Reflections from Listening to M. Stiefvater

Here’s the thing: I’m not really the kind of person who follows authors around and gets their signatures and takes photos with them. In fact, I’m rather shy when it comes to this kind of thing. So when I wanted to go to the National Writers Series: An Evening with Maggie Stiefvater, I was a little surprised at myself. At the same time I’ve been excited to see what might be waiting for me since I was compelled to be there.

Although Maggie Stiefvater never said the words, “Slow down,” that’s what I took away. She talked about her process and compared the way she writes to the way she approaches a road trip.

You know where you’re starting, you know where you’re ending, and there are a few stops in between. So you start driving, making sure to hit those stops, but when something else comes along, you follow it. The thing is, sometimes you follow something and realize it really wasn’t worth it. You keep heading to the planned stops, sometimes backtracking and sometimes going through unexpected territory you never would have seen otherwise.

She went on to explain how sometimes she goes down the wrong path when writing and has to delete 1000 words, 30,000 words, an entire novel. Not fun. Yet, there are times when she follows another road that leads to unexpected scenes and it is this that keeps her writing in this way.

When someone asked her if she planned, she cringed. She operates with images. Once she has an image of how things might end, she is able to start writing. She knows where she’s beginning, and where she’s headed. And no, she doesn’t keep a notebook. She writes with Sharpie on her hands. This is how she collects ideas and makes sure they stick with her.

When asked about her writing process she laughed and said, “It’s a boring process to talk about, because most of the time it looks like this…” She stretched out on the stage floor, on her back, and threw her arm over her eyes. “This is what I look like when I’m writing,” she said, her voice muffled.

(As a side note, this strategy does not work very well when writing a blog post, as I tried it last night and you might have noticed no blog post! Seriously, though, because I spent a lot of time spinning words in my head last night, the writing is going smoothly now. This is almost always true for my blog posts — I spend time thinking, and then there is a better chance the drafting process will be a little more smooth. For me, I just think in other ways than on my back with my arm across my eyes!)

Maggie also said her best ideas come over 65 miles per hour. My friend Deb Gaby is like this too. She is always saying, “Drive fast, think slow.”  Check out some of Deb’s past blog posts to see how driving fast leads to remarkable realizations.

In addition to taking away SLOW DOWN, I’m also clinging to TRUST. When I read Maggie Stiefvater’s books, I’m also struck by the confidence she must have in herself to follow such crazy plot lines. Man eating horses? Boys who want to stop changing into werewolves? Ley lines where spiritual forces intersect? She even joked about how she never knows how to explain her books because the plots keep getting more and more far fetched.

And yet, the story world is incredibly grounded. “I”m a selfish writer,” she said. “I only write books because I want to know the story.” She added when you allow other things to hover over your shoulder and begin to write for them — for an audience, for publication, for the next big award (there’s always something, she explained, no matter how often you’ve been published) —  you’ll freeze up and the story fails. “I’m selfish,” she reiterated.

Maybe when it comes to writing stories, she’s selfish, but in many other ways she’s not. She connects with the world via her incredible website,  she keeps a blog filled with her thinking, she shares on Twitter, and she’s traveling across country on a 29 day book tour. If you get the chance to hear her speak, I promise you won’t be sorry.