The winner of numerous awards for both fiction and nonfiction, Jennifer Armstrong has written more than 100 books for all ages, from pre-school through young adult. Growing up in South Salem, New York, Armstrong knew by the time she was six that she was going to be an author. As a child she spent countless hours outside, making up adventure stories and acting them out.
After graduating from Smith College in Massachusetts, Armstrong worked as a ghostwriter for a bestselling teen series and began to write her own books. She has since written picture books, easy readers, chapter books, young adult novels, and nonfiction. History has been a recurring theme in both her fiction and nonfiction. Visit Jennifer Armstrong here!
Let the conversation begin!
What initially drew you to writing?
That answer is lost in the mists of time. I can’t remember a time when I did not make up stories, and when I was old enough to write I began writing them down.
Daily word count?
I generally write anywhere between 500 and 2500 words a day. In the old days (when I was writing a lot of fiction) I liked mapping out where I was going. Lately I’ve gotten a little less organized, but it still works out okay. When writing nonfiction I generally have to have a pretty clear idea what my plan is, because when you’re trying to convey information it’s useful to have an idea of how to manage that information.
When are you most productive?
I’m most productive early in the morning. I’m an early riser and I like a quiet house.
Are your characters completely fictional or based on real people?
When I write fiction I suspect that all of my characters are projections of myself. How could they not be? I’m not sure how to imagine something that is completely outside my experience — and by that I don’t mean the experiences of a life, but the emotions or motivations of a life. I may never have fought in a battle, or been a homesteader on the prairie, but I have felt fear and I have felt loneliness, as well as exaltation in a natural place. That being said, yes, I do sometimes take actual experiences from my life or other people’s lives — little incidents or events — and rework them for my own purposes.
Where do you get your ideas?
I don’t know, I suppose they come from a fertile mind. I’m a fairly eclectic reader, so my mind is a jumble of science and history and politics and classic literature. I actually make a concerted effort to stay away from what I would call, for lack of a better word, fluff. I know fluff has a place, but I don’t want to make space for it in my head. Every time I see yet another headline about Lindsey Lohan I flee—I’m not really sure why people seem to be so interested in her and I don’t care. My blog co-writer teases me by leaving People magazine at my house. I suppose it makes me a snob, but I don’t apologize for that. So — the fertile mind has a lot of interesting seeds in it. Those are the ones I cultivate.
What advice would you give young writers?
At first glance, my advice will sound discouraging, but bear with me. Writing is very hard. It always will be. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try and keep trying. There’s no secret to it, nothing that you will finally “get” at a conference or a workshop that will finally make it all easy. So don’t be daunted by the task—it’s not your failure that you are seeing; on the contrary, it is your continued effort to do a difficult thing that you have evidence of. So keep at it. Be brave.
How do you recharge your creative batteries?
By playing games and doing puzzles. Not a very dramatic answer.
What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
It’s from E.M. Forster. I’d been struggling in a novel with transitions — how to get characters from one scene to the next and one chapter to the next. I was reading a Forster novel at the time — it might have been Howard’s End—and one chapter began “Several weeks passed.” And I thought, “That’s it? You can say that?” It was such a relief!
Describe your dream vacation.
Sitting in a comfy chair by a lake with a lot of books. Sometimes I’d jump in the water. Sometimes I would walk inside for a snack. But mostly I’d be reading in the shade. Dickens, probably. Maybe the Iliad. Seriously.