26 May 2014

#My Writing Process: The Messy Truth and the Importance of Naps

My crit partner, Joy McCullough-Carranza.
She made me do it.
Oh, dear. I've been tagged on the "My Writing Process" blog tour. I shouldn't be surprised by this development, since I said, "Sure, tag me," when my fabulous critique partner Joy McCullough-Carranza asked if I'd like to do it. (You can read about her writing process here.) 

But now it has happened and I must reveal the awful truth about my writing process: I don't have one! Or, rather, it changes constantly. If anyone has come here seeking advice on HOW TO DO IT, you might want to move along. Yes, there you go… off to the blogosphere where many other writers can be found giving much better advice about writing. Just close the door gently when you leave. I'm writing. And easily distracted…

What am I working on?
I'm currently in the midst of the editing process for my debut YA novel, BETWEEN THE NOTES, which will be published by HarperTeen in summer 2015. I'm waiting for the next round of comments from my amazing editor, Karen Chaplin, who is pushing me to make this novel so much better than I could've imagined it would ever be. It's hard work, but I wouldn't have it any other way. The whole reason I pursued an agent and traditional publisher (when everyone was asking, "why don't you self-publish?") was to get to this exact spot. I want to learn and grow as a writer, to benefit from the expertise of a great editor. I'm delighted to be in the midst of that experience right now. It is both humbling and uplifting, if that makes sense… The editorial notes can definitely feel a bit "ouchy" at first, but then you dive in and the ideas start flowing. My novel is improving, and I'm becoming a better writer in the process. All the gushing thanks that editors receive in their authors' acknowledgements? Totally deserved.

Why Do I Write What I Write?
I worked in public relations for 20+ years, writing press releases and articles and brochures and speeches. I edited business magazines and employee newsletters. I had my own PR business for the last 12 of those years, and then… I got bored. Call it a mid-life crisis if you will. I was in my early 40s and I wanted to be something else when I grew up! At the time, I was handling publicity for the Delaware Division of Libraries, for their Delaware Book Festival. It was wonderful to be around all those authors. Laurie Halse Anderson! Jon Sciezka! Julianna Baggott! 

Author Mary Kennedy gave me the fateful
advice: "Write what you like to read."
I casually mentioned to one of the participating authors that I'd love to write a novel. She asked, "Why don't you?" I confessed I'd never written fiction before, had never even taken a creative writing class. She said, "Neither had I!" The author was Mary Kennedy, who had sold more than 40 novels to major publishers, including YA, middle grade, and adult mysteries. Her advice was, "Write what you like to read." I happened to be reading one of the Harry Potter novels for the third time. I ordered a dozen more YA novels and immersed myself in YA bestsellers and award winners, contemporary,  paranormal and fantasy. I loved it all and couldn't wait to get started, but spent months further studying the genre and the writing of novels before I wrote a single word. And when I did, it seemed my inner teen was just waiting to be heard. Writing YA allows me to tap all the wonderful (and terrifying) feelings of being young. It's so much better than writing press releases! 

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

This is a difficult question to answer! Of course we all hope our work is wildly different and unique, but then again wouldn't mind being compared to the best authors in our genre. If someone mistook my work for Stephanie Perkins' or Sara Zarr's or Sarah Dessen's, I'd probably levitate. But we all have our own voice, and I hope mine is a distinct and authentic one. As long as readers can relate to and enjoy my books, I'll be happy.

How does my writing process work?

Now we get to the messy part. My writing process is so varied and changeable. I often dive into a story and start writing before I know who the characters are or what they're going to do. Then I reach a point where I really need to figure out where things are going, so I'll stop and outline the entire plot. I'll start writing again and veer off course again. I love to be surprised by what my characters do or say. I remember the first time it felt like the story was telling itself to me… I was simply taking dictation. So, I try not to be too rigid or structured, to allow those surprises to happen. I tend to research as I go, and in the case of a historical novel I'm working on, even traveled to France to visit the town where the story is set. There are times when I've set word-count goals each day, and there are weeks where I've simply let ideas percolate without writing a word. 

But there's one thing that has always been an integral part of my writing process: NAPS. Whenever I'm struggling over anything in my writing… I set it aside and take a nap. I almost always have a solution when I wake up. It doesn't have to be a long nap. Fifteen minutes usually does the trick. I'm not sure what happens in the brain, but a good nap always seems to jar the answers loose. Thank you, subconscious!

Tag, You're It!
I've asked a couple of lovely writer friends to share their writing process. 

Debra Paulson
Debra Paulson earned her MFA in Writing for Children from Simmons College and works as a children's book reviewer for Kirkus Reviews. She has also worked as a photographer (with a piece in the New Britain Museum of American Art), video producer, black-ash basketmaker and hand weaver (with a basket in the White House collection), orthopedic massage therapist, and Reiki master. She is currently querying agents on a YA novel in free verse and is working on a middle grade and picturebook text and illustrations. Visit her blog, Reflections on a Life in Motion, to read about her writing process next week! 

Rhiannon Thomas
Rhiannon Thomas is a recent graduate from Princeton University, where she studied English and Japanese, and smuggled bubble tea into the library on a regular basis. She now lives in her native home of Yorkshire, England, in an area where the horses outnumber her neighbors six to one. As well as reading and writing YA fiction, she runs the blog  FeministFiction.com, where she discusses TV, books, and all kinds of fannish things from a feminist perspective. Her debut novel, A Wicked Thing, will be published by HarperTeen in 2015. Read her #mywritingprocess post here