On Twitter today (Friday, 2/23/18) from 4-5 PM PST, Danielle will be taking your questions and discussing her article on the writing process, how to find value in your work, and ways to keep moving forward, even when you don’t feel like it. Log into your Twitter account during our chat hour and use the hashtag #KTChat or @mention Danielle (@writesinLA) to join the discussion! If you aren’t on Twitter, leave your questions in the comments before the chat begins! Find SCBWI-LA on Twitter: @SCBWISOCALLA
By Danielle Davis, author of Zinnia and the Bees
Process fascinates me, in part because I find it challenging. It’s tempting to focus on other things that start with p: publication, perfection, panic, pretzels (snacks, help, right?) and, of course, the desire to polish off a manuscript and be finished.
Before my debut middle grade novel, Zinnia and the Bees, was published, I always thought that I wouldn’t have that “second book problem” because I had two manuscript drafts I already planned on pursuing.
But then I did have that second book problem. I had it big time.
I learned so much from editing and publishing a novel that I looked at those other manuscripts with more discernment. Would either of them feel as authentic, as worth it, as useful to kids, as “right”? It turned out, they didn’t.
So, I went for a walk. Walking is my process in so many ways.
On that walk, luckily, I had an idea for a second project. It felt “right” like the first, but also wildly different. But there it was, an idea that felt compelling.
I had that wonderful experience of writing a first draft that feels easy. Like magic almost. If it happens, that’s one part of the process to cherish. Because reading that draft when the magic wears off can be sort of painful, the work ahead overwhelming. Writing and revising are like steering over a murky sea. You look up at the stars and think, “But I’m too lost and small.”There were many distractions while launching a debut novel. There was also plain old avoidance. It’s so much easier to do almost anything than take on the knotty, amorphous, imperfect stuff of story. And, at least for me, it’s so much easier to think you’re not up for the task anyhow.
It’s so much easier to give up.
But I didn’t want to do that. Not really.
Instead, I committed to at least one hour of writing most days. I took walks to think through story and record audio notes for myself. I honed the characters, each one’s likes, dislikes, musical tastes, secrets, dreams, and fears. I printed out the manuscript and read it aloud to myself. I researched. I drank a cup of tea. And another. And another.
It can be hard to believe that what you’re doing is of value and will have value to someone else someday, some kid reader out there, especially when the outcome is uncertain. Part of the process, in my experience, is trying to believe, despite everything. It makes you both more rigorous and more gentle with yourself. That belief — that your writing has value — is the boat, the compass, and the shore.
One way to get to that belief can be through discovering the theme of your project in order to let it bolster and guide both you and your story. I give total credit for the way I think about theme to the wonderful and wise Martha Alderson. In her book, The Plot Whisperer, she advocates coming up with a “thematic significance statement” that “reflects the truth of your story.” The heart. The takeaway.
Thematic significance not only helps shape the action, but it’s probably a big part of why the story has value to you. It’s something that will likely make it valuable to readers. And it might just propel you into and help you navigate your writing process — along with plenty of breaks to snack or panic or watch TV.
The theme for Zinnia and the Bees is: By learning to trust yourself and others, you can find your true home. It kept me going during all those years writing and revising it. And while I don’t have a second book yet, I know its theme, its heart, its meaning to me, and hopefully to readers someday. It’s what I look to if I ever feel like I’ve lost my way.
Your Exercise: Brainstorm and craft one sentence that expresses a possible thematic significance statement for your project. Think about the emotional journey of your character(s), a variety of possible themes the story touches on, the heart or takeaway, and how you connect to the story, what gives it meaning for you.
Discussion questions to think about and bring to our Twitter Chat:
- Were you able to define the crucial theme of your current manuscript? Why or why not?
- What derails you from working on a project?
- What do you do to motivate yourself when you feel like giving up?
Twitter Chat is today (Friday, 2/23/18) from 4-5 PM PST. Log into your Twitter account during our chat hour and use the hashtag #KTChat or @mention Danielle (@writesinLA) to join the discussion! If you aren’t on Twitter, leave your questions in the comments before the chat begins! Find SCBWI-LA on Twitter: @SCBWISOCALLA
If you’d like to learn more about writing an article for #KTChat, find more info here.
For more fantastic content, community, events, and other professional development opportunities, become a member today! Not sure if there is a chapter in your area? Check here.
Danielle Davis grew up in Singapore and Hong Kong and now lives in Los Angeles. She’s got an M.A. in literature and creative writing and a background in teaching middle school and community college English. Her first book, Zinnia and the Bees, was published in 2017. A member of SCBWI for a decade, she blogs at This Picture Book Life. Follow here on Twitter @writesinLA and Instagram @writesinLA.
Danielle is gearing up for some events this spring, and is also available for school visits. Stay tuned on her website!