Opening The JAR

There’s a deeper story behind every organization’s story, and ours – while unique in so many ways – is no different than the countless origin tales of writing groups, publishing houses, centres for excellence in writing, literary projects, and collective story endeavours in the last three centuries: the desire to connect and explore; to conceive, create and complete; and to take our efforts to an audience larger than ourselves.

It happens on the first day of my shift. I don’t believe in coincidences—only in right timing and alignment. I’ve woken feeling as though I’ve been knocking back short blacks all night. My entire body is buzzing, inside and out. It is disconcerting, the intensity of it. I stay away from important appliances (my phone, bless it, is mostly immune to whatever crazy fluctuations are happening and that turns out to be very important!). It is the morning of the 18th October and I’m at the kitchen table. It is relatively early when it happens. I’m sitting wondering if this energy flux is the ‘foretold storm’ of a dream a few weeks earlier when a Whatsapp message pop ups:

RUS: Do you still want to publish Fossil V?
ME: Yes.

We are The JAR Writers’ Collective, comprising three creatives (Jodi Cleghorn, Adam Byatt, and Rus VanWestervelt). We have each recognised the central role passion, writing and creativity have for our wellbeing, our joy, our spiritual connection, faith and understanding of the world. Each of us expresses, engages and explores these aspects in uniquely personal ways however we share them all, as well as the simple fact: we must write.

I reply instinctively, without thought, and immediately chide myself for it (because I am meant to say: I’m interested but I will need to think more on it). I close my eyes and try to drop through the energetic chaos. What a morning for this all to be happening. I reach an intuitive understanding long before I come close to anything resembling energetic calm: I know it is — and was — an authentic and resounding YES to publishing Fossil V. In this moment it feels absolutely right.

After being hopelessly lost 24 hours earlier, and having had the lostness unpicked by my Beloved, here I am, with absolute knowing and certainty of what comes next. Well, I know everything except one significant part: there’s a missing piece. I have no idea what it is, but I will.

We have words and works to share, ones that may (or may not) have commercial viability. Ones we could spend the next five years trying to get an agent interested in. Then a publisher interested in. Precious time subtracted from the act of writing, before more hoops are jumped through with marketing and accounting, with no guarantee anyone will actually commit to seeing our work through to the end. We could also spend the next five years trying to keep our heads above water as indie authors, doing everything and trying to write at the same time. Again, precious time and energy siphoned from the finite pool we each have for writing.

“Did you write letters as a teenager?” Jodi asks me via text one holiday.
A leading question with a purpose; the flint striking steel and waiting for oxygen to ignite a spark to fall amongst the tinder.
“Yeah, heaps.”
“Cool. I have an idea to pose to you.”
53 handwritten letters, posted from city to city, form a novel, a collaborative partnership where trust is foundational and fundamental.
We write, edit, make each other cry, and revel in the power of the story we tell. We are beholden to no one except the characters’ whose story we share in the most intimate of handwritten communications.
Almost diametrically opposed ways of thinking between the two of us.
Manic enthusiasm versus the reluctant response.
Instantaneous ‘Yes’ versus the considered ‘OK.’
The Priestess and the faithful doubter.
And through the alchemy of collaboration comes the strength and power of the story.

Our origins are in the Write Anything blog, which featured writers and creatives from around the world. Since then the three of us have serendipitously threaded our energies in and out of each others’ endeavours: we have critiqued and edited for each other from the beginning, one of us has published the others, we have co-written book-length manuscripts, shared creativity challenges, made weekly art and poetry alongside daily meanderings that are as philosophic as they are passionate. So what fell into our laps was not actually new. What is new is a privately stated (and publicly articulated) intention to work together to offer up our writing to the universe and its myriad readers of today and of tomorrow. In combining our skill sets and experiences we gift each other a unique opportunity that lands between indie author and small press on the DIY spectrum.

Easter. A time of death and resurrection.
A third voice. Rus: “I have an idea for a story; would you like to collaborate on a crazy idea?” The wisdom of the teacher and the scholar. Acutely aware of the needs of people and how their need is one of love.
Genesis in collaboration.
Gestation in planning.
Germination in creating.
A triune partnership.
A new collaborative project and some of the best writing I think I have ever done. Pushed to the edge of what I can fathom in my thinking and writing. Plumbing depths of characters I haven’t allowed myself to explore before.
And from it, the origins of the JAR Collective. A place holder name tag for a story we set out to explore because the elements align, and through the characters we explore ourselves and the joy we gain from writing.
A story of three strands is not easily broken.
I realise I need the discipline of collaboration to understand why it is I write. The gestalt entity that is JAR is truly greater than the sum of its parts. Here it is I know partnership, trust, friendship, different and disparate as we might be.

Our individual goals are simple: to write, and keep writing. We are committed to tell stories of raw emotion, intense truth, and uninhibited imagination.This is where we are happiest. This is the unflinching bedrock of The JAR Writers’ Collective. Our collective goal is to support the processes of creation and distribution. We bring to the collective a unique blending of editing and book design, marketing and social media, project management and creative insurgency. We are uniquely committed to each others’ futures as storytellers, and to yours as well, as we share the highs and lows of choosing this path.

I am caught between two writing worlds. Maybe it’s because of the teacher in me, always thinking about audience, and pleasing them. Giving them opportunities. I think about the sale, the pitch, the everything that comes after the writing, and I feel the anxiety rise.
This is not who I am. This is not why I do this. This is the battle with the too-mindful writer who wants to do everything right.

Having just finished Fossil Five, the writer-pleaser woos me once more, and I am determined to go the “traditional” publishing route with this book. As if to bolster the writer-pleaser, solid reviews on the beta read convince me: “This is the one; this is the one that is going to go national.”

Like a cog in their machine, I spend a few days combing markets, digging deeply into the social media profiles of agents and publishers. Show me the way, I think. Let me please the greatest masses possible.

Every year, each of us will publish an individual piece of fiction, and collectively, we will share one of our collaborative projects. We plan to publish books, novellas, poetry collections, web serials, conceptual pieces and anything else that grabs our imagination and hearts. Here there are no limits. Here everything is possible because we have created a predetermined path to publication which frees us to write what speaks loudest and most passionately to our hearts. We look forward to sharing everything from suburban realism to metaphysical conceptual fiction with you (and everything else between or beyond). What you can expect are stories of great emotional depth that seek to explore the paradoxes and perplexities of the human experience, in their simplest and most complex forms.

Unfulfilled by the search, I return to my Daybook and the realities of my writing future, as a writer aged 53. I remember Jodi’s offer to publish Fossil Five, and immediately remember the other writer: the raw one deep within, where creative endeavors are a deeply intimate and personal work of passion with other very real people. To put Fossil Five in the hands of others who do not understand that… well, it seems obvious to bring in Jodi. It is the right — and only — option for Fossil Five, for it to end as it began.

So I approach Jodi, and she says yes, and quickly the idea of the Collective forms. The missing piece she goes off to find, turns out to be Adam – and less than an hour later, and with great excitement, we are both sending text messages to him, wanting to share what we’ve stumbled on. Wanting to know if he wants to be part of it.

The Collective is consistent with the way the three of us have worked together these last few years. We have all abandoned the critics, the judges, the readers who would say, “meh.” Instead, we had dug in and written passionately about what matters to us most. We’ve expressed our joys, our challenges, and our unknowns in the universe of writing, editing, and publishing. We are three writers all asking the same questions: what do we do with our words, when, and where? And how do we keep writing the raw authenticity of life, of love?

We will be here weekly, sharing our thoughts on, and experiences of, the creative process, living and writing from a place of authenticity and working collaboratively, with a commitment to offer you an all-access pass to our processes, the fruits of our risks and the wisdom gleaned along the way.

Welcome to the JAR Collective. We are ecstatic to have you here with us.