SCBWI

Society of
Children's Book Writers
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Writing Bumps

A 2.5 Minute Bumpy Blog

by Bibi Belford

I bumped my head last week and saw stars. Right before I opened an email reminding me that I signed up to write a blog post and it was due. For a second, I thought the two were related. But the stars went away, and the email remained.

Speaking of bumps, we took our old camper to its new owner, and it felt like riding in a jalopy over prairie dog town. “Do we have a flat tire?” I asked my husband. “No. It’s the road. It buckled from the weather.”

The next day I bumped into my neighbor in the hallway (not literally) and she complained her face mask was too tight. While I was making her a new one, I sewed over a bump and broke my needle. But unlike the bump on my head, and the road, this bump was my fault—a pin I’d left buried in the lining. If you’re still with me at this juncture—no, I didn’t say puncture—that pin started me thinking about writing bumps. Some are good accidents—bumping into the perfect agent/editor who loves our book. An editor bought my first book, Canned and Crushed, because she happened to be looking for a fourth grade Latino protag and connected to his sister’s heart disease.

Or unfortunate, painful accidents—releasing a book only to find you’ve bumped up against a well-known writer’s book on the same subject that has lots of reviews and ratings. Seriously, if I were shopping for a book, I’d choose her book. And coincidental, badly timed accidents—a friend whose about-to-be released novel gets cancelled by her publisher when her plot line mirrored events in a national crisis. And what a bad bump for authors launching their books during the pandemic. I’ve purchased more of those books than I want to admit, knowing how disappointed authors must be after months/years of anticipation. My grandkids are ecstatic. My husband is not.

Other writing bumps occur as we travel down the author road. Those critical reviews don’t always signal a flat tire, merely give us information about the road’s surface and help us hone our craft and market.

In the beginning I was consumed with reading reviews and responding to all of them, groveling to the positive reviewers and pleading for guidance from the critical ones.

Thank goodness I got this response early from one of the critical reviewers. Shocker—some people are not going to like my book—no matter how much blood, sweat and tears I pour into it. It’s the road. Okay. I can deal with that.

Of course, as writers we don’t always know the roads our books will travel. Editors and beta readers have maps in their heads to help us navigate and their feedback forces us to analyze our story elements and revise our writing for all terrain travel. I am forever indebted to my editor, Rachel Stark.

Note: To maintain 2.5 minute read limit, skip these excerpts.
Hi Barb,

I agree, it’s a daunting task to take on a character who will mean a lot to people and the fear of doing harm is real. Many classic books with underrepresented characters are authored by writers who have the privilege to write the dominant narrative. It makes me sad to think that such popular books make the lives of some people who are marginalized harder. I look forward to reading the next version of your proposal!

Best,
Rachel

Dear Barb,

I’m so proud of the work you’ve done already to revise your proposal, and I think the new proposal gives DeeDee an even more interesting and complex arc. I’m impressed by how quickly you threw yourself into researching the issues I brought up on our phone call, and your openness to continuing these discussions to ensure your characters are depicted compassionately. I am confident that we’ll be able to publish a wonderful, nuanced, and—most importantly—kind book together.

Best,
Rachel

Dear Barb,

As promised, here are my thoughts on Another D for DeeDee! You’ll find my editorial letter attached. I’m asking for a lot with this rewrite, but that’s in response to the huge amount of potential and creative fodder I see in this draft! I am absolutely confident that you’ll find brilliant solutions to everything.

Best,
Rachel

But what about those bumps we accidentally left in our manuscripts—a misspelled word, errant punctuation, a continuity error? No matter how hard we try to find them before they break our credibility with readers, we’re human, and so are copy editors. Thank goodness for second printings and paperback versions.

Bibi Belford and ToddlerI’m on a road with speed bumps right now and I know I’m not alone. Publisher woes. Agent woes. Deaths and births. The loss of solitude for writing. Grief for a broken world. It doesn’t work to drive faster or come to a complete stop. Speed bumps force us to slow down. Breathe. Maybe veer off on a side road. Take the time to regroup, retool, revise.

I’ve been watching writing webinars and workshops. Cooking. Revising. Zooming with friends, family, students, and SCBWI. Making sourdough bread. Cooking. Taking long walks. Reading Waking Up White by Debbie Irving, Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria by Beverly Daniel Tatum, Twenty One Lessons for the Twenty-First Century by Yural Noah Harari, and The Book Thief, again. Also, whittling down my to-be-read MG book pile. And did I mention cooking?

Bumps litter our lives and our writing. Some unfortunate, but many good. That seedling poking its head from the earth. That bump in my daughter’s belly in expectation of grandchild number four. That sourdough bread loaf rising on the counter. And those tiny pimples that rise up on my arms when I’m overcome with feeling.

Hang on. I hear a buzzing near my ear. Rats. I left the screen door open and now I have a bump on my ankle that itches. Well, that’s an appropriate way to end this overdone bump metaphor, isn’t it?

So, let’s lift a glass to bumps. May we have them and may we learn from them.