Upcoming Writing Retreat: Do You Have an Idea for a Children’s Book?

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Do you have an idea for a children’s book? Maybe you’ve thought: I’ll write it someday. Well, make that “someday” today! Join us for Oh, The Places You Can Go!, a retreat with children’s book writing coach Esther Hershenhorn.

Wherever you are with your work, you are welcome.

When: April 21-23, 2017. We’ll open with a meet-and-greet reception at 4pm Friday afternoon and end by noon Sunday.

Where: Haley Farm Inn and Retreat Center, a gorgeous spa and retreat center in the serene region of Western Maryland, just minutes away from Deep Creek Lake (3 hours from Washington, D.C.). Need a carpool from Reagan National Airport? Let us know!

Instructor and Description: Esther Hershenhorn will introduce you to the Children’s Book World and offer rules of the road to make navigating that world doable and easy. She will guide you toward your next steps. More importantly, she’ll connect with retreat writers one-on-one, heart-to-heart, so your story can eventually do the same with readers. A die-hard Cubs fan who knows the value of heart, hope, faith and perseverance, Esther teaches at the Writer’s Studio at the University of Chicago Graham School and at Chicago’s Newberry Library. To learn more about Esther Hershenhorn, her books, and how she works with (and cares for) her writers, go here.

Cost: $375 for the workshop only. $789 for the workshop plus two nights lodging at Haley Farm and all meals. Lodging is single occupancy with a private bath. Meals are organic and homemade. There will be optional meditation and yoga classes. (There is also a FREE housing option available a few miles away from the Inn if you’d rather stay there.)

Cancellation Policy: Fees are nonrefundable; however, you may transfer your spot if you can find someone to take your place or if there is someone on the waiting list.

Questions? Feel free to email me (the organizer) at jenny [dot] rough [at] jennyrough [dot] com. Hope to see you in April!

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I Love My Commute

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As I sat in gridlock on the George Washington Memorial Parkway during my 45-minute morning commute into Washington, I looked out the window. There was a woman my age running along the Mount Vernon Trail. I longed to be outdoors — and vertical.

That moment last fall, when I was 42, marked the beginning of a change in my life that would give me more energy and better fitness.

To continue reading my article in The Washington Post about being a pedestrian commuter, click here.

Watch This Film

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Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things is playing in select theaters this summer. There are different definitions of minimalism, but it’s basically about carefully considering your purchases instead of mindlessly buying items. It helped me realize I’ve been organizing clutter instead of reducing the amount of it. Why keep it? Why allow it into my life in the first place? Why not give it to someone who will actually use it?

The Minimalists (the two guys who made the documentary) aren’t preaching religion, but in a blog post they say people often thank them for spreading Christ’s message.

Too funny. I completely understand why people say that. Even though it’s not intended, I can’t help but see some biblical theology in the message.

For example, learning about minimalism has opened my eyes to the fact that I’ve believed certain lies:

  1. I need to have, own, or buy this to prosper.
  2. I shouldn’t have to live with unfulfilled desires.
  3. My money is mine to spend how I want to.

Those lies are crushed with the truth of Scripture:

  1. One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want. (Proverbs 11:24-25)
  2. He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you manna … that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord. (Deuteronomy 8:3)
  3. “The silver is Mine and the gold is Mine,” declares the Lord of hosts (Haggai 2:8).

Regardless of your spiritual beliefs, I hope you’ll take time this summer to watch the film. It’s worth it. Also, in this month’s newsletter, I recommend a good book on minimalism.

The Creative Life

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When my book club picked this book I was a tad skeptical. I thought I knew what to expect: an entertaining, inspiring read with a feel-good message. A little too “perfect” for my taste. Or worse, an author who came across as perfectly imperfect. I wasn’t sure I’d like it—well, I loved it. Turns out, the book was funny, it had a fresh take on approaching creative ideas, it addressed how to handle frustration during the creative process, and it was eye-opening (people “murder their creativity by demanding their art pay the bills,” the author says). Take your art seriously, she adds, but don’t take it seriously. By the end, I was able to identify work that I’m ready to send into the world instead of tinkering with it for the millionth time. I was able to let go of stale ideas I’d been clinging to and make space for the ideas that are alive. For more good books and thoughts on nurturing your creative spirit, consider joining Roughly Speaking, my newsletter.

Book Binge

Girl-in-the-Woods-175x250I got sick the day after Thanksgiving but had so much fun “recovering” by camping out on the couch with a stack of books. Some of these might be good holiday gift ideas:

Girl in the Woods If you liked Wild, read this book. Both writers walked the Pacific Crest Trail after devastating life events, yet for some reason I got a better feel for the trail from this woman’s account. I closed the cover and felt like I needed to brush the cobwebs off my shirt and shake the leaves from my hair. It stirred up a strong desire to walk the PCT.

Between Gods Gorgeous writing. The author grew up in a Christian home with a churchgoing family only to discover her grandparents were Jewish. As she dug into her family history, the writer debated whether or not to convert to Judaism. It was a fascinating read. The only strange thing was that despite her agony over her conversion, I had no idea what she actually believed about God by the end (she wrote more about her family roots and the cultural aspects of faith).

Stir This book was about a woman who was running on a treadmill one morning when she suddenly had an aneurysm. In addition to many surgeries, she found her way back to health with the help of cooking. I loved the the brain parts, but if you’re a foodie, you may love the kitchen and recipe parts.

Knowing God Knowing about God is one thing, but can we know God? Scripture says yes, and this book invites readers to meditate on Scripture in order to move God’s word from our head to our hearts.

How About Never? Is Never Good for You? The New Yorker cartoon editor shares the story of his career. Funny.

Trail of Memories

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Edie Changes Her Mind is one of those library books I checked out every week as a child. The little girl on the cover is a night owl. She refuses to go to sleep. One evening, her parents dismantle her bed and let her stay up. After that, Edie learns to appreciate rest.

I haven’t thought about the book in decades. Edie would have been forever lost to me except for the fact that a few weeks ago, I began to write about nocturnal tendencies and early childhood. The combination of those two topics opened a spring of long-forgotten memories, and out spouted Edie!

Once I remembered the book, I couldn’t believe I’d forgotten.

As I work on my own book, I often call my mom to ask her about family events I don’t remember well. My mom’s recollections are fuzzy. She says, “I wish I had kept a journal.”

I know the feeling. I wish I had kept a journal as a child. I wish I had kept a journal in law school. I especially wish I’d kept a journal as a young associate in a law firm. (What inner turmoil!)

A lot of things from the past might be painful to recall, but I still wish I’d kept a written account. I am afraid the memories of what happened in prior years are lost forever.

But they might not be.

One thing I’ve discovered is that writing now (meaning, today) helps me remember then. Dig around your brain, move around some debris, and you’ll find an old trail to follow. One trail of thought leads to another and before long you’ll bump into Edie. It’s strange how buried memories resurface when you write.

Want to see what you might rediscover if you grab a notebook and scribble away? I’m teaching a private 4-week personal essay workshop this October. One spot left. Contact me for details.

Top 10 Reasons to Join My Newsletter

I’m launching a newsletter. Why join? Here are the top 10 reasons:

  1. You’re a relative and don’t have a choice
  2. You’re a competitor keeping tabs on me
  3. You love books and want to swap good reads with me
  4. You have a story you’d like to write and see in print one day (each newsletter will highlight a magazine or outlet seeking submissions)
  5. Deep conversations don’t scare you: life, death, God, big fears, pondering the meaning of those little yellow Minions–bring it on
  6. You want a sneak peek inside the book I’m writing (I’ll share excerpts, you’ll get the scoop on its progress, and you may even influence what’s in its pages)
  7. You believe in fate and think there is a reason why you’re reading these words right here, right now … or not, but what the heck, you’ll sign up anyway
  8. You want to support a starving artist
  9. You want to nurture your creative spirit
  10. You want to be one of my CEOs (chief encouragement officers). My friend Holly says all writers need ’em … lots of ’em. She’s right. Thank you for your encouragement!

What’s the difference between the blog and newsletter? To paraphrase publishing expert Jane Friedman, the blog offers sips of champagne. The newsletter is the bottle. In other words, I don’t hold back in the newsletter.

Most people who write newsletters give a free gift to new subscribers. Will you? Of course! As a token of my appreciation, you’ll get my favorite books list, artfully created by multimedia designer Ryan Han. (Thank you, Ryan!)

How do I sign up? Click here. Or, scroll straight up to the tippity top of this page. Next to where it says Jenny’s Newsletter, type your email address in the box. Then hit subscribe. It’s that easy.

The ART of IF

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The pieces of artwork above are part of a pop-up exhibit called The ART of IF: Navigating the Journey of Infertility. The first piece is a journal written by a woman during fertility treatments. The second is a necklace made by a woman who wanted to keep a visual history of her fertility medication (each bead represents a shot). The third is a painting showing the toll treatments can take on the body.

When I was navigating my own journey, I came across a wordplay on the term ProCreation at Pulling Down the Moon (a holistic health fertility center). I loved the double entendre. My body wasn’t able to generate offspring, but I could still be creative, and I could enjoy the work of others who were nurturing their creative spirits, like the artists above. Anyway, I wrote more about the story behind the ART of IF for Washingtonian’s Well+Being blog. The exhibit is coming to Busboys & Poets (5th and K) in Washington on May 15 where I’ll be teaching a writing workshop from 4-5pm. Today, on the ART of IF’s blog, there is a post that describes one of the writing exercises we’ll do in the workshop. I’d love to hear how you answer the question addressed in the post.

God With Us

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December 25 has come and gone, the advent candles have long been blown out, and the day of Epiphany is just a memory. And yet … I find that I’m still lingering in the joy of the season. My January days have been slow and calm. Each morning, as I sip coffee and eat my breakfast, I listen to Christmas hymns. Writing at the cabin, I gaze up from my desk and marvel at God’s creation: His mountains, pines, aspen, junipers, and beautiful snow. And O, the holy nights.

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Recently, I had the chance to write two articles, one on fertility, and one on faith. The two matters are so closely intertwined, but it can be hard to see that because our world likes to extricate spirituality from every aspect of our day-to-day lives. To be frank, the faith article isn’t written in the way I originally envisioned. I don’t think I’ve ever been through so much back and forth during the publication process. But in the end, I like the way it turned out, and I really appreciate the editor’s guidance on the story.

Still, I feel like I’m sitting on a gold mine of material from the faith article that never made it to print. I had the chance to interview an imam, a Mormon stake president, an atheist, a Jewish woman who used to live in Jerusalem and had studied at Hebrew University, and about twenty other people of various beliefs (part of my struggle to write a cohesive piece was that I was swimming in research!). I hope I can do something with all that great material one day.

One question I asked in a number of interviews was this: “What is the biggest difference between Judaism, Islam, and biblical Christianity?” A pastor who is profiled in the story, Pastor Scott, said it boils down to one thing: “Who is Jesus? They all have a different idea of who Jesus is,” he said. “Is He truly the Messiah?”

The answer brings me back to Christmas. The “tree” of names above is similar to a design I once saw on a holiday card. Some years ago, I went through a major spiritual reorientation where I had to take a brutally honest look at my own beliefs about Christ. I began to read the scriptures in earnest only to discover I was in good company. Among other people, His disciples, His enemies, His cousin John the Baptist, the religious leaders of the day, the non-religious leaders of the day, and the crowds that followed Him ALL asked the question: Who is He?

Both times I visited Israel, I had the chance to spend time in Caesarea Philippi, the place where Jesus discussed that very issue with His disciples. While there, He asked them two questions: (1) Who do others say I am? (2) Who do you say I am?

When Pastor Scott shared his personal story with me during our interview, he said that there was a time he realized that his own ideas of God and spirituality had no basis. “I invented God the way I wanted Him to be,” Scott said. “I thought, That can’t be a good thing, because if God is really real, I can’t invent Him according to what I want Him to be. I mean, He is the one who created me. I need to find out how He wants to approach me, how He wants me to approach Him. So I have to figure out if He has revealed himself to humanity in some way. Like, is one of these holy book really His revelation? What’s the story?” Scott began to read various texts, including the gospel of John. And he prayed a simple prayer: God, if You’re real, show me.

What a great place to start.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

“For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
-Philippians 2:9-11

Gift of Books

One of the best parts about being an aunt to my two little nephews is trying to find books they’ll enjoy. Until my nephews were born, I never wandered into the children’s section of bookstores. Now Hooray for Books, my town’s independent children’s bookstore, is a favorite spot. This holiday season, I discovered Tomie dePaola. Every time I flip through his pages, I’m amazed at the way his art gives life to the words. Here’s the funny part: I’m walking around thinking I’m introducing books to my nephews, but in reality my nephews are the ones who are introducing books to me. So many wonderful books, books, books!

LetTheWholeEarthSing