Updated: Jan 7
Happy New Year 2023! We're celebrating not just the holiday today but also the second anniversary of #FirstDraftFriday! When I launched this on Jan. 1, 2021, I worried no one would join in. Thankfully, lots of you did and we've had two great years! I want to do even more with #FirstDraftFriday in 2023, hence, this #SundayEdition special event.
Everyone is welcome to participate in #FirstDraftFriday, but if you want a little extra accountability and motivation—plus a chance at a GRAND PRIZE at year-end—take the pledge to try to complete 12 #FirstDraftFridays in 2023. (Only available to sign through 1/6/23.) Today can count as your first one!
Now let's get to it! Author Norene Paulson, who's been featured on #FirstDraftFriday before, graciously agreed to be the special guest for today. And given its January and wintery weather is sure to show up soon, Norene's forthcoming book seems like the perfect story to delve into! Read the blog, get inspired, and then get drafting your own picture book manuscript.
Norene’s third picture book, NILA'S PERFECT COAT, illustrated by Maria Mola, will be out Feb. 7th from Beaming Books.
She is also the author of WHAT'S SILLY HAIR DAY WITH NO HAIR? (featured previously here) and BENNY'S TRUE COLORS.
To order any of her books or learn more about Norene, visit:
Norene is generously offering a manuscript critique as a prize for someone who completes a draft today! And to make this anniversary #FirstDraftFriday extra special, she is also giving away two copies of NILA'S PERFECT COAT, and I'm joining in on the fun with two manuscript critiques of my own to give away. Details on how to enter for all 5 prizes at the end of this post. But before we get to that, let's welcome Norene back to #FirstDraftFriday.
Thank you for joining us again, Norene!
Congratulations, Hollie, on the 2nd anniversary of #FirstDraftFriday! I can’t believe it’s been two years since you first hosted me on your blog, and I’m honored you invited me back to help you celebrate this special anniversary event.
Of course! I got to critique an early version of this story, so I was thrilled when I heard it would be published, and I knew it would be an interesting one to feature here. Why don't you tell us about NILA'S PERFECT COAT and what inspired you to sit down and write the first draft of it?
NILA’S PERFECT COAT is a story of empathy, friendship, and discovering the difference between “wants” and “needs”. Nila finds a coat while thrift shopping that she thinks she needs, but when she encounters someone who actually needs a winter coat, she realizes the coat she thought she needed was actually only something she wanted.
I’m an avid thrift store shopper, but when I was teaching, one thing always bothered me. If I saw one of my students at the thrift store, they always seemed embarrassed as if they didn’t want me to see them shopping at a thrift store even though I was doing the exact same thing. That made me sad but also determined to one day write a story that not only normalized thrift shopping but showcased the rehoming of clothes as the positive thing it is for both the pocketbook and the environment.
Last time you visited #FirstDraftFriday, you mentioned you might spend months mulling over an idea before you start drafting. Sounds like that was the case with this story too. Did you do any pre-drafting or brainstorming exercises to help you flesh the idea out...and to make sure you didn't forget either the idea itself or the directions you were considering taking it?
I ALWAYS think about a story idea for what seems like forever, so, yes, I actually spent years mulling over the thrift shopping idea for this story. I started pre-drafting in January 2019 when I did some stream-of-consciousness writing…just jotting down ideas—some going in one direction; others going in another. It was quite the jumble. Luckily, my stream-of-consciousness notes helped me remember the direction (or directions) I was considering or working on.
Do you remember what you thought of your first draft of this story when it was done? Did you think it was a winner or were you not even sure you’d keep working on it?
I always feel good about my first drafts. I know they aren’t perfect, but I generally think they’re winners. Then I send them off to my critique group and reality hits. In NILA’S case, that’s when I learned the premise of the story didn’t work. Without even realizing it, the story had a “mean girl” layer directed toward the main character. I didn’t want it to be a story about bullying. That wasn’t the message I wanted to send about thrift store shopping. In fact, it was the direct opposite message. I was a bit embarrassed, so at that point, I questioned whether the story was even worth a major revision. Luckily, I have the best critique partners, and they fed me ideas on how to soften the plot by taking it in another direction and how to make the characters kinder and more empathetic. With their encouragement, I decided to try again. I didn’t keep much of the original draft except a few of the opening lines, but now I’m glad I listen to my CPs and kept working on it.
Can you share an excerpt of your original manuscript that changed significantly and how it appears in the final book? How did you know this needed work and what was the process like to get it where it is today?
Here’s the original bus scene. The main character here is named Ellie, later renamed Nila.
On the bus, Ellie avoided Carlie and sat by Rachel.
“Where’s your coat?” Ellie asked her. “It’s cold this morning.”
“Don’t have one yet,” said Rachel. “Mom says I’m growing faster than her paycheck.”
Ellie looked down. The sleeves in her old coat were too short, too.
Here’s the bus scene from the book…
In the morning, Nila rushed out the door before Mom could remind her to take her coat.
[Art note: Nila in a pull-over hoodie]
On the bus, Nila was the only one NOT wearing a coat until Lily’s stop.
[Art note: Lily has on an oversized, too-big-for-her sweatshirt]
When Lily glanced her way, Nila smiled, but Lily looked away.
I knew this needed work because people who critiqued it, like yourself, gave wonderful feedback… too many characters, too much dialog, etc., but it took many additional revisions to whittle it down to this final version.
Did you have any favorite darlings you had to cut that you’d like to share here. Tell us why you loved it and why it had to go.
I cut so many darlings…the mean girls needed to go obviously, but I also cut Ellie’s Nana, her best friend Rachel, and two other classmates, Carlie and Abbie. I believe Nila aka Ellie is the only one who actually survived the cut…lol! However, what hurt the most to nix was the line “Mom says I’m growing faster than her paycheck.” I still like that line although as you, Hollie, mentioned when critiquing, it probably would have gone over the heads of most kids.
I so enjoyed critiquing this story. When you sent it to me in summer/fall 2020, you referred to it as a “hot mess.” Clearly, you got it in shape quickly to have it be published this year. (That’s not very long in this industry!) How did the timeline play out, and what steps did you take to move the story along in the process?
Yes, you did critique this “hot mess” of a story, and as I mentioned above gave me some great suggestions on how to reshape it. That’s how the story moved forward…a constant circle of critiquing and revising. Here’s a brief timeline:
Jan. 2019 – Started brainstorming and stream-of-consciousness writing. Untitled and the main character was named Thea.
Jan. - Sept. 2020 – Changed MC’s name to Ellie and title to Ellie’s Earth Day Project.
Oct. 2020 – Changed MC’s name to Nila and title to True Giving.
April 2021 – Kept MC’s name but changed title to Nila’s Perfect Coat. Sent to my agent and went out on submission.
Sept. 2021 – Accepted an offer from Andrea Hall at Beaming Books. Complete rewrite of the back matter followed.
Feb. 7, 2023 – Upcoming Publication date
I know you’re teaming up with the nonprofit One Warm Coat. Can you tell us more about the organization and how you’re partnering with them?
One Warm Coat, which celebrated its 30th year anniversary in 2022, is a nonprofit whose mission is to provide free coats to children and adults in need while promoting volunteerism and sustainability. While researching back matter on how the textile industry impacts our environment and while looking for information on rehoming, repurposing, and recycling clothing, one of the sites I visited was www.onewarmcoat.org. When my editor felt the original back matter was too broad and didn’t align well with NILA’S message, I knew exactly what I needed to do. I deleted everything except the information from One Warm Coat, which I expanded. Now the back matter aligns PERFECTLY with NILA and One Warm Coat’s #sharewarmth message.
My partnership with One Warm Coat centers around raising awareness of the need for coats for the less fortunate and the great work the group does in supporting individuals or organizations that want to help. Besides promoting both the book and the nonprofit on social media, each of my three book launch events include a coat drive, and one of the board members of One Warm Coat will be speaking at my Book Birthday launch at Beaverdale Books in Des Moines, IA, on Feb. 8th.
This is your third published book - yay! - but how many first drafts of picture books have you written? Is it a lot more than 3? Why is it important for you to keep writing new first drafts?
I would say I have around 20 first drafts that have developed into final drafts. Of those, only three have resulted in book deals. However, in addition to the those 20 polished first drafts, I have half as many that I have not revised or worked on beyond the first draft level.
It’s important to keep writing new first drafts because you never know which one may be the ONE that catches the eye of an agent or editor (plus it’s good practice and it’s fun).
Can you talk about why some first drafts become books and some just become old files on your computer? What are you looking for/considering when you re-read a first draft and start thinking about revising…or not revising?
The first thing I ask when considering whether to revise an old first draft is…“who needs this story?” If I can’t identify a specific audience the book will impact, I will probably put it back.
What advice or encouragement would you like to give to the writers about to take on their own first drafts today?
Approach your first draft with giddy enthusiasm, but be realistic in your expectations. Just get your ideas written down. Revision is what turns ideas into stories, but that comes later. As the cliché says…You can’t revise a blank page. You have to have something to work with, so today is YOUR day to write that something. It won’t be pretty, and it will be far from perfect, but it’s a starting point. That’s all a first draft needs to be.
I totally agree! Thank you so much for being part of #FirstDraftFriday today, Norene.
Thanks for having me, Hollie, and Happy Anniversary! I know many amazing stories exist today because of you and #FirstDraftFriday.
And don't forget, there are FIVE prizes up for grabs, if you complete a draft today!!
One non-rhyming picture book manuscript critique from Norene
Two copies of NILA'S PERFECT COAT courtesy of Norene & Beaming Books
Two picture book manuscript critiques from me (rhyme, prose, anything goes!)
To enter for a chance at all of the above, do the following by 10 pm ET today (Jan. 1, 2023):
Complete a full picture book draft
Return to this blog post and comment that you’ve completed your draft and provide your Twitter handle. You will need to Sign Up/Log In to leave a comment (it’s easy - just an email and password).
You don’t need to send in your draft or provide proof - we’re all about the honor system here! The lucky winners will be randomly drawn from the comments and announced on Twitter shortly after 10 pm ET tonight.