Janine Burgan is a teacher and author that finds words delicious and the act of creating a story better than a meal in a Michelin starred restaurant. Recently Janine had a moment to answer some questions about creating art, both from a teacher’s and author’s perspective.
Where did you grow-up and where do you live now?
I grew up in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. After making my home in Indiana, the Pennsylvania Poconos, and Okinawa, Japan, I am right back where I started and am loving it.
How has where you live and have lived influenced your writing?
I write fiction, but I draw quite a bit of inspiration from the places I have lived or visited. I often find myself memorializing these places through setting. More importantly, though, they affect the ethos of my writing. Many of the themes found in my writing are inspired by my own experiences in these places. A love for adventure; the importance of family; grief and loss–these are an example of ideas have turned up in my writing. In this way, my writing is very connected to my experiences and the places I have called home. I may write fiction, but in an emotional sense, my stories are my memoir.
What is a normal “writing and teaching” workday like for you?
Right now, I am working to find a new pattern. After the arrival of my first child eight months ago, what was normal is now obsolete. I have gone from teaching composition at the university 2-3 days a week and filling the other days with grading papers, answering emails and fitting in my own writing, to snuggling with a little boy all day long. It was an abrupt and utter life-style shift. It’s wonderful, but at times I feel that my creative life and mind are lost to me. Recently, the answer to this has been to find a baby-sitter. I get a four-hour block to write each week, then I try to fill in a few more hours during naps or on the weekend. It’s refreshing to have this time devoted to writing again.
How has your career as a writing teacher shaped your career as a writer?
As a writing teacher, I want my students to get to know their own idiosyncratic writing processes and to learn to use their process to their advantage. We talk about the act of writing–how writing begets more writing–and we free-write a lot. Over the years, I have realized that I need to take my own advice. Through my classes, I have learned to honor my own process. To let go of writing it right the first time. To just get words on the page–lots of words. To allow time for good ideas to grow and mature. I am my biggest critic and teaching writing has taught me that I need to turn that off.
Who are your favorite writers and why?
Oh, wow. This list is certainly not exhaustive. I’ll name two contemporary and two no longer living.
JRR Tolkien–for his poetry; his rich characters; his world-building; his ability to spin a captivating plot while also addressing big moral questions; for, well, everything.
Lucy Maud Montgomery–for her charming characters and skilled world-building. So fanciful.
Grace Lin–Her books are full of charm. They are fun, funny, sweet and poignant all at once.
Maggie Stiefvater–Always exciting. Great balance of commercial and literary appeal. Rich characters and lots of tension.
What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Show up and be brave. By show up, I mean do the work. Sit at your desk or wherever you write, stop censoring yourself, and get something on the page. It probably won’t be glorious–a first draft rarely is–but it will give you something to work with. To do this, you have to be brave. A creative life is a vulnerable life. A writer must accept that criticism and rejection are part of the deal; otherwise, you will probably never write anything.
What are you working on now?
I have a few open projects right now, but most of my time is focused on a middle grade fantasy set in a world inspired by ancient Japan.
You can discover more about Janine Burgan by checking out her blog at http://www.firstnovelsclub.com.