Anastasia Suen

Developmental Editor

Category: workshops (Page 2 of 3)

Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine


Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine
by Laurie Wallmark (Author) and April Chu (Illustrator)

I’ve been saving this interview with one of my former students, Laurie Wallmark, for International Women’s Day.


Q. When did you start writing?
A. My earliest writing memory is from first grade. The older kids were complaining that they had to write a hundred-word composition. This didn’t seem like a big deal to me, so I picked up my pencil and wrote: The. Cat. Dog. Mom. Dad. Me. Go. Stop. And. But.

You get the idea. Ninety words later, I had my first piece of writing that hadn’t been a school assignment.

As far as writing for children, that came much later. Back in 2001, I had an idea for a middle-grade novel. When it didn’t sell, I figured I wasn’t a writer, and moved on to other interests. After all, I had degrees in biochemistry and information systems, not creative writing or literature.

Then in about 2008, I had an idea for another middle-grade novel. This is when I became serious about writing for children. In addition to writing, I set about studying my craft. I went to writing conferences and took workshops. In January 2016, I graduated with an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Q. Describe your writing process.
A. There are several steps in my writing process. First, of course, I need to come up with a general idea for the story. This might be a character, a scene, or sometimes even just a title. I let this idea roll around in my mind for quite a while. Before long, related ideas glom onto the original one, while others fall by the wayside. Lying in bed at night is the perfect location for doing this step.

I’m ready to move on. I take all these characters and scenes and settings and plots in my head and try to make them fit together into a story. I’m definitely an outliner, not a pantser. I even outline my picture books.

Now it’s time to write. And revise. And revise. And re-outline. And revise. I have the work critiqued, and I revise. This step repeats over and over again.

When I think the manuscript is as good as I can make it, I put it away for a bit and work on something else. This allows me to return to it with fresh eyes and, you guessed it, revise.

Q. Tell us about your latest book.
A. Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine is a picture-book biography of the world’s first computer programmer. Ada was born two hundred years ago, long before the invention of the modern electronic computer. At a time when girls and women had few options outside the home, Ada followed her dreams and studied mathematics.

See the book trailer.

A century before the first digital computer was invented, Ada Lovelace wrote the world’s first computer program!

Ada Lovelace, the daughter of the famous romantic poet, Lord Byron, develops her creativity through science and math. When she meets Charles Babbage, the inventor of the first mechanical computer, Ada understands the machine better than anyone else and writes the world’s first computer program in order to demonstrate its capabilities.

Thanks for visiting the blog, Laurie! Congratulations on your new book!

  • Booklist Top Ten Books in Science and Health
  • Booklist Editor’s Choice: Books for Youth 2015
  • National Science Teachers Association Outstanding Science Trade Book
  • California Reading Association Eureka Gold Medal Winner
  • Cook Prize Finalist
  • 2016 Amelia Bloomer List
  • Assoc.of Children’s Librarians of Northern California Outstanding Book
  • Junior Library Guild Selection

Copyright © 2016 Anastasia Suen All Rights Reserved.

Should I write my book from beginning to end?

gokartrush Go-Kart Rush (ghostwritten by Anastasia Suen)

Q. Should I write my book from beginning to end?
A. Yes and no. Writing a story with a beginning, middle, and end is your goal, but most books don’t reveal themselves in order page by page.

If your book comes to mind from beginning to end, by all means, write it down in that order. And if it doesn’t come to you that way, join the crowd!

“No, I don’t use an outline. Of course, I also don’t write in a straight line; I write in lots of little pieces and then glue them together like a jigsaw puzzle.” ~ The Outlandish Companion by Diana Gabaldon

Yes, some of us write in circles. I write my ideas down and then I circle back and add more. I move up and down, up and down the page adding a tidbit here, a snippet there.

I capture my ideas on paper before I use the computer. The computer is linear and paper is not. So I write on scraps of paper first–notes here, notes there, all over the house. (This is my “plotter” side.)

I also use a notebook to write the first draft of a chapter in longhand as the words come. I write down whatever comes to mind, even the words that don’t make sense yet. (This is my “panster” side.)

These plotter and panster actions are the prewriting step that you see on those Five Stages of Writing charts at schools.

The Five Stages of Writing
  1. Prewriting
  2. Drafting
  3. Revising
  4. Editing
  5. Publishing

The first four stages of writing are thinking and changing stages.

You don’t have to move from beginning to end through the five stages of writing either. For example, revising a chapter of your novel may lead to drafting a completely new scene and to do that, you may need to prewrite with little scraps of paper (plotter) or a blank page that you just fill with words as they come to mind (pantser).

Don’t be afraid of the thinking and changing stages of writing. Let your imagination run wild and have fun–playing with words!

Copyright © 2016 Anastasia Suen All Rights Reserved.

How long does it take to write a children’s book?


Q. How long does it take to write a children’s book?
A. No one knows! What we do know is that there are three steps to becoming a published author.

  1. Write the book.
  2. Revise the book.
  3. Sell the book.

As a rule of thumb, the longer the book, the longer it takes to write. That being said, some books take a long time to figure out even though the book is very short. Yes, it can take years to write a picture book. (My picture book Road Work Ahead was 25 years in the making.)

I’m not saying it takes years to write words on the page. Quite the opposite! It’s easy to sit down and write words. Making those words into a story is the hard part. Shaping a story into a coherent narrative is what takes time.

Hard writing makes easy reading. Easy writing makes hard reading. - William Zinsser

The legendary writing teacher William Zinsser wasn’t the only one who talked about easy reading and hard writing. Check out the Quote Investigator’s page for Easy Reading Is Hard Writing.

Don’t be fooled by the size!

If you want to write a “little” children’s book because you think it will be easy, you will be in for a BIG surprise.

Yes, you can write a picture book in an afternoon. You can write an entire novel in a month . . .

. . . but that is just the beginning of the process.

Easy writing makes hard reading.

To write a book that communicates your story clearly, you have to revise. So don’t write a children’s book because you think it will be easy.

Write the children’s book story that only you can tell.

The stories that only you can tell are worth the time it takes to write hard . . .

. . . so the book is easy to read.

Copyright © 2016 Anastasia Suen All Rights Reserved.

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