Monday, April 21, 2014

My Writing Process--Not That You Asked!

Last week I featured Patty Chang Anker on the #MyWritingProcess blog tour, and now it's my turn! Gird your loins and grab some Tootsie Rolls. This will be only semi-educational, I promise.

What am I working on? 

The following sentence would make the teenage Una experience a debilitating euphoria not felt since Allison Parker kissed Billy Campbell at the end of episode 29 of season one of Melrose Place: I’m in various stages of writing three different books. My second young adult novel, Like No Other (which you can pre-order here!), comes out July 24 from Razorbill (Penguin’s YA imprint), and right now I’m doing early publicity, like speaking at schools and libraries, as well as awaiting the final manuscript to approve before it goes to print. My book of comic essays, Unabrow, is with a copy editor at Plume (coincidentally, another Penguin imprint) as I type this, and I’ll be getting a galley to look at in the next month. It won’t come out until late March 2015, but publishing houses generally start working on promotion and publicity at least 6-8 months ahead of time… which explains why so often, I hear friends and family members say, “Wait, that didn’t come out yet? You’ve been posting about it for what feels like my entire adult life.” (I choose to hear this as a compliment rather than a complaint.) Finally, I’m very excited about a third YA novel, also with Razorbill, that I’ll be starting to write in May, for publication in the fall of 2015, but since I haven’t signed the contract yet I can’t share more details right now.

How does my work differ from others of its genre? 

It’s my firm belief that the primary (and sometimes the only) thing that distinguishes one creative work from the next is the author’s voice and point of view. Back in college, I remember my film professor telling our class that there are really only about 10 different plots in movies when you break them down to their bones, and that the important thing isn’t about coming up with an idea that no one else has ever had before (a feat which, in today’s over-saturated market, is close to impossible), but to tell the story in a way that no one else could. And that was a HUGE relief to me, because we all have an authentic, original voice and point of view, which means that we are all capable of writing--or painting, or photographing, or dancing, or whatever--in a way that hasn’t been done.

That said, I’d like to think that what distinguishes my young adult writing is that I balance out the angst and drama (which, let’s face it, are the two most important ingredients in most stories set amidst the emotional minefield of post-adolescence) with wit and humor. I think that we don’t give teenagers credit for being able to appreciate the humor inherent in the fumbling path to adulthood. As far as my humor writing goes, again, I hope what distinguishes me is simply my voice and my way of interpreting and reflecting on life experiences in a way that other people can relate to and laugh at. I haven’t had a particularly exceptional life on paper. I haven’t had crazy experiences or terrible tragedies. I am awed and humbled by people who do have extraordinary circumstances and incredible stories to tell, but I’m happy to just write about universal stuff like unrequited crushes, althletic humiliations, and wondering if the people behind you in line at the drug store are judging you for buying wart removal pads and a double-feature DVD of My Girl and My Girl 2 that was on sale for $4.99.

Why do I write what I do? 

This photo should, much like Clarissa Darling,  explain it all.
I write humor because it's the lens through which I can best understand and process my own life. This is not to say that I don’t take things seriously, or that all I do in real life is crack jokes. In fact, I yell a lot at inanimate objects and cry probably more than is normal. No, what I mean is that seeing the humor in awkward or painful moments helps me to cope with them. To be honest, I never imagined I would write fiction, but now that I’m doing it I want to keep doing it for as long as people will let me. I love writing YA, even though it sometimes makes me feel old. It lets me exercise a different creative muscle, get my head out of my own ass (writing exclusively about your own life can make you into an insufferable narcissist if you’re not careful), and it gives me the chance to reach someone who, like me, might have more books/pimples than friends. I know I’ll never be Judy Blume, but if I can make a kid laugh during a shitty week, or make someone connect to a character in one of my books in a way that makes them feel normal and understood, or see a window to a future in which high school won’t define them anymore, that’s good enough for me.

How does my writing process work? 

It’s chaos, I won’t lie. I wrote my first book (Five Summers--out in paperback soon!) when my son was 6 months old, and basically I would write during his naps and after he went to sleep. I was stressed and exhausted all the time, and I freaked out on a daily basis. By the time I wrote my second novel I had a slightly better grip on how to manage my time, but as a full time stay-at-home, work-when-I-can-hide-in-the-bathroom-during-Blue’s-Clues parent, I still make it up as I go. Generally, I will create an outline or loose structure for a book first, either a series of paragraph-long chapter summaries or, in the case of Unabrow, a grid I taped to the wall and covered with Post-Its like a cray-cray Carrie Mathison.

The only difference is that my office isn't nearly this clean and Mandy Patinkin almost never visits.

Then I’ll make a schedule for a first draft over the course of about 12-16 weeks, and then I crack open some wine and place myself at my editors' mercy. I now have babysitters in the mornings for three to four hours, so I do the bulk of my writing then. I still work during naps and at night, but I’ve discovered that my creative brain isn’t very functional post-8 pm, so whenever I can I take nights off. I do work on weekends whenever my husband takes our son on an outing, but I don't write at the same time every day and--get ready to have a heart attack--I don't even write every day. Almost all writers will tell you that you HAVE to write, EVERY DAY, to WORK ON YOUR CRAFT, or else you are NOT A REAL WRITER. But riddle me this, Jonathan Safran-Foer: does a brain surgeon operate on brains every day? Does a rocket scientist science rockets every day? Does a plumber plumb every day? And is he not still a plumber, nay, the best plumber of his generation? OK, fine maybe not the best, but he's still a plumber. Which is my point.

Thanks for taking the time to read this, whether you are a writer, an aspiring writer, not a writer at all, or (fingers crossed) Inigo Montoya clicking a Google alert on his own name.

To continue the #MyWritingProcess tour, I am tagging:

SUSAN GLOSS

Susan's debut novel, Vintage, was published in March! Booklist said that she should have "a built-in fan base for this book-club-worthy story of redemption, healing, and love." She also writes every Wednesday at The Debutante Ball, a blog for debut authors. Find out more at susangloss.com.

LEILA HOWLAND

Leila is the author of Nantucket Blue and the forthcoming Nantucket Red, which are set on the titular Massachusetts island but are so, so much more than beach reads. Her debut not only garnered a starred review in Publisher's Weekly, but also praise from The New York Times. THE NEW YORK TIMES. Follow all of her awesomeness at leilahowland.tumblr.com.

(Sorry for the delay tagging a second author; apparently I can't get my shit together. Which is really the overriding theme of my writing process, so we've come full circle.)

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8 comments :

  1. Congrats on your writing success Una!

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  2. LOVE everything you write! Can't wait to read the new book! :)

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  3. Excellent! I have always loved your seemingly effortless humour and this account of writing practice was lovely.

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    1. That is so sweet, thank you!

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  4. Una, thank you so much for sharing this! I really appreciate learning more about your process, even if--at the time--it doesn't seem like much of a process at all. I've been reading your blog since ... 2009? 2010? I have always enjoyed your work/words. I actually have "Five Summers" on my wish list, and will get it someday. (And by "someday," I mean "after I quit panicking over the fact that I have student loans the size of a small mortgage and realize that, sometimes, just once, it's okay to indulge myself, especially if it's on a book. Or two books. Or a dozen. Or ... you see? You see where this lead me?") I wouldn't describe myself as an aspiring, but I do love to write, for both myself and for others. I don't know where this will lead me, but I'm okay with that. I admire you for finding/making time share your fiction with us. I know it can't always be easy.

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  5. I may be living it up and spending a child-free Saturday night reading the blog posts of a stranger, but your voice feels more like a friend. A hilariously brilliant friend. Thank you for writing.

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