Skip to main content

Jean Thompson: On Demystifying the Writing Process

New York Times bestselling author Jean Thompson discusses writing her new novel, The Poet’s House.

Jean Thompson is the author of 15 books of fiction, including the National Book Award finalist Who Do You Love, the NYT bestseller The Year We Left Home, and the NYT Notable Book Wide Blue Yonder. Her work has been published in the New Yorker, as well as dozens of other magazines, and anthologized in The Best American Short Stories and the Pushcart Prize.

She has been the recipient of Guggenheim and National Endowment for the Arts fellowships, among other accolades, and has taught creative writing at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Reed College, Northwestern University, and many other colleges and universities. Learn more at

Jean Thompson: On Demystifying the Writing Process

Jean Thompson

In this post, Jean discusses writing her new novel, The Poet’s House, on its surprisingly comedic plot, and more!

Name: Jean Thompson
Literary agent: Henry Dunow, Dunow, Carlson, and Lerner agency
Book title: The Poet’s House
Publisher: Algonquin
Release date: July 12, 2022
Genre/category: Adult Fiction
Previous titles: 15 works of fiction, both novels and short stories, including The Year We Left Home, The Witch and Other Tales Retold, Throw Like a Girl, and A Cloud In The Shape of a Girl
Elevator pitch for the book: A young woman is introduced to poetry and a group of free-wheeling poets, a crash course in both literature and human relations.

Jean Thompson: On Demystifying the Writing Process

IndieBound | Bookshop | Amazon
[WD uses affiliate links.]

What prompted you to write this book?

I’ve spent my entire adult life as a writer, long enough to have some thoughts about the enterprise of writing. I’m interested in our all too-human failings, the pettiness, vanity, frustrations, etc. But also in those moments when we manage to write something that transcends, at least for a time, our flawed and unremarkable selves. How does the creative process work? Some days the bear eats you, some days you eat the bear.

How long did it take to go from idea to publication? And did the idea change during the process?

It takes me about 18 months to two years to complete a novel, as this one did. COVID slowed everything down and added about a year to the publication process.

The idea for the book didn’t necessarily change, but a lot of plot possibilities and characters were revealed to me as I went along. First, I had to establish Carla, my narrator, as both a personality and a distinctive voice. Then I could better judge how she might react in any given situation.

Were there any surprises or learning moments in the publishing process for this title?

Mostly that, again due to COVID, we are all at the mercy of the mysterious supply chain. And I am always impressed by how many people work hard and diligently to bring a book into being, editors and proofreaders and art directors (hello, Algonquin, I love my cover!), and all the post-production people responsible for

publicity and marketing and ushering the book into the world.

Jean Thompson: On Demystifying the Writing Process

Were there any surprises in the writing process for this book?

It’s a book that depends on a more or less comic plot, something I had not attempted before. It surprised me to find out how much fun it was to concoct it.

And I had to pay particular attention to pacing and timing, keeping scenes moving at the same time I was filling the reader in on back stories or including passages of introspection or description. I wanted a lively pace, but not a hectic one.

What do you hope readers will get out of your book?

I hope it demystifies some aspects of writing, which after all is produced by ordinary human beings, not immortals or geniuses. I hope readers will root for Carla as she struggles and makes mistakes, then finally comes out on top. And I hope it’s an entertaining ride for its own sake, one they’ll enjoy from start to finish.

If you could share one piece of advice with other writers, what would it be?

Persevere. Keep chugging uphill, like the Little Engine That Could.

Getting Started in Writing

When you take this online writing course, you'll discover your voice, learn the basics of grammar and examine the different types of writing. No matter what type of writing you're planning on crafting—nonfiction or fiction—you'll need guidance along the way.

Click to continue.

9 Pros and Cons of Writing a Newsletter

9 Pros and Cons of Writing a Newsletter

Thinking of starting your own newsletter? Let freelance writer Sian Meades-Williams lay out 9 pros and cons of writing a newsletter.

How to Write a Compelling Premise for a Thriller

How to Create a Compelling Premise for a Thriller

Learn how to create a compelling premise for a thriller or mystery novel by asking a simple question and tying it to a specific circumstance to set the stage for a thrilling read.

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Make a Plan

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Make a Plan

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, have your characters make a plan.

3 Tips for Writing Dystopian Young Adult Fiction

3 Tips for Writing Dystopian Young Adult Fiction

If you've ever heard it said that there's no new way to write a story, let author Julian R. Vaca tell you otherwise. Here, he shares 3 tips for writing dystopian young adult fiction to help silence our inner critics.

Rimma Onoseta: On Trusting the Process of Revision

Rimma Onoseta: On Trusting the Process of Revision

Author Rimma Onoseta discusses how seeing other Black female authors on bookshelves encouraged her to finish writing her contemporary YA novel, How You Grow Wings.

Writer's Digest September/October 2022 Cover

Writer's Digest September/October 2022 Cover Reveal

Writer's Digest is excited to announce our Sept/Oct 2022 issue featuring our Annual Literary Agent Roundup, an interview with NYT-bestselling YA horror novelist Tiffany D. Jackson, and articles about writing sinister stories.

Your Story #120

Your Story #120

Write the opening line to a story based on the photo prompt below. (One sentence only.) You can be poignant, funny, witty, etc.; it is, after all, your story.

5 Tips for Writing as a Parent

5 Tips for Writing as a Parent

Author Sarah Grunder Ruiz shares how she fits writing into her life and offers 5 tips on how to achieve a sustainable writing life as a parent.

Poetry Prompt

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 621

Every Wednesday, Robert Lee Brewer shares a prompt and an example poem to get things started on the Poetic Asides blog. This week, write an animal poem.