interview by Erin Nuttall
Sidewriting Takeover brings together writers of picture books, middle grade, and young adult fiction to explore how writing outside of a draft can help deepen your drafts and revisions. Each writer shares an exercise that they’ve found helpful. If you missed our initial post: START HERE.
Sarah loves to play. This love shows up in her approach to writing and to life. With her fun personality and her focus on play you might think she doesn’t get a lot done, but her work ethic inspires me. She’s always got several irons in the fire and several more in her brain. She’s a generous and gifted teacher who relishes helping other writers learn the craft of writing and of course, how to play. I’m lucky to be in a writing group with her and am grateful for her inspiring thoughts about sidewriting. –Erin
KidLit Craft: How has sidewriting become a part of your writing process? Were you always a sidewriter?
Sarah Aronson: When I first started writing, I didn’t enjoy sidewriting or what I would call “writing away from my manuscript.” But the more I learned about the craft of writing, the more I began to appreciate the magic of writing exercises and prompts, the epiphanies that come from writing quickly and without all the answers.
Now, when I don’t know the WHY behind a scene or a character, there is nothing more helpful than stepping away from the manuscript. When I am writing away from my story, I am free to explore my characters, setting, plot, theme…well everything. And since it doesn’t “count,” it also doesn’t have to be good—that is the permission slip I need. For my most recent stories, I have also begun to draw in the margins. Getting that pencil on the paper really makes my brain swirl.
KLC: At what points in the process of writing a novel do you do the most sidewriting?
SA: There is no step when freewriting doesn’t help.
For me, inspiration, intuition, and intention exist on a sliding scale, from that first discovery draft to final edits. I use sidewriting at every stage to help me stay curious and continue to ask questions of my characters. When I have questions, sidewriting helps me find answers.
KLC: How does sidewriting help you?
SA: When I’m starting a new project—when all I have is a glimpse of an idea.
When I’m stuck.
At the beginning of the day—when I’m trying to get into the zone.
Is there an all of the above?
Lately, I’ve been trying some sidewriting without my glasses on. I’ve also incorporated sidewriting into my pomodoro practice. Putting limitations (like time or word count) has helped me, too.
KLC: As a teacher, how do you ask/encourage students to engage with sidewriting?
SA: The writers I work with will tell you: Sarah asks SO MANY questions. In class, I ask everyone to keep a journal, to help them find and refine their process.
Sidwriting Challenge: Ask WHY?
Mostly, I ask WHY in the margin and side write from there. That never fails!
Sidewriting Challenge: Start with a Glimmer
Recently, I tried something new: I started some side-writing by starting with a glimmer. I pulled out the BEST line of the chapter (it’s always a line that speaks to theme or character) and began sidewriting from there.
By focusing on a line that resonated on more than one level, I started with confidence (yay) as well as my reasons behind writing the book in the first place. That helped me open some new doors—or maybe some old doors in a new way.
Sarah Aronson began writing for kids and teens when someone in an exercise class dared her to try. Since then, she has earned an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts, and published the following books for kids and teens: Head Case, Beyond Lucky, and Believe, a young MG series, The Wish List as well as Just Like Rube Goldberg, illustrated by Robert Neubecker. Forthcoming books include Brand New Bubbe and a picture book biography of Bella Abzug, Battling Bella.
When Sarah is not writing or reading (or practicing yoga or riding her bike), she is talking to readers about creativity, writing, social action, and of course, sparkle power! She loves working with other writers in one of her classes at the amazing Highlights Foundation or Writers on the Net. Warning: When she gets really excited, she makes funny faces and talks with her hands. Don’t be shocked if she talks about the power of play. She lives in Evanston, Illinois.
For more of our Sidewriting Takeover series, check out these posts:
Writing for Emotional Power with Sarah S. Davis
Dive into Character Relationships with David Macinnis Gill
Exploring a Character’s Misbelief with Jen Jobart
Asking the Right Questions with Louise Hawes
Riffing on Your Influences and Auditioning Your Characters with Jasmine A. Stirling
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Erin Nuttall holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts and is an active member of SCBWI and ALAN. She lives outside of Chicago with her family where she writes stories for middle grade and young adult readers that offer a humorous take on friendship, identity, feminism, and romance.