Each month, we ask one distinguished author or illustrator to write an original post that reveals insights about their process and craft. Enjoy!
Pam Muñoz Ryan on the Writing Process
by Pam Muñoz Ryan
Photo provided by Pam Muñoz Ryan, 2010
I always groan when people ask about my writing process, because what they are really asking is the more complicated question, “How does your mind work?” Even the word “process” confounds me. It implies a tidy, shrink-wrapped procedure. I wish it were that way—a specific set of steps to get me from that awful first draft to a polished manuscript, which is often thirty rewrites down the line. For me, writing isn’t precise. It is a messy evolution.
During the earlier stages of writing a novel, I reread and rewrite the manuscript from the first chapter every day. That approach feels organic to me. Of course, once the story progresses, I don’t do that every time I sit down to work, but I do it often. I don’t impose any word count or number-of-hours quota on myself, or have any rules, except one: persistence. Nothing glamorous. No epiphanies. Just revisiting and rewriting. For me, momentum is far more important than inspiration.
As the story moves forward, I read my work aloud to hear how it sounds. And for good reason. I can read my work silently and think it reads just fine, but when I hear it, I am often disappointed. In those early stages, the work is one giant ball of challenges: it’s too wordy, it’s lackluster, it’s without emotion, there’s too little dialog, too much dialog, the pacing is off, the sentences are awkward, and so forth. Reading the manuscript aloud and hearing it helps me sort it out, even before I send it to my editor, who gives me the direction to bring it to the next level.
Poetry is important to me—to read it and to write it. It informs all of my writing, no matter the form. When I read poetry, my mind works and pays attention in a way that is different from my accustomed manner. Instead of leaning towards a narrative, poetry pulls me another way. I lean toward overwriting. Poetry demands succinctness. Writing The Dreamer (Scholastic 2010) about the childhood of the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda was a liberating departure for me. After my research, it was clear to me that rhythm was a presence in the poet’s life. I attempted to create a soundtrack to his childhood. I wanted the reader to hear the persistent rain, the call of the chucao, the pounding ocean, and the monotony of the printing press. And to hopefully recognize the relationship between the simplest of sounds and the rhythm of words. I wanted the reader to feel, as Neruda did, that poetry is everywhere.
This material may not be used without the express written consent of Pam Muñoz Ryan.
Hear Pam Muñoz Ryan speak about her name, including how to correctly pronounce the “n” in her last name.