By Miranda Paul
2. Research and "mulling"
5. Bang your head against a wall**
6. Revise and polish
Those, roughly, are my six stages of writing. **But stage five deserves explanation. What does "Bang Your Head Against a Wall" mean?
This can take many forms, from lamenting to your spouse to curling in a ball and repeating "I quit" over and over. Gentler forms of stage five involve me staring into space, taking a hike, or distracting myself with Internet memes.
It's a horrible and seemingly unproductive stage, but it's a necessary one if I'm to produce a manuscript I'm proud of, and proud to tell students about when I visit their schools. If a story wasn't a challenge to write at some point in the process, it's probably not the best it can be. And why submit or publish something unfinished? Every time it would be read aloud, you'd have to hear all the places you "shoulda, coulda, woulda" done more work. A little head banging now saves many "what ifs" later.
Your writing process may have different stages. And certainly, our careers have different stages. Cycles, seasons, and phases are all part of any journey. Our characters and manuscripts should reflect that, too. Ask yourself--does your story have stages?
In my upcoming book, called Blobfish Throws A Party, there are subtle stages to how I've laid out the plot. The reasoning behind subtle stages is that the story is based on the old "telephone" game that I played as a child. Changes don't occur all at once, but gradually a problem or message gets twisted and can have chaotic (and humorous!) results. Of course, I made sure that the most chaotic (and humorous) stage of the message-passing is the last one. It's important to order your stages in a way that build anticipation rather than diminish it. (Unless it's a wind-down bedtime book, perhaps.)
In addition to the plot stages, my main character also goes through emotional stages. Blobfish Throws a Party begins with a character who lives at the bottom of the sea. The dark, lonely bottom of the sea.
Roughly, Blobfish goes through the following four stages:
The stages in this book are very simple - because the book is for young readers, and it's a wacky fantastical text meant solely to entertain. (Plus, it's coupled with delightful illustrations by debut illustrator Maggie Caton!) My point in writing about Blobfish isn't to make his story sound grandiose or complex or literary. But if you analyze even the shortest, simplest picture books, you may begin to recognize distinct shifts or phases to each story. Oh, how cleverly and painstakingly picture book authors craft their work! (I'm constantly in awe of short texts that do so much with so few words.)
Now, take a look at your story - have you incorporated shifts or stages that work for your characters and plot? Do they help your readers anticipate what's next or feel the emotion of the text and pictures?
If not, simply bang your head against a wall (or desk). It's a legitimate part of the process that your friends and family might never understand. Just continue revising and polishing anyway. In no time, you'll be throwing a party too!
Miranda Paul is an award-winning children’s author of both fiction and nonfiction. Her creative nonfiction picture books One Plastic Bag and Water is Water were both named Junior Library Guild selections, and her bedtime romp 10 Little Ninjas was an Amazon Best Book of the Month. Her titles have received starred reviews from School Library Journal and Publisher’s Weekly in addition to being named to several award and state reading lists. Forthcoming titles in 2017 include Blobfish Throws a Party, Are We Pears Yet? and The Great Pasta Escape. Miranda makes regular appearances at schools, conferences, and festivals, and has been a guest presenter at the Library of Congress Young Readers Center along with environmental activist Isatou Ceesay. Miranda is a co-founding member and current mentorship chair for We Need Diverse Books™. She believes in working hard, having fun, and being kind. Connect with her on Twitter (@miranda_paul) and Facebook, or learn more at www.mirandapaul.com.