Author Malcolm Newsome is our guest on today's #FirstDraftFriday to share how his touching and much needed debut came about. Read on to get inspired and then draft your own picture book manuscript today. (TW: Miscarriage)
Malcolm’s debut picture book, DEAR STAR BABY, illustrated by Kamala Nair, just came out earlier this week from Beaming Books.
To order or learn more about Malcolm, visit: malcolmnewsome.com
Malcolm is generously offering a manuscript critique as a prize for someone who completes a draft today! Details on how to enter at the end of this post.
Malcolm, tell us a little about DEAR STAR BABY and what inspired you to sit down and write the first draft of it?
In Dear Star Baby, a little boy processes the grief he and his family experience after a miscarriage. Written as a letter to his unborn sibling, he tells the baby all about how they were preparing their home to welcome them and the things he was looking forward to doing together. He processes his wonders, wishes, and sadness after this tremendous loss.
This story is a very personal one for me as it is inspired by my own experience with miscarriage and the difficulty we faced when it came to sharing the news with our own children.
Did you start drafting right away once you decided to write this story or did you let it
stew for a while? Is this how you typically work?
I wish I could say I had a typical process for when I start drafting. Really, it often changes depending on how the idea comes to me.
For example, when the idea comes in the form of a high level concept or premise, I’ll typically marinate on it until my mind starts to formulate some clear lines or scenes. On the flip side, when the idea comes in the form of lines or scenes first, I’ll capture those right away and let the lines take me where they want to take me.
For Dear Star Baby in particular, I knew that I wanted to write a story for families who’d experienced miscarriage. Given the sensitive nature of the subject, it took me a little time to figure out how I would approach it—thinking back through my experiences and what I knew to be common of my personal experiences as well as what I knew of other’s experiences as well. The first draft was completed in two iterations about two weeks apart.
While you mull over an idea, do you do any pre-drafting or brainstorming exercises to help you flesh it out?
When I have an idea or premise that I’m really excited about but don’t feel like lines or scenes are forming, I will sometimes write some backstory or create some custom prompts and do some freewriting to see if I can pull the idea out more. I wish it was a perfect process. But it isn’t. There are also stories that I’ve been wanting to write for years, but, regardless of what I’ve tried, haven’t been able to find the right words for yet.
Do you remember what you thought of your first draft of this story when it was done?
I recall being really pleased with what I’d written. However, I knew that it needed more work before I would be willing to show it to anyone. The primary reason I wanted to wait before showing it was because I knew the topic had the potential to reopen or reawaken serious wounds—even in draft form. So I felt a great responsibility to do everything I could to ensure the story could tend to any wounds that it may open. The desire to keep working on it came from an unrelenting desire to help fill a void.
Was there any part of your original manuscript that changed significantly that you’d like to share here or any darlings you ended up cutting? How did these changes come about?
One of the hardest (and, ultimately, one the most important) changes that happened after the manuscript was acquired was the change of the book’s title (My original title was Goodnight, Star Baby). Thankfully, my amazing editor, Naomi Krueger, recognized that my original title gave the impression that the book was more a casual bedtime story. As a result, we ended up landing on Dear Star Baby. After acquisition, there were only a few other lines that were tweaked, but nothing that I considered to be a favorite darling. Naomi is brilliant and insightful and I couldn’t be happier or more grateful with how everything turned out. (Thanks, Naomi!!)
With regard to a favorite darling prior to submission, my original draft had this toward the end:
The sun will rise soon
to bring us warmth
It was one of the most important moments in the story to me because I envisioned the final beat as one of hope and comfort—wanting to leave readers with a feeling of the warmth of the sun and the start of a new day. Ultimately, my agent extraordinaire, James McGowan, helped me to see that the preceding line had already accomplished that. He helped me see it wasn’t needed because it shifted the focus away from the Star Baby. So, it was replaced with two lines that I feel keeps us focused on the Star Baby but still has the feeling of warmth and comfort. I loved the way it turned out! (Thanks, James!!)
What is the hardest part of writing a first draft for you? And how do you deal with that?
Usually, when working on a first draft, I know exactly how I want a story to start and end, but I don’t always know exactly what will happen in the middle. So, I’ll typically write the first act and rush through it to complete the third act. Of course, then, that leaves a second act that’s underdeveloped. This is usually when I either take a break from the story while I continue mulling it over or seek advice from critique partners. We laugh about my underdeveloped second acts almost every time.
What are your tips and tricks for getting that first draft committed to the page?
Hmm. I think the biggest thing for me is just getting my ideas out of my head.
I realized somewhere along the way that as long as I keep getting my ideas out of my head, my mind continues to make space for new ones. So, even if the story isn’t fully formed, I try to get whatever components of it on the page. Even if it’s a messy blob. Because that way there’s something I can potentially play with to shape and sculpt later on.
There’s something to be said here about the difference between what I call playful versus performative writing. I try to approach drafts with an attitude of playful writing. That is, just enjoying getting the words out of my head and onto the page without self-critiquing them. Then, if I feel it’s a story that has stronger potential of being published, I spend a lot more focused time on getting each word or phrase to be the best it can be—to make sure it aligns with my story’s core. That is, in effect, performative writing. Writing with the intent of getting the manuscript to a publishable state. I do significantly more playful writing than performative writing.
What a great distinction! Who's ready to do some playful writing? I hope you are because it's #FirstDraftFriday!
To enter for a chance at a free picture book critique from Malcolm, do the following by 10 pm ET today (April 7, 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 or full name. 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 winner will be randomly drawn from the comments and announced on Twitter shortly after 10 pm ET tonight.