Rose

The Work Is More Important

Photo: Alexis Fauvet

I was walking to town earlier and talking to my angel posse, the sky a brilliant deep blue above, my gait swift, the cold air refreshing after a morning indoors.

I was thinking about my website and how from time to time, I get carried away by thinking it should be better, bigger, or different — and how this habitual thinking is familiar and comfortable, like the coat I love but sadly, have outgrown. It’s snug around the middle though I’m loathe to admit it, and it doesn’t really give me room to move freely and stay warm at the same time.

Well, that thinking — the “not enough” stuff with its claws tearing open healed over places — doesn’t fit anymore, but damn if I don’t still squeeze myself into it on occasion.

What came to me was this: “The work is more important than the website.”

The work is more important than the website. Oh, right!

What actually goes on — in groups and one-on-one — this is the work. The creative process, the writing, the sharing without apology, this is the work. And it is such real stuff.

Websites are nice. They can be supremely useful and aesthetically gorgeous and wonderfully functional. But they are not the work itself, at least not in my case. Remembering this today felt so good, like coming home.

And then I was on North Pleasant Street — no longer talking to myself (I try to save that for less public spaces, lol). I spotted the guy with the clipboard up ahead and did a quick mental dance about whether I would stop or not. I decided to let him give his spiel, which was about Doctors Without Borders. I agreed to a one-time donation, and as I stood there filling out my information in his iPad, we got to chatting. I asked if he was a student, and then he asked what I do.

“I work with writers,” I told him. Before I could say another word he lit up. “You mean, like, with writing books?!” I laughed. “Yes, among other things. Why, are you writing a book?”

Not one, but seven, he told me, but he feels stuck because he doesn’t have people to share his writing with, doesn’t know about self-publishing, and wishes he had some community he could trust and learn from and with.

He asked if I have a writing group.

As a matter of fact…

I need to order new business cards, so I told him my website, showing him the home page and how he can contact me. The very website I had earlier today been focused on improving, until I returned to the essential fact that I am already doing the work! And the work’s more important than the website.

He said he’d have a look and get in touch.

Before we parted ways, he asked my name, extending his hand.

“Jena,” I told him, “with one n. What’s yours?”

“Yeshaq, with a q.”

Nice to meet you, Yeshaq.

Rose

I, Spy: A Four-Week Writing Group


Writing requires that we take in our surroundings and examine our internal landscape in an attempt to understand, if not solve, the many puzzles and mysteries of being human in a particular moment in time.

This new group was inspired by the teachings of my late teacher, poet and memoirist Deborah Digges. She believed that as someone who wrote, it was her duty to listen hard — in the words of Anne Sexton — and to look closely. She taught me to be a spy in this world: To take notes without being noticed, to observe without disrupting, and to use details from everyday life to infuse our writing with vivid imagery and felt experience.

For a full month, we will practice this together, with gentle guidance and a shared space for our daily discoveries. We will see what it’s like to be invisible — not because the world is telling us we are insignificant, but because this cloak enables us to observe and perceive more keenly. Building on what catches our eye, we will play with writing short scenes. Finally, we will have the opportunity to reflect on our learning and plot out our next steps.

YES, I’LL SPY!

* Choose a payment option from the drop-down box — according to your financial ability.
Contact me with any questions


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Want a little more detail before you commit? Here’s a breakdown of how the group will flow:

WEEK 1: The Notebook

Each day this week, from Monday to Friday, we will forage moments. You assignment during this time will be to to keep a small notebook and pen with you at all times, and to jot down whatever catches your eye.

  • The way a child inches into the crosswalk, two steps ahead of her grown-up
  • The couple at your morning cafe who always sit at the same corner table, not talking
  • The cashier at CVS with a thick accent, who smiles at every customer
  • An elderly man who walks at a glacial pace past your house each day at the same time
  • A hawk circling its prey above the frozen fields
  • A fleeting interaction, tender or terse

No matter what details you notice, you’ll put them into your daily files for later without comment or judgment or extrapolation of any kind. Each day, we will share lists of our collected moments in our secret spies Facebook group. We will practice witnessing, and witness each other witnessing — with nothing more to do.

WEEK 2: The Magnifying Glass

This week is an invitation to comb through last week’s spy notes and observations. Each day, you will bring a magnifying glass to one of the moments that caught your eye during Week 1. Looking even more closely now and using your mind’s eye, what else becomes evident or visible? Working with imaginative details or drawing on lived experience, we’ll share ~ 300 words per day that illuminate more of the moment — not to make a scene as much as to look more closely at what we may have missed at first pass.

WEEK 3: Zooming Out

At the opening of this week, you will choose ONE of your writings from Week 2 and add to it each day, you’ll add to it. By carving out just 10 minutes a day to stay close to your selected moment, you’ll start developing some expertise and encountering more questions about its environs and chapters. We’ll begin to zoom out, but not too much. Jena will offer guiding questions throughout the week.

WEEK 4: The Meta-View

During Week 4, we’ll get meta by observing the observer. Each day we’ll get curious about a particular question that bears significance on how we move through time and space — and what this has to do with our writing + life. We’ll share our discoveries, thoughts, questions and intentions, and give and receive reflective commentary for how to work with these to our creative benefit going forward.

WHO IS THIS GROUP FOR?

This group is open to writers of all genres, as well as those who don’t consider themselves writers but wish to engage in a creative process. An open mind, a spirit of inquiry, and a willingness to be honest and kind with yourself and others are the only requirements. Anyone who loves writing and life and wants to invest in exploring more ways to encounter the world and the page will find themselves right at home in this space.

RECOMMENDED SUPPLIES

  • Notebook
  • Writing utensil
  • Curiosity
  • Invisible cloak and magnifying glass (optional!)

DATES

Monday, February 4 to Friday, March 2, 2018

COST (SLIDING SCALE)

$99/$149/$199*

YES, I’LL SPY!

* Choose a payment option from the drop-down box
Contact me with any questions


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* Some scholarship funds are available upon request. Please contact Jena to discuss; nobody will be turned away.

Rose

Notes from the Body Shop

Image: Steinar Engeland

Today’s super sexy dispatch from the front lines of real life is brought to you from the body shop, where I’m having my trusty Toyota inspected. The sticker had a giant 7 on it, which means I’m approximately four months overdue for this grown-up task. The TV monitor tells me it’s 38 degrees outside. If I’d thought to bring my laptop, writing this would be a bit easier than pecking my phone keyboard, but when I left the house I hadn’t planned on coming here. You grab time when you can. Which should in no way be misconstrued for grabbing pussy when you can. Stop that shit.

Speaking of stopping, I got such a sweet note this morning. The person wrote that she feels orphaned without a writing community, and spends more time wondering if her writing is any good than she does actually writing. I nodded my head as I read, as she had named something so true.

Going it alone is sometimes the only way; getting super quiet, internal, and self-contained can do wonders for creative gestation. If anything, I vacillate this time of year between craving a cave of silent solitude and a communal table with a big pot of soup and a shared hunk of bread. The balance can be hard to find. But when it becomes true that we’re thinking a lot about writing but not actually writing, or we’re writing but being hyper-critical of ourselves, or we feel like the lone tree falling in the forest, or we can’t seem to maintain any momentum– these all point to the moment when to reach out for a hand in the dark is not a bad idea.

I had a coaching call this morning with a woman who wants to jump start her blog and revive her newsletter. She had some questions, which I sneakily turned into more questions (“very sophisticated,” as I told her, and we laughed). The best part of our conversation was hearing her excitement grow as she articulated how she wants her reader to feel, what qualities she imagines her writing conveying, and what kind of structures she knows work best for her. Just before we wrapped up, I asked her: “So what’s your plan?”

I felt my heart beating in my chest. I felt the chair beneath my seat and heard her voice across the miles as if she were sitting across from me over mugs of strong coffee. She took a breath and began: “My plan…” And I thought to myself, what a small miracle this is, that she has a plan! The plan will certainly change over time, as all plans must. But knowing your next step, now that is nothing to sneeze at.

There’s a time for having no idea what the next step is and expanding your ability to stay in that discomfort. And then there’s a time for reaching out, for saying hey, I could use help with this. Or huh, what if I tried x, y, or z.

Now, as a complete non sequitur, why is it that everything I write winds up sounding like Ecclesiastes? There’s a time for this and a time for that!

Maybe it’s because we’re always facing these choices: What is it time for in our writing and in our lives? Whether on a grand scale or a micro one, this seems to me to be one of the most continuous of life’s many questions. Getting the car inspected is a no-brainer, though even that has taken me months longer than perhaps it should have. I used to have a teacher who’d say everything happens right on time. We could parse that one out for the rest of our lives, or not. I’d rather just start and keep going.

Well, my car has passed its inspection for another year, so it’s time to wrap this up, pay my $35, and head home. There might have to be a wee nap in my near future. What’s in yours?

Rose

6X6: Just Write… Coming in January 2018!


A couple of months ago, I announced a new group called Shitty First Drafts.

Soon thereafter, I realized I didn’t have a clear enough vision yet for how it would be different from my other groups, so I decided to give it some time to gestate. I pulled it from my website, not knowing whether I’d resurrect, transform, or scrap it.

Soon, it became clear what the problem was. The problem was what the problem so often is: I was trying too hard.

Something similar happened two years ago, when an idea that began as exciting grew increasingly unwieldy the more I worked on it. I reached out to a trusted writer and teacher for some perspective. Our conversation circled around one of my favorite questions: Where is there ease? 

A 12-week group called “Creative Ease” emerged from that shift, which eventually morphed into Jewels on the Path, one of my cornerstone groups.

Some ideas come fast and furious, sprung like Athena whole and complete, and I often take what one of my sisters affectionately calls a “shoot, ready, aim” approach to putting things out there. I trust the idea and then dive into the details, rather than the other way around. I love the playfulness and trust this entails.

But it doesn’t always work.

Shitty First Drafts, in its original inception, didn’t quite work. The format of the group was too close to other things I already offer, and I couldn’t for the life of me articulate who it was for or what would make it special.

Until it hit me: The name of this program won’t be Shitty First Drafts, a phrase made famous by Anne Lamott. It will be something even simpler. Ready for it?

JUST WRITE.

That’s right. Just that. Six weeks of just writing. Showing up once a week to put your pen to paper, to start and keep going, to let your words show up on the page and your voice take up room in space. To connect with others in an intimate setting, where we are all in it together.

How will it work?

  1. We’ll gather via Zoom (download here) and spend 30 minutes writing. There may be a reading or prompt to start us off, but the purpose of this time is to sit down and get words on the page.
  2. Following the writing period, each participant will have 15 minutes to read their words out loud and receive comments and feedback from the group.
  3. Each participant will be assigned a week to be the Featured Writer. She’ll send out a piece in advance for the rest of us to read, and have our undivided attention for 20 minutes of workshop-style discussion about her work, including addressing any specific feedback requests.
  4. Our time will conclude with each writers stating an intention or writing goal for the coming week. Writers may choose to continue with one piece of writing or to generate new material — the choice is yours, the time is yours.
  5. Two  40-minute coaching calls . We can use these to talk about specific pieces of writing, to brainstorm and bounce around ideas, and to address any challenges your faces and ways forward.

Why so simple?

Because sometimes all we need is the loosest of containers, the gentlest accountability, the fewest bells and the quietest whistles. At the end of the day — which is when this group will occur — it’s ultimately about showing up, sitting down, and just writing. Shitty first drafts and perhaps more polished drafts will follow, or not. The words you discover might be seeds of longer pieces, fragments of dreams, freewrites you’ll discard completely, or something else altogether. One of the only things I know for sure about the writing process is this: Writing begets writing. And having a small, supportive community of listeners and witnesses creates some mighty magic.

What else is included in the cost?

In addition to 2.5 hours per week together as a group, of both silent writing time and group sharing and discussion, you’ll schedule two 40-minute calls with me. We can use this time to focus on specific pieces of writing, to tease out where you get blocked, and to play with ways to continue to go deeper into your own work. There’s no specific agenda for our calls; this is your time, and a chance to talk about whatever’s going on for you in writing + life.

Will the calls be recorded?

The calls will be recorded. We will have a secret Facebook group for the express purpose of sharing these, in case you miss one and/or simply want to go back to listen to comments on your work again. The Facebook group will also be a place to share encouragement and support throughout the week.

Who should join:

Anyone who wants to produce more pages but finds that perfectionism and procrastination interfere with progress. This group is open to all gender identities and expressions as well as to all genres, though creative nonfiction and personal essay will likely comprise most of the writing. No previous experience in writing groups necessary. This group is also totally compatible with any of Jena’s other writing groups.

Do I need a particular project?

No, though it’s also fine if you do.

Risks and possible side-effects:

Heightened self-awareness, greater curiosity and sense of inquiry, deepening sense of trust in your own quirky and wondrous creative process, and increased willingness to keep going in the face of not knowing may all arise as secondary byproducts of this group.

Can I sign up for the calls and not the coaching?

Not for this group. In order to ensure a high level of participation and commitment, everyone in the Just Write groups will be working with me privately in addition to meeting with the group. If you’re interested in a super supportive, long-term (12 week) accountability group, check out Jewels on the Path. Or drop me a line and we can discuss what would be a good fit.

Dates + Times:

Two sections will kick off the new year:

Tuesdays, 1:00-3:30PM EST: January 16, 23, 30, February 6 , 13, 27 (3 remaining spots)
OR
Thursdays: , 5:30-8:00PM EST: January 18, 25, February 8, 15, March 1 (6 spots)

please note there will be no groups on 2/20 and 2/22 

Cost:

$419

Register + Payment:

Registration deadline is Friday, January 5, 2018.

Reserve your spot today with a non-refundable $99 deposit. You will be automatically billed for two additional installments of $160, two and four weeks after registering. Or use the “Buy Now” button below to pay in full.

Don’t forget to send me a note telling me which group you’d like to join (Tuesdays or Thursdays).


Payment Plan
Number of payments 3
No. Due* Amount
1 At checkout $99.00 USD
2 after 2 weeks $160.00 USD
3 after 4 weeks $160.00 USD
Total $419.00 USD
* We calculate payments from the date of checkout.
Sign up for

OR pay in full: 

Rose

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.