WINTERGIRLS by Laurie Halse Anderson

There are a handful of moments in my life that have had a huge impact on me as a writer, and one of them involves this book.  It might not  sound like a very big deal, but it’s a tiny memory — a pebble in my pocket — that I turn over and over when I’m struggling with a project.

In January of 2008, I was attending my first Kindling Words retreat in Vermont,  and Laurie Halse Anderson was the leader of the author strand, which meant she gave three 90-minute presentations on craft over the course of the retreat — one each morning.  I was excited. I had read every one of Laurie’s books and had just finished sharing FEVER  1793 with my 7th graders as a whole class novel.  Laurie was — and is — one of those authors I want to be like when I grow up.  

So on the first morning of the retreat, I showed up at the ballroom early with my cup of tea, figuring I’d get a good seat and scribble notes for a while until the workshop started.  I was the only one there.  Except for Laurie.  She was sitting on the floor against a wall, wearing jeans and a flannel shirt, poking away at her laptop and looking like she was about to pull her hair out.  I sat down really quietly and pretended to write and drink tea, but really I was watching her.  She never looked up until the room started to fill and she had to get ready for her talk.

She said a lot of things in that talk, but what I remember most is this:  "Chapter 20 is kicking my butt."

That’s what she’d been working on over in her corner.  Because she was working on it every spare minute, determined to get it just right.

And she did.

WINTERGIRLS was that book. 

Today is its official release day, and you can buy it at your favorite independent bookseller or find one through IndieBound. You should.  It’s an amazing, amazing story about eater disorders and teenagers and self-image and pain and forgiveness and healing.  Teens are going to love it and hold onto it tightly.

As for me?  I hold onto that picture of Laurie sitting on the floor with her laptop. Because that’s what a real writer looks like.  And if she can turn Chapter 20 into that kind of magic, maybe there’s hope for the rest of us too.

25 Replies on “WINTERGIRLS by Laurie Halse Anderson

  1. I am very glad you shared this.

    I admire that sort of dedication, and envy that sort of concentration. I’ve just put aside my WIP because I can hear the kids stirring in their beds upstairs. To be able to write in a room filling with conferees? That is focus.

  2. What a great memory — thank you for sharing that. I will definitely be picking up a copy.

    KW sounds like such a great retreat. I would love to attend next year. We’ll see!

  3. Timely post! It helps to know everyone struggles to get their book just right. Thanks for sharing.

    I’m looking forward to reading Wintergirls during Spring Break!

  4. Love this post, Kate. Thanks so much for sharing that memory. I too want to be LHA when I grow up. The first book I read of hers was FEVER. I picked it up in a bookstore in NYC w/o knowing anything it and fell in love with her as an author.

    I can’t wait to read this book.

  5. I love this post.

    Makes me want to look up Chapter 20 in the book, except I know that by now, what was Chapter 20 back then might be another chapter now. “Wintergirls” is amazing.

  6. What a perfect memory both of Laurie and of our process as writers. Oh to have that sort of dedication that can shut the rest of the world out and just write.

  7. me too!!


    that KW conference was a turning point for me, too. I was in some confusion about my WIP at the time, and Laurie’s ideas and words and willingness to share her own struggle helped me power through it. I remember that after her last session, I created a new file called “don’t think” and just starting pouring words into it (something I am sadly unable to do on a regular working day).

    Yay, Laurie! Yay, WINTERGIRLS.

    Rebecca Stead

    P.S. If I’m not mistaken, “Chapter 20” is now Chapter 20-something else . .

  8. I’m really looking forward to this book, so happy it’s now on its way to shelves. And of course that woman on the floor plunking at her laptop must be you, too, Kate. I’m awed by how you can be a great teacher, great mom, and great writer all at once; we don’t see this, but surely you tear at least a few hairs out now and then on your way to all that grace.

  9. I am devouring Wintergirls right now and loving every single word.

    LHA is a genius. I think when I finish I will have to run to the library and checkout every other book she has written.

  10. I’m right there with you (which is why I usually write when everyone else is asleep!). I’m trying to get better at writing with distractions, though, because there’s so much “found time” to be had while I’m waiting for my kids at various practices and lessons and things.

  11. Actually, Laurie read from that chapter at this year’s retreat, and you’re right. It’s no longer chapter 20, but I can’t remember what it is now. Sorry about that.

  12. Re: me too!!

    I bet that series of presentations was powerful for a lot of people. I think so highly of Laurie’s work that she’s always been kind of larger-than-life for me, so to hear that she has the same struggles was heartening and made me want to get back to work.

    And yes, chapter 20 is chapter-something-else now, but I can’t remember what she told us.

  13. Thank you, Jeannine. Mostly I am the woman in the bleachers at ice skating practice, rather than the one on the floor. And yes, I tear out my share of hairs. The rest of them are starting to get gray.