Tuesday, November 2, 2010

7 Conference Round-Up: Lisa Yee on Giving Yourself Permission

Marissa and I recently attended the SCBWI Mid-Atlantic Regional Confernce and had the pleasure of hearing Lisa Yee give the keynote address. Lisa has long been a writer, with numerous food labels, menus, jingles and commercials under her belt. She became an author with the publication of MILLICENT MIN, GIRL GENIUS in 2003, quickly followed by five additional novels for young readers or young adults. She and her books have received the Publishers Weekly Flying Start Award, the Sid Fleischman Humor Award, an ALA Notable Book Award, a Junior Library Guild Selection and many, many more accolades. She admits she wanted to be an author since she first started reading. She just never gave herself permission to admit it aloud. Sound familiar?

Her speech was so funny, modest, and inspirational, I caught up with her by email after the conference to ask her additional questions. Here's what she said.

Q. How long did it take you to write your first novel and how many drafts did you do?

A. It took me over six years to write my first novel and I probably wrote twelve bijillion drafts. Maybe more. Actually, there were so many drafts that I lost count. I do know that I wrote three entirely different novels, but kept the main character each time. The final version ended up being MILLICENT MIN, GIRL GENIUS.

Q. What do you think made the difference in making it good enough to be published?

A. I was so stressed out about writing well, that I forgot how to write at all. Everything I did was so self-conscious. It wasn't until I approached the book as if I were writing email (where I don't think at all, I just write), that I found my voice and gained confidence.

Q. What’s the one piece of craft advice that changed how you approach a novel?

A. I think it was Stephen King, in ON WRITING, who said that you should approach dialogue like gossip. That is, something you want to overhear.

Q. What do writers starting out now need to know and remember as they start on the path toward publication?

A. I often hear writers say that their goal is to be a bestselling author. That's a lot of pressure to put on yourself. Your goal should be to write a good sentence, a good paragraph, a good page . . . and eventually a good book. It takes time, so remember, small steps.

Want to know more? You can catch up with Lisa Yee at her web site or via her blog.


  1. Thanks for the inspiring interview. It's good to know that someone so successful took so long to write and revise her first book like me. It gives me hope. And she has an awesome editor--Cheryl Klein.

  2. I LOVED her keynote at the conference--just sad I didn't get a chance to meet you guys. :( Great interview!

  3. Lisa is so right - its baby steps all the way. What a terrific post!

  4. Approach dialogue like gossip--I like that :-) Also like approaching writing like you would drafting an email. Thanks for the interview!

  5. Great advice about relaxing. I've fallen into periods of self-consciousness, where I feel nervous about writing--and, predictably, it sounds terrible. I have to concentrate on getting back into my normal mode of just writing for the joy of it, and really getting into what I'm writing. Forget the critics, the agents, and the publishers while you're writing!

  6. Lisa is always inspiring! Thanks for sharing,

  7. I loved this interview, because Lisa so real about her writing process. I also liked that idea about dialogue being gossip.


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