Drafting a New MG Novel

With my contemporary middle grade novel officially off in query land after shaping it for two years, I have turned my attention to my next project: a contemporary MG horror novel. This book has been on my mind for quite some time, and it is refreshing to finally have the head space to write it.

And with the start of a new novel, I am experiencing all those first-draft feels, the good and the unsettling:

  • The excitement of story possibilities
  • And the angst of choosing the best route
  • The rush of figuring out how I get to the planned conclusion
  • As well as the unease of navigating the in between (a.k.a. the mushy middle)
  • The exhilarating freedom to put anything and everything on the page
  • While also resisting the temptation of self-editing along the way

You know what I mean and have probably experienced these emotions, too. It’s so exciting and freeing and overwhelming and terrifying all at once.

First drafts are the most daunting part of writing for me. That’s because of all the unknowns; I want to know everything NOW! But I’m neither a plotter nor a pantser—I know where the story starts and how I want it to end, but that’s about it.

But I’ve done this enough to know that I need to let creativity take the wheel and be open to whatever words come my way. No self-editing allowed. Put everything on the page, then wade through it and shape it later. No holding back. No self-doubt. And absolutely nothing is off limits.



Again and Again and Again

At the suggestion of one of my awesome critique partners, I’m listening to the Writing Great Fiction Great Course on Audible. (Side note: Audiobooks are my new jam. It is SO hard to sit down and focus my attention on reading when I’m busy entertaining an 6-month-old. Now I can get some reading done while driving, doing dishes, completing monotonous work. Hallelujah! I feel like I’m plugged back in to the literary world.)

The lecturer said something about revising that made an impression on me:

“When you reach the end of a draft that you’ve composed in a white heat, you can believe that you’re the greatest writer since Shakespeare. Then when you read it over the next morning, you can feel like the worst hack who ever drew breath. It’s enough to make you want to give up and go to law school like your mother wanted you to.”

While the lecturer goes on to suggest great revision methods, I wanted to say “SAME!” as he said this. Writers, have you, like me, felt these feelings on multiple revisions? Maybe not the going to law school part…one, because that sounds awful, and two, because mama knows I’ve always wanted to be a writer…but seriously!

So often that high of finishing a draft is deflated by my loud, obnoxious, know-it-all inner critic. It’s so hard to mute her. She’s almost always there.

But as heavy-sigh inducing she may be, she keeps me coming back to slash, revise, and fine tune. For us writers, isn’t that drive to create something better what keeps us coming back to this maddening game? I’m not sure why else we put ourselves through such rigorous work.

I think we know that we can do better than that draft, just like an athlete knows they can shave seconds off their time, or a saleswoman believes she can make better numbers next year. Despite how we feel about ourselves and our work in that moment, we know we can improve in the future. But this means pushing through feeling like a hack.

Let’s be real. None of us will ever be as great as Shakespeare. But maybe we can be ok. Even good. We won’t know unless we try. Again and again and again.

Interludes and Rev-ups

There’s one struggle I constantly have with myself as a writer: whether or not I’m allowed to give myself permission to take a break.

That sentence even sounds silly. Of course I’m allowed to give myself permission. It’s my own writing. Duh. But doesn’t it fly in the face of all the advice we hear from various well-known writers?

Write every single day. Write at the same time every day. Find your writing routine and stick to it. Don’t stop.

But a couple of months ago, I found myself overwhelmed with the approaching holidays and all that I needed to do. I promised myself I’d crochet gifts for my immediate family members and committed to crocheting items for a holiday boutique. (I’m an avid crocheter, for those of you who don’t know.) That, coupled with the pressure I’d put on myself to keep up revisions on my middle grade novel, was too much to handle. I could only exhaust my creative energy in so many places.

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Mapping Out My Plot

Drafting a novel is one thing, but figuring out where in the heck to start with your revision is an equally daunting task. After reading my first draft and recording all plot, character, setting, and other problems in a notebook, I still felt overwhelmed at all I had to fix. I knew I needed to start on my plot first, but I wasn’t sure how.

After combing the internet, I stumbled upon this DIY MFA article on mapping out your story like subway routes. It calls for identifying the important scenes of your plot and subplots, and then marking where they stand alone and where they converge. The point is not only to analyze the arc of each storyline, but to see where they come together.

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How to Revisit “Kid” You

If only I could go back in time to walk in young me’s shoes. Sure, research via reading books and talking to kids is arguably just as effective for churning out kid-friendly stories, but wouldn’t it help to be 7- or 12-year-old you for even an hour? To relive those kid feelings and write them into your current stories?

Well, if you wrote stories when you were a kid, I suggest you dust off those gems and read. As a kidlit writer, you strive to capture how children feel in your stories and characters. When I reread my old stories, I’m transported back to that time and, even if just momentarily, feel those kid feelings of excitement, wonder, possibility, and fear.

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Celebrations and Inspirations

It feels good to be back on the blog! The past five weeks have been busy to say the least. Not only have I been settling into my new digs and working on a massive project at work, I’ve also been writing my second middle grade novel. And after spending hundreds of hours clacking away on my laptop with film scores buzzing in my ears (I can’t listen to music with words when I write), I’VE FINALLY FINISHED THE DRAFT.

Where’s the champagne?

I’ve still got a long way to go with revising and fine-tuning, but first drafts are my least favorite. Ever. So this is yuuuge.

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The Ups and Downs of Noveling (in GIFs)

Hello, blog readers! I went to the SCBWI LA summer conference a couple of weeks ago. It was amazing and I plan to share the highlights here soon. I just haven’t yet found the time.

That’s because the conference was the kick in the butt I needed to write my second middle grade novel. The one I’ve been meaning to write for 6 months or so. So the past two weeks have been just a bit busy for me. Like writing-21,000-words-in-14-days busy.

Because all of my free time (and energy) is going toward getting that novel finished, I don’t have much to share today. Instead, I figured I’d gift you my recent writing life in the form of GIFs. I hope you can relate. Enjoy!

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Flexing Your PB Muscles

I know I’m preaching to the choir here, but picture books are stinkin’ hard to write. Creating a compelling story arc with memorable characters that appeal to both kids and adults is hard enough. But aiming to keep the story under 500 words? Ideally 300 words or less? That’s incredibly difficult.

When I write my PB manuscripts, I tend to start long, then edit down with each draft. This is effective for many reasons. It allows me to form my arc and flesh out the characters. I can fully realize the story before I have to slash words.

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Do the Dang Thing

Last week I started plotting my new middle grade novel. The one that has been nagging at my brain for months.

I’m an office-supply-loving dork, so naturally I took to plotting techniques that allowed for colorful Post-its and spiral-bound notebooks. I must admit, I was having childlike fun laying everything out. On stickies, I wrote story milestones and increases in tension, then moved them around on my bulletin board. It was an awesome visual exercise.

The notebook was super useful as well. I carried it in my purse and anytime an idea, sentence, or relevant story thought popped into my head, I captured it in my trusty journal.

Yay for being a planner, right? Until you realize you’re waiting for the plan to fully realize itself in front of your eyes before you even start writing. Until you’re able to admit to yourself that you’re creating your own form of writer’s block by expecting to have all the details figured out first.

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Rejection: So You’re Telling Me There’s a Chance

Last week I couldn’t bring myself to write. This week I’m making up for it with revisions galore. I knew I wouldn’t be out of the game long. But I’ve got an extra spring in my pen.

A couple days ago I got some serious feedback from an agent on a story. And by serious, I don’t mean an offer. I mean constructive feedback. A lot of it. Some of it was hard to read, but I agreed with many of the comments.

Solid critiques always knock me down a few steps. I love that.

As a writer, you work at a piece for a while. You have others critique it. You revise it. Critique, revise. Critique, revise. Then you’re happy enough with it. Heck, you may even think it’s good.


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