This Thanksgiving, I am most thankful for my readers. Reader Catherine R. asked me some questions about the writing process. I’d like to share them with you.
1. What do you think is the most important aspect of writing?
Passion. If you write about the things that you love and that fascinate you, your writing will be true. When I’m starting a new book, I think about what rocks my world and issues that I feel strongly about sharing with my readers. Passion creates energy. That energy is the fuel I use to write my books.
2. How do you get through a tough spot in your writing?
I usually don’t have serious problems with any scenes that I write as part of my first chapter outline. The harder scenes tend to appear during revisions, when I can identify what’s missing and admit that the harder stuff I avoided during earlier drafts finally needs to appear in the story. The hardest scenes to write are mainly in response to editorial letters, because they could involve major overhauls.
So what happens when I have to write one of these challenging scenes? First, there’s often a lot of grumbling and resistance. I also might go over to Crumbs for a special cupcake to pull me through. Then it’s time to get down to business. Depending on the type of scene I have to write, I’ll select music that will evoke the emotions my characters are experiencing. The right music helps me to get inside their minds and better understand their conflict. I also don’t try not to let myself get distracted by email or anything else online until I’ve written a certain amount of pages. And it’s okay to take longer to write harder scenes. You may need to think about the scene for a few days before you even write anything at all. Great ideas cannot be forced; they flow naturally on their own schedule.
3. How do you find a good publisher?
A great way way to discover which publisher would be best for you is to read books from that publisher. If you find that you like most of what you’re reading, then that publisher is a good fit. Most of my favorite YA authors are published by Viking Children’s Books (an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group), so I knew that Penguin was the best publishing house for me.
From there, you need to find out which publishers accept unsolicited manuscripts or if an agent has to submit your work. When I was trying to place When It Happens, I went to Barnes & Noble and found some resources in the Writers Trade section on publishing houses and their submission criteria.
4. Any advice on finding the perfect dialogue? Something that just flows?
I’m all about the dialogue! I’ve always loved reading books that are dialogue-centric and I love creating scenes that mostly consist of dialogue. With every book, I find that dialogue is the easiest part to write. It just comes naturally to me. And that’s the key – focus on the part of writing that comes the most naturally to you and the dialogue will follow.
Also, spy. When you’re waiting in line or at a coffeehouse, listen to what people are saying. The way they speak is real, so use what you hear as a model for dialogue structure. Of course, your characters are unique and speak in their own special ways, but spying on other conversations is a great starting point for understanding natural dialogue flow. I’m convinced that my earlier years as a Harriet the Spy fan helped me with dialogue. I had a spy route and spy notebook just like Harriet and I spent a lot of time listening to other people talk. Just don’t get caught because then they might be mad at you.
5. Any advice on getting something published? Can that be done if you are a junior in high school?
If you’ve written something incredible, there’s always a chance for it to be published. Don’t submit work unless it is your absolute best. If it is your absolute best, then proceed.
Resources are out there for younger writers, such as the Young Writers Society (for ages 13 to 25) and Young Writers Project. You can find more organizations on the Internet that can guide you in your quest. Good luck!