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Jen’s ten rules for writers (for today)

Sometimes things conspire to keep the body from pulling itself out of bed at 4:50am. Sometimes the dog has been awake at irregular intervals all night, snapping off sharp, surprising barks at the neighbors who had the audacity to have a gathering on their summer-vacation Monday night and into Tuesday morning. Sometimes she’s up at 1:48am, shaking and scratching and agitating so that her collar rings like poorly-tuned chimes, needing to go outside. Sometimes the body stands at the back door, falling back asleep while upright, waiting for the dog to finish exploring the night yard and ask to be let back in. Sometimes the work went late into the night and rest didn’t come early enough. Sometimes the leg spasms, dancing all by itself, and the rest of the body doesn’t want to stretch it — that road leads directly to charlie horse.

So sleep, such as it is, blows right through the 4:50 alarm, through the many snoozes, and continues on until almost 7. Sometimes the sweetheart’s arms are just too sweet to slip away from, and so it’s a whole lot better to cuddle back in under the covers after every snooze. And those precious early morning writing hours are spent in dreams. But the dreams will make their way into some character’s head, someday. That’s the hope.

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Today is a self-care day: body work, therapy, CoDA — not in that order. There’s much work to do — we have a beautiful group gathered for our summer online write whole session, and folks have already begun to share strong and gorgeous work there; our fundraising campaign for Sex Still Spoken Here (the Erotic Reading Circle anthology) is in the homestretch and needs a lot of attention in order to make our $5000 goal; Dive Deep‘s SummerFall 2014 Cohort is underway and manuscripts are arriving for response; Write Whole‘s in-person session begins next week, and I’ve got to prepare our syllabus and get the word out to any last-minute registrants — I’ve also got a syllabus to prepare for a master class for the National Poetry Slam at the beginning of next month and start getting the word out to local colleges about our 2014-2015 workshop offerings… so today’s practice will be to relax during the self-care time, and trust that the work will get done as it needs to get done. Whew.

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Last Thursday, In the first meeting of our Dive Deep SummerFall cohort, I asked us to write (in 10 minutes) our 10 rules for writers (I got the idea from Advice to Writers, which shares various writers’ lists of 10 rules now and again…). We got some great lists, and some interesting overlap among many of our lists. What would get included on your list of 10 “rules” for writers? What would you leave off your list of “rules”?

Here’s what my list looked like:

1) Start now.

2) Open a notebook. Get a fast-moving pen. Sit down at a corner table in a bustling cafe, next to a window, wearing headphones connected to a tape player blaring music you’ve listened to often enough that the sound simply permeates your brain, creating a barrier between the loud voices around you, the even louder and more hostile voices within you, and the words you can barely even allow yourself to know you want to write. Put the pen to the page. Write one word, then another, as fast as you can, faster than the eyes of your inner editors and censors can read. Keep going for 20 minutes, take a breath, then keep going for another 20 years.

3) Understand that anyone’s rules for writing are useless to you.

4) Move your body in ways that feel excellent to you and make you sweat at least as often as, and for as long as, you write.

5) Be around animals — they being you into the present moment better than anything else.

6) Read books you love. Read books you don’t love. Read in and out of the genre you want to write.

7) Write what you love — not what you think you ought to write. Forgive yourself for not always loving what you “ought” to write.

8) Remember that writing needs room to breathe — loafing, wandering, and lazing aimlessly are often deeply creative acts.

9) Take paid work that has nothing to do with writing, leaves you energy to write, and provides material for your writing.

10). Be easy with you. And keep going.

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The story of Sex Still Spoken Here … and how you can help!

Cover of Sex Still Spoken HereWe’re a third of the way toward our goal, and we need your donations and your help getting the word out about the Erotic Reading Circle anthology –before you investigate our excellent (and dirty) referral contest that’s running right now, let me tell you the story of the latest incarnation of the Erotic Reading Circle and how this book came to be:

In 2006, I approached Carol Queen and asked whether she would be interested in reinstating the Erotic Reading Circle. I’d learned about the ERC during my first three months in San Francisco, when I was running my first erotic writing group for sexual trauma survivors. At Community Thrift (one of my my favorite bookstores in San Francisco), I came across a book entitled Sex Spoken Here, which anthologized some of the amazing work that had been shared at the Erotic Reading Circle during its run at Good Vibrations. In their introduction, the co-editors, Carol Queen and Jack Davis, described the power, beauty, and community that the Erotic Reading Circle had nurtured during its run into the mid-90s. Here I was, a newbie to San Francisco in 2003, researching the healing/transformative potential of erotic expression for survivors of sexual violence. “Wait,” I thought. “Why doesn’t a space like the Erotic Reading Circle still exist?”

A few years later, I had had the good luck to be introduced to Carol, began facilitating an erotic writing group at the Center for Sex and Culture, and even though I was still starstruck whenever I spoke to her (an experience that continues to this day!), I asked whether she would be interested in rebooting the Erotic Reading Circle under the Center’s auspices — and she said yes! We’ve been meeting monthly (every fourth Wednesday, 7:30-9:30pm, at the CSC) ever since — that’s coming on 8 years now — co-facilitating a space in which erotic writers can bring their work and have it received with respect, enthusiasm, and generous feedback.

A couple of years ago, we (along with our co-editor, the tremendous Amy Butcher) put out a call to our ERC regulars, asking for submissions for an anthology — we wanted to share with the larger community the strong, hot, layered, complicated, powerful writing that shows up at the Reading Circle every month. The book that resulted from this call — Sex Still Spoken Here — includes stories, poems, and essays from 27 ERC authors. It also includes excerpts from a conversation among the editors (in which we discuss the power of creative erotic space, the importance of erotic writing to the larger literary community, and the ways in which the ERC has supported new and established writers in the SF Bay area for all of these years) and a brief how-to guide, for folks who’d like to bring a Reading Circle into their own communities.

Self publishing costs money. So does paying authors. The editor have volunteered hundreds of hours on behalf of this project. The Center for Sex and Culture is a long-established non-profit doing extraordinary work in our community, and needs your support in order to get cultural products like Sex Still Spoken Here into the hands of folks who need to know that erotic expression comes in a whole lot more than 50 shades. Please support this project — every single dollar helps. Through our indiegogo campaign, you can pre-order the book (in print or e-format), or avail yourself any of our other tantalizing perks. You can also pass the word — if you have ever participated in the ERC or one of Writing Ourselves Whole’s erotic writing groups, I would ask you to please forward this message. Every step helps further the ERC’s mission to create more awareness and respect for the vast breadth of erotic creative expression, and to hold open a consistent space for those writers who are willing to risk writing the erotic.

We’ve raised just over one-third of the $5000 we need to publish and distribute this book, and we are so grateful to all of those who have already donated! Please help bring Sex Still Spoken Here into the world. Thank you, much love, and keep writing!

igg.me/at/sssh-anthology

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Support Sex Still Spoken Here!

Three years, in 2011, Amy Butcher, Carol Queen and I got it into our heads to compile an anthology of the amazing writing that we were privy to every month at the Center for Sex and Culture’s Erotic Reading Circle — and so we put out a call for submissions, received gloriously hot stories in return, and began what ended up being a  two-year process of bringing this collection together (talk about a lag time)!

But the long wait is over! It’s finally coming to fruition: please welcome Sex Still Spoken Here: The (second) Erotic Reading Circle Anthology: Twenty-seven stories from our Erotic Reading Circle writers, a conversation among the editors about the power of the circle and the need for more erotic-writing spaces, and a how-to guide for those wishing to start an Erotic Reading Circle in their own communities! Isn’t this a book you’d love to have on your shelf?

Here’s where you come in: Sex Still Spoken Here is being self-published by the new Center for Sex and Culture, and needs the erotic-writing- and erotic-reading-loving community to come together and support this book’s coming to life! Please check out our indiegogo campaign, donate what you can, pass the word on to friends who believe in the power and necessity of erotic expression and community. We have wonderful perks, not including the excellence that is this anthology — you might want some homemade bread (from yours truly!) along with a personalized writing prompt, your own erotic reading circle, or even to have Carol Queen and Robert Lawrence grace your very own bedroom with their delicious words! It’s all available to you — and you get the pleasure of knowing you have helped this beautiful collection.

Thank you for your words and your support — I can’t wait to share this book with you!

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what we attend to shapes us

Labyrinth Habitat mural by Johanna Poehig;  I wake up from layered and complicated dreams. There are things I want to tell you about, but it’s not time for them yet. The alarm goes off at 4, and I think, I could just snooze for a little bit, and then I forget to press snooze, and now it’s after 5.

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The Fall writing workshop series begins next week — Write Whole: Survivors Write starts on Monday, and we do still have a couple of spaces left! Friday is the last day to register — if you have been thinking about joining us and giving yourself and your stories a regular, weekly writing time, please do contact me.

Tonight’s the Erotic Reading Circle at the Center for Sex and Culture; a good time for me to go through recent notebooks and find a story that I want to work more with. Have you seen the  call for submissions for Sex Still Spoken Here, the Erotic Reading Circle anthology? If you’ve participated in this latest round of the erotic reading circle (since about 2006), we want your stories and poems!

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We’ve started leaving the door to the puppy’s kennel open at night, so she can get up and come out when she’s ready in the morning. So far, she seems to stay in there all night, only getting out after I’ve been up and at the computer working for awhile. Right now she’s here with me in the office, digging behind the office door for something. All I hear is snuffling and claws scraping carpet, not hard, but persistent. I say her name, and she stops. She’s ready to go outside, but it’s still dark out. When she first came home with us, it was light at 4 or 4:30, and we could go out then. The earth’s rotation is thwarting our early morning walk.

There’s something about putting the work we believe in the most at a centered place in our day. How does that work for you? For me, it means writing first — whether that’s journaling, morning pages, blogging, freewriting on a story. Not editing, but generating new words, first thing in my day.

A message I heard this weekend talked about this idea that what we pay attention to, what we attend to, reveals what we love, and shapes who we’re about to be:

Attention is a tangible measure of love. Whatever receives our time and attention becomes the center of gravity, the focus of our life. This is what we do with what we love: We allow it to become our center.

What is the center of your life? Carefully examine where you spend your attention, your time. Look at your appointment book, your daily schedule. These things – these meetings, errands, responsibilities – this is where you dedicate your precious days, hours, and moments. This is what receives your care and attention – and, by definition, your love.

We become what we love. Whatever you are giving your time and attention to, day after day, this is the kind of person you will eventually become. Is this what you want?

— Wayne Muller

When I was listening to this message, I was thinking about how I shoved what I loved most to the far edges of my life, for years, in order to protect those things: writing, femininity, deep connection with other people. What I actually paid attention to was my stepfather’s desires, how he wanted me to be in the world, the work he expected me to do. That, plus I paid attention to his moods and emotions — I did these things, attended to these things, for my own survival. So, what did this reveal about what I loved? That I loved him more than writing? That I loved his moods more than my mother’s or my sister’s? I certainly gave his more attention —

I understand the core of this message, this idea: what we focus on shapes our days, shapes what will come for us. If I spend three hours writing today, I have that writing to work with tomorrow, and I am closer to having something to submit to an anthology next week. If I spend five minutes today attending to the state of my own body, I may be beginning a pattern that will let my body know that its states of being matter to me — what does that mean? I mean, if I pay attention to my body today, by next week, I might be sitting or moving differently because I paid attention to what my body needed. Every small action toward or in service of what we love builds up that place in us. Think about a ball of rubber bands: begin with one tiny band, add one more and one more, do this over a period of months, and you end up with a baseball-sized collection. Small actions, small attentions, add up to big ones.

Let this be a write for today: what aren’t you or your character attending to that you want to be? Take 10 minutes for that part of yourself today, and write about it. Or write about how you make space for what you love by attending to it. Just turn your attention to a part of yourself (or apart of your character) that you want to grow, and let the writing flow from there. (This could be a good morning for a love letter to the body, if it’s the body that needs some attention.)

Follow your writing wherever it seems to want you to go. And be easy with you, ok? One small step, every day, that’s all. That’s powerful beginning.

Thank you for your attentiveness, your witness, your awareness, your tender ferocity. Thank you for your words!