How I Discovered Writing Middle Grade Isn’t Scary

I love writing picture books.

What’s not to love? They’re short, fun, and full of sweet, quirky characters that you can make do pretty much anything.

So, for the past several years, I’ve written dozens of picture book manuscripts. Never anything longer. I always thought: I don’t have the time to write longer fiction. What would I write about anyway?

But if I’m honest with myself, I realized that fear was a big part of why I hadn’t started any longer projects. I didn’t think I was capable of writing more. Secondly, I knew that if I did start, I’d have to dig deeper within myself to make it happen.

I’ve had an idea for a middle grade story for a few years, based on some difficult aspects of my childhood. I felt that at some point I would need to write about this part of my life, if only for my own exploration and healing. But I kept working on picture books–writing, revising, and submitting, until this past year when something clicked and I finally wrote the first draft. It was a big breakthrough for me. And even though it’s not very long, and it needs a lot of work, I did it.

I’ve started working on another middle grade project too.

I’ve found a rhythm for writing longer stories that works for me, and I’d like to share some things I’ve learned over the past year that might help you make the leap into writing longer kidlit, or encourage you to keep at it.

1. Take baby steps

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Do you remember the Bill Murray movie, What About Bob? There’s a scene where psychiatrist Dr. Leo Marvin (played by Richard Dreyfuss) gives some advice to his client Bob Wiley (Bill Murray), a man with an extreme case of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder who can’t even leave his apartment because of his fear of germs, people, cars–fear of pretty much everything. He tells Bob to “take baby steps” to get through his day. Of course, Bill Murray takes this literally to hilarious effect.  Walking with tiny, shuffling steps, Bob accomplishes what, for many people would be a normal part of every day.

I think we can learn a bit of truth from Bob about writing. By setting small, attainable goals, you feel a sense of accomplishment and gain confidence to keep going. For me, it means writing one chapter a week. Now, I have some writing friends who can write a chapter (or two) a day, and finish a manuscript in a month. But I can’t look at their volume and feel discouraged. I have to focus on the goals I’ve set for myself. And so far, it’s working.

2. Make your emotions work for you

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It’s difficult to stay motivated on a project when your emotions aren’t engaged. So, pick a subject you’re passionate about.

Is there a topic that you’re somewhat of an expert in? Or a cause that gets your heart pumping? Work that into your story. If your characters care about something important, or have a lot at stake, chances are your readers will feel that too, and will be willing to invest their emotions long enough to get hooked.

3. Read a good writing book

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Writing is a lifelong journey, and you’re going to need some cheerleaders along the way. An encouraging and/or humorous book about writing will help fuel your reserves to get you started on a project, finish a draft or make revisions.

Two books I’ve read that helped me are Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott and The Hero Is You by Kendra Levin. Both of these books offer insight into the craft of writing, tools for staying inspired, and motivation to look within yourself to overcome challenges.

What tools and tricks do you use to help you write longer kidlit? What other books would you recommend?

3 comments

  1. Thank you, Amy, for this inspiration to go ahead and try my pen at a new genre. I’ve had a couple middle grade ideas percolating and have yet to really dive into them. I feel motivated and and encouraged to give it a try now. Thank you for your transparency, too. Happy Tuesday!

    Liked by 1 person

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