By Stuart Pennebaker
Speaking to writer and Gotham teacher Justine Teu is a lesson in craft. She’s the kind of wordsmith whose writerly wheels never seem to stop turning. For Justine, material is everywhere.
“Even just taking a walk, spending time with your friends,” Justine says, “I think all of that is very, very valuable as prewriting as long as you're observing and you're making mental notes and cherishing that time that you have with these people, because the more that you've cherished, the more that you can hone for your writing later.”
Writing has always been one of Justine’s favorite things. She recalls that words played a central part in her childhood.
“I remember not really needing a lot of toys or anything,” Justine says, “I just needed a notebook to write down my zany little stories.”
This love of writing eventually led Justine to a place we all know and love: a classroom at Gotham. Justine took a Fiction I workshop and hasn’t stopped writing stories since. She went on to attend an MFA program at the New School and has been on both sides of the classroom since, most recently as a teacher in a ninth-grade classroom and at Gotham.
“I run a very democratic classroom in that, yes, I'm the teacher,” Justine says, “but I love to hear other people's ideas and just try to understand their point of views and how they approach the craft. I find that the more writing that you do, and the better you get at it, the harder it becomes. And it's so great to see these beginner writers as an incubator for these great things because they're not inhibited by all these different rules that we've had to learn.”
Justine is currently at work on a speculative novel about a multi-dimensional world set in a city, which centers on a character in her late twenties. She notes that place plays a big role in her writing. She’s also written much about the small town of Binghamton, where she went to college.
Justine has written short fiction for publications such as Passages North and Pigeon Pages. Although she is an accomplished fiction writer, she also dabbles in nonfiction. Her piece titled “Omnipresence,” a personal essay about craft and superstition, was recently published by Craft Literary.
Whether writing fiction or nonfiction, Justine has honed her writing process and has much advice to offer writers who are feeling stuck.
“I don't really believe in writer's block…I think it's a controversial opinion, but for me, I think bad writing is just as valuable as your best writing because you're getting the words down, and you're sort of massaging what it is that you need to get through.”
Justine also describes her writing routine as controlled chaos and favors switching up her location when the words aren’t flowing.
“Last week, I was feeling really bored in the house, so I booked it to the Met and sat in this one specific room for two hours and did not leave that specific room until I was done writing…I'm really consistent about getting the writing done, but I have to vary up where I'm doing it.”
Her best piece of writing advice?
“Don’t be afraid to get egg on your face. Just write the bad thing.”