Writing Tips

Guest Blogger: YA Novelist J.L. Powers

J.L. Powers headshot

What do you write, and what, specifically, are you working on now?

I write young adult novels, picture books, and some nonfiction for adults and young adults. My first novel for young adults was realistic fiction that involved a murder, a kidnapping, and a race riot. My second novel was considered an alternative fantasy, set in South Africa. My third novel is realistic, about a girl graffiti artist.

At the moment, I am working on two books, both of them with my brother—a fantasy and a sci-fi. They are dramatically different from my previous books and I’m enjoying it.

What do your first drafts typically look like?

They are very messy. They are not finished. Usually, you’ll see a hundred starts. I will save the book under its title, e.g., TITLE, and then when I abandon one attempt or realize it’s too messy or I’m going to go in a new direction and don’t want to lose the old stuff in case I ever need to go back to it (this never happens, by the way), I save the new attempt under the same name with a number. So TITLE2. TITLE3. TITLE4. And so on. By the time I have a completed first draft, there are usually 14 or 15 of these incomplete drafts saved in the folder. Then I start the revision and it’ll be called TITLEFINAL. If I progress through several drafts of that, it’ll be TITLEFINAL2, TITLEFINAL3, and so on. By the time I have a completed book that is ready to send to my agent, I have dozens of documents saved in the folder for that novel. It’s kind of embarrassing, actually.

What is your revision process?

I revise constantly as I write.  I’ll write a few pages, print it out to read and make corrections, then correct on the computer before continuing with new stuff. I do this continuously every few pages. I always print out the entire document and revise the entire document each time, after every few pages added. So it’s a laborious process but it works for me. Those first few pages even of my very first draft always sound really polished to people, even if they aren’t remotely related to the first few pages of the completed, published book.

Where do you like to write?

Typically my office in my house—I’m lucky to have one—but these days I write anywhere. At the moment, I’m writing in my 3-year-old’s bed while he sleeps beside me.

What tools do you use?

Just my laptop and a basic word processing program.

For research, I travel, talk to people, and read a lot. I use books, articles, blogs, whatever I need to. Since two of my books are set in African countries, I’ve used a lot of blogs, message boards, internet radio, video clips, and other things to get speech patterns down, as well as spending lots of time talking to people with a tape recorder going so I could later go back and figure out speech patterns, cobble together things that are commonly said and how they are said, etc.

Who is your favorite author and/or what is your favorite book, and why?

I am a huge fan of Benjamin Alire Saenz and my favorite book by him is Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood. I think it’s the best young adult book written in the last ten years. I’ve read it and taught it a dozen times and I always cry in the same spot.

What was the first piece you ever wrote, and what made you decide to start it?

I don’t remember the very first piece I ever wrote as my mother started finding stories around the house when I was six years old that I had apparently written—I remember none of those. But I wrote my first novel when I was 11. It was about an escaped slave heading north on the Underground Railroad.

Where can we read more of your work?

My books can be bought in bookstores or online. You can find my titles at You can also read my blog postings there and at and book reviews & interviews at





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