“I’ve come to understand that real, heartfelt, transformative writing should be hard-won. It’s tough because it demands a lot of deep thought and emotional excavation (not to mention revisions) – but also because it matters so much! We are writing to connect with others in a meaningful way.” –Jennifer Ziegler
Jennifer Ziegler is an author of over two dozen books of various genres and markets. Her latest novel, Worser, was named one of the best books of 2022 by the New York Times, Booklist, and Kirkus Reviews. Other titles include How Not to Be Popular, Revenge of the Flower Girls, and Sass and Serendipity. Jennifer also serves on the faculty of Vermont College of Fine Arts’ MFA program on Writing for Children and Young Adults. When not writing or teaching, she can be found reading, exploring, making salsa, and trying to keep her Wordle streak going. Visit her at jenniferziegler.com.
On Saturday, January 20, Jennifer Ziegler is teaching the class “Write Before Your Write: Outlining, Planning, and Plotting.” In this class, you’ll learn how a little preparation can go a long way in starting, continuing, and finishing a writing project.
Here’s what Jennifer had to share with us:
Scribe: Tell us a little bit about yourself. What do you write? How did you come to writing?
Jennifer Ziegler: Writing has been a huge part of my identity since grade school. It’s how I think, how I make sense of myself and life in general. Often I don’t fully know how I feel about something until I write about it. Also, certain books were like friends to me while I was growing up – I truly loved them – so I know the power of story and never take this work for granted. To me, writing is more of a mission or a calling than simply a job. It’s my way of giving back to the world.
Scribe: In your own work, how do you approach overcoming the challenges that come with writing, be it writer’s block or craft or business-related challenges?
JZ: Community! I cannot stress that enough. Whether it’s feeling stuck on a project or feeling down about a rejection or just wanting to talk with someone who gets what you’re going through, community is the answer. I have cherished writing colleagues all over the country (many thanks to the Writers’ League), and they’ve helped me with every aspect of this work: from craft challenges to financial worries, from career connections to the emotional rollercoaster that comes with writing for a living. Heck, I even met my husband through my local writing community. I can’t promise that everyone will discover true love, but I can guarantee it’s worth it to find your creative brethren.
Scribe: Has there been a moment of epiphany in terms of your work, when you thought, “This is it! Now I know what I’m doing?” How long id that feeling last?
JZ: If I ever have that epiphany, I’ll let you know!
I’m only half kidding. If anything, my epiphany – more like a gradual realization – wasn’t that I know what I’m doing, but that this work is supposed to be difficult. I’ve come to understand that real, heartfelt, transformative writing should be hard-won. It’s tough because it demands a lot of deep thought and emotional excavation (not to mention revisions) – but also because it matters so much! We are writing to connect with others in a meaningful way. Thus, I feel certain that if I ever find writing to be easy, it will mean I’m phoning it in. And that lack of heart and struggle will lead to something shallow or formulaic on the page – the opposite of what I’m trying to create.
Scribe: What piece of advice do you find yourself giving to writers again and again?
JZ: This will sound silly, but the advice I keep giving is to simply… write! I’ve met a lot of people who “hope to write someday” – who talk about it and even perhaps plan a project (or five) to a degree, but never actually sit down and do the work. To get better at writing, you have to write. It’s how you figure out your strengths and weaknesses, hone your process, and find your voice. It’s how you discover how best to motivate yourself through tough times (and there will be tough times). And, of course, it’s how you complete manuscripts that you can then submit for publication. So write! But also, as I mentioned above, find your community!
Scribe: What is one thing that people will take away from this class?
JZ: My hope is that they will have at least one “Aha!” moment where they come to a deeper understanding of who they are as writers. Because to be a writer is to be a paradox. You are both worker and boss. You are both artist and judge. You are both the creator and, to a degree, the material that is being used. Self-knowledge is key to every one of those roles.