I was born in Camden, New Jersey in 1949 and lived in Oaklyn and Cherry Hill until the middle of sixth grade. Then we moved to Springfield, Illinois. My parents were avid readers and they gave that love of books and reading to me and to all my brothers and sisters. I didn’t think about being a writer at all back then, but I did love to read. I'm certain there's a link between reading good books and becoming a writer. I don't know a single writer who wasn’t a reader first.
Before moving to Illinois, and even afterwards, our family spent summers at a cabin on a lake in Maine. There was no TV there, no phone, no doorbell—and email wasn’t even invented. All day there was time to swim and fish and mess around outside, and every night, there was time to read. I know those quiet summers helped me begin to think like a writer.
During my senior year at Springfield High School my English teacher handed back a poem I’d written. Two things were amazing about that paper. First, I’d gotten an A—a rare event in this teacher’s class. And she’d also written in large, scrawly red writing, “Andrew—this poem is so funny. This should be published!”
That praise sent me off to Northwestern University feeling like I was a pretty good writer, and occasionally professors there also encouraged me and complimented the essays I was required to write as a literature major. But I didn’t write much on my own—just some poetry now and then. I learned to play guitar and began writing songs, but again, only when I felt like it. Writing felt like hard work—something that’s still true today.
After the songwriting came my first job in publishing. I worked for a small publisher who specialized in how-to books, the kind of books that have photos with informative captions below each one. The book in which my name first appeared in print is called A Country Christmas Treasury. I’d built a number of the projects featured in the book, and I was listed as one of the “craftspeople”on the acknowlegements page, in tiny, tiny type.
In 1990 I began trying to write a story about a boy who makes up a new word. That book eventually became my first novel, Frindle, published in 1996, and you can read the whole story of how it developed on another web site, frindle.com. Frindle became popular, more popular than any of my books before or since—at least so far. And it had the eventual effect of turning me into a full-time writer.
I’ve learned that I need time and a quiet place to think and write. These days, I spend a lot of my time sitting in a small shed about seventy feet from my back door at our home in Massachusetts. There’s a woodstove in there for the cold winters, and an air conditioner for the hot summers. There’s a desk and chair, and I carry a laptop computer back and forth. But there’s no TV, no phone, no doorbell, no email. And the woodstove and the pine board walls make the place smell just like that cabin in Maine where I spent my earliest summers.
Sometimes kids ask how I've been able to write so many books. The answer is simple: one word at a time. Which is a good lesson, I think. You don't have to do everything at once. You don't have to know how every story is going to end. You just have to take that next step, look for that next idea, write that next word. And growing up, it's the same way. We just have to go to that next class, read that next chapter, help that next person. You simply have to do that next good thing, and before you know it, you're living a good life.