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#FirstDraftFriday with Omar Abed

Kids love rhyme. Adults love rhyme. Editors...maybe not always so much. But what about a story that almost rhymes? Omar Abed found success with just that formula, and he's here for #FirstDraftFriday to tell us how his forthcoming picture book came to be. Read on to get inspired and then draft your own picture book manuscript today.

Cover of My Sister, Daisy

THE BOOK THAT ALMOST RHYMED, written by Omar Abed and illustrated by Hatem Aly, is out later this month from Penguin Random House. 


To pre-order or learn more about Omar, visit omarabed.com.


Omar 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.


Welcome Omar! Can you tell us a little about THE BOOK THAT ALMOST RHYMED and what inspired you to sit down and write the first draft of it?


I wrote this story when I was actually trying to write something completely different. At the time, I was pitching a different story to publishers and was getting lots of critical feedback about the rhyme in it. The rhymes weren’t bad, but rather, I was told that it rhymed too much, or that the rhymes there didn’t help tell the story. My agent and I talked about it, and he suggested I try to write a non-rhyming story.


The problem is, sometimes my default writing voice is rhyme. It’s musical and lyrical, and sometimes I can’t get out of that mindset. So I tried to write a non-rhyming story, but all I could think of were segments that rhymed… or almost rhymed but not quite. That got me thinking about a story where one person is trying to rhyme and another keeps interrupting them.


Did you dive right in and start drafting when you had the story idea or did you let it stew for a while? Is this how you typically work?


This story, like most of my stories, came to me with a few solid lines that I couldn’t get out of my head. They ended up being the opening lines of the story:


The other day, I wrote this book.

You won’t believe how long it took…


I had the opening page immediately, but I had to figure out what the rest of the story was about. This is often how I approach my stories. I have to build a narrative around a concept that I feel excited about.


And how do you do that? How do you build that narrative?


I usually figure out main plot points I’d like to happen, then figure out how to make bridges between them that carry the story between major events.


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 had some hesitations about the first draft. Actually, it was a story about animals at the start! I wasn’t confident that it had a strong plot at first, but I loved the concept and knew it was worth pursuing.


Can you share an excerpt of your original manuscript that changed significantly and how it appears in the final book?


It’s hard to pick a segment because the two stories are SO different. It started as a story about animals, not siblings, going on an adventure. For instance, here’s one of the narrator’s original lines to begin the story:


“... AS I WAS SAYING, my story was stunning.

It starts with a fox, who is sly and –”


And here’s how that segment turned out in the end:


“As. I. Was. Saying: 

I wrote a smooth and seamless story

about a brave knight’s quest for glory.

He yearned for treasure all his own,

and so he journeyed, all alo—"


That said, I’m surprised how many plot points remained from the animal-focused version to the sibling version.


Did you have any favorite darlings you had to cut? Tell us why you loved it and why it had to go.


I had lots of rhyming segments that were alliterative and flowed well, but ultimately didn’t advance the story. Several of those had to be cut to reduce the word count and speed the story along.


What is the hardest part of writing a first draft for you? And how do you deal with that?


The hardest part is figuring out my characters and their motivations. I often know major plot points I want to hit, but I don’t know who my characters are or how I want them to get there. I often have to work backwards and say “What would make my character get to where I want them to be?” and then, later “How would that event affect their motivations?”


I discover my characters after I know my story, which… many will argue is bad. Characters and motivations are what drive your story. No one cares about the plot if they don’t care about the characters. But I’m not saying I don’t care about characters, just that it comes less naturally to me and I discover them later in the writing process.


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


Keep a notebook nearby and jot down ideas when they come to you. Sometimes that separation from a screen is the space your mind needs to feel like it isn’t pressured into writing something down. For me, a word doc feels so formal, but having a physical paper, I can scribble words and draw and let my mind wander a bit more.


Most of my best stories started on paper so love that tip! Now it's up to you reader. Pick paper or screen and get drafting because today is #FirstDraftFriday!


To enter for a chance at a free picture book (under 1000 words) critique from Omar, do the following by 10 pm ET today (March 1, 2024):

  1. Follow me and Omar on Twitter @HollieWolverton and @OmarAbedWrites (You can find him on most social media with that handle, so follow him wherever you're at!)

  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 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.


Happy writing!

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26 Comments


Thanks for sharing the process from manuscript to book. I admire people like you who are able to rhyme so well.

Thanks for #FirstDraftFriday. My draft is done!

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Inspired me today! I finished!

Cathy @catballoumealey

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What a cool idea for a story! Thank you for sharing your process! -Brandy Bellittera (InkedAuthor31)

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Thanks so much for sharing your process, Omar, and for the inspiration! I can't wait to read your book! Thanks so much for hosting First Draft Friday, Hollie!


I have completed a draft!!! Messy, very messy, but a draft! Thank so much! Diane O'Neill @DianeMary3

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Draft complete! I can write lyrically, but not necessarily rhyme, so I appreciate those that do. Thank you for sharing, Omar, and thank you for #FirstDraftFriday, Hollie.

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