YA Author Julie Cross: How I Write



Hooray! Blogger is working again. Now I can bring you the super fabulous conclusion of our How I Write series this week. Today, YA debut author Julie Cross!

How I Write by Julie Cross

When Roni asked me if I’d like to participate in a guest post explaining my writing process, I immediately told her, “I’d love to, but I don’t really have a process.” And I know Elana Johnson basically said the same thing in her post as well. I’m sure there are plenty of authors out there who can give you a more logical, easy to follow approach to writing a book, but I’m not one of those, however, I DO have some unique methods that 
have been very successful for me.

The first thing I did when devising a plan for this post was to ask a couple of important people if they could summarize my writing process:

1.      First up was my agent, Suzie Townsend and her answer actually, really helped increase my own self-awareness, believe it or not. I’m learning and teaching right now. I especially loved how she admits that even agents and editors find scenes they love and also find good enough reasons to cut those beloved scenes. We all must learn this lesson.

“Julie's first drafts tend to run a little long--they have this wealth of character details, worldbuilding, and backstory that allow a reader to really know everything about the story. They also allow Julie herself to really know the characters too. Even some of the minor characters--they're completely alive with a unique history. It's awesome. Of course, the next step is to look at that draft and see what details we could possibly remove to keep a page-turning pace.”
“There are definitely details I've loved that I've said, "maybe we should cut this because ultimately it doesn't move the plot forward," but those are great scenes that might be used in later books or kept for a deleted scenes section of her website. But in the end, the fact that Julie knows all of those details about the characters and the world comes out in the final draft. Even when we remove certain scenes, the heart of each character is still in the manuscript, and that's one of the reasons it's so easy to fall in love with her stories.”
2.      Next up for questioning was my editor at Thomas Dunne Books, Brendan Deneen. He wrote up such a nice answer, I’m almost embarrassed to put it here because obviously, I’ve done one thing very well… fooled him into thinking that I actually know what I’m doing *evil laugh* Just kidding. He really gets me, as a writer, and that is kind of awesome.

Julie’s writing process is similar to my creative process, which is largely gut-based.  She has ideas and needs to get them out, almost to exorcise them, and that’s why her first drafts are like reading a young adult Faulkner novel (and that’s a HUGE compliment since Faulkner is one of my favorite authors).  Then, we work together to clear away some of the dense underbrush, and we end up with something that’s more like a young adult Hemingway novel… clean and amazing and genius in its apparent simplicity.  Julie’s gut instincts are a thing of beauty and I wouldn’t change her process for anything.”

As a disclaimer, I have to say that many editors out there would probably be driven crazy by a writer like me. Pure insanity at times. Anyway, here are some of my philosophies that may help you along in your process.

·         DRAFT 1 Philosophy—There Are NO Rules!

1.      I don’t limit my creative flow in these early stages. Not even a little. Those of you that have kids will like this analogy. I used to use bribery with my three monsters. Like if I needed some quiet writing time last summer, the first couple times, I’d make a deal with them, give me an hour or two of quiet and then we’ll go to the pool. Even if they try their hardest, I’m gonna get interrupted, cutting my hour in half and they’re gonna have to do something REALLY bad to keep me from taking them to the pool. So, that kills the rest of the day. What I found works better, is to take them to the pool first, get all that energy out and then hope the quiet time will come on it’s own, without force or restriction.

2.      Brendan (my editor) reads chapters as I write them. He did this from the beginning. It’s kind of “our thing.” After he originally rejected my manuscript (twice), he came to me saying he liked the premise… as in the one sentence tagline that tells you my MC watches his girlfriend die and jumps back two years in time and gets stuck there. We threw everything else away and started over with that premise, one chapter at a time. I didn’t plan on following the same procedure with draft 1 of book 2, but he asked to read some early on and we just kept going that way. And I like it. It makes writing a little less lonely.

3.      Sharing your work during the process is a personal choice some people avoid like the plague. But we aren’t talking about the avoiders, since I’m not one of those. With my series, and any early readers, the feedback doesn’t come in documents marked up in word review. It happens in a short phone call with my older sister or a text message from Brendan… here’s one I got a few a weeks ago after he read chapter 35 of TEMPEST book 2: “Wow. Bold choice. But the explanation afterwards really works.”  
Or this one: “Ch 32 is probably the most emotional one in the book so far. Tears in my eyes.”

These little tidbits of info keep me going and give me some insight. And I know when he uses the words, “bold choice” we will most likely be looking for other opinions on that particular plot point… but later. Not now. Now there’s no rules.

·         DRAFT 2 and Beyond—Reality, Necessity, Forward Motion, Organization, Fact Checking

1.      Outline changes for next draft—I usually start making a list of notes based on my 1-3 early readers. With TEMPEST 2, I chose Brendan, my older sister, and my agent (I should note that Suzie doesn’t like to read until it’s all finished cause she’d hate me if I left her hanging 2/3 into the book and I kinda LOVE that about her).

2.      Removing Plot Threads—I always have too many subplots, too much complexity, and have to figure out what to remove as far as plot elements. Extra scenes will come later. Extra words will come later.

3.      Line edits—this is where Brendan usually will take the whole revised document and edit for me, on paper and mail it. This will include word choice and grammar and sentence structure and all that. A LOT of clarification type stuff.

4.      Another round of Test Readers—For TEMPEST we used a couple of interns at FinePrint and a friend/family type reader. For book 2, we will probably use Brendan’s new editorial assistant who gave me such nice compliments on book 1 and has asked to read 2 ASAP. Possibly the UK editor or one of the awesome people over at Summit Entertainment. And probably my husband and one other family friend.

5.      Rinse and Repeat—steps 3 and 4 are done over and over again until it’s declared ready and until we’ve exhausted every FinePrint intern and assistant available along with all the St. Martin’s awesome people and Roni Loren, herself, of course. And yes, I made some MAJOR changes beyond draft 3 of TEMPEST. I’ve changed/cut scenes and plot threads… even characters. You have to keep an open mind all through the process and know when to dig in and when to step back.  

I’m open to any and all question so go ahead and hit me with em’… whatever you’d like to know about my experience and any tips I might not have mentioned.




Julie lives in central Illinois with her husband and three children where she works as a YMCA Gymnastics Program Director. She never considered writing professionally until May of 2009. Since then, she hasn’t gone a day without writing. She's represented by Suzie Townsend with FinePrint Literary Management. TEMPEST, the first book in her young adult trilogy is set to be released in the US, January, 3rd, 2012 (St. Martin's Press). TEMPEST has sold in a total of twelve territories (all forthcoming) and has been optioned by Summit Entertainment (of TWILIGHT fame). 


Tagline: "Jackson thought he had all the time in the world with Holly. Until time took him away from her."