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.

#amwriting

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Query Nerves

I’m sitting here, ready to finally send my contemporary MG novel into the crowded inboxes of kidlit agents, and I’m relieved and overwhelmed all at once. Is this similar to how I’ll feel when I eventually send my son to his first day of school? Excited for him to stand on his own among other kids but terrified that he’s not ready to be without me?

It’s time to let go. I know that. I feel it. My novel is practically whispering, “Query me.” But gosh, it’s nerve wracking!

It all goes back to self-doubt and that nagging feeling that no matter how many times I’ve worked over my manuscript, it isn’t ready. I’m beyond proud of the story. My critique group has offered kudos and feedback on multiple versions. As the current draft stands, they can’t poke anymore holes in it. A good sign. A sign to set it free and forget about it for a while.

The writer and editor in me knows that there’s always room for improvement. That no matter how many drafts I write, there’s another direction to take the story. A different way of framing it. An alternative take on a scene, a chapter, a piece of dialogue. The possibilities never end. Iterations are endless. But at a certain point in time, after working on a novel for years, I have to let it try to stand on its legs.

The mama in me wants to coddle it, hold onto it a bit longer. But I know if I’m going to learn anything about what I’ve done, I need to set it free, at least for a little while. See where it goes, if it comes back to me, or if it makes it out there in the wide world.

So here I go.

Conference Magic

A conference hangover is the best kind of hangover. On the heels of SCBWI OC Writers Day, I find myself full of energy. It happens after every conference—I get doused with this magic that makes me want to keep on keeping on with my craft, no matter how exhausted or busy I am.

That magic helped me complete a final read-through of my middle grade novel before I soon send it off to agents. Not only that, I’m ready to start my next novel. You know that middle grade horror story I’ve wanted to write since earlier this year? Just this past week, an idea sparked and I can’t stop thinking about it.

Yep, that productivity is the result of conference fairy dust, people. And every time I leave another SCBWI event, I walk away with that magic sprinkled atop my shoulders.

To maximize my experience, these are the things I do at events. I encourage you to try one or two at the next conference you attend.

  1. Temper your expectations. Walk in expecting to learn, learn, learn. I’m not saying you can’t expect an agent or editor to swoon over your work, but remember that this industry is competitive. The more open you are to other ideas, the more you grow.
  2. Be friendly. Like you, many of the other attendees are breaking from their writer bubbles. It can be difficult to step out of your comfort zone, but making friends can lead to new critique partners, submission opportunities, and more. Plus, kidlit writers are the nicest people on the planet.
  3. Listen for the nuggets. Even if you’ve attended many conferences and have heard the same topics covered again and again, be receptive. The speakers have valuable insight that could propel you forward in some way.
  4. Pay for the extras if you can. Industry-expert feedback on your work is SO valuable. Take advantage of that manuscript critique or pitch session. Who knows, it could be a door to something great if your piece resonates with even one person.

What do you do to capture that conference magic?

Writing Middle Grade Horror

As I plug away at the third draft of my middle grade adventure/friendship novel, I find myself daydreaming about my next project. I really want to write a middle grade horror novel. No concrete ideas yet, but I want to write something scary for the 8 to 12-year-old audience.

The problem is I’ve never even dabbled in the horror genre as a writer. Not a-once. And even worse, I’m having a hard time finding resources and analysis that I can really sink my teeth into. The internet is full of articles and thoughts on other MG genres. But horror? Not so much. At least according to my googling.

I’m reading a few MG horror novels now to get perspective. Mentor texts are amazing. But I’d love some direction from MG horror authors. So I turn to all of you.

Have you read articles or books on the genre? Taken classes or attended webinars? Anything you’d like to share? Brilliant mentor texts?

Please and thank you!

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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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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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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Transfiguring My Novel

Finishing my first novel was surreal. It had been a dream of mine for a long time and I finally mustered up the guts to do it. Thanks to the NaNoWriMo community, I pushed through and finished a 50,000-word middle grade novel on November 30th. Cue the celebratory Wildfire Whiz-bangs.

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The feeling of accomplishment lasted for a solid three months. I focused back on writing and revising my picture books, yipping and yahooing myself for starting and completing a longer work. A few weeks ago, after I submitted my best PB yet to various agents, I thought, onto the next middle grade book.

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