Wednesday, January 18, 2012

My Poor Abandoned Middle-Grade Novel

After I finished writing my first YA project (you know, the one no one will ever see), I needed a change. I wanted a new voice, a new sensibility, a new world. I wanted a new genre. I wanted a lightness and an innocence that I didn’t think I could manage with a YA voice. I wanted to experiment, to push myself, and to have fun. I wanted to write a middle-grade novel for the first time.

So I did. I wrote 30,000 words, which for a middle-grade novel is pretty far along. I fell in love with my little narrator, a girl named Ada with the eyes of the world on her. She was sweet. She was spunky. She was smart. I had the time of my life connecting to that voice and getting to know her.

But. My plot was a mess. And more than that, I couldn’t write through the confusion. Or rather, I overwrote through the confusion. Sometimes we all get lost while writing a novel. A novel is a big, hulking mess sometimes. But we write through it, we write our ways out of the chaos, we rediscover why we were writing in the first place. But in the case of my little Ada, I couldn’t write through it. I kept changing my mind about what the novel would be. And then I started worrying about what other people would like the novel to be. There was a road trip. There was family dysfunction. There was a unique structural element. There was an older sister and two mothers and five cities and a first crush and a runaway and a celebrity. There were so many ideas, I couldn’t remember what it was I wanted to write about, or what kind of story I was telling. The tone kept changing. Ada’s voice would shift. I couldn’t even decide on a tense.

I wasn’t writing through the problem, I was writing around it. I was writing three different books and trying to shove the pieces together into one book. I was so concerned with making it right, that I wasn’t able to follow through on a single idea. So I set it aside, and it’s been a little under a year since I’ve visited with Ada.

I think if I were to return to Ada and her story, I’d have to start over. Not rearranging chapters, not revising what already exists, not weeding through those 30,000 words. I’d have to truly start over. Blank page. Chapter One. With only my love of little Ada to guide me.

The word count would start from zero, but the process wouldn’t. I got to know Ada in those months I spent trying (and failing) to write her story. And hopefully, someday, that work will pay off, just not in the way I originally imagined.

But that’s what’s so fun about what we do, right? The exciting prospect of your greatest failure someday becomes a wonderful success. Because you just never know.


  1. I had the same problem with trying to shove different books into a single book jacket, so to speak. Great post Corey!

  2. Awesome post, love! And I do miss dear, little Ada. I also think that too many voices can get in our heads and just send us off in directions we never intended to go in because we're trying to solve story problems and keep people interested, but we end up losing the story.

    I hope one day little Ada comes back, brand new.