As today is the first day of PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) and NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), I considered it extra-serendipitous that wonderful writer and wonderful friend, Kara Bietz, sent along a guest post for Finders & Keepers. Though I’m not officially signed up for NaNoWriMo this year, I have a MG novel to finish by the end of the month. And 30 PB ideas to think up. So thank you very much, Kara (and Sesame Street). I’m off to write, write a book!
So here’s the thing…I thought I knew exactly what I was going to talk about. When Cathy asked me to write a guest post for her blog I immediately thought “HEY! I know what I can talk about! I can talk about revision! And taking your time! And how to dive into a revision without losing your mind!”
And then, just like with any good story…something happened. (Duhn duhn duuuuhhhnnn…)
That something was the Highlights Foundation Whole Novel Workshop. I was able to attend this weeklong workshop in mid-October in the forest-y mountains of Pennsylvania and those seven days absolutely Changed. My. Life. The people I spent time with and the things I learned there have changed my entire outlook on writing, my (yet to be fully travelled) road to publication, my entire approach to My Writing Life. And while a lot of it was hugely personal, I would like to share some of the basic things I came to understand that I think every writer should hear.
Now I’m not going to get all philosophical on you here, nor am I going to give you a blow by blow account of my entire week, but there are several points that I think a lot of writers, whether you are writing for children or not, can benefit from. And since I know writers like advice to be wrapped up in a pretty package, I have made a list. Yay for lists!
1. Get out of your own way. This is huge. If you are born to do this (and if you are born to do this, you just know…you just do. No one can tell you if you are born to do this or not. You just have to know in your gut), than sit down and do it. Don’t get caught up in industry talk, the state of the publishing world, ebooks taking over the universe, any of it. You should run especially far away from self-doubt. Sit down. Breathe deeply. And Write. Your. Ass. Off. To steal a line from one of the best songs ever written (thank you, Sesame Street)…”Don’t worry that it’s not good enough for anyone else to hear, just sing (write), sing a song (write a story).”
2. Make your pile as big as you can. By “pile” I mean a first draft. A first draft is a place to write down every idea that comes into your pretty little head. Do not edit. Do not revise. Do not go backwards. To repeat…Sit down. Breathe Deeply. And Write. Your. Ass. Off. Those first drafts? They can suck. Really. They will suck. Judy Blume? Laurie Halse Anderson? Oh yeah, they write sucky first drafts, too. I promise. The more ideas you throw at your blank page, the more chance you will have to find something that sticks. Which leads us to…
3. What is your Core Story? A core story is the one question you will be attempting to answer throughout your entire book. And here’s the kicker…you will NOT KNOW what your core story is until you have completed at least one draft. How about them apples? You may think you know what your core story is as you begin your first draft, but as you write along happily, your core story will change. I promise. Sometimes a core story can be a “Big Idea” such as love, understanding relationships, a personal journey. Other times, the core story is much simpler, like finding the lost gemstone, or winning the big game. Before your begin a revision, have a clear idea of what your core story is and write it in big letters somewhere that you will see it often!
4. Revise, revise, revise. And then revise again. Revision is kind of a neverending process. It’s okay. Again: Sit down. Breathe deeply. And Revise. Your. Ass. Off. Keep that core story in the front of your…er…frontal lobe. Don’t lose that big main idea. Read every sentence, every word of your manuscript and ask yourself, “What does this have to do with my core story?” If that sentence, that word, does not fit…get rid of it. Even if it is the most beautiful sentence you’ve ever crafted, if it doesn’t fit the core story, get rid of it. Have a little funeral, say some kind words, and cut it the heck out of there. If it doesn’t belong, it goes. You can’t fall in love with your words, otherwise you will never be able to revise or edit. By the same token, go through your manuscript and ask yourself what each character contributes to the core story. If two characters are doing the job that just one character can manage, get rid of one of them.
Tada! Four steps. That’s it. So easy, right? I know, I know, it’s not easy at all. But it will be worth the effort in the end. And if you’ve read this far and you’re still wondering if you were born to do this? If you wake up every day thinking about your characters, and go to sleep every night with those same characters dancing in your head, you were born to do this. If you drive by a house and immediately make up stories about the people that may live inside , you were born to do this. If writing is like breathing, you were born to do this.
Kara Bietz writes stories for young adults. She was the runner-up for the 2010 SCBWI Work-In-Progress grant, as well as a 2008 and 2011 winner of the SCBWI Southern Breeze Annual Writing Contest for Novel Length Fiction. She was a quarter-finalist in the 2011 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest. She lives in Cumming, Georgia with her husband, two kids and two dogs and for her, writing is totally like breathing.