Thanks to my friend and agent-mate Kayla Olson for tagging me on this blog tour! Kayla is a delightful person, an excellent cheerleader, AND the writer of super-suspenseful mysterious things that she needs to finish up so I can read them already. (She also routinely sends me pictures of hilariously bad taxidermy.) To read about her writing process, click here! You can also follow her on Twitter @olsonkayla.
WHAT AM I WORKING ON?
My work in progress is the book I just sold to Delacorte, a contemporary YA called LOOK BOTH WAYS that takes place at a summer theater festival in upstate New York. I don’t think I’m allowed to say much about it yet, but in a broadest sense, it’s about trying to fit in with your family, what “talent” really means, and the fine line between romantic and platonic love. (It also involves a Macbeth/Bye Bye Birdie mash-up musical called “Bye Bye, Banquo.”) I spent the summers of 2003, 2004, and 2005 working at theater festivals as a lighting designer, and I’m thrilled that I finally get to write about some of the unbelievably weird stuff that goes on there. The story isn’t autobiographical in the least, but the setting absolutely is.
WHY DO I WRITE WHAT I WRITE?
One of my closest friends calls my writing style “skew-topian”—a little weirder than straight realism, but not nearly off enough to be utopian or dystopian. That makes total sense, because my favorite parts of the world have always been the ones that are a little bit bizarre and ridiculous and nonsensical. That stuff is everywhere, but I feel like most people walk right by it without stopping to look and revel in the absurdity. I had this brilliant director back in 2005 who told me that my responsibility as an artist was to show everyone else how I saw the world, and that’s what I’m still trying to do. I just have a different medium to work with now.
Obviously, ALL of life isn’t delightful and quirky, so there are much heavier themes and emotions mixed into my lighthearted weirdness. The female friendship parts of my books are always my favorites to write; I love exploring how people pull apart and come back together and are forced to learn to accept each other in new ways.
HOW DOES MY WRITING PROCESS WORK?
The process usually starts with me sending myself a messy, nonsensical email that says, “What if THIS happened and this happened and this happened, and there was a guy who had this one weirdly specific character trait, and maybe a cat, and maybe this also happened?” Then I let the half-formed idea sit in my head and percolate for months, sometimes years. I almost always come up with situations before characters, and I know I’m ready to start putting some serious work into an idea when the main character pops up in my head. (My MCs are kind of like meat thermometers that way.) Names are really important to me—if I have the wrong name for a character, I can’t get a handle on her at all.
Even once I have the characters nailed down, I can’t start actually writing until I have a first line I feel really confident about. I’m so neurotic and careful about writing those first sentences that both RED’s and FOR REAL’s stayed exactly the same through the entire process, word for word. (The first line of LOOK BOTH WAYS has already changed once, but giving up what I’d originally written was a serious struggle.) I’m a plotter, but I don’t plot absolutely everything—as long as I have one-line descriptions of a bunch of scenes and I know what the climax is, I feel like I’m ready to start. I use the notecard feature in Scrivener to organize my pseudo-outline and make notes about characters; I used to use actual notecards, but having everything laid out on a screen makes the process less messy. (I LOVE Scrivener. If a word processing program could be a spirit animal, this would be mine.)
I write in order, mostly because if I didn’t, I think I’d just write all the easy, fun scenes first and abandon the project before I had to write the harder ones. My first drafts are incredibly overwritten, and it’s not at all unusual for me to cut 20,000+ words out of a first draft. (The first time I tried to write a book, my first draft was 150,000 words. It was contemporary. I have no idea what all those words were about, because I lost basically nothing when I cut half of them.) When I finish a draft, I put it away for a month or so, then bring it back out and read it as if I’m beta reading for someone else—I don’t change anything, but I insert comments all over the manuscript, ranging from “this sentence is awkward” to “these three chapters are irrelevant.” Then I flip back into author mode and work through alllllll the notes until they are gone. When I’m finished, I send it out to a batch of beta readers—usually four at a time—and repeat, repeat, repeat until it feels ready to send to my agent!
One of the biggest things I’ve learned in the course of writing a bunch of books (publishable and unpublishable) is that you usually don’t know what your book is about until you finish writing it. Regardless of what you think the themes are, you are probably writing about something else entirely. It took me a long time to figure this out and even longer to embrace it, but now it’s actually kind of fun to see where my stories land. It’s nice to know that my own brain is capable of surprising me over and over.
I know I’m supposed to tag other people on this blog tour, but I’m pretty sure everyone and their mother has already been tagged… so I’m going to let the chain die with me. (Crap, does this mean evil spirits are going to haunt me or something?)