“Like I’m watching a movie in my head”: Cynthia A. Jensen on her writing process

Cynthia A. Jensen

by Timothy Pike

On any given day, in the heart of sunny southern California, you’ll find author Cynthia A. Jensen hard at work inside her home, directing a movie.

But curiously, what you won’t find are any sound stages, cameras, or actors.

This is because it’s not the next big-budget Hollywood blockbuster she’s directing, it’s a scene from her latest story, which, she says, she can see in her mind as if it’s happening right in front of her.

“I write like I’m watching a movie in my head,” Cynthia tells me. “I let the characters in my book move me forward with what they want to happen.”

Then suddenly, like a broken projector reel, the movie stops. “Sometimes the film breaks and I have no idea where to go from there,” she admits. “Sometimes I have to step in and get things back on track.”

Nevertheless, her process works very well, especially in light of the fact that Cynthia has never taken a single writing class. “I wasn’t formally taught how to write,” she says. “I read a ton of books when I was in school, and of course, I had English classes, but I never had a creative writing class.”

She’s figured out a trick that works, though: Once she has a scene playing in her mind, Cynthia sets the story in motion. “I will write stuff I know I want to happen in a notebook, and then I come up with a first line,” Cynthia says. From there, the plot unfolds on its own. “The rest of the process is just to write and see what happens.”

This is exactly what Cynthia did in October 2017, when she jumped right into the second-ever 10K Novel-Building Challenge at ChapterBuzz. Eager to get going, but not knowing what to expect, she just started writing.

“I was so nervous just looking at the blank document,” she recalls. “Then the first line came to me, and I was off. As I wrote, I could see scenes in my head, and I typed them up.”

Excited, she pressed on, and finished the Challenge. “It was my first time writing on a deadline,” she says, “and I enjoyed the rush and excitement.”

Even though Cynthia has no formal training, her writing process is far from simple guesswork. “I have a lot of ‘how to write’ books by many different authors,” she says. “I’m learning from these, taking what works for me and leaving the rest for somebody else.”

“I’m really into old-time radio,” Cynthia tells me. “I love listening to it in bed. I can close my eyes and ‘see’ the scripts coming alive.”

One night, the idea for her next novel came while joking around with her daughter, Melissa. “Starrbodies came about during a conversation I was having with my daughter,” Cynthia recounts. “There had been a woman on TV who was a fitness expert. I jokingly told Melissa that I was going to kidnap this woman and force her to make me lose weight. She said, ‘There’s your story!’ So I began to work on it for the Challenge.”

But when the next Challenge opened for signups, Cynthia discovered that the stakes had been raised. “I joined the Challenge again, but this time, instead of 10,000 words in a month, it was to be done in a week,” she says. “I thought there was no way I could do that. But I proved myself wrong.”

And she’s still going. “I’ve written nine chapters of it,” Cynthia says, adding that even though she’s more comfortable writing short stories, she aims to make Starrbodies into a feature-length novel.

As she continues to turn her mental images into words on the page, one of Cynthia’s hobbies happens to provide the perfect soundtrack for her mind-movies. “I’m really into old-time radio,” she says. “I love listening to it in bed. I can close my eyes and ‘see’ the scripts coming alive.”

I jokingly told my daughter that I was going to kidnap this fitness expert we saw on TV and force her to make me lose weight. “There’s your story!” she said. So I began to work on it.

Constantly taking steps to push her career forward, Cynthia has several years of goals laid out for herself. “I would really like to get a degree in creative writing,” she says, adding that her shorter-term goals include earning recognition for her work. “I have entered a few short story–writing contests, and am waiting to hear the results of those,” she tells me. “That’s the hardest part, the waiting.”

In the meantime, she’s surrounded by people who offer plenty of help, support, and feedback. There’s the community at ChapterBuzz, of course, but Cynthia reserves her highest praise for one person in particular. “My daughter, Melissa, has been the biggest support in my writing journey,” she says. “She’s always cheering me on, and of course, she gets the first read of a new story. I honestly don’t know where I’d be in my life without her.”

For Cynthia, writing is so rewarding that she hardly has time to dwell on any negative thoughts that pop up, and tends to brush them off quickly when they do. “I feel like quitting all the time,” she says. “I’m not good enough, or what I write is crap—those thoughts come to me every day. But then I think of how good I feel when I finish a story. And that feeling is almost priceless.”

“A big sigh of relief,” she adds, “and then the slight letdown of it actually being over with.”

“That’s a wrap, everyone!” I hear Cynthia yell as she gets up, grinning, from her director’s chair and walks off the set.

Looking back, it’s possible that last part was just in my imagination.

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