Friday, June 14, 2019

The 12 Slogans of Middle Grade Writing

Every writer needs a little direction from time to time. We may need help channeling the voices in our heads - which ones could become useful characters in a novel? Which ones would be better off bound and gagged and tossed in a forgotten room in the depths of our brains? Sometimes we just need a metaphorical kick in the pants. With these and other issues in mind, I've decided to share the 12 Slogans of Middle Grade Writing.

No doubt you've heard at least some of these slogans before. I'm not reinventing the wheel here, but adapting time-tested slogans from 12-step programs to meet the needs of the modern middle grade writer. So grab a pencil and get ready to make post-it notes. You'll want to plaster these slogans all over your writing area. Trust me, it helps.

  1. Keep It Simple. Of course, this should obvious. But we writers are creative. And while our creativity is essential for coming up with story ideas and crafting compelling plots, it can also bite us in the tail if we're not careful. How many of you have come up with super complex (albeit fascinating and creative) writing routines? Or blogging plans? Marketing plans? Plots so creative and complex that even a detective couldn't keep track? I see you, nodding your heads, raising your hands. We've all done it. That's the burden of a creative mind. But I'm telling you right now - Keep. It. Simple. Set simple realistic plans and goals for your writing and author platform. Don't make it so complicated that you can't possibly remember what you're trying to do or that you stare at the plan in confusion (or worse, despair). This principle is just as important when you are writing the actual story, especially for middle grade. Pay close attention to your main plot line as well as the 2 or so subplots you've got going. Make sure your plot is simple, yet compelling. Twists are fine (fabulous, actually), but make sure you know where you are headed or, at the very least, can track the plot through the whole novel when you're done.
  2. But for the Grace of God. Okay, you may be wondering what this slogan has to do with MG fiction that does not have religious overtones. I like to think of this as the darkest moment slogan. This where your main character is in the depths of their trial and learning the hard lessons that will give them the strength to grow and to overcome. This is a vital part of every hero's journey. Another aspect of this slogan is having compassion on others who are suffering. Compassion and understanding are important parts of the developing mind and worth exploration in MG writing.
  3. Easy Does It.  This slogan has so many applications that my mind is about to explode just thinking about it. But I'll try to to "keep it simple." The focus of this slogan is that we don't need to try to force things. When we come up against a plot problem in a story, we will find solutions faster if we set it aside and do something else, preferably something physical, while the issue runs in the back of our minds. Or switch projects for awhile. Or pick up something to read. You'll be surprised how often your sub-conscious can sift through things and present a solution when you're not beating yourself over the head with the problem. This applies to publishing and marketing issues as well. Sometimes the best approach is to change your approach instead of trying to keep forcing a publishing or marketing strategy that isn't working. Don't be afraid to take a step back, take a deep breath, reevaluate your situation, or just let it simmer in the back of your mind.
  4. First Things First. I know it's tempting to set up a rich, interactive online platform for the book you haven't written yet. We creative types love creating. And you've certainly heard you need an online presence, which is true. But hold off on buying ads for a book you've yet to write. For me, first things first means get my booty in the chair and start writing. If your goal is to be a novelist, even blogging should be secondary. Know what your primary goal is and determine what the highest priority steps are to help you reach it. If you're reading this blog, most likely the top priority for you is to write. Just write. Do it. you know you want to.
  5. Just For Today.  This is an interesting slogan. It helps us focus on the here and now instead of dreaming of future accolades or fretting over possible disasters. Ask yourself, what are the most important things for me to do today? As a writer, an employee, a spouse, a parent? Etc. Remember to keep this simple. But the idea is to keep your head in today. Experience today instead of letting it slip away in a rush of dreams or worries.
  6. Let It Begin With Me.  Let me be clear here. Your writing success is up to you. No amount of criticism can stop you. No amount of encouragement can make it happen. It is up to you to believe in yourself, put in the time and work, and develop the tough skin you need for editing and revisions. If you want to be a writer, chase after that dream. Whether you choose to pursue traditional publishing or go the Indie route, there are countless options and avenues for writing success. So let it begin with YOU! And keep on keeping on.
  7. How Important Is It?  Okay, I am certain you are all bright enough to apply this slogan to your writing career - how important is it to you. So you can do that on your own time. What I want to focus on here is determining how important certain plot elements or character/setting details are in your novel. This is where you get to kill your darlings (It's not as violent as it sounds). When you are in the editing phase, you may discover you've included tons of detail that may actually be distracting from the plot or the momentum of the story. Sift through that by considering how important each piece of info is. Does the feather in your character's hair reveal something about his background or personality? Or could it be a vital clue in the plot? Try to only include detail that does double duty, enriching the reader's mental picture while also revealing backstory, personality, or plot. You can apply this principle to whole sections of your book that may need cut or streamlined. Or use it in determining whether a character is a useful part of particular book at all. You can always combine dialogue and actions if you need to eliminate a character that is not pulling their weight.
  8. Think.  I know, we authors think all the time. Sometimes we think ourselves in circles. So, at face value, this slogan may seem unnecessary. However, it is important that in our writing we are self-directed, plotting the course forward rather than simply reacting to whatever feelings we currently have and spewing out nonsense. Now, let me just say, spewing nonsense has its place, especially for writers. This sort of free writing can spawn countless story ideas and can often help a writer sort through their own emotions enough that they can actually focus on what they're trying to work on. So don't stop spewing on account of me. Seriously. But when you're working on your story, it can be helpful to approach it with direction and purpose. Another tip for those of us who are constantly thinking about our stories - keep a notebook. keep it with you all the time so you can record those flashes of brilliance that choose to arrive when you're at the dentist's office. Some people prefer paper. I love Evernote. Mostly because then I don't misplace my brilliant insight.
  9. One Day at a Time.  This is where you recognize that writing, editing, publishing, and marketing a novel is a daunting task. You're halfway into the novel and have lost track of the story line. You're reading up on specialized marketing techniques and realize you don't really know how to use Google Adwords let alone set up a rafflecopter giveaway. And your vision starts to narrow, you break out in a cold sweat. Don't worry. Now is the perfect time to break the mammoth Writing Career into simple (well, simpler) tasks, which can be done One Day at a Time. You don't have to eat the whole elephant at once. This is a fab principle to weave into your middle grade novels as well. Your readers will thank you.
  10. Keep an Open Mind.'re hearing criticism of your precious baby, the work of your heart, your magnum opus. First off, you gotta have thick skin if you're going to be a writer. Be prepared for criticism. Keep an open mind to the possibility that your friend, agent, spouse, frenemy is making a good point. However, don't run back to the computer and make changes just yet. So much of the reading experience is subjective. What one person hates, another loves. So get several opinions before you rewrite anything. See if similar concerns or questions emerge. Then consider making changes.
  11. Live and Let Live. One of the most important things a writer can do is actually live. Experience life. Don't forget your friends and family in favor of the fascinating world you've come up with and are spending several hours a day writing. Try new things. Go new places. Be there for life. You'll be surprised how much you like it and how much new experiences and social interaction will improve your writing. Now for the Let Live part. Cheer on your fellow writers in their efforts and accomplishments. Take joy in their successes. Make room in your life and in your heart for people to be different from you. Make room for this in your writing as well. You will find that you come to understand people better and your writing will grow deeper and richer.
  12. Let Go and Let God. The time will come when you feel you've done everything you can yet are still not getting where you want to go. Maybe you've experienced that many times already. Maybe you're facing rejection from contests, agents, and publishing houses. Maybe you're stuck in your story. Maybe other life struggles have drained you of writing motivation and discipline. If writing is what you love and want to do, don't give up. This slogan reminds us to replace struggle and worry with hope and faith. Whatever your belief system, you can find serenity and courage by letting go of fear and frustration and trusting that the answers will come.
I hope these slogans help you along your writing path! Which ones stand out most to you?


Mirka Breen said...

Amen to all the above, especially #12

Jacqueline Cope said...

I'm really feeling #6 now. No one will make my dream happen but me.