping this up without some Ani?

Uncategorized Writing Groups

You’re Grounded

August 31, 2016
Photo: Matthew Smith

Photo: Matthew Smith

From crushed velvet to Krishna Das tickets… I’m starting to think about Mani’s birthday. It’s both fun and problematic to want to give someone THE WHOLE WORLD. She turns 39 the day after our 2nd anniversary, and I think we’re also going to try for another weekend getaway the last weekend of September.

The truth is, I started this as a Facebook post but it’s really about being grounded. Oh, I love feeling grounded. But this morning, the only image that came to mind was of a plane. A grounded flight. Bummer. A plane that cannot take off. A plane that is stuck on the ground. A plane that will not be transporting you somewhere new, so there you are stuck in the airport for who knows how long. You go to the bookstore and look at the shelves and think about all those people who’ve written and published books. You being me, me being the plane.

Yes, this morning, I got bowled over by ungroundedness. By letting things shift and change. By not knowing exactly how things will go. I want to busy myself with thinking about Mani’s birthday and the truth is I’m down today, a little sad, a little unsure, a little needing something I’m not saying which is to win the $1,000 a week for life scratch ticket, I bought 2 of them today after riding my bike up to school to lock up Pearl’s bike, since she forgot the lock.

I feel ungrounded in my freewrite but at this point I’m just going with it rather than ditching it and coming back to write something better later. There might not be a better. There might not be a later.

What if, what if. That’s like the bird call of ungroundedness. But sometimes the plane not taking off might actually be the best thing ever, because otherwise you know, you never would’ve met that amazing person who changed your life who was also stuck in the airport that day. I love stories like that.

My what ifs so often come down to money, and then it’s easy to think, oh, it’s nice having structure and colleagues and all the grass is greener stuff. But then I remember, no, it wasn’t nicer. What’s nicer, what’s grounding, is hearing Ben Sollee playing in the other room, where she’s back on her feet at least for part of the day, and I’m sitting here typing and trusting and soon will pick Aviva up at the bus after her first day of 8th grade which is the beginning of the last year of middle school.

What’s grounding is being their mama. What’s grounding is not being scared, or being scared but feeling for what’s solid and here, letting her give me reiki, then taking a rest together because we want to and we can. What’s grounding is a good cry and telling the truth and being loved. Still being loved, even then. Especially then.

**

This was today’s 10-minute freewrite from my current 2-week writing group. From time to time I like sharing these here, because this is where I practice not only writing but showing up — unedited and imperfect and real. (I did add paragraph breaks and a few italics.) 

Fierce Encouragement (for Writing + Life) Uncategorized Writing Groups

To the Lighthouse

August 4, 2016

lighthouse
It started with Airbnb. We looked in Maine, in New Hampshire, in Massachusetts, and in Rhode Island. We looked in Brooklyn and Manhattan and Boston. We ooohed and aaahed over gorgeous whole houses we can’t afford, and read for fine print about pets and shared spaces. Finally, we found the one: A simple little house near a cove, in a fishing village known for its art and quarries and creativity and kindness and lighthouses. Three nights away, next week, just me and my love.

Big deal, you say? Why yes, it is a big deal. Six months ago, our Valentine’s Day getaway to The Porches Inn in Williamstown, MA left us positively giddy. We had such a wonderful time at Mass MoCA the next day, and felt like a million dollars having gotten out of dodge for the first time in almost 18 months, not counting hospital visits like this one. At the time, Mani was able to bring Ensure with us, so we didn’t have to worry about what she would eat.

You know how some foods, or even songs or shows or books, will forever remind you of being sick? Whether you had a flu or a serious or chronic illness, you might never want to see another bowl of red jello or rice cereal again. Well, that’s how Ensure is for Mani, I think; it saved her life and we are forever grateful for its calories and nourishment. But a few months ago, she started reacting to it, and now it’s off the table.

As we’re able to start getting out more, little by little — the kind of little by little that in a moment will become all of a sudden, a pattern so many things in life follow — the food thing is a bit tricky right now. But is that going to stop us? Give me a hell, no. We just can’t do hotels for the time being, or day trips. What we can do is rent a place with a kitchen, bring our pots and pans and coffeemaker and air purifier, find a grocery store when we get there, and set up shop. And that’s exactly what we’re going to do next Monday night until Thursday.

We looked at the calendar a few days ago and realized that next week is the ONLY week in the coming months when I will not have multiple writing groups going on. So many exciting things are coming up — both my own groups, two of which begin in August and a third in September (One Story: Ten FacetsWorrier to Warrior, and On the Corner: Writing at the Intersections), and the fantastic two-week writing groups I’ll be co-creating and co-facilitating each month this fall with my wonderful partner over at The Inky Path.

So I had a come-to-Jesus moment (are Jews allowed to have those?) when I realized that if I’m going to keep loving this work, and I really, really want to keep loving it — I need a break. Not a 24-hour break like Shabbat, but something away from home, with just myself and my wife and maybe a book or three. I almost never unplug, and my nervous system is feeling the effects of this. The whole “Physician, heal thyself” adage is so, so true; if I don’t cherish, protect, and nurture my own creativity, how on earth can I support others on their writing journeys?

I’ve been a bit jumpy lately, enough so that I’ve actually started writing about it in my head. Flashes of moments when I was nervous or anxious or scared from many different ages and stages of life, illuminated as if by heat lightning in a summer storm and just as quickly dark again. It’s as if my body is remembering something, or perhaps sending me a message: It doesn’t have to be this way. You are safe. Everything really is ok and will continue to be ok. You swam through scary moments and made it across. There’s enough money to pay the bills, so much love I have a surplus, and I can run and sing and swim and make love and form complete sentences and eat stale cheerios as a late-night snack and life is good. It is.

And.

There is more: I am risking burnout.

There’s a bit of pride swallowing in sharing this, but that’s exactly why I am writing it here (this I realize literally as I type the words). Or if not pride, fear perhaps — if I am not superwoman, will people still want to be in my writing groups? If I am not the energizer bunny, will people still want me to be their coach?

Oh, Jena. Really?

I know the answer, I do. But it’s still vulnerable, as if I’m “admitting” something by saying I am depleted at all. It’s like I’m afraid people — you — will somehow take it personally. Again, though, I write the words down and they stare back at me with a different message, and suddenly something like a cackle kicks up. It starts low then becomes howling laughter: You think it will matter if you disappear from Facebook and the internets for a few days? HAHAHAHAHAHA.

OK, OK. I get it. I get it! It’s completely ridiculous. Nobody thinks I’m superwoman! I’m the only one carrying that shit around, and newsflash: it’s bunk.

Tomorrow, four women will show up in Amherst to Unfurl for the weekend. Pearl went around with me doing some last-minute errands. A mason jar with newly sharpened colored pencils sits on the windowsill; a giant bag of M&Ms and a stack of inspiring writing books wait by the door. I will show up tomorrow as my whole self, my real self, my honest self. Not with a fake smile, not with a false front, and not with a sugarcoated story. I will write alongside the others as the timer counts down, about what we want, about trust and deep inner wisdom. I will eat heartily and laugh and oh! I just remembered I forgot to buy tissues. Note to self: Buy tissues.

And then on Monday, Mani and I will pack our bags and drive east to the ocean, to fill our noses with salt air. I’ve forgotten a bit what it’s like, to just be me — without kids, without interacting, without engaging with the world through screens big and small.

Nothing will fall apart if I do this; in fact, things may come together in beautiful, unanticipated ways. So I am going to go away with my love, to take pictures of lighthouses — and to remember that my own light will be brighter for the “going dark.”