We’re excited to introduce our newest StoryStudio instructor, Nadine Kenney Johnstone! Nadine, who recently moved (back) to Chicago from Massachusetts, will debut October 1st with a single-session class called Tales from the Office. She will also lead our next cycle of Memoir in a Year, which starts on October 20th (don’t forget to send in your applications by October 3rd!).
As a working writer, mother, and nonfiction buff, Nadine will no doubt teach us a thing or two about good writing on a tight schedule. As a sneak peek, Cooler by the Lake recently spoke with Nadine about her favorite writerly tips and tricks and everything that makes her tick.
Where are you from?
What brings you to StoryStudio?
My family just relocated to Chicago. I was living in Massachusetts for the last six years, and when we had our son, I realized how important it is to be around family. So we moved back to Chicago to be near my friends and family.
Who are your favorite authors of all time?
This is always such a hard question: Mary Karr, Ann Hood, Cheryl Strayed, Elizabeth Gilbert, Carolyn Parkhurst, Justin Torres, Junot Diaz, and Chicago folks like Megan Stielstra and Joe Meno. I could go on and on…
What’s your favorite line from a book?
Every single sentence of Mary Karr’s memoir, Lit.
What are you reading now? What was the last book you finished?
I am reading Life Drawing by Robin Black. Because I have a one year old at home, I haven’t finished many books since he’s been born!
What do you write?
Fiction and Nonfiction
Where do you write?
At Starbucks, Panera, and Argo Tea–never at home!
I have a favorite spot at each place (always by a window). I get three pumps of mocha syrup over ice from Starbucks, add almond milk to it, wrap myself in my blue writing shawl, set SelfControl software on my computer so I won’t be tempted by the internet, then I plug into Pandora, and I write.
Why do you write? What makes you gravitate to nonfiction?
I write to make sense of my life, to see myself from the outside, and, with fiction, to wonder What if?. I have been gravitating lately to nonfiction because I had a story to tell that came out on the page as truth, and I didn’t have the urge to ask what if, as I always did with my fiction. In 2010, after undergoing an IVF procedure to try to have a baby, I almost bled to death. Then, I had three more very traumatic IVF-related experiences, then I got pregnant naturally, and then, when I was 18 weeks pregnant, we were told that my son had hydronephrosis and might not survive. So, I had plenty to write about that surely didn’t need to be fictionalized!
Who inspires you?
Anyone who can balance writing and working and raising children and trying to get published and exercising and sleeping and eating, like my friend Jennifer DeLeon, who is the author of a great new anthology called Wise Latinas: Writers on Higher Education.
What are you working on now?
Right now, I am journaling about my move to Chicago, what it’s like to return home after being away for six years. I felt very at home at Massachusetts, but before then, I felt very at home in Chicago. Now that I am back in Chicago, and trying to remake my home here, there are a lot of emotions involved. My brain says I can only have one home, but my friend Kelly says that “home” is any place where you have people who love you. I imagine that these journal notes will turn into essays or my next memoir.
Do you have a favorite piece of general writing advice?
Just a checklist I go through of what I must describe in my scenes:
✓gestures and facial expressions and body language
✓dialogue and thoughts
✓what happens–dramatic moment
As you’ll be teaching two classes at StoryStudio—Tales from the Office and Memoir in a Year—do you have any time management tips for balancing the office life and the writing life?
Yes. Make writing a schedule and a priority, just like working out or paying bills. Set a timer, and set Self Control so you are not tempted by Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. Do what is realistic for you. When I am teaching and working full time, sometimes I just have time for a few hours on Saturday. When I am not trying to juggle two jobs, then writing is an hour or two a few times a week. Right now, as I am in the midst of unpacking, it’s just journaling when I can. But when I have a project and a deadline, I stick to it firmly. My husband can attest to this. Also, when I was first writing and didn’t have a publishing contract to keep me accountable, I told my friends I’d email them 15 pages of my novel every two weeks. They didn’t have to read it, but if I didn’t email them, they had the right to harass me. I don’t miss deadlines when I’ve given someone my word. And I take classes to have weekly deadlines.