I don’t think I’m the only one who, as I get older, mark sections of my life by the milestones. You know: When I was in college. When I had my first job. Before marriage. Before the baby. After the baby. After the baby became the teenager. After…you get it. Usually, I tend to think about these milestones as just that–moments that, once they move into the past, become a dividing line between life sections. A line, as if the moment itself is only there for a second, a demarcation, but nothing else.

And then there are the times when you’re actually in the middle of a milestone, when it hasn’t yet become a line drawn in sand. (Or, if you’re anywhere near my age, a line drawn between two sides of a bedroom on The Brady Bunch. Oops–digression.) At this stage, a milestone feels much more like a transition.

Like this summer. We’re now on the countdown of less than a month before my son goes off for his first year of college. There are other events that I know, when I look back, will be those milestones I’ll build patterns around–my own going back to work full-time, the niece’s wedding we’re going to next month, the departure of one of my favorite cars (the very old, little red BMW). But the biggie is definitely my son leaving home. Who knows what the future holds, but the now–the right now–seems already full of befores and afters.

Before he leaves, we have (and will have):

  • Shopped for dorm supplies.
  • Bought him a new suit, the last one being purchased piecemeal for some friends’ Bar Mitzvahs way back in middle school, and this one being something he’ll wear at many jazz performances for the next few years. (And he’s holding onto the other as back-up!)
  • Replaced the very old, little red BMW with a not-QUITE-as old, but pretty darned near, Volvo wagon, which will actually let him transport his bass and one or two other members of whatever combo he’s playing with. The drummer will have to get his equipment there some other way.
  • Watched him clean out layers of history from the closets and drawers in his room, all the time knowing there will be more left to do later, but accepting what I get.
  • Nagged at him a million times, hugged him another million, and wondered at times if there were actually enough huts to hold me till the first visit.

After he leaves, we will:

  • Take a mini vacation before coming home to an empty nest.
  • Get back and touch with each other, wife and husband, and the whole relationship that we have today, as opposed to “before the baby”
  • Do some final tidying on his room and then pass his doorway a currently unimaginable number of times without going in.
  • Stop buying “Ian food” at the grocery store, except for non-perishable foods to be sent in a care package.
  • Struggle mightily and then reeducate ourselves with the TV or Wii remote don’t work, and we can’t get to where we want on Netflix.
  • Feel the emptiness of that third seat at the theater as the next X-men, Avengers, Spiderman, Pixar, Shakespeare, fill-in-the-blank movie comes out.
  • Send him first draft chapters or picture books that I just want him to read.
  • Text and email silly funnies and (hopefully) get his version back in return.
  • Wonder how, at the age that still feels so young, I got to the stage of being a Woman-Whose-Child-Is-Off-At-School. Wondering also who the heck that person even is? And being kind of happy and excited about finding out.

Yeah, those are the things on either side of the line. But today, this month, and for a few more weeks, I’m Mom in the Middle. In the middle of it all as it’s happening, experiencing a layer of something–a complication, an emotion, a passage? It’s there every single day, almost every single moment, even when we are doing everything the way we used to and not taking a single active step toward the way we will do it after.

Milestones. Transitions.




As of 10:00 tonight, I’ve written 11 scenes, 64 pages, and almost 16,000 words. I don’t put much weight into my word count, typically, but it’s a nice piece of fast drafting to see the numbers grow. I’m somewhere in the middle of Act II, with Act III and IV still to come. It’s that weird stage where I think I’ve probably got too many pages for a good balance of things that have happened and things that still have to happen, and there are peeps from the little voices saying things like, “You are going to have so much work to do,” and “Why even finish and print that scene, when nothing happens in it?” and “Sure, it’s easy to talk about putting all this off until revision, but you’re going to have to actually do it at some point, you know?”

It doesn’t always help that the voices aren’t telling me anything I don’t already know. And the good feelings I have about how I’m rolling the ideas and possibilities out onto the page–well, you know, those could all be delusions of some twisted grandeur, right?

I’m getting downright rude with the voices. I cut them off before they can finish what they want to say. I turn up my beboppy music, the stuff they don’t like to listen to. I use some of the words my dad wishes I wouldn’t, although I think he’d accept that it’s all for a good cause. And I keep writing.

I continue to bracket notes in each scene, places where–at some point–I will need to do research, or figure out the important roots and causes of my characters’ behavior. I let myself write more sentences than I know will be acceptable, so that I can explore a feeling or reaction or idea–knowing that, if I use it, the whole thing will show up in a different place and in totally different words. And I’ve stuck a couple of notes into the front of my binder.

  • What’s at stake? (I know it nebulously, but I will need to know it concretely.)
  • Get these kids moving. (As I realize I am writing way too many sitting scenes.)

More stuff to not fret about (too much!) until I’m ready to revise. Sometimes it scares me–all the big things I think I can leave out of this fast first draft. It doesn’t scare me nearly as much, though, as getting stuck in place trying to figure out a problem that won’t figure, or going down a worry path that has no end.

And, mostly, it’s good. Mostly I’m reveling in the click of the keyboard, the stack of pages in the binder, the fact that I am filling empty pages with words and sentences. Mostly, I’m loving being in love with a story again.


  1. I am making progress on this fast-first-drafting thing. I’m not getting in the after-work writing that I should, but I’m managing steady writing on the weekends. And I’m sticking to my goal of blasting along, without questioning or worrying (much) or stopping to fix stuff. No fixing allowed!
  2. The new job is making me happy. I seem, somehow, to have landed in a place where people are respectful and kind, just because that’s the kind of people they are. Plus, we’re trying to help education, plus I’m always busy and never bored, plus we’re in walking distance of frozen yogurt.
  3. My son leaves for college in six weeks. Tomorrow, we’re going shopping for dorm bedding. I’m voting for polka-dots, but he’ll probably pull out the whole independence thing and veto that, right?
  4. We didn’t see any fireworks last night, but we had several hours of BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! Alice paid more attention to the clicking of the laser pointer, so I’m guessing cats don’t suffer in the same way as dogs. I hope all your dogs have recovered and relaxed!
  5. I just read and enjoyed Natalie Lloyd’s A Snicker of Magic. Nice magical realism, with a slight flavor of Savvy, and a very sweet layer of friendship and family.
  6. I love three-day weekends.

Seriously, before you ask, yes, I’m way ahead of the game. I’ve fast-drafted Act I, but that still leaves Acts II, III, & IV to go. (Did you notice that higher math there?) And, right, Act I is shorter by far than, at least, Acts II and III. Don’t panic. I’m not worrying (too much) about what I’ll do after that first-round typing of The End. But I am getting curious about techniques for moving, effectively, from drafting to revising.

Here’s what i did last time I fast-drafted a novel. I took probably a week or so away from it, and then I sat down with the manuscript and started reading. I will tell you right here that I never finished reading that manuscript (at least not just reading). Instead, one big, huge problem jumped out at me: I had made the sidekick character way more active than the hero; the hero was (unconsciously, I think) doing a Nick Carraway and telling the story as he observed it happening, rather than as he made it happen. So I put the first draft down and started revising, pushing my hero as far to the front of every scene as I could. These were the scenes I sent to my critique group, as I wrote them. And from that point on, I was revising from my critique group feedback, as well as from my own ideas–a pretty happy state.

At this point, I feel like I’ll probably try this technique when I finish the first draft of this new MG (I have got to come up with a sharable working title). This whole fast-drafting thing is a return for me to something that actually worked once upon a time, and–since it seems to be working a second time–I’m feeling a bit tremulous about reaching out into experimentation. I know it’s a good thing in general, but last time it left me in a pretty big pit, so maybe I need to get my process base a little more solid before I slide out onto the ice again. (My apologies for the majorly mixed metaphors. And the alliteration.)

Anyway, I am curious about how other people handle this stage. I’m going to share a few links to a few other processes. Some of them I’ve played with, some look effective, some are intriguing. And then I’d love if we got this conversation going in the comments-what do YOU do?

Just the other day, David Lubar linked to a WriteOnCon post he wrote about how he deconstructs his novels. I thought his process looked really interesting and valuable; I like how he really sticks to the basics.

Martha Alderson’s Plot Planner is another wonderful tool. Martha is brilliant at nailing the holes and flaws in a plot, and her planner is a good tool for laying everything out and seeing what you have and what you don’t. I’ve used this tool with Martha and with my critique partners. What usually happens for me is I get excited about what I’m seeing (and perhaps a bit lazy), and I run back to writing. While it is good to be writing, I’m not sure I’m using the tool to its fullest strength.

The other thing I’ve heard people talk about doing is writing a synopsis. I know people hate synopses, and maybe the only reason I don’t is that I’ve only done them at the extreme ends of the writing process–as a conference assignment when I’d barely started a story and as a required submission piece when I had a completed manuscript. (When I have written them, I’ve used Hélène Boudreau’s very doable synopsis steps.) I’m assuming people use them at other stages to identify holes and weak spots, but I’m not sure how exactly that works.

So those are my thoughts and my pointings to other thoughts. What about you? What do you do with that first draft manuscript once it’s done, and what processes have helped you bridge from that stage into second draft revision? Thanks in advance for your ideas and tips!

Last night, I finished the first scene of my new MG novel. I had printed out my Scrivener scene cards and put them in a binder, which is part of my fast-drafting method. All I (supposedly) have to do is flip to the next scene card, without leaving Word (which is what I use to actually write, versus plotting), and keep typing.

I had started the scene a day or two before and written about a page and a half, but it had been a bit of a slog–not unusual, I’m guessing, for the very first pages. Then last night, very possibly powered by way too many cookies, I shot through the rest of the scene. And it was awesome. I paused a few times to think about one or two things, then either skipped over a problem or wrote something and pushed on. I wrote a couple of lines that I absolutely love. I wrote a few more that I sure don’t hate. I just wrote. And, in whatever first draft version this may be, I wrapped up the scene.

And then I remember that feeling. The one where you actually get something on a real page, and you feel in your gut that you are truly starting a new project, and you had fun with the writing, and you like some of what you created, and you think…maybe.

Maybe I will finish this draft, quickly, like I want. Maybe I will see how to revise it, and I will jump in. Maybe I will have more magic as I revise, and even more as I find the right threads to pull together, more as I polish. Maybe this story will be one of the ones that I finish, that I love (with other moments, obviously) through to the end.

Maybe I have just started to create a book.

So they’re out there again. Or, more specifically, one of them is out there again. (Oh, but we know that, on any given day, it’s never just one.) I’m not going into details, but read Laurie Halse Anderson’s post about the labeling of her beautiful book Speak, as pornography.

Heads up: There is nothing profound in this post. There is nothing new. There is just me, not feeling particularly tolerant today, and wanting say a few things YET AGAIN to anyone who would censor or judge a book in such a way that creates a barrier between that book and even one child. I know I’m preaching to the converted here, but here’s what I WANT to say to people who take it upon themselves to makes rules for books and readers.

  • Get over it.
  • Grow up.
  • Mind your own business.
  • Feel free to not read the book yourself.
  • Put your hate back in your own head, and keep your mouth shut so it doesn’t fall out again.
  • Give some credit to every thinking child, parent, and librarian who picks up a book, to read or share, for HAVING A BRAIN OF THEIR OWN.
  • Go away.

There’s a blog hop going around, and Kelly Ramsdell Fineman tagged me. So today you get a few Q & As about…me! :)

About Kelly

Kelly Ramsdell Fineman is a poet and author of stories for children. Her first picture book, At the Boardwalk, came out in 2012 from tiger tales press, and was illustrated with amazing diversity and skill by Mònica Armiño, who lives in Madrid, Spain. Kelly does not live anywhere quite as exciting as Madrid, Spain; she lives in Williamstown, New Jersey, with her sweetheart and a calico cat named Kismet, who was found by chance along a roadside. She keeps a blog called Writing & Ruminating which just celebrated its ninth anniversary/blogiversary and includes features like Jane Austen read-alongs, lots of Shakespeare and poetry posts, and a rather recent series of posts on downsizing.

Kelly’s work has won awards from Writer’s Digest, and has appeared in anthologies for children including National Geographic’s Book of Animal Poetry and Dare to Dream . . . Change the World, in anthologies for grownups including Breaking Waves: An Anthology for Gulf Coast Relief, The Omnibus of Doctor Bill Shakes and the Magnificent Ionic Pentatetrameter: A Steampunk’s Shakespeare Anthology, and Mountain Magic: Spellbinding Tales of Appalachia, and in a number of poetry journals including Chantarelle’s Notebook, The Raintown Review, and U.S. 1 Reports. Kelly enjoys cooking, tai chi, and, of course, reading.

Kelly Fineman

And now, hopping along to me.

1. What are you working on?

I just finished polishing up three picture books, readying them for submission. For the rest of the summer, I’ll be fast-first-drafting a middle-grade novel. This WIP will be my first attempt to weave a layer of magic into a novel. (When I thought about it, I realized there’s some fantasy in every one of the picture books.) I think it falls into the magical realism genre. I’m very excited and, oh, you know, just the littlest bit nervous, about making sure I get the rules of my magic right at the same time as I don’t bog my readers down in those rules.

2. How does my work differ from others in this genre?

Well…okay, so, it’s written by me. I’m not sure there are any other differences. At some later stage in my writing path, I may find myself aspiring to break through genre walls and into new territory. Today, I’m still working very hard to write the most tightly constructed story I can, with characters who are real and layered and who will keep readers turning page after page. I am, in my own role as a reader, absolutely blown away by the new-territory writers whose books I discover, but I there is a beauty to a story that, within whatever genre it fits, is done right and done well. For now, that’s what I’m aiming for.

3. Why do I write what I do?

The first reason is that I write for children, because approximately 98% of my reading for pleasure is children’s books. I know I am a grown up, and I definitely participate in a grown-up world, but–for whatever root psychological reasons–when I go into a book I want it to be for children. That does also include YA, although I lean more toward the younger YA than the older.

The second reason is that I find the transformative power inherent in every childhood choice to be amazing. Of course, I know that adults change as they age–it’s very possible that I’ve changed more in the last twenty years of my own life than I ever did in the first twenty. But so much of childhood is trying to figure out one’s self, and trying to do it within the restraints of the adult-created world around you–trying to do it despite those restraints. I think it’s easy to think that the choices young kids make are easy, or that most of them are made by adults, but I don’t think that’s true, and I don’t think most children believe it. Anyway, it’s these early choices and changes that I’m pulled to explore.

4. What is your writing process?

Today? Or yesterday? Two weeks ago? I truly wish I had a process that worked consistently for me and my stories. I think it may work best for me to dump out a first pass as quickly as I can and then revise, revise, and revise. I say this, because the best writing experience I’ve ever had was the MG novel that I first-drafted in a week and then took apart and rewove over and over again. And, really, that’s what I do when I write a picture book. I toss anything, even just a long, non-dramatic description of an idea, onto a few pages and then start over with it. The one time I tried to write more slowly and think things through as I went, I got so tangled and confused that the novel is sitting in a binder on a shelf, waiting for another day when I’m a different writer and can try to make repairs. For the magical realism MG, I’ve done about the most basic plotting possible, and my goal is to have the first draft written by the end of the summer. (I’m working at a job-job these days, so a one-week first draft probably isn’t going to happen.) I’m shooting for that feeling when you push away all the questions and problems and just write, absolute garbage that will, hopefully, have a gleam of a story in it to work on.


I’m tagging two bloggers whose writing I love.

Joyce Moyer Hostetter is the author of some of my favorite historical novels, especially Healing Water. She lives in the South, so we haven’t ever met in person, but I have high hopes that we will some day. Joyce always has a supportive word, especially for those of us who have ventured into historical research and writing and who know the feeling of getting a little lost, sometimes happily and sometimes not so much. On her website, Joyce says, “The stories of the past belong to us if we make them ours.  As a writer, I love scrounging through history’s images and finding hidden stories that have been lost in the bottom of the pile. My books are a way of bringing history into my experience.  And hopefully, into yours also.” Take it from me–they do. Joyce blogs at The Three R’s–Reading, ‘Riting and Research.

Alex Villasante is another writer who, as far as I’m concerned, lives too far away. I met her at the fantastic Pennwriters conference, and we’ve continued to chat back and forth and share our writing across the country. Alex lives in the semi-wilds of Pennsylvania. She holds an MFA in Fine Art which (according to her, not me!) was fun to acquire but fairly useless for gainful employment. She writes Young Adult and Middle Grade books about misfits, magic, and identity. The book on which she is currently working takes place at the beach in Avalon, New Jersey, and may or may not contain fairies. Alex is represented by Barbara Poelle at the Irene Goodman Literary Agency. Alex blogs at Magpie Writes.


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