Welcome new Writers’ Program instructor, Jeanne De Vita! Jeanne is teaching a new online course this Summer, Freelancing for Editors, and sat down with us to offer some insight into creative life and her upcoming course.

What sparks your creativity?
I’m always inspired by character. People, why they do what they do. How complicated our lives and histories and dreams are. How interwoven we are with one another. I never lack for ideas—there is inspiration all around. Just a spark can set the world on fire, so seeing sparks in anything/everything is like hunting for literary treasure.

What do you rely on for those times it’s difficult to find the time, energy, motivation and/or inspiration to work?
I rely quite a bit on the senses. Literally—I diffuse essential oils, walk outside, touch a tree, listen to much-loved music. Sights, sounds, and touch are all great for a boost of energy or a reset. Breaks are also incredibly important to the work. Sometimes you need to stop working in order to allow the ideas to take shape. When I’m already sitting with hands on the keyboard, a practice that has really worked for me is engaging my sense of smell. Something about not focusing on an external object (that blank page!) but activating my internal thoughts and energy flow by really helps to set things in motion. The sense of smell connects powerfully to memories, which connect to emotions, and those connect to motivation/action. I try not to snack when I’m stuck, but I admit I do that too!

What’s your favorite book and/or movie?
I’m currently obsessed with both the novel and film Call Me By Your Name. It’s so rare that the movie “gets it right” and in this case, really, so well done. As far as non-fiction, I’m currently reading Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With A Thousand Faces and Masaru Emoto’s The Hidden Messages in Water. I read heavily in genre fiction due to my editing work, which I love, but I also have been spending time lately with classic detective stories from the 1920s and 1930s.

What’s your favorite quote about writing/editing?
My favorite inspirational quote doesn’t relate specifically to writing or editing, but it strikes the heart of what I hope to teach students. “The expert at anything was once a beginner.” (Helen Hayes Brown)
I feel the most humbling work is the first draft. That’s why we study craft. That’s why we edit, collaborate with teachers or peers, and rewrite. Because everything beautiful began in a very humble place. It would be unfair and stifling to hold oneself to any other standard. It’s okay to make a mess; craft allows us to aim for something much more.

What excites you most about teaching for the Writers’ Program?
I love connecting with students. Writing and editing can be very isolating but when I meet other people who share that passion, it’s a mutually inspiring experience. Breaking into any business can feel overwhelming and challenging, but I feel that getting published and getting paid for creative work is more possible now than ever before. I want every single voice to participate and be heard, and if I can contribute to helping someone along in any way, I am not just excited but totally committed. I try to give my students very concrete practical skills that they will remember long after the course has ended.
If the material is conveyed effectively, the skills gained in a classroom can really change the way a student engages with the material, sometimes permanently. I want not only to be the most effective teacher of the material I can, but to learn from the students how I can grow and change so that I don’t simply clone exercises and content modules over and over. I want to create material that is dynamic and engaging every single class and that can reach every student in a way that is impactful.

What do you hope your students get from your course(s)?
I always tell authors that this is not a competition. There is plenty of room at the table. It’s about the product, opportunity, and timing. A writing program will help with both the product and opportunity, allowing a student to learn craft and then networking or understanding the way a particular industry works. That leaves one thing up to the student: timing. Since none of us can control time or timing, all we can do is keep trying, keep knocking on doors, and absolutely never give up. I think hearing that message can mean the difference. So while my course is heavy on craft and provides access to opportunities, I also hope I provide the sincerity and support that will help students persist even when the course has ended the real life tests of patience and commitment begin.

Anything else?
I think the best advice I can give to writers is that while learning craft is tough, thankless work, craft is the body that will hold up a work. If your ideas and creativity are the soul of the work, the piece won’t go anywhere or have direction without bones and muscles and systems all in place and functioning. That body is craft. Allow your writer’s soul to be brilliant and wild, dark and provocative, but find ways to nurture and shape the body through perfecting your craft.

Thank you to Jeanne for taking time to share with us. Look for more instructor interviews coming soon!


Bree is the Assistant to the Director and Social Media Coordinator. You can email her at btodish@uclaextension.edu.

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