Tackling a Novel in Little Bites

I'm not ashamed to admit I'm (exceptionally) slightly chicken.  I've been talking about starting a middle grade project since the summer, but I only recently got plucky enough to begin.  That sounds braver than the reality - actually my local critique group set a dare goal to bring a novel project this month, so I had no choice. 
So here I am, four weeks into this bad boy, and I'm ready to talk about the "picture books are harder to write than novels" soundbite. 

A picture book is 500 words.  But you change about 492 of those words eight times each before you have a final manuscript.  So let's call that writing about 4,000 words to get 500 good ones.
When I write a few hundred words of a novel, probably 90% of that writing is good.  But I have to do that, oh, 100 times.   That's like writing 100 (really crappy in desperate need of editing) picture books!
I think it goes without saying I'm scared to Poopytown with the idea of writing 30,000 words. 

What's your mama say when you have a big intimidating project?   Tackle it in bite-sized tasks. 
Thought Bubbles
Hey there little bubbles!  You don't look
intimidating at all.  Just sweet little bubbley-boos!
photo by lfelton via sxc.hu
So I've been breaking the work down into "thought bubbles."  I define a thought bubble as 300 words or a couple paragraphs that encompasses a thought.  A scene. A story element.  A moment. 
The moment of terror when you see a love note from your Mom in your lunch (uncool mom.)   The feeling of knowing your neighbor's German Shepherds are licking their chops because they smell you peeing yourself.  The internal conflict of panic that you just ripped your pants off on a fence versus the joy of knowing your pee stain is history. 
I just have to write 100 of those bubbles and stitch 'em together.  And pray they cohesively come together in a story.  
I suppose if you want to be Mr. Fancyfeathers you could assign yourself a bigger chunk, like a chapter, but I'm just a baby chicken here.  I need tiny bites from a pink baby spoon circling at me like the Red Baron flying a plane, or (if you prefer a consistent metaphor), I need my worms regurgitated in manageable gulps.
I can't say this is a good professional method, but it's effective if you are a chicken like me.  Those of you who have written those big bad manuscripts- how did you tackle the effort?


  1. I don't have any answers for you Lauri, but I'm interested in what others have to say on this topic!

    1. Let's hope! I think some people write "chronologically" - um, like, in a rational order. That sounds like crazy talk... :)

  2. I don't have any either but all I can think is that when writing exists in between school pick ups, after goldfish spills, and just before trying to get some sleep, what other choice do we have????

    1. Excellent point Tracy. Maybe I've just developed this process to manage writing in the 30 minute blocks of writing time I steal.

  3. That's a great way to handle it, Lauri.

    That's certainly the way I tackle each issue of the magazine I write and edit; it's not an 80-page issue, but a couple dozen little articles. This is also the way I work on my full-length plays; yes, the story is long and sometimes complicated, but it is also made up of a series of brief scenes.

    Good luck on you new endeavor. And if you need a beta reader, by the way...

    1. Ah, a professional opinion which fits with my current strategy? Perfect! Okay, breathe, there are other people in the world who can't sit down and bust out a 1,000 words at a time.

  4. This is a fantastic way to do it, Lauri! Easy Peasy. Bird by Bird. ;)

    1. Ah, yes - I didn't read Bird by Bird because I was into some picture book writing resources at the time. But it's time I read a little broader on the craft.


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