Craft, Career & Cheer: Brian Yansky

Learn about Brian Yansky. Read Brian’s Blog: Writer Talk: Random thoughts on the art and craft of fiction writing.

How do you psyche yourself up to keep writing?

I think one way I psyche myself up is by making writing a habit. Like most habits, it’s helpful if you do it at about the same time and place every day. I like mornings, so I go to my computer every morning after a quick breakfast.

I always carry my first mug of coffee with me. I also like to sharpen one or two pencils before I start. The mug of coffee and the sharpened pencils let me know that it’s time to write. All of this is a little trick to get my mind where it needs to go to begin writing.

If none of these little rituals work, sometimes I’ll read the first pages of a manuscript.

Another trick is to stop your writing each day at a place where you know what will happen next. This gives you a place, as you begin writing the following day, of re-entry into the world of the manuscript. (I think I got this idea from a Francine Prose book; it was an old Hemingway trick, too.)

Usually these things get me writing.

But not always. There are days, bad days, when writing a sentence seems impossible. A paragraph? A scene? No.

Then I look out the window a lot, well, more than usual even. I pet the dogs. I let the dogs out. I let the dogs in. I remember that the dogs must eat. I feed the dogs. Sometimes I walk the dogs.

I’ve been “writing” maybe an hour or so by this time though the page may be as blank as when I started. Nevertheless, I wander back to my desk with a sense of purpose, which is an oxymoron, which is exactly what I feel like at that point.

Once at my desk, after more staring out the window, I remember I haven’t checked my email yet. Twenty minutes later, after checking The New York Times web page and perhaps a blog or two, I force myself back to work.

Back to my scene, my scene that isn’t a scene. Sometimes I do start to write at this point, I do finally get there, but if I can’t, I might revise the scene before the one I’m working on.

More staring out the window. It’s a nice day out there. The dogs, probably because they see me starring mournfully out my window, want to go out. The lab, as labs are fond of doing, begins to bark at what appears to be nothing and actually is nothing. But how can I be sure?

I go out to investigate. Then once I’m outside, well, the dogs need to be played with. Oddly, they go to the door after a while and leave me in the middle of the yard holding a stick.

Fine. In I go. Back to my desk. Back to my scene. My scene.

Wait, my scene. He walks into the room. He’s afraid. Why didn’t I see that before? Of course he’s afraid. And I write. Time passes. I don’t know where it goes. I write and I write and I write.

There are days like this. Days when it’s really hard to get into the manuscript. But even on these days if I stay with it in my imperfect, distracted, inefficient way, I usually find that moment when the manuscript opens up for me and I can write.

Sometimes I get a lot of writing done in the last half-hour or even fifteen minutes of my writing time. I think it’s important to show up every day you can, which should be most days, even the bad ones.

What do you love most about being an author? Why?

That’s easy. The writing. Writing is full of wonders, and there are a few moments in every manuscript that are filled with a kind of grace.

I’ve read that Dickens would often be writing scenes from his novel with tears streaming down his face.

Writing is caring. You care about your characters and your story and the way you use language. Writing is love. Sometimes hate. This thing we do that actually removes us from life makes us experience life intensely. Writing is one of the ways I feel I’m alive.

Describe your upcoming book.

I will have a novel coming out next year from Candlewick titled Alien Invasion and Other Inconveniences (2010). Aliens invade Earth, but the novel isn’t about this often-told story.

The invasion itself takes about ten seconds because the aliens are telepaths and all our big, bad weapons are ineffective against their powers of the mind.

The story is about what happens after the invasion to those few who survive it. My main character, seventeen-year-old Jesse, like every other human who survives, is made a slave. As soon as the first waves of colonists arrive, he’ll be sold and that will be his life.

At first Jesse and the friends he makes where he’s held think there’s no chance for escape. The aliens are just too strong. But constant contact with the aliens seems to awaken some telepathic powers in them. They begin to have hope that they can escape.

The story is about what happens to Jesse and his friends as they try to survive and redefine themselves in this new world.

Cynsational Notes

Brian’s wife, Frances Hill, is the author of The Bug Cemetery, illustrated by Vera Rosenberry (Henry Holt, 2002). They make their home in Austin, Texas.

Brian’s Blog offers a thoughtful discussion on the writer’s life and craft. For example, the most recent post, rejection, states: “You have to be stubborn to be a writer. You have to be stubborn with the work itself and you have to be stubborn to keep going in the face of compelling reasons not to write at all, let alone try to make a career out of writing.” Highly recommended.

The Craft, Career & Cheer series features conversations with children’s-YA book creators about positive aspects of their creative and professional lives.