Writing can feel like a solitary endeavor, so I’m always eager for opportunities to talk shop (whether virtually or in person) with other writers. That’s why I was excited when A.B. Westrick invited me to join the #MyWritingProcess blog tour!
A.B. Westrick is the author of Brotherhood (Viking/Penguin 2013), an ALA-YALSA Best Book for Young Adults, a Junior Library Guild Selection, and winner of the National Council for the Social Studies Notable Trade Book Award. She has been a teacher, paralegal, literacy volunteer, administrator, and coach for teams from Odyssey of the Mind to the Reading Olympics. A graduate of Stanford University and Yale Divinity School, Westrick earned an MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She and her family live near Richmond, Virginia. You can find her blog, with her own #MyWritingProcess post, and more information about her first book at http://abwestrick.com/
And now, for my turn to answer the four writing process blog tour questions.
1.) What are you working on?
I’m finishing up a draft of DEAR BABY, a contemporary young adult epistolary novel about a fifteen-year-old girl named Whitney, who’s had her sights set on getting into Princeton since before she could spell her own name. Everything is on track, until her mom gets pregnant with a miracle baby and Whitney has to leave her rigorous prep school and start over at the local public school. When she finds out about a creative writing scholarship to an elite boarding school that could be her ticket into Princeton (and out of her baby-crazed house), Whitney resolves to turn herself into a real writer. She begins to write every day, imagining the least intimidating audience she can think of: the baby that got her into this mess.
The book is written as an extended letter to her soon-to-be sibling, and it’s a completely different version of a manuscript I was working on back in 2010-2011. The main character stayed the same, but pretty much everything else about the story changed when I started it over. Nobody but me has seen any of the manuscript except the very beginning, so I’m looking forward to getting feedback from some writing friends soon.
2.) How does your work differ from others of its genre?
Most of my work is contemporary realistic young adult fiction, which is my favorite genre to read in addition to my favorite genre to write. I’d like to think there are a couple of things that make my work stand out within that genre.
First, my writing tends to be funny. Not riotously, over-the-top silly, but my protagonists make humorous observations and use humor to deal with difficult things. I’m grateful to the advisors I worked with at Vermont College for telling me, “Hey, you can do funny. Go with that!” because I think humor sharpens my characters’ voices and makes them easier to connect with.
Second, I tend to write for the younger end of the YA spectrum. That’s partly because when I think back to my own teen years, I can still feel the experiences of my freshman and sophomore years of high school most intensely. And also, I teach middle school. As I’ve said on this blog before, my 7th and 8th grade students like to read young adult books rather than middle grade books, and some of my 6th grade students do, too. Many of my students are ready for dark, edgy, older YA, but I see firsthand that there’s a need for slightly younger YA books, as well.
3.) Why do you write what you do?
In a wonderful interview with my friend L. Marie, author and teacher Martine Leavitt gives this advice for people who want to write: “Love the world, love the word, love your characters, love your readers, love the work. If you are not very good at loving any one of these things, you must change.”
I had never attempted to write creatively before I began teaching middle school English. I started writing young adult fiction because I love my students. I also love the characters I’ve created, and I love the uncomfortable fourteen-year-old version of myself that I often imagine as I write. I can’t say I love every moment of the writing process; I don’t love the challenge of finishing a novel draft when I have five hundred other things to do or the stress of worrying that a book I poured my heart into might not be marketable enough. But on the most basic level, I write young adult fiction out of love, and that’s how I know I’ll keep doing it even when it feels discouraging.
4.) What is your process like?
My process is still very much evolving. I don’t write every day, because there are times during the school year when I don’t have time. I write a whole lot during school vacations.
I’ve been trying to make writing more of a routine this year, and I’ve had the general goal of writing 500 words a day. Some weeks I really do write 500 words a day, and some weeks I skip a bunch of days and catch up on the weekend. It’s been helpful to have a specific but manageable word count goal, and I’ve kept track of my progress in a spreadsheet, which has given me some sense of control over the process. I find that comforting.
There are many parts of writing that I can’t control or predict. Sometimes I need to write longhand in a notebook, and sometimes I want to type. Sometimes I want to figure out exactly what’s going to happen in a scene before writing it, and other times I want to see what happens as I go. Sometimes I feel the very certain need to read back through the manuscript so far, revising and reconnecting to parts of it along the way. Some days I feel like I’m in a groove, and then I look back to see that what I wrote was garbage. Other days I have zero motivation and convince myself I just need to write a page so I won’t get too behind on word count, and then out of nowhere I’m on a roll.
My process is an imperfect blend of self-discipline and openness to what feels right to me.
And now I get to tag other writers so that we can all find out about their processes, too! Tune in on April 14th, one week from today, for #MyWritingProcess posts from Laura Sibson, Ellar Cooper, and Melanie Fishbane.
After years spent counseling undergrads on career issues, Laura Sibson discovered a passion for writing novels geared toward teens. This passion led to an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts in July 2012. When she’s not writing, counseling or drinking impossibly strong coffee, you can find Laura running miles around her home in suburban Philadelphia, walking her dog or ingesting pop culture (along with great take-out) with her hubby and two teen sons. She blogs at http://laurasibson.com/
Ellar Cooper holds an MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults from the life-changing, heart-stealing Vermont College of Fine Arts, and she does her best to respect the hood. Ellar may or may not actually be the name that’s on her birth certificate—but she does have a birthmark, so she can prove that she was born, should the need arise. Otherwise, you can find her happily rambling on her blog about writing, reading, creativity, Dystropians, VCFA, mountains, movies, the bass in her car, and probably baseball. (And Robin Hood. She kinda has a thing for Robin Hood.) The trick is getting her to stop. She blogs at http://ellaroutloud.wordpress.com/
Melanie Fishbane’s YA novel based on the teen life of L.M. Montgomery will be published under the Razorbill imprint in 2015. She has 17 years of experience in publishing, specializing in children’s and teen lit, and an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She loves talking about writing, books, old movies, classic women’s lit and anything that amuses her. Melanie blogs at http://melaniefishbane.wordpress.com/
And I’d love to hear about your writing process if you’d like to leave a comment!