Author Archives: Mindy Alyse Weiss

Digging Into Revisions

When I was younger, school taught me to brainstorm an idea for a story, write it, then turn it in. I’d get feedback and a grade, but that was the end of it. I’m so grateful when I see my daughters not only write in school, but also practice revising. Very few things come out amazing in the first draft (and often the second, third, and fourth drafts, too). Every time you put writing away for a bit then look at it with fresh eyes, or receive feedback from trusted critique buddies or publishing professionals, there’s a chance to take your work up at least a level or two. But sometimes, it’s hard to know where to start.

Once yocongratulations_sm_nwmaau finish your first draft of a book, assignment, etc. I think the most important thing to do is CELEBRATE! So many people want to be writers and have all kinds of ideas swimming around their heads, but don’t find the time to actually sit and get them down on paper or into a computer. Congrats for finishing your draft!

Years ago, I used to leap into revisions in a very unproductive way—by trying to make the prose sing. That’s very important, but if the bones of your story aren’t strong enough, you can spend tons of time polishing up areas that will have to be cut. Concentrate on the big picture items first. Once you get them as strong as possible, that’s the perfect time to tweak your prose to perfection.

I’ve learned that I’m much stronger at voice and writing dialogue than plotting, so that’s where I usually start with a revision. I use Joyce Sweeney’s Plot Clock as much as possible while planning a new novel or picture book. Sometimes surprises pop up that take my plot in an unexpected direction. I love when my characters take over and start to lead the story! Sometimes, I’ll go back and rework the Plot Clock soon after I finish a draft, other times I jot notes on it and don’t completely redo it until I finish several rounds of revisions.

If you’d like, you can take a peek at some notes I shared a few years ago after taking Joyce’s Plot Clock Workshop, or you can sign up for Joyce’s newsletter then log in to her site to watch her free hour and a half Plot Clock webinar.

            Here are some other revision tips:

*Look at your characters and see if they’re all necessary and unique enough. Get to know them better through interviews. I love keeping a list of the traits, sayings, etc. of each character (and it tends to grow throughout the first draft and continues to expand and morph through rounds of revisions).

*Is every scene needed?

*Did you take the most obvious route? Play around with all the possibilities you can think of. What can really make your story and characters unique? What can surprise your readers (but looking back, they’ll hopefully have enough clues to realize how everything led up to that moment)?

*If you hit a section that you know needs to be stronger, but aren’t sure how to fix it, you can try setting a timer for ten minutes and brainstorming all the possibilities. You can also play with the time of day that you write. My inner critic gets tired late at night, and I’ve found that I take more chances with my writing then. It’s a great way to attack a scene I know I need to change, but am not exactly sure how.

*Now is a fantastic time to get feedback from trusted critique buddies. If possible, see if you can work on another project or character sketches, so you can view your story with fresh eyes when you receive their comments.

At the end, you can fine-tune your story. Make sure every word is needed and the strongest possible choice. Look for often repeated words. Read your story out loud and see where you stumble. Or have someone else read it out loud—it’s amazing how much clearer you can see your work when read by another person. If others hear it too, do they laugh at the right time or lose attention during scenes that can be streamlined?

Here are a couple of older Mixed-Up Files posts about revision that you might want to read:

Revision–the BIG picture

Revision: Churning Spilled Milk into Ice Cream

            I’d love to know what revision strategies work best for you!

Mindy Alyse Weiss writes humorous middle grade novels with heart and quirky picture books. She’s constantly inspired by her two daughters, an adventurous Bullmasador adopted from The Humane Society, and an adorable Beagle/Pointer mix who was rescued from the Everglades. Visit Mindy’s TwitterFacebook, or blog to read more about her writing life, conference experiences, and writing tips.

Make Reading Fun

Summer is full of fun in the sun, dips in a pool, and hopefully reading some great middle-grade novels, too. Here are some ways to help inspire reading this summer.

Middle Grade Books and Ruby

Read books together. No matter how old a child or teen gets, it’s nice to share great books with relatives. Why not find a comfy spot and take turns reading to each other?

Read to a pet or a young child. My older daughter used to love reading books to her sister, and I lost track of how many times I found her snuggling with our dog while reading a book to her. Books with fun dialogue or younger siblings are great choices for this. As a child, I absolutely adored Judy Blume’s books (I even wrote my first fan letter to her). My girls are three years apart, and when my older daughter was six, I read Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing to her. I was pleasantly surprised when my younger daughter sat with us, laughing and intently listening to all of Peter and Fudge’s adventures.

Find a fun location to read. You can encourage reading at a beach, pool, or park. You can grab a seat and read almost anywhere! I think it would be fun to sit where you can watch gorillas in a zoo and read The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate.

Create a contest to inspire the kids or teens in your life to read. You can have them put their name, the book title, and their favorite part of the book on a circle and see who creates the longest bookworm by the end of the summer. To celebrate, you can go someplace fun or have a treat like pizza or ice cream, and maybe give the winner a gift card to buy a new book or two. You could even create a themed party where you make fun treats like the ones in their favorite book/s.

Join a book club, or start one of your own. Hanging out with friends and talking about great books is an awesome way to encourage kids to read. Here are some Mixed-Up Files posts about book clubs that might help you:

*Starting a Parent/Child Book Club

*One Mom Plus Two Sets of Twins Leads to Three Great Book Clubs

*Middle-grade Book Club Guide

To make a book club even more fun, you can check to see if any of the authors on this list are still available for a free 15 – 20 minute Skype visit after all the kids in the book club read at least one of his or her books!

If you’re looking for great new middle-grade novels to read this summer, check out our monthly new release posts. You can also browse through all the unique book lists on our site and search for categories like humorous, mystery, action & adventure, animal, fantasy & paranormal, etc.

I’d love to know how you make reading fun, and what middle-grade books are on your must-read list.

Mindy Alyse Weiss writes humorous middle grade novels with heart and quirky picture books. She’s constantly inspired by her two daughters, an adventurous Bullmasador adopted from The Humane Society, and an adorable Beagle/Pointer mix who was rescued from the Everglades. Visit Mindy’s TwitterFacebook, or blog to read more about her writing life, conference experiences, and writing tips.

Movies Inspired by Middle Grade Novels

I kept seeing commercials for Home and thought it looked cute, but didn’t really think about seeing it in the theater…until I read that it was adapted from The True Meaning of Smekday, by Adam Rex. I LOVE that book! Now, I can’t wait to see the movie.

This made me think about other middle grade novels that inspired movies. I think it’s fun to read a book then see how the movie compares to it. I often enjoy books way more than the movies and feel like people are missing some important things that didn’t transfer into the film version. But there are times when I like the movie better, or love both the book and the movie about the same amount.

Check out these middle grade novels that were turned into movies:


Smekday coverWhen twelve-year-old Gratuity (“Tip”) Tucci is assigned to write five pages on “The True Meaning of Smekday” for the National Time Capsule contest, she’s not sure where to begin. When her mom started telling everyone about the messages aliens were sending through a mole on the back of her neck? Maybe on Christmas Eve, when huge, bizarre spaceships descended on the Earth and the aliens-called Boov-abducted her mother? Or when the Boov declared Earth a colony, renamed it “Smekland” (in honor of glorious Captain Smek), and forced all Americans to relocate to Florida via rocketpod?

In any case, Gratuity’s story is much, much bigger than the assignment. It involves her unlikely friendship with a renegade Boov mechanic named J.Lo.; a futile journey south to find Gratuity’s mother at the Happy Mouse Kingdom; a cross-country road trip in a hovercar called Slushious; and an outrageous plan to save the Earth from yet another alien invasion.


Jeremy Fink coverIn one month Jeremy Fink will turn thirteen. But does he have what it takes to be a teenager? He collects mutant candy, he won’t venture more than four blocks from his apartment if he can help it, and he definitely doesn’t like surprises. On the other hand, his best friend, Lizzy, isn’t afraid of anything, even if that might get her into trouble now and then.

Jeremy’s summer takes an unexpected turn when a mysterious wooden box arrives in the mail. According to the writing on the box, it holds the meaning of life! Jeremy is supposed to open it on his thirteenth birthday. The problem is, the keys are missing, and the box is made so that only the keys will open it without destroying what’s inside. Jeremy and Lizzy set off to find the keys, but when one of their efforts goes very wrong, Jeremy starts to lose hope that he’ll ever be able to open the box. But he soon discovers that when you’re meeting people named Oswald Oswald and using a private limo to deliver unusual objects to strangers all over the city, there might be other ways of finding out the meaning of life.


Matilda coverMatilda is a genius. Unfortunately, her family treats her like a dolt. Her crooked car-salesman father and loud, bingo-obsessed mother think Matilda’s only talent is as a scapegoat for everything that goes wrong in their miserable lives. But it’s not long before the sweet and sensitive child decides to fight back. Faced with practical jokes of sheer brilliance, her parents don’t stand a chance.

Matilda applies her untapped mental powers to rid the school of the evil, child-hating headmistress, Miss Trunchbull, and restore her nice teacher, Miss Honey, to financial security.


Invention of Hugo Cabret coverOrphan, clock keeper, and thief, Hugo lives in the walls of a busy Paris train station, where his survival depends on secrets and anonymity. But when his world suddenly interlocks with an eccentric, bookish girl and a bitter old man who runs a toy booth in the station, Hugo’s undercover life, and his most precious secret, are put in jeopardy. A cryptic drawing, a treasured notebook, a stolen key, a mechanical man, and a hidden message from Hugo’s dead father form the backbone of this intricate, tender, and spellbinding mystery.


Mr. Popper's Penguins coverThe unexpected delivery of a large crate containing an Antarctic penguin changes the life and fortunes of Mr. Popper, a house painter obsessed by dreams of the Polar regions.


We had a great post about this back in 2010. Click on this link to check out a whole bunch of other movies that were inspired by middle grade novels.

What is your favorite movie based on a middle grade novel? Do you have any favorite novels that you’re hoping will be turned into a movie?

Mindy Alyse Weiss writes humorous middle grade novels with heart and quirky picture books. She’s constantly inspired by her two daughters, an adventurous Bullmasador adopted from The Humane Society, and an adorable Beagle/Pointer mix who was rescued from the Everglades. Visit Mindy’s TwitterFacebook, or blog to read more about her writing life, conference experiences, and writing tips.