In November, I blogged about The Writer's Center, a great organization in Bethesda, Maryland, which provides resources for writers, including author readings, workshops and literary events. Last fall I had the good fortune to take an online course with instructor Jenny Moore and today I’m pleased to introduce Jenny to our readers.
Joan: Tell us a bit about your writing journey and how you came to teach at the Bethesda Writers’ Center.
Jenny: I knew early in my life that stories were important to me, and writing them down became an inevitability. After I earned my MFA in New York City the challenge began in earnest to keep writing. I’ve managed to do so, at times consistently and at times sporadically, through lots of different work environments. After I moved to Boston I began teaching. Eventually I moved to the DC area and started teaching at the Writer's Center.
I’m grateful for the literary cities in which I’ve lived. Places like the Writer's Center are essential to help writers feel less isolated in what is by definition an isolating process. Throughout my writing journey I’ve found it sustaining to stay in contact with other writers. It’s more than being able to commiserate with one another about the frustrations and joys of the process; it’s about a significant piece of ourselves being recognized by like-minded others. This need to write -- sometimes it feels like an affliction. To have it recognized is a kind of kinship.
Joan: Yes, the compulsion to write often feels like an affliction! Can you share a success story or an instance where you witnessed exceptional growth in a student’s ability?
Jenny: I love watching students make progress. Once I led a seminar on revision and took students through a set of exercises intended to question the foundations on which their novels were built. One student announced that the last 15-minute exercise had just helped her re-envision her book, and she couldn’t wait to get back to work. It was a gift, for both of us. We’d encountered each other at the right time.
Another time, in a multiweek workshop, one student was blocked. She was writing a story that was closely based on her own experience, and I believe part of the problem was she was trying to work something out on the page that she couldn’t confront in her own life yet. Over time that student eventually turned in a rewrite that put her leaps and bounds ahead of where she’d been. It made me believe in the workshop process all over again.
Joan: That must have been very rewarding for both of you. What advice can you give others who are considering signing up for a workshop?
Jenny: What you get from a workshop deeply depends on what you put into it. While you may not always receive the most fluent feedback, you’re still getting reader responses -- which often do point to real problems in the work. So it behooves you to make the effort to consider what you’re hearing and whether it can help you improve your writing. Even if you end up discarding what you’ve heard, going through the exercise of weighing its significance can be useful to pinpoint your aims for the project.
Joan: Tell us about your Master Class.
Jenny: It’s a longer, intensive workshop designed for novelists who have already put significant effort into their projects. The goal is to allow them more time and space to workshop, and for discussions to focus on the novel form. We also have some events planned. Overall it’s a great cross-section of novel-relevant material.
Joan: I'm still disappointed that I'm not living in Maryland anymore and can't take your class! How do you juggle your busy workshop schedule with your own writing? And what do you write?
Jenny: It’s not always easy to manage, but I treat writing time and workshop time as separate entities and try to allot time for both. Deadlines always come first, which sometimes means I have to shelve my writing time. I’m working on improving that.
I write literary character-driven fiction. I like plot and usually end up with a lot of it. One of the challenges of the novel I’m working on now is finding a way for two strong storylines to work together rather than compete for precedence.
Joan: I look forward to reading your novel when it's published! What do you read for pleasure? Who are your favorite authors?
Jenny: I freeze up at the favorite authors question because I enjoy reading so many different things and for different reasons. Favorite threatens to limit that. I’m drawn to books all over the map. I read a mix of what friends recommend, what’s well-reviewed, what wins awards and/or is commercially successful, plus any story with an angle that appeals to me. I read books published in other eras. I’ve also usually got something I need to read for my own novel research, and then there are friends’ books I want to read. Needless to say, I always feel behind. Today, the ambitious stack by my bed includes Arcadia by Lauren Groff, Broken Harbor by Tana French, Mr. Fox by Helen Oyeyemi, the Patrick Melrose novels, Comedy in a Minor Key by Hans Keilson, Strength in What Remains by Tracy Kidder, and Panorama City by Antoine Wilson. I’m often reading manuscripts for friends as well, which are great books but just not in print yet.
Joan: That is an ambitious stack! Is there anything I didn’t ask that you wished I had?
Jenny: I was at a residency recently with other writers and also composers and visual artists. It helped me work better to know they were all working too. So maybe the question would be, “Is it helpful to know others are at work?” My answer is always yes. It goads me, at the very least. Also, I appreciated how useful and inspiring it was to talk to artists working in other forms. There are lines that divide our creative processes, but not as many as you might think.
Very true—and a nice thought to leave on. Thanks very much for your time, Jenny. Readers, I encourage you to check out the Writer's Center and consider applying for a course with Jenny!