We sit down with author and writing coach Janet to talk 4.30am wake-up calls and the importance of setting goals
With over 750 members, Abu Dhabi Writers’ Workshop helps beginner and seasoned fiction writers hone their skills with a goal of publishing their work. We speak with group organiser and mentor Janet Olearski.
How did you get into writing?
I did Italian and linguistics at university. I went to teach in Italy and got in to writing materials for teaching. I wrote children’s magazines, which had a pedagogical aim. I also wrote scripts for the BBC and radio.
You’re now a mentor to aspiring writers in Abu Dhabi, but who inspired you?
I was working freelance in the 90s in London. I did a radio drama writing course with Bernard Kops, a playwright. Because I was freelance I could organise my day as I wished. But he would get up at 4.30am and start writing. I thought I would try it so I set my alarm. When I woke up I thought, ‘This is horrible!’ But then I thought, ‘I am lying here in west London, and somewhere in the north of London Bernard Kops is already writing’. So that got me out of bed; if he can do it, I can.
What is your aim with Abu Dhabi Writers’ Workshop?
A lot of people want to write a novel or short story, and say, ‘Show me how’. The best teacher is to go find the types of stories you like to read and learn from that. When I pick up a book I wonder what’s in it. It’s all about noticing and observing things around you. A coach doesn’t tell somebody what to do; they get the answers from the person.
Very often people have goals that are ‘I don’t want this, I don’t want that’. So what do you want? You can go through this process in coaching where you elicit from the person what their goals are, get them to express their options and then get them to commit to a course of action.
It’s interesting to go through this process even with a piece of fiction – you could go through and say what am I trying to do with this? What problem does the character have that they need to solve? What’s their plan? Goals I talk about a lot because you can write lots of little pieces but it’s a lot of energy put into things that you can’t do very much with. You’ll still be at the same point next year as you are this year if you don’t set even small goals.
Have you been impressed with the group’s level of writing?
Some people are naturals and when it comes to coming up with a cue, they will come up with the whole story which is practically complete. But people are remarkably shy; they don’t want to send their work out because they feel it isn’t good enough.