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#FirstDraftFriday with Jocelyn Rish

#FirstDraftFriday 2022 is here, and I'm so excited for another great year of inspiration and encouragement! We're kicking things off with guest author Jocelyn Rish and her hilarious-yet-fact-filled book, BATTLE OF THE BUTTS: THE SCIENCE BEHIND ANIMAL BEHINDS.

Cover of My Sister, Daisy

Jocelyn is generously offering a manuscript critique as a prize for someone who completes a draft today! Details at the end of this post.

BATTLE OF THE BUTTS, illustrated by David Creighton-Pester, released in November from Running Press Kids, and the follow-up title, BATTLE OF THE BRAINS, is due out this Fall! To order, visit:

Let's hear from Jocelyn about what inspired her to sit down and write the first draft of BATTLE OF THE BUTTS.

BATTLE OF THE BUTTS is about ten animals that do weird things with their butts! The inspiration for the idea came late one night when I was aimlessly scrolling Twitter and saw a picture of an adorable manatee that said, “Manatees can control their buoyancy through an endless cycle of farting. There. That’s a thing you know now.”

Say what?!? So I googled it, and it’s true! And that google search brought up other weird animal fanny facts. I was pretty sure there was an idea for a picture book in there, but I’d never written nonfiction before, so I just let it float around in my brain without doing anything concrete.

Then I saw the Highlights Foundation was offering a workshop called The Nuts & Bolts of Science Writing, so I applied for a scholarship and was lucky to get some assistance, so I was able to attend. It’s what really kicked my butt into first-draft action because you had to send in pages for critique. Since I didn’t have any science-y pages ready to go, at the last minute before the deadline, I wrote the first three animal sections of BUTTS in a frenzy and submitted it to the workshop faculty.

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

I was lucky that the faculty members all loved my submission. They had some suggestions for turning some of the fun facts I’d found into text boxes (with the advice to NOT call them fun facts), but they were super enthusiastic and told me to hurry up and finish the rest of the draft. Also, the info I learned about researching and keeping track of info made the process so much easier than my random flailing before the workshop.

So with the positive energy from the faculty and other participants buoying me when I came home, I was able to focus and finish the rest of the draft (for a total of ten animal sections) in just a few weeks.

The biggest hiccup was the research itself – it was sometimes difficult to track down the info I needed because so many science papers are hidden behind paywalls. So I had to get creative about finding information.

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

Honestly, not a lot. I did an intense round of smoothing and tightening in my first revision round. Then there were some tweaks after I got feedback from my critique group. But once I got my agent, she didn’t have any changes at all. And then after it sold, my editor only had some suggestions for cuts in a few places because the word count is very long for a picture book. But the content is the same as it was in my first draft.

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

Pantser!!! I’ve always let stories just flow from me. I might have a few ideas of plot points, but mostly I just follow the story where it goes. With nonfiction, I had to be a bit more of a planner. Like, I decided what the ten animals would be before I started writing, so I had a good balance of types of animals and posterior powers. And after I worked out the basic format with the first animal (manatee!), I followed it for the rest of them.

Do you ever find yourself putting off drafting a story?

All the time!!! I’m such a procrastinator. I don’t know why it’s so hard for me to get started because I always love writing while I’m doing it, but I’ll even clean the bathroom to put off starting, and cleaning the bathroom is the worst!

What is the hardest part of drafting a story for you? And how do you deal with that?

Ha – see above! Getting started is so hard for me. But once I get some momentum behind me, I can write and write and write. Sleep? Who needs it! Dinner? I can eat while I type! Not a healthy system, but it’s what works for me.

The best thing to get me started is deadlines. A looming deadline kicks my writing creativity into high gear. That’s why I love NaNoWriMo so much and have written five novels that way.

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

None of my tricks really make for healthy writing habits, so I’ll just encourage people to experiment to discover what works best for you. Maybe the carrot – if you reach X words by Y date, you’ll buy yourself a treat you would not normally get yourself. Maybe the stick – if you don’t reach X words by Y date, then you have to donate to a political campaign you don’t like. Maybe it’s setting a timer for 20 minutes a day, so you write during those 20 minutes no matter what, even if it feels like gibberish. It’s all about what gets you writing while still enjoying it. I wish you all luck, and if you find an amazing system for writing first drafts, let me know!

Well, readers, how about a deadline to get you writing? Say, 8 pm ET tonight? That's the official end for this #FirstDraftFriday so don't procrastinate...don't clean the bathroom! It's time to write!!!

To enter for a chance at a free critique of a picture book manuscript (less than 1,000 words) from Jocelyn, do the following by 8 pm ET today (Jan. 7, 2022):

  1. Follow both me and Jocelyn on Twitter: @HollieWolverton and @JocelynRish

  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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