When I write, I write for the little girl who used to curl up on the chesterfield (yes, I’m a Canadian girl) and completely disappear inside of a book. Today, that little girl in me is jumping up and down clapping her hands. Because today’s author crush is the author of one of my all-time favorite books, The Velvet Room. I can hardly let myself imagine writing a book that little girls will read one day, and then remember fondly some thirty years later. What a joy that would be. (See all the love here in the Amazon reviews for The Velvet Room . I’m not the only one who thinks this book is special.) Thank you, Ms. Snyder for the Velvet Room. And thank you for joining us today to give us the behind-the-scenes tour of your writing routines.
My rules for writing? If I had ever had any, they seem to have weakened a bit over the years. For example, I have never had a strict writing schedule, such as a time to start and a rule about how much I had to have done, before I could allow myself to stop. I don’t know why, except I knew that such a schedule would only make me feel guilty when I didn’t obey the rules. It sounds self indulgent to say I just write when I feel like it. But that’s pretty much the truth of it. I like writing.
What I did develop over the years is something I called the Notebook Method.
1. Very often the first page of my Notebook would include a map or house plan–if the layout of a small town is important to the story, as in Cat Running, or the floor plan of a house, as in The Headless Cupid. I have a strong visual sense and I need to know how things looked and where they were.
2. The second page in my notebook (which by the way used to be a loose leaf binder, but is now on my computer, of course) holds notes about the beginning “gotcha” idea that started me going. That is, the idea that hit hard and begged to be explored. The gotcha” has been, at various times:
A person, a character that either in their personality or life situation is unusual and intriguing (as was April in The Egypt Game).
Or a place, as was the boarded up stone mansion in the Velvet Room.
Or an event like the flushing of Sweetie Pie down the toilet in my latest book, Wiliiam S. and the Great Escape.
3. Next for me is a character list page where I name all my important characters (as I discover them) leaving room to describe not only their looks and their important characteristics, and attitudes, but also notes about their past histories. Information that is added to and sometimes even changed drastically as the story grows and I get to know them better.
4. Then comes the VERY IMPORTANT plot page. Where I try to do what I sometimes tell kids is like writing the book report– before the book is written. What I try to do on this page is write a very lean and mean version of the story–but one that begins to hint at what the ending might be like.
5. Next, I used to start a new page for each chapter of the book. A page that I divided into two columns. The first side was labeled ACTION, under which I wrote short notes describing what will happen in this chapter. The other side of the page was headed INFORMATION. In the ACTION column I made short notes about what was actually going to happen and/or be discussed in dialogue. In the INFORMATION column I reminded myself of the background information I needed to get across to the reader in that particular chapter. I don’t do this much any more.
6. At the end was a section for research where I wrote notes about pertinent background information I had looked up in the encyclopedia or with the help of research librarians. Nowadays, of course, most of my research is done on Google.
So there it is. To tell the truth I don’t follow my notebook method very religiously anymore. Simply put, I write when I have time and when I feel like it, which is fairly often because I do like doing it.
And Isn’t working on a computer marvelous? Pre-computer rewrite used to be a chore but now it’s my favorite time of writing. Even the kind you do because you editor says you have to.
So here it is–the Truth, the whole Truth and nothing but the Truth–more or less.
Zilpha Keatley Snyder
The recipient of three Newbery Honor Book awards for “The Egypt Game”, “The Headless Cupid” and “The Witches of Worm”, Zilpha Keatley Snyder has been writing books for children since 1964 when her first book, “A Season of Ponies”, was published. She now has 45 published books, mostly for children aged 9 to 13, but also including two books for young adults, four picture books for younger children and a book of poetry. Nine of her books received recognition by the Junior Library Guild, six were named notable books by the American Library Association, and two were awarded Christopher Medals. The Headless Cupid was the sole U.S. nominee for the Hans Christian Andersen International Honors List and The Witches of Worm was a nominee for the National Book Award. Her books have been translated into 16 foreign languages.
Here is Ms. Snyder’s website if you want to read more about her or her books: