Alibi V.27 No.47 • Nov 22-28, 2018 

Culture Shock

A Muse in the Mailbox

Plume offers inspiration for writers in monthly subscription boxes

Plume offers “self care for creatives” in the form of a monthly subscription box.
Plume offers “self care for creatives” in the form of a monthly subscription box.
Courtesy of Plume

“Just be writing!” Jennifer Simpson declared as one of her highest goals for Plume, a “self care for creatives” monthly subscription box created by her and Melanie Unruh. She went on, “Or just do something, because God knows that the world today isn't going to feed your soul. You have to make your own meal.”

Independently and for many years both Simpson and Unruh had been practicing writing and found it a source of sustenance. “Writing changed my whole life,” Unruh said, taking her from Pennsylvania to New Mexico for graduate school at UNM, where she earned an MFA in creative writing; Simpson's trajectory was similar. Graduate school is, in fact, where the two met. Simpson had a business and marketing background, which made her an asset to the development of Plume, a business idea that Unruh had had the vision for. More than complementing one another's skill sets, the two shared the passion for inspiring others and worked well together to outline their mission and goals. When Plume was accepted into the UNM Business Plan competition, the project started to gain momentum.

They didn't win, but it put them on the right path. They wrote business plans, learned QuickBooks, developed marketing and created viable pitches to bring to partners. “It gave us a goal,” Simpson explained. “That really helped—it kept us on track. We had deadlines. It focused us.” A Kickstarter campaign grew out of the competition which provided the financial support to really get the thing off the ground, and numerous professional connections to ensure Plume's continued success.

Melanie Unruh depositing mail
Monthly inspiration delivered right to your doorstep from the creative minds of Jennifer Simpson and Melanie Unruh.
Courtesy of Plume

As opposed to other subscription boxes that have a similar bend, Plume doesn't promise a path to getting published. There aren't any gimmicks, it is just an honest attempt to support others in the writing community—whether locally or farther afield—in their practice. “We are about nurturing the creativity within. We look at writing as a lifestyle. People do this whether they get published or not, because it's good for the soul,” Simpson said. “We aren't giving this information from on high,” Unruh continued. “We have had some successes, but we're not acting like we're above anyone. … It's more egalitarian, we want to create more of a community, and be a stepping stone.”

“We care a lot about community building, especially as women,” Unruh explained. “We need support, we need people to turn to. We want it to not just be something you get in the mail, but where you can interact with others.” To that end, the packages don't exist in a vacuum, but are supported by a website where Unruh and Simpson intend to feature writing that is generated in response to the monthly prompts they send out, and a growing Facebook and Instagram community. (Find all these with the handle @plumeforwriters and plumeforwriters.com.) In the future, the two are dreaming big—about writer's conferences and regular meet-ups.

The physical is a value of Plume's. The connection that comes out of sitting down and sharing your ideas with other creatives, and just so the tangible objects that come in their curated boxes. “It can make you slow down,” Simpson said of the physical objects that they include in their boxes—things like a small zine built around the work of a featured writer, tea, a bookmark, writing prompts, a candle, something to eat—most of which are sourced locally. “They help you find that contemplative space to dig deep as a writer.” “Self care isn't something completely different for writers,” Unruh elaborated, “but I think there's a different part of your brain you're trying to tap into. You really have to let go of all that stuff in your life to get into that creative space. … [These things] can help you get there.”

As the business grows, the usual stressors compound. Despite all of this, Simpson and Unruh find themselves more inspired in their own craft, and in this endeavor. “It's definitely got me thinking more, and working on essays,” Unruh said. “It has gotten me to get out of my own comfort zone and write things I probably wouldn't have before.” For Simpson's part, she's had renewed energy for the memoir she has been writing for the last several years. All of this the two count as success—because it really is about the little things. “I think we need to change this idea of success. I don't think we need to lower our standards, but I think we should be realistic—I mean, [National Book Award-winner] Dorothy Allison has a day job.”

Plume holds that if you can just be writing—even if it never gets published, even if no one ever reads it—you will have benefited from the process. “There's so many studies that show that writing helps you heal, lowers your blood pressure, calms your heart rate. … Any of these tools we can use to calm ourselves, to be intentional, I think that is good for the world,” Simpson said. Following that up, Unruh added, “even if for one day we can inspire someone's writing—that is success.”

Sign up for your monthly inspiration at plumeforwriters.org, or just keep track of this burgeoning local business as it grows and adds more beauty and written words to the world.