Monday, May 18, 2009

Tips From a Newbery Winner

I had the chance to hear a very encouraging talk by Susan Patron, Newbery award-winning author of The Higher Power of Lucky.

Her path to publish this book included a ten year period of writer’s block and six revisions. Her work space is a cozy writer’s cabin without distractions of phone or internet access. She doesn’t outline her stories, and the first two drafts of her books are written in long-hand (in pencil).

Here are a few bits of advice from her talk:


Don’t try to write the story’s events in order. Dive right into the center of the action and work in any direction that keeps you learning about your characters.


Incorporate whatever emotion you’re feeling that day – any irritation or exhilaration over the day’s events – into the scene you are writing.


Read your work aloud. If at some point you find your mind wandering, cut those passages.

Closely observe to let the reader see what you are describing.

A trick she learned from another writer – if you get stuck, try putting an object in your character’s hand. What can it tell you about your character?

Regarding her use of a very controversial word in a middle grade novel (on page one, even!)– respect the intelligence of your readers, then use the word that works.

End your writing day by leaving something that you are excited to come back to the following day.

Don’t worry too much about what you’ve heard publishers are looking for (or not looking for). If you believe in your project and think you’ve done something different, go for it.

17 comments:

ICQB said...

Wow, thanks for the the post. It's always interesting to peek into the writing lives good authors. I found that everyone has their own unique style and method of writing, but there are always insights and tidbits to take away that can be helpful to anyone treading this path.

Bish Denham said...

This is some great advise. Of course every writer is a little different. I'm a very linear writer. It's very difficult for me to write things out of order. One thing follows another. Though if I get an idea for something that comes later I write notes to myself about it.

Ara Burklund said...

Wow. Great advice! Thanks for posting your notes, Adrienne. : )

Shelli said...

great tips thanks :)

Anne Spollen said...

Great, I feel so much less nuts. No one is saying sane, but less nuts since I write scenes first then sort of put them together later on so they make sense. Linear stuff never works for me and makes me feel like I'm doing tax returns.

Then again, writing is kind of whatever works. But it's always nice to know there are kindred spirits floating around out there.

Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

That is some good advice--I recently just jumped ahead in a book because writing in order was killing both of us.

Mary Witzl said...

I like the idea of putting something into your character's hand and picturing her reaction to it -- that will come in handy.

(Oh God, that was a wholly unintentional pun, honest!)

Mary Witzl said...

I like that last piece of advice too: that you shouldn't necessarily write what you know is sought after, you should write what you are intrigued and captivated by...

adrienne said...

ICQB - I agree, I always get inspired hearing how people work.

Bish - People tell me they can't draw a straight line (neither can I)...it seems I can't think in a straight line, either! I admire people who can be that organized.

Ara, Shelli - I'm always taking advantage of everyone else's notes, I'm glad when I actually have some to pass along. :-)

Anne - I'm happy to know this, too. Maybe someday I might make something out of that pile of notes and short story attempts...
other than a bonfire...

Mary - Funny, unintentional or not!
I liked both of those thoughts, too.

adrienne said...

Green Girl - Glad to hear that - death by plodding sounds so tragic...

C.R. Evers said...

Wow! That must have been amazing to listen to her talk!

I can detect so much passion from her words!

Awesome!

christy

Rena said...

Great post, Adrienne. I liked the part about leaving something at the end of the day. I write mostly PBs, but have done one MG and I found myself writing it in chapters. I'd finish one and then would wait a day to start the next. It was a lot of fun for me and I'd love to write another MG sometime.

Keats The Sunshine Girl said...

Great tips. I like that bit about observing well to write for the readers. Thanks

Stacy Nyikos said...

Sage advice!

LW said...

Interesting ideas …

I love to listen to author talks, my new addiction is TED. If you haven’t’ already go and listen to
Elizabeth Gilbert talk on TED…
It will make you smile and think...

Louise

Suzie said...

Good advice

adrienne said...

Christy - It was inspiring, and entertaining, too.

Rena - I try to do that. Even with artwork I like to do any prep work ahead of time, and save the fun stuff for another time.

Keats - Me too!

Louise - Thanks for the tip! I've seen it once but I'd like to watch it again. I watched Amy Tan, too - I loved her talk!