See more videos of Jen discussing her books
and the writing /research process.”
Video: Writing Nonfiction
On May 4, 2014, Jen participated in a nonfiction panel at Politics & Prose bookstore in Washington DC. Other panelists were Richard Jackson, R. Gregory Christie, Brian Floca, Susan L. Roth, Duncan Tonatiuh. The panel was moderated by Leonard Marcus.
Below: Jen Bryant answers Leonard Marcus's question: “How do you go about shaping your research into a story?” (Video by Lutalo.)
Read—a lot! Read what you like, but also try to read books and magazines that challenge your intellect and your imagination (those you see at the checkout line in the grocery store do not fall into this category!).
Imitate the writers you love—try to compose a few pages in the voice of your favorite writer. For example, if you love Stephen King’s books, try to capture his voice and imitate his pacing and sentence structure when you write your next story—or even jot a few pages in your journal as if you were Stephen King.
Find someone who is more experienced at the kind of writing you’d like to do. Ask him/her if they will look at your work and give you constructive criticism about what you do well and what you should improve. (For a fee, you can often do this at writer’s conferences.)
Write from your passions. Ask yourself: what do I care about the most … my friends, my hobbies, a sport, my pets, a certain landscape or place? Then make the answer to that question the focus of your next piece.
Be messy! Make lots and lots of “mistakes.” Like all creative arts, writing demands constant practice, rehearsals, false starts and rough sketches. Give yourself permission to write freely—without judgment, especially when you are in the rough draft stage. I believe it makes no difference whether you’re writing a poem to a girl friend or a college essay—the beginnings should be free, unedited, and eclectic. When you first sit down to compose, tell the editor in your head to go get a cup of coffee and wait for you in the hall. He’ll have his time later, but not now.
Then—spill your initial ideas and images onto the page in whatever order they occur. I prefer goofy-colored unlined paper for rough drafts—and I almost never write top-to-bottom in the rough draft stage. I start in the middle and write all over the place, so that I don’t consider logic or sequence. (I think Beethoven knew this. He wrote various parts of symphonies on his curtains and bedroom walls.)
If you can, leave the rough draft alone for a while and come back later. When you re-read it, certain chunks, phrases, sentences, should resonate (stand out—usually because they are emotionally effective) more than the others. Make these the center of your poem, essay, or composition. Then call your editor back in and begin to organize, making decisions about what images and information should be released first, second, and so on. And remember: writing is a craft. There are many “right” ways to compose, and you—as the writer—must experiment to find which one works for you.