The Writing Process and Sarah Prineas

Writer of The Magic Thief and The Winterling series, Sarah Prineas lets us know about her writing process.


Tamago: Do you have a regular drafting process, or does your drafting process vary from book to book? (If it varies, please keep one project in mind as you answer these questions.)

Sarah: One of the things I think every writer needs to learn is their process, and to be comfortable with what that process is. For me, writing is very much a process of discovery. When I begin a book, I often have a character, a narrative voice, and a vague sense of the plot. As I write, I usually don’t know what comes next until I get there. I call it “writing into the void,” and it’s an incredibly fun way to write. I tend to write recursively; that is, as I figure things out, I go back to fix the things that came before, so I usually end up with very clean drafts. It’s not until I get into revisions with my editor that my sense of the larger themes in the book starts coming together. It’s collaborative in that way.

Tamago: Which part of writing–drafting, revising, critique from others–do you enjoy the most? Why? The least? Why?

Sarah: There’s a point in the writing process where everything clicks into place and I’m zooming along–it happens with every book, as if it takes on a life of its own. That’s the best. There isn’t really a least. Revising is difficult, but I still enjoy it because it’s the point where the vision for the book–mine and my editor’s–starts becoming much more clear. My least favorite part of the process is actually after the book comes out. By that point I’m generally on to the next book and don’t really want to think about the previous one.

Tamago: How many drafts of a project will you write? What do you do in each draft?

Sarah: As I said above, I write recursively, so the draft I send to my agent is sort-of technically the first, but practically not. Usually I do a revision for my agent before my editor sees it, and then two rounds of revision with my brilliant editor. Generally the revision focuses on big picture stuff; I don’t get many line edits.

Tamago: How do you know when something you’re writing isn’t working?

Sarah: If writing is a chore, then I know it’s not working. It’s important for me, as a writer, to be mindful of when that happens. Also, if I’m reading over a draft and start skimming, I know there’s something not-quite-right about that section.

Tamago: Do you work alone, or do you participate in a critique group? What do you see as the advantages and disadvantages to your approach?

Sarah: In the past I’ve had a critique group; now I just have a group of three or four other writers who read my stuff; in return, I read theirs. All via email. Sometimes it’s a whole book, sometimes just sections, like “can you tell me if this is working or not?” Lately I’ve found myself depending more and more on my agent and editor and less on writer-peers, probably because my editor and I have worked together on six books now, and we make a good team. The advantage to this? Efficiency, I guess.

Tamago: What are some particular issues that an MG writer needs to pay attention to that a writer of “adult” fiction or YA fiction might pay attention to differently?

Sarah: One of the things that used to make me crazy was when my editor asked me to spell things out more clearly for the reader. I wanted to leave these gaps in the text for readers to fill in, so they could, in a way, insert themselves into the story by figuring things out for themselves. Turns out my editor was right–for the MG reader, things need to be more on-the-page, really clearly shown, and sometimes told, too. MG readers are astute, but that’s what they tend to appreciate. I’m working on a YA right now, and I’m finding it an interesting stretch. YA has an edge on it, a kind of emotional intensity and immediacy that you don’t see in MG.

Tamago: Your Magic Thief series has a visual component as well as a written one. Did the art affect any elements of your writing, and/or how much did your writing affect the art? How collaborative was the process in producing the pictures?

Sarah: The artist for the Magic Thief series (the fourth book comes out in fall 2014) is named Antonio Javier Caparo, and I think his work matches the book perfectly and definitely adds to the readers’ experience of the story. Antonio’s art has no effect on my writing, however; it’s not a collaborative effort. I’ve never actually talked to him or emailed him, he just creates the art by reading the text. All of the interior artwork and the cover are handled by the art director or designer at HarperCollins. I’m a word person, not a graphics person, so I’m happy to leave those decisions in their capable hands.

Tamago: What’s been your favorite project so far? Why?

Sarah: My favorite is always the thing I’m currently working on–I’m fickle like that.

Tamago: How much research goes into one of your manuscripts?

Sarah: Depends on the book. Right now I’m working on a MG in which the dad character is a weaver, so I contacted a local arts guild and arranged a meeting with a weaver, who invited me to her studio, so I got to see a real weaver at work and ask lots of questions. For another project I’ve been emailing with a cordwainer (shoemaker). I like to get the details right. For the Magic Thief books, I didn’t do much research, just a little on how to pick a pocket.

Tamago: Besides the big firsts (getting an agent, publishing your first novel), what moments have you had that made you think, “hey, I’m actually a writer?”

Sarah: Those moments where I’m talking to my writer friends about professional writing stuff like foreign rights or sales or something and going, wow, a couple of years ago I would have envied anybody having this conversation.


To find out more about Sarah and work, please visit her website. Thanks, Sarah!

Author: Catherine Schaff-Stump

Catherine Schaff-Stump writes fiction for children and young adults. Her most recent book, The Vessel of Ra, is the first book in the Klaereon Scroll series. She is currently working on its sequel, as well as penning the middle grade adventures of Abigail Rath, monster hunter.

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