Today’s author crush is special partly because she is someone I have already stalked met. Last spring Karen Cushman spoke at the Tucson Festival of Books and I was thrilled to get my picture taken with her. If you haven’t read her Newbery Award winning historical books, you need to try them out. These are historicals with a lot of oomph to them. For example, here is the opening to Karen’s first book, Catherine, Called Birdy:
12th day of September. I am commanded to write an account of my days: I am bit by fleas and plagued by family. That is all there is to say.
Her characters really do live large, jump off the page, and steal your heart. I’ve enjoyed every one of her books and am looking forward to reading Alchemy and Meggy Swann when it hits stores in April.
Here is what Karen Cushman has to say about writing routines:
My husband laughed when he heard I was to write about my writing routine. After 40 years of watching me work at one thing or another, he knows me pretty well, and routine is one word he would never use about my process. I do have what might be called procrastination routines: I read the newspaper (in print. I am loyal and old fashioned that way), emails, writing blogs, and Google News. I eat breakfast, shower, do a load of laundry, think about dinner. I answer emails, play computer solitaire, and talk baby talk to my cat. Finally I am impatient enough with myself to sit down and work.
I don’t outline or make 3×5 cards, or storyboards, but I do have a story pretty well developed in my head before I start to write it. I hate facing the blank page and find writing the first draft by far the hardest part of the job, pulling words out of me like, Katherine Paterson says, a spider spinning a web out of her own guts . Revision is much easier. So with my work in progress, Will Sparrow’s Road, I tried something different. I set up a vague outline of chapters, typed notes and ideas in each chapter, added a few sentences, a character description, an action, some dialogue, whatever occurred to me, until the book was laid out on the computer. Then when I went back, writing that first draft was more like editing and revising, not writing. Much easier.
As I write my first draft, I go back and polish those pages and chapters that came before. Over and over. This is how I start working each day–reading over and polishing what I have already written. It gives me a running start on the day’s work–like an Olympic long jumper. From a dead stop, she might leap a couple of inches. But if she gets a running start, she’ll go 20 feet–easy.
It’s those early chapters that establish mood and voice and I like to know these as I write on. Is the voice humorous and ironic, like Birdy? Naive but wise like Alyce? Sad and angry like Rodzina? Complaining and confrontational as are Lucy and Matilda?
What little plot I have in my books grows from character. I have to know as much as possible about my characters before I know what they’ll do or say. Exercises don’t work. I have to write them into situations, say “aha, that’s what she’d do or he’d say”, and then build on that.
If I get stuck or blocked when I’m writing a new scene or passage, I go back to page 17 or 13 or 1, read what I’ve written, and get myself back into the story. But I must say I am always aware of writing versus editing. It’s important that I don’t write and edit at the same time. I have to know which hat I have on.
I don’t write every day and I don’t always write in a chair. I don’t have a set number of words or pages to do before I stop. I don’t follow anyone’s rules, and I don’t have rules of my own.
Writing can be difficult and a struggle but sometimes the words flow, from my brain and my heart to the page and even I don’t know how. And oh the joy when a book or a sentence or even a word is just right. I have an overwhelming sense of well-being, what Lee Stringer says is like shaking hands with God.
I once despaired of my lack of routine to my editor, Dinah Stevenson, and she said, “Your process is your process. Honor it.” And it does work for me. So I recommend you discover your own routine, even if it is lack of routine, and honor it. There are no rules.
To read more about Karen Cushman and her books:
Here is her website: http://www.karencushmanbooks.com/
Here is a sample of Alchemy and Meggy Swann due out in April: