How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. How do you write a novel? Make yourself sit down at your computer. Then, get up, go to the kitchen for a snack, eat it over the sink, sit back down again, look out the window and finally, go to Starbucks.
At least, that’s the way it was for me.
Getting started was the hardest part. After that, stopping was the hard part. I found that I had been thinking so long about my book, that when I actually sat down to write it, the first half or so seemed to write itself.
And the rest followed pretty quickly. But then it got hard again. Because once it’s done, you’ll most likely need to start over.
It took me about six months to write my 50,000 word middle-grade novel, and about two more years to do enough rewrites to get it in good enough shape to pitch to agents.
The main character in my book is named Skyler. When I completed my first draft, my oldest son read it. After he finished, he turned to his brother and said, “Skyler talks like mom.” Since Skyler is only twelve years old, that wasn’t a good thing. Twelve-year-olds don’t typically say things like “Why don’t we think this through?” Or “Darn it. I’ve got homework. I can’t go.”
My second draft was me writing the whole book over, starting with page one.
Editing your middle-grade or YA novel
Writing is a solitary pursuit, but editing is not. Here are some of the reasons I’ve heard that people won’t show their stuff to anyone else:
Let’s pretend that all of these are good reasons to skip the part where you let friends, family and strangers (if they’re willing) tear your stuff apart. Because it is pretending. It’s a bad, bad idea to not get feedback on your book.
Solicit as many warm bodies as you can to read it. Your neighbors, your boss, your kids. Join a writer’s group. Upload your book to www.lulu.com or www.amazon.com and self-publish it. Not to sell it, but to hand a paperback to each of your readers. It will be much easier for them to read on paper than online, and they will be more likely to do it. Tell them to read it with pen-in-hand and make notes in the margins.
If you do this, I promise you will get depressed. You’ll get so many put-downs about your book, you’ll be tempted to quit. (Or you’ll find yourself wondering how people can be so stupid and that maybe you need new friends.)
And the worst? When nobody can seem to get through it. I’ve been sooo busy. But I’ll get to it. I promise. After I finish watching the last seven seasons of House in the next few weeks or so.
That’s feedback, too.
Taking a fresh look at your middle-grade or YA novel
But after you’ve stuck your book in a drawer for awhile, the feedback you’ve been getting will start to percolate. You’ll notice patterns. What your (suddenly smarter) friends are saying will start to make sense. You’ll figure out how to fix it. And when you do, the next round of readers will reflect that. They’ll come back to you a few days later and say “I couldn’t wait to find out what happened.” And instead of telling you what’s wrong with your book, they’ll start musing about the characters and about what happened to them.
More like a book club than a billy club.
Here’s something I find interesting. I’ve seen writers defend the way they’ve written a phrase, a paragraph or even a plot-line, even though their readers are telling the author that he or she has missed the mark. Think about that one. Is the writer going to have the opportunity to explain his or her logic to everyone who buys the book?
If you’re not writing for the reader, you’re writing for yourself. Which is OK, as long as you’re not interested in getting published.
Leave a comment! We’d love to hear how you feel when people give you feedback on your writing.
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ABOUT MARY FOLLIN
Mary is the author of TEACH YOUR CHILD TO READ and ETHYR, winner of the Moonbeam Children's Book Award and the Gertrude Warner Book Award. She is mom to two grown sons and enjoys sharing her more seasoned perspective with parents of younger children.
ABOUT Erika Guerrero
Erika Guerrero is a freelance hair and makeup artist, Erika K. Beauty, single-mama to one amazing boy, and author of She’s Not Shaken, a blog offering hope and encouragement to women in all walks of life.
ABOUT Suzanne Johnson
Suzanne Johnson, mother of five children and grandmother of eight, is an illustrator, book cover designer, and author of the Realms of Edenocht series.
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