Sunday, August 24, 2008

One Writer's Process: Emily Smith Pearce

Although Emily Smith Pearce grew up with a mother who was a librarian and always had a feeling that she'd write for children, it wasn't until the end of a college poetry-writing class that she knew for certain that she "wanted to be part of that mind-buzzing, heart-thumping world of literature."

It took a number of years after leaving that class--including a stint at grad school (Vermont College), followed by numerous jobs when she wrote during her lunch breaks or at night--before she was offered a contract for Isabel and the Miracle Baby.

Publishers Weekly described her first book as "a multi-layered debut novel... that conveys the character's complicated discoveries about growing up," and a reviewer for School Library Journal has written that the story "perfectly captures her [Isabel's] fierce desire to be independent ... while still wanting to be held and cuddled like her new sister."

Now that she's married and caring for her children, Pearce says she "squeezes in writing whenever and however I can." She has a forthcoming easy-reader, Slow Poke, coming out with Front Street/Boyds Mill Press in Spring, 2010, and is currently at work on a YA novel, as yet untitled.

When she's not writing, Pearce is busy painting, knitting, sewing, cooking, or gardening. "I love making stuff, dreaming about making stuff, buying stuff to make stuff, and reading about making stuff."

Recently, Pearce was kind enough to take time away from her many activities to share her thoughts on writing with Wordswimmer.

Wordswimmer: How do you get into the water each day?

Pearce: I have to squeeze my wordswimming in between many other activities, so when I do get into the water, it’s often a few laps in the pool to keep my muscles toned. I have to jump right in without much time for warm up. Although my computer is essential, I always start with pen and paper. I begin by printing out my current draft and marking it to death with a pen. I always keep a notebook going and brainstorm new scenes and chapters or ideas for new projects there. When I have what seems like enough to warrant some computer time, I type it all in, and the process begins again.

Wordswimmer: What keeps you afloat...for short work? For longer work?

Pearce: Shorter work is like a sprint. Sheer energy and knowing that it will be over soon tends to push me through. It’s also easier to see the big picture. I know that when I get to the finish line, I can always go back and perfect my strokes.

With longer work, it’s much harder to stay afloat. I think of the experiment where a group of rats was forced to swim until they drowned. A second group of rats was lifted out of the water when tired and allowed to have a break. Given this hope, the second group was able to swim a great deal longer before drowning.

It took several years for my first novel to reach publication. I sometimes felt like one of those rats, but I’ve been fortunate enough to have people lift me out of the water when I needed it. Other writers have given me hope that I could indeed keep swimming even though the work seemed endless. They said, “You’re a great swimmer. You’re making a beautiful journey and I can’t wait to see where it takes you.” Then I could keep going for several more laps.

Wordswimmer: How do you keep swimming through dry spells?

Pearce: I’m an artist and crafter as well, and I find using the other creative parts of my brain can really get my creative juices going. After I’ve exercised the visual part of my brain, I come back to wordswimming with a new perspective.

Reading great literature, especially poetry, always helps, as do travel and museum visits. Spending time with other artists and writers always makes me itch to jump back into the water.

I get very frustrated if I can’t do anything creative, so I try to find something, anything, to keep my creative energies engaged---sometimes it’s just cooking or gardening.

Wordswimmer: What's the hardest part of swimming?

Pearce: Sometimes the revision process seems to last an eternity, and I get worn out swimming toward the same goal over and over again, only to find my timing or my form or course was off. It’s hard to stay excited about swimming that same path over and over to perfect it. That’s when I need to take a break or to have someone lift me out of the water.

Wordswimmer: How do you overcome obstacles, problems, when swimming alone?

Pearce: I try not to swim alone as much as possible. I have a generous group of writing friends who are willing to read things for me when I need help.

When it’s just me, though, I get out of the water and dry off for a while or jump into another body of water. I put a lot of stock into letting my mind work things out passively, in sleep or while working on other things. Occasionally I use writing exercises with my characters: writing a letter from one of my characters or interpreting a dream through a character’s eyes. Louise Hawes taught me these tricks. When I get back in the water I usually find I’m closer to an answer, or at least have a new direction.

Wordswimmer: What's the part of swimming that you love the most?

Pearce: I went snorkeling for the first time last year. I loved the way it made me slow down, breathe deliberately, and pay such close attention to my surroundings. I took in everything with amazement: the silvery school of fish tickling my arm, the turtle grazing on the grassy bottom, the striations of the coral.

I love being at the beginning of a piece, when it feels like I’m snorkeling. I’m just in the water, floating, not trying to do much of anything, just observing and collecting images. It’s so exciting to then find connections among these images, things I didn’t know were there but that somehow my subconscious did. At that point it feels the story could go anywhere, and for the time being, it’s absolutely perfect in my head.

For more information about Emily Smith Pearce, visit her website:

And take a look at her blog:

1 comment:

Jack said...

nice article, Emily; I hope you have lots of continued success in your writing.