How to Become a Writing Machine by Anna Staniszewski

annaAnna Staniszewski’s first book My Very Un-Fairy Tale Life was released November 1, 2011. Then My Epic Fairy Tale Fail in March 2013, My Sort of Fairy Tale Ending in November 2013, The Dirt Diary in January 2014, The Prank List in July 2014, The Gossip File recently on January 6, 2015. If that wasn’t impressive enough, her picture book Power Down Little Robot is releasing March 3, 2015 and the first in her new series, I’m With Cupid releases July 2015.

If you were keeping count, you’d notice a total of eight books in less than four years. Who does that? Except maybe James Patterson. Middle Grade Mafia asked Anna if she would share her tips for keeping her seat in the seat and meeting her seemingly impossible deadlines.

gossip file

When people find out that I’ve had six novels published in the past three years (and more on the way) they usually ask me things like: “Do you ever sleep?” and “What’s your secret for writing so fast?” I usually shrug and tell them I’m a Cylon.

Honestly, there is no secret, but in order to have a steady stream of books coming out, I think you do need a few key things:

Concrete Ideas – I often have many more ideas than I can focus on at once. That’s why I try to pick projects that I’m truly excited about, since I’m much more likely to stick with them. If I have a vague idea for a project, I write down some notes and put them aside to stew, or I force myself to do a lot of brainstorming (figuring out the characters’ emotional arcs, etc) before I dive into drafting. If I don’t do this kind of work in advance, chances are I’ll run out of steam with the project.

Undying Optimism – I also call this “the inability to say no.” After my agent and I sold my first book, My Very UnFairy Tale Life, my editor asked me if I had ideas for sequels. Of course, I said yes…and then quickly came up with some ideas. The same thing happened with the Dirt Diary series. That means four of those six books were sold on proposal, and I agreed to write them on pretty tight deadlines. It was insane at times—there was one book that I really never thought I would get right—but somehow it all came together. So when it came time to sell another series (all three books on proposal this time) of course I said I was up for the challenge again.

Tough Love – Let’s be honest, some writing days are pure torture. That’s probably why so many of us whine a lot and eat so much chocolate. While both whining and chocolate are important parts of the process, so is actually getting the words down on paper. That’s why I set deadlines for myself and try to stick to them. If there are days when I absolutely don’t feel like writing, I pop some chocolate and write anyway. And if I’m feeling really stuck, I don’t let myself give up. Instead, I take out paper and pen and start brainstorming, trying to figure out what’s gone wrong with my story and how I can fix it.

Deadlines –I used to be a die-hard pantser, but when I sold my first book on proposal, I suddenly had to make my writing process a whole lot more efficient. I’m still not an outliner, but now I write a synopsis before I get too far into a project. The extra planning helps me to stay on top of deadlines without wasting too much time. As much as I whine about my deadlines sometimes (whining, as we already established, being an important part of the writing process) I must say that I actually rather like them. They keep me motivated, and they make me feel like writing is a Real Job.

Awesome Critique Partners – When I have the first few chapters of something or a book proposal, I bring it to my writing group to see if it’s on the right track. Once I have their feedback, I dive into writing until the whole manuscript is done. Then I send it to a couple of trusty critique partners who are awesome enough to get it right back to me, and then I revise some more before sending it to my agent who also zips through it so I’ll have time to make more changes before it goes to my editor. If I didn’t have this system in place, I know I’d have to do many more revisions with my editor than I do now, and it would be impossible to keep up our tight publishing schedule.

Juggling Skills – When you’re working on drafting one project and suddenly copyedits for another project arrive, you have to be able to switch gears right away. At first, juggling manuscripts like that terrified me, but just like physical juggling, mental juggling gets easier the more you do it. Jumping in between projects does come with the fear that you’ll accidentally mix up your characters’ voices or lose momentum on a project, but I find that if I immerse myself in a story for a day or two, I’m able to get back into the character’s voice and the overall story without too much trouble.

So there you have it. You don’t have to be a Cylon to have several books published in a short span of time. (Though it might not be a bad idea to at least get a chip implanted in your brain.) Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to work!

Born in Poland and raised in the United States, Anna Staniszewski grew up loving stories in both Polish and English. When she’s not writing, Anna spends her time teaching, reading, and eating far too much chocolate. She is the author of the My Very UnFairy Tale Life series, the Dirt Diary series, and the forthcoming Switched at First Kiss series, all published by Sourcebooks, as well as the picture book Power Down, Little Robot, coming from Henry Holt in March. Visit her at website and  follow her on Twitter.


8 Comments

  1. Anna IS a machine–she always impresses me with her ability to push aside the obstacles and figure out the solutions–to plot, flow, characterization and tension. I think she puts aside her ego in her desire to write the best story, and nails it every time.

  2. Pam Vaughan

    Thank you Anna! This is really great and helpful.
    Even though you are so busy, you still find time to share some of yourself.
    You’re the best!
    Thanks again.
    Pam

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