Last fall, I had the good fortune to attend an amazing writing workshop hosted by the Highlights Foundation. Danette was one of the many wonderful women I met there, and I am so thrilled to be able to interview her today. Enjoy!
Well, I really can’t remember a time when I wasn’t writing! I learned to read when I was four and very much enjoyed it; writing my own stories was a natural extension. Even at a young age, I took my writing seriously—so much so that after I wrote (and illustrated!) my construction paper pages, I poked holes in them with knitting needles and bound the pages together with yarn.
Throughout my school years, I enjoyed writing, and the feedback I received from teachers made me want to write more. I loved it when teachers read things out loud anonymously and my classmates would laugh in all the right places. When that happens, you know you tapped into something universal—a feeling, a time, a situation—something that everyone knows or feels, but doesn’t necessarily talk about.
I was in fifth grade when I told my sister I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. In college, I declared an English major. It wasn’t an easy decision; to be a writer, I could major in Creative Writing or Journalism, but I was already on my own and putting myself through school. Everyone I knew who wanted to write was journalism major. I thought, There’ll be thousands of us trying to get a job at the same time! I was already paying bills, and I had student loans that would be knocking at my door after graduation. My sister suggested I major in technical writing. I’d never heard of it but found that technical writing is any kind of writing that instructs, whether it be an engineer’s report or the directions on the back of an aspirin bottle or even the manual for your computer.
It turned out to be a good fit for me. I landed a job with the research agency I’d interned with; I was paying my bills; and I got to edit and write on a variety of things I found fascinating! When I went home at night, I read literary journals and wrote short stories, which I submitted. After a while, I started to get personal notes from editors and later, acceptances!
After I got married and we started a family, I stayed home, but I freelanced as a copy editor—I wanted to keep my foot in the door. And I needed that mental exercise. When my youngest went to kindergarten, I knew if I was ever going to be a writer, the time was now. I wanted to write books. But how? I had no idea. So I read books on how to write books and then I set about doing it. My second manuscript, VIOLET RAINES ALMOST GOT STRUCK BY LIGHTNING was acquired by Bloomsbury/Walker and came out late 2008. Bloomsbury/Walker then acquired that first manuscript, and now I have four middle-grade books out with them. Yay!
2. Are you a pantser or a planner?
Oh, gosh! Planning is the hardest part, which makes it easy to say, Oh, I can get away without building my outline first. It never works, at least not for me. I generally start with a three or four page synopsis, then hammer out a somewhat detailed outline for most of the book. At the end of each day’s writing session, I dash off a note to myself as to what needs to happen next—bits of dialogue or action that, if I don’t write down, I’ll forget by the next day!
I write Monday through Friday, and I try to make 10:00 a.m. my hard start time. I’ll skim over the last chapter or so, as well as any notes I’ve left for myself, then I start. I used to be a very careful writer, mentally editing every word that appeared on the screen. It was very slow going. Now, I try not to worry about immediate perfection. Get the story down, get the story down! I yell to myself like a coach. Don’t stop for the perfect vocabulary word—get the idea down now; refine later! Keep writing! NO, don’t look at Facebook, the consumer of all time and space! I do have a daily word quota, and I don’t know why, but I can’t reveal that number! I feel like I’ll trip up if I tell people—a superstition, I know, but I can’t help it! Here’s the one thing I can say about daily quotas: establish one that is both realistic and challenging. Realistic, because if you feel like a failure, your work will come to a quick halt. Challenging, because you’ll always write better when you’ve got something to measure up to.
4. Which authors have influenced your work?
All of them! Every single good book I’ve ever read has influenced me either by its excellence of craft or by the uniqueness of its story. I love Barbara O’Connor for her rich atmosphere and her economy; Kate DiCamillo, because she always puts in Storybookland. I feel the hands of a skilled author taking me into another world when I read works by these authors: Anne Tyler, Joyce Carol Oates, Elizabeth Berg, Sue Miller, Laura Lippman, Jill McCorkle, Elizabeth Buchan . . . I really could go on!
5. What are you plans/future projects/new releases that we should be aware of? My latest book came out late 2012 to a starred review from Kirkus: A WHOLE LOT OF LUCKY. Also, I’m flying out to California this February to receive the California Young Reader Medal for VIOLET RAINES ALMOST GOT STRUCK BY LIGHTNING. A lot of my favorite authors (and friends!) were competing in this same category, so the CYRM is especially meaningful to me.
6. Any tips for new writers?
Here are my tips for new writers:
- Read. Read the genre you want to write in, but also read anything you’re interested in.
- Get qualified feedback on your writing. Trade manuscripts with another writer or pay a professional writer/editor for a critique (check SCBWI).
- Submit! You must send your work out! Don’t be afraid!
- Do not be crushed by rejection. You are not alone.
- Repeat from step one all the time.
7. Any tips for old writers?
Keep writing! Search out people who inspire you and connect with them. Continue to learn; there’s no end to what you can learn about your craft. Just keep going!
Connect with Danette at her website: http://www.danettehaworth.com