How did you become a writer?
I was lucky enough to grow up with a writer mom, who taught me that I could be or do anything I wanted to be or do, and for as long as I can remember I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I’m an only child, and when I was a little girl, we used to have “writing time.” From her, I learned to find the story in everything, and I learned never to limit myself or my imagination. I also saw firsthand how difficult and stressful and unpredictable the business was. And I saw the commitment it took. Even during the toughest, saddest times of her life, she wrote. In so many ways, she was my hero. I think many people go into the business of writing with unrealistic expectations—not realizing that it is, in fact, a business, and that you have to be ready and willing to do it in spite of everything else.
Professionally it all started with The Ice Master, sixteen years ago. Because I had recently graduated from the American Film Institute, my mind was in movies. I was actually searching for ideas for a screenplay, and I was glancing through the TV schedule and read about a documentary described as "Deadly Arctic Expedition." Immediately, I was intrigued. I love that kind of story—filled with drama, adventure, edge-of-your-seat action! So I recorded the show, promptly forgot about it, and stumbled across it again a month or two later. I watched it and immediately fell in love with the idea. I’d never written an entire book before, but my mother reminded me of something her own agent once said to her: Every writer has to write his or her first book at some point. Why not now?
Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.).
In addition to my mom, I love Flannery O’Connor, Shirley Jackson, Ray Bradbury, and Harper Lee. One of my favorite books is In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. I also get a lot of inspiration from filmmakers. Charlie Chaplin in particular. All of these artists taught me the importance of being succinct but expressive, and of saying a great deal in the most straightforward way.
When and where do you write?
I write five-seven days a week for eight-fourteen hours a day, depending on my deadlines. One of the very best things I learned from my mother and from my graduate program was the importance of discipline. You can’t be a writer without it. When I’m writing a project, I immerse myself wholly—right down to listening to music from the time period, reading books my characters would have read, creating a soundtrack with songs relating to the story. I hear from people who ask if I only write when I’m inspired, but the answer is no. I work harder (and longer!) than most everyone I know in a big, sunny office in my apartment. It is stuffed with bookshelves and books and souvenirs I’ve collected throughout my career and my travels (not to mention my computer, which is what I almost always compose on). I call it the nerve center of our home. It’s where magic happens. But when I’m deep into a project, I tend to write everywhere—I get ideas while driving or working out or spending time with friends or doing errands. I record them on my phone or write them down on any piece of scrap paper I can find. My mind is always writing, long after I’ve left my office.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on my second YA novel, which is an unconventional love story of a boy who can't remember faces and a very visible girl who feels invisible. It’s about seeing, being seen, and learning to recognize what’s important. It’s about what makes us love someone.
Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?
It happens from time to time—not so much a block as a getting stuck here and there. I’ve found there are two things that work to get through it. The first is to show up at your computer anyway. Try to write your way to the other side of it. Often, by doing that, you’ll jar something loose and the plot/characters/words—whatever is sticking—will begin to flow again. The other thing is to take an hour or two, or maybe a day or two away from the work to recharge and reboot. Then go back to the writing with fresh eyes.
What’s your advice to new writers?
Write, read, and work hard. Remember to enjoy it. Don’t get hung up on making it perfect, because there’s no such thing. Write the kind of book you’d like to read. Write what inspires you. Write what you love.
All the Bright Places is Jennifer Niven’s first book for young adult readers, but she has written four novels for adults—American Blonde, Becoming Clementine, Velva Jean Learns to Fly, and Velva Jean Learns to Drive—as well as three nonfiction books—The Ice Master, Ada Blackjack, and The Aqua-Net Diaries, a memoir about her high school experiences. Although she grew up in Indiana, she now lives with her fiancé and literary cats in Los Angeles, which remains her favorite place to wander. For more information, visit JenniferNiven.com, GermMagazine.com, or find her on Facebook.