Why I Write Longhand

When I was a little girl, I would put a pillow on my lap, balance a notebook on top, and write stories. There was something magical about pencil-on-paper. When I speak to young people, I tell them how powerful it is to create something that didn’t exist before. Imagine having a blank sheet of paper in front of you one minute, and a new creation the next.

I’m not so little anymore, but I still love the magic of paper. When people ask about my process, I tell them there are only two things about it that are disciplined: I always have a fluid outline, and I write all my first drafts in longhand.

Here’s why.

Writing in longhand gives me a tactile relationship with the words.

Writing on paper provides a tactile response that doesn’t happen with a keyboard and computer screen. You can feel the words moving under the tip of your pen. You can feel the pages turn between your fingertips. You can see the journal sitting in your bag, ready to be conquered. And if you’re a true nerd like I am, you can even smell the paper.

Writing in longhand is deeply personal.

Each of my novels required a different type of notebook or journal. Most of the time, a simple spiral notebook will do. But then I have to consider the color. The number of pages. College- or wide-ruled? Each work has a different personality. The notebooks do, too. For my current WIP, I went in a completely different direction, because the book is its own departure. Rather than the spiral-bound notebooks I used for my realistic contemporary novels, I wanted a personalized hand-stitched leather journal for my first fantasy (!) Buying a notebook for your WIP adds yet another level of experience to the first draft. Same for pens. Yes, I’m also a nerd for pens. I must have the right pen. Luckily, I don’t have expensive taste. All I need is a smooth-glide or felt tip and I’m good to go. Traditional black ink is my first go-to, but it’s nice to have other options. The type of pen I use also depends on what kind of journal I have. The two need to complement each other.

It helps me keep the right pace.

I’m more deliberate when I write with a pen. I take my time. This is another individualistic writer trait. Some writers throw everything on the page and worry about the rest later. I tend to edit as I go. Writing with pen and paper helps me do that. It also allows me to make notes in the margins for elements that I want to revisit later.

I want to write at a moment’s notice—without the distraction of the internet.

I’m not a scheduled writer. I don’t block off certain hours of time solely for writing. For some reason, that never works for me. Instead, I write when I’m compelled to. Sometimes it’s in the waiting room at the doctor’s office or the middle of a bookstore. I never need to haul around my laptop, which also means I won’t be distracted by the endless and beguiling rabbit holes of the internet.

Two drafts for the price of one. 

When it’s time to shift it from page to computer, I have the opportunity to read my words again and add (or take away) the necessary flourish.

It’s not as intimidating.

There’s something scary about a big, blank computer screen, with its accusatory cursor. Paper isn’t as judgemental. You can draw a doodle of a hipster with a mustache and still feel like you accomplished something.

Why Do I Write Middle-Grade?

Because we’re all 12.


Were you bullied at 12? I bet you remember that bully’s name. I bet you could tell me what his face looked like, or the color of her hair.

Did you ever feel awkward? I bet you remember where you were and what that felt like. You can still feel the sweat on your palms and the weight on your chest.

Were you ever left out? You can describe what that was like. The party you weren’t invited to, the lunchtable with no chairs.

Did you ever feel alone? Like the world moved around everyone but you, and you couldn’t tell anyone because you didn’t really understand it? You just felt … incomplete, maybe. Or different, even if you didn’t seem different. And you weren’t sure what made you different, only that everyone else seemed to know a secret and someone forgot to tell you.

Did you ever want to disappear? Maybe for a day, maybe for a lifetime, because life felt too complicated, too awkward, too lonely. And grown-ups told you that you still weren’t in the “real world,” and you had to wonder: If this isn’t real, what is?

Does it make your heart sink, even now, to remember 12?

When you felt bullied, awkward, left out, or alone, did you ever disappear into a book? And for that page or that chapter, you were in another world—one that made more sense, or felt more genuine, or invited you in, warts and all?


That’s why I write middle grade.

Celebrate #ChildrensBookWeek

The Novelista Asks Me 10 Questions … and I answer them

sisterhoodblog[1]Many thanks to Briana Morgan of The Novelista, who nominated me for the Sisterhood of the World Bloggers Award! Which means I have to answer her 10 awesome questions. I heart questions. Here goes:

What’s your fondest book-related memory?

Some of my most cherished childhood memories are of my mother reading to me at bedtime. Our favorite book was Cat in the Hat. The more we read together the more I wanted to create my own stories and in second grade I “officially” made the decision to be a writer. That’s when my dad became my first publisher. He would staple the loose leaf papers of my stories together—sometimes even with book covers made of cardboard marked with “Kelly Publishing”—so I could have a “real book” like a “real writer.” Those are still some of my favorite stories.

First novel you remember reading on your own? How did it make you feel?

I can’t remember the first official book I read on my own, but it was probably Judy Blume. Halfway Down Paddy Lane by Jean Marzollo was also a favorite. I’d check it out of the library again and again.

What’s your favorite time of day?

Mid-morning. Like, 10-ish.

Do you listen to music when you write? If so, what kind?

It depends on what I’m working on. When I wrote BLACKBIRD FLY, I listened to the Beatles on repeat (for obvious reasons). Most of the time I listen to classical music. I love quirky, upbeat bands, like the B52s or They Might Be Giants, but I can’t listen to peppy songs when my characters are being introspective. And when you write coming-of-age, that’s pretty much all they do.

What’s one of your pet peeves when it comes to writing? What errors or quirks make you cringe whenever you come across them?

I don’t like self-indulgent writing—when it’s more about the writer than the reader. I can’t cite a specific example, but I know it when I see it.

If you could hang out with any author for a day, living or dead, who would it be? What would you do together?

My first instinct is to say one of the Bronte sisters, but I kinda like how they’re mysterious to me. So I’ll go with Kurt Vonnegut. He seems like a cool dude. I’m not sure what we’d do. He’d probably smoke cigarettes.

How do you feel about writing in multiple genres?

I love it, because I do it. I’ve written MG horror, a YA thriller, and I write lots of short stories and flash fiction. And I read in many multiple genres, as well—fiction, non-fiction, MG, YA, adult literary, horror, Gothic, whatever.

What’s something you need to do right now that you put off to answer these questions?

Writing! But this counts as writing, right?

What’s your favorite quote? Who said it?

That’s tough to say. It depends on my mood. Right now the quote on my Facebook page is from Rod Serling: “To the wishes that come true, to the strange, mystic strength of the human animal, who can take a wishful dream and give it a dimension all its own.”

What’s your favorite Disney movie?

The Sword in the Stone.

New Book Spine Flash Fiction!

Time for another installment of Book Spine Flash Fiction, crafted especially for you from Erin’s Bookshelf. Here goes:

book spine short story

Her magical thinking spit back a boy, burning down the house, world and town. Rosemary’s baby was falling into place, wrestling the angel. Her parched son, on the road —— a pagan’s crusade. We swim that rock, seeing red, down the long valley to the invisible city. We were liars getting over the rainbow.


I’d Like to Introduce You to Apple Yengko

My writer friend Maria DeVivo tagged me in the Meet My Character Blog Tour. (Thanks, Maria!)

The Meet My Character Blog Tour gives writers a chance to highlight the main character of a recent work. For my post, I’d like to introduce you to the main character of my debut novel Blackbird Fly, which is scheduled for release in April 2015. (Thanks, HarperCollins/Greenwillow!)

Settle in as I make introductions.

1) What is the name of your character? Is he/she fictional or a historic person?

Her name is Analyn Yengko, but people call her “Apple.” Apple is Filipino, and Filipinos are known for bestowing unusual, funny, and/or awkward nicknames on unsuspecting youth. My mother called me Peanut, because I was shaped like one when I was born. Analyn was nicknamed Apple, because her father said that was the shape of her head when she was a baby.

Although she feels very real to me, Apple is fictional.

2) When and where is the story set?

Present-day, in the fictional smallish Southern town of Chapel Spring, Louisiana.

3) What should we know about her?

Apple is twelve years old and she loves the Beatles. Her favorite Beatle is George Harrison. (Second favorite: John.) She was born in the Philippines, but has lived in the States most of her life. Her father died when she was little, so she lives alone with her mother in a yellow house. Her mom’s name is Glo.

4) What is the main conflict? What messes up her life?

Apple is trapped between two cultures, which can be a very difficult place to be, especially when you’re the only Asian in your school. She’s embarrassed of he1677609_origr background and wants to be a “real American.” She’s had this inner struggle for most of her life, so it doesn’t help when the boys vote her the third-ugliest girl at Chapel Spring Middle School. Even worse, her fair-weather friends concerned with their own social statusquickly side with her tormentors, who bark at her when she walks down the hall and spread rumors that she eats dogs for dinner.

Apple has only one escape: The Beatles, whom she idolizes. Apple devises a plan to get a guitar, run away, and become a musician like George, her idol.

5) What is the personal goal of the character?

To become a “real American,” and to make music like George Harrison.

6) What is the title of this novel and where can it be found?

The title is Blackbird Fly. It will be available in all major bookstores after its release in March 2015. 

Who Tagged Me: Maria DeVivo is a New York native who has had a lifetime love affair with the pen. Her debut YA Dark Fantasy, The Coal Elf, was published by Twilight Times Books in November 2012. (An excellent book, by the way).

The Most Important Writing Technique No One Talks About

If you’ve been writing seriously for any amount of time, you probably know all the standard rules of technique: show don’t tell, write what you know, blah blah blah. But if you really want to survive as a writermentally and emotionallythere’s one element of your craft that you need to get in the best possible shape.


I say “waiting” instead of “patience,” because it doesn’t matter whether you’re patient or impatient. You’ll be waiting.

I started my professional career as a journalist, so I didn’t have a lot of waiting practice. The newspaper cycle was fairly simple: You write something, it appears on such-and-such day. Usually the next day or the next week. I’m sure (or hope) the time span has shortened considerably as regional newspapers catch up to the Internet. Nonetheless, waiting isn’t the name of the game in journalism.

Not so if you write creatively.

Here are all the ways you’ll be waiting in the wonderful writing world of fiction:

  • If you write short stories, as I do, you’ll be waiting to hear back from the editors. Many of them get hundreds of submissions per quarter (some even hundreds per month), and yours is just another short story in the stack that needs to be read.
  • If your short story gets accepted, you’ll be waiting for its release. Many of these lit mags only publish a few times a year, so the wait will be long. I had a story accepted in January that will appear in June. Sound like a long time? Not really. I once waited over two years to see one of my short stories in print.
  • Let’s say you wrote a book, you don’t want to self-publish, and you want to get an agent. That’s a lot of waiting. First you have to research all the agents that will make a good fit, then you have to query them and wait.
  • Some might ask to read some or all of your manuscript. More waiting.
  • Bravo! You have an agent. Guess what? You have to wait to go on submission.
  • And when you do, more waiting to hear from the editors. If none of them bite, this cycle starts again.
  • [Let’s say you wrote a book, you don’t want to self-publish, and you don’t want to get an agent. Don’t think you’re home-free on the waiting. Now you have to submit the book yourself and wait for the editor to get back to you. And let’s say you wrote a book, you want to self-publish, and you want to do it right. Still not home free. Now you’ve got to get a copyeditor, awesome cover art, and plan your marketing strategy. More waiting.]
  • Bravo! An editor wants your manuscript! Get ready for the worst waiting of all: Waiting for your a) check, b) release date, c) cover art, d) copyedits, e) actual release.

I think you get my point. It’s a simple one, really. Writing is an exercise in waiting.

The good news? It’s worth it.

We’re All “Creatives”

When I was in college, one of my professors gave the class a timed assignment:

List at least fifty things you can do with a brick.


Everyone started scribbling, including me. But my scribbling didn’t last long. I can’t remember how many ideas occurred to me. Maybe ten.

As I watched everyone else draft immense lists (two people sailed past fifty and kept going!), I chewed the end of my pencil and quietly suffered from personal embarrassment. I was a writer, after all. I was “creative.” That’s what people always said, ever since I was a kid. Erin is a writer, she’s creative. Surely I could come up with more than ten imaginative uses for a brick, other than the obvious. Panic set in. I’m not as creative as I thought. I’m not that imaginative after all. I CAN’T SEE PAST THE OBVIOUS. What’s wrong with me? I’m a writer!

Needless to say, none of this helped me conjure up new ideas.

Eventually, though, I figured something out.

Everyone is creative in different ways and in different conditions.

There’s a myth that being “creative” means something tangible and specific, but it doesn’t. Nothing is ever that simple, least of all people.

As David Burkus says, “We tend to think of creativity in terms reminiscent of the ancient muses: divinely-inspired, unpredictable, and bestowed upon a lucky few.”

But just as creativity comes in different forms, it’s also sparked under varied conditions and doled out to everyone (in some form), from accountants to artists. Burkus argues that practicality and reality can and should be symbiotic with creativity. I agree.

In this article, Bill Breen further debunks the idea that some of us are “creative” and some of us are “non-creative” and instead embraces the idea that anyone with a brain is capable of doing creative work. “Creativity depends on a number of things: experience, talent (and) motivation.”

He also points out that money doesn’t encourage creativity. Neither does pressure or fear.

By the way, the person who came up with the most uses for a brick was a health major. Not a “creative.” And he thought of more than seventy.