So, it appears I’ve forgotten to post for awhile. In fact, I teased you with a February post just before I attended my first Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Conference in New York, and then I never followed up to tell you how it went, and that was very naughty of me, and I’m sorry. Reader, is it over the top to say I fell in love at SCBWI? Don’t worry, husband, if you’re reading this. There’s nothing unseemly here. I fell in love with the community of writers, and I fell hard. I know it seems silly to say how nice everyone was, but it’s the truth! There was no ego, not even from the writers and illustrators whose books have won buckets full of awards and sold incredible numbers of copies.
There was a feeling of camaraderie among everyone, published or “pre-published” (that’s the term they use, love that!), a feeling of incredible responsibility toward our jobs. What could be more important than writing for children? For those three days at the conference, the answer was clearly nothing.
I came away inspired, my head spinning with ideas. I had to let everything settle for awhile. And then I got to work. I drafted a new picture book, talked to my agent, wrote a new draft. I also committed myself to writing a middle grade novel, first with a silent vow, then on paper with a number of goals with deadlines attached. And I wrote it in pen, so it’s for real.
I’d been freewriting about a vague idea for a middle grade for a few months prior, but now I really am taking the plunge. I’m reading all the middle grade I can get my hands on, and I’m taking the books I love, and tearing them apart. It reminds me of a camp my kids attend where they take some small electronics item (like a VCR or clock radio) and use tools to take it all apart. They don’t need to put it back together (thankfully!) but they do learn a bit about how those parts make it work.
So, I’m tearing apart my favorite middle grade books to see how they work, actually outlining a few to see where the author made certain plot choices and how that affects the book’s pacing. You might think this kind of close scrutiny of amazing books would have a demoralizing effect, but it’s really the opposite. Breaking these books into many parts makes writing one seem do-able.
If you can figure out how to write a first chapter, then why not write the second, and so on, until you’re flying, for awhile at least.. Think of it like running. If you can run one mile, you can probably run two. If you can run two, why not a 5K? Is a writer’s high akin to a runner’s high? I don’t know, as I’ve never experienced a runner’s high.*
I suspect I’ll keep along this way for awhile, taking notes, brainstorming ideas, figuring out who my characters are. I wouldn’t be surprised if, before I even write the book’s first sentence, I have 100 pages or more of typed notes. But I’ve learned through trial and error that this is the best way for me to work. (I’ve written two adult novels; one is “in the drawer”; the other is out on submission to agents.) I’m not a “pant-ser” as in a “fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants” writer. I tried that once and failed miserably. I need to plan out this book and then take my little road map and do the easy-by-comparison part, the writing.
Will check back in here periodically to let you know how it’s going. In the meantime, here’s my dog at his adopt-a-ver-sary party. Sit. Good Boy.
*I was a sprinter in high school. I never ran more than one lap around the track at a time. I ran a 5K recently and prayed for sweet death so I wouldn’t have to finish.