Hi. I'm Jenna McGuiggan.
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Friday
Mar202015

Lessons From Roller Derby: Push yourself, but don't make yourself sick

Tonight at roller derby practice, I wanted to sit down. My legs hurt, my back hurt, my feet hurt. If I let myself think about it too much, even my pride hurt. I've been skating for three years, but I've recently changed leagues and decided to do their "fresh meat" training program for new skaters. It's been great. The people are great, the training is great, and I'm making great strides. 

But it's hard and humbling to admit that even after several years of doing this crazy sport, I still need a lot of work on some of the basics. I especially still need to work on my endurance. At one point tonight, one of the trainers asked me, "Are you okay?" In fact, I wasn't quite okay. I'd reached the limits of my physical endurance and felt like I was going to be sick. It must have registered all over my face (and all over how slow I was to get up for the next set of laps). When I confessed to feeling like I might yak, the trainer told me to rest for a minute. "I want you to push yourself," he said. "But I don't want you to make yourself sick."

So I sat out one set of laps and the worst of the nausea passed. And then I got back to it, even though I was tired and sore. And then when I hit that same point again, I got a drink of water, caught my breath, and got back on the track, still tired, still sore, but still in the game (so to speak). 

I could write a lot about why roller derby is hard for me, about why it still feels like the craziest (and one of the best) things I do. (Oh, wait, I have written about that stuff.) But tonight, what I'm really thinking about is this idea of pushing yourself, but also knowing when to pull back and regroup. It's such a handy lesson for all of life. Do the thing you think you can't do, but know when to rest. Go all in, but know when you need to scale back a bit so you don't get hurt. 

I'm also thinking about how there should be no shame in getting back to basics, even when it's for something that you've been doing for years. I think a lot about how this relates to writing. A lot of the clients in my writing apprenticeship program feel like they missed out on learning writing basics in school. I hear the same thing when I edit manuscripts for writers. So many of us worry that because we can't diagram sentences we can't be a writer. Learning grammar is hard and uncomfortable for a lot of people. I tend to understand the rules of grammar intuitively, which means that I sometimes have to look up the technical terms for things. Even after all these years of writing professionally, creatively, and academically, I have to go back to basics. 

There's more to writing than grammer, of course. Sometimes I have to go back to the basic of remembering to schedule time to write, or the basic of reading like a writer, or the basic of simply writing first and worrying about revision later. The basics are the foundation upon which we build everything else, whether it's in skating or writing or cooking or cleaning or being a good friend. And there's no shame in that.

This isn't the most elegant blog post. It's, well, kind of basic, I suppose. But it's 1:45am and I still need to take a shower to wash off the derby funk, so that's about all I have for you tonight:

Push yourself, but don't make yourself sick.  

There's no shame in going back to basics.

Those seem like pretty good mantras to me.

Friday
Mar132015

Create a Writing Life that Works for You

Do you have to write every day to be a writer? No.

Do you have to write for hours at time, or only by hand, or only in coffee shops? Nope. (Not unless that's your thing.)

Is there just one way to be a "real" writer? Hell no!

Every writer (and every maker of any kind) has her own creative process. When you understand and honor yours, you will begin to create with more joy, more ease, and more fun. The Writing Life online class gives you techniques, ideas, and experiments to help you figure out what kind of writing practice works for you and whatever crazy kind of life you have. 

I believe that writing is both art and craft.

Writing is something we have to practice. We practice as a musician practices scales, and we create a writing practice, a rhythm, a ritual, a deliberate act of concentration and dedication. These things don't usually come automatically, even to the best of writers. If you want to have a consistent, prolific, and joyful writing life, you have to create it -- and then practice doing it.

Do you know what works for you? For years, I didn't understand my own creative preferences, and I even fought against them, thinking that there was a "right" way to write. (I was a victim of the Myth of the Real Writer.) But over the past few years, I've begun to consciously create a writing life that works for me. In this class, I show you how to create a writing life that works for you.

The Writing Life: Rituals, Rhythms, & Practices starts this Sunday (March 15). Registration for the 4-week class (plus the online community and course ebook) is just $49. Join the fun, and create a writing life that you LOVE! 

Tuesday
Mar102015

10 Things That Make Me Feel Unqualified To Be An Adult

Every so often, I find myself in a situation that makes me think: I'm not qualified to be an adult. These moments often seem to be related to issues of finances, the maintenance of my home/car/appliances, or the emotional complexities of being a human.

When I was younger, I assumed that adults knew what was what. After all, they were in charge, weren't they? They seemed to run the world. I assumed that when I became a grown-up, I'd know what was what, too. I don't recall spending much time thinking about this. As I said, it was something I assumed. And then, in my mid-twenties, this assumption tumbled out into the light of day, pointing and laughing at me. The first time I can recall this happening was on my way to get my taxes done. (More on that below.) Around the quarter century mark, I realized that I have no idea what I am doing. How horrifying! Even more horrifying (or maybe it's the only real comfort in the world, depending on your view of things) was the realization that no one else seems to have much of an idea what they're doing either. 

It's enough to make you wonder how our species survives.

Don't get me wrong. I don't want to be a child again. Being a kid is hard enough: It's confusing and overwhelming, and you have very little power over your own circumstances. And for whatever confusions or trials and tribulations that adulthood brings, at least you can stay up as late as you want and eat your favorite junk food.

Today, because I had to put oil in my car, and because it's 9:04pm and I still haven't eaten dinner (more on those below), here's a partial list of things that make me feel unqualified to be an adult. 

1) Taxes: During our first spring as a married couple, my husband and I were on our way to the office of the accountant who had always done my family's taxes. Along the way, I had to call my mother because I realized that I didn't know where we were going. I had forgotten to get the accountant's address. Turns out, that was the tip of the iceberg of all the ways that tax time makes me feel like I'm playing dress-up and clomping around unsteadily in shoes that are too big for me. 

2) Car Maintenance: Here are some existential quetions to ponder: If the little red oil-can-shaped light blinks on every so often but doesn't stay on, how urgent is the situation? How embarrassed should one be to admit that one has never used the oil dipstick to check the oil level in one's car? And when one finally sees how bloody simple it is to use said dipstick, should one be more or less embarrassed that one has never done it?  I say, be as embarrassed all you like, but be glad for a friend who will stand in the rain with you to show you how it's done. Be thankful for the family friend car mechanic who answers his cell phone after business hours to tell you if he used conventional or synthetic oil last time around so you don't accidentally mix the types and kill your engine. Be indebted to the kindly guy at the auto parts store who will help you find the oil you need and will even help you put one quart, two quarts, three quarts in your 4.5 quart engine even though you didn't ask for help and even though, in his words, "We're not supposed to put fluids in customers' cars."  

3) Snow (and sunshine): We live in suburbia, the land of big lawns and big driveways. While our neighbors clear their driveways after every snowfall, we tend to let ours pile up in wintertime. It's a large driveway, and we don't own a snowblower. Also, we are lazy and have better things to do than shovel for an hour or more every few days. You shovel, it snows some more. Wait long enough, and the stuff will melt. Besides, my SUV can usually just cut right through the snow, no matter how deep it gets. But what do the neighbors think of us? Do I care? A little bit. But not as much as I don't want to shovel snow. It's March now, so the worst of winter should be over (Lord have mercy). Longer days mean warmer temperatures and more sunlight. But this just means that a new seasonal adult chore is about to begin: yard work. Oh Lord save us from the yard work. I don't know how to prune and preen like my neighbors do. I love flowers. Weeds love us. I think some of the neighbors hate us. The only time the woman across the street -- the one who is outside every evening of the spring, summer, and fall doing yard work -- the only time she voluntarily said hello to me when we passed on our evening walks was the year we hired contractors to redo our landscaping. "Looks nice!" she said with a half-smile.  

4) Minor Disappointments: I'm not talking about the major life events here. I mean the stupid little ones: When you plan a nice dinner out and your favorite restaurant is closed. When you don't win a contest. When your picnic is rained out. Sure, maybe we adults don't throw temper tantrums over such things. But maybe that nagging sense of disappointment that can mess up our mood for a whole day or week would blow over more quickly if we did. 

5) Death: Sometimes, it's not just the grief for the people you've lost that can bring you to your knees. Sometimes, it's the knowledge that one day, other people you love will die, and you may still be around to grieve them. How do any of us survive any of that? 

6) Groceries/Dinner/Dishes/Social Consciousness: Food and dinner and clean dishes don't just magically appear. I never thought that they did, but damn if it isn't a challenge some weeks to make sure there's food in the fridge and clean dishes in the cupboard. And even as I grumble about being out of broccoli, I recognize that this is a problem rooted in privilege. I can drive to the store (in the car that needed oil). I can afford to buy broccoli that was grown out-of-season and shipped from hundreds or thousands of miles away. I have an electric stove to cook on and running water with which to wash the dirty plates. I get to eat my meals without ever tilling the earth, lighting a fire, or walking miles for water. How do I let these everyday miracles feel like burdens instead of luxuries? 

7) Furnace Filters : We need a new one, and I never remember what kind it is, but it's not one you can just buy at the local box store. It's one you have to order from the company directly, but what's the model number again?  

8) Major Disappointments: When we don't get the job we want or need. When severe illness strikes. When we say harsh things to someone we love. When we hear harsh things from someone who loves us. When promises are broken. How did we forgive each other and move on when we were kids? How did we bounce back? Or did we? How do we do that as adults? 

9) Paperwork: If I could maintain a more consistent filing system, I would know exactly what kind of furnace filter I need because I'd know exactly where to find the paperwork from the one I ordered last year. I'd also never misplace the warranty for the dehumidifier that stopped working, the bank statement with the incorrect overdraft charge on it that needs to be reversed, or anything dealing with insurance, credit card statements, or refinancing offers.

10) Credit Card Points: That moment when you decide to finally, finally, FINALLY use those credit card points you've been accruing all these years, only to discover that the damn program was discontinued and you had six months to use-or-lose your points, and you vaguely remember seeing a letter about this maybe eight months ago, and now, no, there's no way to make an exception, all is lost, even though you probably had enough points for a free round trip airline ticket, rules are rules. That moment. 

Maybe I'm just incompetent, but I'm guessing you have a list of your own. Share it? 

Monday
Mar092015

The Writing Life: Rituals, Rhythms, & Practices (Starts March 15!)

The next session of The Writing Life starts next week. I love this online class because it looks at all the little choices we make that add up to having -- or not having -- a fulfilling writing life.

Whether you realize it or not, you make a lot of decisions when you choose to write (or choose not to write).

Sometimes subtle shifts in these choices can make a big difference in your writing.

This class will help you to answer these kinds of questions, which will empower your writing life:

  • Do you think before you write, or do you write in order to think?
  • Do you write best to music or in silence?
  • Are you a linear or an associative thinker? And what does that mean for how you write?
  • Do you write best with pen and paper or on a keyboard?
  • Can you sit and write for hours on end, or do you work better in shorter bursts?
  • Do you really have to write every day in order to be a writer?
  • How can outlines, index cards, and mindmaps support (or hinder) your writing?
  • Which of these words motivates you more: discipline or enthusiasm?
  • How can the physical objects around you make you feel more inspired and focused?
  • How can you stoke your creativity when you're not writing?

I created this class because the topic of the writing process comes up all the time with writers at all levels of experience. I've had similar conversations with brand new writers and with published authors. All of us writerly types are looking for ways to make our writing lives easier and more prolific. 

This class is for you if you want to stress less and write more.
(I want that! Don't you?)

By taking this class, you'll unravel the misconceptions and myths of what being a "Real Writer" looks like. 

You'll tap into your creative energy and unleash it in a sustainable way.

You'll learn techniques for transforming your perceived weaknesses into the strengths of your writing life.

You'll figure out what it will take for you to write more.

You'll deepen your writing life. 

And you'll probably start to have a lot more fun in the process!

Class starts next week (March 15). Registration and full details are over here

Tuesday
Mar032015

Writing Workshop Is Not Group Therapy

I'm delighted to have a guest post on Brevity's Nonfiction Blog called "Writing Workshop Is Not Group Therapy."

Here's the an excerpt: 

It's easy to read a memoir or essay and feel as though we know the author, even though all we really know is what the writer shared with us on the page. This false sense of familiarity is one thing when we read published work by authors we may never meet. But in a creative nonfiction workshop, this faux intimacy becomes a slippery slope.

We all know that writing workshop can be an emotionally charged environment to begin with. Add in stories of personal trauma, and you’ve got a veritable Slip'N Slide of intense moments and awkward interactions just waiting for you to lose your footing.

How can you keep your balance and avoid any more uncomfortable moments than necessary?

Make this your mantra:

Writing workshop is not group therapy.

(Say it with me.)

(And if it helps, you can sing it to the beat of MC Lars' "Hot Topic is Not Punk Rock.")

Don’t let a writing workshop turn into something it’s not meant to be. Here are some tips on how to stay grounded.

1) No problem solving—unless it relates to writing. Remember that you are in workshop to discuss the craft of writing and the world on the page. You aren’t there to coach a writer on how to heal from a traumatic childhood, a dance with addiction, or a spiritual crisis. You are not in workshop to help anyone slay their personal demons, unless those demons deal with writing better scenes, understanding narrative arc, or improving sentence rhythm.

Keep reading for all 7 tips on how to keep a writing workshop from spiralling into a group therapy session.

And as some readers have pointed out, these tips apply to any creative gathering in which the focus is meant to be on the art and craft of the work rather than the emotions and experiences of the creator. 

(p.s. Do you know Brevity Magazine? It's an online literary journal that publishes short nonfiction. I highly recommend it if you're a writer or reader of flash essays, one-moment memoirs, or any short creative nonfiction (CNF). The Brevity blog is a great resource for all kinds of things related to CNF.)