Hi. I'm Jenna McGuiggan.
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Friday
Apr102015

I'm gonna write you a letter

This is my "Hi!" face. I took this selfie the other day for no good reason other than I wanted to post something to Instagram.

Last summer I wrote a post called "Lunch and Heartbreak." It started like this: 

Hi.

Remember when blogging first became a craze and everyone was doing it and everyone was reading everyone else and there was no Twitter or Facebook or Buzzfeed quizzes to find out which cheese/shoe/fictional character you were? There was only your "feed reader" with dozens (or hundreds) of blogs that you tried to check every week. And we were all writing (and reading) about each others' lunch and heartbreak.

Basically, what that post boiled down to was this: "Sometimes, you just want to connect. Sometimes, you just want to say: I ate this. I'm worried about this. I'll be okay, and I hope you will be, too.

I'm thinking about that post today as I sit down to write a blog post and really want to start it with: 

Dear Reader...

I think I just want to write you a letter.

Maybe a thank-you letter for stopping by here whenever you do, whether that's regularly or not so much.

Or maybe I'd write you a love letter, all about the way the light hits your face and how your eyes shine when you smile. (What's that? You protest that I can't see your face or your eyes? Pshaw. It's true about the light. I know it is. Everyone looks lovely when the light hits them just so. And the light in anyone's eyes is beautiful when they let it shine. Especially yours.)

Or maybe I'd write you a letter of true confessions: of the unkind things I think (and say) when I'm tired and crabby; of the times I simply top-up the cats' upstair's water bowl instead of getting them a fresh bowl; of the petty jealousies that can keep me awake at night; of my fear of fire; of the way I routinely misspell the word "because" when I type; of my deep sadness about things I used to believe. 

Or I could write you a "here's what's new letter," which would pretty much consist of scenes of me sitting on my couch since Easter Sunday when I came down with some hydra-headed flu/cold monstrosity that has been a tilt-a-whirl of fun. And by "tilt-a-whirl" I mean fever dreams and coughing fits that leave me dizzy. And by "fun" I mean absolutely not fun. But that letter could also tell you about the new herbalist/nutritionist I've started seeing, and how she's also an intuitive healer with apparent psychic abilities, which sounds cool, but it's kind of confusing and annoying because she told me stuff about my emotional health that didn't resonate with me and actually pissed me off, which I realize might be a sign that I have an issue to work on, but whatever. 

Back in 2009 I wrote about the pitfalls of being a writer with a blog, and how that combination comes with some sort of pressure (real or imagined) to make the blog a stellar example of your work. (There are some good reader comments on that post, by the way.) I've been feeling that pressure again. I worry about how to balance self-promotion with platform building with storytelling with having fresh and useful content.

And when I worry, I tend to hide away. I feel paralyzed. I so desperately want to take the "right" action that I end up taking no actions. 

I think maybe I've been trying too hard. Ironically, that has led me to blog less, not more. 

Perhaps I'll start trying less. Maybe that would help me to write more often (both here and in general). (After all, I determined years ago that I don't need to take my writing more seriously.)

Maybe I could top-up this blog with posts the way I top-up the cats' water bowls: Just enough to get us by until I have the time and energy for a fresh clean serving of something sparkling: like that light in your eyes, Sunshine.

Yep, just like that. 

Saturday
Apr042015

A Springtime Blessing (from the archives)

haystack rock, cannon beach, oregon (march 2010)

May you be rooted like rock
That reaches down beneath the constant tide
And pushes tall into the air.
May you shimmer like sun-skimmed sand
Along white, white waves.
May a line of footprints lead you
To adventure and home and back again.
May your perspective be one of compassion and beauty.
May you ruffle your wings in the water
And flutter them dry on the breeze,
Plump with the knowledge that you are as permanent
And as temporary
As this land.

(I originally wrote and posted this back in 2010. In 2011 I reposted it and added the audio. Here it is again in 2015, because spring comes around every year, because April is National Poetry Month, because it's a holiday weekend fit for blessings, and because I'm dreaming of the sea, always.)

Monday
Mar302015

Monday Memo: Set yourself (& your writing) up for success

 

One of the things that I tell my student and clients is the importance of setting writing goals that work for your life as it is right now. Set yourself up for success. If you want to spend more time writing, think about what makes sense for you at this moment in your life. If you're writing very little or not at all, don't go nuts and set a goal to write three hours a day, six days a week. That's a huge jump in time and energy commitment.

I like to start small, but I also like to push myself a little past what I think I can do. Starting small allows me to make progress and feel good about it. Pushing myself a wee bit past my comfort zone helps me to figure out if I have more in me than I thought I did. Sometimes I find out that I do, and I can take it up a notch. Sometimes I find out that I need to back off a bit and work my way up to my goal (be it a word count or number of hours spent writing ).

What are your writing goals? How can you set yourself up for success to meet them?


Monday Memos are quick hits on whatever I'm thinking about this week. Feel free to hit me back with your thoughts in the comments below, or over on my Facebook page

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!