Saturday, May 8, 2010

Building Momentum (Or Not?)

I used to think the hardest part of writing was finding an idea worth writing about. But now I'm definitely past that. I have several ideas I'm intrigued with. And one I'm particularly excited to get to work on.

So far I've written a brief synopsis and a first page. I know where I want to go but I'm stuck too.

You see, this manuscript is a manuscript like none I've completed before. It's a... middle grade novel!

Okay, so I've watched you, my amazing critique-mates, conquer the lengthy challenge that is a middle grade novel. But I write short, right? How am I going to do this?

Part of me thinks I can. If only I could build up some momentum. But my current life stage does not exactly support momentum building. (It's more like write a sentence, comfort a crying baby. Write another sentence, tell a preschooler he can't have another cookie. :o) )

So here's my question, awesome Paper Wait readers: How do you do it? How do you start out at page 1 of such an immensely huge project and have the courage to move on to page 2 and page 3? How do you decide that this project is worth investing so much time and focus into (instead of all those other projects that dance in your heads)? And how do you build up that momentum to just keep going?

(P.S. "The Little Engine that Could", one of my preschooler's favorite books just felt like an appropriate image for this post. :o) )


  1. I'm very excited to hear about this new project, and even more excited to read it - someday...

    How do you start out on page 1 and then move on to pages 2 and 3? You just do. The characters are talking in your head and if you don't get them out and onto paper, you'll go crazy. You don't think about the scale of the project. You just write.

    How do you know if a project is worth investing time and focus? You don't. Not until you spend some time and focus. Think of my work in the last few years (pre-VCFA). I had two projects, both of which sputtered and then stopped. One is trash (not because it wasn't worth working on but because someone already did it and it really can't be done again). And the second I will return to at some point post-VCFA.

    I think when you're working on a longer piece you can't stop and think too much, particularly in the beginning. Otherwise you would never get beyond page 2, thinking omg only 249 to go.

  2. Hurray for new projects! I would say, don't look at "writing short" as being a negative. A lot of writers create first drafts that are bare-bones and fill them out later. So don't feel like you have to create this giant, wordy masterpiece; for your first draft, keep it simple. Get down the ideas for each chapter, even if it's only in a few sentences, and keep moving forward. Once you get to the end of that first draft, you'll have the skeleton of the entire novel - then you can go back and put some meat on those bones. Good luck!

  3. Just make that leap. I write both picture books and middle grade novels, and I love doing both.

    The middle grade has to simmer--let the juices slowly flavor. You have lots more time and words to make your story happen.

    Those picture books have to be heated up on high and hit that rolling boil pretty quick.

    I think you'll have fun writing a longer work.


  4. Thanks for all the encouragement and advice, guys! You've got me really excited to move forward!

    Meg-- Thank you soooo much for this detailed answer! First of all, knowing that someone is excited to read this new project gives me the perfect motivation to keep going! And I think your advice about "you just write" is perfect. I've got to stop thinking about the scale of this project so that I won't be overwhelmed by it!

    Anna-- Great advice! If I go with my natural "write short" style, this first draft will probably work better. I really like the idea of the first draft being a "skeleton of the entire novel"!

    Hardygirl-- So great to hear from someone who writes both picture books and middle grade! I will definitely strive to let my middle grade simmer. (I have gotten so used to the quick rolling boil openings of picture books!) This is definitely going to be a fun challenge!

  5. New projects are fun and scary! I like to spend some time imagining first and then I hit it hard, writing and trying to not overthink anything. Good luck!

  6. Good luck! I'm on my third middle grade, and I only used to do picture length. Here's what I do--outline the chapters with a general idea of where the plot is going, this way when you've been writing forever and can't remember what scene or idea was supposed to fit there, you go back to the notes and voila! I also try, TRY, to write a thousand words a day, minimum. This does not always happen, of course, but it's a good goal. Maybe your goal will be 300 words, but set it and forget it! With two small babies, I do writing during nap times and late at night, but it does get done. Good luck and keep us all posted on your progress!

  7. New projects can be intimidating - especially long ones, when you think of all that space you need to fill. I find it best not to question whether it's worth my time (all writing is worth it, if you learn something) but just keep plugging away bit by bit. Before you know it, you have written a good chunk of a story.

  8. Keep writing, Brianna!
    Remember my poem about beginnings from last month?

    If you think too long
    About perfection,
    You'll dwell in a hell
    Of frozen dejection.

  9. Like the Nike ad says...Just Do It.
    If the idea excites and inspires you, forge ahead bit by bit. There will be times you'll write like crazy and times the idea will need to simmer (unless you're one of those lucky people who can just spits it out quickly). You may have false starts but if you believe you have a story to tell, keep going as best as you can, and don't measure your capacity to work against anyone else's. You are at a such a special time in your life with two little ones, so don't beat yourself up on the days you don't feel you've hit your quota. DO NOT think of how far you have to go, how many pages it takes to call something a novel. Just sit down, tell your story bit by bit and the next thing you know you'll have a chunk to work with! And learn to write in the cracks. During naps, stolen moment, early in the morning before the sun rises...or after everyone has gone to bed. You'll find the time.

    Great post, Brianna!

  10. To quote Jane Yolen -- "Butt in chair and heart on page."

    I may not know everything when I start a novel. I may not even know the key emotional driver. But I do start with an emotional connection to the main character. That's what keeps me going. I want to know how my MC's story ends.

  11. Wow! These comments have been fantastic! I feel like I'm a runner at the start of a marathon and all your encouraging words are the cheering start to get me started off. (And your cheers are working! Since you all cheered me on, I've had such fun adding new pages and even a new character to this exciting new project. Hurray!)

    Christina- You hit my issue exactly when you said don't overthink anything. I have a tendency to want to make things perfect from the start and that's just not going to work here. I've just got to relax and let myself write!

    Ammie- Two small babies and you have such wonderful writing goals Wow!(I know how hard it is to get things done with young children at home. I am impressed! :o) )

    Andrea-- You've hit the nail on the head! Not questioning and plugging away are the exact two things I need to do!

    Gale-- I loved your poem at the time and now I love it even more! That stanza perfectly states what I must stop doing.

    Robin-- Your advice is perfect! It feels so good to know that people are out there who really understand... and who are helping me to realize that this can be doable. The past two days I have sat down to tell the story bit by bit and you are right. It is so much more fun and I am getting so much more written than when I was focusing on how many pages it takes to call something a novel!

    J.A.-- Oh, I like this advice! I certainly do care about my main character and his predicament. Hopefully that will help me to keep going!