Five years ago today I gathered with a group of a dozen women at a local Mexican restaurant to talk about writing. This was the first official event of See Jane Write.
Today, See Jane Write is an award-winning business and boasts a lofty mission — to empower women to be the authors of their own lives through writing, blogging and entrepreneurship. I want women to write and live lives worth writing about. I want to teach women how they can use their words to make a living and to make a difference. I want to help women build their blogs into businesses and turn their passion for writing into a profitable career.
But when I started See Jane Write five years ago, my intentions were less noble. I started See Jane Write five years ago because, quite frankly, I was sad. Very sad. So sad I could barely get out of bed most mornings.
In 2009 I left my newspaper job in Louisville, Ky., and moved back to Birmingham (where I was born and raised) to teach. The classroom and the newsroom are very different places and I was having a hard time adjusting. And since I no longer felt like a “real journalist,” something I’d wanted to be since I was 15, I was having an identity crisis, too. I was also regretting returning to my hometown and, most of all, I missed being around fellow writers.
So, I started See Jane Write. And that changed everything.
I never intended for See Jane Write to be more than a small women’s writing group, but God had bigger plans. During that first meeting one of the attendees started talking about how valuable Twitter could be for writers. Most of the women at the table were not convinced, but were open to learning more. They then declared that the next See Jane Write event should be a workshop on Twitter. And so it was. And 40 people showed up.
Next, I hosted a panel discussion on blogging and 75 people showed up for that. See Jane Write was in full swing. And See Jane Write started getting attention from local media. I even won the SMART award for innovation in business and the arts from the Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham.
At this point, however, See Jane Write was not a business. In fact, it was just a very expensive hobby. I wasn’t charging for events and I was paying for everything out of pocket. And I kept doing this FOR YEARS (don’t do this, by the way). Finally, dozens of events later, I turned See Jane Write Birmingham into See Jane Write LLC. I started a paid membership program and started charging for some events. I also revamped the See Jane Write online presence, moving from a basic Blogger blog to a WordPress website. I started taking myself seriously as a businesswoman and suddenly others started to do the same. In 2015 I was chosen as one of the city’s Top 40 Under 40 by the Birmingham Business Journal. Other awards and much more media attention followed.
But while I was building See Jane Write something else happened that was much better than any award or magazine feature.
See Jane Write made me happy! Through See Jane Write I found my tribe, my squad. I found a group of women who loved writing and blogging as much as I did, but we quickly learned we had so much else in common, too. These women were not just fellow writers and bloggers. These women became my friends. They became my family.
Furthermore, See Jane Write helped me fall in love with Birmingham. Though I grew up in this city, I’d never lived here as an adult. The wonderful women I met through See Jane Write introduced me to things in Birmingham I never knew were here. And now I know that people who say there’s nothing to do in Birmingham simply aren’t paying attention!
This is not to say that building See Jane Write has been easy. IT HAS NOT. Juggling Jane with my full-time teaching job, with the paid freelance writing gigs that began to land in my lap because of See Jane Write, and with being a wife is VERY, VERY HARD. I get up between 4 and 4:30 a.m. every weekday to get it all done.
But it’s SO worth it.
I actually look forward to rising early to work on my business. Just think about it — five years ago I was so sad I could barely get out of bed and now, thanks to See Jane Write, I’m eager to spring out of bed before dawn!
Honestly, I have become obsessed with See Jane Write. And I’m OK with that. We lose ourselves in the things we love. We also find ourselves there.