When people ask about my writing process, I doubt the answer they’re expecting to get is, “well, first I write 10 to 15 chapters that just don’t work at all, then I scrap those, start over, and write an entire first draft that also doesn’t work at all, but in a different way.” This seems to be the case for me, though, and I’ve just completed what I now think of as the Obligatory False Start on my long-neglected middle grade story. When I tell people this, they also don’t seem to expect me to be happy about it, but I am. It feels like progress. Now the real work can begin.
Before I jump back into the inevitably shitty first draft, I’ve been doing some research, which is always fun. So much fun, actually, that I almost felt guilty doing it — surely there was some more arduous and therefore productive way I could be spending my time? But nope, that’s the best thing about being a writer: sometimes work and play are indistinguishable. Of course, not everyone would consider reading roughly 600 pages of Ancient Mesopotamian poetry (as I did over the last two weeks) to be “play,” but hey, we all have our eccentricities.
(A note on Ancient Mesopotamian poetry: some of it will definitely be discarded from the “useful research” pile on account of being too brutal not only for my target middle-grade audience, but also humanity in general. Those of you who’ve read my YA work may have some idea of what it would take to get me to say this. YIKES, Mesopotamia.)
So now I’m ready to jump into a project that is once again drastically different from previous works. The Children’s War is a high fantasy (???) upper-YA beginning of a trilogy with four revolving close-third POVs. Misbegotten Creatures is also upper-YA fantasy, but a semi-futuristic alternate universe science fantasy written in the first person. Writing MC felt so incredibly different from writing TCW that I sometimes felt like I was writing a first novel all over again. So many of the things I learned writing TCW were inapplicable to MC, and I had to learn so many new things for MC that had never come up in TCW.
(I’m making a conscious effort to use the actual titles of my completed(ish) manuscripts because professionalism, I guess? Middle-grade story has a title but will remain “middle-grade story” until at least after the shitty first draft.)
So of course after all of the frustration of writing a second first novel, I am now going to write a third first novel. I started this work in grad school (actually, a precursor short story happened in undergrad), but I’ve never written a complete work of middle-grade fiction before. I know for a fact that my first draft is going to be about a million words too long, and that won’t be the only challenge. I predict a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth will accompany the first several drafts, while I curse myself for not sticking to what I’ve already gone through all the trouble of figuring out.
But we all know that deep down, I don’t want to do that at all.
Don’t get me wrong, I am dying (in what sometimes feels like a literal way) to write The Children’s War’s next two books. I need to finish that story. (And I will. Someday, someday, I will get to do that.) I also feel like YA is likely to be my main home over the course of what I hope will be a long career. But I don’t want my body of work to be like an album where all the songs sound the same. I want to write vastly different books. I want to be frustrated and afraid that I’ll never get it right, because no one ever enjoyed the thrill of discovery without feeling scared first.
And hopefully this post will remind me of that in a couple months, when I’m contemplating throwing my laptop out the window.