Many of you Mixed Up File readers are teachers, parents and/or writers yourselves so you are familiar with the concept of PAGE FRIGHT. You may have heard your students or children complain “I don’t know what to write!” You may have even said those words yourself. Writing a story is a daunting task – as much for the seasoned writer as it is for the fourth grader in Language Arts class. Writing a novel is even more so. There is so much to think about! Currently I am halfway through a historical novel and there have been several (many?) days where I’ve felt overwhelmed with the task I’ve set out to accomplish.
“Why can’t I just write a nice, short picture book?” I lament.
Because you don’t write nice, short picture books, my subconscious says. Not well, anyway.
It’s at this point that I pull out two great tips from two great middle grade writers. These two tips have been, to me, like life preservers in the rough seas of novel writing. The first is from Lisa Yee, writer of MILLICENT MIN, GIRL GENIUS among others. A writer friend took a novel-writing workshop from Ms. Lee and passed on her idea of only thinking about writing one scene/chapter at a time: I can’t write a whole novel! But I can write one chapter. It’s kind of like the new-age mantra of ‘living in the now’ versus worrying about the future. I don’t know what’s going to happen to my characters at the end of the story, but I can be with them right now, in this one chapter and write that. Little manageable chunks that, added up, will eventually become a novel! Hooray!
The second helpful idea comes from Bruce Hale, writer of many humorous MG books, including the CHET GECKO series. He spoke, via Skype, to our SCBWI chapter on writing humor and at the end, had time for questions. I asked him if his first drafts were as funny as his final works. “OH, no,” he replied. “My first drafts are filled with placeholders that say ‘SOMETHING FUNNY HERE.’ I fill them in on following drafts.”
This idea was eye-opening to me. No longer did I have to struggle to get every word, every phrase, every fact, worked out in my first draft! If Bruce Hale could use placeholders, why couldn’t I? How freeing to write (WEATHER DESCRIPTION HERE) and (CONVERSATION WITH MOTHER HERE) and (NEWSPAPER ARTICLE HERE), knowing I would get to those things at a later time. Meanwhile, I can stay with my characters in my current chapter and keep the momentum moving forward. Double Hooray!
Now it’s your turn – what helps you or your students conquer that dreadful condition of Page Fright? I’d love to add a few more tips to my toolbox!
Beverly Patt is hard at work on (HISTORICAL FICTION TITLE HERE) in her suburban Chicago home.