What if it’s not ready?
My husband eyed me, then glanced at my computer screen as I scrolled through my chapter book for what felt like the thousandth time.
“I feel like the more I work on it, the more unsure I become.”
He nodded. “I can tell.”
Bless his heart. I’ve lost count of how many times he’s read my latest draft.
Whether you are published or you dream of seeing your book in print, you’ve likely wrestled with this feeling. Have all of those hours amounted to anything, or should you stuff the manuscript in a drawer and pretend it doesn’t exist—or that writing is just a crazy, time-consuming hobby?
This chapter book started two years ago. I refer to it as my rebound from years of intense academic research. Throughout those years, I found it difficult to read novels written for grown-ups and often found myself immersed in books written for children. People passing me as I worked out on the stair-stepper at our local YMCA wondered why I was turning the pages of my book and giggling. I found myself making up excuses for my literary choices. “My brain needs a rest.” “Well, I do work with children.” Thank heavens for the gym, which made me feel as though I wasn’t wasting time. But I didn’t dare spend time on fiction writing. That would have stolen precious time that I needed to reserve for my academic endeavors.
After I defended and revised my dissertation, I quickly plunged headlong into another hectic year of teaching. The following summer, the weight finally lifted. Could it be? Was it really okay for me to devote some time to writing—fiction?
In a blink, I had written a farmyard mystery, which I thought would make a wonderful children’s book, as well as a historical short fiction piece. I’d recently joined ACFW North Denver, so I contacted the president of our group and asked if she knew anyone who wrote for children. She pointed me to someone, who responded with a prompt: “This is too long to be a picture book.”
A quick Google search confirmed her assessment. Okay, so maybe an early reader? I attended a couple of writer’s conferences that year and joined a critique group, but still couldn’t quite figure out what to do with my book. I did, however, speak to a veteran agent who recommended that I join SCBWI. This was probably the best advice I received at that conference.
I found myself at a regional SCBWI conference a few months later. I took copious notes and joined another critique group—one devoted specifically to writing for children and teens. My new group proved to be one more extraordinary blessing, as my fellow members had clearly done some homework on the children’s book industry, as well as the craft of writing.
These insights proved useful, and I could see my children’s book growing stronger. Then it happened. It was an honest, well-founded comment that I needed to hear.
“This is too long to be an early reader.”
Yikes. My friend was right. It was too long, but didn’t want to admit it, because I wasn’t sure I could make it any longer.
“I think you should lengthen it and make it a chapter book.” Her rationale made sense. The picture book writers in my group were not so sure. It would make such a cute picture book!
And so I went home to reflect on the feedback I had received. I asked myself what I really wanted to do with the story. In my heart, I knew that I didn’t want to strip away character qualities or parts of the plot that I felt were so integral to the story. I knew that I needed to expand my book and create short chapters for young, budding readers.
Deep breath. It’s not like you’re developing a 100,000 epic fantasy novel. C’mon Lisa!
And so I did what many writers do. I avoided it. For weeks. But every so often, I opened my story and thought about how I could develop the plot, yet keep it simple enough for young readers. How could I lengthen my story without adding fluff content that destroyed the momentum I’d worked to develop?
Unsure of myself, I allowed work and life in general to sidetrack me. And then one day when my workload subsided a bit, I started writing. And revising. Then I wrote some more. Then I read and reread my draft, worrying that the idea I’d thought up nearly two years ago wasn’t original enough, that the idea I’d thought was so great wasn’t quite as creative as I’d hoped.
This morning I reread my story, and I felt a small surge of courage. I’ll take it to my critique group. I’ll ask for some beta readers. I’ll ask for feedback on my letter. And then—I’ll go for it. I. Will. Query.
I know it’s not easy to find an agent, let alone get published, but I’ve got to try. I am so thankful for the friends and family who continue to support me on this journey. What more can a writer ask for on this roller coaster journey?