I have a travel blog on my website that some people already read (I’m guessing it’s people who know they’re mentioned in it). This blog is completely different though.
I actually had no plans to do this but recently some of you have asked about the TIME TO TIME series and my writing—how I come up with my ideas, what do I do when I have trouble writing, and things like that. I thought it would be cool to blog while I write book three in the series so kids can see how I go from a pile of scribbled notes to a draft to a completed book. If nothing else, a lot of you might feel good about your own writing. If anyone has a lot of false starts, bad drafts, and useless ideas it’s me. But it all seems to come together somehow. Maybe that will give budding authors some hope.
This first post will answer the question I get most: how do I come up with my ideas?
The answer is I don’t know.
Okay, that’s the short answer. The longer answer is brilliant and clever thoughts come to mind all the time and I write them down on any piece of paper I can find. Once the pile gets big enough, I go through it and realize most of the ideas are not brilliant or clever and some I can’t even read because my handwriting was so bad when I wrote them down. So I cross a lot of them out, add to others, and slowly a story starts to take shape. Sometimes that shape is very clear and nice-looking and sometimes it looks like a blob. If it’s the last one, I know I need to think through my ideas some more. In the end, I guess I don’t write as much as I copy my notes and rewrite.
Here’s an example of a few lines from my first book, “Making It Home.” It’s when Henry suddenly finds himself on a ferry in New York City about a hundred years ago and he’s hoping his stepsister, Peri, can explain what’s happening.
The first draft:
Henry looked over at Peri to see what she thought. She was too far away though and he could barely see her face in the crowd. She was up to something, he knew. Sure, she acted like this was just like any other day, but this boat and these people… it was just plain weird. He was about to push his way through the crowd to get to her…
When I finished the first draft and went back to read it, I really, really hated that chapter. So it changed to this in another draft:
“What’s going on?” Henry finally managed to ask.
“Where are we?” Max added.
Peri didn’t answer right away. It wasn’t that she didn’t know what to say. It was more that she didn’t know how to say it.
Henry asked again, louder this time.
“I’m trying to figure out the best way to explain it,” she said after a moment. “I want some inspiring way to tell you.”
“What’s that?” Max asked.
“It means she’s stalling for time,” Henry told him.
Okay, so that wasn’t horrible as bad as the first draft but my first reader totally nailed it. Henry is a kid who hates surprises. He’s the kind of kid who copies down the school lunch schedule for the week so he’ll be prepared for what he sees in the cafeteria. If there’s any kid who reads the end of a book first, it’s Henry.
So when he is suddenly thrown back in time, Henry would not ask, “what’s going on?” He would absolutely flip. On top of that, I decided it needed to be in Henry’s point of view. Here is how it ended up in the final draft:
I must be having a heart attack, Henry decided.
“Guys, it’s going to be okay,” Peri yelled over the sound of the rumbling engine behind them. “I know it seems crazy.”
“I’m cold,” was the only thing Max could get out.
“What’s going on?” Henry cried in a shaken voice. His stomach felt as if it had been dropped off a high building, and all the air inside him went with it. Even if he wanted to get away, he couldn’t. Every muscle in his body was locked.
Peri looked like she was struggling to think of an answer.
Henry asked again, more frenzied this time. “Peri?”
Henry goes on from there, getting more upset and confused, which is exactly what I’d expect him to do.
Even now though, I’d rewrite it because there are some things I’d really like to change. But that’s for another day. I’m in the thick of book three. Peri has figured out exactly where they need to go to solve out the mystery of the encyclopedia. And we all know Peri does everything perfectly. Right?