Here is a short summary of my literary adventures during my Spring 2012 sabbatical.
Somehow I have morphed from a poet to a fiction writer, and I say morphed because poetry keeps popping up even in my fiction. I’ve now completed one novel and two half novels, and there are poems in all of them.
This year has been pretty amazing for me as a writer. I completed NANOWRIMO, which is a cleverly shortened name for National Novel Writing Month, an online adventure for those who want to try to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. During the month of November 2011, while teaching full time and being a parent of two very active kids, I managed to write one and a half novels. It was the craziest month I think I’ve ever had (excepting the first months after my children were born).
During my sabbatical, my plan was to work mostly on revising the hasty first draft of the novel I wrote during Nanowrimo and to work on getting it published. This has been an adventure. I was writing so fast when I wrote the draft that I didn’t even use quotation marks! The first revision, then, was just getting the format of the novel into a readable document. Then I started reading the novel to my five year old daughter. Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention that the novel is a children’s chapter book—a middle grade novel—meant for 8-10 year olds (or younger kids if someone is reading it to them or if they are smarty pants). My daughter gave the story a big thumbs-up, and reading the story out loud helped tremendously with the revision process. I also gave that first revision to a couple of other people (Thanks Kelli and Colleen!) for suggestions and feedback. After those comments and conversations occurred, I revised the novel again, much more extensively, including getting rid of characters, changing some major details, making some things more exciting, etc.
At this point, I also was taking an online course in writing for middle grade fiction through The Loft Literary Center taught by Kurtis Scaletta, a successful middle grade writer. This eight week class really helped me hone my writing skills, think about audience and characters, and revise the novel one more time. The class gave me feedback both from the instructor and other students that helped me make some more changes in the book. Also the class helped me get ready to work on publishing the book, helping with query letters and pitches. Learning the world of children’s publishing has probably been the hardest part of this whole project. I’m still waiting to hear from some agents and see if someone is willing to take me on a writer. In the meantime, I’ve been working on the sequel to the book and having other kid writers read the first novel and give me their ideas and comments.
I’ve also been reading as many middle grade book as I can get my hands on, from classics like The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler to current middle grade writers like Anne Ursu, Laurel Snyder, and Barry Wolverton.