Finding joy at the core of creating

Teacher profile: Jennifer Gryzenhout

Jennifer Gryzenhout has been with the Collective since it began and has been teaching creative writing for a decade. Born and raised in Canada, this summer marked her eighteenth year as an Amsterdammer, the city where her father was born and lived until emigrating to Canada. She has also lived in Norway and Japan. Once in a while she entertains that itchy feet feeling to move again, but for now she is content. In addition to the Collective, she also teaches high school English at a local international school.

Jennifer completed her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, where she focused on long and short fiction, writing for children and young adults, and creative nonfiction writing. She lives in Amsterdam Noord with her Dutch husband, two energetic cats and five bold chickens, and cultivates a vegetable garden of which her most successful crop is the knobbly, odd-looking Jerusalem Artichoke.

 

WHAT IS YOUR WRITER’S ORIGIN STORY?

When I was in grade five, I wrote a Halloween story for a class assignment. My teacher submitted it to a city-wide competition which led to publication in an annual collection of student writing called UBZUB. The cover art was a drawing of E.T., the super-hit movie of the year. That gives you a sense of how long ago that was! In the ensuing years, like many youngsters drawn in by words, I read both good and awful books, and wrote for the pure joy of it, including a very cringe-worthy diary and handwritten letters sent through the mail to pen pals. I wrote a lot of essays in high school and university where I studied English literature for my first degree. As a teacher, I wrote emails and reports and tried to inspire my students to write creatively but by then, I hardly wrote for myself anymore. I stopped journaling.

In 2009, I took a leave of absence and returned to Canada, where I spent a year driving around North America solo in a camper van. I blogged my journey and in that year rediscovered the joy of writing. When I returned to Amsterdam in the summer of 2010, I signed up for a creative writing class (where I met fellow IWC teachers Sarah Carriger and Inge Lamboo!) and a couple of years later, I was accepted to an MFA program (where I met fellow teacher Ellen Keith!). Now, writing is a part of my routine: like exercise, like a good glass of wine, if I skip too many days, I feel like something is missing.
 

WHAT DO YOU LIKE ABOUT TEACHING?

All of it! I love witnessing students’ progress in their writing and in their critiquing. I enjoy getting to know the stories they are working on and helping them figure out a satisfying and exciting way to write them. I love reading great examples and talking about craft with students. I love it, too, when my students engage in discussion and offer support and encouragement to each other. I’m always inspired by my students and end each class feeling energized.
 

WHAT EXACTLY DO YOU TEACH IN LEVEL 3?

In my Level 3 workshop, we focus on fiction, mainly short stories with occasional poems. Like the Level 3 Novel-Writing workshop, we also talk about story form, structure, characterization, etc though within the scope of short stories. In Level 3, you will continue to work with readings and craft discussions though these will be less teacher directed than in levels 1 and 2. Instead, I strive to have students identify the techniques they will try that week in their writing – in a sense, creating their own “exercise”. Students can then use these exercises to feed a preexisting larger project such as a collection of stories or a novel. If students are not working on such a project, I encourage them to try to start a new short story and write forward so that by the time we arrive at the end of our 8 weeks, they have a full (or almost full) first draft.
 

WHAT SHOULD EVERY ASPIRING WRITER KNOW?

We should embrace our little “failures” for what they can teach us. Whether it is not quite nailing a technique, needing to rethink the story because some of the logic doesn’t work out, or a stream of rejections. These are rich learning moments, where we can continue to write something even better or truer. Writing is not something that happens quickly, and each time we sit down to do it again can feel like the first time. I’ve struggled – and still struggle – with letting go and allowing myself to write a messy first draft. I struggle with the shitbird on my shoulder and have to push through to shut it up. A teacher of mine once advised me to “Write Crap!” and ever since then I’ve got that sage advice posted to the wall behind my writing desk. There is no failure, it is all striving to make the writing better, make the story better. Nobody became a famous musician or a star athlete overnight. Practice and perseverance and learning from what isn’t working with the goal of trying to make it work. And embracing the joy of the process. It is creative writing, right? There should be some joy at the core of creating.
 

WHAT ARE YOUR TOP THREE TIPS FOR ASPIRING WRITERS?

Whether you’re a plotter or a pantser or somewhere in between, embrace the messiness that is your first draft. Perfection will not happen there, but a lot of wonderful sparks that are worth keeping and developing will. Embrace the revision process, including giving and receiving feedback. Embrace your writing community – I see so much support amongst writers, where one might think there’s competition, it really isn’t like that. Meet up with your fellow writers, establish connections, follow writers you admire on social media. And, get the butt in the seat. Your story won’t write itself. That’s more than three!

8 September 2022

1 responses on "Finding joy at the core of creating"

  1. Super to read what you’re up to Jen. Love your teacher’s sage advice too. And the good old ‘just do it’ approach. Works for all things in life hey, even the jolly dishes. Send me some stories please, I’m in need of a read.
    Cheers
    Susie

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