The height of summer is a season of creative inspiration for me. I get a month’s break from my demanding day job, which allows me to spend time at higher altitudes surrounded by extraordinary displays of wildflowers and the jagged beauty of the Rocky Mountains. The combination of nature and leisure never fails to reinvigorate my writing practice.
This summer, my writing was additionally bolstered by attendance at the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators’ (SCBWI) annual conference in Los Angeles and detailed manuscript critiques from the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ (RMFW) annual Colorado Gold contest. Both events, combined with the constancy and wisdom of my critique partner, Heather, have pushed me into a new relationship with the novel I am currently revising, and have helped me break free from creative constraints I had placed on myself.
Two of the best SCBWI workshops I attended were led by HarperCollins’ editor Jordan Brown. His session on voice suggested new ways to look objectively at my character, creating a lens through which to examine the authenticity of the story’s core and the character’s goals and challenges. His revision workshop contrasted drafting and revision as two separate and distinct types of writing, and introduced guiding principles and ways of thinking to support an effective revision practice.
The RMFW critiques of my manuscript highlighted structural challenges within the novel. The story lends itself to a driving, chronological plot line, but the forward momentum also stifles our connection to the character and delays the revelation of the stakes. I needed to reveal the character and her situation much sooner and more efficiently, while at the same time balancing the need for a controlled release of critical contextual information.
Now that I’m home again, the lessons from the SCBWI conference and the RMFW critiques have begun merging in the galaxy of my writer’s brain to create a harmonic convergence of inspiration. The questions asked by the RMFW critiques made new sense in light of the principles discussed at the conference, and my subsequent conversations with Heather have shone a bright light on the path my revision needs to take.
Heather suggested that I create an index card for every single scene and lay them out in sequence on the dining room table. For my highly visual learning style, this helped me see the whole book not as a linear word document locked in a one-directional sequence, but as the sum of many individual – and moveable – parts. The index cards became game pieces that I could swap freely from place to place in the narrative, uninhibited by predetermined chapters or chronologies.
The index card exercise, along with the ideas introduced by the fine folks at SCBWI and RMFW, helped me recognize that the chapter breaks I had so carefully crafted were actually hurting my narrative. I played around with identifying larger theme-based sections instead of individual, chronological chapters. Now, instead of twenty-one discrete chapters that interrupt the pace and action of the story, I have six parts, tied together thematically and named accordingly. I’m excited by the change, and I can already feel the positive difference it makes in the overall book.
I’m eager to continue playing with this new way of thinking about my story, and to see how it impacts readers. And I’m immensely grateful to be part of a community of writers and publishers who share their wisdom and experiences so generously.
I look forward now to transforming the inspiration of summer into the productivity of autumn.