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Spring into Spring with April's #FirstDraftFriday

It's Friday! Even better, it's #FirstDraftFriday and guest author Valerie Bolling is here to help us nurture those story idea seeds and make them bloom into drafts!

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

LET'S DANCE, Valerie's debut picture book, pairs her rhythmic text with vibrant illustrations by Maine Diaz. It showcases children of diverse backgrounds enjoying dances from around the world!

To order: Her next two books – TOGETHER WE RIDE and TOGETHER WE SWIM – are in the works and will be out in spring 2022 and 2023!

Let's learn what inspired Valerie to sit down and write the first draft of LET’S DANCE!

I was inspired to write LET’S DANCE! because everyone – or most people – love to dance! Turn on music and watch people – especially young, uninhibited children – start to move. Babies who can barely walk will sway and/or raise their hands. Whenever music is played, my nieces dance. When they were two and four, they even danced while brushing their teeth. Now at ages six and eight, they still love to dance!

The first sentence of my pitch for LET’S DANCE! was “Dancing is a universal language, even though we all have different ‘accents.’” I thought it would be fun to write the book in rhyme to mimic the rhythms of music and dance movements. I enjoyed thinking about different dances and dance moves and finding the right rhyming words to describe them. Writing this story was like creating my own dance with words.

My main goal for the book was to show children from all walks – or dances – of life: a boy in a wheelchair, a girl in hijab, a child in a tutu whose gender is indiscernible. I wanted this book to showcase dance in a way that celebrates diversity – and that leaves no doubt that dancing is indeed for everyone!

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

My manuscript had three lives. The first was my original draft, which was titled I LOVE TO DANCE. Next was my revision when I changed the title to LET’S DANCE! because I removed the repeating refrain, “I love to dance.” (A friend who offered critique suggested that I didn’t need that repetition, and I agreed with her.) This is the version that was liked in #PBPitch in June 2018 by Jes Negrón at Boyds Mills & Kane. Three months after signing the contract, the third and final LET’S DANCE! was born. Jes shared that she had an idea for making the story have more global appeal. She described how my words could be linked to cultural dances; for example, matching “Tappity-tap/Fingers snap” with flamenco instead of tap dancing. I was thrilled with this change that elevated my vision for diversity, inclusion, and community in LET’S DANCE!.

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

Oh, I am such a plotter! I am a huge planner. I always have a plan, usually accompanied by notes. There have been times when a story has hit me and come out all at once; even then, there’s been a clear plan in my head for how it would emerge.

I’m not sure how my approach affects my drafting process. It works for me, so, ultimately, the effect is positive. I write my draft and can then move on to revision. My writing partner and critique partners are vital to my revision process, and mentor texts are helpful as well. But for the drafting itself, I plan and then write.

Do you ever find yourself putting off drafting a story?

I like to dig into writing but prefer revising to drafting. I don’t usually “put off” drafting, but lately I’ve been working on a multitude of projects, so it’s been difficult to find the time to work on drafting a new story.

I like to sit down and knock out an entire draft in one sitting – or, at most, in two. However, as I’ve recently begun writing non-fiction, I’ve discovered that my drafting pace has slowed significantly. As I draft, I realize I need to do more research; I need to find answers to questions and holes in the story. It’s tough for me not to be able to move as quickly as I’m accustomed to, but I’ve accepted the challenge and realization that not all writing can be accomplished swiftly.

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

The best tip is to get words on the page. Just start writing. If you’re a plotter, start by writing your plan, and more ideas will come. If you’re a pantser, just spew whatever comes to your mind.

As for tricks, here are a few that might help.

1. Set a timer, and don’t stop writing until time is up.

2. Have an accountability partner. Tell the person your goal and promise to check in when you’ve achieved it.

3. Take a reading break, if needed. Read a book, or part of a book, in the genre you’re writing, and push yourself to apply something that resonated with you – whether it’s a craft move or an idea for how to continue your story or create a more exciting climax.

4. Treat yourself when you reach your goal.

5. Let your story sit, continuing to think about it before immediately jumping into revision.

There you go! FIVE solid tips to get us going today! Will you use one of those to help you...or do you have your own tricks up your sleeve? (Personally, I'm leaning toward #4 and donuts for the treat!) Take your pick and get started because #FirstDraftFriday has officially begun! To enter for a chance at a free picture book manuscript (500 words or less; fiction, nonfiction, rhyming, or prose) critique from Valerie, you must do the following by 8 pm ET today (April 2, 2021):

  1. Follow both me and Valerie on Twitter: @HollieWolverton and @valerie_bolling

  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, Wix has made some changes and this is now the default - I've registered my displeasure!), 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 p.m. ET tonight.

Best of luck drafting!

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Done! Completed a short PB for a contest today. Thanks for the encouragement. @dtowbin on Twitter. 😀


Done! Messy but it's done. Thanks for these encouraging writing days!

My Twitter is @ClearyWriter.


Done with the draft! Idea came from a random conversation with the husband this morning. @authorsandhya


Apr 02, 2021

I'm delighted to have completed a first draft for First Draft Friday! I grabbed a Storystorm idea and ran with it. Sarah Meade @SarahJWMeade


Hannah Roy
Hannah Roy
Apr 02, 2021

Done with a draft...about a girl who never stops singing (AKA myself, but at least I used an alias) :) Thanks for the motivation today!! - @halforange

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