Note: I could’ve added “part one of many” to that title, but it felt a little long. Also, I used that stock photo, because I will clearly be handwriting a novel whilst reclining in a grassy park alone.
When you decide to write a novel, you’re basically joining every other person on the planet who has an idea for a book. I believe everyone has a book idea floating in the back of his or her mind, so you’re really not all that special when you announce you have a “great idea!” for a book.
But, guys, my idea is better than the Average Joe’s, I promise! (I mean, in my opinion, if I do say so myself, my mom thinks so too, etc.)
I’ve been working on a few picture-book stories for two years (after joining the Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators or SCBWI. I’ve also heard it pronounced “Squibby,” though that hasn’t caught on in popularity, apparently). I have a few decently cleaned-up manuscripts waiting in the drawer for the perfect moment, so that’s potentially exciting at a later date.
But the idea of conceptualizing an entire novel? Holy. Moly. Like, where to even begin? One idea has to streeeeetch for at least 50,000 words. And they have to be good words! The best words! Yeesh. (That is not an example of a “best” word.)
I once read that Stephanie Meyer had a dream about vampire Edward and human Bella in a meadow, and Edward was doing his glittery vampire thing. That’s where the whole Twilight story was born. So, I’ve been stubbornly waiting for my inspirational dream. Unfortunately, my dreams don’t fall into “New York Times Best Sellers list” categories, so here I moan.
However, I like my current idea, so I’m giving it the old college try.
Even though I’ve read hundreds of books in my life, it’s a completely different beast to actually write one. There are all these rules! And structural scaffolds to build! And characters to develop! And, again, I have to choose only the best words. I’m quickly learning why so many people have book ideas without being able to pull out the actual book. It takes a lot of work, and I’m only on chapter three!
Thankfully, I have two small children, so that helps my focus immensely.
There’s a whole world–a whole community–of writers and those who want to help writers, especially in social-media world. There are contests to enter, societies to join, and Twitter hashtag-fests to try. I recently registered for #PBCritiqueFest (which is a fancy social media tag meaning I’m hoping to win a professional critique for one of my picture books). There are some big-namers (looking at you, Bridget Heos, Tammi Saur, and Mary Cummings!) on the professional side of that contest, so my fingers are crossed!
A word of advice from an amateur: If you’re looking to write a book, join a critique group. I’d go as far as advising to join a writing society. As my mom always says, you don’t know what you don’t know, and going to conferences and boot camps, you quickly learn what you don’t know. With my first picture book draft, I entered it into a contest and was convinced it was perfection on a page. I was a prodigy, y’all. One of those wunderkinds who hit the bullseye on her first shot! Obviously, that’s obscenely ridiculous and highly hilarious two years later when I’ve realized how inappropriately confident I was. But, again, I didn’t know what I didn’t know…until I knew it.
Yesterday, instead of spending my time wisely (and putting laundry away), I decided to click around literary agent websites. I quickly became extremely overwhelmed and disheartened. It seems that you need to already be a famous somebody before an editor (or agent) will take a chance on reading your book. It’s like needing job experience right out of college. How do you get it without someone taking a chance on you first?
You know when you walk into a big bookstore and see tables and tables of severely discounted books? We all know no one will never buy all of those books, and that makes me sad. It’s even more depressing to realize those are the books that made it. They were actually published! Therefore, there’s an enormous chance my sweet books won’t make it nearly that far.
But then I remembered the most important thing. I didn’t give myself a talent to write, to tell stories. I didn’t give myself the weird, dorky love for all things grammatical (I don’t always follow the rules on the blog, I realize. Ahem). Honestly, I don’t even think I’ve come up with my story ideas by myself. God has blessed me with my special little swirl of talents and connections in the world to produce stories uniquely my own. And, if He wants to see these stories published, He’ll toss the right people into my path at the perfect time. And if He doesn’t? Well, it’s been a very educational trip full of personal growth. My job is to write the best darn story I can and get help along the way. That’s what I plan to do.
If you’re also trying to write a book (or learn a new skill), kuddos to you, friend! Please share in the comments, as I love to hear about others’ journeys.
The History of Jane Doe by Michael Belanger – One of the speakers at a recent SCBWI conference mentioned this book, citing the brilliant prologue. As I do at every writing conference, I add all book recommendations to a list, then scramble to reserve as many as possible from the library. Contemporary young adult books aren’t always my jam, but this one has some extra pizzazz to it. Ray and his best friend Simon are basically forgotten nerds at the end of high school. Life is mundane, and Ray spends most of his time reading about history instead of creating his own stories. A new girl (we only know her as “Jane Doe”) enters the scene, and, for some unknown reasons, decides to befriend Ray and Simon.
We’re aware something happens and happened, as there’s a countdown or a “days since” at the top of each chapter. I’m still waiting to figure out what exactly that is. It’s an enjoyable ride getting there, and the dialogue is spot on.