This week, we'll meet tutor Jodie Noel Vinson!
Tell us a little about yourself. Maybe something random that not many people know!
I’m obsessed with the work of Marcel Proust. It’s a life goal of mine to learn French in order to read In Search of Lost Time in the original. After Proust, my favorite book is Endurance by Alfred Lansing. The incredible story of Ernest Shackleton’s expedition in the Antarctic appeals to almost any reader, plus it’s an exemplary work of narrative non-fiction that every writer can learn from.
If you could tell your younger writing self something, what would it be?
I would encourage my younger self not to define myself too early as a certain type of writer tied to a particular genre. I’ve only recently begun to explore the boundaries of non-fiction, experimenting with non-traditional forms through the lyric essay, and it’s opened up some untapped potential and exciting opportunities—on and off the page.
What does a typical writing day look like for you?
Like many writers, I work full time to support my passion, so it can be difficult to describe a typical writing day. I like to write in the mornings, when my head is clear, and tend to get up early to write before work. When I do have the luxury of a full day of writing, it starts early, with coffee, but has plenty of breaks for exercise and musing—time away from the page can be almost as important to my creative process as coming back to it.
Can you share some stories about people you met while on your travels?
When I was in my twenties I traveled to literary sites around the world, a trip I referred to as my “literary pilgrimage.” I was surprised then, while I was traveling through the south of England, to meet a young man who revealed that he was also on a “book pilgrimage.” As you can imagine, we had a lot to talk about. It’s serendipitous meetings like this that I like to pay attention to as a writer—moments that, when woven into a scene, reveal life to be a story.
What projects are you working on at the moment?
While I continue to work on a travel memoir about my literary pilgrimage, I recently embarked on a new project: a book length lyric essay about insomnia. It’s a fascinating topic with a rich history and widespread relevance—the CDC estimates that 50 to 70 million Americans suffer from a sleep disorder.
What's your teaching philosophy?
Writing is both a highly individualized, extremely solitary practice and a communal activity that requires the participation of others—an audience of readers, as well as the support of other writers. Through my writing classes I try to build that sense of community and connectivity for writers while providing them with highly personalized, constructive feedback tailored to each student’s particular project, and customized to their tastes and talents. And always, my goal as an educator is not only to teach relevant writing skills and encourage creativity, but also to reveal the myriad ways students can apply their creative writing abilities to enrich the communities in which they find themselves.
My toes drive once again into the damp grass; the soft wet mud that greets them causing me to shiver and clench at my fists. It’s almost funny to me that this is my primary focus when my throat is constricting painfully at the prospect of what is to come. This spot is lush and green. Remember? Our picnic space after a long, summer walk, and then, between mouthfuls of chips and messy dip, where we would dance drunk on the edge, swaying for the audience of trees beneath.
Some years ago I started writing a short story. The inspiration came from my memories of first seeing my grandmother-in-law’s art studio. The story evolved as I wrote, with the studio based on reality but the characters all from my imagination. I was pleased with my effort but spent some time tweaking it. I read it out to my writing group and received very positive feedback. My tutor encouraged me to submit it to a competition.
I daydream about that ‘typical’ writing day often. Up early, four hours of serious prose, lunch, an afternoon nap, back for the editing … In reality, like most writers, my writing has to be fitted in around my money-earning job. There are days when I feel inspired (although on re-reading it’s often more like mania), and I write for hours at a stretch. But most of the time I need a bit of bullying. I belong to a group of writers who meet fortnightly to critique each others’ work.