Thursday, April 9, 2009

Meet Jennifer Zeman

You sit down to write, and then you remember – you wore your last clean bra to work today, and what will you do in the morning? As you are delivering the dirty underwear to the laundry room, you notice that the bathroom sink looks actually disgusting. It only takes a minute to spray, wipe and shine. But then, you might as well empty the trash while you are there, and why empty just one wastebasket? They are all overflowing. The washer buzzes, the phone rings, there are dirty dishes in the sink instead of the dishwasher, and nobody has vacuumed the living room carpet since Halloween. Oh, no, there is neither bread nor milk in the kitchen. As you eventually lay your weary head on the pillow and collapse into dreamless sleep, you tell yourself that tomorrow for sure, writing comes first.

Jennifer Zemen, a pre-published writer who lives and writes in Rising Sun, Maryland, has solved the problem of making time to write. We could all learn from her. Now approaching the moment when she will release her first book-length manuscript into the publishing wilds, I think she would say that the sun is rising on her writing career.

Growing up, Jennifer always enjoyed the arts. She would probably call herself a right-brain personality. She originally found her outlet in graphic arts, but as an adult dealing with the consequences of family tragedy, she discovered the art of words in journaling. It provided a way to talk about the loss of her mother, the stress of adjusting to a blended family after her father remarried, and the depression that accompanied these experiences. As she wrote, her journal became an important tool for clearing her thoughts.

There came a time in Jennifer’s personal growth when she felt that her story needed to be published. Not just for her, but for others. Anna Quindlen’s essay about the death of her mother resonated profoundly with Jennifer’s own experience. Reading Ann Hope’s book Comfort, Jennifer also discovered a great deal of common ground with her own life. Yet Jennifer saw that she had something unique to say, something that would not only share her grief but also provide help and hope for others.

Jennifer found that journaling led very naturally into the writing of her memoir, but writing a book did not fit naturally into an already busy life. When she began writing the memoir in 2006, it was a venture into the unknown. Jennifer’s full-time job meant that weekends were the natural time for her to write, yet in the early days, the weekends came and went with little or no time for writing. Every writer can relate to this problem. Few of us can simply decide to write without interruptions. When there was time for writing, Jennifer tried to make the most of it, and when the time slipped away, she felt discouraged. Eventually she decided it was time to take action. If she were ever to finish her book, she had to build a wall around time for writing. Her strategy was to declare weekends off limits for household tasks. Trips to the grocery store, housecleaning, laundry, and the thousand and one things that always loom large the minute a writer sits down to write were confined to weekdays. No more trying to write between laundry loads. No more last-minute trips for bread and milk on Saturday morning.

Her strategy paid off. Today she is completing the second draft of her book, and she says she expects in the near future to be ready to submit her manuscript to publishers. Time management is not, however, the only tool in her writer’s survival kit. Jennifer is a member of a critique group, and this group helped her to hone her first draft. It was through the critique group that she met Patricia Punt, the hostess of this blog, and Patricia provided her with editorial guidance to begin her second draft. Along the road to success, Jennifer subscribed to Writers Digest, devoured articles in Writers Market, read books and articles on writing and picked the brain of a writer friend. She found an opportunity to write for a blog where she can grow her skills and start building her platform.

Being a guest blogger is only one plank in Jennifer’s platform. She has pages on MySpace and Facebook, and she has a blog of her own. She is still feeling her way to the right balance of platform-building and writing. For now, writing takes center stage, but she expects to be more involved in platform-building as she moves closer to the sale of her manuscript.

I always ask writers what they would say to someone who wants to be a writer. Jennifer’s answer was typical: Write. It is a simple, yet profound truth. If someone wants to be a writer, it is necessary to write. As Jennifer suggested, it is also a good idea to read what other writers are writing, to read books and articles about the craft of writing, and to connect with other writers, online and in person. Putting pen to paper, or finger to keyboard, is a big hurdle; nothing promotes commitment to good housekeeping like the sight of a blank page. Above all and before all, a writer must write.

It is always a great pleasure to meet someone who has found her fulfillment in life. Like most of us, Jennifer did not start writing until adulthood. After telling a few people about her goal, she discovered that some people thought it was frivolous, silly or even hopeless. Everybody felt completely comfortable to tell her that success as a writer was not worth the effort. Jennifer’s response was to ignore them and follow her dream. Jennifer’s advice to others? Do what fulfills you and makes you happy. Don’t let fear of the unknown hold you back from becoming what you were born to be. If you dream of becoming a writer, don’t spend your evenings telling friends what you would do if you were a writer. Get thee to the computer and write. One day you will be telling all those naysayers what you have written, and then they will be saying to you, “You write? I could never do that.”

by Katherine Harms

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