A Writing Prompt: On the Question of Struggle and Ease

Does writing have to be a struggle?

Yesterday, I posed this question on Facebook, and it turns out a lot of us have thoughts about this; the responses were insightful, interesting, wise, and varied.

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The conversation has me thinking about both how we define struggle and also, how we relate to ease, what these concepts have to do with privilege, with expectation, with culture — and what remains of just *being* when you strip all of these away.

What values do you assign to these words? Is struggle always a bad thing? Is ease necessarily a good thing?

I think of resistance slogans like ¡la lucha continua! and I feel a swelling of pride and power in struggle — to struggle against injustice, for example, is a very different thing than to struggle with freeing your own words onto the page (or is it?).

Are struggle and ease mutually exclusive?

What’s the difference between struggling and persevering, if any? Does ease always mean easy?  What are the origins of how you relate to these words, and how does this affect you today as a creative being?

Marge Piercy writes:

“Doorways are sacred to women for we are the doorways of life and we must choose what comes in and what goes out. Freedom is our real abundance.”

There are so many points of entry, so many questions. Every question is a doorway to greater freedom with and within our writing.

Your prompt:

Consider how struggle and ease show up in your everyday experience. Play with being objective, i.e. make a list of what you have to work your ass off for and another list for what you don’t have to think about at all. If you’d like, choose ONE thing from either or both lists for a deeper dive and closer look.

Start by setting a timer for 10 minutes. Be curious. See where the inquiry leads. There are no wrong answers. Keep your hand moving without judging yourself or editing as you go!

Do you long for more creative ease?

Are you a woman or femme working on a long-term project and wishing you had more accountability, structure, and companionship along the way?

Are you super busy but don’t want your writing to wither on the vine?

Jewels on the Path is a small (limited to 12) secret group that offers you a weekly rhythm for showing up with new work, honoring the ebb and flow of your personal creative process, and practicing asking for and receiving the kind of feedback you need and want most.

Spring is here and with it, an invitation to gently nurture new words — and a new way of relating to your writing!

You can sign up for the group only, or include 1:1 coaching sessions. The new session begins on Monday, April 2 and runs for 16 weeks.

Does this sound like just the thing your writing life needs? YAY. Contact me before the end of the week. Let’s talk about your writing and your life. It doesn’t have to be a struggle.

No Shortcuts or Detours for Writing the Truth

Photo: Gus Moretta

You might have read my post about taking five deep breaths, inspired by the practices in a small but mighty book called “The Art of Stopping Time: Practical Mindfulness for Busy People” by Pedram Shojai. Many mornings, my wife reads me that day’s practice.

A passage from today’s really struck me, so I thought I’d come here to write a bit about it. Shojai writes:

“Your true self doesn’t exist in time; your true self sits on a perch of infinity and is in all the places at all times. This is the great secret of the mystics. Hearing it isn’t enough, though. So many people are infected by spiritual consumerism and go off thinking, ‘Okay, okay. I’ve heard that. Give me something new.’ That’s the mark of the beast. Having a slight intellectual grasp of a concept and thinking you’ve got it is a fatal spiritual flaw, one that’s infected the New Age movement and led to egotism and attitudes of spiritual superiority.”

He goes on:

“The experience of this timelessness is the most transformative moment of one’s life. Getting there takes lots of practice, and most New Age jargon is designed to sell you tricks that help cut corners. There are no corners to cut. The whole thing is round.”

We live in a culture of shortcuts and detours.

Consider these two lines I’ve always loved, from the Irish poet Paul Muldoon:

Where are you taking us? 
A detour on the shortcut.

The image of the soul sitting on a perch of infinity strikes me as quite beautiful. It’s also intuitive to the point of impossible if you’re trying to grasp it intellectually. And that is perhaps Shojai’s whole point here. Spirituality is not an intellectual exercise. And neither, I would argue, is the kind of writing that gets words on the page.

Writing that gets words on the page, you ask? Doesn’t ALL writing do that?

OK, yes, You got me.

I’m talking here about generative writing.

What is generative writing? Writing that gets things moving, helps you begin, and isn’t concerned with outcome — yet. Writing that pours forth possibilities you can later revisit and refine or expand upon. Writing that is not necessarily a thruway to a powerful conclusion but rather a roundabout with no corners to cut, no shortcuts to take, and no detours that will get you to the ever-elusive “there” any sooner.

To get really intellectual about this, writing and spirituality are the same thing. Or maybe a better way of saying this is that writing is a vehicle for spirituality, a practice that — like perching — can offer us a glimpse into infinity. A place that’s not a place at all, but an experience of presence, from which we can access something true and not informed by a gaping vortex of self-help myopia.

“Give me something new” is something that infects the creative process, just as it can be the engine that drives a person towards every program that promises inner peace under the sun. Our attention spans are so truncated and our desire for novelty so overfed that the commitment of a regular writing practice can feel lackluster, at best. After all, we want to write something brilliant! Something that will turn heads and evoke tears or spur a movement.

The thing is, this might happen. But it will  be a lot less likely if you rarely or never write. And the odds are quite high that much of what you do write will feel pointless at best and at worst, like complete and utter dreck.

Next time you sit down to write, imagine that sitting down on that perch of infinity.

There’s nowhere to go but now, here. Whether you’re writing a journal entry, a blog post, an essay, or a chapter for your new book, this practice will allow you to arrive more fully into the present moment.

Not very sexy, I know. And hardly a feast for the ego.

That is precisely the point. The ego has done enough damage, has it not? Sometimes, you take a class or join a group for the strokes; after all, who doesn’t crave approval and oohs and aahs at how amazing and talented we are. But to meet yourself on the page, to not go outside of yourself in search of the thing that will finally launch your dream of being a real writer — this is the place without corners or detours. And it can be pretty damn unflashy.

This is the place here you get to listen hard and go deeper and take risks bigger than anything you’ll ever pay money for. Don’t get me wrong — I make my living leading writing groups and coaching people towards greater ease in their creative process. Working with guides and mentors, joining groups and programs — these can all be deeply worthwhile and even transformative.

It’s not about how many “likes” or shares your words get.

Not the acceptance and rejection notices. Not even that anyone else gets what you’re up to (though I bet someone will — and reaching a single reader is worth the world).

At the end of day, how you meet yourself in the writing is what matters. How willing you are, to write towards what’s true. The only way to do it is do it. And doing it takes time, practice, and a deep well of compassion for yourself in the process. This last bit may be the hardest part of all.

Dinner for One


Pearl went out with his dad and Aviva didn’t feel like joining me. So here I am, just me and my laptop and a not-too-strong Cosmopolitan at my side. I am such a lightweight when it comes to alcohol, that it’s likely I won’t even finish the one drink — and having a cocktail midweek is virtually unheard of for me these or any days. Tonight, though, it just felt like a good call. I entertained getting a local beet salad, then realized who was I kidding and ordered a burger and fries.

Dinner for one. It’s been a while.

Taking myself out this evening is a gift to myself. It’s me saying: Hi, self. You’re working hard. You’re showing up. You’re loving your wife and your kiddos and your clients and your groups. You’re a little cooked tonight; don’t forget to love yourself, too. It’s not that I don’t most of the time, but it certainly can get lost in the shuffle. The days have been full, the world a heartache and also a place of beauty and connection, so many things always true at once. Isn’t this what I have always come back to, especially when I sit down to write?

The moments that move me to tears though they may not seem like anything major: Mani talking excitedly about the dog crate and other puppy supplies she ordered today, a writer choosing a date for her new blog to live, my daughter’s new song.

Last night, while V was singing, I finally cried. I cried for the kids. I cried for the kids in Parkland. I cried for kids who are navigating adolescence in a world where mass shootings are commonplace.  Her lyrics, her heart — sitting on the edge of her bed and listening to her undid me. I just let the tears fall as she sang what could be an anthem for her generation. I just read the back of the bartender’s t-shirt: 9 out of 10 kids prefer crayons to guns.

My food just arrived and now my hands are sticky with ketchup.

When I told Mani earlier I was thinking of going out to get a bite to eat, she said: “I think you should. I  think you should do whatever the hell you want.” “Really?” I asked. (This is a typical exchange between us.)

She went on to say yes. I’m paraphrasing, but she essentially said: Yes because you love hard and you work hard. Yes because you don’t need a reason or an excuse or a justification. I told her I was feeling a little unsure about work. Not what I’m doing, but whether I’m doing it “right.” She blinked at me and reminded me that stats for new businesses at the three-year mark. Oh, right, I remembered. It’s working. Just keep going. My business may not be brand new, but it’s probably a toddler in terms of business development.

There’s time for things to unfold. 

Then I recalled the three client conversations I had today, all with women at various stages of writing. The common thread? Letting things unfold. We go in all gangbusters to write a book, to build a business, what have you, and then this thing happens called Process. Nothing goes the way we thought it would. Maybe it goes even better. Maybe just different. The straight line, like that popular cartoon, is a tangled squiggly mess of a thing. It looks… real.

And what do I tell said writers? Trust the process, the unfolding. The shape of things will emerge. Keep writing, keep going, keep building. Read a lot of books. Talk to people. Get really quiet. Sit with the hard parts. Trust, trust, trust.

It’s all I’ve ever really written about, come to think of it. I bet at least half of the blog posts I’ve written over the past 11 years have boiled down to that one word — and that’s not just the Cosmo talking (though I have surprised myself and nearly polished off my drink).

“You have created a beautiful, successful business,” my wife calls to me as I put on my boots.

“Really?” I ask. (See? Typical.)

“Really.”

I take this in and reflect on the wonderful conversations with these clients today, ones where it was so easy for me to see them where they are and believe in where they’re headed. I had one last question for her before heading out to eat.

“Why is it so much easier for us to see each other’s wholeness than our own? Why is it that we have such wisdom for other people, yet struggle to apply it to our own writing and life and work?”

“It’s a distance thing,” she said. And of course she was right. Other people see what we do well, see our gifts and strengths and best qualities, in ways that we often don’t.  It can be one of the most beautiful aspects of being in right relationship — to ourselves, our creativity, our work, our families, our colleagues, our comrades. Ideally, we help build each other up — not in falsehoods or ego strokes, but in true and genuine seeing, encouragement, and presence.

And with that, I just took the last swig of my drink. The burger is gone and the fries a close second. I’ll leave a big tip and head home soon to watch Jeopardy! with my son, to say goodnight three times to my daughter, and to end another day of life with my love. Tomorrow, God willing, I’ll wake up and get to do it all over again.

Thoughts on Writing and Fragility


All day, I’ve been pondering this: Becoming a stronger writer implicitly means becoming a less fragile person.

This notion has everything to do with my own journey, in that I’ve begun to see a correlation between writing and a more rooted sense of self, centeredness, and confidence that’s not contingent on outside approval or praise.

Now, to be clear: Developing some muscle, so as to be able to meet the world, needn’t come at the expense of being sensitive or tuned-in. If anything, I think they complement each other. But fragility — that to me has to be with being easily shattered, be it by feedback or negativity.

Practice is practice. The more I write, the more I write. And the more I risk sharing, the more I’m able to see that I am in fact risking very little. We’re conditioned with a lot of fear — what people will think of us, how we sound or look, whether we’re good enough or ready to share our writing. And the fear, in most cases, is unfounded in reality. If there is truly something at stake, it’s failure — and that can of worms is fodder for a whole different conversation.

My pondering here also has to do with social justice and the intersections of creativity with activism — the more you write and share and engage, the more you can become a participant in an urgent, ongoing conversation, as opposed to tip-toeing around and/or having an inflated sense of importance — neither of which is productive.

In my work, I want folks to get to practice writing, writing, writing — learning that they won’t die if the writing sucks, learning that inner critics are liars, and learning that ego has a lot to do with what keeps us small, stuck, and silent. Fragility dies on the vine, slowly but surely, when something deeper and more true begins to thrive.

The more you practice writing, the more confident you become in your own voice and the less defensive and threatened you need to be when confronting others’ perspectives and experiences.

The more you explore your own story, its shape, its contradictions, its nuance, its beauty, and its pain — the greater your capacity to recognize fear and limited thinking and the clearer your courage in speaking out.

The more you show up, risking being seen and heard, however imperfectly, the more you learn how to sidestep ego and the desire to look good or be right, in the name of something greater: Truth and beauty, connection and community, justice and equality.

None of this happens overnight, nor is it a process that’s ever finished. Poems, essays, books may be written. But the learning, the practice — it’s there that we return, over and over, to begin again, to go deeper, to strip the layers we hide behind that we didn’t even realize were still masking and muzzling us.

It’s work, and it’s play. It’s where work and play meet. It’s intentional and intuitive. There’s no prescription and there’s no magic eight-ball. There’s just one requirement: You have to show up. Roll up your sleeves and get out your pen. The world needs your strength.

And one more thing about strength: Like courage, it may not feel strong or brave at all. It probably feels questionable at best and stupid at worst. It’s likely to be vulnerable and sometimes uncomfortable and sometimes thrilling.

Yet you, on an ordinary day, telling the truth about your life and being willing to get more and more honest and real? That is strong, my friends. And it’s just the beginning.

Let fragility be nothing more than the shell that breaks open, revealing the pearl. And no matter what — keep writing.

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

Payment Option
Spying is a Luxury $99.00 USD
Middle of the Road $149.00 USD
Pay It Forward $199.00 USD

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

Payment Option
Spying is a Luxury $99.00 USD
Middle of the Road $149.00 USD
Pay It Forward $199.00 USD

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