An Interview with "Good Naked" Author Joni Cole


Submitted 3 months ago
Created by
Sara Tucker

I just can't say enough good things about Joni Cole. I met Joni a few years ago in one of her workshops at the Writers’ Center in White River Junction. She's a brilliant teacher and a wonderful writer—wise, funny, candid, and above all, inspiring. No wonder her new book has been named one of the planet's best new books for writers. 

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ST: In your new book, Good Naked: Reflections on How to Write More, Write Better, and Be Happier, you talk about how we writers tend to carry around our Great Idea for a long time, even years, before starting to put it down on paper—if we ever do. When did you first get the idea for Good Naked, and how long did it take you to write the book?

JC: The concept for Good Naked had been percolating for a long time. As a teacher, I’d seen how writers—including myself—can make themselves miserable for no good reason. Yes, writing can be hard, and our subject matter is often painful, but the whole “suffering artist” mentality does us no favors. Workshop after workshop, I’ve seen how writers can swap out all-too-common destructive mindsets and practices that get in our way for ones that feed our creativity, productivity, and even joy in the writing process. So why not share this good news in a book! After I pitched the idea to my publisher and it was accepted, it took me about 18 months to write the manuscript.

ST: Good Naked made the “Best Books for Writers” list of Poets & Writers magazine—itself an award-winning publication and hugely influential. How does it feel to have written a book, published a book, and received a thumbs-up from a literary powerhouse?

JC: Amazing. And vindicated. You would not believe how many times I’ve been dismissed by suspicious writers or fellow instructors when I broach the role of happiness in the creative process. (Which is strange because, conversely, so many people insist suffering is a prerequisite for artists.) But science is on my side, and now Poets & Writers is, as well. I have been gobsmacked by the positive reviews for the book, but I am equally moved by the individual writers who tell me that Good Naked motivates them to write more and write better.

ST: I peeked at Good Naked through the “Look inside this book” feature on Amazon, and it was love at first sight. It’s wise and LOL funny and I can’t wait to read the whole thing. So I just have to ask: How much do you sleep? You teach several classes and workshops a week, and you keep turning out wonderful books of your own, and you’re not a hermit. How did you become so productive? Did you grow up on a dairy farm? Were you always this way? What’s your secret?

JC: This question cracked me up—“Did I grow up on a dairy farm?” (No, but I did grow up in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, surrounded by dairy farms.) I guess I’m pretty driven, but I don’t think my “secret” is that I’m overly ambitious or never sleep. I just love what I do, leading writing workshops for aspiring authors, and for non-writers who want to avail themselves of the amazing value of expressive writing. Every week, I’m inspired by the participants in my workshops—newbies and seasoned authors alike. I’m reminded of the value of sharing our stories, real or imagined. Also motivating is this reality: If you don’t tell your story, who will?

ST: Do you write every day? Do you have writing rituals, like burning incense or wearing a special baseball cap or using a special pen? Or are you the kind of person who can write anywhere?

JC: I have a chapter in Good Naked that addresses the habit of writing—what serves us; what feels punitive; and what is the sweet spot between discipline and inspiration. It’s an important topic, and no one formula works for all. I do know it makes your writing life easier (not to mention more productive), if you write consistently, and I am trying to rebuild that habit, which fell by the wayside after I completed Good Naked. To that end, I do whatever it takes—light candles, go to cafes, solicit feedback… It’s weird how sometimes we can be so resistant to doing something so meaningful.

ST: What do you say to a novice writer who is working on, say, a first novel and his first question isn't about writing but about how to get published? (I meet writers like this a lot.)

JC: I’m happy to talk about the art of writing query letters, finding an agent or publishing house that is a good fit, building a platform, etc. But I also let writers know that most works of fiction have to be finished before an editor will consider it, so they may want to put their focus on publication on hold, and concentrate first on craft. Especially because most acquiring editors no longer have the time or inclination to help writers develop or revise their work. Even a story with a great concept can elicit a “Pass” if it isn’t well written.

ST: How come there are always more women than men in writing groups?

JC: You also see this same phenomenon in chorale societies, which is odd because men like to sing and write as much as women. Who knows why fewer guys join writing groups, especially considering they need as much guidance and support as the rest of us. In Good Naked, I speculate on this. Does the fact that men don’t join as many groups as women help explain the mystery of the gender gap in life expectancy, and why women live on average 5.3 years longer? It’s not so far-fetched an idea, given the health benefits of community and socialization.

ST: Which is harder, writing a novel or writing a memoir? Fiction or nonfiction?

JC: This question makes me think of Tolstoy’s line, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” I think every genre comes with unique challenges of equal degrees of difficulty. Each form demands its own type of mastery and magic.

ST: How often do you get a Great Idea? Are you working on anything at the moment?

JC: I get great ideas all the time, but most of of them don’t last the length of my shower or run. Ha. Or sometimes the idea will fizzle out at my writing desk, because a great idea in your head still has to be made manifest on the page. Truthfully, I think greatness develops more commonly draft by draft, rather than at the onset of the creative process. Right now I’m working on a new set of essays based on a concept that I think is really cool, but we’ll see if it pans out. To keep at it and keep the faith, I’m burning through a lot of candles.

Good Naked: Reflections on How to Write More, Write Better, and Be Happier is available in both paperback and Kindle editions. To order a copy, click here.

To read more about Joni's workshops and to find out about her other books, visit her website, jonibcole.com

For a schedule of upcoming classes at the Writer's Center of White River Junction, click here.

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