Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

At the Desk: Denise Jaden

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Denise Jaden's desk

For each book that sits on our shelves or rests in our hands, a writer has spent countless hours researching, organizing, writing and rewriting. In Open Book’s At The Desk series, writers tell us about their creative processes and the workspaces that inspire them.

Denise Jaden is a Canadian writer, who lives in British Columbia. Her most recent book, Never Enough (Simon & Schuster Canada), is a story about two sisters struggling to be perfect and the eating disorder that threatens to destroy their family.

In this edition of At the Desk, Denise talks to Open Book about meditative space, fast first drafting (NaNoWriMo) and the inspirational sunshine at her dining room table.
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The thing that inspires me the most, creatively, is meditative quiet space. You’d never know it from my life, however, and I’ve felt like I’ve been in a constant fight to find those optimal conditions for my work.

That all changed in 2007, when I attempted NaNoWriMo for the first time. This stands for National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo.org) and it’s where hundreds of thousands of writers around the world come together online to hold each other accountable in order to write a first draft of a novel in a month. This experience changed the writing experience for me in many ways.

First, and most importantly, it taught my family that I needed a “writing time” when I could not be disturbed. I’d never taken this for myself, and so finding my muse always felt like an uphill battle. But to get the word count in that was required for NaNoWriMo, I had to have focused time. I’m a very goal-driven person, and although it wasn’t always pleasant in our household during that first year of NaNoWriMo, it did teach us all something about the creative process.

Besides discovering the necessity of undisturbed writing time, NaNoWriMo also taught me about the process of fast drafting. I always had to move forward with my story in order to make daily word counts. I couldn’t take time to scrutinize or second guess scenes I’d already written. This process gives me momentum, and I’ve often come up with gems (and even new characters) along the way that were not in my outline. Fast-drafting keeps me from being a perfectionist on my early drafts. It would be easy to spend months on one chapter or scene, and get it perfect, only to end up cutting that scene later because it doesn’t further the overall story.

I wrote my first published novel, Losing Faith, during NaNoWriMo 2007, and have been fast-drafting my first drafts ever since. Some will never see the light of day, but at least when that’s the case, I know I have only wasted a month on it, rather than many years.

In 2007 I was still writing at my dining room table. I’ve since gotten a very small desk, which I’ve squeezed into our spare bedroom. I’ve experimented with different things like storyboards on the wall, and lookalike photos of my characters pasted around me. But the best part about having this office-of-sorts is being able to close the door. To be honest, though, quite often I still find myself migrating back to our dining room table to work. I like the brightness of daylight there, and often I seem to have a little more oomph to get going on a hard scene in that location. Plus, many of my favorite books are right behind me in the bookcase if I need an inspirational break, and my homeschool supplies are right there for when it’s time to homeschool my son. I’m not the best multi-tasker, but I try to at least make some headway on promotional work while my son is busy with school. That way my writing time can stay undisturbed.

I’m in season where taking care of my young son is still time-consuming, and solitary writing time is in short supply. But I plug away, either at my desk or at my dining room table. I don’t keep a lot of inspirational knick-knacks around my desk, mostly because of the size of it. I do have a text-messaging glossary on my wall that I use from time to time. I also have a photo of a hula dancer nearby (I’m a professional Polynesian dancer in my spare time). I keep my laptop propped up on a box and use a separate keyboard to help with back/neck strain. It’s not terribly professional looking, it’s seldom tidy, but it works for me. (Plus, the box under my laptop doubles as a quick storage bin.)

I keep trying things like coffee shop writing, or even heading down to my cold, cold basement once in a while. But over the years, I always seem to end up back at my dining room table, soaking up the sunshine and a little inspiration for my next book.

— Denise Jaden

Denise Jaden's writing has appeared in several short fiction magazines. Her first novel for teens, Losing Faith, was released from Simon Pulse/Simon & Schuster in 2010, with her next one, Never Enough, out in July 2012. Losing Faith was nominated for both a Crystal Kite Award (SCBWI) and an Inspy Award. Denise enjoys teaching on many subjects, including writing grief in fiction, and fast first drafting. She lives just outside Vancouver, Canada with her husband and son.

For more information about Never Enough please visit the Simon & Schuster website.

Click here to find out more about Denise Jaden or find her on Twitter @denisejaden.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

Check out all the At the Desk interviews in our archives.

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