Calling Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle

This weekend, I’ve started writing out very basic scene cards, in prep for doing my own kind of Nano-Y first draft of a MG novel.

I say kind of, and I say Nano-Y, because I doubt I’m going to get where I want to go in a month of writing, at least not if the temp job I have continues at a mostly full-time pace. I know there are writers out there who manage, and maybe I will be able to some day, but I’m allowing myself some gentle space as this all falls under a big life-transition umbrella for me, too. I also say kind of, because I’ve never DONE NaNo, so I don’t actually  know the process/guidelines. Instead, I’m basing the process on one I did a few years ago when I, yes, wrote a book in a week (150 pages of wonderful dreck in five days). I won’t be doing it in a week again, either. (For more information about the Book in a Week idea, see April Kihlstrom’s BIAW site. For more on NaNoWriMo, check out their main page.) And I’m starting by creating a very basic card in Scrivener for each scene.

Here’s the info I put on each scene card:

  • Protagonist’s Scene Goal: The ACTION they want to accomplish in this scene. The action part of it is important to me, because without reminding myself about it, I can easily end up in some nebulous sloshy place, a lot like when Milo stalls out in the Doldrums in The Phantom TollboothYes, character layers and theme are critical, but I’ve gotten so slogged down in those lately, in early drafts, that I’m trying to push them away for now. They’ll come out as I draft and they’ll deepen as I revise.
  • Obstacles: Some of these are from antagonists. (And I’m noting those specifically this time around. The last time I did this, I was really weak in the main antagonist’s story line and had to kluge it in. Which I think worked (no complaints about this in the rejections), but it was a lot of work. So I just want to keep the antagonist stuff further up front in my mind, even in this early dump. Other obstacles will come from the protagonist himself, some from his allies, and one or a few from the environment around him.
  • Response: The basics of what my hero does in reaction to the obstacles. This helps me make sure he fails, fails, fails for a while, the starts to gain strength and fight back with more power.
  • End Scene: The action/moment on which the scene ends. This was a huge help last time when I was trying to blast through from scene to scene, because it gave me a rolling momentum to keep going, keep going, keep going.

And that’s it. Just dipping back in to this method felt so good. I’ve gotten very bogged down in some mix of plotting and drafting in the last couple of years, at least on my longer projects. (Possibly one of the reasons I’ve fallen so in love with the picture book form.) Somehow this tangled mix of needing to just write and needing to know where I’m going was, I think, partially responsible for the historical YA ending up in a drawer for now. (The other responsible parts being the historical and the YA!) And then I’ve done a few false starts on the MG, which make me feel like the YA tangle is looming over me again.

So I want to do it differently. I want to step back to the process that worked so well for my last MG. While I’m not shooting for a whole first draft in a week this time, I am shooting for that same just keep swimming writing technique. The one where I don’t take a break at the end of a scene, but click on the next scene card and write more. The one where revision ideas about past scenes get scribbled on a sticky note and attached to the print out. The one where questions get tossed into Scrivener’s Notes section. The one where I use a LOT of brackets around phrases like [MAYBE A SAMURAI. MAYBE A MIME]. The one where I recognize and remember that THIS DRAFT IS AND SHOULD BE ABSOLUTE GARBAGE, and all the little changes I might even consider making will be totally irrelevant, because AT LEAST 99.99999999999994% of the words will disappear or change. Seriously, last time I did this, when I sat down to read through the first draft, I didn’t even get halfway through, because I realized almost instantly that I’d written my protagonist as an observer and given all the take-charge stuff to his sidekick. Who needed to stay a sidekick. So I started plotting and writing again, making sure I kept my hero active, active, active, and THAT became the so-much-better “first” draft I took through my critique group. And THAT flowed so much more smoothly and effectively, because the garbage came first.

I want that again.

So what does this all have to do with Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle? Well, mostly, she’s on my mind, because I was talking to a friend whose little girl has fallen in love with Amelia Bedelia, who for some reason makes me think of Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. Maybe because, in my world, as goofy as Amelia is, she has huge doses more of common sense than do the people for whom she works. Kind of like Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. And, today, I’m thinking of Mrs. PW because she had all those wonderful cures. Remember? “The Won’t-Pick-Up-Toys Cure.” “The Answer-Backer Cure.” “The Slow-Eater-Tiny-Bite-Taker-Cure.”

I think I need an Unsticker-To-It Cure. Oh, I’ll stick to my story. I’ve proved that to myself, in a good way, on these picture book revisions, as well as in a not-so-good way on the YA. What I need to stick to is this process, the rapid pacing, and the pushing through all the distractions and doubts.

So, you know, if one of you could turn to your partner and say, “What are you going to do with this child?!” and then go off to work and totally abandon the other one, who would then call a friend and says, “What am I going to do with this child,” and could listen when the friend says, “Call Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle. She can fix any child,”  well, this child would be very appreciative. Meanwhile, she’ll keep writing.


  1. Enjoyed this post. I’m a fan of Mrs. PW–I think we all need her as a writers. Maybe she is your new “sit on your shoulder” muse who will keep you on track this time. Love your card/outline ideas. Keep on, keeping on!


  2. Good for you for trusting your instincts, Becky. Much as I’m looking forward to slowing down once the 3rd Chantress book is in, I have to admit that there’s something to be said for producing a first draft VERY quickly. Sometimes you see things more clearly that way, and it’s definitely a morale boost to have something down. Wishing you lots of luck!


    • beckylevine says:

      Thanks, Amy. And, believe me, I think there’s probably a HUGE difference between the pace I’m going to set myself to get this first draft out and the pace you’re HAVING to set to make publishing deadlines!


  3. Jenn Hubbard says:

    “Maybe a samurai. Maybe a mime.” should totally be the name of a writing-craft book.


    • beckylevine says:

      That is kind of what it’s always like, Jenn, isn’t it?! I need to remember not to even THINK ABOUT answering those questions the first time through.


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