Knowing When to Begin

On Saturday, when I moderated an SCBWI critique session, I brought two bulging folders of notes and discarded drafts as Exhibit A of My Process. This hot mess would make a good example of exactly how not to proceed in writing a novel, except, as we all know, there’s no such thing as How To or How Not To. Even after all these years, I need to write at least one (and usually two of three) complete drafts before I find the right narrative arc. That’s just how it is. With “Moonpenny Island”, pretty much the only thing that stayed constant was the island itself, a little lump of limestone modeled on a real place. My love for that setting kept me going, as my main character’s age and sex changed, as a who-done-it mystery became instead a story about the mysteries of the heart.

So why did I risk throwing out my back by lugging that pile of papers to the critique? Because a picture’s worth a thousand words, and a good laugh is worth even more, and because I really do believe in butt-in-chair persistence. If nothing else,  showing up every day will teach you what’s wrong with your story, and then it’s up to you to decide whether to toss it in the drawer and start something all new, or pull it apart and revise once more. Both of which I’ve done.

Right now, I face a blank page. Off and on while working on “Moonpenny”, I scribbled notes for a new novel. I know I have my two (or maybe three) main characters. For sure I have the setting (I take a walk there at least once a week, and every time it whispers, Ready). But I don’t have the full arc, and I’m trying to resist starting until that becomes clearer to me. Trying to resist generating another hot mess (or two or three) by figuring out ahead of time where the story starts, and what form best suits it. Trying to stay cool, planning.  Trying…


School Library Journal has announced the contenders facing off in this year’s “Battle of the Books”

Even though I wish they’d included a few more under-the-radar books–novels like “The Center of Everything” by Linda Urban, “A Girl Called Problem” by Katie Quirk, or “Written in Stone” by Rosanne Parry–instead of sticking to the books everyone is talking about for the Newbery, I’ll  follow this year’s battle with my usual interest and glee.  It’s a booky version of that other March madness, with fellow writers deciding who wins each bracket and goes on to the final round.  The decisions themselves are usually little writerly gems, laced with insite and wit and sometimes a bit of snarkiness. As a writer and a reviewer, I always get a big take-away.

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