Friday, January 29, 2016

My Thoughts About Writing, Revising, and Finding Your Genre

One of my guided writing mentees recently sent me a list of terrific interview questions, and she gave me permission to share them, and my answers, with you! I hope these thoughts might be useful or motivating. I would love to hear your comments and answers to these questions below! 

You can also read my thoughts on teaching creative writing here.

My writing desk

When you are writing, do you think about the age differences of your readers? If so, do you have to change anything to make it more age appropriate? 

Usually, I do not think about the age differences of my readers when I am writing the first draft of my story. I prefer to let the story flow out of me as it feels most natural, and not to think too much about ANYBODY reading it -- that sometimes causes me to worry and freeze up and get writers' block. Revising is when I think about my intended audience and the possible ages of my readers. Since I do not write horror or crime novels, I have never really had to worry about inappropriate violence or anything like that. In my latest novel, I did go back through and scale back some of the adult language and sexuality, since the book is intended for a teenage audience.

Was there a teacher in the past that inspired/pushed you to write, or did writing just come naturally? 

I have been fortunate to have many wonderful teachers who have been SO supportive of my writing over the years! I would say my answer to your question is both -- I was inspired by teachers, AND writing came naturally to me. It’s funny, but looking back it’s difficult for me to remember a time before I loved to write! I learned to read when I was four years old, and I gobbled up books. Like many kids, I made up stories; I was compelled to write my stories down. I think this was largely due to my dad being a writer. Every night, my parents would read me bedtime stories, and every morning I would come downstairs and see my dad writing. As a result, I was very aware that someone had written the books I so loved to read. And I decided that I wanted to be someone who writes books for other people to enjoy.

My dad remains the first person who reads my work. His feedback and encouragement are invaluable. I remember when I was little, he would let me type out stories on his computer once he had filed his column for the day -- how special that was! Also, when I was in the first and second grade I was lucky to have an amazing teacher, Diane Sather, who encouraged my love for writing. I remember she had me read one of my stories to the class. I got such a burst of joy from sharing what I had written with others. It never crossed my mind to just write for myself.

How long does it usually take for you to revise your writing or do you just write it and send it off? 

I ALWAYS revise my writing! I think writing without revising would be like trying to play a sport with your shoes untied. You should use every tool in your writers toolbox to make your writing the best it can be! I like to set aside my rough drafts for a few weeks or even a month, so then I can come back and read it with "fresh eyes" and an open perspective. Often I immediately find changes I wish to make, on the word level and on the bigger plot level -- phrasing that sounds awkward, scenes that need to be further developed, actions that don't make much sense. And just one round of revision is never enough. For example, with my most recent novel, I revised it at least seven or eight times -- all 300 pages! -- and it morphed into a whole new book compared to the rough draft. I spent about one year writing the first draft and two years revising it. Sometimes writers start off not liking the revision process very much, but revising has become something I truly enjoy! It is your chance to make your work better and better, to see the world and characters really come alive. I think rough drafts are when you (or, I should say, when I, because all writers are different and I am just drawing from my own experience) sketch out my ideas with rough lines, and the revising process is when everything gets filled in and becomes real.

Do you write in more than one genre? 

Yes, I write both fiction and nonfiction. I would say my "home genre" (where I feel most comfortable and gravitate to most often) is realistic fiction, and more specifically YA realistic fiction. I write short stories for adults as well, and sometimes my fiction crosses over into the magical/fantastical realm. For nonfiction, I most often write short essays about personal experiences I have had, and I also write journalistic articles for magazines and websites. This might entail interviewing people and doing research, which can be a fun break from exploring my own mind and thoughts. When I was younger, I used to write poetry, but I do not write in that genre much anymore.

How did you discover what genre you are best at writing? 

Hmmm... good question! I'm not exactly sure how I knew what I was "best" at writing; I think I simply focused on what genre I enjoyed the most and felt most natural to me. I wrote in that genre the most, and the more you write, the better you become! I also think each idea you have or project you embark on has its own form and genre that feels most natural to the idea itself. For example, sometimes I do not realize I am writing a fantasy story until something magical enters the page -- and it feels like a surprise to me as much as to the reader, but it also feels RIGHT, like it just fits, and I realize that story wants to be magical/fantasy. I just need to listen to the genre of each project instead of trying to force it into a box of my own design. One final thing I would say about this is not to worry about forcing YOURSELF into a "genre box" either -- you are free to write in all different genres and all varieties of projects! Write what you feel excited and passionate about. That is the most important thing.

Do you enjoy teaching other people how to write? 

Oh, yes! It is one of my favorite things. I especially enjoy teaching writing camp and working with talented young writers like you who have a passion for writing and really love writing to begin with. That is my favorite environment to teach in. I have also taught writing to students (for example, as a guest speaker/teacher, a private tutor, and a college writing instructor at Purdue University) who don't really care about writing or want to write. In that arena, my goal as a teacher is to help them see the profound importance of writing and how becoming a better communicator will help them in any field they choose to go into. With all my students, my ultimate aim is to increase their confidence and joy as writers. Teaching writing helps me remember the magic and wonder of the creative process, and my students often inspire me with their enthusiasm and hard work! Also, teaching keeps me honest with my own writing practices. If I am telling students to find at least fifteen minutes to write every day, then I had better be practicing the same advice myself and writing every day, too! :)

1 comment:

Franklin Johnson said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.