Thursday, December 22, 2011

Pain in the But

I was inspired to write The Boy Project (Notes and Observations of Kara McAllister) after reading my old middle school diaries. It’s not like I turned events from my middle school life into a novel (mainly because there were no events in my middle school life), but reading the diaries helped me remember what it was like to think like a tween. Basically, Kara’s voice was a gift from my diaries.

Once I started writing in that voice my manuscript really took off. I’ve never written anything so fast. In order for the book to stand out in the market, I decided to deviate from the standard diary-format book. I had the brilliant idea to present the diary as a scientific journal, where each entry describes one of the boys Kara observes and the entire story is told through those observations.

I sent it off to an editor I had been in conversation with. She loved the voice,BUT

Oh, it’s that but that always kills you. When I was in college, any time someone said the word but, one of my friends would shout out, “Everybody likes a big but!” His catch phrase doesn’t apply to writers. We hate the buts. The buts bring us pain – pain of the revision variety. My knee-jerk reaction to hearing the word but in conjunction with my writing is to tell someone to butt-out. I know how to write.

But… what if the editor was right? What if I did need to show the character’s motivation? What if I did need to add more plot? What if I did need to consider altering my brilliant format because it detracted from the story?

So, I did what a lot of writers do at this point. Over the next few weeks, I thought about how I would change the manuscript if I decided I needed to. Then I got to work. I set up the story, I added more plot, I even got my manuscript polished enough for a wonderful agent to take me on.

In the end, I decided to make every change the editor had suggested, except altering my brilliant format. I just couldn’t see throwing out the most unique aspect of the manuscript. After all, part of successful revising is knowing which advice to take and which advice to ignore. My agent sent the manuscript off again and it came back about with tons of nice comments about the voice, and this time the plot too, BUT

Oh the pain! Was it possible that my brilliant format was just not going to work? After spending three months rewriting the entire manuscript, I couldn’t bear to think about revising it again. Maybe I wouldn’t have to… there were other editors out there… maybe one of them would see the brilliance in my unique format.

My agent advised me to take some time to think about whether the format I’d chosen was getting in the way of the story I wanted to tell. I didn’t think so. Still, I needed another opinion.

I sent the manuscript to my wonderful and brutally honest writer friend. (I hope you all have a friend like this – one who doesn’t stunt your growth by sparing your feelings.) I didn’t tell her what the editor’s issues were. I just asked her to read the manuscript and tell me the main thing I needed to change.

Darn if she didn’t name the exact same thing the editor had. It was time for me to look my problem in the eye – or in this case, the but. I was time for me, the writer of light humor for tweens, to commit murder. It was time, as writers often quote, to “murder my darlings.” My darling was my format.

Another three months and I had completely revised my manuscript again. Eradicating my brilliant format was painful, but I ended up with a much better manuscript. I put the altered manuscript back into my agent’s hands. And this time it sold! I’m happy to say that The Boy Project (Notes and Observations of Kara McAllister) debuts January 1, 2012 from Scholastic.

My old diaries.

Add The Boy Project to your Goodreads shelf here.


  1. Great post, Kami. Revising, like writing, happens bird by bird. And your revisions must have kicked "but" because THE BOY PROJECT is great!

  2. Wow thanks Laura! Love your play on words too!

  3. Love this post! I had some killer diaries-everything went in there...poems, drawings, cards and of course my prose on feeling like I was going to die because so-and-so was talking to HER, etc.
    I have often wished I had them, but an angry ex decided that all those "useless memories" were better up in smoke.

  4. I want to add too...I am over 40 and love reading teen lit; AND God granted me a daughter, and although the times might have been a little different, we relived quite a bit of my old memories and this time I wrote, and nobody will even know I am doing that.

  5. So sorry you lost those diaries. But glad you have your memories and your writing! Keep on keeping on!

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