Best group photo ever!

As with most good things, it all started with tacos.

On March 24, 2011 I invited a group of women to meet me for dinner at a Mexican cantina in my hometown of Birmingham, Alabama. Most of these women I’d never met before; they didn’t know me or one another. But we all had one thing in common: We all loved to write.

Some of us were poets who saw writing as music, the song of the soul. Others of us were fiction writers obsessed with creating imaginary worlds. Some of us were journalists determined to give a voice to the voiceless and share other people’s stories.  While others of us were bloggers and essayists, slowly finding the courage to share the stories of our own lives.

I had invited these women there that evening for one simple reason: I wanted to start a networking group for women writers. I must admit I wanted to start this group for selfish reasons. I wasn’t setting out to change lives. I started the group because I was lonely.

Two years prior I had left my job as a newspaper reporter in Louisville, Kentucky and returned to Birmingham – where I was born and raised – to teach English at a local high school for kids gifted in the fine arts and math and science. Though I was fond of my new colleagues I missed the group of female writers I was surrounded by in my newsroom.

I searched for a women’s writing group that would welcome poets, authors, journalists, and bloggers – all hats I’d worn at one point in my writing life – but couldn’t find one. So I decided to start an organization of my own.

I found the women who met me for dinner that evening by becoming a bit of a stalker. I browsed the Internet for Birmingham-based bloggers, scanned the mastheads of local magazines and the bylines in local papers. I checked library listings for readings by local authors, too. I sent dozens of emails and so many Facebook messages that my account was temporarily suspended until I could prove I was human and not a robot sending out spam.

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On March 24, 2011 about a dozen women showed up and I was elated. This would be the first official gathering of an organization now known as See Jane Write.

Over tacos and queso we discussed our current writing projects and what we would want from a women’s writing group. During our conversation one woman brought up Twitter and how useful it could be for writers. Most of the women at the table weren’t buying it. They thought Twitter was stupid. Then one woman turned to me and asked, “Could a workshop on Twitter be our next event?”

I thought to myself, “Oh crap!” realizing I hadn’t actually thought that far ahead. But I made it happen. For the next event I hosted a workshop on Twitter’s use for writers. Forty women attended this event. Next, I hosted a panel discussion on blogging and 75 women showed up for this.

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Today See Jane Write is an award-winning business with nearly 100 dues-paying members and an online community of nearly 700 women.

For See Jane Write I host monthly events including workshops, writing critique sessions, and networking mixers. I produce informative content meant to help women with writing, blogging, and personal brand building and I offer coaching and consulting programs.

I started See Jane Write for myself. But I’ve continued it for more than five years –while still juggling my full-time teaching job — for the women who are a part of this group.

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I continue See Jane Write for members like the plus-size style blogger who recently published a book on how blogging about fashion and fitness helped her love her body.

I continue See Jane Write because through it I have helped a woman who always dreamt of being a columnist, but never thought she could because she didn’t have a journalism degree, see her byline on the front page of local newspapers and on the masthead of local magazines.

I continue See Jane Write because members have earned book deals and national speaking engagements, landed full-time jobs because of their blogs and turned their blogs into profitable businesses.

But most important, See Jane Write members have found courage to write about difficult topics like coping with the suicide of a loved one, healing from sexual assault, or surviving domestic abuse. The women of See Jane Write have found the strength to write themselves back together again. They’re becoming the authors of their own lives.

bbj ceremony

Despite these success stories, I doubt myself and I get tired. I get tired of waking up at 4 a.m. every weekday and working every weekend so I can balance growing this organization with my full-time job and my own writing projects. But just when I’m about give up I get recognized as one of the Top 40 Under 40 by the Birmingham Business Journal. Just when I’m about to give up Southern Living magazine features me on its list of Innovators Who Are Changing the South, a list that includes household names like Dolly Parton and actress Reese Witherspoon. Just when I’m about to give up I’m selected by Alabama Media Group as on of 30 Women Who Shape the State. 

Just when I’m about to give up I get an email from a woman who lives in Texas telling me that she and a group of friends gather once a month for a girls night in to discuss the topics I write about on the See Jane Write blog!

And so I won’t give up. Instead I will strive to do even more, such as starting See Jane Write chapters in cities across the country and launching a feminist blogging camp for teenage girls.

I often jokingly say that all I want to do is write for money and eat tacos every day. And that’s true. But I also want to build a women’s empowerment empire along the way.

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