This year for newsletter subscribers, I’m sharing about my process as I work on my next middle-grade mystery. I’ll repost here on my blog a few weeks after they appear in the newsletter, but if you want to follow my writing process closer to real-time, or you don’t want to miss out on my monthly Book Love giveaways, or you want to be the first to hear Book Scavengerupdates and other bookish fun, then make sure to subscribe. Tomorrow I’ll be sending out a new one with the latest!
Guess what? My next middle-grade mystery project is back on my desk! I recently received my editor’s revision letter. This means my editor read the book and wrote up her notes on what she thinks is working well in the story, and what is not quite there yet. Every time I receive an editorial letter, I go through these same stages:
Even though this is the fourth book I’ve worked on with my editor, her letters always prompt a “pinch me” moment that I’m doing this thing I love and building a career as a children’s book author. I love working with my editor and value her insight, so I’m eager to hear her thoughts.
I typically read the letter multiple times. The first read is always quick. I’m gobbling up everything she has to say. In this most recent letter, the comments were mainly focused on creating a better mystery and deepening the characterizations. Neither of those things were a surprise to me—I think I even sent the manuscript with a note along the lines of, “I know the mystery needs work and I want to do more with certain character elements, but I’d love your thoughts on where the story is now.”
After my first read through of the editorial letter, I read again, slowly. Usually with a pencil to jot down ideas that come to mind and questions I have. I also highlight anything that resonates as something I want to remember when I’m working on my revision.
This stage takes me awhile. My editor and I have a phone call and talk out different ideas. I also bounce thoughts off my agent and my writing groups and my mom and my husband and my son and my pets and my houseplants and my dentist and . . .
I scribble thoughts in a notebook and type more thoughts in a Word file and write more ideas on sticky notes and then go back to the notebook.
As I move through this processing stage, certain ideas stand out as better than others. What makes an idea seem “better” is going to depend on your story goals. If I get the idea to add in a tap-dancing goldfish character, this might not be a good idea if I’m trying to write a serious and scary book. But if I’m wanting to write a silly and fanciful story about pursuing dreams that seem out of reach, then . . . maybe? The questions I ask myself are: Does this idea align with the story I want to tell? How does it serve the story? Am I excited by the thought of writing it? If my answer to that last question is no, then I ask myself why. Sometimes I’m not excited to write an idea because it feels like it will be a lot of work or I’m intimidated by it. Those aren’t good reasons to discard it.
The processing stage is also when my doubts and worries creep in. My feelings about the book go on a roller coaster ride: These ideas are exciting! This is going to be the best book I’ve ever written! No, no—they’re horrible. I’m never going to figure out how to make this story work.
But have no fear! I have a secret weapon to tame those wild thoughts! My secret weapon is:
Okay, it’s not a flashy, but it’s effective.
As I’m working through my thoughts on what the story needs, I make a rough outline of the new version that begins to form. I’m also making a list of what I need to research and think on more. I’m not trying to work out every detail; I’m only building a scaffolding that will help me get started. At some point in the organizing, the new version of the story begins to come alive in my imagination. I’m able to turn down the volume on that emotional roller coaster and concentrate instead on my characters. That’s when I know I’m ready to . . .
This is the hard part. The actual writing! I’ll share more about that in my next newsletter. If you have questions for me about my process, please let me know! They’ll help me understand what you’re interested in hearing about.
(This originally appeared in the December 2020 issue of my newsletter. You can subscribe here for more.)