Thanks to Jocelyn Shipley for tagging me in the Writing Process Blog Tour. It’s a fun way to connect with other writers and learn about how they write.
I first got to know Jocelyn when she was co-editor of the collection Cleavage: Breakaway Fiction for Real Girls (Sumach Press, 2008). My short story “Profanity” appeared in the collection, and it’s been a delight to get to know Jocelyn better since then.
Jocelyn writes compelling contemporary YA and adult fiction. A particular favourite of mine is her recent YA novel How to Tend a Grave (Great Plains, 2012), which was Winner of the 2012 Gold Medal Moonbeam Award for YA Fiction in the Mature Issues category. Her other acclaimed YA books include Getting a Life, Cross My Heart and Seraphina’s Circle. Please check out Jocelyn’s Writing Process Blog Tour post for a peek into how she writes. I promise it’s an interesting read! And don’t forget to watch the trailer for How to Tend a Grave below.
Now, to answer the questions about my writing process:
1. What are you working on?
I have several YA novels on the go. I’ve just finished final edits of Punch Like a Girl, which will be published by Orca Book Publishers in Spring 2015. This contemporary novel is a taut, emotional look at one teen girl’s attempt to overcome bullying and violence wherever she finds it. I wanted to write about a girl with a hero complex who tries to save those around her rather than admit she feels vulnerable. The tagline for this book is: “It’s not the girl in the fight, it’s the fight in the girl.”
In between edits, I’ve been writing a draft of a contemporary YA fantasy that also features a female protagonist. Since this novel is still in flux, I’d rather not talk about the premise. I’m afraid that fledgling ideas can get pulled off track when exposed to the full light of day.
Finally, I’m beginning to research a new YA novel idea when I have a lull in writing or revising. This novel will be partly set in 1967, so it’s involving research in order to discover the premise and plot. I’m nervous about this idea, since I’m not yet sure if I can find my way into the story. I also want it to be funny, which will be a challenge for me because I take life way too seriously.
2. How does your work differ from others of its genre?
During school visits, I tell kids and teens that I write to understand the world around me. So I think each of my works explores some knotty questions that get untangled through the story arc. In my most recent novel, Bog, the questions are: Why do different cultural groups end up hating one another? How does it feel to be “other”? How can we overcome prejudices based on differences? I try to encase such questions in an entertaining story, so the premise of this story involves a cave troll on a revenge-filled quest into human territory after his father is turned into stone by some pesky humans. When I’m writing, I want to entertain myself as well as gain insight. I hope my books provide both for my readers, as well.
3. Why do you write what you do?
I write middle-grade and young-adult stories because I’m fairly certain that my mental age is about sixteen. I like kids and teens. I respect them. The years from age nine to nineteen are fascinating, thorny and full of promise and possibility. There’s so much opportunity for a writer.
I write both realistic and fantastic stories because that’s what I like to read. I’ve always had an active imagination, so I have no problem envisioning trolls who inhabit Canada’s wilderness. Fantasy co-exists with today’s world for me. When I’m exploring a writing idea, I’ll ponder whether it’s best told as realistic or fantastic, based on what the story idea requires.
4. How does your writing process work?
My writing process has evolved over time, so I’ll outline what I do now rather than what I used to do.
I begin by honing the premise. I believe that, if I’m going to spend years on an idea and ask publishers and readers to invest in it, it must be based on the best premise I can invent. So I go through a process of writing notes about the idea, and I brainstorm as many premises as I can until I find the one that best suits my purposes. This also gives me a one-liner to sell and promote the book.
Then I draft a two- to three-page synopsis. Both these stages will involve concrete research as well as plenty of daydreaming. I write notes about setting, characters, motivations, possible plot twists, and so on. My synopsis is written in acts, not chapters. I break it apart into chapters during the writing phase.
Next, I write a first draft. During this stage, I try to write at least six days a week with a daily word count. I keep the minimum word count low (maybe only 200 words) because I find that regular daily writing is more important that quantity. My goal is to keep my head in the story in order to keep the writing flowing steadily. For me, writing a quick first draft results in schleck that can get me bogged down during revisions.
Once a few chapters are done, I ponder and revise them in preparation to share with my trusted writing group. After I get their feedback, I may revise again, if a chapter is way off track. But I also make revision notes for later. When I complete a whole draft, I get more feedback from fellow writers on the entire manuscript. Then I begin the revision stage. It’s always hard to re-envision a story that I’ve spent years or months writing. I also find it hard to know when a story is “done.”
I first met Lena at an ongoing writing workshop at Mable’s Fables Children’s Bookstore in Toronto, where she proved to be an astute critiquer of manuscripts-in-progress. I also worked with Lena in her former role as Administrative Director of the Canadian Association of Children’s Authors, Illustrators and Performers (CANSCAIP), where she ably managed the organization and teams of volunteers.
Lena is the author of two successful picture books as well as the recent YA fantasy Witchlanders (Atheneum/S&S, 2011), which earned three Starred Reviews and nominations for the 2013 White Pine Award and Manitoba Young Readers Choice Award. (You can check out the trailer for Witchlanders below.) I’m particularly excited about Lena’s upcoming YA fantasy novel called Worlds of Ink and Shadow (Abrams/HarperCollins), which was inspired by her love of the Brontes and trips to Yorkshire. I hope we get a sneak peek into that novel in her upcoming post.
Thanks so much for reading, and feel free to leave a comment about your process.