Jennifer Minotti is The Network’s newest Board member. We were excited to sit down with Jen to talk about her new Journal of Expressive Writing, her Women’s Writing Circles, and what she hopes to bring to the TLA Network.
You created the Journal of Expressive Writing amid a global pandemic. Tell us about the journal and why you felt called to create it in this moment.
Long before the pandemic, I spent hours conceptualizing this journal. The idea first came to me while facilitating my Women’s Writing Circles, which I have been teaching since 2015 as a Writer-in-Residence at Suffolk University’s Center for Women’s Health and Human Rights in Boston. For years, I have had the privilege of listening to hundreds of women’s stories. These stories are so amazing! I am always astounded at what women produce in just 5 or 10 minutes from a single writing prompt.
My goal is to provide a sacred writing space that supports the personal and collective wellness, self-expression, and health of my participants. For most women, this meets their needs. But for others, there is a strong desire to also have their voices heard more widely. Many women have asked me for publishing advice over the years. As you know, the publishing industry is not an easy one to navigate, especially for new writers. In addition, facing rejection can be counterproductive to women who were just supported, many for whom this is not a regular occurrence. I wanted to facilitate a publishing process for my participants, as well as others, that would be more uplifting and gratifying and that would move their voices out of the circle and into the world where they could be heard more widely!
Amidst COVID-19, I realized that there was no better time to create this journal than right now. Many of us not on the front lines were asking ourselves how we could best be in service to others. Many felt helpless and didn’t know how to help. I’m not a sewer, as an example, so making masks was totally out of the question! One day last Spring I realized that creating this online journal was the best way I could use my strengths and passion to make a difference in the world. I immediately started working on the website. I put out a Call for Submissions. I told myself that if I didn’t receive any submissions, it wasn’t meant to be. I’m not on social media, so that made things more difficult. But by the time I launched the Journal of Expressive Writing on May 15, 2021, I had received expressive writing from 31 people. I was shocked! It could have been a non-starter, but fortunately, I think people understood what I was trying to achieve, or at least I hoped they did. I then realized that I had to write a piece introducing the journal to the world as Editor-in-Chief. That was scary, but I figured if others could put themselves out there, so could I. If you’re interested in reading more, it’s called Belly Flopping in my Evening Gown.
You said that you thought people understood what you were trying to achieve with the new journal. What was that?
For as long as I can remember, I have always felt that many of our most basic social and emotional needs have been replaced by desires that accompany the dominant cultural norms that permeate our technology-driven, capitalistic, and boisterous modern-day world. Before the pandemic, many people were already anxious, scared, lonely, and unsure of their place in the world. For the millions of people who were struggling with recent losses—lost jobs, deaths, illness, stay at home orders, children learning remotely, lack of stability—those feelings of loneliness, separateness, and fear were intensified.
But I knew how much expressive writing could help. Expressing our emotions through writing can help ground us. It can help us manage our emotions. It can help us make sense of our lives. The more we free write and journal, the more empathy, gratitude, forgiveness, and joy show up in our lives. I know this through personal experience and also through years of research and studying this. Expressive writing helps support healing processes and illuminates un-awakened parts of ourselves. It opens us to new perspectives and narratives. It’s so easy to do and totally free, and yet it can shift our mindset, help us feel more connected to others, and is essentially a total game changer! Expressive writing is something we can do anywhere, at anytime, even during a global pandemic and lock-down.
In addition, I’m an activist at my core. At a fundamental level, I have this very strong belief that sharing our stories is a radical act of self-love and love for others. I couldn’t stop thinking that if we could just share our stories—in a raw, truthful and very real way—at this moment in time when we needed connection more than ever, it just might be one of the most valuable gifts we gave to ourselves and others. It just might help bridge the political, class, and racial divides that were simultaneously exploding and perhaps help in some small way.
That’s really interesting, Jen. Tell me more about the journal’s connection to social justice for you.
The easiest way to explain the connection for me is to borrow from what I have learned from Thich Nhat Hanh, who most of us know. He has this great way of explaining how, when groups listen deeply to one another—and this is similar to how women listen to other women within my Women’s Writing Circles—they start to recognize that the other group’s suffering is similar to their own, even when their specific situations may differ. I’ve studied mindfulness and mindful communications quite a bit and I love this concept of deep listening. But it’s not just about our voices. Our energies and actions spread energetically as well. I have witnessed first hand how generous commitment to sharing our stories can be a deeply healing and transformational process, and how pausing to write (and read) can yield reverence for other people and the moment we’re living in together. I can actually feel it energetically in my body.
So I guess you could say that the Journal of Expressive Writing calls on all of us to share what matters most as a form of individual and collective activism. It’s a platform to express who you are in a particular moment and to read who others are. I think too often, we hold ourselves back when we feel our writing has to be “finished” or “perfect” or any of the conditioned belief systems we carry with us. When we can write (and operate) from our authentic selves, when we no longer feel the need to hide from our feelings or the feelings of others, tenderness starts to take shape. People’s inclination to judge softens. It’s amazing to watch and experience. Clinging and attachment to any preconception or assumption about others starts to diminish. Love emerges and so does healing, not only for the writer, but for the readers, too! Eventually, it’s a ripple effect. This is ultimately what I hope to achieve with the journal.
Do you have other goals for the journal and your Women’s Writing Circles?
Yes, I do have a vision that I have been manifesting for a while. I view the Journal of Expressive Writing and the Women’s Writing Circles working in tandem. They both serve as spaces to share, honor and bear witness to personal stories. My goal is to have Women’s Writing Circle outposts around the world, where any women wanting to facilitate these circles can replicate its design. In doing this, not only do I hope to expand the field of expressive writing and its many benefits, it’s also my goal to support marginalized women who may be able to earn a salary for the first time by bringing the Women’s Writing Circle model to their community. In this way, women can experience being both a participant, as well as a global organizer of empowerment, peace and individual independence. This “train the trainer” model is something I’d like to teach within the TLA Network, as well as elsewhere.
The Journal of Expressive Writing then becomes the place where, as Women’s Writing Circles expand, so too does the journal. Next week, I will be celebrating the one-year anniversary of the journal (I can hardly believe it!) and the publishing of over 150 pieces of unbelievably beautiful writing from around the world! What would happen if, one day thousands of pieces of writing were published? How many voices would we hear? That’s exciting to think about!
That is exciting! And we’re excited that you will be joining the Network’s Board. Can you tell us how you view your work supporting the TLA Network?
As a writer, educator, and social justice activist, I’ve come to see myself as someone who is continually trying to uncover the truth. As women, we worry and care. As human beings, we scrutinize and explain. But when we arrive in spaces like the Network— which brings together writers and artists who share a willingness to be open, honest, trusting, attentive, caring, and receptive to others’ words and experiences—we are transformed as individuals and we are elevated as a group. I am so honored and humbled to be joining the Board. The work TLAN practitioners are engaged in continues to inspire me every day. It is my sincere hope that my background, as well as my experience advancing DEIJ (diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice) efforts within organizations can help support the TLA Network’s mission and goals.
Jennifer A. Minotti
Founder & Editor-in-Chief
Journal of Expressive Writing