Sunday, October 09, 2016

One Writer’s Process: Debbie Reed Fischer

Some writers rely on complicated charts to plot their novels while others use outlines, says Debbie Reed Fischer, the award-winning author of Swimming with the Sharks, Braless in Wonderland, and This is NOT the Abby Show.

Fischer prefers to just sit down with an idea and write, using what she calls a rather chaotic system of notebooks and post-its containing plot points, snippets of dialogue, or key words.

“The fact is everybody’s brain works differently,” says Fischer, “and so there are many ways to plan and write your story. I say find a system that works for you.”

Fischer found a system that worked for her early in life when she was an Air Force and State Department brat moving every two years.

“I coped with classes I hated by sitting in the back row,” she says, “and writing stories, poems and notes to my friends.”

Although she had planned on a career writing film and TV scripts, she ended up after graduating from the University of Miami’s screenwriting program as an agent working on the business end of film and TV.

It may not have been what she’d planned, but the job gave Fischer the inspiration to write Braless in Wonderland. It also left her with little time to write. So she decided to return to college and become an English teacher, which gave her, she soon discovered, even less time to write.

So, after having children of her own, she quit teaching, began writing, signed up for a workshop at her local library, joined a critique group, attended conferences, and dedicated herself to writing and reading.

“I’ve been an avid reader of middle grade and young adult fiction since I was a middle grader myself,” says Fischer. “I’ve never stopped reading books for kids. I met my agent at a writers’ conference, and we started corresponding. He liked my first manuscript, Swimming with the Sharks, and signed me. I wrote my second book, Braless in Wonderland, while waiting for Sharks to sell.”

If there’s anything that she’s learned over the years, it’s how to keep her sense of humor, and how to find humor in almost any situation.
Humor is everywhere if you pay attention,” says Fischer, whose humorous account of Abby navigating middle school and ADHD has drawn rave reviews and comparisons to Rachel Renee Russell’s Dork Diaries, Jeff Kinney’s Wimpy Kid, and Jack Gantos’ Joey Pigza series. “It’s the little things.  Listening to people order food can have me in hysterics. Little kids say funny things, and so do the elderly. Take note of irony. It’s all around you.”
Fischer lives in Boca Raton, FL with her family and was kind enough to take time from her work on a novel-in-progress to share some thoughts on writing with wordswimmer.

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

Fischer: I get in the water early. I wake up at 5:45 when the rest of my household is sleeping, because as the day goes on, it gets harder for me to focus. I like to write while the water is calm and quiet.

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

Fischer:  Writing snippets of dialogue or scene notes as soon as they pop into my head keeps me afloat and on course. With one of my books, the ending of a novel came to me during dinner, and I jotted it down on napkins. Also, literal swimming keeps me afloat. Swimming opens up my mind somehow. Maybe it's the sound of the water too. Anyway, ideas come when I'm in a pool or at the beach. 

Wordswimmer: How do you keep swimming through dry spells? 

Fischer: I remind myself that a dry spell is just that - a spell. It's temporary. Just keep writing, and eventually, you're swimming again. 

Wordswimmer: What's the hardest part of swimming?

Fischer: For me, it's revising. I love writing a first draft because it doesn't have to be perfect. But to rewrite a draft many times over can get tough, to the point where I wonder why I'm torturing myself. My middle grade novel, This is NOT the Abby Show, was originally a young adult book. It involved a love triangle, plus some scenes in a juvenile detention facility. After receiving feedback from editors suggesting it was more of a middle grade book, I took out several characters, eliminated the love triangle, cut out half of it, and rewrote the book from a twelve-year-old's point of view. It sold. So I guess that's why I'm torturing myself!

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

Fischer: I reach out to my writer friends who will understand what I'm going through. I'm lucky to have supportive friends that I've met through SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators). I'm not the only fish in the writing sea, and that has made all the difference. They give me great advice and comfort when I need it.

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

Fischer: I love it when I'm writing quickly with the story pouring out of me. Those first drafts that are purely for yourself, before you have to show it to anyone or revise it, are my favorite part of the process. I love being alone with me and my characters in that time period before I have to share them with anyone.

To learn more about Fischer, visit her website:

For more interviews with her, visit:


Graham Salisbury (Sandy) said...

Thank you for this post, Bruce and Debbie. It's good to know that other writers are as eclectic in their approach as I am. I do need to know where I'm going, and why. But after that, it's anything goes, whatever I can make work. Only I am one who LOVES revision, and suffers through the first draft. So Debbie send me some of your first-draft karma! Please!


Bruce Black said...

Thanks, Sandy, for your comment. You are the Master of Revisions, and long ago helped me fall in love with the process, though I must say that, like Debbie, I love first drafts, too. Hope all's well, and that you're finding your way through the thicket of a first draft to the pleasure of revisions. Be well.