• From the Mixed-Up Files... > Inspiration > Tragedy Averted or How I Almost Talked Myself Out of Another Manuscript
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    April 11, 2014:
    Fall 2014 Children's Sneak Peek
    A peek at forthcoming middle grade books (as well as picture books and YA books) in a round-up from Publisher's Weekly. First printed in the February 22 issue, but now available online. Time to add to your to-read list. Read more ...

    April 9, 2014:
    How many Newbery winners have you read?
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    March 28, 2014:
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    February 14, 2014:
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    January 27, 2014: And the Newbery Medal goes to ...
    Kate DiCamillo won the Newbery Medal for "Flora & Ulysses"; Rita Williams-Garcia won the Coretta Scott King Author award for "P.S. Be Eleven." Newbery Honor awards to authors Vince Vawter, Amy Timberlake, Kevin Henkes and Holly Black. For all the exciting ALA Youth Media Award News ... READ MORE

    November 12, 2013:
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    September 19, 2013: Writer-in-Residence program at Thurber House

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    September 18, 2013: Vermont College of Fine Arts Scholarship opportunity

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    Sept. 13, 2013: Spring preview
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    August 21, 2013:
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    Middle grade categories are fiction, speculative fiction, nonfiction. Applications due August 31! Read more ...

    August 19, 2013:
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    March 28, 2013: Big at Bologna

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    March 10, 2013: Marching to New Titles

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    March 5, 2013: Catch the BEA Buzz

    Titles for BEA's Editor Buzz panels have been announced.  The middle-grade titles selected are:

    A Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates #1: Magic Marks the Spot by Caroline Carlson

    Counting By 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

    The Fantastic Family Whipple by Matthew Ward

    Nick and Tesla's High-Voltages Danger Lab by Bob Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith

    The Tie Fetch by Amy Herrick

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    February 20, 2013: Lunching at the MG Roundtable 

    Earlier this month, MG authors Jeanne Birdsall, Rebecca Stead, and N.D. Wilson shared insight about writing for the middle grades at an informal luncheon with librarians held in conjunction with the New York Public Library's Children's Literary Salon "Middle Grade: Surviving the Onslaught."

    Read about their thoughts...

     

    February 10, 2013: New Books to Love

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    January 28, 2013: Ivan Tops List of Winners

    The American Library Association today honored the best of the best from 2012, announcing the winners of the Newbery, Caldecott, and Printz awards, along with a host of other prestigious youth media awards, at their annual winter meeting in Seattle.

    The Newbery Medal for the most outstanding contribution to children’s literature went to The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. Honor books were: Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz; Bomb: The Race to Build--and Steal--the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin; and Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage.

    The Coretta Scott King Book Award went to Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America written by Andrea Davis Pinkney and illustrated by Brian Pinkney.

    The Laura Ingalls Wilder Award,which honors an author for his or her long-standing contributions to children’s literature, was presented to Katherine Paterson.

    The Pura Belpre Author Award, which honors a Latino author, went to Benjamin Alire Saenz for his novel Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, which was also named a Printz Honor book and won the Stonewall Book Award for its portrayal of the GLBT experience.

    For a complete list of winners…

     

    January 22, 2013: Biography Wins Sydney Taylor

    Louise Borden's His Name Was Raoul Wallenberg, a verse biography of the Swedish humanitarian, has won the Sydney Taylor Award in the middle-grade category. The award is given annually to books of the highest literary merit that highlight the Jewish experience. Aimee Lurie, chair of the awards committee, writes, "Louise Borden's well-researched biography will, without a doubt, inspire children to perform acts of kindness and speak out against oppression."

    For more...

     

    January 17, 2013: Erdrich Wins Second O'Dell

    Louise Erdrich is recipient of the 2013 Scott O'Dell Award for her historical novel Chickadee, the fourth book in herBirchbark House series. Roger Sutton,Horn Book editor and chair of the awards committee, says of Chickadee,"The book has humor and suspense (and disarmingly simple pencil illustrations by the author), providing a picture of 1860s Anishinabe life that is never didactic or exotic and is briskly detailed with the kind of information young readers enjoy." Erdrich also won the O'Dell Award in 2006 for The Game of Silence, the second book in theBirchbark series. 

    For more...

     

    January 15, 2013: After the Call

    Past Newbery winners Jack Gantos, Clare Vanderpool, Neil Gaiman, Rebecca Stead, and Laura Amy Schlitz talk about how winning the Newbery changed (or didn't change) their lives in this piece from Publishers Weekly...

     

    January 2, 2013: On the Big Screen

    One of our Mixed-up Files members may be headed to the movies! Jennifer Nielsen's fantasy adventure novel The False Prince is being adapted for Paramount Pictures by Bryan Cogman, story editor for HBO's Game of Thrones. For more...

     

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Tragedy Averted or How I Almost Talked Myself Out of Another Manuscript

Inspiration, Op-Ed, Writing MG Books

Years ago I came up with an awesome high-concept novel. I’d only written one other book at that point, a low-concept book begun in secret and pretty much written as a challenge to myself. I wrote early in the morning before my kids were awake, marveling at how the words added up. Writing a novel was like living an alternate existence free of poopy diapers and tantrums, and I loved it. When the manuscript was “done” I made a few attempts to get it published before recognizing it as a learning project.

The second book was a whole other matter.

By then I was a member of a weekly critique group for adult fiction. The focus was on publication.  My critique partners loved my new premise and when our annual conference approached, encouraged me to get an appointment with a visiting editor or agent. I’d only written about five chapters but with input I polished opening pages, wrote a synopsis, and practiced my pitch in front of the group. I talked about my project. A lot.

And then a strange thing happened: I had no desire to write that very cool, high-concept book with its unique setting.  In talking about my project I’d talked myself out of a manuscript.

Since then I’ve warned other writers about the perils of talking too much. I cautioned my sons’ elementary school classmates to keep story ideas to themselves until they’d written at least a first draft. I brought in an inflated balloon and as I told the story of Tracy’s Abandoned Project, let out a bit of air. Throughout the whole sordid tale of me blah-blahing to my writing partners, I slowly released more air and by the time I reached the part about losing my love for the story, the balloon was flat. And lifeless.

Shouldn’t someone who goes around bossing other people on the issue of keeping their mouths shut know better?

Despite my No-Talking-Before-Completed-Draft policy, I fudged a bit on my latest project and shared a one-line description with my new agent (and felt validated when he liked the premise). I still successfully finished the draft. But when talking to a critique partner about whether I should rewrite the book in third-person I remember hesitating before answering his questions; it felt risky. But hey, I had a first draft. So I talked.

And not only did I talk to him but also to my spouse. I’m blessed with a partner who fully supports my literary efforts and never, ever complains about me not bringing in an income. However, because he never finished reading the one manuscript I asked him to read (in his defense, my learning project), I’ve armored my heart by only speaking about my projects in generalities.

But suddenly I was talking to him in great detail and it was wonderful to finally be one of those writers with an involved spouse. It felt especially good because my agent had just read the first fifty pages and synopsis of the second draft and basically said he liked my premise but not the execution. A couple weeks later he dropped me.

I needed to start all over. Again. But I wisely recognized I was still too fragile to work on that particular project so set it aside and revised another manuscript. When that was finished and sent off, I felt ready to return to my difficult project.

I began talking about the story again, trying to sort out some character issues. I brain-stormed with my spouse and felt I was getting closer to truly knowing the kids at the heart of my story. And yet, I couldn’t gain any traction; I was unable to move beyond character sketches to drafting and despaired the story would ever get written.

Then one day not too long ago I experienced what felt like a balloon-inspired epiphany: Stop talking and write the story.

Hello, I needed to get back to the guilty pleasure of stealing away to scribble down scenes, sharing in the lives of people no one else has met. I needed to return to writing for me.  Me and no one else.  And that’s where I am right now.  I’ve got this story inside I want to tell, and if I keep quiet from here on out we’ll make it.  However, I need to trust my instincts no matter how many drafts I’ve written.

But just in case I ever falter in my resolve, I can check in with one of my favorite writers:

“It makes me so uncomfortable for them. If they’re talking about a plot idea, I feel the idea is probably going to evaporate. I want to almost physically reach over and cover their mouths and say, “You’ll lose it if you’re not careful.”   ~ Anne Tyler

(By the way, you can buy a signed copy of this quote on ebay for only $399).

* * * * *

These days Tracy Abell is talking less and writing more, although she reserves the right to talk to herself when she’s feeling stuck.

19 Comments

9 Comments

  1. Amie Borst  •  Sep 14, 2012 @6:44 am

    oh – i feel your pain! i’ve talked myself out of two manuscripts. lesson learned. thanks for the advice!

    Tracy Abell Reply:

    @Amie Borst, I’m sorry you also had to learn this lesson the hard way. It’s weird how that energy can just slip away if we’re not careful, but weirder still that some other writers don’t seem to have this issue.

  2. Karen B. Schwartz  •  Sep 14, 2012 @8:56 am

    I totally agree, Tracy. That’s exactly what happens, just deflates the balloon. Especially if you start getting input from others and it clouds your thinking. That’s why at conferences when another writer asks me what I’m working on (unless it’s finished), I say something vague and then explain it’s too early to talk about it yet. Other writers really get that.
    p.s. Love the pictures in this post! Especially the smiley face deflated balloon. :p

    Tracy Abell Reply:

    @Karen B. Schwartz, YES! That whole clouded thinking thing is another issue. I’ve gotten confused by some input and that ends up setting me back even farther. It makes me feel I should take a vow of complete and absolute silence while writing my books. My family might love that!

    I have my conference coming up next week and I’m going to adopt your approach. Vague response and mysterious smile.

    I’m glad you like the pictures because I had great fun adding them.

  3. Sheela Chari  •  Sep 14, 2012 @9:36 am

    I so get this, Tracy! I *hate* talking about a project before I’ve finished it. I remember that I even hesitated to talk about Vanished until perhaps the ARCs were out. Some of it is just me. But I also think there is a time when it is too soon to talk, even sometimes to show. We need to give ourselves time to really build and trust in our world before sharing it with others.

    Sometimes I come up with a “fake” description of what I’m working on. Something that only vaguely has to do with what the book is about — kind of like Karen. I find that works for me. Heck, we all need to keep our balloons inflated! :)

    Tracy Abell Reply:

    @Sheela Chari, Wow, you didn’t talk about VANISHED until the ARCs were out? That’s hard core! But I admire you and am going to try hard to emulate that kind of thinking about building and trusting in my world before sharing it. Thank you for that insight, Sheela.

    Here’s to all our balloons remaining inflated!

  4. Laurie Beth Schneider  •  Sep 14, 2012 @6:01 pm

    I feel the same way, Tracy. I love to talk about my reading, and don’t mind talking about the writing process, but I don’t like to hash over a manuscript until it’s finished, which makes it hard to be part of a critique group.

    Tracy Abell Reply:

    @Laurie Beth Schneider, The comments here have gotten me thinking more about my process and I realize that while I felt one draft put me in safe territory, I’ve never had stuff critiqued that soon or even done much talking about my projects. This project was an anomaly and I’ve learned I need to go back to my comfort zone: keeping my mouth shut.

    I’m with you on liking to talk about the process, though.

  5. Linda Andersen  •  Sep 14, 2012 @6:13 pm

    Tracy,

    Now you’ve got me rethinking the first draft of my novel, that remains mostly in my head. I’ve shared the first chapter and haven’t written beyond it. Perhaps finishing the first draft on my own and then sharing is a far better plan. Thanks! Probably lots of people quit that wouldn’t have, if they had heard and tried this advice. Terrific advice!

    Tracy Abell Reply:

    @Linda Andersen, Yes, try that approach! I think it’s incredibly difficult to share early chapters before the story has been written out (in at least rough form). Then you start getting input from people who don’t have the same vision and it’s easy getting confused and overwhelmed to the point you can’t write.

    I encourage you to finish that draft in silence, Linda! :)

  6. Michelle Schusterman  •  Sep 14, 2012 @6:14 pm

    That’s a fantastic analogy with the balloon, Tracy. I can definitely empathize with this post!

    Tracy Abell Reply:

    @Michelle Schusterman, Thanks much for sharing in this writer’s journey. Let’s keep our balloons inflated with good story energy!

  7. Michele Weber Hurwitz  •  Sep 14, 2012 @8:59 pm

    I also loved this post, Tracy. We all go through these moments. Plus everyone seems to worry so much more about publishing (high concept, duh) than just letting the story come.

    Tracy Abell Reply:

    @Michele Weber Hurwitz, You’re so right about that high-concept angle and from my very unscientific polling, it seems to contribute to more blabbing. I have a friend who started to tell me his high-concept idea and I begged him to stop (explaining my concern) but he kept going. That was a year ago and I don’t think he’s written the manuscript yet.

  8. Kimberley Griffiths Little  •  Sep 15, 2012 @12:03 am

    Great post, Tracy. I thoroughly enjoyed it and empathize. The first few manuscript I ever wrote I didn’t breathe a word for fear of it all disappearing! I talk a little bit now, but in generalities, not details. :-)

    Tracy Abell Reply:

    @Kimberley Griffiths Little, Yes, this: “I didn’t breathe a word for fear of it all disappearing!” That’s exactly the feeling I had with my first manuscript and most every one that followed. I’m back to that attitude now.

    Speaking in generalities can be fine for many writers, I think. At this point, though, I’m afraid to do even that.

    Kimberley Little Reply:

    @Tracy Abell, And yet, I have to add: The last few novel manuscripts I’ve written I *have* done some brainstorming with my crit partner. She and I have been reading for each other for at least 10 years (Carolee Dean, YA novels with S&S) and she is a huge talk-it-out-brainstormer gal. I was horrified the first time she told me this. But after helping her brainstorm ideas of her own I slowly ventured out and now I do a bit of it, too, actually. Especially if I have holes in plot or character that I’m trying to fill. Brainstorming can now even get me excited to work. So it’s been really interesting to see how my work habits (or idea and novel building) has changed with time. Of course, this is over a very long period of time and about 20 novel manuscripts! Most of which are in a drawer as practice novels. :-)

  9. Portia Pennington  •  Sep 15, 2012 @10:25 am

    One question…how the heck did you ever find the Tyler quote on Ebay?!?

    Tracy Abell Reply:

    @Portia Pennington, Finding that ebay item was a total accident. The quote was in a book but when I did an online search to find its origin I stumbled upon that literary bargain!