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Some Books are like Problem Children

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The other day I was looking back over my third novel, A Midsummer's Nightmare. It comes out this June, and I've made no secret of the fact that it's my favorite of the ones published so far. I'm so proud of it and so excited for it and so in love with the characters - but I did not always feel that way.

I often joke that A Midsummer's Nightmare is like the problem child who tortured its parent (me) for most of its young life, then made a gradual turn around and somehow ended up graduating top of its class and attending an Ivy League college. I used to have really negative feelings toward this book. I didn't like the characters, I felt like the writing was all over the place, and I was sure I could never fix it. There was just no recovery for this thing I'd written.

But now . . . it's probably the best book I've written.

It wasn't easy. I had to spend a lot of time working on it. Sometimes I didn't want to. Sometimes I was just so fed up with the book and the characters and how nothing seemed to go the way I wanted it to. Sometimes even looking at the document stressed me out to the point of tears. But, because I knew there was a good story somewhere in there, I just kept trudging through.

It took a lot of rewriting - sometimes whole scenes and plots were cut or changed, sometimes I just rewrote the same scene to improve the prose. The change didn't happen over night, but at some point I remember looking at the manuscript and thinking, "You know, this isn't so bad."

Some books are always easy - the first drafts are strong and they just get stronger as you revise and edit. Some books you love from the start.

But some are like problem children. You love them, you want the best for them, but they just don't want to go your way. They take more time and energy, and sometimes they are frustrating beyond belief. But just as a parent could never give up on their child, sometimes its best as writers to not give up on our stories, no matter how they terrorize our brains, because something wonderful is buried below the surface.

It's tempting, I know, to scrap first drafts that are going to be painful to work on. We've all had that thought of "It would just be easier to write something else and forget this mess ever existed." Maybe that's true with some manuscripts, but I think it's a decision you should weigh carefully. Because with the time and effort and passion you could give to that project, it might end up surprising you.

Some of the best books probably started out as messy, frustrating, terrible drafts.

Just as some of the best people may have been rebellious, maddening children.

Don't give up too easily on a manuscript you think is worthless. You never know how it might turn out in time. Who knows? It may end up being one of the best things you've ever written - you just don't know it yet.
Kody Keplilnger

Kody is the NYT bestselling author of The DUFF, Shut Out, and A Midsummer's Nightmare, all from Little Brown/Poppy, as well as Lying Out Loud, Run, and the middle grade novel The Swift Boys and Me, from Scholastic. Born and raised in Kentucky, she now lives in NYC.

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  1. Excellent point! The stories that take effort to work on are definitely the ones worth reading. If the author had an easy time writing, it shows, and the story is usually boring or too sugary to tolerate as a final product.

  2. Where did you find the perseverance to keep going when you thought it was crap? Or when you couldn't make sense of it? That's my problem. I've changed it all over the place and it's still throwing a tantrum and I am too!


  3. Love the post. Writing is a journey and those are never easy. But it's nice to say that at the end of it all, you are happy you traveled it.

  4. Heather - For me, a few things kept me going. Firstly, my agent who was not going to LET me give up. Secondly, my extreme stubbornness. I refused to "fail" at this story - because as much as I hated it at the time, I did love the CONCEPT. So I knew I had to do that part justice somehow.

  5. It's so difficult to keep motivation going when you're novel feels wrong. It's an art working out the difference between 'true crap' and 'has potential' though.

  6. Wonderful post. Congrats on working through the "terrible twos" on this one...sounds like it was worth it.

  7. This is EXACTLY how I feel about my current WIP. Thank you for sharing this. And so glad you stood by your problem child and continued to nurture and love it. :) I cannot wait to read this one.

  8. Great post! I'm struggling right now with a difficult child. I think I might put it away and work on another story for awhile. Not give up on it entirely -- just put it in "time out" and let it think about what it's done wrong. LOL. More to the point, what I've done wrong with it.

  9. Great post, very true and well thought out! It's really true, because my current WIP is trying to run off in the toy store...I've kept everything I've written since middle school, and some I've gone back to and wanted to keep writing, and some I've gone back to and said, wow...maybe you need some revisions. I just need to find where I went wrong, and correct that.


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Item Reviewed: Some Books are like Problem Children Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Kody Keplinger