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Writing in Groups: Frequently Asked Questions


Over the course of leading many flavors of writing groups, certain questions tend to come up from participants. Here are a handful of those.

How do I comment on people’s writing?

From the gut. From the heart. The same way you write. Maybe there was a passage or an image that startled you or shot tears to your eyes, made you laugh or gasp or brought your hand to your mouth (or forehead!). Maybe you found yourself at a loss for words but deeply moved. Maybe the writing evoked a memory or elicited a question for you. Inner critics *love* messing with us when it comes to commenting on other people’s writing. You have to be clever, they tell us. And smart and insightful and most of all, helpful. And so instead of sharing what we fear might be too simple, we shut down and say nothing. Don’t let your inner critic drive the bus. Comment intuitively and trust your responses.

What if I offend someone?

A closed writing group is a place to practice being bold and surviving the discomfort of sharing something that takes you to more honest places in your writing. Running the risk of offending someone is often a corollary to writing without self-censor (or self-censure). While posting hateful content of any kind is unacceptable, if you’re writing your own truths and someone is offended, that’s on them to sit with and, if they choose, name. But if we only share what we hope will make readers feel good, we run an even greater risk of letting fear win (not to mention the likelihood of lackluster writing).

I’m all over the place. How will I know what to write?

One of the wonderful things about freewriting is that we can start anywhere. One of the best places I’ve found to start is right here. Literally right here and now. Over the years, I would not be surprised if 50% of everything I’ve ever written begins with the words, “I am sitting…” Locating ourselves in space and time gives us a point of entry, and from there — if we keep the pen moving — we will meander and discover what else awaits us. Knowing is not a prerequisite for writing practice; it’s one of its most powerful byproducts. Be willing not to know and your trust of the process — and yourself — will naturally deepen.

I’m afraid I won’t commit.

As soon as we change the rigid rules about what “counts,” the question of commitment can start to shift. These rules tend to be excuses, and excuses are usually fears in disguise. Take a look at the fears underlying your resistance to writing (I won’t stick with it, my writing will suck, I’m not a real writer because… I always/I never…, I’m way out of my league, what if _____, my family would shit a brick if…). Then spend some time considering some alternative perspectives. What if “committing” to a writing practice meant showing up for even “just” five or ten minutes. What if you gave yourself permission to suck? What if you could write without apology or explanation? What if you knew you could choose how and whether to share your words beyond the safety of a small, supportive group? What if you took a gentle risk and didn’t have to have the next steps all figured in advance?

Bottom line (for today!)

Writing is an intensely personal endeavor and an intimate process. Learning the contours of our own creativity means feeling around in the dark.

One of the beautiful things about writing in a group is that we get to practice doing that together. We do this by starting, by which I mean showing up, stepping in, and seeing what happens. Writing in community — be it in-person, online, or a combination of both — can mean the difference between sticking with it and getting stuck, not only because we are more likely to hold ourselves accountable when other folks are involved, but also become we encourage each other along the way. Others see things in our writing — and in us — that we are too close to to notice. We experience firsthand that we are not as alone — or as wacky — as we think.

Margaret Mead’s words come to mind: “Always remember that you are absolutely unique. Just like everybody else.”

Have questions about writing that I don’t address here? Leave a comment or give me a holler.

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In Pursuit of Magic (or Not)


It wasn’t until I stopped pursuing magic that magic finally started pursuing me. Isn’t that always the way?

And yet even once you know it’s the way, you still can’t do it on purpose, because magic is resistant to contrivance. And so you just have to live and try to forget about it as best you can, and then maybe — just when you’re least expecting it — magic will happen and you will wonder how you didn’t see it coming.

Magic, so unassuming, dressed down as if for casual Friday at the office rather than glammed up for a girls’ night out. Magic, less glitter and more grit. Magic, that invisible force that is part faith, part fairy dust, part boots on the ground and hands in the air, part soil and part air and so much water and a thing that can happen to you on any day of the week.

Magic, when I pursue her, ducks and covers. She really does. I get scared that she’s gone forever but she’s never left me for good. Magic says, trust me. Magic says, wait for it. Magic says, stop looking so hard. Make dinner for your kids. In fact, make dinner for yourself. Eat. Sleep. Work. Love. I’ll come around. I’m never not there.

You see, magic talks to me.

Maybe magic is another word for angels. Maybe magic is what happens when people come together for good, or part for good. Maybe magic is just two syllables for things we can’t explain, but I think it’s more than that. It’s a special word; writing this makes me want to look up its etymology.

Of course, religions of all kinds have poo-poohed magic. But that’s not where I feel like going with this. I’m more into the yeah, bring it on, baby kind of vibe today. Magic and mojo go together for me, and like I said, when these are missing, I can get scared. Like I’m lost.

But then I go back to the first paragraphs, the first words, the abracadabra of “let there be light” and how “abacadabra” itself is ancient Aramaic for “may it be so” or something like that. How cool is that? See? Bible magic even. And what I mean by go back is this: If I look back on just about every twist and turn of my life — all of which are preceded by the twists and turns of my parents’ lives, and their parents and their parents back and back and back, none of it could’ve been anything short of magic.

After all, I’m here, right?

And that has GOT to be something like magic. And when I said no, no more, no more false magic, no more forcing magic, no more hoping for magic, no more willing magic, no more telling myself something is magic when everything in my body and soul are crying for freedom and truth and something else — that was when I laid it all down.

I can’t do this alone, I said to the empty room. Sobbed, actually. So many times. And something, every time, has carried me through those moments all the way to this moment. All the way to safety and butterscotch blondies and the chance to live and love another day. If that’s not magic, I don’t know what is.


An unedited freewrite from in my newest 2-week writing group, which opened today. What’s on your writing radar this fall?  

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Fall 2017: What’s on the Radar for Your Writing + Life?

Picture this: You’ve been circling around for some time now, and feel ready to tune into air traffic control for the best place to land your words on a page. Maybe you’re a bit nervous and could use some reassurance that indeed, you can do this.

Below, you’ll find several landing strips of varying lengths. What they all have in common is this: Fierce encouragement and gentle guidance as you steer your aircraft to a safe landing. 

We may write by ourselves, but we get to land together and there are so many ways to do just that! Have a look at what’s on the radar this fall, and know that you belong on this sacred ground of the writing life.


The Short + Sweet Landing Pad

Two-week online writing groups are perfect for anyone who wants to begin or reboot a writing practice. With a new prompt each morning and by setting a timer for 10 minutes a day, we give ourselves carte blanche permission to write “the worst Junk in America” (Natalie Goldberg’s timeless words). Kick the inner critic out of the cockpit and remember why you love writing in the first place.

Next group: “Signs” | August 14-25 | $99 | Register
Size limit: 12

Additional fall groups TBA


The Long and Leisurely Landing, for Women Only

Jewels on the Path is designed for a small number of women who want to delve more deeply into a particular writing project or goal. Whether it’s resurrecting a blog or making steady progress on a manuscript, this group will provide a steady rhythm for your work to unfold and provide accountability and friendship as you deepen your own creative process. Women writers only.

Fall Session: October 2-December 22 | Three options: $126/$249/$449 per month | Register
Size limit: 12


The Water Landing

Dive Into Poetry is a quarterly pool party where lapsed poets, experienced poets, and poetry lovers get to convene in a fabulously inclusive and playful space for an entire month of practice. Now in its seventh season, this group remains an all-time favorite gathering of old and new friends.

Next group: October 1-31, 2017 | $31 /$62 /$93 | Register
No size limit


The Room of Your Own Landing

The Unfurl Retreat is making its way to rural Wisconsin! Spend three nights in a quaint and cozy farmhouse with a room of your own. Heavy on the being, this retreat is an opportunity to decompress, exhale, laugh, eat, sleep, and listen to our own still, small voice — the one that can so easily get drowned out by all the engine noise.

October 12-15| Single Farmhouse Room (2 remaining) | $900 | Register
Size limit: 10 (almost full!)


The Real-Time Landing Strip

Shitty First Drafts is a weekly Zoom-based group where we will write together and comment on each other’s shitty first drafts in real time.  Two private coaching calls and an intimate setting all make this a particularly powerful chance to chip away at perfectionism and get some drafts written that might otherwise never see the page. 

Next group: October 30-December 22 | Three payments totaling $499 | Registration page coming soon | Contact me to to be notified 

Size limit: 6


Year-Round Ways to Keep Your Writing + Life Grounded

Get Your Muse On is a year-round private community where we love the shit out of each other. In this secret Facebook group, each week includes intention setting, exclusive writing prompts, and invitations to reflect on what we’re learning as we go.

Always open | $25 monthly or $250 annually| Register
No size limit

Private Coaching | From a single session to an ongoing relationship entirely devoted to your growth as a human who writes, see what opens up when you make time to explore your fears, ideas, goals, and stumbling blocks.

Packages and a la carte options | Sign up here

Manuscript development + editing | If you have a manuscript-in-progress and want a partner who will bring fresh eyes, perspective, suggestions, and edits to help you bring it to completion, I’d love to hear from you. I have a successful track record of working with authors who’ve self-published collections of poems, creative nonfiction, and novels, and generally only work with one editing client at a time. Let’s discuss your project and see if it’s a good fit.

Cost customized to each client | Contact me to schedule a time to chat!


A Note About Money + Mutual Responsibility

Please note that if money is a barrier, I make every effort to work with you to make all of this accessible no matter your income bracket or current financial situation. Just ask me and we’ll see what we can work out together.

If you would like to contribute to the ongoing Community Writers Fund, which makes it possible for me to offer fully-funded spots to lower-income individuals for whom groups like these are unaffordable, you can do so here.

In addition, every time someone signs up for any of my groups, I donate an item to a local food bank.


“Thank you for the compassionate, caring and safe space you hold here for me, for all of us here, to tell the hard stories. I know it’s how I will grow.”~ Juli Lyons

“Never have I felt so befriended: by the page, by a group of fellow writers, by a teacher and coach. Jena provides a lovely mixture of inspiration, invitation, and validation. And then she throws in something else, something wonderful and ineffable which I can only describe as magic.” ~ Katrina Kenison

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“There are days we live”

There are days we live
as if death were nowhere
in the background; from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.

— Li-Young Lee, “From Blossoms”

There are days we live

we live the days the days pass us by we pass each other by we pass by windows we pass through doors we pass through moods we pass the salt we don’t eat meals together we pass the kids’ stuff back and forth we pass gas we let it all hang out.

We pass by roadside vegetable stands

where asparagus is called Hadley Grass where flowers so full they’re verging on obscenity hang from rusty hooks we pass through countryside landscapes windows down tobacco barns and storm clouds and air thick with impossible weight of all the grief we’ve not let bury our joy we pass over into joy.

We pass riverbanks we pass school playgrounds

old cemeteries and painted window boxes we pass stop signs and hospitals and we pass through all the times we wanted to lash out at life we pass karma and the smiling faces of saints who walk among us we pass the homeless woman who stand in the median on Route 9 her skin darker by the day we imagine track marks on her arms, withdrawal or overdose we pass her a dollar or three we pass the ATM to get cash.

We pass streams of ancient chants

we pass stories we pass saliva we pass hope we pass patience we pass it along we pass it back we are impossible we are here being and what I want to say is

What makes you blossom?

What I want to ask is

How can you think anything is impossible?

What I need to hear is it is really ok

to stumble to forget a peach to miscount to miscalculate to fall to let go to let down to stop smiling to stop striving to stop worrying to stop proving to stop stop stop. Stop.

That is the impossible and that, too, is the blossom

I long to devour. All I want is to close my eyes in the new hammock swing, to be fed cold peaches, to stop clenching my teeth, to sit back. And here is where resistance comes rearing its head up, dragon fire breathing.

I want.

I want the summer by the lake, the ocean.

I want — it feels impossible to say I want, to allow for that moment of wide-mouthed honesty. I am so tired but that is the impossible truth where words have led, where truth and blossom coexist, coffee and impossible sweetness conspire, where inspiration grows in well-tended soil.

Neglect is not a strategy.

So sit with me and

let’s watch these fields grow wild with peaches, let’s pick them slice them bake them devour life devour these days not let them pass us by unnoticed.

If I’m tired, let me rest.

I am to here to serve, please keep showing me how.

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A Side of Breakthroughs with Extra Ketchup

I’ve been staring at a blank screen on and off for well over an hour. I tell people, just start, and keep going. But fuck me, it’s hard. I could start and delete and start and delete — this is where the “keep going” part comes in. But keeping going is not easy when nothing is flowing and you are doubting that you have anything worthwhile to say at all. Couldn’t the world use more silence? How is it contributing to write this kind of unedited dreck? I just listened to Julie Daley on Facebook Live talking about the status quo and about creativity and how creativity is so much more than what we relegate to what we call “The Arts” but really life itself. Life force.

And, there is also this balance — one I’m so aware of — between listening and speaking. Reading and writing. Taking in and adding to. I share my practice in part because it’s the behind-the-scenes stuff we too rarely get to see, of how creativity actually happens. It happens in fits and starts. Sometimes it’s insufferably stuck-feeling and you need to step away and get into some other state, some beta state let’s say, like walking or showering or reading, where your creative brain can catch a breath instead of you breathing down its back, demanding output. It doesn’t work like that. We are not machines. Creativity-on-demand doesn’t exist. Can you imagine, if we could just put in our order:

Hello, yes, I’d like three chapters of my novel today, two epiphanies, and a side of breakthroughs with extra ketchup?

I came down with a cold today, a bad one. It came on like bam, out of the blue. I worked and napped — a fairly usual Monday. And then I stared and started and deleted and thought, this whole start and keep going thing may be bunk. It doesn’t work. It’s awful and stupid and I hate it. Ever thrown a tantrum and realized it had nothing to do with anything and maybe was a sign to wave a white flag of surrender to effort and try again tomorrow?

It is ok to try again tomorrow. It is ok not to be creative all the time. It is ok to read, to listen, to absorb, to ring it all out in a hot bath or a cold sweat, and to notice the ways in which sitting still is squirmy. Where creativity is in its dormancy, where beauty is the growing mountain of Kleenex telling you to get in bed, sister, and get some sleep. We have miles and miles to go, and so much to learn. If we worry so much about saying it right or waiting until it’s perfectly crafted, we might never step foot outside our comfort zones again — which is exactly where the world needs us.

Can both be true? I think of the old “two Jews, three opinions” axiom and chuckle. Yes. Both can be true. Be gentle with your creativity, your spirit, your words — but ask a lot of them, just as you might with your own children. Love means holding each other to the highest expectations, while forgiving each other’s constant and inevitable failings. And I’m here writing, not deleting, because I love you and this life and this work and this world. And because the world needs your patience and your urgency. Your imperfect offerings. Your best effort and your unwavering commitment to growing things that feed others — literally and creatively.

Now let’s order another basket of fries. I’m buying.