Lessons From Magic Bird Book, Part 1: Everything You Think You Know Is Wrong

08 Nov

Somewhere, hidden in a tree like Keebler Elves, or in a mountain cave, or second to the right and straight on till morning (that one for you, Heidi), there exist the Book Fairies. In a big, leather-bound tome, they look up what you’ve done before and how you did it, what you think you know about writing books and what you’ve learned so far. They point at these entries. They laugh. And amongst themselves, they whisper, “Sucker. She is never going to know what hit her.”

And then they bestow upon you The Idea.

The Idea for #magicbirdbook (I really need to reveal the title sometime, don’t I?) came to me in March of this year. March was a pretty tumultuous time for me. I’d just switched agents/agencies, was working on my first round of edits after my very first revision letter from an editor ever, and the (then) New Agent, the marvelous Brooks, was definitely expecting me to produce, at some point, a manuscript for him. I thought I knew what it was going to be. I thought it was going to be the project I set aside to work on CODA.

And they say lightning doesn’t strike twice.

It started as a random conversation about an interesting animated short film. It turned into an idea that wouldn’t let me go. Those Book Fairies are persistent, and they pack a mean punch.

I should say, at this point, that I didn’t make it easy on myself. CODA is a sci-fi/cyberpunk novel written in first person, present tense, for teenagers, and set two hundred years in the future. Magic Bird Book, when it spoke to me, was immediately a steampunk fairy tale, written in third person, past tense, for a middle-grade audience, and is set over a hundred years ago.

The voices in my head, as I went back and forth between writing MBB and editing CODA, were very confused. But, okay, I was happy to be writing something different. SO different.

I just didn’t expect it to be so much harder.

I’ll delve into more of the reasons why it was so difficult in future posts in this series, and for this one I’ll stick with this: I got lucky with CODA, in a thousand ways, but most of all in how easy it was to write. I’ve said before that parts of that book seemed to write themselves while I was sleeping, and it’s true. The whole thing flowed out of me and there were very few points at which I felt like I was stuck. Even when I was, a shower (prime thinking spot) or a walk usually fixed me up. I didn’t outline. I didn’t plan. I vaguely knew a couple of key events and I knew the ending. No idea what route I was going to take, but I knew I was going to get there. I was happy to pants my way through 80,000 words of fun.

There are endless resources in the writing community that will tell you to experiment when writing a book you feel isn’t working. Change the tense. Change the voice. Change where you write.

I had to change everything. The only two things CODA and Magic Bird Book have in common are that I wrote them in Scrivener and I wrote them while listening to music–but not the same music. MBB didn’t flow until I sat down and outlined it. I had to do massive amounts of research of kinds I didn’t need to do with CODA. I had to work out every. Single. Detail. (I got some of them wrong, but that’s an issue for Editing Time.) I had to change the kind of notebook I used. I changed my pen.

Eventually, something clicked. I rewrote and it flowed. I put characters in different situations and they worked. Magic Bird Book became book-shaped and not just a collection of random words. It became something I love.

Now, I know for next time (which, as I type up this post first scribbled in a notebook, starts in TWO DAYS) that every book has different needs. You can’t grow a rose and a cactus with the same amounts of light and water and the same kind of soil. Both might be prickly, but the similarities end there. I’ll be less afraid to admit when things aren’t working, and to try everything I can think of to make it work. Because something will bloom, and it will be beautiful.


Posted by on November 8, 2012 in Uncategorized


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2 responses to “Lessons From Magic Bird Book, Part 1: Everything You Think You Know Is Wrong

  1. Maureen

    November 12, 2012 at 6:07 am

    All I know is that I’m so happy that you’re writing something my daughter can read. Actually, in a few short years she’ll be able to read CODA too. I can’t wait to read and share with her!

    • emmatrevayne

      November 12, 2012 at 6:09 am

      Awww, thanks honey! I’ll keep you posted on Magic Bird Book’s progress. 🙂


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