There is something about nature that unlocks people’s creativity in expression. This is something Napa resident Jennifer Wilhoit experienced firsthand and is now teaching others to tap into through her writing mentorship business, TEALarbor stories.
Wilhoit helps people write sometimes by way of professional or academic projects, while for others it could be a memoir, novel or poem.
“Generally people are partway through the process of writing, or they have this burning need to get the story out of them,” she said. Often, as she mentors people in writing, she uses experiences in nature to evoke creativity.
“It can be very powerful to have the natural world to offer them something,” she said.
When she gives someone a little direction and space in nature, it is amazing what they come back with, the writer said.
Wilhoit’s first career was working with special-needs children. But she returned to school looking for a change and got her master’s degree in education. Her focus this time was on how adults learn.
Wilhoit, who is an avid hiker and enjoys the outdoors, concentrated on her adult learning through experiences in environmental context and nature, she said. She went on to get a doctorate in environmental studies. Meanwhile, Wilhoit had been a writer for many years, but not formally.
“I didn’t actually call myself a writer because I was too afraid,” she said.
In 2001, she started TEALarbor as an education and research institute in New England while she was still working on her Ph.D. Originally, the name came from her favorite color, teal. She added “arbor,” which added a nature element to the name.
In 2009, she shifted her focus and began helping people to write “and to tell their stories.” While she always thought “teal” would make a good acronym, Wilhoit didn’t realize what it could stand for until she made it a writing-focused business. She then coined it “The Ecology and Art of Listening.”
She continues to work on her writing and is the author of the books “Weaving a Network” and “Common Ground Between Crafts Collectives and Conservation,” as well as other articles and essays.
Wilhoit moved to Napa in July after her partner got a job in the area. She is looking to network in the area and find more local clients. About 30 percent of her clients are in academia working on a scholarly project such as a dissertation. Her connections to the academic world have opened up these opportunities. She also offers editing services, said Wilhoit.
Her other clients are those who have stories they want to tell and need some sort of guidance and compassionate support, she said. Sometimes it is writing about a painful loss or experience.
“Writing is hard, but it can also be healing and joyful and wonderful, and if I can help people see that side of it, we can work toward an outcome that is superb,” she said.
She incorporates the outdoors by giving people activities that involve observation or interaction with nature. Sometimes it is watching whatever is occurring around them, such as a feather floating in the wind.
One recent activity she posed to people via her blog was to focus on what they were grateful for. Then she asked them to create something beautiful outside using the materials that were around them, such as an arrangement of leaves, a rock pile, a flower arrangement.
Wilhoit said she prefers to mentor in person, but she does work with people via Skype and other technologies. She recommends that people work with her a minimum of an hour a week, which keeps them in the writing mode consistently and gives them accountability, she said. Her sessions cost $75 an hour, depending on the service.
Wilhoit also does project-based work, which she negotiates with the client. In addition to her one-on-one mentorship, she offers occasional workshops for groups, including monthly workshops at the Napa Bookmine.
Wilhoit enjoys the process of helping people draw out their potential, she said.
“I love being able to be part of that, to be able to contribute to some of these projects by being present,” she said.
She finds working with a client energizing, she said. As soon as she gets off the phone with someone, her mind begins buzzing with ideas of how to help them, Wilhoit said.
“There is something very engaging for me in working with a client,” she said.
Wilhoit also enjoys the process of writing herself.
“I can’t not write,” she said. “I’ve experienced things in my life that I don’t know any other way to deeply understand and process except through writing.”
She enjoys description and ecological metaphors and capturing the detail of life with words.
“I want to add beauty to the world through my writing,” she said. “I strive to make my writing as much like the natural world as possible.”