Q: Did you always want to be a writer?
A: No. I always wanted to be an English teacher. I was one of those kids who was always “playing school” — lining my dolls and stuffed animals up on the stairs and “teaching them.” I never even considered, growing up, being anything else, even though all of my friends, my teachers, my friends’ parents told me that I should be a writer. I loved to write, and did it often, don’t get me wrong, but that was exactly why I didn’t want to be a writer. Writing was my fun! My entertainment! My way to vent, to sort out my feelings, to keep myself busy. It was not a job. It was a hobby.
So I went off to college to be an English teacher, and very quickly learned that I didn’t want to be an English teacher at all. In fact, I wasn’t even sure about college anymore at that point. I dropped out of college, got married, had my daughter, and worked at a daycare to make ends meet. At night, I wrote children’s stories and short stories. For fun. For venting.
Four years later, I decided to go back to college, and study psychology. I was working full-time at the daycare, going to school part time at night, and would come home spent…but not too spent to write. Never too spent to write. After a few years, I left college with a BA in psychology, and, even though my professors, my friends, and even my husband continually told me I should be a writer, instead I went into Human Resources, which I can say without a shadow of a doubt is absolutely the worst possible career path for someone who really should be a writer. I spent my days trapped in a cubicle, filling out payroll and insurance forms and hating every minute of it. During lulls in my day, I would pen poems at my desk and furtively print them off, fold them into little squares, tuck them into my purse, and bring them home. By the end of one year, I was burnt out and unhappy, and I had written 70 poems at my desk.
When my older son was born, I decided to stay home with the kids for a while, and figure out exactly what it was I was meant to do with my life. And while I was at it, maybe I’d try to get something published.
The first piece I ever submitted was a short story that I submitted to a magazine contest. I received honorable mention. I submitted to a local newspaper poetry contest. And I won! And for the first time ever, I was happy with the work I was doing. It was not only work; it was fun. At long last, I had finally discovered that all those people in my life had been right all along — I was supposed to be a writer! I haven’t looked back since.
Q: Where do you get your ideas?
A: Anywhere, everywhere, nowhere. Sometimes stories happen because a specific news story has caught my eye (such as Torn Away). Sometimes my ideas come from suggestions (Bitter End, Thousand Words). Sometimes I get them from my own life experiences (Perfect Escape). Sometimes they’re a result of something I’ve seen or overheard (Life on Mars). Sometimes they’re just…there (Hate List). And sometimes it’s a combination of all these things (ALL OF THEM!).
Inspiration is hard to pinpoint. I always have my mind and my eyes and my ears open for a potential story. And most of the time I don’t really care where the idea came from — I’m just glad it’s there and want to get it down on paper before it goes away!
Q: I’m writing a novel. How do I get an agent/How do I get published?
A: This took me years to figure out. There is, simply put, no easy way to get an agent, and no easy way to get published. You have to work for it. You have to learn how to properly query, which you can learn how to do by reading books, going to conferences and listening to agents and editors talk, and getting on their websites and reading their submission guidelines. You have to have your novel completely finished (and polished) before you even begin trying, and you have to have realistic expectations and lots of patience. Honestly, it’s unrealistic expectations and lack of patience that knocks most potential writers out of the business.
Finally, and most importantly, you have to believe in yourself and in your work. Because there will be rejections. No matter how awesome you are. No matter how creative and innovative your story idea. No matter how much you’ve studied writing or how much you’ve paid for professional critiquing or how many times your writer’s group has gone over your first chapter. There will be rejections, and they will hurt like hell, and you will have moments where you will question your ability and maybe even want to give up. Those are the moments when you have to dig in and believe in yourself all the more.
You are never too old (or too young!) to try.
Q: Will you hook me up with your agent?
A: I love my agent, Cori Deyoe at 3 Seas Literary Agency, and I totally want her to have first dibs on all the best talent out there, however, if I don’t know you, I can’t really vouch for you or your writing.
Q: Will you critique my manuscript for me? Will you blurb my book?
A: I wish I could, because I really love reading! But as a stay-at-home mom of three and full-time writer, unfortunately I just don’t have time to do any critiquing. I do, however, agree that getting a manuscript critiqued before submitting it is a good idea. Try to find a local critique group to join, or at least an online group.
I do occasionally blurb books, if you catch me between projects. Feel free to email me at JenniferBrownYA@gmail.com.
Q: What do you do about writer’s block?
A: I don’t believe in it. I do, however, believe in writer’s boredom, writer’s distraction, writer’s laziness…
Writing is not easy, even for people who like to write. Sometimes the words don’t come out the way you want them to at all, or the story sucks or the character is boring or…well, sometimes there’s a banana cream pie in the fridge that just keeps calling your name. One of the most difficult (and most important) parts of the job is discipline. You have to sit down and put your fingers on the keyboard and make things appear on the page. And sometimes discipline sucks. And sometimes you have cramps. And sometimes you’re sick or you’d rather be working at TGI Fridays. And when those things happen and the words stop flowing, and then–good golly!–that keeps happening for several days in a row and you get in a real funk…it’s just easy to blame it on “writer’s block.” Calling it “writer’s block” makes you sound as if you’re still participating in the writing process. But, bad news. You’re not. You’re giving in to lack of discipline. You’re overediting yourself. You’re being critical or lazy, and you’re not allowing yourself to write.
Whenever I feel “stuck”–and, yep, it happens!–I know that all I need to do is hunker down and write. And not worry whether or not it’s good writing or whether or not I’ll have to rip it up and throw it away later or whether or not it’s advancing the story. I know that writing is the only thing I can do to pull myself out of whatever is distracting me and keeping me…”blocked.”
The absolute worst thing you can do for “writer’s block” is indulge it. Wallow around in your stuckness is only going to perpetuate it. Get in there and write!
For Teachers and Librarians…
Q: I am a speech/forensics student/coach and I want to read an excerpt of your book for a contest. What year were you born?
Q: I am a teacher/librarian and I want my book club/class to read your book. Do you have an Educator’s Guide?
A: Yes, and you can download them here:
Q: Do you visit schools, libraries, book clubs, or bookstores?
A: Yes! All of the above! And I also Skype with book clubs and classrooms. Contact me at JenniferBrownYA@gmail.com for more details.
Q: How do I contact you?
A: You can contact me at JenniferBrownYA@gmail.com or
P.O. Box 932
Liberty, MO 64069-0932