Dee White on How Writers Work


How did you get your first book published?

My debut YA novel, Letters to Leonardo took over 10 years from initial idea to publication. It involved more than 30 drafts and around 1 million words on paper.

Initially, I worked with a mentor on this novel, but unfortunately, it hampered rather than enhanced the book’s progress.

Mentorships are a unique and wonderful opportunity to develop your skills as a writer, but you need to find a mentor who shares your vision for your story.

My mentor and I were not on the same wavelength, and the book ended up being a completely different one from what was in my heart.

My story, Letters to Leonardo is about an artistic boy who writes letters to Leonardo da Vinci to help him cope with the upheaval in his life caused by the fact that he discovers his ‘dead’ mother is still alive.

My mentor said that kids wouldn’t have heard of Leonardo da Vinci and that art was ‘old hat’ so my story because a book called Space about a boy who loved star gazing and had astronomer, Buzz Aldrin as his mentor.

It wasn’t till I reverted back to the original story, my story, that it was published.

I had the manuscript assessed at the SCBWI 2008 conference by Margaret Hamilton and she was very positive about it. Walker Books were interested to hear what Margaret had said about the manuscript and asked to see it. I was ecstatic to get that phone call several months later advising that they wished to publish my book.

So I’d have to say that Letters to Leonardo was published as a direct result of me attending the SCBWI conference.

what is your writing routine?

I wake up early and work from about 6.30am to 7.30am when I take my kids to the bus stop. Then I basically write until it’s time to pick them up again at 4.30pm. Sometimes I am writing my work in progress, other times I’m working on blog posts.

For the last few months, most of my time has been spent developing lesson plans and writing activities for my new blog Writing Classes For Kids & Adults.

In between writing, I walk my dog a lot (and sometimes the goat comes too). Walking helps free my mind and spark new ideas.

My creative space usually has a dog or a cat or both in it. The rabbits used to come in but I had to deter them because they kept hopping under my desk and trying to chew the computer cords.

I have learned to ignore the distraction of the view from my window but it still inspires me and reminds me that the world is a beautiful place.

Your latest book or WIP

I usually write realistic or historical fiction so my latest venture is a new direction for me and I’m having lots of fun with it

I’m currently writing a dystopian YA thriller trilogy, Teen Harvest about two kids who are conscripted into an elite teen army that’s a front for something even more sinister.

12 thoughts on “Dee White on How Writers Work

  1. Oooh. Your WIP certainly does sound sinister, Dee! Just from that short burst.

    I’m glad you stuck with Leonardo. The links between Leonardo’s life and Matt’s are perfect for the story you tell!

  2. Interesting to hear about your writing journey and terrible advice by your mentor. Glad you trusted your instincts because as we know all too well young people should not be patronised to and are quite sophisticated in their interests. Also in this day of self publishing a lot of people are not willing to undertake the apprenticeship required with their first efforts.

  3. Thanks Kat,

    Letters to Leonardo taught me a lot about writing, a lot about persistence, and a lot about writing from your heart.

    I’m enjoying the challenge of trying something different.


  4. I’m glad I trusted my instincts too Amra.

    And now that I have teens of my own it’s even more apparent how they are often underestimated.

    Being a fan of Leonardo da Vinci, I also read that his apprenticeship was 13 years so I figured that ten was a small price to pay…and I don’t think I’ll ever stop learning.

    I’m always reluctant to tell people this story because I am a strong advocate of mentorships…it’s just that mentor and mentee have to share the same vision for the story.


  5. Yes, so true, Dee. Mentorships are like a short-term marriage. 🙂 So glad you trusted your instincts in the end and that you went to the SCBWI conference – must’ve been a good year, that’s the conference that we became friends.

  6. Sounds like a normal writer’s life to me, Dee. Full of ups and downs, highs and lows and sprinkled with magnificent moments of creation, celebration and excitement.

  7. That’s so true, Corinne,

    That’s definitely a writer’s life. The wonderful moments are definitely worth all the hard work and angst.


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