Giving a Book a Heart Transplant

This story starts with a wedding.


In mid-March, I was returning from a friend’s nuptials in Brooklyn, NY. I had watched a couple stare lovingly into each other’s eyes, made small talk with a table of strangers from around the world, and shimmied on the dance floor. The next morning, I was working in a coffee shop before taking off for the airport when I got a not-wholly-unexpected email.


“It’s time!” my editor wrote. “Here’s your deadline.”


My synopsis for Book 2 of the Derby Daredevils series was officially approved, and I was getting the green light to plug away at the text! Actually, I wasn’t just getting the green light. I was getting an enormous shove into productivity. The book was due by the end of April, a mere month and a half away.


Many people who know my writing style might think I’m incapable of writing a book from scratch in such little time. I don’t blame them. I felt incapable as well. Toiling away on failed narratives for years doesn’t exactly instill confidence on producing a fully functional book in less than two months.


Still, I wasn’t entirely on my own. The synopsis had been approved, and with a little finagling, I was able to convert the synopsis into a chapter-by-chapter outline. I set a schedule to have a rough draft finished by April 12th. One chapter a day, that’s all it took. Every day I sat at my desk, looked over my sparse summary, and expanded it into a chapter.


I finished the rough draft on time, gave it the weekend to cool, and embarked on a round of revisions. I had hoped this would be a relatively easy process: reading the manuscript, making some tweaks, and sending it off.


Yet revising turned out to be anything but easy.


As I reread my words, I realized that everything in the plot was there... but essentially, the narrative had flat-lined. I was holding a middle grade book with absolutely no heart.


My protagonist made erratic decisions. Her parents seemed like cardboard stock characters. I hadn’t expanded the setting to take readers to more corners around Austin. The conclusion felt halfway logical and wholly unearned. The Kindle nearly disintegrated in my hands by the time I had finished reading. It was a disaster, I thought. A disaster! I’d have to rewrite the book!! In less than two weeks!!! And turn it into an editor!!!!


(If you’re not picturing me having a meltdown on the floor, please do so now.)


But deadlines have a funny way of making us get up and sit back in the chair—even when we don’t want to. Even when we think we’re incapable of doing so. The revision was impossible, but I’d have to do it anyway. I would rewrite every scene, now tackling three chapters a day instead of one, and all three would have to be better than the original. No sweat.


Except of course, there was a lot of sweating. My accountability buddy can attest that I squirmed around quite a bit in the early days of the revision process. The sheer amount of work was enough to make me terrified to even open the document. I couldn’t look at the blank page and think of what to say.


So instead, I decided to look away from the page. I paced up and down my hallway, imagining Shelly (my protagonist) walking home from roller derby practice. I thought about the characters whenever I was out running, taking angry dragon breaths the way Shelly does when she’s upset.


If my pages were lacking heart, I wasn’t going to find them behind the blinking cursor. I had to produce that heart for the story. I creased my face to make everyone’s expressions as they spoke. I wanted to feel their sympathy, their motivation, their frustration. I drew out arcs for all my main characters, ensuring that conflicts emerged from misunderstandings and opposing ambitions rather than people acting cruelly or irrationally.


At some point in all the misery and agony of that week, I finally got wrapped up in the characters. I stopped looking at the glaring deadlines on my calendar. I forgot to hate the blank pages on the Word document. There was just the urge to tell Shelly’s story as honestly as I could.


On the last day of April, I sent a not-wholly-unexpected email. It was to my editor.


“Surprise!” the email said. “I’m turning the book in on time.”


I have no idea if my editor was surprised by this timeline, but I certainly was. Yet I wasn’t necessarily surprised to have a book-shaped object in that attachment. I was more surprised by the fact that I was proud of it, that when I reread the manuscript the day before, I experienced the ups and downs and ideas and setbacks with all my characters. My heart traveled right alongside the words. When I closed the document, part of my heart stayed behind with it.


As the email flew off into the void, I kissed the draft goodbye and grabbed my suitcase. I was leaving for another wedding the next morning. More people to toast to. More Beyoncé songs to dance to. And hopefully, more love to take with me the next time I’m stuck on a blank page.

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Illustrated and designed by Danika Corrall