Thank you for joining me today for my Wednesday Writer’s Write series!
Thank you for having me, Nisha!
Let’s get started. What is your brainstorming process for a new book?
I jot down any ideas I have–for characters, titles, stories, bits of dialogue, etc.–on index cards and file them in a box on my desk; so when I’m looking for a story idea I can flip through the cards and pick the most interesting ones. Sometimes several cards work well together and I combine those ideas. Then I start making notes. I loosely outline the plot and start writing. I usually get stuck fairly early on, so I’ll pause to make a more detailed outline. Then I just keep my eyes and ears open for anything I can toss into the pot. I love it when I’m working on a new idea and something from outside the story jumps out at me—it can be anything from a line of dialogue in a movie to an incident on the street—something that I never would have thought of myself but that fits the story perfectly and even expands it.
I also bounce ideas off my editor and agent, and they tell me which ones they think are most promising. That’s very helpful.
Can you explain your typical work week day?
I wake up on the late side, make coffee, and check my email. Then I sit in front of my computer and write as much as I can, into the early evening. Sometimes (not often enough) I take a break to go to the gym. When I’m on a deadline, I give myself a quota of a certain number of pages I must write per day and I work until I reach the quota, even if I have to work into the night. I work a lot of weekends, too.
Tell us about when you made the decision to write.
I’ve loved books from the time I was very little, and, like many writers, I started writing stories as soon as I learned how. It wasn’t really a decision; it was just what I always wanted to do.
I took writing seminars in college, thinking I wanted to write fiction for adults. One of my teachers asked me why I always wrote about children. I didn’t worry much about his comment since I was only 18 or 19 at the time–what was I supposed to write about, middle-age ennui? (The next story I wrote—trying to please him, of course–was about middle-age ennui and was a complete disaster.) After graduation I fell into a job in children’s publishing, imagining I’d eventually transfer to the adult division. But I soon knew that I belonged in children’s books. Suddenly my writing style and interests made sense! I remembered what my college teacher had said and realized it was actually very insightful.
After a few years in publishing I decided that, much as I liked editing, I’d still rather be a writer, so I quit and started freelancing. I really didn’t have enough experience yet, but I was too young to know how foolish I was, and luckily it worked out okay.
What suggestions do you have for aspiring writers?
Write what you really love to write, not what has the most status or what you think you’re supposed to write. If you love fantasy, write that. If you love romance, write romance. All writers are born with certain strengths and weaknesses; accept yours and use them. You may want to write funny books, but if you’re not funny nothing can make you that way. That’s okay! Maybe you’re great at evoking the past and can write genius historical novels.
Most of all, if you really want to write, don’t give up. I’ve known many talented writers who never got very far with it because they never finished anything. E. Lockhart always says this, and she’s so right: Finish what you start. Finish it if it kills you. Don’t worry if it’s good or bad—just finish it.
Tell us about what you’re working on right now and what we can expect from you in the near future.
I’m working on a novel called CONFESSIONS OF THE SULLIVAN SISTERS, about three teenage sisters in a large Catholic family who have deeply offended their wealthy grandmother. It’s scheduled to be published by Scholastic in fall 2010 and, like HOW TO SAY GOODBYE IN ROBOT, it is set in Baltimore.
After that, who knows? Maybe I’ll finally tackle middle-age ennui. (But don’t hold your breath.)
Haha, that sounds great! Thank you so much for sharing with us, Natalie! For those of you who are interested in reading Natalie’s books (Like the amazingness of ‘How to say goodbye in Robot’) check out your local bookstore or here.
Natalie Standiford was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland, but now lives in New York City. She plays bass in the rock bands Tiger Beat (featuring fellow YA writers Libba Bray, Dan Ehrenhaft, and Barney Miller) and Ruffian. Find out more at her web site: www.nataliestandiford.com.