A Peek at the Creative Space of Cindy L. Rodriguez

Cindy L. Rodriguez is the author of the young adult novel, When Reason Breaks:

“13 Reasons Why meets the poetry of Emily Dickinson in this gripping debut novel perfect for fans of Sara Zarr or Jennifer Brown.

A Goth girl with an attitude problem, Elizabeth Davis must learn to control her anger before it destroys her. Emily Delgado appears to be a smart, sweet girl, with a normal life, but as depression clutches at her, she struggles to feel normal. Both girls are in Ms. Diaz’s English class, where they connect to the words of Emily Dickinson. Both are hovering on the edge of an emotional precipice. One of them will attempt suicide. And with Dickinson’s poetry as their guide, both girls must conquer their personal demons to ever be happy.

In an emotionally taut novel with a richly diverse cast of characters, readers will relish in the poetry of Emily Dickinson and be completely swept up in the turmoil of two girls grappling with demons beyond their control.”

Cindy Rodriguez teaches middle school reading and college-level composition. Before becoming a teacher, she worked as a reporter for The Hartford Courant and as a researcher for The Boston Globe’s Spotlight Team, an investigative group. She is also a contributor to LatinosInKidLit.com. To learn more about her, visit her website, friend her on Facebook, or follow her on Twitter.

Describe your workspace.

I have two work spaces: one for more business-like tasks and another for creative writing. When I sit at my office desk in my office chair, I think “work,” not “create,” so I’m focused on completing tasks, like updating my website and checking and responding to emails. The set-up reminds me of my actual out-of-the-home work spaces, past and present, so when I’m in my office, I’m more business-minded. I never actually write there.

I do almost all of my novel writing on my bed. I have pounded out some scenes in other places, like coffee shops and the waiting areas of my daughter’s activities, but my bed is my go-to writing spot. It’s where I am comfortable physically and mentally. I spread out any papers or notes to the left. I sit on the right side of the bed with my laptop and my dog. A small dresser to my right provides me with light and a place to put food and coffee. The wall on my left is often adorned with plot-related sticky notes and other pictures for inspiration.

Describe a typical workday.
I work full time as a middle school reading specialist, so that fills my day from when I wake up at 6 a.m. to when I leave around 3 p.m. During my lunch break and prep period, I am sometimes able to research or write. On Tuesday nights, I teach at a local community college, and on Thursdays, I meet a friend at Starbucks to write for a couple of hours before picking up my daughter from school. After I pick her up, we eat, do homework, etc. At night, I may have some time to read or write. Daily writing doesn’t usually happen during a typical work week. I’ve tried. I take advantage of snow days, school vacation days, and my parents who are willing to host my daughter for a sleepover so that I can write all weekend when needed.  

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

I have an angel ornament that has the Emily Dickinson phrase “Dwell in possibility” on it. The ornament was a gift from my aunt at a moment when I needed encouragement.

A critique group member picked up two buttons for me at a writing conference. One says: “Ask me about my novel,” and the other says, “Writers write. Everyone else makes excuses.” These keep me motivated.

I also have a ceramic leaf filled with stones and crystals I have picked up in various places. These are meaningful because they are positive reminders of places I’ve been.


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

I don’t have any rituals, but I do find when I’m stuck or need a break, I take a long, hot shower, do some yoga stretches, or burn some sage, close my eyes, and purposely clear my mind.

What do you listen to while you work?

I can’t listen to music while I write. No tunes or T.V. I need quiet. I will listen to certain songs in the car on my way to work if they remind me of a particular character or scene, but I don’t have a particular song or artist that I listen to specifically while writing.

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

Coffee or tea, and fruit, popcorn, or rice cakes. I’m trying to be healthy these days. What I really want is chocolate!

What keeps you focused while you’re working?

The clock. As I mentioned above, my daily life doesn’t allow for daily writing, so when I have the time, I take full advantage of it. If I know I have a three-hour block, I am focused. If I get distracted, the clock reminds me to get refocused so that I get some words in before heading off to my next obligation.

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

I take initial notes when researching and plotting longhand, but I write drafts on a computer.

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

I brainstorm and outline longhand in a notebook. I write out what will happen and then break it down by chapters, but I am not a meticulous outliner. My notes do not detail the character’s every move, but instead what must happen in the chapter–the main things he or she must do and certain dialogue phrases I don’t want to forget. I have also used a visual story board–posting sticky notes on my wall–when I need to do major revisions that require moving scenes around. I do not have color-coded charts, graphs, or spreadsheets or anything like that. That’s too methodical for me. My brain doesn’t work that way.

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

I could share my space with my friend, Melody, whom I meet at Starbucks on Thursdays. We have a routine: get coffee/tea, chat briefly to catch up, and then we’re quiet and working. So, I know we’d get work done and enjoy each other’s company during breaks. I don’t think, though, that Melody would want to do this in my bedroom! 

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

Write what you want. We often worry too much about everything–the market, what’s trendy, what’s not, what’s expected with the next book. Should the next story be the same genre or not? Can I switch from YA to MG? And the questions and concerns can go on and on. There are a thousand ways to spark anxiety and stress during the writing and publishing process. The best advice I’ve heard from my agent and other writers is to write what you want to write. Period. Don’t over think it.