So do you have any rituals or routines that you do when you begin writing or when you are writing a story or a piece?
The very beginning of the book starts in my head almost like a slideshow. Images of characters and settings will appear in my mind. Sometimes even audible clips of characters speaking. In the earliest stages, this happens most often when I’m not at my desk. A walk around the grocery store is good to get the creative juices flowing.
I always have a small notebook in my back pocket to jot down things that pop into my mind. Sometimes I’ll hear someone use a phrase waiting in another line at the store that reminds me of a character from one of my books. Sometimes, I’ll see a person or object that gives me an idea. I will often stop in the middle of an aisle to pull out my notebook and write something down. My daughter teases me about this.
In truth, I work on several books at once. I keep manila folders labeled with various books that I’m working on. I’m constantly adding notes and ideas to each of these folders. When it’s time to get serious about the project, I pull that folder out of my file drawer and open it on my desk. Whereas a lot of writers would have nice, neat 8 ½ by 11 sheets of paper with notes, I’ll have pages ripped from my little pocket notebooks, things scrawled on the backs of receipts or napkins, or an article in a newspaper that has to do with a part of the plot.
It all looks like a jumbled mess. But, those scraps of paper in the folder usually become scenes – or full chapters. Those scenes and chapters are not written in order. Everytime I finish a scene I write its title on a 3×5 card and put I ton a magnetic white board in my office. As I add to the board, I am always playing with the cards—trying to put them in order to create a linear plot. It’s like a giant puzzle and the hardest part of the process for me.
When you go back and reread your work what are you listening for or looking for?
Actually when I read my own work, I set a day aside when I sit at my desk and read the entire book from beginning to end in one sitting. Sometimes, I’m listening for rhythm –does it sound right? Sometimes a piece read silently sounds fine but when read aloud in an empty room doesn’t ring true.
I also look for areas that are overwritten. You dilute the important stuff in a book by overwhelming it with too much other stuff. For me (and many talented writers would disagree—it’s a matter of style) trimming the writing back as much as possible, shines a light upon what is most important.
The children in your books have such authentic voices. Do you ever rehearse what you think it should sound like before you write something especially dialogue?
Thank you so much! Actually, I do not rehearse dialogue ahead of time. Honestly, I I type what I hear in my head. I sometimes think rehearsal can take the punch out of writing so I intentionally avoid it. For me, I find it’s best to get it on the page raw – a splat of ideas. In revision I organize, trim, and hone it so that it is tight and feels authentic. A big part of this process is reading it aloud.
What tips would you offer students for reading and reflecting on their own writing?
It is often said that you should write about what you know. I completely disagree. I get bored writing about the topics that I thoroughly understand. I find that I get better writing from – and really enjoy – writing about the things I wonder about.
A couple of months after One for the Murphys went under to contract, I was asked why wrote the book in the first place. I really didn’t have an answer. After a little thought I replied, “I guess I’ve always wondered what it would be have been like if somebody had pulled me aside when I was 12 and told me everything would be okay.”
I think the wondering makes you care more about the writing.
What is something you thought about or had been taught when you were young writer in school?
Well, as a junior in high school I was taught the importance of conveying emotion on the page.
But I honestly think the most powerful message I carried out of my young years in school was that you shouldn’t necessarily believe everything people tell you about yourself—good or bad.
We all have areas where we excel and where we need to work a little harder. I think it’s important to remember that failure is part of success and shouldn’t be taken too seriously. I think when we find things were passionate about – the things are hearts care about – we excel. It’s easy to focus on the things you love to do.
I will never be a good physicist. But that’s perfectly fine with me.