A Peek at the Creative Space of Sydney Salter

This week we’re taking a peek at the creative space of author Sydney Salter. She writes middle grade and young adult fiction and is the author of Jungle Crossing, My Big Nose and Other Natural Disasters, and Swoon at Your Own Risk.

In My Big Nose and Other Natural Disasters seventeen-year-old Jory Michaels is convinced that all will be right in her world if she has a nose job. From the publisher: “that means three sun-and-fun filled months of spending time with her best friends, obsessing over her crush, trying to find something she is passionate about, and. . . saving for a nose job. Jory is determined to lose the big, honking, bumpy monstrosity she calls the Super Schnozz–the one thing standing between her and happiness.” Booklist said, “The contemporary dialogue is rapid and funny, and teens will enjoy Jory’s comic self-deprecation and the way she gets the signals wrong, both while driving and on dates.”

Sydney’s most recent novel is Swoon at Your Own Risk another summer romance, this time featuring Polly Martin whose grandmother is the famous syndicated advice columnist Miss Swoon. From the publisher, “after a junior year full of dating disasters, Polly has sworn off boys. Now she’s just trying to survive her summer job at Wild Waves western-themed water park (under the supervision of ex #3 Sawyer Holmes) and focus on herself for once. So Polly is happy when she finds out Grandma is moving in for the summer–think of all the great advice she’ll get.” But Grandma turns out to be a little wilder than Polly expected, and Polly finds herself wrapped up in boy drama once again. Booklist wrote, “What appears to be a frothy summer confection delves into some heftier emotions as the underlying issues motivating Polly’s actions, as well as those of her mom and grandma, are uncovered.”
Sydney Salter lives in Utah with her husband, two daughters, two cats, two Bernese Mountain dogs and her daughter’s tortoises. To learn more about her and her books, you can visit her website and her blog. And now, let’s get a taste of how she works. . .

Describe your workspace.

I write on a cluttered table in my living room. I like the high ceilings, big windows, bookshelves—and my dog enjoys lounging on the couch watching me. I feel too confined in a room, so I’ve let my husband take over the home office.

Describe a typical workday.

September – June: I drive the morning carpool, come home, boil water for tea, do a quick writing exercise, and dive into my current WIP. Every hour or so I’ll check email and favorite blogs. I stop for lunch (and watch Hot Topics on The View) and then either finish up a chapter or work on other things like interviews, email, or catch up on my reading stack. 
Summer: It’s all craziness. I write while my daughters swim at the local pool, or we all go to the bookstore and I bribe them with café treats, and they leave me alone for an hour or two. On weekends I sneak out early to write in a coffee shop.

List three of your most favorite things in your workspace and why they are meaningful.

I love my green-eyed sock monster. He reminds me to focus on my own writing, and not worry about what everyone else is doing.

On a nearby shelf, I keep my beloved turtle collection. I’ve been collecting turtles and tortoise figurines for years. Recently I found this quote from Martha Beck that describes exactly how I feel: “Turtles have everything a writer needs: tough shells to deal with criticism; soft, sensitive insides; the need to stick their necks out if they want to move forward; and the slow-and-steady patience to keep slogging away day after day.” If I have a rough day, I invite some turtles to sit on my desk. That keeps me going.

That brings me to my third thing: A tiny frame filled with quotes. Another favorite from Anthony Trollope: “A small daily task, if it be really daily, will beat the labours of a spasmodic Hercules.”

Do you have any rituals in your work habits? If so, describe them. 

Not really. I’ve learned to write whenever I find time, wherever I find time—and rituals would give me all kinds of excuses not to write.

What do you listen to while you work?

This summer I’m listening to a playlist called “Syd’s Pop Songs” that my husband created. Phoenix, Edward Sharp and The Magnetic Zeros, Josh Ritter, Andrew Bird, Stellastarr, Starlight Mints. I admit to taking a dance break every time “If I Ever Feel Better” by Phoenix comes on.

What is your drink and/or snack of choice while you’re working? 

I drink coffee or black tea in the morning, and slowly decaffeinate to mint tea in the afternoon. If I hit a word count goal, I’ll treat myself to some dark chocolate from my special stash.

What keeps you focused while you’re working?

Oh, I think I’m just stubborn. I make myself sit in my chair and work. If I find myself peeking around online, I’ll turn off my email and browser. I’m a pretty disciplined writer.

Do you write longhand, on a computer, or another way?

I used to write everything longhand, but now my laptop feels intimate that way. I still do my daily writing exercises longhand though. I love fast pens!

How do you develop your story ideas? Do you use an outline, let the muse lead you, or another technique?

On a yellow pad, I brainstorm plot ideas, key scenes, and character profiles. Next I write a detailed synopsis, playing a bit with my main character’s voice. If the story requires research, I take notes in a spiral notebook. Right before writing, I go through magazines and cut out pictures that resemble my characters, things that represent themes in the story, photos of scenery. And then I’m off . . .

If you were forced to share your workspace but could share it with anyone of your choosing, who would it be?

Recently, I joined a few friends for a retreat. I loved sitting next to a fast writer, clicking away at her keyboard—it motivated me to keep plugging away. So I guess I’d go for a prolific writer—Meg Cabot, Joyce Carol Oats. . . Do I have to share my chocolate too?

What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve heard or received? 

Read. When I do critiques at conferences, I can always tell how much a writer reads. Read, read, read. It makes a huge difference in your writing.


4 Responses to “A Peek at the Creative Space of Sydney Salter”

  1. LadybugSF

    What great advice about writing. Since I am now wasting my daughter's nap time reading… er.. blogs, I shall get back to work on my own WIP.

  2. Belle

    Great post. I love fast pens, too! I've always found that the more I read, the better my writing feels to me.

  3. Sally

    I am stealing the idea of cutting out pictures and pasting them a notebook for character and plot reference! I am such a visual person, this trick is going to help me so much!
    Thanks again!!!