At 13, Jessica Pena created a box full of writings for her future self at 30. She’s currently 29 and looking forward to opening that box in half a year. Jessica has been a regular member of our online community pretty much from the beginning. Although she’s held two different jobs during that time, she’s always managed to work it out so that she can join the weekly live session from the office (she currently works in the admissions office of Marymount California University). Her fellow writers in our online Level II course value her for her positive and warm attitude and helpful critiques.
Originally from New York, Jessica currently lives in Los Angeles with three roommates and her six-year-old polydactyl cat Minnie, who’s known for her “permanently shocked and confused expression”. (We’ve seen photos and Minnie has serious meme potential. Watch out, Grumpy Cat!)
Q: What led you to choose an online writing course?
I took a summer course with Inge while I was in Amsterdam doing an internship. I fell absolutely in love with the format and with being part of a writing community. It was the first time I had ever shared my work, which was liberating. It felt like I had taken a huge step forward. When I moved back home to New York, I tried a writing course there, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as the one in Amsterdam. I was really happy when the Collective started offering online courses. I’ve taken every online course since. The thing I love the most is that I still feel that incredible sense of community I felt when I was taking the classes in person. Inge is an amazing teacher and my classmates are encouraging and very gifted writers as well.
Q: Why do you write?
A: I write two types of things. One is about my experiences, particularly with anxiety. I have spent a lot of my life in my head feeling unable to express what I was experiencing verbally. I grew up in New York City, where you keep your emotions to yourself and showing them or talking about them is considered a weakness. Putting a pen to paper is therapeutic, but also I hope that I can share my experience in a way that someone else may better be able to relate to it.
The other thing I write is fiction. I have all these stories in my head. I want so much to share those stories with other people. Characters that I’ve fallen in love with, places that I want to take my readers to. If even one person enjoys the adventure that would be incredibly fulfilling for me.
Q: What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learned from the courses?
A: Probably that every writer struggles to write. I used to think that all the best writers loved writing. That it just flowed out onto the paper perfectly and with great ease. Turns out, all writers force themselves to sit down and write, and that it takes years and dozens of drafts to write a book. And on top of that, first drafts look nothing like the final drafts they become. It’s been very encouraging and motivating for me. I’ve realized that writing makes me a writer and that all I need to reach my goals is a bit of discipline and the power to silence my insecurities.
Q: How has writing had an effect on other aspects of your life?
A: Writing is both my creative outlet and my therapy. It gets everything out of my head and into the world whether that be good or bad. On the worst of days, it’s been like a comforting friend helping me overcome my deepest struggles. And on the best days, it’s provided me with a deep sense of fulfillment. It’s hard work, but it never feels like wasted time and it balances out the grind of the 9 to 5. Of course, I hope it could lead to something, like a best-selling novel one day, but it doesn’t have to.
Q: What do you hope to achieve in the next year?
A: I’ve finally started submitting to journals and magazines this year. It’s a big step for me and I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the encouragement from the class. I’ve gotten several rejections but many of them have been positive personalized rejections and I’ve found it encouraging.