Joyce Doyle is a writer living and working in Southern Maine. She currently offers a class on writing children's and young adult fiction for Portland Adult Education. She also offers single- or multi-day workshops focused on fiction writing. She focuses heavily on sharing writing, and the experience of reading your own work out loud.
Joyce’s day job is an internal communications specialist at Maine Health, but her background includes a rich mix of public relations, marketing, newspapers, speech writing, and working directly with teen literature in libraries.
Joyce co-authored two books with a friend and self-published under the name Becca Kent. They recently decided to combine the two books into one, and they’re currently pitching it to different agents.
Joyce Brown: What was your biggest obstacle when you first decided to start offering writing classes and workshops?
Joyce Doyle: The hardest thing about starting was convincing myself that I could do it. Whenever you talk to other writers, we all think we're frauds. When I ask people who come to my class, ‘So what do you write?’ They respond with things like, ‘Oh, well you know, I've been writing this and that, but I'm not really a writer.’ I believe if you write, then you’re a writer. After years of writing and going to workshops, and reading blogs and articles, I realized that I actually know this stuff. I sat in a writing conference once and realized I could be teaching this, too. Once I believed I could do it, it was easy at that point.
Joyce B.: Now that you've been successfully running workshops and teaching for a few years, what's been the biggest reward?
Joyce D.: A few weeks ago I got my biggest reward while I was at my day job. I work with Maine Health and I was in the lobby at Maine Medical Center, and someone walked up to me and said, ‘Are you Joyce Doyle?’ I looked at her and realized she was one of my first students. It was great to see her and catch up. We spent eight weeks together talking about her writing ideas while I offered advice and encouragement. Since then, she's joined a writing group and now writes young adult fiction. She's had some published authors come talk to her writers. She's active and involved in the writing community, and I was just so excited that I'd had that kind of influence on her.
Joyce B.: What is your favorite writing prompt or technique to spark imagination?
Joyce D.: I have a favorite exercise that I do with every class and workshop that I teach in. It's a character generation exercise where you start with a simple concept. If I'm teaching adults, for instance, I'll say ‘a boy’ because we're writing for middle grades and teens, and we'll decide on an age, let's say 12. Then we start listing on the chalkboard people that this boy would know.
We always start with the obvious choices like his parents, siblings, and teachers. As we keep going they start coming up with more bizarre people that this boy would know until they’re throwing in aliens, a talking fish, and other fun random stuff. When you step back and look at the board, they're all possible characters. You wouldn't populate your whole story with all the bizarre things, but if you threw in one with a bunch of the regular characters, you could have a good story. It's always different when I do that exercise, that's why I love it so much. It’s an especially fun exercise with kids — they come up with the bizarre stuff way faster than the adults do.
Joyce B.: Who was the biggest influence in your career?
Joyce D.: It’s going to sound weird because I certainly didn't have a career at the time, but it was my seventh grade English teacher, Ms. Scott.
The summer before seventh grade I spent a lot of time at my grandparent’s camp in New Hampshire. They had this old, manual typewriter that was really just a toy, but I decided I was going to use it write a book. I was inspired at the time by Encyclopedia Brown, so I wrote a mystery. I don't write mysteries now because they’re way too complicated. My hat’s off to all the mystery writers out there! Anyway, I wrote a mystery and it was hardly the size of a normal book. When school started that year, I showed it to Ms. Scott and she copied it and passed it out to the class. I was just so proud. I knew I was going to be a writer.
Joyce B.: Do you have a current book project that you’d like to talk about?
Joyce D.: I am working on a book, and I can talk about it to some degree. The hardest thing a writer can do is try to speak succinctly about their latest project because sometimes they don't know what it is until they’ve written it.
I'm a big fan of creating an outline, and if you've seen my blog lately you probably saw the picture I posted of the giant plot line that I have across the length of the wall in my study. I adore my plot line, it's fabulous. I also know it's going to change a lot. When you start writing it takes on a life of its own. I'm only about four chapters into it, so who knows what’s going to happen.
I can tell you the story takes place in Maine, and it's about freedom. Freedom of speech, and that fine line between freedom and oppression. I think it's something that everyone in America, I suppose even the world, is thinking about right now. What we are allowed to say, and not allowed to say. By basing it on an island in Maine and isolating it, I can create a society that's structured and play around with ideas of what freedom is, and isn’t. It’s hard to explain right now...
Joyce B.: What's the best piece of advice you've ever read?
Joyce D.: It was in a recent interview with Judy Blume, and she said that you should just be alone with your characters. I'd been struggling through the early stages of my new book because I knew what I wanted to say, but I couldn't figure out who wanted to hear the story. I was trying to classify it and choose a genre before I even started writing it. Don't do that. Be alone with your characters. As soon as I stopped worrying about my audience, I realized I can just hang out with my characters and tell their story. The genre will come later. That was some excellent advice.
Joyce B.: If you knew you couldn’t fail, what would you do?
Joyce D.: I feel as though I should say something for the good of the world, something philanthropic. Or, maybe I should pick heart surgeon. But the truth is, I would choose to be a writer because I can't fail at it. If you're going to write and you go off on a tangent and end up trashing the whole thing, you still didn't fail. You developed something. You learned something. Maybe you'll put all of it into the next piece and move forward with it. There's nothing you can do as a writer that isn't going to move you forward and make you discover something about yourself, or your world, or the people around you. You can't fail. I suppose that’s a bit of a cop out, but that's the way I look at it.
To learn more about Joyce Doyle and her writing workshops and classes visit www.joycedoyle.com.