When Jacqueline Jules was in third grade, she recalls, her teacher handed out pieces of construction paper and asked the students to write what they wanted to be on the paper for a bulletin board project.
That was the moment when Jules, the award-winning author of 30 books for young readers including three Sydney Taylor Honor Award winners (Sarah Laughs, Benjamin and the Silver Goblet, and Never Say a Mean Word Again), first declared her desire to be a writer.
Now Jules can look back on that moment as a self-fulfilling prophecy. But it took her until she reached her early thirties, after majoring in creative writing in college, that she was willing to put in the many hours and work required to become a writer.
Until the time when she was able to make the transition to full-time writer, she worked for 15 years as a school librarian, and kept reading books from an eclectic mix of subjects ranging from mysteries and biographies to fantasy and historical fiction. “If I connect with a character,” Jules says, “I’m hooked.”
First drafts, Jules admits, are very hard and go slowly. Much of the pleasure that she finds in writing comes from the revision process.
“When I first thought of writing,” says Jules, who also writes poetry for adults (and whose book, Stronger Than Cleopatra, is a series of narrative poems about her journey as a young widow), “I thought I would love dreaming up stories. While it is fun to imagine characters and plot, my favorite part is rearranging words to say the same thing, only better.”
Recently, Jules took a break from her many works-in-progress to share thoughts on her writing process.
Wordswimmer: How do you get into the water each day?
Jules: I am a lap swimmer who believes in regular practice. On days that I don’t have a speaking engagement or other appointment, I sit down at the computer around 8:30 in the morning. I bring my breakfast with me (usually a bowl of oatmeal) and read a little of my project while I eat. I work until 10:30 or 11 a.m. before I take an exercise break. (Usually 30 minutes with a good book on my stationary bicycle). Then I shower and go back to my computer. I usually eat lunch at my computer, too. Somewhere between 4 and 5 p.m., I take another exercise break (a walk outside or 45 minutes on my elliptical trainer). Afterwards, I have dinner with my husband. I generally head back up to the computer around 7ish to work until 10 or 10:30 p.m.
If I am not able to be home all day, I fit in as much writing time as I can, sitting down at my computer shortly after I walk into the house. Over the years, I have become so disciplined that I honestly don’t know what to do with myself if I am not writing.
So getting into the pool is never a problem for me. Finding as much time as I’d like to be in the water is my challenge.
Wordswimmer: What keeps you afloat...for short work? For longer work?
Jules: I often stay in the water until my skin wrinkles like a prune. First drafts are revised into second drafts, then third drafts, fourth drafts. . .tenth drafts. I keep revising and revising until I am satisfied enough to show the piece to a writing friend or one of my critique groups.
When a piece is close to completion, curiosity takes over. Writing can be like reading a book for me. I keep working because I want to know what will happen next. I often feel like I am discovering the story, watching it unfold. I swim with the story until it reveals itself to me.
Wordswimmer: How do you keep swimming through dry spells?
Jules: When I don’t feel motivated to start something new, I bring an old story to the pool. Just the other day, I had a great time re-working a story that I started in 2007. I have quite a few “drawer stories,” that sit in my files, waiting for revision. It is amazing how a fresh look at an old piece can awaken my brain to new possibilities. Suddenly, I know how to tighten endings, cut unneeded words, and make stories more resonant. Polishing an old story until it finally shines is very satisfying for me.
Wordswimmer: What's the hardest part of swimming?
Jules: I love revising but first drafts seem to go so slowly. I get fidgety sometimes, waiting for the words and ideas to come. I know they are just on the tip of my consciousness, but sometimes they are like a child shivering on a high dive, afraid to jump in.
Wordswimmer: How do you overcome obstacles, problems, when swimming alone?
Jules: As a rule, I don’t do too much swimming alone. I always have my husband and writing friends look over my stories before I submit them to editors. Their feedback really makes my stories stronger. Sometimes I am embarrassed when a writing friend catches a problem I should have seen on my own. But I am also quite grateful.
Wordswimmer: What's the part of swimming that you love the most?
Jules: I love arranging and rearranging words on a page until they make the picture I want. When I was a child, I would spend hours doing crossword puzzles. Now, I spend hours and hours playing with words. It is soothing to me, like the movement of my body gliding through water.
For more information about Jacqueline Jules and her work, visit her online: www.jacquelinejules.com
And to read more interviews with Jules, visit: