Writer’s Toolbox

Author Q&A

Here we present our exclusive collection of Q&As with a long list of illustrious authors.

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Annie Barrows

Annie BarrowsAnnie Barrows is the author of the children's books series Ivy and Bean.

What is your method for overcoming writer’s block?

I’ve never experienced the classic horror-story form of writer’s block: the paper that stays blank day after day. What I get are pages and pages of material that don’t move me toward my goal, that answer no questions posed by the narrative, or that pedal my characters down a footpath leading to an alternate story. I have been known to take this flailing as a sign that the narrative goal is flawed and must be changed immediately, but now I’m pretty sure that the monstrous truth is that the flailing reveals something uncooked, un-thought-through, in the basic elements of the story I’m working on. Maybe a character has become expedient or maybe I’ve fallen in love with the details and let the story go to hell. Whatever the case, the answer is thinking and unraveling and thinking and unraveling and trying to get back to the foundation, which is always some version of "Why do I care about this"?

What are your favorite or most helpful writing prompts?

There’s the mortgage, but if that fails, I wander out of my office and pick a book off my shelves. Almost any book will do. There’s always something interesting—a success or a failure—to learn from, and it breaks the spell.

What is the most valuable advice you received as a young writer?

I never was a young writer. When I was young, I was an editor. I’m sure I dispensed a lot of very bad writing advice to my authors (sorry, guys!), but I believe that the process of guiding several hundred books through the editorial process was an essential element of my metamorphosis into a writer. As an editor, I learned that the quality of a piece is far less a function of magical talent than a function of plain old work. This was a direct refutation of my youthful fantasies about literature, but it was thrilling, too, because it meant I could move to the other side of the desk.