Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Jaleigh Johnson - Writing Wednesday

Jaleigh Johnson is an author who I’ve written about before on this blog. You can see posts about both Jaleigh and her books HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE. Jaleigh not only writes books that my students and I devour, but she also lives in our town. To say that’s rare would be an understatement. We live three hours south of Chicago, in a tiny rural community surrounded by fields. Authors do not stop here on book tours. We had an independent bookstore open up at the start of winter this fall (YAY!), but before that the only connection many of my students have to books was through school or the local library. They don’t know authors beyond the images they see on the back of a book. This is why I’ve had my students involved with social media, they can tweet authors and they tweet back. It is magical.

Once I learned that Jaleigh lived in my town, I brought her in my classroom as much as she could come. She taught my students about finding inspiration for Mark of the Dragonfly by seeing the restored steam engine in town and wondering what type of planet it could reside on. She taught them how playing games like Dungeons and Dragons, or video games, builds her creativity.

But what Jaleigh really taught my kids was the power of the words what if.  What if this train was on a planet with meteors hurling to the earth? What if you had a kick-butt young girl that was like Han Solo? What if? It’s that power to wonder that makes you a writer, in my opinion. I think we all have that when we’re younger. We get older and, speaking from my own experience, we tamp it down as we compare our creativity with others, thinking we don’t measure up. That is why I strive each day to make my students wonder, create, and dream. I want them to see something and ask, what if?

And with that, welcome Jaleigh Johnson! Thanks for stopping in.

Talk to me about your writing life - what does it look like?
With a few exceptions, my day-to-day writing routine starts after my day job is finished, though sometimes I can squeeze in a writing or editing sprint during my lunch hour.  I use a laptop, and usually I’m writing in my office or outside on my back porch when the weather’s nice. Projects start from a detailed proposal and outline. I leave myself room to change things if I need to, but I’ve found an outline helps keep me focused during particularly rough stretches of a project.  My writing goal while I’m drafting is about a thousand words a day, and I tend to be a linear writer, so I write from beginning to end without skipping anything. When I’m editing, things become more fluid. It’s hard for me to set a goal of a certain number of pages edited per day because one page might take me two hours to edit while another takes two minutes.

Were you a writer in middle school? A reader?
Yes to both.  The love of reading came first.  Nothing gave me greater pleasure than diving into the worlds my favorite authors created, getting to know their characters, and maybe getting to know myself a little bit more along the way.  I wanted to be able to do the things those authors could do with words. Being a good storyteller felt like a superpower to me (it still does), and I wanted that power too (I’m still trying to get there).

What is some writing advice you’d like to give either to my students or to other aspiring writers?
The best advice I ever received as a writer is also the advice I’d pass along to others.  Write because you love it. Find joy in the process whenever you can, because writing is hard, and publishing is even harder, and there are many things you won’t be able to control.   But if you love what you’re doing, you’re already succeeding.

Best thing about being a writer?
I love watching a story come together on the page bit by bit, watching it take shape into the thing I want it to be.  The other best thing is when someone tells me that one of my books helped them fall in love with reading. My heart can’t contain the joy that hits me in those moments.

Hardest part of being a writer?
The hardest part for me is keeping self-doubt at bay and convincing myself that I am good enough, that my stories are worth telling, and that my voice is worth hearing.

What are you reading now that you’re loving?
I tend to read outside the genre I’m writing in once I’m far into a project, so I’ve been reading more mysteries lately.  I’m deeply in love with Anna Lee Huber’s Lady Darby series, which begins with The Anatomist’s Wife.  There are six books and a novella in the series so far, with a seventh coming in 2019.

Thanks again to the amazing Jaleigh Johnson for giving of her time to share her thoughts with us. If you'd like to find Jaleigh online, here are some links.