We recently caught up with longtime student and published author Janelle Ward. A Minnesota native, Janelle has lived in the Netherlands since 2001. She is an assistant professor in media and communication at Erasmus University in Rotterdam and a member of our Level IV Master Class.
What’s the first thing you remember writing?
I started writing when I was about 10. I remember writing a short novel about a girl who could shrink and have adventures around the house. Her bedroom was hot pink and black, because my parents wouldn’t allow me to have those colors in real life. But I stopped with the creative writing in high school. I didn’t pick it up again until 2004 when I started blogging. Then I signed up for my first workshop, which as with Sarah, in 2011.
What did you gain from your workshop experience?
What I love about the International Writers’ Collective workshops is that they are very much focused on craft, combining both reading and writing. It’s like you’re exercising a muscle. I didn’t study literature or creative writing in school, but now, having taken the workshops, I know why I like things and what elements work. You understand what you read and why it’s compelling.
Tell us about getting published
My first published story originated with an exercise from my first or second workshop. It was a wonderful moment when it was accepted at The Molotov Cocktail. That’s when I (really) knew this was my thing. I never felt this way about the academic stuff I’ve published. It was a wonderful high. I still like that story very much. It’s called “Scrub“.
A lot of my published stories originated from workshop exercises. And because I’m an academic, we feel a need to publish everything. I feel like I now understand how the process works to get a short story published. Sometimes the process takes a year, submitting, waiting, getting rejected, revising before you get one story published. Now I’d like to move on to something bigger.
What is your next big project?
In the Master Class I started working on something that keeps growing, and now I’m continuing with it for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). I use NaNoWriMo to get at quantity—about 1700 words on paper per day. I want to break out of short story mode and this forces me to write forward. It’s a goal—I need external goals. If I don’t have that structure, I don’t write. I now have so much material that I’d like to start shaping a novel.
How do you write that much in one day, especially as a working mom?
My dream is to get up at 5 a.m. and write, but that’s only happened about 3 times. (laughs) Really, you just need to schedule it. I did NaNoWriMo once before in 2006. And yes, I’ve had a couple years of failing very quickly. But the key to NaNoWriMo is find the time to write every day and just write. Don’t worry about making it perfect.
What’s hard for you to write about that you’d like to write about?
My family. When writing something that makes you feel like you’ll be judged or will anger people, it can difficult to let go. My parents are very conservative and sometimes they even get upset about things I’ve written in my now-defunct blog. I’ve never truly written about my family or things inspired by my childhood. That said, it has been cathartic to write about topics that affect me personally. It’s the best therapy to write and feel those things through the characters. It would be odd to write something that moved other people if you don’t feel emotional yourself.
How do you use the workshop critiques?
I write everything down in a comment in my word document. Later, I go through all the critiques. Occasionally, I don’t agree, but for the most part it’s useful to have a fresh eye. I remember being terrified of the critiques in my first writing workshop. Even though I teach, and am used to being in front of groups, I was totally freaked out because I felt very exposed. When you’re doing something close to the heart you react this way. But I realized the fear and the adrenaline rush were signs that I am passionate about my writing.