Friday, October 14, 2016

What They Can Learn From the Pros: Sharing Published Authors' Writing Processes With Students

A great part of living in a bigger city is all of the opportunities I can take advantage of as a teacher--ones that aren't nearly as common in smaller cities. Over the past few weeks, so many wonderful YA authors have visited St. Louis to chat about their new releases. I knew I had to attend as many as I could for two reasons:
1. To get my books signed (duh).
2. To ask the authors to talk a little bit about their individual writing process.

My second reason was perhaps my most important goal for each of these visits because I knew it would translate directly into our next unit: writing and publishing realistic fiction. One of my biggest beliefs about writing is that every writer is different and that no two processes look exactly alike. I strive to share my process with my students quite often so that they see that it is something that writers use.

However, I'm one person and one writer. While I can talk about my process as a writer and share that with my students, I knew that having authentic voices from the published authors that my students read and admire would lend credibility to what I was trying to impart: process is individual, and discovering your own is an important step in identifying as a writer.

Next week, as we start dipping our toes into our first discussions about where ideas for stories come from, I know I'll be telling my writers about what I learned from each of these incredible authors. I quickly discovered that they each have their own, unique approach.

Marissa Meyer, author of the Lunar Chronicles
Marissa also has twins. And she still manages to publish regularly. She's a unicorn, basically.
Marissa shared that she has her own writing cottage (!!) that she goes to when she's writing. She also writes in 53 minute bursts (she mentioned that she read a study that said 53 minutes was the optimal amount of time to stay focused on one task) with 18 minute breaks. Under this specific regimine, she said she is able to write anywhere from 5-10,000 words per day, which floored the rest of the authors on the panel! Marissa got her start writing fanfiction (Sailor Moon fanfiction, to be exact), and she says that the community there nurtured her love of writing and kept her going.

What I'll share with my students: 

  • Having "a writing spot" is powerful. It's why writing retreats are so popular! Quiet spaces that allow for deep thinking are ideal for some; for others, it's being around other writers. Finding "your space" might be part of your process. 
  • Write what you want to write--even if it's Sailor Moon fanfiction! 
  • Making a schedule and sticking with it can be an essential piece of your writing process. 
Leigh Bardugo, author of the Grisha Trilogy
She's really cool, and now I want to dye my hair silver.
Leigh shared that she actually takes her manuscripts outside and reads them out loud. She told a hilarious story about how her neighbors often hear her and comment to each other that "she's doing it again!" 

What I'll share with my students:
  • Reading your words out loud can be powerful. You can hear your story and where you might want to make changes, add or take out. 
Kelly Barnhill, author of The Girl Who Drank the Moon
Kelly had the best reading voice. I loved listening to her read an excerpt! 
Kelly spoke at length about how her first novel, The Witch's Boy, almost didn't exist. She had sent the first few chapters to her writing group and had immediately emailed them back to tell them to ignore her email; she was giving up on the project. Within the hour, she had emails back from every person in her writing group, and they all said the same thing: "ARE YOU CRAZY? We DEMAND that you keep writing this story, and we will bug you endlessly until you do!"

What I'll share with my students:  
  • Sometimes, you have to share what you're working on with others, even if you think it's awful. We're our own worst critics, so finding someone (like your writing partner!) that you feel comfortable sharing your words with is a key part to a healthy writing process. 
Jordan Sonnenblick, author of Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie
Yeah, I was in the first row. No shame. 
Jordan has written 10 books, so he has gotten to know his process very well. He said that he wrote his first book, Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie for someone: a student of his whose younger brother had cancer. Similarly, his new book, Falling Over Sideways, is the voice of his daughter. Jordan said that having a specific purpose or specific voice in mind helped him develop his story. 
He also mentioned the power of research. he spent a considerable amount of time researching the effects of chemotherapy and other cancer treatments on young patients in order to make Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie authentic, and similarly, he spoke with paramedics, doctors and stroke experts when writing Falling Over Sideways. Getting your facts right when you write realistic fiction is key, according to Jordan. 

What I'll share with students:
  • Have a purpose in mind when you're writing. Who are you writing for? What do you want to achieve with your story? 
  • Don't be afraid of research, even if it's a topic you know well. Your story will be all the more powerful because of it. 
Krystal Sutherland, author of Our Chemical Hearts
Krystal is Australian, and she is hilarious. Go hear her speak if you can! 
Krystal is a debut author, but she has been writing for a long time. She mentioned her first few manuscripts that will "never see the light of day," which were a conglomeration of the fantasy books she adored at the time (by the way, she's a Slytherin). But that didn't stop her. She said that, as a writer, she has good writing days, and she has bad writing days--it's pushing through the bad ones and writing anyway that is the key to her writing process and moving forward. Krystal also shared that she tries to "see the movie of the book in my mind" before sitting down to begin drafting. Her challenge, according to her, is translating that movie into words. 

What I'll share with my students:
  • Your first attempts will be bad. That's okay. Keep going.
  • Write even when you don't feel like it. You'll be glad you did.
  • Some writers want to see the end before they begin drafting. Others don't and want to discover how the story ends as they write. Your process is your own! 

I'm going to keep asking the authors I meet to share their process because, as a writer, I find it fascinating, and as a teacher, I know my students will listen when I tell them that, yes, every writer has a process, and yes, every single one is different. I hope sharing these stories will empower my writers to find their own path this year. 

1 comment:

  1. Love this post! I am doing something really similar in my class this year (treating authors as mentors as we "apprentice" to them). Have you read "The Author's Apprentice" by Vicki Meigs-Kahlenberg? It is what I am basing my workshop on. I love this idea of asking authors about their process when you meet them; I'm going to Yallfest in Charleston in November and will have to remember to "interview" as I'm fangirling!