Sharon Jennings is the current President of CANSCAIP and the author of over 70 books for young people. She teaches writing, does some editing and manuscript evaluation. Her proudest accomplishment (not counting her children and marriage) is the novel Home Free, which was nominated for a Governor General’s award and is about a young girl who wanted to be a writer when she grew up.
Describe your workspace.
My workplace is an untidy corner in my bedroom. (There will be no photos.) I never move from this spot, mostly because I forget that I can take my laptop off my desk and go elsewhere in my house. But I don’t want to. For some reason I believe that this is where the muse lurks and if I move she’ll show up when I’m at the kitchen table.
Describe a typical work day.
I’d like to say that I have a very structured approach to work, but I try not to lie – especially to my colleagues. If I’m working on a story then I write like a crazy person, morning to night, often forgetting to dress, wash, or eat. When I stop on a day like that, I feel like I’ve had an out-of-body experience. If I’m stuck, then I avoid work and watch far too much cable news. I can’t do the ‘write one thousand words a day’ thing; I either write nothing or I write until the scene is done. Usually I have more than one manuscript or assignment under development, and if I move back and forth between them, I might find inspiration for the one that I’m ignoring. Part of the day is walking the dog or dogs, and I always come back ready to sit at my desk again.
List three of your most favourite things in your workspace and why they are meaningful.
There is a bookshelf (messy) with all the books that I’ve loved over the years, including – or most importantly – books from my childhood. I like to re-read them occasionally to remember what I loved way back then. Photos of my children, little and big, are there to remind me and inspire me about writing for young people. I also have a few souvenirs and funny cards and a picture drawn by Heather Collins for a book (A Pioneer Story) she did with Barbara Greenwood. It’s a young girl with paper and a quill pen.
Do you have any rituals in your work habits?
I always re-read the last couple of completed chapters before I start writing. I not only see the problems and fix them, but by the time I’ve done that, I’m back in the mood of the story and inside my characters’ personalities. If I’m really lucky, the next scene will show up as I get to the blank page. I have to visualize what happens next, and once that happens, I start writing as if I’m watching a movie and just taking notes.
What do you listen to while you work?
I can’t listen to anything when I’m working. I mean, I can’t even type if there is music playing or the tv on. Plus, I like to talk out loud as I’m thinking things through, so music is a distraction.
What is your drink and/or snack of choice while you’re working?
My drink of choice is a large cup of tea which I constantly re-heat and then let get cold. At the end of the day, I think that I’ve had several mugs of tea, and wonder why I’m so thirsty.
How do you develop your story ideas? Do you use an outline, let the muse lead you, or another technique?
Some picture books have been percolating for months, even years, and those ones get written very quickly. Some publishers want an outline, which I can’t seem to do. I’ve developed a way of cheating: I write the novel really fast so that I can submit an outline and pretend that I’ll start writing soon. Mostly, I get an idea, write the first chapter, and then ask myself what would happen next over and over until I’m done.
If you were forced to share your workspace but could share it with anyone of your choosing, who would it be?
The idea of sharing workspace is horrifying! How could I think out loud? How would that person react when they see me with closed eyes and weird facial expressions? But if ‘forced’, it would be fun to write beside someone long dead and note their response to a laptop.
What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve heard or received?
I’ve heard and read so much excellent advice that it’s hard to pick one item. There’s practical advice – tips on dialogue or character development; and there’s philosophical advice. I’ll go with the latter: always keep in mind the child who is reading your story.
Thanks to Jennifer Chambliss Bertman for the use of her Creative Spaces interview questions.