Single mom and author returns to BYU, completes undergrad



BYU student Jo Schaffer leads various writing conferences, including the Teen Author Boot Camp. (Jo Schaffer)

Jo Schaffer is a writer, speaker, marketing specialist, social media manager and publicist who is also finishing up her final semester studying public relations at BYU.

On top of that, Schaffer is a single mom with three sons ages 20, 18 and 13. Schaffer said the most important lesson she’s learned as a mother has been learning how to create a safe space for love in the home.

“My kids are not just an extension of me — they are individuals with their own
paths and journeys to follow,” Schaffer said. “It’s my job to love and teach them, (to) always be a safe place for them to feel loved, understood and nurtured, no matter what their choices are.”

Jo Schaffer poses with her sons for a family picture. Left to Right: Nathan, Jo, Jack, and Gabriel. (Jo Schaffer)

Schaffer said that while she intended to finish school the first time she attended, marriage, moving around and raising children took priority. Schaffer said she realized after 20 years her marriage was falling apart.

“I was suddenly faced with a lot of decisions,” Schaffer said. “As I prayed through the process of divorce and how to proceed with my life, I knew that I needed to return to school — that the experiences I would have at BYU would prepare me for the next phase of my life.”

Schaffer said she chose to attend BYU again because of the unique atmosphere and spiritual influence on campus.

“I like the energy on campus and how friendly the students are,” Schaffer said. “I also appreciate the way the gospel of Jesus Christ is folded into the learning process in virtually every subject.”

According to Schaffer, the things she has learned from being involved in the communications field has helped her provide advice and insight to students aspiring to be writers or communicators.

Schaffer said the first things to do are to read, take writing classes and constantly collaborate with other writers.

“Being a writer is more than just the act of writing — it’s who you are,” Schaffer said. “If you have things to say, a desire to communicate with others, and if you care about ideas, then you can be an effective and good writer.”

Schaffer said joining a writing group ten years ago was key in kickstarting her career because of the regular writing and feedback she received. Thanks to the group, Schaffer became one of the founding members of the Teen Author Boot Camp, one of the top annual teen writers conferences held every spring in Provo. 

According to the camp’s website, nearly a thousand aspiring teen writers come to the conference to work with bestselling authors to amp up their writing skills. Past keynote speakers include Jay Asher, Marie Lu, Brandon Sanderson, Jessica Day George, James Dashner, Ally Condie, Shannon Hale, Kiersten White, Brandon Mull, Dan Wells and Margaret Peterson Haddix. 

“As we taught writing skills and interacted with successful authors and people in the publishing industry, getting my own books published became more attainable in my mind,” Schaffer said.

The next Teen Author Boot Camp conference is scheduled for March 23 at the Utah Valley Convention Center.

Participating in a writing group gave Schaffer meaningful opportunities to communicate with fellow authors and publishers. Schaffer said that after a lot of work, rejection and several manuscripts, she found the right publisher for her “Stanley & Hazel” trilogy.

Schaffer said music is her ally when it comes to getting her into the writing groove. She mentioned reading good books and meditation also help. That being said, she said sometimes “it’s just a matter of sitting and writing garbage until the creative juices start.”

As for current projects, Schaffer is working on the third installment of “Stanley & Hazel,” which is set during the 1930s in the Great Depression.

Schaffer poses with her published novel “Stanley & Hazel.” (Jo Schaffer)

“(‘Stanley & Hazel’) has so many themes that are relevant to now about classism, abuse of power and the danger of the ‘us-against-them’ mentality that lead to the horrors of inequality, eugenics and genocide,” Schaffer said.

Following graduation in April, Schaffer said she hopes to find a full-time job that uses her skills and continue writing and publishing books.

Schaffer mentioned her oldest son, Gabriel, is starting at BYU this summer; her son Nathan will be leaving on a mission at the end of summer; and she hopes her youngest son, Jack, continues to progress and defy the odds when it comes to his special needs.

Gabriel said having his mom attend BYU has aided him in preparing to attend the university.

“She’s been a big help with my application,” Gabriel said. “She read and critiqued my essays, for example. She’s also been a lifesaver helping me register for classes.”

Schaffer said it’s nothing short of a miracle she can balance her nonprofit work, publication deadlines and responsibilities as a working single mother.

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