Educators often ask about my writing process. All of my books start as small ideas that grow and grow in my imagination. I’ll usually spend months in my head before I ever write a single word. Once the idea is well-formed, I put it on paper. I start with a notebook, always. That’s where I sketch out my ideas and, ultimately, where I write my entire first draft. These are examples from HELLO, UNIVERSE.
Virgil’s original name was Virgil Rios. And the original first sentence was: Twelve-year-old Virgil Rios had the memory of an elephant. Chapter One was eventually revised, and I changed Virgil’s name because I wanted him to have the same initials as Valencia Somerset. Books go through several revisions before they reach their full potential.
Chet Bullens, the neighborhood bully, originally had a best friend/sidekick named Eddy Bees. Eddy was cut during revisions because he didn’t serve much of a purpose. And (as I tell my MFA students), every scene, character, and sentence must serve a purpose.
Character development is more important to me than anything else. I want to create characters that feel so real, they walk off the page. As I’m developing characters, I’ll often ask questions of them, like this:
Teachers often ask how they can get their students excited about writing, and how they can teach them the importance of revision. Although revision is a critical part of the process (and something I absolutely love), it’s difficult to get motivated for revision if you aren’t creatively energized in the first place. Young people need assignments that they’re expected to revise, but they also need some where their *only* task is to be creative, whether that means writing upside down, with pink marker, in bubble letters, or in an invented language. And they can revise it, or not. To become a writer who is excited about revision, you have to be one who enjoys writing.
Thank you for spending time with my notebook!