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Writers on Writing, Volume 2: LML Student Jennifer Williams

Jennifer Williams is a writer, musician, and community organizer in Oakland. She received her MFA from Mills, where she was awarded the Ardella Mills Prize in Fiction for her thesis. She has been an artist-in-residence at Wolfman Books, Cabin-Time, and Have Company, and was a Disquiet International fiction finalist. Her original work has appeared in It’s Sunny in Oakland: A Poetry Anthology, Big Big Wednesday, Adventure Club, Smalls, and more. She is currently working on her first novel and regularly leads free discussion groups on the creative process.

What writing project are you working on right now?

I have a novella and two short stories (or maybe they will be longer?) plus a collection of poems using found language.

What writing project are you procrastinating on?

My novella is pushed to the side right now because I've been working on it the longest. I need breathers so I don't just strangle the thing. Plus, since I'm currently working full-time, it's hard to find long stretches of sustained focus. I'll be taking a few weeks off of work this summer though so I can dive back in and make some structural changes and write new scenes. Maybe then it will finally be done!

How do you overcome writer's block?

Just do it. It's hard to start, but usually if I read a few pages of a book that I like I'll settle down and write once a word or image pops into my head. If nothing comes, I'll start with journaling and let that slowly turn into fiction. Lately, I've been telling myself I just need to write a few sentences every morning and that low-pressure approach has helped me get beyond the fear of writing.

Ernest Hemingway said, "Write drunk, edit sober." Would you agree with him? If not, what's your best editing advice?

When I'm writing, it's important for me to get beyond the point of caring. I want to surprise and disgust and bother myself. I can't write if some proper voice in my head is censoring me, and I can see how booze can help. But booze also puts me to sleep, or makes me focus too much on myself. If I'm aware of myself and my day-to-day troubles, it's hard to tap into the writing that wants to come through. I have to let go of myself and let another voice in, someone else's troubles.

As for editing, I need time and space from the work before tidying it up. I need to let go of any emotional attachment to it. Usually that emotional attachment is to that moment of creation anyways, that flow and fire. And with enough distance, I can see what is best for the piece beyond my personal experience of creating it.

What writing advice would give your 13-year-old self?

Don't listen to your parents, do what scares you, leave your ego behind, and get some work done.

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