“This is hard. I’m not used to answering the questions.” —Jennifer Justus
Sometimes I need a gigantic slap on the head to remind me why writing rocks. Native Georgian, journalist and fellow author Jennifer Justus of Nashville Eats brought me back to the moment I chose this crazy career. While I am also guilty of (occasionally) dodging deadlines by cleaning out the refrigerator and mopping the floor, like her, I cannot imagine doing anything else. Still, sitting down to the page can sometimes be the hardest part and it was pure pleasure to hear an honest account of another writer’s insatiable passion for the craft. Thank you Jennifer for trusting your gut, taking a chance and spreading words of wisdom through columns, classes and cookbooks.
How do you recharge when your creativity is zapped?
Traveling somewhere new or reading always helps. However, as a freelancer I don’t always have the luxury to wait for inspiration. Realizing those periods of stagnancy are temporary helps me to get over the hump.
Someone said to me the other night, “We’re in an era where anyone can claim any occupation they want.” For you, what is the criteria for calling oneself a writer?
A writer is equal parts entertainer, observer and connector. It’s about helping the reader understand a subject from another perspective through the distillation of other people’s knowledge.
When did you first become interested in the craft?
In second grade, I learned the word “autobiography” from my mother, an english teacher. From that point forward, I became obsessed with penning my own, even though nothing profound had happened to me at that point. Since my parents struggled financially they encouraged me to pursue public relations, and I went on to work at a market research company. There, I became interested in food and the ability it has to bring people together, and serve as a liaison to slightly off-topic conversations like religion, politics, and healthcare. Writing is my own personal sociological experiment and means everything to me.
When did you begin writing professionally?
When I was almost 30 I decided to pursue my masters at Boston University, and enrolled in a program that allowed me to study food from a cultural standpoint. Next, my ex-husband and I were transferred to Nashville where I began freelancing to break into the market. Then I worked at the Tennessean for six years, which taught me to work fast and think on the fly. Writing on the red carpet at awards ceremonies taught me to whip it out.
How did you craft your voice?
It’s always about intuition. I’m a pretty spiritual person and oftentimes ask for divine guidance on my stories.
Do you believe it’s really possible to find the absolute “truth” in a story?
Eliciting information from others is still tricky territory, and involves a bit of disarming on both ends. I never know how my interactions with subjects are going to play out and hope that if I am honest, they will reciprocate.
What has been the most challenging experience in your creative life?
The first book I wrote was a complete learning curve. I wrote 70,000 words in two months while working full-time at the paper. It taught me to pummel through writer’s block and take an opportunity if someone presents it.
As a freelancer, how do you choose the projects that are worth pursuing?
If I get really obsessed with a story to the point that I’m pestering my editor to write it then I generally say, “yes!”
What do you love most about writing?
Even though we’re all made up of the same stuff, human beings constantly feel separated from one another. Writing allows me, on a micro-scale, to bridge that gap bit by bit.
Read Jennifer Justus’ freelance writing here.