Category Archives: Writing MG Books

Tips for November Writing Challenges

It’s almost November—do you know what that means? Many writers are getting ready for fun challenges, like NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). The goal is to write at least 50,000 words of a novel in November. When I first learned about NaNoWriMo, I didn’t think I’d be able to participate because I was finishing a revision on a middle grade novel. On November 7th, I completed my revision and thought of a shiny new idea. By the end of November, I ended up with over 60,000 words! As awesome as that was, I’ve learned that it’s better to have more than just an idea. Fleshing out my concept and making sure I have important plot points in mind really helps (even though it’s possible they’ll change as I get to know my characters better). Some people love to outline, but I’ve never been a huge fan of it for my work. My favorite tool is Joyce Sweeney’s Plot Clock. Here’s a post about it, and here’s another post that shows a picture of the Plot Clock.

ywp_logo-NaNoWriMo

Calling all teachers—did you know that there’s a NaNoWriMo Young Writers Program? Check out their Resources for Educators, where you’ll find their free classroom kit, lesson plans, and Virtual Classroom how-to. You can also find out how to connect with fellow educators.

If you want to participate in NaNoWriMo, but don’t know what to write about yet, here’s a post that can help you come up with new ideas.

Here’s a link to a helpful interview with author Dorian Cirrone. She has fantastic advice for brainstorming high concept ideas, how to come up with a great beginning, plus a writing exercise. Check out Dorian’s blog for her series on Ten Ways to Generate Ideas.

A lot of middle grade novels are way less than 50,000 words…so how can you write a middle grade novel and still be a NaNoWriMo winner? Well, I think anyone who makes great progress on a novel is a winner. Reaching the end of a first draft in one month is definitely a reason to dance around the room and treat yourself to some kind of special celebration (maybe delicious chocolate, a fun outing with family members you haven’t spent much time with because you were so busy writing, or possibly a massage to un-hunch your shoulders after all that hard work). After celebrating, I like to dive back in and hit that 50,000 mark. Here are a few ways that I’ve accomplished that:

  1. My first drafts used to have lots of dialogue, but only a small amount of description. To beef up my word count and add important sensory details, I’ve looked for areas that could use fleshing out and added more description to them. I’d often have to cut a lot of it in the first few rounds of revision, but loved how many gems I was able to keep. Find what you often lack in your first drafts (maybe it’s dialogue, you don’t increase tension enough, etc.) and see where you can add it into your draft.
  2. If you think a sequel could work for your story, jump in and start writing it to reach your 50,000 word goal. Just try not to get too invested in it, because any changes you make to the first novel could cause huge changes to any future ones—but it can’t hurt to play around with it. You might find ideas that could enhance your first book!
  3. Beginnings are so hard to get right, that I’ve gone back to write a bunch of different beginnings. Don’t be afraid to start in a completely different place. If you’re not sure which one is best for your novel, polish your favorite beginnings up after NaNoWriMo is over, then share them with your critique group or writing friends and see if there’s a clear winner.
  4. You could also start a new novel! Hopefully, you’ll have some ideas fleshed out and ready to go.

If you get stuck while working on your new project, here’s a link to Tricks to Defeat Writer’s Block.

For those of you who also write picture books, check out Tara Lazar’s PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) where the goal is to come up with at least thirty shiny new ideas during the month of November. Then, you have plenty of ideas to choose from whenever you want to write a new picture book throughout the year.

If you have any tips to share or questions to ask, please leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you. Good luck with whatever goal you’re working toward this November. I hope the words flow!

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.

Processing

Few things make Writer Me more nervous than being asked about my “process”. So much of how I make a book remains mysterious to me that process is too kind a word. My lurching, my fumbling, stumbling, grabbing and grasping–that I could talk about all night. Not that anyone would want to listen.

processor

Periodically, I take myself in hand and try to say, with some semblance of articulateness, how I do what I do. Now seems a good time, since next year is an unusual one for me: I’ve got two new books, in genres that differ yet overlap. Moonpenny Island, a novel, is pure middle grade (ages 8-12), but Cody and the Fountain of Happiness is what is called a chapter book (ages 7-10). I’ve been thinking about what I was doing in each book–what’s the same and what’s distinct.

Right off the bat: they were equally challenging to write. I’d say the same about picture books, YA, and adult fiction, all of which I’ve done. For me, writing is just hard hard hard, which means slow slow slow.

The challenges were different, though. Both have subplots, but Moonpenny has more, and twining them all together, not to mention bringing them to a conclusion that wasn’t a series of bullet points, took serious wrangling. Cody’s subplots stuck closer to home–the main story–and were easier to call in at the end. Cody has fewer characters, and the setting stays more in the background. In Moonpenny, as you might guess from the title, sense of place is strong and crucial.

Not to say, by any means, that writing more simply is simpler. My middle grade novels are usually forty-to-sixty-thousand words, where the Cody book (it is–yay! first in a series) is about fifteen thousand. At a quarter of the words, the demands of a chapter book are daunting. Sentences are shorter, which makes choosing the perfect details (and cutting all the others) even more essential.  I spent forever finding Cody’s voice. As a younger child, her vocabulary is smaller, but her feelings, her thoughts and her questions, are just as big as a tween’s. In Moonpenny, my main character, Flor, gets to venture into thinking and speculation too abstract for Cody, but Cody gets to wears her heart on her sleeve in a way that Flor feels too old and self-conscious for. The different, crazy delights these two girls gave me as I wrote them!

There is also the matter of joy. In chapter books, it’s a sure thing. Characters will have problems, they’ll grow and change, but there’s never any doubt that all will come right in the end. There’s only so much angst their worlds will bear. In middle grade, things can–and recently this seems more and more the case–take a darker tone. The world can give middle grade characters more of a battering. Joy may no longer be guaranteed, but hope must be, always.

I loved writing both (I know I said it was hard hard hard–but amnesia has already set in). At times I’d get confused, and give Cody a middle grade problem, or rein in the lushness of Flor’s voice. But mostly, happily, the books informed each other. Writing them in tandem was like getting to know two sisters, one a little older and more serious, the other younger and funnier, each of them bossy and eager in her own way. Each has her own evolving view of the world, and her own urgent, important story to tell. I like to think that older middle grade readers might enjoy kicking back with Cody, and younger one might go up on tiptoe to meet Flor.

Some other “chapter books” I think work for younger middle grade readers are listed here. Please add your own suggestions!

Clementine books by Sara Pennypacker

Alvin Ho books by Lenore Look

Anything by Dick King-Smith

Marvin Redpost books by Louis Sachar

Humphrey books by Betty G. Birney

*****

Tricia’s other middle grade novels include What Happened on Fox Street and Mo Wren, Lost and Found,  both published by HarperCollins.

Why I never hit 50K but still sign up for NaNoWriMo

For years I poo-pooed the idea of National Novel Writing Month. As many times as I hear the advice of “write a crummy first draft; revise later,” I know that a sentence or a scene can haunt me through the night and demand to be rewritten the next morning. The first time I took on the NaNo challenge, I completely sabotaged myself, writing fewer words in a month than I usually do in a week. The next year I signed up again, falling just 43,292 words short of the 50k NaNo goal.

Despite my pathetic word counts, I’ve turned into one of the biggest NaNoWriMo fans because of what I observed last year. The library where I work hosted several NaNo write-ins in 2013, marking off a portion of the library for “novelists at work.” Twenty to thirty writers came each week, writing with focus and determination – and speed. Short chats with other writers were about process and progress; no time wasted on talking about agents or editors or query letters or anything about the business end of writing. These people were writing to enjoy the process; writing toward a goal. After November ended, I asked a few Wrimos what their plans were for revision and submission. Some talked about keeping the file closed for a few months, and then hitting the rewrite. A couple considered the project finished. But not “finished” as in ready to be published; finished as in: I did what I wanted to do for this creative exercise.

I came away from last November greatly admiring these writers, the ones who are totally committed to a challenge and the process. THAT was the kind of writer I used to be (albeit with tens of thousands of words less each month) – a writer who challenges herself every day. THAT’S the kind of writer I want to be again.

So, yeah, I signed up for NaNoWriMo this year. And I can’t wait.

There is no shortage of blog posts out there offering tips to make it through NaNoWriMo. I’m resisting the urge to read absolutely everything and sticking with some solid resources on the NaNo site itself, including 6 tips to finish your first draft. Take a look at more NaNo prep resources on their blog. And consider this bit of advice from a four-time Wrimo pro: Make sure advance prep includes cleaning hour house and clearing your calendar.