Where do you get your inspiration?

I get new ideas constantly. Generally, it’s a person trapped in an interesting situation, or facing a conflict that forces her to change and grow. These ideas pop into my head out of nowhere. Sometimes I stumble across them because of something I’m reading, some fragment of dialog I overhear, or a scene I witness at an airport or the grocery store.

What is your writing process?

With my friend Eric Gansworth
I take one of two paths when I am working on a book; I enter the story through character or I enter it through plot.

When I start with character, I meander around and write a lot of scenes that are eventually cut, but that helps me understand the background and motivations of the people in the story.

If I start with plot, the scenes are developed in a much more systematic fashion, but I keep a separate journal in which I develop my characters.

What is your least favorite part of writing?

I HATE first drafts.

What is the best part of writing?

When the magic flows so strong I lose track of where and who I am.

What do you do when you get stuck?

It doesn’t happen much, but a shower or some exercise usually helps.

What keeps you motivated to write?

Writing keeps me healthy and sane. When I am working on a story, I channel the dark, sad, confused, angry bits of me into something constructive and healing. I always feel better after a day of writing.

Where do you write?

When I’m home, I work in the attic. But I travel a lot, so at least half of every book is written on airplane, trains, hotel rooms, and coffee shops around the world.

I know writing is a long process but when I can’t get the right inspiration, it stresses me out.

Hulking out
I totally hear you. I feel the same way sometimes. When you run out of inspiration, it’s usually means you don’t understand your character and the conflicts she’s facing.

Brainstorm ten things that could happen next that would complicate her life, and then brainstorm ten things that would make her life easier. Somewhere in there, you’ll find a key to the next scene you have to write.

Is it better to outline and plot everything out, or just go with the flow, wherever the story leads you?

It depends on the book and it depends on how quickly you want to finish it. With my historical novels, (Fever 1793 and Chains) I have to outline carefully because the character’s journey has to take place within real historical events.

With my YA novels, like Twisted and Speak, I am more flexible. In the early drafts, I write whatever weirdness pops in my head. In later drafts, I sort through the chaos and try to give it structure and a sense of flow. But what works for me might not work for you. Everyone has their own process.

Do you ever set goals for yourself as to when you’re going to finish writing certain parts of the book?

All the time. And I never, ever reach the goal on time because I am a hopeless optimist and I always forget to schedule in sleeping at night. But I keep doing it.

Goals are helpful. Making time to write every day helps even more.

What is a day in your life like?

Meeting legendary author of The Outsiders, S.E. Hinton
Busy. Very Busy. But in the best way possible.

I’m usually up and at my desk by 5am. I’ll check the news, drink a cup of coffee, then get to work. Writing first thing in the morning is my favorite. The afternoons are for answering mail, doing publicity and marketing-related things and going for a walk or a run. Evenings are for family and reading. (I sneak in extra reading time by listening to audiobooks when I’m exercising.)

That perfect schedule is totally shredded when I’m on the road. Then I try to sneak writing in whenever I can.

I can’t even believe how professional writers can put writing’s unpredictableness aside and meet their deadlines! Care to enlighten me?

By ‘unpredictableness’ I assume you mean that we rarely feel totally inspired every single day. I sure as heck don’t. But I do it anyway.

First and foremost because I write because I like it and it is good for me. Second, I know that if I wrote daily, I stay in touch with the story and I write better as a result. Third, the writing pays my bills.

Any career in the arts has a simple truth attached to it: you have to do the work every day. That is how you get better.

It doesn’t matter how many books I’ve published. I have never before written the book I am writing now. I have to respect the work and keep striving to learn more, keep searching for new tools for my work chest.

If you are standing on the outside looking in, it might seem a little boring, and I admit, there are days when I long for a job that has a guaranteed paycheck every two weeks and some kind of health insurance, but the truth is, I feel incredibly blessed to be able to write stories that people want to read. That is extremely motivating.

Do you always write chapter by chapter when you draft? Or do you ever end up with gaps in the initial draft that you have to go back and fill?

No, I don’t write chapter by chapter. I generally start at what I think is the beginning and aim for what I think is the end, but those are guidelines, not rules. I always wind up with holes. Going back and figuring out what belongs in the holes is fun. The trick is to play out one of the story threads naturally, not to cram in a scene just so have something in Chapter 7. If it doesn’t fit, throw it out.

Do you ever have to adjust the overall pacing of the story, and if so how do you approach that?

Once the stinky first draft is done, I do a lot of tinkering with the pacing. It takes a little time to get the perspective that allows me to see the entire story, but once I can, I examine each thread of the story to make sure the events that pull it forward unfold in a way that makes sense, both for that thread and for the larger story.

I also make a time line of events on a huge sheet of paper. Once I see things on the time line, I usually make changes; speeding up some sections, slowing down others.

How do you think through making a character change over the course of a novel?

To be honest, I don’t think about it much. I focus on creating situations that force the character out of her comfort zone, raising the emotional stakes as I go along. If I’ve developed conflicts that are organic and in keeping with the character’s world, her response to the conflicts will naturally lead to internal growth.

Was it difficult to eliminate characters? I get very attached to mine.

With Rita Williams-Garcia, Christian Robinson, and Matt Phelan
The different parts of the writing process feel like different countries to me. The etiquette and customs of one country is extremely different from the next. In the early drafts, I include everything that falls into my head and I love it all. I could never cut out a character at that stage.

When I get to later drafts, that changes. The only thing that matters is what works best for the story. if I fall in love a character and she doesn’t work in the story, she’s gets cut. I can always send her flowers, take her to the movies, or go out for coffee with her. But if she isn’t a vital thread in the fabric of the story, out she goes.

Do you ever get upset when you cut a character or throw out pages, or even chapters?

I used to get very upset when I would “waste” a day or a week going off on a plot tangent or approaching a scene from the wrong point. Nowadays, I just mutter a little and get back to work.

I think I have to test out my characters, sometimes following them down the wrong path, to get to know them better and to understand the world of the story.

Do you have any tricks for increasing objectivity? I have a hard time figured out what I need to revise.

Finding objectivity is one of the hardest things we do. I don’t think any writer can ever become fully objective about her work. Putting it away for a month and not looking at it helps.

Then – before you read it – give it to three trusted readers; people who read a lot for fun and respect you enough to be honest. (DO NOT give it to relatives or lovers!) Ask them to read it and write down the three aspects of the story that are working the best, and the three that are the most confusing.

Next: take a copy of your story to a new location; NOT where you wrote it. Go to an independent bookstore, a coffee shop, a park, a nice hotel lobby. Read their comments first, then read the manuscript. If you can’t find anything you want to change, you’re done.

Do you really think that writers should give up TV?

At the Jing’an Buddhist Temple in Shanghai, China
It depends. If they adore the shows they watch, if TV-watching is relaxing, and it feeds their heads and relationships, if they are mindful about what they choose to watch instead of just channel-surfing and watching too many commercials, then I say “awesomeness.” And even if none of those conditions apply, even if a significant portion of their lives is dedicated to watching Law & Order reruns 24/7, then that’s cool, too, if they are happy.

But if they say they want to write, if they think about writing a lot, if they complain all the time that they don’t have time to write, and like most people are watching at least 4 hours of TV a day, then they need to figure some stuff out.

Writing can make us feel vulnerable. It can dredge up all kinds of scary and negative emotions. That’s why we so often waste our precious writing time — we are afraid.

There is nothing wrong with being afraid to write. There is nothing wrong with watching television or spending your time collecting stamps or cleaning old graveyards or talking to chickens. But if it your dream to write, then…. please make the time in your life to write. You deserve to follow your dreams.

What advice can you give aspiring authors?
  1. Learn to live frugally and avoid debt as best you can.
  2. Write what you want, not according to trends or market reports.
  3. Make writing time a daily habit and make it your priority.
  4. A degree in Creative Writing (undergrad or Master’s) is a very expensive piece of paper that does not guarantee you will be published. Do a lot of research before you sign up for it.
  5. Read every night before you fall asleep.
  6. Don’t pressure yourself about publication.
  7. Focus on improving your craft.
  8. Join a writer’s group that is supportive and fun.
  9. Write the story that is in your heart.
  10. William Faulkner said, “Don’t be ‘a writer.’ Be writing.” Pay attention to Mr. Faulkner.
Will you read my manuscript?

Thanks for the offer, but no.

Will you read my manuscript if I pay you?

Tempting, but the answer is the same: no.

© 2008 & 2010 & 2017 Laurie Halse Anderson. All of it. For real.