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Neil Gaiman Is (Mostly) Right

Neil Gaiman's gift of writing is obvious to those of us who have read his work. And I love this quote by him which is important for all writers--published and unpublished and even kids sitting in a second grade classroom.
The process of doing your second draft is the process of making it look like you knew what you were doing all along.

- Neil Gaiman               

 Maybe you were offended by the title of this blog post. Because how can Neil Gaiman be only mostly right?? 

Here's the thing. Neil Gaiman is an incredibly gifted writer. I love that he also needs to revise his writing. But I am not gifted like him. 

I've learned to write skillfully, but it's not a gift. It's work. Long, hard work. If you are like me, it might take more than just a second draft to make it look like you know what you're doing as a writer. 
If you have heard me talk about my writing process, you might have heard how many drafts it took for me to get Whooo Knew? The Truth About Owls right. (By right, I mean a book publishers and kids will get excited about.)

Want to guess how many drafts? Seriously. Take a guess. I'll wait. When you're ready, you can finish reading this blog post that tells the rest of the story.
I let Whooo Knew sit for a couple years while I focused on a different book (The Laura Ingalls Wilder Companion) because I knew the owl text wasn't working. The writing was good, but it didn't stand out. It wasn't uniquely special. Not yet.

During my break from the owl manuscript, I read tons of children's nonfiction--both middle grade and picture books.

By the time I returned to Whooo Knew? The Truth About Owls, the topic was the same, but the words were completely different. I used the same research but restructured--and rewrote--the manuscript.

It was at this time I made it a Q&A book. I added humor through what I envisioned as illustrated owls talking. I shortened the text. It became a picture book. And, oh boy! I was excited about it. It was finally different enough to stand out when compared to other fact-filled "owl-some" books.
I was thrilled when Reycraft Books said yes.

So, how many drafts?

It was 35 in total. About 20 drafts before I took a break. Then 15 more as I played with the structure and added the humor and asked my critique partners for even more feedback.
Even Neil Gaiman knows the importance of revisions. If you want to be a published writer, don't stop because you've revised your story, book, poem, or article a few times. Don't stop until the story is one readers (and publishers) will hoot about.

Pun intended.

Whooo Knew? The Truth About Owls was the first book in The Truth About series. Currently there are five published books and two more on the way in 2024. Coming soon are Chomp! The Truth About Sharks and Flick! The Truth About Lizards. (I'll reveal the covers to my newsletter subscribers first!)
I know readers often love to learn more about their favorite topics. And teachers love to get kids excited about fresh topics and learning. That's why I've created teacher guides for many of my books. These are free for you--no email needed! (And though they're called teacher guides, anyone can use them for personal or educational use.)
The rest of The Truth About series has been much, much easier to write. Even with back-and-forth emails with my critique group and critique partners, I can still write those in 10-15 drafts. 

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1 comment

  1. Writing IS hard work. Yep. But totally worth the wait.