April is National Poetry Month. To celebrate, the first Write On! Author Q&A: Friday Edition is with poet Joy Jones. Jones is a speaker, performer playwright, and the author of several books: Between Black Women: Listening With The Third Ear; Private Lessons: A Book of Meditations for Teachers, and Tambourine Moon, which was featured on The Bernie Mac Show. She is also the director of the arts organization, The Spoken Word. Her latest work is as a contributor to the anthology, Days I Moved Through Ordinary Sounds: The Teachers of WritersCorps in Poetry and Prose, which was just released.
What inspired you to start writing?
Since childhood, I’ve been fascinated with both the written and spoken word. I liked reading stories silently, hearing stories told aloud, and of course, making up my own. I knew in elementary school that I would be a writer when I grew up.
As an adult, I had a case of writer’s block. I couldn’t seem to get my novel written. So, I tried writing poetry because it was shorter. At least that way I was able to produce a finished piece.
Will you share some techniques for helping a poet—or any writer—feel more comfortable speaking in public?
I love public speaking and have been doing it since elementary school. I never identified a feeling a fear—but usually just before I go onstage, I do feel a ball of energy gathering in my chest. It’s a strong and uncomfortable feeling—but since childhood I always assumed that was simply the arrival of the power I needed to deliver the speech. Too often, people define that energy as stage fright when in fact, it’s a power surge. To anyone who feels those “butterflies” when they speak in public, redefine that rush of emotion as a positive force to help you get the job done; that’s exactly what it is.
How is the experience writing for an anthology different than writing your other books?
Submitting work to an anthology is pretty easy compared to writing a book. With the anthology, you only have one short assignment to complete. With a book, you have all the work to do: conceiving the big picture, composing the beginning, middle and end, revisions and edits, finding a publisher, promoting the completed work. Writing an essay for an anthology is like going on a date. Writing a book is like getting married.
What is your favorite part of writing?
Getting published and getting paid.
What is the greatest challenge?
The hardest part of writing is the discipline of sitting down in front of the blank piece of paper and organizing one’s thoughts. Everybody has lots of great ideas. Ideas proliferate like germs in a kindergarten class. Anyone who can down a beer can come up with some wild thoughts. Anyone who remembers a dream when he awakens proves he has an imagination. But few people want to do the work of capturing those ideas in a coherent and engaging way in order to make them meaningful to others. Writing is work. It may be fun, transformative, lucrative, interesting, therapeutic, and many other wonderful adjectives, but it is still work.
What are the benefits of your work with “The Spoken Word?”
Performing my work is very gratifying. When your words are read on paper, you don’t get to see the effect it has on the reader. But standing in front of an audience gives you immediate feedback. You know right away whether or not you’ve hit the target.
In addition, because The Spoken Word uses art and culture to address issues in the community, it doesn’t feel like problem solving, it feels like fun. Entertainment is an excellent way to engage, educate, and/or influence people.
Any advice for writers?
Although success as a writer requires discipline, discipline doesn’t have to be regarded as a bad word. My favorite definition of discipline is “remembering what you want.” Do you want to be published? Then you need to spend time writing. Do you want to make sales? Then you will learn how to market your work. When you’re clear about what you really want, it’s not quite as difficult to turn off the TV or to not hang out with your friends so that you can the writing done.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first started writing?
Writing is a spiritual practice as well as a hobby, a talent, an art, or a way to earn money. When my creative life has lined up with my spiritual life, everything flowed with a certain grace. Opportunities to get published, get paid, even the writing itself, was easier.