The Writing Process
Why do I call writing a process? Because that's exactly
what it is. Even though I've written dozens of books, I
don't get up in the morning, say "I think I'll write a book
today," then sit down, dash one off and send it to my
publisher. I WISH it was that easy, but it isn't. Instead, I
go through a process that consists of the follwing six
1) BRAINSTORMING: What is brainstorming? It's coming up with ideas. Sometimes
ideas come to me all by themselves. In fact, the more you write, the more often it
happens that way, but in the beginning you have to seek out ideas. Where do you
think you might find them? Well, most writers don't have to look any farther than their
own back yards. The best ideas come from things that have happened to you or the
people close to you. These are things you care deeply about, so your writing will ring
true. Emotions are a good place to start your search. Think of things in your life that
have made you laugh or made you cry, frightened you, or made you worry, made
you proud, or made you mad. To give some examples from my books, I wrote IF I
HAD ONE WISH about two brothers who do nothing but fight. Where do you think
I got that idea? Well, I have two sons. Does that give you a hint? I wrote THE
PROMISE about a boy and his beloved Labrador Retriever. Would you be
surprised to find out that I have a Labrador Retriever - two in fact - that I love very
much. I wrote MOLE AND SHREW ARE TWO about a Mole who loses his home
and a Shrew who helps him find a new one. Maybe that's because I've moved
umpty-zillion times in my life. I could go on and on, but you get the point. Think about
your life and soon you'll have dozens of story ideas.
2) FIRST DRAFT: So, you have an idea? What next? Well, remember that most
stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end. In the beginning we usually meet the
main character. Who will your main character be? Then we discover that the main
character has a problem or wants something. What is your main character's problem?
In the middle, we see the main character try to solve his problem or get what he
wants. Usually he tries a few things that don't work, then finally he comes up with an
idea that does work, and viola! We have the end! Let's use my picture book, NO
SUCH THING as an example. In the beginning we meet the main character. This
book has two main characters actually - Howard and Monster. They both have the
same problem. They're scared - of each other, but their mommies won't believe
them. Howard's mommy keeps tell him there are no such things as monsters, and
Monster's mommy keeps telling him there are no such things as boys. In the middle,
they try to solve their problem. How? They both try to prove to their mommies that
they are telling the truth. Howard calls his mommy and tells her he hears the monster
snurkling. Monster calls his mommy and tells her he heard the boy sneeze. But the
mommies don't hear anything. Time and again Howard and Monster call their
mommies, and time and again their mommies refuse to believe them. At last the
mommies get REALLY MAD and yell. Howard starts to cry. Monster starts to
whimple. When they hear each other sounding so sad, they start to talk and they
realize that there is nothing to be scared of after all. Together, they make a plan.
Howard crawls under the bed where monster usually sleeps. Monster crawls on top
of the bed where Howard usually sleeps. "Mommy!" they both call together.
"Mommy, come quick." And that's the end. Howard and Monster have solved their
problem in a most surprising and satisfying way! So there you have it. Now it's time
for you to try writing your first draft. And it's called a first draft for a reason, by the
way. Don't worry about spelling or punctuation or getting things just right. That
comes later. For now, just write and have fun getting your story down on paper.
Always write your first draft on one side of the paper only, and skip every other line.
You'll see why when we get to step four.
3) SHARING: So, you've written your first draft. Is it any good? How do you know?
It's hard to tell if your own story is good, because you wrote it, and writing is a very
personal thing, so naturally YOU think it's good. So how can you find out just how
good it is and how you can improve it? Share it with other writers. Professional
writers often belong to critique groups where we meet with other writers, read our
stories out loud and offer one another criticism. We are always gentle and kind
because we want the other writers to be gentle and kind to us, too. So we say first
what we like about the story, then we say how we think the writer could make it
better. The writer just listens, and sometimes takes notes, then when she goes home
she can decide if she wants to use the suggestions she has heard to try and make her
story better. You can share your stories with friends or classmates, or ask your
favorite librarian if she knows of any other young people who are interested in
writing. Maybe she'll even help you organize a critique group right there at the library!
4) REVISION: We writers have a saying that goes: Good books aren't written -
they're RE-written. This is so true. A first draft is like a big block of rough granite. It
takes hours and hours of chiseling and polishing to make it into a work of art. We
writers write our stories, over and over and over again - sometimes dozens of times -
until we are sure they are the best they can be. Then we send them off to a publisher,
and IF we're lucky enough to have them accepted, the first thing the publisher usually
asks us to do is revise them some more. But we don't mind, because before our
stories go out to you, the readers, we want them to be as close to perfect as we can
make them. So now is your chance to turn your story into a work of art. Think about
the things others told you about your story in your sharing group and work on making
it better. Now you know why we left every other line blank - so you'd have room to
make revisions! Keep working on your story until you are really happy with it. If you
are having a hard time with certain parts, you might want to share it with your group
again and ask for more suggestions. When you think your story is the best it can be,
it's time for the next step.
5) EDITING: This is the part we all hate. This is when you DO have to go through the
story and correct all the spelling and punctuation. It's not much fun, but it's important.
An editor won't even finish reading a writer's story if she finds that it's full of mistakes,
so no writer would ever get published if he or she didn't do a good job of editing. If
you want to publish your story and let others read it, you want it to be something you
can be really proud of, so get out that dictionary and go to work!
6) FINAL DRAFT: At last you are ready for your final draft. For professional writers
the final draft is the letter perfect (we hope) copy that we send off to the publisher.
Because you are going to publish your own book, though, your final draft will be the
book you create. It's time for you to take your story in hand and begin the publication