Mail about the realities of writing

Yes, Theo is in the process of posting my new website, and yes, we know that not all features are working yet. Thank you very much to everyone who has written to let us know pages that seem to be empty and the broken links. Consider the current version very much Beta. It will be polished and shiny soon.

Katarina, an 8th grader from NJ, mailed the following questions. I’m on deadline again, so the answers will be pithy.

When did you realize that you wanted to become a writer specifically for young adults?
I haven’t decided that yet. I just try to write good stories.

How do you deal with frustration/writer’s block?
I run.

Are there any specific classes that I should take in high school/college?
Keyboarding. I suggest you don’t major in creative writing, either, but take some of the classes if the professor has a good reputation with the other students.

Is this a job that includes more failure or success?
Ha! Buckets of failure, tasty tablespoons of success.

How long does it usually take to get β€œstarted,” i.e. find a reputable publisher and editor
Ten years.

How long, on average, does it take for you to write a book including the editing/publishing process?
Two to three years from the beginning of a project until it lands in a bookstore.

What precautions can I take so I don’t fall for publishing scams?
Never pay cash to anyone who claims to be an agent. Learn the difference between vanity presses and trade presses. Your librarian will help you find books that explain the difference.

Should I have a good knowledge of other styles/genres of writing?
Write what is in your heart.

How can I learn to deal with bad reviews and critics?
Smashing your hand in a car door once a week helps. If you don’t have a car, use a hammer. Bad reviews hurt.

When I am just starting out, is the compensation good enough, or is it hard to make a living?
Learn how to waitress so you’ll always be able to eat. Be nice to your parents in case you need to live in their basement until your big break comes.

And a very nice note from Danica, who writes:

Ms. Halse-Anderson,
I’ve got to let you know how much I truly loved “Speak.” I first read
the novel as part of an Adolescent Literature class, and I enjoyed it
so much that I thought I needed to find a way to work with the novel
on a deeper level. I’ve decided to use it as part of my senior thesis
on reader-response and adolescent literature.

You’ve managed to take a subject like rape and address it in a way
that’s approachable for adolescent readers– the treatment of the
subject is not too intense or explicit, but still clearly demonstrates
the emotional pain of rape. It seems that rape is too often treated
lightly (somehow– something I will never quite understand), and your
book is a wonderful approach to the benefits of speaking out about
sexual trauma.

Thank you, I look forward to reading more from you!

Thank you very much, Danica. That is exactly the inspiration I needed to go back to my revision!

17 Replies to “Mail about the realities of writing”

  1. I agree 100% with Danica. There are certain authors who are great to read when you’re 15-16, but they often get left in the chick lit dust. There are other authors who transcend age groups. My ten year old cousin and my 50 year old aunt are both addicted to your work, and who could blame them? You’re more than just an author, you’re a poet.

  2. I agree with Danica too, so much so that in my current MS, my MC, who was molested by her mother’s boyfriend, completely identifies with Melinda Sordino when she’s assigned SPEAK in her English class.

    Thank you for writing such amazing books.

  3. those were awesome questions! And you did not answer them pithily:)

    But you are a big-time authoress, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bad review for any of your stories. PLUS, it’s the target audience that matters not what some crusty old biddie thinks!

  4. Twisted

    Mrs. Anderson,
    For the most part it seems as though people are focused on Speak, rather than your other books.
    I’m a guy and I loved Twisted, I think it was by far your best book, and I liked the humor.
    I have to sheepishly admit I thought you were a male author at first because of how clearly you depicted Tyler’s thoughts and personality. Of course I realized the truth when I read the spine and realized you were indeed a female!

    I think it’d be great for you to write another book dealing with males. I’d be the first one in the bookstore!

    Thanks for your awesome writing and can’t wait for more books!

  5. Re: Twisted

    Dear Anon,

    Can I cook for you, please? Bake some muffins? Do you like steak?

    THANK YOU for these very kind words about TWISTED. I am so honored that you thought I was a guy! (I’m not sure that sentence came out the way I wanted, but I hope you know what I mean.)

    SPEAK has been around for almost ten years, that’s why more people know about it. But based on reactions like yours (I’ve had many anon guys mailing me about the book) I really, really hope that TWISTED will soon be mentioned in the same breath as SPEAK. Or maybe even the breath before.

    Thanks, dude.

  6. Just curious- why don’t you recommend majoring in Creative Writing?

    *is fearful with her English/focus in Creative Writing major*

  7. My concern is that too many colleges give students the impression that a degree in Creative Writing will nearly guarantee them a lifetime of publishing contracts and a life of ease.

    It does not work that way.

    If you are fortunate enough to have great professors, your chances of developing your writing skills to the point where you could be published are increased, there’s no doubt about that. But there are a lot of terrible creative writing professors out there. Lately, I’ve talked to several 20-somethings who are bitter and disillusioned because the degree has not translated into anything but rejection letters.

    So if it makes you happy, go for it. But do so with your eyes open.

  8. I love the letter from Ms. Danica. It is so touching, and I absolutely agree. I actually saw the Lifetime movie version of Speak before reading the book, and I really admired how the subject was treated in both media.

    In fact, the movie, followed by the book, played a huge part in inspiring me to speak out. As a college senior, I connected with Melinda. So, thank you. πŸ™‚

  9. Ah, I see where you’re coming from then. I definitely understand that.

    I’m simply majoring in it because it seems to be improving my writing. and I love it. I know it doesn’t give me any real advantage over any other prospective writers, and I would/will have to work just as hard as anyone else, but that would get me into a rant on degrees nowadays and their worth, which I won’t subject anyone to πŸ˜‰

    I will be quite happy in my cardboard box. πŸ™‚

  10. Creative Writing Majors…

    I thoroughly agree, it doesn’t matter if you hate the subject, if the teacher is good, you learn 10 times more than you would in a subject you hate.

    I’m actually in high school and I have no time for a creative writing class… but anyone can answer this one if they see it- what are the benefits of taking a creative writing course? I mean, in general, one can’t exactly LEARN the creative process… I think.. .. =/

  11. Mmm… Yes, I also had a question about the Creative Writing major. I honestly have no idea what I’m going to major in, and Creative Writing seemed like the best option… One of my top choices for a college is UVA, which seems to have a GREAT English program, so maybe their professors are good?

    Of course, I guess it’d be better to go for a broader major, one that is applicable to a lot of different, interesting jobs. Right?

    Completely agree with the Speak letter, though. Freaking brilliant.

  12. Re: Creative Writing Majors…

    Hi. I minored in writing and mostly took creative writing classes to fulfill my minor.

    >> in general, one can’t exactly LEARN the creative process…

    I think that depends how you define the creative process. A lot of people who have never taken a decent creative writing class seem to think that writing is some magical feat of inspiration where writers sit at their keyboards for a few weeks and pound out a solid first draft and all that’s left to do is make sure they spelled “dithyrambic” properly and make sure they’ve got enough ‘i’s in “Mississippi.” Among writers i know, that’s far from the truth – that’s the “creative” part; that’s not the “process” part. Revision, for most writers, is the single most important part of the process. Revision is about making sure all the scenes add to the story, and adding scenes that were missing, removing or rewriting the scenes that werent working, and being able to tell the difference between the two. Plus there’s a LOT of fine tuning to get your story into the proper arc and get your characters moving in logical directions.

    Good creative writing classes will help you learn all this and help you learn when and what to revise. I would be shortchanging the classes if i didnt mention that they also help you recognize that good writing is more than just the stuff you like, and a really good writer will come out with a broader appreciation of writers who are very, very different people from themselves, and, really, a better understanding of how universal the human experience is for all of us.

    But mostly you learn process, process, PROCESS!

  13. Danica’s note

    I have to second everything Danica said! After reading “Speak” I also decided to use it as part of my senior thesis for my honors program. The focus is on using young adult literature in the classroom and the many benefits that come along with using the genre.

    I feel that books like “Speak” bring current issues to the forefront of the classroom. I recently also read “Cut” by Patricia McCormick and feel that young adult fiction has soooooooo much to offer to students.

    Thank you Danica for being another advocate! I’m so excited to see that other people are studying similar things. And thank you Ms. Halse-Anderson for writing books the way you do!

  14. Re: Creative Writing Majors…

    I would say surely, but i think that is in part because i had a great creative writing professor. I took three creative writing classes and learned more with each course i took – and they were fun, too!

    But of course i’m biased because i got along very well with my professor. Well…college is a good time to try things out, and i would recommend trying a creative writing course and seeing what’s right for you. Hope that helps.

  15. Hi, had to butt in here. I have no idea if Creative Writing/English is the best major for you but… Every liberal arts education will enable you to go into lots of different, interesting jobs. You learn lots about the world and just how to be a person that applies to every facet of life and every job.

    My dad’s a professor and he tells me this about every week so I thought I’d throw that out there πŸ™‚

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