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How to be a prolific writer like Walter Dean Myers: A three-step process

The mark of a successful writer is finishing the manuscript. Walter Dean Myers, an award-winning children’s and YA writer, should know. He’s written 110 books.

“People fail as writers not because they write badly,” Myers says. “They fail because they don’t finish the book they started.”

Myers, who is the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, spoke Nov. 2 at the Vegas Valley Book Festival.

Like most writers, Myers is often asked about his process. It never varies, he says. First, he wakes up at 4:30 or 5 a.m., every day.

“I come downstairs with the cat, feed the cat, read newspapers, and start my five pages.”

Depending on what stage he’s at in his current project — whether he’s writing a first draft or rewriting — he works for 2 ½ to 3 hours. On a recent trip to London, he said his routine didn’t change. Except for the cat, which had to stay at home.

“By 9 a.m. my wife wakes up and I can aggravate her for the rest of the day,” Myers says.

Myers has created a process that helps him think through his ideas into successful stories that sell. “I do every book the exact same way in three steps,” he says.

Step 1 – Thinking and prewriting. Myers starts a book by thinking about a character and an idea and then hones the idea into a problem. “A book is a character with a problem,” Myers says. “With the right character and the right problem, you can sell your book to an editor.”

Thinking about the problem leads Myers to shape the main character. He finds photos that represent how he envisions the characters. His wife creates a collage of them that he hangs on the wall by his computer. The characters become real and he finds this technique helps him build out their personalities.

Next, Myers creates a rough outline using a six-step model.

  1. Character and problem
  2. Obvious solutions
  3. Inner conflict
  4. Growth and change
  5. Taking action
  6. Resolution

Filling in answers for each step of the model helps him test out his ideas and confirm that his story is strong enough. Next, he creates about 30 scene ideas. He says this is a technique he learned from screenwriters and it naturally leads to putting action into his story and figuring out which characters will be in each scene. This thinking and pre-writing step takes about 30 days.

Along the way, Myers does intensive research to make the settings and action as accurate as possible.

Step 2 – Writing. Once he’s sketched out the story and scene ideas, Myers writes his first draft in about 30 days.

Step 3 – Rewriting. After he hands the manuscript off to his editor, it takes about six months to rewrite as he goes back and forth with the editor over changes.

This process of pre-writing, writing, and rewriting is what makes Myers so prolific and how he’s been able to make a career out of writing. For more information about Myers, including how he started his writing career and his books, visit his website. For more details about his writing process, check out his book, Just Write: Here’s How!.

5 Comments Post a comment
  1. Great post. I’ve been prolific the last two years and my system is nearly identical to his except I don’t have a cat. 🙂

    November 6, 2013
    • Glad to know the system works — even without the cat 🙂

      November 6, 2013

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