Inside Look with Lauren J. Sharkey

Lauren J. Sharkey sat down with the JJWWR blog to talk about her forthcoming novel, her recent publications, and how JJWWR made it all possible.

It appears congratulations are in order! Congratulations on your novel and your recent publications!

LJS: Thank you so much!

So, tell us about your recent publications. You’ve got a novel coming out and several nonfiction pieces out currently?

LJS. Yes, my debut novel INCONVENIENT DAUGHTER is forthcoming from Kaylie Jones Books in 2020, and I recently had a creative nonfiction piece, “Dear Adoption, I have questions for Biomom” published on Dear Adoption,. I’m also very excited to have another creative nonfiction essay, “What All Survivors Know”, included in Blind Faith Books’ I AM STRENGTH anthology, which will be out in August (2018).

I AM STRENGTH – I love that title. What’s unique about this collection?

LJS: All the poems, stories, and artwork are created by women championing women’s everyday struggles and triumphs. This collection is necessary, timely, and immensely powerful, and I’m so honored to have “What All Survivors Know” included.

What can you share with us about “What All Survivors Know”?

LJS: So, I had wanted to write this piece for a while, but I just couldn’t get my head there.

Can you elaborate on that?

LJS: Like every creative nonfiction piece, “What All Survivors Know” is deeply personal to me. When I was in college, I found myself in a physically and emotionally abusive relationship. And, aside from the abuse, the one thing I always find myself returning to are the times when my friends tried to get me out. I have this memory of them sitting me down in The Caf – that’s what we called the cafeteria back then – and telling me they were worried about me. I brushed them off, told myself they were jealous, and that I was fine. And I was fine…until I wasn’t.

I knew I had to get this piece down, but I just didn’t want to go back to that darkness. I was afraid it would swallow me up. But JJWWR changed everything.

How was JJWWR involved with the development of this piece?

LJS: Like I mentioned before, I was having difficulty getting into a place where I felt comfortable enough to go back to that trauma. But the day I started writing this piece, another JJWWR writer led our workshop in a deep, healing, and powerful meditation. When I finally came out of it, I felt energized and brave and ready to get this piece down on paper.

Unlike when I’m home, after workshop ended I was able to fine tune and hone in on the essence of this piece without outside distractions like work, school, and family. It’s not often I’m able to give my writing my complete and undivided attention, although I should be better about it.

What would you say to those considering JJWWR?

LJS: I’ve been to other writing retreats, but The James Jones Writers Workshop Retreat stands apart for three reasons: faculty, community, and location. The faculty at JJWWR is second to none. Not only do you get the opportunity to work with published writers, but they’re not just writers. The instructors are real people who truly care about making you the best writer you can be.

Secondly, we came into that house as strangers and left as friends. Everyone was kind and generous with their feedback, support, and encouragement. When it came time to check out, I was having intense separation anxiety because we really had formed a family. On the way home, I got that worry, you know? That fear that the connections I’d made wouldn’t survive outside of workshop. But I’m really happy to say that I keep in touch with a lot of the writers, and I know we’ll be lifelong friends.

What really separates JJWWR apart, though, is the location. When I told people I was going to Indiana, a lot of them did a double take and were like, “Why?” I’m from New York – you can get Chinese delivered at 3am, there’s a ton of coffee shops and bars within walking distance of my house, and my friends and family are all close by. Being cut off from all of that, I got an opportunity not only to reconnect with my work, but to reconnect with myself as a writer. Sometimes you need to go where the world gets quiet, and find your way back to what makes you tick.

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SOP 101

We sat down with Advanced Writers Workshop instructors, Kaylie Jones and Judy Mandel, as well as #JJWWR18 intern, Lauren, to discuss the Statement of Purpose. Read what they had to say below:

What is an SOP?

KJ: A statement of purpose is a letter indicating your interest in writing and how you came to be a writer.

LS: When I was applying to MFA programs, all of my attention was focused on the writing sample. In fact, I think I actively avoided writing the statement of purpose because it’s kind of like a first impression, and I’m so awkward when I meet new people. That being said, I had immense difficulty with articulating exactly why I wanted to write, and why I wanted to attend these specific programs. So, for my SOP, I decided to approach it like a first date – I wanted to be interesting enough to get a second date, and honest enough so as not to misrepresent myself.

How long should an SOP be?

KJ: An SOP can be quite short if the information is pertinent and interesting – keep it as brief as you like!

JM: One page is sufficient.

Do you have any tips for writers looking to make their SOP stand out?

KJ: You can mention your favorite books and how they influenced you, as well as specific life experiences that pushed you to become a writer. What events made you decide it was important to share your work with the world? Keep in mind it is always best to be direct and specific in your examples.

JM: Include details about your personal writing journey, including a current project if applicable.

What are some things writers should definitely stay away from when writing an SOP?

KJ: Stay away from generalities and global statements. Your personal experience is what interests us.

JM: Don’t give an entire history of your education or experience. Keep it concise and relevant.

LS: I think one of the best things about JJWWR is that the program doesn’t give its applicants a laundry list of points to hit on or questions to answer. So, as lame as it sounds, just write your truth – about your reason for wanting to attend the retreat, about what’s stopping you from writing in your everyday life, about what you hope to get out of this time. Steer clear of trying to impress the instructors with big words – just be you.

What are you looking for in an SOP?

KJ: Tell us a little about yourself and how you came to be interested in writing. Additionally, are you more interested in Memoir or Fiction? Why? Hearing about yourself, your process, and your writing history is helpful to us.

JM: For Advanced Writing: Evidence of a serious writer who sincerely wants to improve their craft.