Joni Cole wants to show you how
Joni Cole had been teaching creative writing for over twenty years before founding the Writer’s Center in White River Junction. An author herself (she has recently published Good Naked, a Poets & Writers Magazine selection for Best Books for Writers), her main goal is to encourage everyone to write as a way to find a healthier state of mind. “Everyone should have this experience of expressing yourself on the page,” she told me, and it starts by getting rid of the notion of the suffering artist -- “the reality is a more productive, positive state of mind actually engenders better writing.”
What question do you think you’re asked the most often?
Often people think they have to know how to write, or be published, to be qualified to take a class. Everyone always assumes maybe they don’t have enough credentials, where this where you go to learn how to write, or cultivate a practice of writing. The only qualification to come and benefit from a class is that you have to want to write, and be actively doing it. People disqualify themselves a lot… they often are hesitant to come because they think they’re not qualified, when the qualification is: show up.
What is the hardest thing about the job to get right?
There’s a real art to teaching. What degree of instruction, and-or feedback, will serve the writer to move their work forward to the next draft is key.
Then there’s the job of being a facilitator -- that’s the hardest part for me. In a workshop setting, some instructors by comparison will sit back and let it be a free for all. There’s the contrarian in the room, and then there’s the one who apologises for everything that she says, and it’ll be a complete free for all. So guess what happens? You know what happens - heard it a million times - “I was in a writer’s workshop and I never wanted to write again.” So you have to not only be the instructor where it fits, but you have to facilitate the conversation to channel good information and a positive vibe to that writer. It’s so important, and every workshop has me working on it.
What’s something that you think will surprise people?
You have to appreciate the creative process, you have to appreciate drafting, because if you don’t, then you will be unhappy for the entire experience. Finding a healthier, more productive creative process, in no way, undermines the quality of the work, in fact, the reality is it supports the work. The myth of the suffering artist, I think partly comes from much of what we write about borne of some kind of conflict, if not just deep suffering. But don’t mix up the material with us, thinking we have to be miserable.
What do you do on your days off?
Write! Or avoid writing [laughs]. I also lead expressive writing workshops at non-profits or social organizations, because expressive writing, well-beyond writing in any particular genre is just remarkably useful, like at the restorative justice program, or at the V.A. Center, or at the Hood Museum. The value is just that: expressing yourself, regardless of genre or form. It brings people into the value of creative writing without having to identify as a writer. Beyond that, I like to watch “Longmire.” Like to run, I like to drink coffee, and of course I like to read. Right now I’m reading a novel called “Doc,” and before that “The Bones of Paradise.” For whatever reason I’m really into historical fiction about the old west. It’s why I’m watching “Longmire” too, though that’s more contemporary.
Someone is coming to visit from outside the area -- what do you show them?
That would be hiking, if there’s nice weather. Camel’s Hump is a go-to, or Mt. Abraham -- there’s no shortage! Quechee Gorge is great no matter the fitness level of that person. And there’s something about the vibe at Piecemeal Pies I love. Depends on what vibe you want!