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Thursday, January 01, 2015

Before You Move Forward, Take a Look Back

Happy New Year’s!

I know you’re ready to get crackin’ on all those 2015 writing goals, but before you dash onward, you might try taking a moment and looking back. That strategy worked like a charm for me and…you know what? I feel a story coming on. I think I’ll call it “The Awakening.”

(With apologies to Kate Chopin’s novel of the same title which is really quite a classic novel and well worth a read. Though honestly, my story’s sorta worth a read, and it’s much shorter.)

On a cold and blustery morning in January of 2014, I sat pondering over the fiction side of my writing business. I decided that I could not face yet another 55,000-word rewrite of my angsty teen novel (which definitely needed revisions).

And besides, I wanted happy. I wanted funny. I wanted short.

So I signed up for a yearlong picture book challenge. I would concentrate on 500-word- manuscripts. You can’t get any shorter than that, I figured, as books go.

And anyway, I’d been dabbling with picture books for a couple years. Why, I had gobs of picture book ideas—and even a half-dozen manuscripts—hanging about in virtual files. But 2014 would be different, I vowed. I would really apply myself to the picture book format, the limited word counts, making the space for images. You know, all the important stuff that makes for a swell (and salable) picture book.

Off I wrote, and read, and wrote, and read some more. And goodness, I learned SO much about writing picture books! (Mostly, I learned that it’s much harder than it at first appears.) I connected with a terrific online community of passionate picture book writers whose mountain of knowledge on the subject astounded me! Oh, I would be just like them; my picture book success was right around the corner!

But in the late spring, I found myself flirting with revisions on one of my middle grade manuscripts. After all, lots of picture book concepts were applicable to the longer form, and so I worked on my story a bit. In between the important business of writing picture books, of course.

Then suddenly, in the middle of the summer, I had a fun and fresh idea for a new middle grade novel. Well, I would just take a day or two (or a dozen) to flesh out the first chapter, get down my ideas, sketch out an outline. But then I’d go straight back to picture books. Especially since I was preparing to attend a week-long picture book workshop.

So there I was in the mountains, surrounded by writers who ate, drank, and breathed picture books. And as I soaked up their lovely critique and wonderful camaraderie, I felt…out of place.

Their picture book excitement and joy—it was downright palpable, not to mention enviable. I wanted some of that passion for my writing, and for me, and in a quiet moment of reflection a few nights before I left the workshop, I found it.

It had been there, waiting for me, in my middle grade voice.

I enjoyed my “Year of Living With Picture Books” (even if it was more like seven months), but I was ever so happy to get back where I belonged. And the next time I need a break? Maybe I’ll just go to a movie.

So on this first day of January in 2015, when you are rushing to make goals and resolutions, slow down for a moment and give a thought to your 2014 writing life. You might be surprised, and more importantly, awakened, to where your heart—and pen—is leading you.

~Cathy C. Hall


  1. Cathy--The more we know about ourselves as writers, the more reflective we are about our writing--the more we can grow as writers.

    May your writing take you wherever you want it to in 2015, Cathy.

  2. Dear Cathy,

    You always write such thoughtful and provocative posts. You will be successful in whatever you write! I can't wait to hear more about your MG novel in the coming year.

  3. Cathy, I love that Kate Chopin story! And, in writing and life it's easy and almost par-for-the-course to take turns here and there. I write picture books and middle-grade also.

  4. Sioux, I wish the same for you! And Suzanne, fingers crossed that you're right! ;-)

    Yep, Karen, it's the detours that sometimes point us in the right direction (in life and writing). May we both write the best ever MG (or picture book, as the case may be)! ;-)

  5. I'm glad I got to meet you on the detour. Good luck with the Middle Grade novel and all of your writing. I'll keep up with you here and around the web.

  6. Anonymous2:33 PM

    So good to find out who you are by discovering who you aren't. Great post!

  7. I often think it's equally as important to realize what DOESN'T work so you can recognize what does when you see it. I loved having you in 12 x 12 this year, but I'm glad it helped you come back to your real writing passion. All the best in 2015!

  8. Cathy, it was so great to meet you at the retreat and thank you for such great critiques of my draft. I had so much fun getting to know you and can't wait to read your published novels someday!!!

  9. Passion is where you find your writing power, and you had it all along! You will have tons of picture book fans waiting to read your middle grade novels! Best wishes!

  10. Loved this post! It's beautiful! And I'm so happy you found where your writing muse is leading you. I think mine has been ageing (in book years) along with my children. :)

  11. We'll miss you in 12x12. But I'm glad you know exactly where your writing muse belongs!

  12. Lovely post Cathy. It was wonderful meeting you at WOW and having you in the critique group. I love your humor and your writing voice. Best of luck with your MG, look forward to hearing more about it in the future. :-)

  13. As I commented on the FB post of this article, Cathy, the spider web of kid lit land is a magical tapestry and our paths will cross many times, I'm sure. How blessed to have a veil lifted and see what brings you joy...may 2015 unfold with all things good and wonderful for you. :)

  14. Aw, y' I REALLY miss you!

    (And for those of you who think the picture book muse might be calling, check out 12 x 12. It's an amazing group of folks!)

  15. Such a great post, Cathy! I gave myself permission to write linked stories for NaNo, since I enjoy writing short/flash. But one of those stories took over, and I just went with it. It might become a novel of its own - we'll see. Whatever happens, though, I'm happy I let myself go where the story took/takes me. :)

  16. Anonymous8:22 AM

    I am so happy we had a chance to meet in person. You rock, whether you are writing pbs or middle grade. It would mean a lot to me if you kept in touch.


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