Remembering Revision

I have just reached (maybe) the halfway point in the second draft of my MG, but since I’m writing it 99.9% from scratch (that first draft was really just an idea dump), there isn’t much of what I’d consider revision going on.

And yet I’ve been thinking about it.

Why? It started with the SCBWI Spring Spirit conference last weekend, where I sat in on an excellent revision workshop by Kirby Larson. As Kirby said, we practiced only some of the smaller, more specific revision tasks–it’s hard to do big, global changes in a workshop setting. But a lot of her talk and the general conversation was about revision–how to approach it and how it feels. And I started remembering that I LOVE how it feels. That I love having a (relatively) full understanding of your story in your head and being able to sort and process changes in the context of that understanding. Of being able to think about moving something from here to there and knowing it will fit better. Of realizing that this piece doesn’t add a single thing and knowing you can let it go. Of figuring out what all the placeholders for that one character are for and giving her the actions she needs, in what used to feel like a lot of big, gaping holes of nothingness.

The second thing that happened, also tied to the conference, was that I got a really lovely critique from an agent on one of my picture books. Lovely in two ways: 1) very nice, with compliments as well as suggestions and 2) with feedback that I could really use. That started the revision ideas churning in my head. I’ve already run the feedback and my ideas through my critique group, getting MORE ideas, of course, and this revision will start very soon. And, again, I’m remembering why revision is one of my favorite writing stages–it’s a (very little) bit like Tetris. Your job is to see the shape that’s coming–from a critique or your own figuring-out–and find the right place to lower that shape into. And then, yes, unlike Tetris, you do some shaving and some padding and…SNIK! It fits. Yes, yes, that’s an understatement and probably not at all the right metaphor, but you know what I’m getting at. You have something to work with as you make the changes, and you can see how the changes are going to make that something more complete.

And the SNIK! part is absolutely the best.

I’m not going to get this right, so consider it a total paraphrase, but Kirby said that she has always believed everything you need is in your first draft. She says this, I think, in the context of the times we all look at our early drafts and decide that there are things missing and that we have to add a lot of new stuff. Instead, she suggests, try working with what is actually there. You may need to move an action, a character trait, a need from one character to another. You may need to shift a plot point to earlier or later in the story. You may need to deepen and layer a moment that you previously spent only one sentence on. But things are there. Don’t start your revision by assuming they aren’t.

And that, my friends, is something I’ll be thinking about a lot when I do head back into revision.

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The Gift of Writing for Kids—Bruce Coville Book Giveaway

So, this past weekend, I headed up to Sacramento for the SCBWI Spring Spirit conference. Which ROCKED. I may do another post this week telling more about it, along with perhaps a few car photos from my research trip, but what I wanted to talk about this morning was Bruce Coville‘s talk. Or part of it.

The part where he talked about why we write for kids. (Hint: It’s not the money.)

Slight detour first. I am very clear, personally, on why I write for kids and teens. Yes, I hope that they’ll read and love my books; yes, I think about them as the audience while I’m writing; yes, I try and figure out the best way to make my story connect with their world. But the full truth is that I do this writing…for me. I write because I need to, because I love the way it feels when words come off my fingers onto the keyboard. I write specifically for kids and teens because those are my favorite books to read, because the “club” I most want to belong to is the one whose members are the authors whose books I devoured as a kid. I admit it–I write for very selfish reasons.

I hear so many people talk about the book that most impacted them, the book where they first recognized themselves or the one that changed the way they saw the world. Honestly, I don’t have one of those. Every book that has hit me strongly as a child, as a teen, as an adult has hit me as an author. As in, WOW–look at the characters this writer created. Look at the way they built that world. Look at how they made me cry. Look at the flow of the prose. The books that are listed in my head as the most important are the ones that just made me–even more than before–want to be a writer. While I may have loved their content, the content is not what hit my life–it was and has always been about the writing.

But Bruce said something in his keynote that made me start thinking. And the basic thread is one we’ve all heard before, but it struck a chord for me Saturday. He basically created a picture, onstage in front of us, of The Kid who has just discovered reading. The one who has found THE BOOK (whether it be about content or prose) that, for him or her, has just opened up an entirely new world–the world of stories on a page. I don’t remember what that book was for me. The story goes that my big sister came home from first grade. played School with me, and taught me to read. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know that my favorite thing in the world was to curl up with a book. I don’t remember the magic of discovering that feeling.

I do, though, know what that magic looks like on the face of another child. I know what it looked like on my son’s face; I know what it looked like on the faces of his young schoolmates, and I know what it looks like on the face of the boy or girl sitting on the floor of the bookstore or library, oblivious to everything that is going on around them.

I’m writing a picture book. I’m not sure whether or not a picture book can, by itself, create this magic–because they are so often part of cuddling with Mom and Dad, a grandparent, a teacher, an older sibling, a babysitter. I’m not sure whether or not this magic can be created with anyone else there, or if it is a simple, pure communion between a child and the book (and, yes, I think an e-reader qualifies!). What I think may be true is that there is an age-range, or reading-range, where the magic happens, and that it does fall somewhere between picture books and MG novels. Between the time the child starts to love stories and the time when they have already become book addicts and are now adding books and hours to their habit. I’m not sure if/when I will write a story that falls into that range, but I think–after this conference–that it must be a goal to think about.

I don’t know if Bruce Coville was the one who created that magic for my son. It may have been Bill Watterson, because the first time my son asked if he could read in bed before turning out the light, it was so he could lie there and “read” Calvin and Hobbes by himself. It may have been Roald Dahl. It may have been any one of the authors he loved when he was young. What I do know, and remember, is the click I heard in his reading world when he found Bruce Coville’s books. These were some of the first books I got him that were by an author I hadn’t read, didn’t know about. They were if not the first, some of the first, science-fiction stories he read. They were some of the first books that I picked up to read to myself, because my son loved them so much. My son’s favorites, and mine, were the Sixth-Grade Alien series, with Tim and Pleskitt as best friends. And then, of course, Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher, because…hey, it had a dragon. And a disappearing magic shop. And lots more.

They didn’t have any of the Pleskitt books at the conference bookstore. They did have another favoriteThe Monster’s Ring, which I think has the (very brief) scariest moment I remember reading in any of Bruce Coville’s book. I bought a copy, and I asked Mr. Coville to sign it (with, I hope, a minimum of gushing). And I’m giving that book away here.

I’d like to give it away to someone with a child, or who knows a child, that hasn’t read Coville’s books yet. I’d like to send this book off somewhere to a boy or girl who might not yet have fallen in love with books, or not yet found their stories. I’m not going to ask any of you to pass a test for the giveaway, or prove that you know the perfect recipient. If you just love these books yourself and absolutely need a copy, then go for it. If your son or daughter had this book and something happened to it, or they just can’t speak at the thought of having a copy with Bruce Coville’s signature on it, I totally get that, and they should get a chance to have that! But if you think around your world, and you know a kid who needs to find their book, who wants to love reading but hasn’t quite got there yet, then–please–enter. I want this giveaway to send a little bit of that magic into the world.

So…all you have to do to enter the contest is leave a comment below. But if you’ve got a story to share about your book, the one that grabbed you as a child and made you a reader, or the one that did that for one of your own kids, a student, whoever–I’d love to hear that, too.

I’ll run this contest for a week, and I’ll draw one random winner next Monday, April 11th. Feel free to spread the word!