Sunday, May 17, 2020

If You Want To Write: Jena Schwartz


Writing teacher and coach Jena Schwartz lives in Amherst, Massachusetts with her kids, Aviva and Pearl, her beautiful wife, Mani, and their bulldog, Chalupa, and describes her life and work as “anything but predictable.”

In her work, Jena says, she talks a lot about practice: “It’s the basis for my writing and life, for how I parent and how I work with writers. To me, practice means we don’t have to hit the bullseye, we just have to throw the arrow. Permission to stumble, self-forgiveness, fierce compassion for the ache and beauty of being human — these inform and guide me. I’m not interested in love and light; I’m interested in the truth.”

Jena was kind enough to share with us a recent post that appeared (in slightly different form) on her blog:

Tonight I noticed in my "COVID-19 diaries" Word doc that I've written exactly 50 pages and 24,000 words since March 17, which was day four of quarantine for me. 

I am not generally focused on word count, and often don't even keep all that much of my day-to-day writing, so it's interesting to see it adding up, especially since I'm not working towards anything but rather just writing my way through this experience. 

This isn’t all that different from what I’ve been doing since 2007 when I first started blogging, but the pandemic puts life in full relief and sharpens the edges in some ways.

Last week on a walk, a thought came to me—it may have been prompted in part by the short poem I wrote inspired by a local poet’s baguette baking—about the similarities between bread and poetry. 

I had the thought that maybe I am a baker-kind-of-writer. Hopefully, people eat the bread. Hopefully, the bread brings nourishment and perhaps pleasure. Maybe it accompanies a meal that brings people together.

But there is no big opus of bread the baker leaves after she'd gone from this world. In this same way, I don't know if I will "leave" any significant single work or body of work; the shelves might never be lined with books I've written.

In a world with far more than its share of big names, fame has never been a driver for me. And the longer I'm here, the longer I keep writing and sharing with no expectation of some magical day when something different happens, the more at peace I am with leaving behind mostly writing that was consumed in the moment, then forgotten. Or maybe occasionally remembered in the way one might recall a satisfying meal. That would be more than ok with me.

A new coaching client who has been writing with me online for years asked me the other day about my brand. I wonder how my face looked on Zoom in that moment. Brand? Huh. Not so much. I told her with a laugh that at one point when Aviva was in middle school, she told me what my brand was. "Mama," she said earnestly, "your brand is coffee, and real life, and being short." I laughed and laughed.

If you want to write:

Forget all the nonsense about best-sellers and brands and sales funnels and platforms and all the things you should do on social media. The world does not need more brands. The world needs more of YOU.

Write like you're baking or making a meal for someone you love.

Write like you're making your favorite tried-and-true recipes or write like you're experimenting and have no idea how the thing is going to turn out.

Write like everyone is so hungry and you are making an offering, like bringing a dish to a fabulous potluck filled with ordinary people who all have extraordinary stories to share, plates filled with every kind of cuisine there is.

Write like it's simple -- flour, yeast, water, maybe a pinch of sugar or salt or honey.

Don't worry about what it will amount to or where it's all going or how you'll know when you get there. You won't, because, in the famous words of Gertrude Stein, there's no there, there. 

There is always only here, and now, and this.

Jena Schwartz earned an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Emerson College and her B.A. in Russian Studies from Barnard College, Summa Cum Laude and Phi Beta Kappa. For more information about Jena and her work, visit her website https://www.jenaschwartz.com or her Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/thepromptress/

Note: “If You Want To Write” originally appeared on Jena’s blog and Facebook page in slightly different form. It’s reprinted here with her permission.