Monday, May 19, 2014

Writers on Writing

Last week, Liz Parker and Tracey Neithercott blogged about their writing processes in this really cool post entitled Writers on Writing, and they both asked me to participate this week. Twist my arm. Sounds like way too much fun!

Neuroticizing (again J) over the beginning to my most recent story THOSE MAGIC CHANGES. Which is fine—I love this story and never mind spending time on it. That, and I want to make the opening as strong as possible. So, between the six different versions I wrote last week (there are more versions *sigh*) and awesome insight and feedback from my fabulous Writers Voice Coaches and my amazing CP Katy Upperman (who tolerates way too many emails from me—she’s a saint), I think I may finally have something I’m pretty happy with. For now. J
I’m also about 15K into a VERY sloppy new story I’m temporarily dubbing MEAN BOYS. I typically write stories that are grounded in the here and now but that also have an element of magic in them. This current WiP’s straight-up contemporary. No magic. No superheroes. No special powers. Just three boys. And a whole lot of pranking.
I’m weird and abnormal and so my stories are too? Heh. Actually, some people say I’m pretty good at the voice and dialogue thing and that I can deliver the funny (which is funny (haha) because I’m the least funny person IRL—dorky, yes; funny, not so much).
Anyhoo—so yeah. I’ll agree with that, but I think what makes my work different is that every main character/narrator I write has a very distinctive and (hopefully) realistic voice. Some snarky, some in-your-face passionate. Some funny. And a lot of them are LOUD.  That, and I write fun stories that I would want to read. So…

I write YA, which, I guess makes sense. I used to teach YA. I tutor YA. I raise YA. I read YA. Then again, you’d think I’d be sick of it.

But I’m not.

I think I write YA because I never grew up.
J But honestly, I think I write YA because teenagers are some of my favorite people and I like to write stories about them. Plus, I heart me that whole hope thing. And firsts. And I’m a serious glutton for teen angst. And I get it. I get that age. I get them. And I love being immersed in their worlds.
Plus, once you start writing, you begin to find your niche. I’ve tried writing adult—hated it. MG—maybe. I’m not sure I could ever do non-fiction. I don't know. I can’t imagine writing anything but YA.
As far as subgenres…I typically write magical realism, but I’ve got contemporaries, mysteries, and even a weird fantasy/sci-fi on the back burner. My Mean Boys story was seriously something I used to joke with a couple of my students about writing. Now, it has a plot and I’m writing it. I just never know what’s going to pop up in the ol’ noggin. J

I like to think of myself as a plotting pantser. Here’s why.
I start every story by letting my brain stew for a few weeks/months. I spew tons of brain matter into a journal (or on random pieces of paper at the bottom of my purse), envision scenes, jot down bits of dialogue, and spend a LOT of time figuring out my main (and some secondary) characters. Then, I write a semi-detailed beat sheet which I’m constantly adding to/changing. And then I just get my butt in a chair and write. Sometimes it’s well-written—deeply formed thoughts and action and description and dialogue. Most of the time it’s just CRAP.  I’m a dialogue person, so I tend to write a ton of loose dialogue with not many tags and there are a few a lot of holes in my early drafts . If I get stuck, sometimes I forego research and just make stuff up. Sometimes I write REALLY LAME scenes that I would NEVER let anyone else see.
But it’s okay. While I need some direction, I do love the spontaneity that comes with pantsing. Already in my current draft, something I thought was going to happen at the catalyst never made it to the page because something bigger and better did. Some things I just don’t know are going to happen until I’m immersed in writing it. And I LIKE THAT.
And yeah—some of it’s crappy. But as my good writing friend Liz Parker taught me: there are plenty of diamonds to be found in that crap. And there are. And I’ve always written by the Anne Lamott (Bird by Bird) philosophy: First draft, get it down. Second draft, fix it up.
Takes me around nine months (go ahead—insert creating baby thoughts; I was tempted) to do that. But I get ‘er done.
Daily, I set small goals and a schedule. I typically write for several hours first thing in the morning so that, as the (Stephen) King would say, the writing is an I wanna rather than an I hafta. And I usually (loose use of the word) end each writing session with a small outline of what I want to write in the next one.
Oh—one last thing. For just about every story I’ve written, the most vivid scene in my mind is the Black Moment—that part of the story where the worst that can happen happens and characters hit rock bottom. I don’t know why that scene is always so clear (maybe I have an inner sadist—scary), but that scene has always provided me my greatest motivation. I just want to write and write and write and GET TO THAT PART.
So, that’s how I roll. And now I’m going to tag two of my talented writing friends Melanie Stanford and Laurie Dennison. Make sure you check out their posts next Monday!


  1. Thank you so much for tagging me, and good luck to both of us this week! Our writing processes and our tastes are so similar it's scary. My WIP right now is straight contemporary, which I never thought I'd write. You just have to go with characters who speak to you, I guess. :)

  2. Your writing process sound a lot like mine--though I've never done the beat sheet. Definitely considering it for my current idea. Also--MEAN BOYS sounds like a whole lot of fun, so if you need a reader...

    And I'm with you. I write a lot of really horrible things (as in horribly written...although I do write dark horrible things, too, guess we're both sadists), but then these come together and what? A book? So yeah. Thanks for sharing, Alison!

  3. I consider myself incredibly lucky to be the one who gets to tolerate your emails. :-) Also, I agree that your amazing voice is what makes your writing unique and amazing. You write teen boys like no one I've ever seen. So looking forward to reading the new project in its entirety, and I'm excited about another summer of story drafting with you!

  4. Yes, you have an amazing voice. Your dialog is so realistic, too. I think that might just come naturally to you. And I have no idea what it's about, but I am all for MEAN BOYS. The title alone... Also, when you need a reader, *points at self*


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