National Writing Project

Why I Write: Valerie Hobbs Writes with Music in Her Blood

Date: September 28, 2011

Summary: Valerie Hobbs, an award-winning author of young adult books and an NWP teacher-consultant, writes because she cannot not write. "It's in me and it's gotta come out," she says.


How did you become a young adult author?

By the back door, so to speak. I "simply" wrote a thinly-disguised novel about a year in my life as a teen and found an agent who placed it in the young adult market. It was a stroke of luck for me, though I was a bit put out at first. How could the great American novel (ahem) end up in the young adult market?

What are the things you're most proud of having written, from any time in your life?

A novel called Defiance about a twelve-year-old boy with cancer. It was the most difficult thing I've ever tried, and the most rewarding. A dear old friend of mine, who was a poet and children's book writer, had to nudge me through it all the way.

How would you describe your writing process? That is, how do you usually research, write, revise, edit? What routines help, and what challenges do you regularly face?

Fitful. I write like the wind when I'm really into something and believe in it, but I sit like a frog in mud when I can't think of anything to write. Writer friends call it "filling the well," but the frog image is what keeps coming to me. I have no patience. None.

I edit as I go along. I'm unable to write what Anne Lamott calls a "shitty" first draft. It's a little like having to do the dishes before I sit down to write.

What's the strangest or most interesting thing you've ever written about or researched for a writing project?

Neuroblastomas. Border collies. The Triangle Fire.

How do outside forces influence or shape your writing? (for instance, your audience, editors, the market, things you read, etc.)

I wish those outside forces had no influence on me. I don't read or write fantasy so I'm constantly in awe—okay, and envy—of it.

I was more easily shaped by what friends and fellow writers said when I first began writing as a 1981 Fellow in the South Coast Writing Project. Now I pretty much know my way, though I do listen to my editor, Frances Foster, at Farrar, Straus, Giroux. She's brilliant.

Why do you write?

Because I cannot not write. There's a saying I've framed that hangs over my desk: "To be born Welsh is to be born privileged. Not with a silver spoon in your mouth, but with music in your blood and poetry in your soul." It's in me and it's gotta come out.

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