Kimberly Willis Holt on Writing—and Revising—YA Fiction

Kimberly Willis Holt”s creative process usually begins with an idea she writes down in a notebook. Then she”ll wait until she hears the character”s voice, which is usually in the form of a first sentence. “I follow that voice. For a while it”s nice and then all of a sudden after chapter one or chapter two it just sort of leaves me cold and I don”t know where it”s going.”

Holt uses webbing (a creativity exercise starting with a main idea and linking it to various topics and subtopics) to outline her scenes before she writes them. “I believe in the process because it keeps me from eliminating the things I would in a regular outline. I also do character sketches. I”ll break into a monologue once I”ve finished and I”ll write as if I am that character. I”ve done that for all my characters no matter how minor they are to the plot.”

She forces herself to write the rough first draft and then looks for the “little gems” throughout the manuscript. She puts the first draft aside for some time and then returns and starts her rewriting process. “I have to re-write a lot. I couldn”t tell you how many drafts I write, but I know I”ve done at least twenty rewrites on each book,” she says. Holt calls the process “whittling” because she doesn”t believe in attempting too much on one rewrite. “I always know kind of where it”s supposed to be—it”s just getting there. And that comes through allowing myself to do a little bit on each rewrite, concentrating on one aspect of the manuscript, maybe the sensory details or the dialogue.”

She advises first-time authors to “really concentrate on writing. If you haven”t taken a writing class, take a writing class. I took every class that was available in my area. I went to conferences inside and outside my area to network with people. That”s how I got my agent. I found my agent through another agent who was at a conference. She didn”t represent children”s authors, but she gave me my agent”s name.”

In addition to classes and conferences, “get into a critique group-a good critique group. Often ”good” means not just the writing abilities of those people but their personalities—the personalities of the participants should go well together.” Holt advises making writing your job. Whether it”s a full-time or part-time job, report to the job as if writing were your boss.

The process of writing is the most important aspect of the business of writing for Holt. “Write every day. Make writing a part of your life, but also don”t be afraid of learning from others because I think you can. I still try to think of myself as a beginner because that way I can keep on learning.”

This interview appeared in Children”s Writer”s & Illustrator”s Market. Check out the current edition.

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