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#FirstDraftFriday with James McGowan!

Woohoo, you made it to another #FirstDraftFriday! It's been hectic lately with school starting, summer ending, and so much happening in the world...but this is a chance to slow down a bit and CREATE! To get you inspired to do so, we have guest author James McGowan here to talk about how he wrote his debut picture book!

And for one lucky winner, James is generously offering a picture book manuscript critique! You don't want to miss your chance at that!! Details on how to enter at the end of this post.

In addition to being an associate agent and social media manager at BookEnds Literary Agency, James is a debut picture book author. His book, GOOD NIGHT, OPPY!, illustrated by Graham Carter and published by Boyds Mills & Kane, will be out on Sept. 14!

To pre-order GOOD NIGHT, OPPY!, visit:

James, can you tell us a little about GOOD NIGHT, OPPY! and what inspired you to sit down and write the first draft of it?

Absolutely! I actually think the cover copy is the best way to introduce you to OPPY, or else I’ll be fumbling my way through a description. Ha! It’s always hard to talk about your book…

Mixing humor with solid space and rover facts, this picture book gives an inside look into Opportunity’s time on Mars. An interplanetary detective, Oppy spent 15 years on the red planet taking thousands of pictures and making groundbreaking discoveries that she transmitted to scientists and engineers back on Earth. From joyriding on Olympus Mons, to racing away from a treacherous dust storm, Oppy’s adventure in space–combined with her grit and perseverance–will inspire and educate young readers of all ages.

The idea came to me when the news broke. I heard the story on my commute to work and my wheels started turning. I got into the office and messaged my agent/colleague Naomi Davis. Then, later, I was talking with some colleagues and it came up. It was a sign that I needed to write the draft of GOOD NIGHT, OPPY! And fast, I thought. Surely someone else would try their hand.

What was that process like? Any hiccups with getting the first draft done?

Hooboy. The process was wild. GNO started off as complete fiction. YEP. Fiction. It had a glossary in the back matter, but there were not as many good facts in there. I sent it to my critique group, and something was missing. They all gave me a ton of great feedback, and my second draft had sidebars.

How did the manuscript change from that first draft to what it is today?

The newly added sidebars were still not enough science for me, but they DID help me land a publisher. In my revisions with my editors, the book became increasingly more science-based. There are now a ton of facts in the main text, and the sidebars. There’s an author’s note, and photos in the back matter. It tells Oppy’s story in a more complete way and I’m super proud of it.

Are you a pantser or a plotter? And how does that affect your drafting of a story?

I have the weirdest writing style lately. I come up with an idea, and I try to sit down and write it. It almost never happens. Then I think about it for three weeks—okay, months. Then suddenly, I’m driving to work, or in the dentist chair, or walking through the grocery store and my brain drafts an entire manuscript. It’s almost always bad and by the time I get to my computer it changes quite a bit, but the mental block on the plotting is released and then I sit down and can work out a manuscript. As all writers are familiar with, I then revise 9,000 times based on critique partner and agent feedback.

What are your tips and tricks for getting that first draft committed to the page?

I don’t know that I’d call the above a trick, but that process helped me to let go of the pressure of needing to sit down and draft. I’m a bit more relaxed on when the drafts get done and I find that lets my brain (subconsciously) be more creative and productive!

Well, readers, let's hope you've been mulling an idea for a few weeks (or months!) and are now ready to draft... because #FirstDraftFriday has officially begun!

To enter for a chance at a free critique of a picture book manuscript from James, you must do the following by 8 pm ET today (Sept. 3, 2021):

  1. Follow both me and James on Twitter: @HollieWolverton and @jmcgowanbks

  2. Complete a full picture book draft

  3. 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 (unfortunately, this is how Wix works), 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.

Happy drafting!

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SK Wenger
SK Wenger
Sep 06, 2021

Congratulations, James! So happy to see how you embraced the story creation process! I can't imagine the kinds of stories that find a voice while you're in the dentist chair! :)


Done! Thanks for the motivation!

Kaye Wright



Just finished! Slid in by the hairs of my chinny chin chin. It's a magnificently crappy draft. Ha. But the idea is out of my head and onto paper. Thanks for the inspiration to create. What a sweet way to end a particularly long week. My Twitter handle is @LolaAlapo


I had to keep reminding myself that it doesn't have to be good... it just has to be done!

Thank you for this, it really was just the push I needed. My first #FirstDraftFriday is done, and I'm looking forward now to polishing it! My Twitter handle is @BestOfTenBooks


Wheee! Done done done! This was such a fun challenge, thanks for the goose and the super inspirational interview! :D Twitter: @hellerkell

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