April 12, 2016

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

30 Habits of Highly Effective Poets #11: Jacqueline Jules on Finding Writing Time

Butt in chair: it's an old writers' adage for a reason. Setting aside regular writing time is the surest way of making progress. However, if you have kids or pets or friends that need your attention, a house to clean or a job that pays the bills, doctors appointments or family in town, writing can end up on the bottom of the to-do list.

Here is children's author Jacqueline Jules, an active member of our local, MidAtlantic SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators) chapter. Jacqueline advises taking your writing time whenever and wherever you can get it.

by Jacqueline Jules

    At my last dental appointment, my dental hygienist treated me like a rock star, asking all kinds of questions about what it was like to be a children’s author and poet.
    “Do you have a specific time of day when you are the most creative?” she asked as she picked tartar from my teeth.
    Since I couldn’t close my mouth to answer while she was cleaning my molars, I had a few moments to think about my answer and consider how she framed her question.
    “I’ve read that some writers do their best work in the middle of the night. Others work first thing in the morning. . .”
    My best time of day to write? In the last decade, my struggle has only been to find the time to write.  I write whenever there is a free moment. Sometimes that means a few stolen moments to look over a poem draft while I’m eating breakfast before a day of teaching. Other times, that means taking a notebook with me on a walk. I’m an avid walker and often think about a poem while my feet are moving on my neighborhood sidewalks. Hey, some people listen to music while they exercise. I like to listen to words trying to make music in my head.
    When I can’t fall asleep at night, I think about metaphors to match an emotion I’m struggling to convey in a poem. I re-write lines while driving, doing the dishes, cooking, dressing. Scribbled notebooks weigh down my pocketbook and litter my house.  
    I don’t know whether or not my dental hygienist was disappointed to learn that my writing habits were not particularly glamorous. But they are what they are. Sometimes, I worry about myself. I think I spend too much time obsessing over words and not enough time interacting with people. My method of confronting this concern, of course, was to write a poem about it. The following poem, “Upon Visiting the National Museum of African Art,” appeared in The Amistad – Ars Poetica, 2008.

A mask of the Ejagham peoples, from the National Museum of African Art.
Upon Visiting the National Museum of African Art
by Jacqueline Jules

In this quiet space
filled with small glass houses,
visitors like me, walk with open mouths
amid iron masks and ivory figures
crafted by hands that also hunted for food.
Shelter, clothing, and a full belly—
it's never been enough—
not even for Cro-Magnon
who painted cave walls
and made bracelets from bone.
Humans like to make things,
just as a dog likes to dig, clawing the dirt
without knowing why.
I've often questioned my mind
when it becomes a migrating bird,
unable to turn back,
as a poem searches wildly
for a warm spot to build a nest.
I worry that I spend too much time,
puzzling over words on paper
while others dine and party.
Now I see my connection
to those who carved roosters
and decorated horns
after hunting in the bush
or toiling in the fields.
A poem, a pot, or a painting—
each starts with the same impulse
to birth an image from within
and watch it stand on its own,
blinking in the light.

Jacqueline Jules is a poet, teacher, librarian, and children’s author. Her award-winning books for young readers include Zapato Power, Unite or Die: How Thirteen States Became a Nation, and Duck for Turkey Day.

Her poetry has appeared in over 70 journals including Nebo, Inkwell, Innisfree Poetry Journal, The Broome Review, Sow's Ear Poetry Review, Christian Science Monitor, Chaminade Literary Review, Imitation Fruit, and Potomac Review. She won the Arlington Arts Moving Words Contest in 1999 and 2007, Best Original Poetry from the Catholic Press Association in 2008, and the SCBWI Magazine Merit Poetry Award in 2009. Visit her online at


Robyn Hood Black said...

Wow - I'm impressed with how well Jacqueline uses those stolen moments while navigating such a busy life! Beautiful poem, especially the surprise of that last line, "blinking in the light." Thanks to both of you!

Author Amok said...

I don't know why, but I find it hysterically funny that Jacqueline was talking "shop" while having her teeth cleaned.