Jan Donley, Author of The Side Door

Always in Search of Story

19 November 14

Inspired by Webucator
I started writing as a teenager. Over 40 years ago. That fact alone is hard for me to grasp. My goals then, though, were not that different from my goals now: I wanted to write. I wanted to make songs and poems and stories and plays. I discovered then how much writing—creating in general—settled me, calmed me, and gave me a sense of purpose. Forty years later, that truth is confirmed. Over and over. Creating calms me. Creating centers me. Creating helps me understand the puzzles around me. Creating gives me purpose.

Back then, I wrote songs and poems. Where these writings would end up, I didn’t know. As the years went by, I discovered playwriting and fiction writing and did both. I have had plays produced and stories published. These days, I write mostly fiction. My day job finds me at an institution where I teach musicians how to write. The songwriter in me loves being around musicians.

Success took on different meanings over the years—I was sometimes a big fish in a small pond. I didn’t publish my first novel, The Side Door, until 2010. And now I find myself creating digital paintings and was even written up in Boston Magazine for my series of subway drawings.
Boston Magazine

My goals now are to keep writing and drawing and to discover what projects grow out of my creative endeavors. Also—my goals are to keep surrounding myself with creative people—the kind of creative people who are generous and curious about the imagination and invention.

I pay the bills with a teaching gig at Berklee College of Music, where I have been teaching writing and literature for almost five years. Since 1988, I have taught at various colleges and universities, and I have always loved the work. I view teaching as one more creative act—as a way of self-discovery, of curiosity, of meeting other creative people at various points in their own journeys.

Of course, I would like to write a break-through novel or story that puts me more squarely on the literary map. That would be wonderful. But it’s not my goal. Instead, my goal is too keep creating, to keep imagining, and to keep surrounding myself with other creative people. The imagination also keeps me asking questions, keeps me young, keeps me wanting to discover.

If I had any advice for young authors, it would be to write and to read and to recognize the power of story: balance, disturbance, crisis, climax, resolution. I learned these elements in playwriting classes, but they go way back. We are stories; stories are blood and flesh and bone and spirit. I would say, “Write and imagine, and stay humble. Don’t try for a masterpiece; just try for a good story.”

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All writings © Jan Donley 1985-2017
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