It may be April Fools' Day but this is no joke...it's #FirstDraftFriday! Read on to be inspired by guest author Chelsea Lin Wallace, then use her tips and tricks to help yourself draft a new picture book today!
Chelsea is generously offering a manuscript critique as a prize for someone who completes a draft today! Details at the end of this post.
Chelsea Lin Wallace’s debut picture book, A HOME NAMED WALTER, illustrated by Ginnie Hsu, is due out this month from Feiwel & Friends. In this poignant tale about loss and renewal, a home named Walter learns how to heal his broken heart after a family he loves moves.
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Let's hear from Chelsea about what inspired her to sit down and write the first draft of A HOME NAMED WALTER.
The interesting answer to this is the first draft started as a different story!! I moved around a lot as a kid and I had imaginary friends, so in March 2017 I wrote a story called FRAGILE (about an imaginary friend in the form of a moving box who befriends a little girl.) In my revision process I couldn’t get this story quite right, but I still loved the spirit of it!
Then on April 7, 2017, I went for a run and BOOM. WALTER, his name, his story, popped in my head. I ran home, scribbled out the entire draft – I saw it from beginning to end.
In deeper reflection, I know Walter was living with me for a while. I was a child who believed everything had a soul. I felt empathetic to objects that were left and forgotten. I was a kid who was destined to write Walter’s story.
What was your drafting process like? Any hiccups with getting the first draft done?
There were a ton of hiccups with FRAGILE and less with WALTER. I like to think FRAGILE took the brunt of the battle for WALTER; paved the way for him.
I looked back into my folder –it looks like I was playing around with that first draft of WALTER and wrote it 6 different ways all in the same day. (I’m kind of nutty like that.) Some in rhyme, some where he starts as a new house. By the following week, I had landed on lyrical prose and an older house that had to experience his family moving out.
My critique group (who I’m still with today!) saw that version of WALTER and Sasha told me I’d written something special. Julia said, “You have elevated yourself with this one.” I knew I had something magical. I added a story beat where they felt one was missing and quickly submitted it to the SCBWI conference for a manuscript consultation.
How did the manuscript change from that draft to what it is today?
I was lucky enough to be paired with Jen Rofé for my consultation and she loved WALTER. She gave me live edits – suggested I take out Walter’s voice completely (I had him responding in voice-y thoughts), she cut a few moments, and had me spruce up a few words. I made those changes and sent it back to her and she signed me!
Once I was signed, she had me add an extra emotional beat towards the end. We were ready to sub it!
It went on sub for a few months until it found its home sweet home with Anna Roberto at Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan.
Anna didn’t have any edits for us except we did change the title to: A HOME NAMED WALTER.
Are you a pantser or a plotter? And how does that affect your drafting of a story?
Oh gosh. I mean, I draft a story in my mind before I get to the actual writing. Is that plotting? Once I’m at my keyboard I feel like I just go. If I give the story enough thought beforehand, drafting feels like a roller coaster ride. I know if I start drafting and get stuck, I didn’t spend enough time with it in my head.
Do you ever find yourself putting off drafting a story?
Maybe a little, like if it’s a really juicy story idea but my mind can’t get around how to write it before I even write it.
BUT, I am so not afraid to write crappy drafts. I have folders and folders of story drafts that never saw the light of day. Do I think they were wasted? NO WAY. None of my writing is wasted. Sometimes I see my creativity channels as a bunch of tangled pipes and the crappy drafts need to be written in order for new ideas to come through. Look at what happened with FRAGILE! It wasn’t a great story, but it helped clear the way for WALTER! I’m fearless with my crappy drafting.
What is the hardest part of drafting a story for you? And how do you deal with that?
The hardest part is when I’ve written it beautifully in my head and heart but it’s not translating to the page. It’s getting what’s inside of me to feel the same way outside of me. First drafts almost never do this. BUT I usually have a moment in my draft that DOES sparkle the way I hoped it would. And I hold tight to that Tinkerbell and let it carry me through to draft two.
What are your tips and tricks for getting that first draft committed to the page?
I love a good metaphor so here are a few:
-Don’t be afraid of a crappy first draft. It’s kind of like a newborn baby. They aren’t really that cute when they first come out. They’re kind of wrinkly, awkward, loud, gunky. But man, you are so happy to see it aren’t you? You love it more than anything and it loves you back. Well you know where I’m going with this…
-Make it exist. Whenever I stumble out a first draft, my friend Julia says, “It exists!” It makes me think of the baby metaphor again. Or like Frankenstein? “It’s alive!”
-Dump out the pieces. In a lot of ways, I cherish the first draft – it’s like I’ve dumped out the parts to the coolest playset. I spread them out and try to make sense of them and start clicking things together. I can’t build anything without these pieces jumbled out first.
-It doesn’t have to be a whole thing. Another way to look forward to a first draft is that I don’t define a first draft as a complete arced story. You know when you shake out a bowl of Lucky Charms cereal and a few yummy marshmallows plop out? Those marshmallows were effortless, right? They were meant to shake out. A first draft can be the bits and pieces that feel the most effortless. Like the first sentence or the last sentence or a beautiful line of language or a character sketch or a joke.
Those are some great ways to think about drafting! So who's ready to be fearless? Who's ready to dump out the pieces? Who's ready to make a crappy first draft exist? I hope it's YOU because #FirstDraftFriday has begun!
To enter for a chance at a free critique of a picture book manuscript (less than 1,000 words, fiction, rhyme or prose) from Chelsea, do the following by 8 pm ET today (April 1, 2022):
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). NOTE: You may get notifications as others leave comments (I'm hoping not as I *think* Wix has fixed this!), feel free to hit "unsubscribe" at the bottom of any notification you receive if they bother you! You will still be signed up for the giveaway.
You don’t need to send in your draft or provide proof - we’re all about the honor system here! The lucky winner will be randomly drawn from the comments and announced on Twitter shortly after 8 pm ET tonight.