Thursday, May 31, 2012

The ABC's of Middle Grade: What I Learned

I set out to march through the alphabet of middle grade writing, and . . . I made it!!!!

But my goal with the weekly alphabet posts was to prepare a manuscript for querying, and sometimes what preparing teaches us isn't what we expected to learn. And sometimes what we learn is shocking and butt-kicking instead of helpful and enriching.

My alphabet post learning turned out to be the shocking and butt-kicking kind . . .

. . . because what I learned is that the manuscript I was preparing didn't feel strong enough, and it also didn't have enough of me inside it. And no matter what I changed, adjusted, and revised in the manuscript, it wasn't becoming what it needed to be. I also learned this manuscript was me trying to create something I thought it should be, and though the manuscript might be good, it's not good enough.

I didn't expect to learn any of that, and it sucks to learn all of that because I spent over a year on this manuscript (and a year before that with another story that morphed into this one), and other people invested time in this manuscript too. And now it sits in my computer files.

The manuscript did deserve a small round of querying, just to say I gave it a shot, even if that shot was a teeny tiny one. I queried a few agents but probably won't query it any further because, for me, this manuscript doesn't feel like the one. But I'm not depressed or sad or ready to throw in the writing towel because I learned that. Well, okay, I feel a little like that--alright, I FEEL A LOT LIKE THAT!--but I'm okay with learning that.

Toward the end of my alphabet march, around Letter R, I started a new story. One I didn't plan on starting. One that bubbled up in me one day and began bubbling out the next. It's a shiny, bright, pretty new thing and, as of two days ago, a completed first draft. This new story feels like me. It feels like a story I was meant to write, not one I thought I should write.

And if that's what this alphabet march taught me, to write what I was meant to write, then the march was more than I expected it to be.


  1. I admire your tenacity and your ability to let a manuscript go. So happy you have a bright shiny new one now.

  2. First off Congrats on the new story that feels right! That's important.

    You've said some wise words here. I'm sorry your other manuscript isn't what you wanted it to be but your frame of mind is amazing! I hope I can be so well adjusted and understanding if/when it happens to me.

  3. Awesome that you started a new story and finished the draft. That's amazing. Maybe later you'll find a way to fix the first one so don't give up. I have one I've worked on for 8 years that I'll try to do final revisions and query, but accept it might just sit in my computer as much as I love it. It's sad but I have to be realistic. I'm starting a totally new project which I think is important to do.

  4. It sounds like you learned important lessons. But it's always hard to give up on a story. I agree with Natalie, you never know when you might find a way to make the ms you had been working on work. Glad to hear you are working on something else though. Keep writing and reading and you'll get there. Also have you been to the Kerlan Collection at the U? You can pick a writer and look at material from that writer- first drafts, query letters and stuff. I think they have Because of Winn Dixie in the collection. I think it can be inspiring to see these first drafts and gives perspective on drafts and stuff.

  5. Congrats! on the milestone. Completing that first draft is a major battle won. Sometimes you just have to let go of the past one. Maybe you can use it for spare parts for a new draft.

  6. Good luck on the new MS! But also don't give-up on the old. Keep querying it, you might get some feedback that will help you not only with it, but with future works. Hang in there :)

  7. Very inspiring post, Barbara. Much success to you with your latest work of art. :)

  8. Thanks for the support, you guys. And it's not that I'm giving up on querying because I got a few rejections, it's that even I don't feel I can put my full support behind this manuscript. So I can't expect someone else too.

    For now, it will sit. It will always be there should I need it or feel differently about it in the future.

    1. Barbara, I feel that way about a manuscript that I queried widely, got requests, won contests, etc. The story is just not what I want it to be as it is. So I'm like you--allowing it to sit--for a while--then I'll go back and see what I can do with it. So I know where you're coming from.

  9. Oh this blog post gave me chills! You are so brave AND so bold! Here's crossing fingers and toes that the bright shiny new is indeed, the one.

  10. Wow, a finished first draft already! I'm very impressed! :) I'm glad you're so excited about this new story, but don't feel like you've wasted time on the other one. It took writing that one to get where you are today and writing can only help you get better. Who knows, maybe after you sell other stories, this one will get to where you want it to be. Very proud of your drive and hard work!

  11. How did I miss this post? (I haven't been on blogger lately--a little overwhelmed with other non-writing stuff). But I love how you say how the new one bubbled up inside you.

    I wrote three full manuscripts before I queried a novel, btw. So I am always a little amazed when people query their first one--it takes a lot of practice to crack the code of how to write a good novel. I'm just slower than most, I guess. And the first one that I queried didn't get me an agent. So now I'm on #4, and I'm still querying after 3+ months. And it's very nerve-wracking. But you know what? I'm already writing a new ms. Because that's how it works--and publishing is so hard right now, and we're in it for the writing, not the glory.

    So good for you, learning and moving on! I'll read for you anytime!


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