By Jennifer A. Minotti, Editor-in-Chief
PROMPT — Who am I today?
Today, I am launching the Journal of Expressive Writing, a dream I’ve had for many years. I feel alive. Joyous. Giddy. And very grateful! Not only am I producing the journal I craved to see in the world, 31 writers have fearlessly entrusted me with their writing. Without ever seeing the journal, they sent me their most precious writing. I am humbled.
And what a testament to bravery! Regularly, I tell the participants in my writing circles to just keep writing. “Keep that pen moving.” “Keep those keys tapping.” “Don’t stop,” I say, “because at the point when you get underneath your subconscious, that’s when the really good stuff comes out.” I tell them that I don’t give them any prompts that I haven’t already written to. I never, ever ask someone to do something that I am not willing to do myself. So that is why I have timed myself here. I FEARED producing an opening statement as Editor-in-Chief that was not polished. And YET, if I returned again and again to edit my writing—trying to make it perfect which is an impossible task anyway—I would betray my audience and the courageous writers who submitted their writing already. Simply put, I would not be doing what I continually ask everyone else to do. So here you have it. My thoughts. Totally unpolished. My fingers typing. Desperately hoping that I am able to convey everything that is important to me about this journal in 20 minutes (or less). I’m sure I will forget something, but that’s ok. This is off the cuff and straight from the heart.
Long, long, long before COVID-19, I felt a dis-ease with many aspects of the world around me. I witnessed our most basic social and emotional needs being replaced by an insidious “busyness” that was supposed to help us get things done. Instead, I believe this busyness has only left us feeling anxious, lonely, and even insecure about ourselves. During this global pandemic, I have watched as those same feelings—for some—have intensified. Launching this journal feels like a balm, a salve, that I can offer during this time. I know it won’t help everyone, and I don’t expect it to. However, that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth pursuing. I love connecting people. I love supporting people and creating spaces where people can share their truths through the medium of writing. I love helping people open up. Expand their voices. I love supporting people as they write their hearts out and rediscover what inhabits their souls. I love bearing witness to people releasing old beliefs, outdated narratives, and plain old lies they told themselves. I tell people that they may choose to do whatever they want with these stories once they are released—Save them. Delete them. Publish them. Burn them! I love encouraging others to see in themselves what I already see in them. I love, love, love watching people write to timed prompts. People thank me all of the time for giving them the space to do so, but I feel I am the lucky one. I get to witness people finding their voices! What could be better than that? I observe as people write about tremendous hurts and enormous aspirations. I hear about regret. Adversity. Forgiveness. Often, when people are feeling especially inspired, I get the privilege of listening as they tell us about their gifts and talents. Those are truly glorious moments, when people are no longer looking for their voice, but have FOUND it, and then generously share it with the rest of us! It really doesn’t really matter WHAT people write about. That’s not the point. The point is that people are giving themselves TIME, away from the craziness of the outside world, to do something just for themselves. No pressure. No expectations. No pre-work. No deadlines. Just using their love of writing to expressive themselves freely in that moment in time. Often I wish that the whole world could know what it feels like to be inside the circle of belonging that I am lucky enough to find myself regularly through this vocation. I get to sit across from and next to people of all backgrounds and experiences. I have the supreme privilege of getting to better understand people’s journeys and experiences. I am entrusted with their deepest feelings and I do not take that lightly. I also no longer assume to know what someone might write based on the limited information I have about them or what they look like. I am surprised constantly. And that’s a wonderful thing. In the most simplistic way, writing to prompts can help us to get unstuck. They can be used as a gateway to unleashing our true selves, and the practice itself can serve as an escape from the outside world. Rarely does it matter what the prompt is. When we give ourselves the time and space to surrender—to let go fully—to be open to the intimacy and solidarity that happens when we expressively write and share our work, something magical happens. I’ve seen it happen too many times to deny its validity. BUT, we mustn’t get hung up on the details! I don’t want the fear of doing this the wrong way to stop people in their tracks. I don’t want the need for a perfect piece of writing to prohibit people from writing at all. I’ve known that kind of fear myself and that’s why I started this journal. If we are to believe that each and every one of us is a work in progress—and I truly believe that—then so is our writing! If we wait until we think we’re perfect enough or ready enough or polished enough or IMPORTANT enough to exist in the world, no one will ever read our writing. What a loss to humanity that would be! Sharing our stories is one of the greatest gifts we can give to one another! Do not hesitate. Leap! Last summer, while on vacation with my family, I decided to do a belly flop in my evening gown! It was one of the greatest things I did for myself in YEARS! Sometimes, it’s easy to forget how fun life can be. Often, we are the ones holding ourselves back. So say, “Goodbye” to that inner critic once and for all. I assure you—you know better! And you will not fail. You can’t. The world wants to hear your story. And so do I.
*** A Note About the Order of the Pieces in the Inaugural Issue—Every story matters in equal weight! In my writing circles, we do not respond to people’s writing, because there is no good or bad writing. No better or worse. No stories are more or less important than others. Following those same guidelines, we do not comment here and we do not “like” each other’s work. This is a space for ALL stories to be heard and valued. In that vein, I attempted to the best of my ability to randomize the writings in this first launch so that no one’s work would appear “first” or “last.” This was an impossible task. Therefore, please know that the order presented initially is in NO way a reflection of preference, quality, or importance of any one story. Every story is as equal to the others, and they are ALL equal in value. Just like their authors.
Thank you for reading!
Jennifer A. Minotti is the Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Expressive Writing. She is an Artist-in-Residence at the Center for Women's Health and Human Rights at Suffolk University and a Ph.D. student at Lesley University. Jen is the founder of the Women’s Writing Circle, Co-creator of the World’s Very First Gratitude Parade, and helped establish Gratitude Day in the City of Cambridge, Massachusetts. For 17 years, Jen worked at Education Development Center (EDC) on projects that focused on education, health, and human development. She is a graduate of Boston University and Columbia University, and is passionate about expressive writing and spreading gratitude through her Gratitude Jar project.