An Interview with Jennifer Wendeln

Ben SD

This week we’re going to be taking a break from our regularly scheduled programming for an interview with a fellow writer and peer. Our topic of scrutiny today is Jennifer Wendeln, a business major turned author studying Professional Creative Writing at the University of Denver, with a focus on nonfiction. Her future endeavors include memoir, children’s writing, and interview projects with people who have been marginalized. In her free time, she enjoys being with her family, their two cats, and being outdoors. Recently she was gracious enough to lend some of her time to talk about what she’s working on, her life as a writer, and the mechanics of an evolving business world as it relates to her writing.

Ben SD: Is there a project you’re working on right now or something in the works for the future you would care to talk about?

Jennifer Wendeln: My current project is a children’s book about the seasons. I was inspired by my daily commute to work and how it changed with the seasons. The terra remains the same, but the view is completely different depending on the time of year. The landscape is often completely blanketed in white in the winter. Spring brings soft pastel blooms in the trees, along with tulips emerging from their winter sleep. The summer horizon is masked by the 8-foot tall stalks of corn, which create a sort of tunnel to drive through. Fall turns the corn stalks from green to golden, like the yellow brick road of sorts, eventually to be harvested and provide the mile-wide views of the rolling earth. I want to capture that in simple illustrations. I haven’t decided how the wording will go...whether short and simple rhyming or very basic word descriptions. I foresee it being read to small children, with questions that can be asked by the narrator to the children.

BSD: This is such a good idea! The way you describe the scenery through the seasons sounds like home to me, like a picture of the Midwest. Where’s home for you, and how does that shape your voice as a writer?

JW: I grew up in Northern Ohio, then I traveled from coast to coast and in between with the military. For now I call Iowa home, but I don’t know where I will end up in the future. Growing up with the beauty of the Midwest agriculture seasons, and now living in that environment again, reminds me of the cyclical nature of life. There are seasons of thriving and freedom, then the preparation for dying or hibernating, the harshness of minimalist survival and bleakness of cold and ice, and then the reawakening and hope found when warm and rain usher in rebirth. I find it fascinating the process trees go through in the fall, being emblazoned with gorgeous, fiery colors in preparation for a long hard winter. They kind of go out with a bang! I relate all these things to our own lives. We have seasons of difficulty, and seasons of ease, seasons of death and season of celebration. In writing about my own life or that of others, this seasonal turning may likely be imparted.

BSD: If you had to put the controlling idea of your children’s book in a sentence, what would it be? What about a pitch sentence?

JW: I’m not sure there is a controlling idea for my children’s book. The book will show illustrations of how landscapes change with each season. I see it more as a toddler or preschool age book in an educational setting or library. There is no specific message to it. I may add some words that prompt the children to talk about the changes they see in their area during the different seasons. Or, as I mentioned before, it may include some pieces of rhyming in the season descriptions. I can see where someone could take off with a work comparing seasonal changes to life changes, as I very much ascribe to. Maybe that will be my next work!

BSD: Some writers have a specific routine they go through as part of their creative process; is there a time you write most or best? How about a place? How important is your personal setting to you when you sit down to write?

JW: My current life of working full time and mothering full time can be quite restrictive on setting up a good writing habit! Instead of allowing the lack of a strict writing time to stop me from pursuing writing altogether, I write when I can and I make it count. I have a goal of not comparing my writing time to anyone else's and just focus strictly on the inspiration and the writing itself.

I often find that some of my most poignant inspirations come when I am driving, cooking, or even showering! I think this is because there is nothing else to interrupt my flow of thoughts. A fellow colleague provided the most excellent idea of voice texting during times when I can’t write so that I don’t lose the initial thoughts. This has been extremely successful!

When I do make time to write, it is always in the morning. Even before I learned that mornings are the most prevalent time for writers to write, it is what happened naturally, especially if my children were away for a weekend. Maybe one day I will have that strict time and special place to do my work (a home office would be wonderful!), but for now, what I am doing will have to do, and I will make it work!

People are my passion, and I want to give the best of my time and energy to the people who are closest to me.

BSD: As a parent myself, I can relate; having kids is a full time job, and I’m so glad you mentioned not comparing your schedule to anybody else’s. What if we pretend for a moment you didn’t make time in your schedule to write; if you weren’t a writer, what would you be?

JW: My current situation is that I have a full-time business career and I am trying to switch that up into a full-time writing career. That decision is completely based on a need to provide income for my family. If I had no need to provide financially for my household, I would wholeheartedly commit my time to my children and to my community. People are my passion, and I want to give the best of my time and energy to the people who are closest to me. Many do not see this as a worthwhile effort, and I find that the “stay-at-home-parent” title comes with an incredible amount of judgment. I can’t control what others think. What I know about myself is that I was the most fulfilled when I volunteered in the community, took care of the business of my household, provided my time, love, and care to my children, and opened my home to whoever needed it. It’s all work. It’s just not work that receives pay. I have discovered that I can create income and serve people through my writing life.

Writing has always been there, all throughout my life, all throughout jobs, lack of jobs, every time in my life. If I were not writing as a profession, I would still be writing!

BSD: How does the pull of your business career color the work you do as a writer? Do you think your focus in the business world comes through in your writing?

JW: My business career is what started my professional writing, and is what prompted my pursuit of full-time professional creative writing. Writing for the business world is much different than creative writing (although writing for marketing can certainly get creative!). However, it has taught me many skills such as writing for a specific audience, writing for a particular campaign, increasing my editing skills, and learning what types of formatting garner the most response from readers. This has all built me up to a level where moving into creative writing can be more of an expression of my art and my passion to support the downtrodden, rather than to bolster someone’s corporate bottom line. I am also thankful to have gained a lot of experience observing people throughout my business career, as this has also provided many writing topics for me!

BSD: Has the business-related writing and editing you’ve done prepared you for the business side of professional creative writing?

JW: Absolutely! I learned a lot bit about editing and composing through my bachelors program, but I learned much of what I know on the job. I learned from co-workers, from observing past works that previous employees had composed, and oftentimes gleaned insight from the types of responses I receive from my audience. Much of my work has included correspondence to donors, parents, inter-office emails, and public emails and newsletters. I have worked for public, private, nonprofit and government entities. It has provided me a very well rounded view of different types of business operations and the differences needed in writing for each one.

I am also an observant person in general, so I read letters that I receive from corporations, legal documents, advertisements, etc.

That’s all on the business writing side of my knowledge. The knowledge of business operations, such as marketing, advertising, customer relations, payroll, bookkeeping, public corporate persona, legal issues, copyright laws, taxes...all of these things have given me a large advantage for preparing to deal with the business side of writing.

What I love most about writing is the thought that it can produce positive change in the reader.

BSD: I think it’s fair to assume that anybody who claims a title or profession for themselves, something like being a writer, must like something about the job. What do you love most about writing?

JW: What I love most about writing is the thought that it can produce positive change in the reader. With my focus on nonfiction, my aim is to tell stories of those who have had major struggles in life. If they have not come through the struggle yet successfully, my writing on the topic can bring attention to their situation and hopefully bring help, as well as enlightenment to those who don’t understand that particular struggle. If someone has triumphed over suffering, my writing can share hope with those who are still in the trenches of hardship. This will show them that they can make it past their struggle and that they are not alone in the fight. This all stems from the hope I gained in reading other authors’ works. These writings helped me survive my own hardships.

I also love the catharsis writing brings to my own soul. Whether it’s a bit of satire, humor, personal journaling, beauty in nature, the darkness I experience due to poor treatment from others or upon others...the release of all these things into words soothes me. Even when the words get ugly.

BSD: I love all that, and I feel like you captured something universal with writing as catharsis. On the other hand, if it were all fun, they probably wouldn’t call it a job. What do you hate most about writing?

JW: What I hate the most about writing at the moment is, ironically, the business side of writing. It has me frozen from submitting any further work.The problem: privacy vs public persona. There are legitimate reasons for my need to protect myself. While I know that I can strike a deal between these two forces, it has been drudgery to find the right way to move forward. Some of the questions that pester me incessantly are: I want to write in pseudonym, but do I create multiple pseudonyms for different types of writing? Do I start an LLC, and can that be anonymous? What will the tax implications be and are they worth it? Can creating a public persona and social media presence under pseudonym truly protect me if my visage is out there electronically and at in-person events?

Admittedly, there is fear that needs to be dealt with. I am determined to conquer it with sound advice, information, and changing my thinking in some areas of my personal life.

Finding the right place for your work in the first place is critical. This can ensure that the worthiness of one’s work is fully recognized.

BSD: The publisher’s catalog is set up so that a lot of books can get some time but no books get much; do you see this as beneficial to writers and publishers?

JW: My thought is that any exposure an author can receive is better than none. I can see how books can get lost in the mix of a catalog. I think that is part of the risk of being an author, if you’re trying to make a living from it. Finding the right place for your work in the first place is critical. This can ensure that the worthiness of one’s work is fully recognized. You wouldn’t want to submit a children’s book to a science-fiction publisher, for example. Each publisher will have a specific knowledge within their genre or focus.

BSD: You mentioned writing as a constructive tool, something that can help others overcome struggles similar to the ones you might write about. Others use writing as a political soapbox or an avenue for activism. To what degree do you think writing is obliged to be constructive? Should it always have a greater message?

JW: I believe this is completely up to the writer. Did Dr. Suess have a greater message in all of his stories? I don’t believe that is true. I believe his main purpose was to bring whimsy and imagination to children, with a smattering of messages built in such that they weren’t too overwhelming. Do Sunday morning comics always have a deep meaning or political statement? I don’t believe that either. Unless the author finds purpose in simply making the reader laugh, which we could all use much more of! Sometimes, do you just feel like you could take a break from the reality and heaviness of life by having some fun and laughing till you pee? That’s how I feel. I think that’s why occasionally when a friend emails to ask how I am today, I will likely start by poking fun at my situation. I’ll write something about my single life: “Well, I have the heat cranked to 75 degrees today because I don’t have a spouse to argue with about it!” When I think of my future memoir project, it will be a good mix of deep thought, lyricism, hope and triumph through hardship, brutal honesty, and humor. My life is full of all these things, and I endeavor to share those things through my writing in one way or another.

BSD: You also talked a bit about how writing for business is different from creative writing. I’d love to hear more about this; what can you do in one that you can’t in the other? How different do you find your voice? Is there a trick that lets you switch between the two worlds? It’s fascinating that you know writing from such different angles, so say anything you like about this!

JW: I have been both witness and victim in recent years to people who have a growing entitlement mentality and a very low attention span. It’s not a pretty combination when dealing face to face with people, or in dealing with people through business writing. For example, if I compose an email for an elementary institution, I want the feel to be warm and inviting and provide as much information as possible. I will keep the body of the email message welcoming, and direct parents/guardians to the attachments provided. I use bullet points to keep tasks easy for the eye to come back to. However, I often found many parents calling and asking questions about where is this form or that form, how much is this fee? I have even heard “Can you just send me those forms again?” The information is all there at their disposal. They just want a quick answer instead of investing time in being a thorough reader. Spoon feeding adults is a real problem, and in this way, writing tends toward a need to be more succinct, with greater quantity of communication that contains fewer tasks and less information.

Something as simple as wayfinding signage needs to focus on clear and brief words and even symbols to direct event attendees to their destination without causing confusion.

A verbal presentation necessitates creating a brief outline. This would all be bullet points that que the presenter to the information they will speak about, allowing them to maintain good eye contact with the audience. Likely the presenter is already an expert in their field and needs only a reminder of what the next point is in to keep the presentation flowing.

Working with a non-profit institution requires incredible attention to detail so as not to portray the entity as poor quality by having major or minor mistakes in grammar or information. This will cause possible donors to take their funding elsewhere. Also, writing to donors needs to be persuasive, properly portraying the legitimacy of a funding request, along with generating a response in the donor that makes them feel invested. There is also a whole other topic of call to action writing.

Sending quick communications via a text messaging software to a multitude of recipients requires a focus on getting the main point across in as few characters as possible. Almost like the hook authors need to have for their pitches or queries, this type of writing needs to catch someone’s attention instantly and with consideration to character count limitations.

I could go on and on. Maybe I will write a book about professional business communication!