When she was merely five years old, Alex Flinn, now the award-winning author of more than ten books for young adults, knew she wanted to be a writer and began keeping her own diary and writing plays for the kids in her neighborhood. Before turning twelve, she started writing a novel.
That novel was never finished, and the novel that she wrote after that one—the one that she wrote at the age of 19—was lost. It took another ten years for her to start writing another novel, this time with an eye toward publishing the fruit of her efforts. She was 29 years old. Three years later her first book (the stunning, award-winning debut, Breathing Underwater) was accepted.
Looking back on her youth from today’s vantage point, Flinn observes that she didn’t truly start to think of herself as a writer until her family moved to Miami. “It was the first time I was really miserable,” she says, recalling middle school. “I had a hard time making friends. Art is suffering, people! As it was, I spent a lot of time reading and writing.”
Flinn, like many writers of books for children and young adults, suspects that she chose to write for this age group because she never got over being a child. “In my mind I am still 13 years old,” she claims, “running laps on the athletic field, wearing this really baggy white gym suit.”
What she tries to do in each of her books, she says, is to offer a story to the girl wearing that gym suit that she might enjoy. “It’s a way of going back to being thirteen,” Flinn explains, “knowing what I know now.”
The time that Flinn spent in law school, she says, probably gave her the idea for Breathing Underwater, which is based on her experiences volunteering with battered women. What she discovered during her apprenticeship writing that novel was what every writer needs to learn: she needed to write what she wanted to write, not what she thought might sell.
“If you write something that doesn't have your heart in it because you think other people will like it, it will show,” she says. “It's better if you're genuinely excited about your subject matter.”
Flinn still writes her first drafts by hand in a notebook because it “just feels right,” she says, and because “I get a lot of good editing and adding done when I retype. Why mess with what works?”
Flinn’s forthcoming book, Beheld, is scheduled for release in January 2017. She lives with her husband and daughters a half-mile from her old middle school in Palmetto Bay, a suburb of Miami, where she was kind enough to take time from her work-in-progress to share some thoughts on writing.
Wordswimmer: How do you get into the water each day?
Flinn: Very slowly with a lot of bouncing around to make sure it's warm enough.
Wordswimmer: What keeps you afloat...for short work? For longer work?
Flinn: For short work, usually just going somewhere with few distractions and getting to it. I can write a short story in a day, or I can't write it at all. (For that reason, I am frequently a last-minute contributor to short story anthologies, when some other writer hasn't worked out.) For longer work, sitting there every day for at least some period of time, and planning to write
Wordswimmer: How do you keep swimming through dry spells?
Flinn: "Just keep swimming," as Dory would say. Not every day is going to be great, but you have to keep swimming even when nothing is happening.
Wordswimmer: What's the hardest part of swimming?
Flinn: The days when the inspiration doesn't come
Wordswimmer: How do you overcome obstacles, problems, when swimming alone?
Flinn: Write notes to myself, walk my dog. Sometimes, he is well-walked.
Wordswimmer: What's the part of swimming that you love the most?
Flinn: The days when it's easy. But, when I look back on the stuff I wrote on those days versus the hard days, sometimes the stuff I wrote with greater difficulty is better. My upcoming book, Beheld (HarperCollins, January, 2017), is composed of four long stories. I struggled to write the first one. It took me maybe six months to write that. I wrote the other three in less than a month. But that first one was very, very polished and needed less editing. Neither is better, and you don't get a choice, but there are benefits to paddling through the hard parts too.
For more information about Flinn, take a look at her website:
Or check her out on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/AlexFlinn1 and Twitter @Alex_Flinn
And for a few more interviews with her, check out these links: