Exploring Creative Writing with Jacqueline Skokna

Tell us more about Jacqueline Skokna.

I am a daughter, a sister, a friend, a yogi, a lover of coffee and dogs and reading book after book. When I tell stories at the dinner table, I give way too many details. I love laughing and spending time outside in nature and meeting new people. I am originally from the suburbs of Chicago, IL and am in my last year of school at Belmont University studying English with an emphasis in creative writing. I am an advocate for girls and women everywhere and want to tell stories that encourage the flourishing of the female body and soul.

How did you get involved with The Carnegie Writers?

My junior year of college I needed to fulfill three internship credits, and I had seen an email from an English professor the semester before about an organization called The Carnegie Writers who was looking for an intern. I reached out to the internship instructor at Belmont, Dr. Overall, and he told me to look at the reflections of a past English major who interned there. I saw that he had a chance to help teach a creative writing workshop for adults, and I was thrilled, thinking maybe I could do something like that. So I applied for the internship, got it, and have stayed with CW since!

How do you balance being a college student and instructor?

Balance? What’s that? Ha! There is no perfect way to balance everything in your life, especially when you are excited and passionate about so many different things! But I try to remember that the gifts and love and knowledge I have for creative writing will not diminish when I take the time to share them with others—in fact, they will only grow larger as I learn from other writers, witness their stories and ideas, style and techniques. I don’t believe in the “solitary genius” myth when it comes to creativity: the writer sitting alone at home, typing away at the computer, producing a piece of work that is “untouched” by the world, written by them alone. Writing is an inherently social activity—we are all a product of the various texts we read, watch, and consume, we all exist in communities large or small that influence our lifestyles and worldviews that end up on the page, and our work is always released into a community of other work that came before it. In some ways, when we sit down to write one piece and decide to share it with the world, we are responding to anything and everything that ever came before it.

But, back to the question: hard work, a focused mind, and letting myself rest and recover helps me balance being a student and an instructor. Also, the ability to prioritize and say no to other things that do not lie as close to my deepest desires keeps me in check and doing my best work.

What can people expect from the Creative Writing class?

People can expect to gain experience in a variety of genres and get out of their comfort zone. They can expect to do in-and-out-of-class writing, read examples of effective writing, and respond to other students’ drafts with encouragement and constructive criticism. I think too they can expect to be surprised by themselves and the stories they will be able to create if they just let go of judgment and trust their inner voice, their creative intuition. Sylvia Plath wrote that the worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt—if students can move beyond that hindering self-doubt, their writing will be able to truly soar.

What are some specific writing techniques that will be discussed in class?

I think imagery is one of the biggest techniques every writer must master and constantly master! As creative writers, we don’t have paint or clay or the noise from a piano or guitar to work with—we only have words. So in order to make those words come alive and allow the reader to really experience the scene, we use imagery, or writing that appeals to the senses. Imagery also crosses genres, which makes it even more integral to creative writing. Other techniques we’ll address are perspective, characterization, narration, and use of voice, among other things.

What writing skills would the students need to have to complete this class?

No prior experience in writing is required! As we move through the class, we’ll develop the aforementioned skills and tailor lessons and discussions catered to writers’ interests and areas for growth. The main thing students need to get the most out of this class is to do their reading, do their writing, and be unafraid to take criticism and revise their work in order to strengthen it.

What are you excited about the most with teaching with Nashville Community Education?

I am most excited about reading my students’ pieces. I am fascinated hearing different points of view and seeing where people have been in life. I live my life with the philosophy that everyone I pass has something to teach me. A writing course is the perfect place to be surrounded by such teachers. Sometimes all you have to do is take the time to listen to others, and you’ll be surprised at what you might find. Reading another person’s writing is one of the greatest acts of listening, and as the writer, it is a beautiful thing to feel heard.

If you weren’t teaching a class, what class would you be taking?

Definitely one of the yoga classes being offered! Hatha Yoga or the Gentle Yoga for beginners. It is so great to get out of your mind and into your body. Yoga helps me feel grounded, present, and at peace.

What’s one thing we would be surprised to learn about you?

This isn’t surprising to people who know me, but I love sweets with all my heart. Cake, chocolate, cookies, cupcakes, you name it. I’m eating a chocolate chip cookie now as I write this. All I have to say is I’m thankful for toothpaste and modern dentistry.

Favorite quote about Creative Writing?

Ah, there are so many! But I’ll go with this one by F. Scott Fitzgerald: “That is part of the beauty of literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong.”

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