Based on my increasingly grown-up (that is, unreliable) perception of time, it seems like Thanksgiving here in the United States was sometime last week and the calendar switched over to December, like, yesterday, maybe? Of course, when I actually look at that calendar with the eyeballs connected to my nervous system as opposed to the ones my imagination prefers to use (you know, the internal ones that “see” things like flying glitter donkeys and armies of paper-clip soldiers controlled by vengeful wizards), I realize that we’re already 12 days into the last month of 2014.
In other words, the dread holidays are upon us. And the holidays? Well, they’re not exactly the most active time of the year for traditional publishing.
That’s not to say that everything related to making and publishing books comes to a screeching, unmovable halt. But when an industry already known for its glacial pace hits a stretch of weeks designated for awkward family gatherings and the sometimes regrettable office party, key decisions tend to get put off until we reach the New Year.
Luckily, as a middle grade writer, there are a few ways to take advantage of this temporary lull without losing your mind. Well, or any more of it.
- Time to reacquaint yourself with your target audience – Since most middle grade aged kids will have a decent block of days out of school this month, they’ll be busy searching for new and exciting ways to enrich their lives, further their education, and learn about the full, diverse world around them. At least, I’m sure they would if you could rip the video game controller form them. Otherwise, they’ll sit around the house complaining of the interminable boredom in between going to the movies and hanging out with their friends at the mall or something. Kids still go to mall for prime loitering, right? At any rate, whether you have some of your own kids at home or you have to figure out where they congregate these days, winter break is a key opportunity to observe them in their native habitats, to see what they do and how they interact. Because all that behavior is a gold mine of possibilities, possibilities that you can copy and use in a story.
- Read, read, read some more – I don’t know about you, but I don’t have nearly as much time to read as I’d like, especially with all the great, new MG stories that come out every week. Partly I don’t have enough time because I don’t make it amidst trying to finish my next writing project while working a day job, raising a family, and hoping to keep my wife from feeling completely ignored. But with the holiday spirit in the air, there may be no better time all year to ease up on the throttle a bit an settle in beside a warm fire with a mug of cocoa and one of those middle grade stories you’ve been meaning to read for weeks. Sip, snuggle, repeat.
- Researching gifts to find out what’s hot – When I was a kid, there were new toys, gadgets, and things to crave each and every year, and my siblings and I used to spend hours laying on the family room floor, leafing through the fall catalogs. Nowadays, though, it’s pretty easy to get out of touch with whatever the kids are coveting on the playground. And you’d better believe being in touch matters. Sure, that Red Rider BB gun was perfect in its day, but unless you’re writing a historical MG, I wouldn’t expect too many kids to see the lure of it. So fire up a web browser and find out exactly what types of things have caught their collective eyes this season. Because even if you don’t ever specifically refer to the TurboBlaster Pump 2000, it will only help you and your stories to know that tons of kids got rapid-fire, pump-action foam bullet guns as a gift this year.
- Extra drafting/revision time – Okay, so talk of eavesdropping on the neighborhood kids and playing catch-up with your to-be-read list is all well and good, but let’s face it, you’ve got a half-finished book sitting on your computer. Part of you thinks it’s got more potential to become a steel trash can fire than an actual novel that real, pulse-having strangers might read someday. Well, there’s only one way to get it out of the steel drum, and that’s by putting in the extra work. So forget about the agents, editors, and, I don’t know, typesetters or whatever, out there in the vast world of publishing taking it easy for a week or two. The holidays have given you a few days of bonus time to polish up that manuscript, so you’d better snap to it.
- Getting back in touch with your inner kid – The stress of the holiday season can twist the large intestines of even the most organized and patient of adults into a Gordian pretzel knot, especially an adult like you, on pins and needles while waiting for an email or a call about your latest breathtaking work of middle grade genius. So instead of making yourself crazy, find something else to think about. Do something you enjoy. Anything. Build a snow fortress. Draw a picture. Make cookies. Eat cookies. All The Cookies! Whatever it is, pick something and go for it, 110% Do it just for the love of that one thing. Because that’s how a kid would do it, and whenever you can get in touch with that kid still hidden deep inside under all the responsibilities and stress, you’re only going to make your middle grade voice that much stronger.
- Pie – Because pie don’t need no reason. If you ask me, I there’s never a bad time for pie.
There are probably a million constructive ways to deal with the temporary lull in publishing that comes every holiday season. So if you find yourself frustrated and wondering how you’re ever going to make it to Jan. 2nd with even a pinch of your sanity intact, quit fretting, drop everything, and go have some fun instead.
Because at the end of the day, there’s probably no better time to get more in touch with the personality a middle grade writer needs to bring into their work than during this festive, fun, joyous few weeks of the year. Why not take advantage of it?