Hi. I'm Jenna McGuiggan.
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The Word Cellar Writers Guild (coming soon!)

For the last few years, I've been dreaming of a beautiful online space where we writerly types come together to learn, to share, and to grow.

A place where we can go as deep and as  w i d e  with our writing as we dare.

An online destination that feels like the best bookstore + library + café + book club + writing retreat wrapped up in a virtual home.

A membership group for writers who crave more creativity, more community, and a deeper understanding of the craft of writing.

I've been dreaming and working and planning and scheming for awhile now. And I'm so excited to tell you that it's almost here: The Word Cellar Writers Guild

Nearly all the writers I know (from the newbies to the pros) want to write more pages, to have more joy in the process, and to create deeper connections with other writers.

I want those things, too. So I created The Writers Guild to bring us all together to get more of what we want in our writing lives. And it's going to be so good. I'm buzzing away behind the scenes to get it ready for you. 

What will happen in the The Writers Guild? Here's a list of what members will receive:  

  • Monthly Mini-Master Classes
  • Supportive Community
  • Small Group Chats
  • Live Q&As 
  • Feedback Workshops
  • Prompts & Exercises
  • Inspiring Guests
  • Resource Library
  • Book Read-Alongs
  • Exclusive Discounts
  • Surprises Goodies

During the last five years of teaching online classes, I've met hundreds of you (virtually and in-person). Some of you have met each other. Now it's time to connect the dots and all come together in one beautiful writing community

This dream community has literally been years in the making. Now it's really happening, and I am inviting you to come along. (Because honestly, it won't be the same without you.) The doors will open this fall, and I'd love to send you an invitation when they do.

Many more details are coming soon, so please sign up here for your invitation

Thank you for being part of my extended writing community. I can't wait to gather with you in this newest incarnation of The Word Cellar!


Super Full, Sturgeon Moon (an everyday essay) 

You sit and watch the moon rise, a crisp circle of light in a cool blue sky. It's a Friday night at the end of August, and though the forecast predicts some 90-degree days next week, this feels like a fall Friday night, ripe for woodsmoke and high school football.

Dark birds swoop by in flightlines, ready for their treetop beds. The three or four bats that patrol this swatch of suburbia flap and flutter about overhead. The moon goes higher and your fingers and toes get colder. It's time to go inside, but who can leave the night air when there's such a super moon to watch? This month it's the Full Sturgeon, a serious sounding fish, to be sure. 

You want to describe the moon as a hole punch in a blue paper sky. You want to think of it as nature's Bat Signal, calling all nocturnal superheros to action. You wish you lived near a large body of water so you could see the tide fill and spill its basin of earth with this extra moon urge. You feel something sloshing inside of you, a micro-tide of one.

You can smell a backyard fire and wish you had thought to rub two sticks together, to put match to paper, or at least put on a pair of long pants. This moon musing: a cold blaze, a reflection of fire. 


Interview on "In Her Room" Podcast

I'm on a podcast!

Did you know that the word "podcast" comes from iPod + broadcast?!

Yeah, I know it's kind of obvious, but I swear I just realized this connection a few months ago. I always knew the "pod" part was from iPod, but somehow I didn't realize that "podcast" rhymes with "broadcast" and is like a radio broadcast without the radio part! (I sound really old right now, don't I?)

(For an artist who trades is words, a.k.a. a writer, I can be embarrassingly charmingly dense about colloquialisms, idioms, and such wordplay thingamajigs. Ask me sometime what I thought was meant by the prhase: "It's as easy as shooting fish in a barrel.")

But now, not only do I understand the term podcast, I'm on a real, live podcast! (Well, it's not live, because it's recorded, but the recording was made of a live conversation. Again with the semantics.) 

So, about this podcast I'm on: "In Her Room" is a listener-supported podcast featuring meaningful conversation with women writers from around the world, hosted by Sara Blackthorne. I had the pleasure of talking with Sara for episode #21

We chat about a lot of things, including how writing helps us make sense of the world on multiple levels, and why graduate school was a good fit for my writing path when I shifted my mindset from "I'm not good enough" to "How can I get better?"

I also talk a wee bit about my newest (and most exciting) online project yet: an online writing community called The Word Cellar Writing Guild. (The Guild has been a long time in the making, and you'll be hearing much more about it in the coming weeks! I'll be using all the exclamation marks for this one!!!) 

You can listen to "In Her Room" on its website, or find it on Soundcloud, Stitcher Radio, and iTunes. I'm delighted to be in such good company with other women writers who have been interviewed for the show, including Sue William Silverman, Liz Lamoreux, Maya Stein, Alisha Somer, Esme Weijun Wang, and so many more.  

(Also, can I just tell you how much I love to combine podcasts & housework these days? I use a set of wireless headphones so I can listen as I wash dishes, do laundry, or sort the mail. I love podcasts in general, but I used to find it difficult to sit down and listen to one if I wasn't in the car. I felt antsy, as though I were wasting time somehow, even though I don't feel that way when I sit down to read, and great podcasts are just as soul-nourishing as books. Housework also can feel like a waste of time: a necessary task, but shouldn't I be reading or writing instead? So the podcast + housework combo allows me to restore order to my little domestic universe and feed my mind and creative spirit at the same time. I know I'm not the only one who does this, but it felt like a revelation when I finally got on board. As you can see, I'm good for having obvious revelations and everyday epiphanies. It keeps daily life interesting.)

Please join Sara and me over on In Her Room.  


The Sound Is Its Own Thing

Six summers ago, in the span of a few weeks, I realized three long-standing dreams: 1) I started graduate school; 2) I visited the Pacific Northwest for the first time; and 3) I started writing a book. 

I didn't know I was writing a book at the time. All I knew was that I had to write something to turn in to my advisor in a few weeks. I also knew that I wanted to incorporate more sensory detail and texture into my writing. So since I was sitting in a vacation home on Puget Sound, I wrote about what I saw, smelled, heard, tasted, and felt there. That little nature sketch led me to writing other sketches about seascapes around the world. 

Initially, I thought I'd collect these little prose sketches and self-publish them as a chapbook (similar in style to Lanterns). But when I put the essays together, I realized that something was missing. They were beautiful, but they seemed to lack heart.

Many pages and revisions and conversations with my advisors later, I realized that these essays weren't just about landscapes and oceans. What I was trying to do, without knowing it, was to write about spirituality, the topography of belief, and the longing for belonging in all its many forms. 

Slowly, slowly, a book was being born. 

That book is still taking shape, ever so slowly. (Too slowly if you ask me, but that's a topic for another time.)

What I want to celebrate today is the publication of that very first essay I wrote six years ago on Puget Sound -- and the serendipitous timing of its publication.

Last month, while I was back in the Pacific Northwest, my essay "The Sound Is Its Own Thing" was published in Flycatcher, a literary journal that explores what it means "to be native to this earth and its particular places." It publishes work that "engages the themes of empathy, ecology, and belonging, or that struggles with a lack of the same." Sounds like a good place for my work, no?

Here's an excerpt from the beginning of my essay: 

Floating in one of the southern fingers of Puget Sound, Harstine Island is like no other place I've been. It looks like the woods, but it smells like the sea. I come from the landlocked southwestern corner of Pennsylvania, all rolling hills and woodlands. I spent childhood vacations breathing in the salt air of a New Jersey barrier island. Here on Harstine, it's as though the two landscapes of my youth have been smashed together into one beautiful, interlacing juxtaposition. {keep reading}

This isn't the first time I've had one of my essays published. But this is the first one from the book to be published in full. I love that the first to be published is also the first that I wrote. And I love that I was back in the Pacific Northwest when it happened. 

The essays from my manuscript are some of the nearest and dearest to my heart, both for their subject matter and for the way writing (and rewriting) them have made me a better writer. They are true labors of love. I hope you'll read "The Sound Is Its Own Thing" and check out Flycatcher no. 5, Juneteenth, which is dedicated to the memory of those killed in the church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina. 

Thank you to Flycatcher's editors, particularly founding edtiro Chris Martin, for their insightful feedback and for giving my work a home. 


Half A World Away (fugue, unfinished)

I've been away: Out of town. Out of state. Out of this time zone.

I've been away: Out of words. Out of tears. Out of time. 

Out of time: To have no time left.

Out of time: To be outside of time. 

* * *

Some people believe that God is outside of time, seeing the whole story from start to finish before it plays out for us mortals. This theory allows for predestination, the idea that God not only sees the whole story but also has ordained it, including who receives eternal life and who, well, doesn't. This kind of predestination thinking seeps into the highs and lows of human existences. Horrible things happen and some mortals leach comfort from platitudes: This is all part of God’s plan. Everything happens for a reason.

I believe that everything happens for a reason insofar as I believe in the commonsense law of cause and effect.

Yes, things happen for a reason. One thing causes another. We can reason it out:

My friend got breast cancer.
She had treatment.
The treatment worked.
She got well.

My same friend got another kind of breast cancer. 
She had treatment.
It didn't work.
She died.

* * *

Life is a series of If/Then statements.

The day after my friend died, I flew across the country for a trip I'd had planned for months. The older I get, the more nervous I feel on planes. With each takeoff, landing, and turbulent bump of this trip, I thought to myself: If Christy can die, so can I.

This wasn't a recognition of my own mortality. I've been well-aware of that for years, like a stone in my shoe mostly obscured on a daily basis by the padding of a well-placed callous. Rather, this thought was a comfort, almost a feeling of empowerment: If my friend who loved life so much could die, well, then by golly, so can I!

* * *

The week after I returned home, my mother had a scheduled surgery at a hospital an hour from my house. During her five days in recovery there, I drove to the hospital. I sat. I drove home. Repeat.

None of us knows how much time we have.

I've been away. Like I said. Now I'm back. I'm trying to get back to the rhythm of my life, but I keep looking around confused, checking the date on the calendar, the time on the clock. My mind and heart have become an absentminded professor patting down his dusty tweed blazer looking for his reading glasses, which, of course, are perched atop his frizzled hair. 

I keep wondering where I've been for the past month.


It's not just a god who can be unbound by time. A person in a fugue state operates outside of time.

Fugue: a disturbed state of consciousness in which the one affected seems to perform acts in full awareness, but upon recovery cannot recollect the acts performed.


I keep wondering where I've been, but really, I can tell you: Washington, Oregon, Chicago, Pennsylvania. In airports. On the beach. In the kitchen. At the store. At the hospital. On the couch. In bed.

I can track my every move. But still I wonder: Where have I been? I'm back now, but I keep asking: When will I return? 

* * *

If life is normally a fat layer cake, I've been living thin in the uppermost layer. The layers labeled with things like writing, work, cleaning, and exercise have collapsed under the weight of that thin upper layer called day-to-day survival.

Or think of it this way: During certain times (around death, illness, travel) life narrows, condenses down into the most basic elements: Find some food. Make your way from Point A to Point B. Seek shelter. Find some clean underwear if you can. Drink some water. Circle the wagons. Hold tight to the people you love. Say a prayer. Amen.

I miss my friend. This is my first intimate experience with grief. I know how lucky that makes me at age 39. 

My mother is home from the hospital now and should make a full recovery. (I know how that lucky that makes my family.) But if she doesn’t? What then?

Some things aren't a matter of if but when

I don't believe in the Christian doctrine of predestination, the idea that God has chosen before time who will be saved for all of time. But we also know that life as we know it has one final, common destination. We don't really know where or what that is, but we know we're all headed there. 

* * *

Out of Time: Title of an R.E.M. album that I listened to on repeat in my Sony Walkman during high school. 

The album includes both "Shiny Happy People" and "Losing My Religion."  I'll let you guess which one I like better. 

This week I've been listening on repeat to another song on that album: "Half A World Away." Michael Stipe sings in his plaintive whine:

This could be the saddest dusk I've ever seen
Turn to a miracle, high alive
My mind is racing, as it always will
My hands tired, my heart aches
I'm half a world away, here....

He's accompanied by jangly guitars chords, oscillating strings, and an organ that sounds like a Baroque harpsichord playing a sea shanty. There's a lot going on in the song. It's not a true fugue, but the polyphony blends the parts into a beautiful whole.  

Fugue: something resembling a fugue, especially in interweaving repetitive elements.

Fugue: a musical composition in which one or two themes are repeated or imitated by successively entering voices and contrapuntally developed in a continuous interweaving of the voice parts.

I admit I had to look up the meaning of the word contrapuntal: of, relating to, or marked by counterpoint.

Counterpoint, I know: the combination of two or more independent melodies into a single harmonic texture in which each retains its linear character; something that is different from something else in usually a pleasing way.

Good friends are counterpoints.

The best friendships are fugues.  

* * *

Christy was a writer. We attended the same MFA program. We shared many of the same writerly hang-ups (procrastination, impatience, doubt). We shared a genre—creative nonfiction—but our writing styles are vastly different.

I'm a prose writer who probably should have been a poet. I write in snippets, slices, splices. I find all the threads and paste them onto the page. She, on the other hand, could weave those threads together into beautiful tapestries.

She knew how to ferry readers along from Point A to Point B.

Me? I'll show you Point A and Point B and let you find your own damn way between them. Christy was more generous than I am, both on and off the page. 

She used to worry that her writing wasn't "lyric" enough. I told her that I wish I could write a narrative with as much fluidity and grace as she could. 

Her writing was a river that flowed with ease through the rapids and the tranquil pools, delivering readers to that far shore of a narrative's conclusion. 

Her writing was a cool drink of water on a hot day.

My writing is water, too. I'm splashing it at you.

* * *

When I travel to the Pacific Northwest from my home in Pennsylvania, as I did last month, I like to say that I'm half a world away, but it's all hyperbole. Being on the other side of North America isn't even close to being halfway around the earth. I'd have to go to Indonesia or Australia for that.

Oh this lonely world is wasted
Pathetic eyes, high alive
Blind to the tide that turns the sea
This storm that came up strong
It shook the trees, and blew away our fear
I couldn't even hear....

 I love a good story. I just don't know how to write one yet.