Writer Spotlight: Anna Caltabiano

Writer Spotlight: Anna Caltabiano

Today’s interviewee is a teen author with a massive social media following. Anna Caltabiano is the author of The Seventh Miss Hatfield, All That is Red and the forthcoming The Time of the Clockmaker. Anna self-published her first book at just 14 and now, at 18, is in college pursuing a medical degree. Here, she talks about writing as a practice, working with editors and how she hopes a career in medicine will affect her writing.

Meet Anna Caltabiano

I understand you started writing because of a bet you had with your dad. Can you give us the backstory on that?

It’s a bit of a strange story, actually. I’m an only child, and normally every summer my dad does what a lot of parents of only children do—sign their kid up for summer camp so they don’t spend their summer being a couch potato. One summer, to escape summer camp, I told my parents that I was going to write a novel. I loved to write short stories, and I had always meant to write a novel someday, so I decided that that was as good a time as any. Of course, my dad said what any parent in their right mind would say: “Yeah, right.” I ended up parking myself right in the middle of the dining room table all summer to write the first draft of what would later become my first novel, All That is Red.

Have you developed a writing routine over the years? And how have you balanced writing with school?

I try to write a little every day. Of course, that doesn’t always happen. But I think of writing as something you practice. You can’t automatically become “good” at it. It’s something you get better at just by the sheer number of hours you spend on it. And what’s the best way to practice something? Doing a little of it each day.

Many of my classmates spend hours practicing their sport or running through lines for their musical. Writing is my activity. It’s not the only think I like to do, but it’s something that I love that I want to spend time practicing. I’m in an eight-year medical program in school, so I’m looking forward to learning about people in different ways. What better way to learn about the ins and outs of people than through studying and practicing medicine? I think what I will see and learn could only improve my writing.

Which part of storytelling do you love the most? What is the most challenging part?

My personal favorite part of writing is creating the dialogue. That’s where the storytelling becomes real for me; when characters have real dialogue, they become real people.

The most challenging part for me is writing the middle of the novel. I always start with the end of the novel in mind. Then I come up with a suitable beginning, and work forward by writing from start to finish. The middle is a wide-open mystery. I need to work through the story from beginning to end to find out what happens to the characters just as the reader works from beginning to end.

Can you describe what the process of publishing your first book was like? What did you learn during that process of working with editors and publishers?

I think that the most important part about being published is that you get to work with a professional editor. Their job is taking books that authors like me write, going through them in detail, and recommending how we can make them better. How lucky am I to have two world-class editors (one in London with Hachette and one in New York with HarperCollins) giving me advice on improving my books. Editors are often worried about hurting the feeling or confidence of writers by critiquing their books. I look at it totally differently. I am truly grateful to have such great editors spend time on helping my writing.

What about before you got your publishing deal—did you face rejection? If so, how did you deal with it and push past it?

Writing is very personal; you put down your own thoughts and emotions on the page, so when you get a rejection, it can sting a little. But what does one “no” really mean? All it means was that it was one “no” out of the way on your path to getting that one “yes” that could mean everything.

How was writing your first book at 14 different from writing your third book at 17?

Aside from the circumstances of writing my first book, which I previously mentioned, writing my third book was not that different from my first. Yes, it helps to do some basic planning, but in the end you cannot spend too much time diagramming and preparing to write. You just need to get down to the writing. Put pen to paper—or these days, fingers to the keyboard. Write every day. Don’t worry about being a perfectionist when writing—save perfectionism for when you are editing.

Anna Caltabiano

You’ve got a huge social media following, especially on Twitter. How did you build that? How important has it been to have that platform as an author?

I wrote my first book on a very sensitive, rarely discussed topic—self-harm, specifically cutting. Being a young teenager, and writing an allegorical novel on this topic, gained me immediate attention. I appeared on TV, in newspapers, and in various magazines, which, in turn, seemed to enhance my online following. Interacting online is incredibly important for an author these days, since social media has replaced bookstores and newspaper book reviews as the primary way that authors communicate with potential readers.

Do you intend to be a career writer/novelist? What would you like your life to look like in 10 years?

I plan to write the rest of my life. However, to be the best possible writer, you also need to experience life. Now, I am going through the college process, full of excitement, wonder, stimulation, exhaustion, and stress. Everything I do professionally and personally, everyone I meet, affects my writing.

I am studying medicine at Brown University. I plan to build a career in medicine and the mental health field, but I will always share this profession with my writing. In fact, I am sure that my professional and writing worlds will enhance each other and make me both a better doctor and a better writer.

What advice would you give to a young writer?

It’s easy to want to make things perfect—to sit in front of your computer or pad of paper and stare at it until the perfect words come to mind to write down. Writing rarely works that way. Put something down and tell yourself that you can—no, you should—change it later. Not only are you allowed to edit your own writing, you should; it makes you a better writer. If you wait for inspiration or perfection, you’ll be waiting a long time, maybe forever.


Thanks, Anna, for your thoughtful responses! If you enjoyed Anna’s interview—or if you have any questions—let her know in the comments. Don’t forget to follow Anna on Twitter.