Anya Costello, author of Dark Shadows
I started writing my book Dark Shadows three years ago when I was ten years old. The idea was sparked by a conversation with friends about how shadows shift shapes and how fascinating it would be if shadows could split from their owners and become separate beings. I decided to turn that idea into the story of a girl facing the crisis of the Shadow Hour—the time each day when shadows split from their humans—who must retrieve her shadow from a strange dimension.
I had a lot to learn—and, of course, I still do. I realized that there were many ways to strengthen my writing and manage my time most productively. I was so excited to find out about the Secret Kids writing contest, but I understood that entering meant I had to focus on editing and rewriting my manuscript. When I learned that I won the contest, I was even more excited for the opportunities that were coming and for the chance to revisit my story. I’m still editing, still learning, and still improving, but I’ve picked up some helpful writing habits.
Write when you’re in the right frame of mind…
It was most important for me to write when I had an idea that intrigued me or when I figured out a good way to connect to the next event in my story. If I tried to write when I was stressed, busy, or feeling stuck, the words weren’t as clear and scenes didn’t link together smoothly. When I first started writing my book, I didn’t have any deadlines to meet, so I wrote when I felt inspired.
…and end at a natural stopping point
As I was wrapping up a rewrite to submit to the contest, I found that sectioning the plot into individual scenes to work on instead of setting goals for a number of pages made my writing less patchy. If I was writing an action scene and I stopped halfway through, then picked up the next day, it didn’t flow as well.
Take breaks from your story
Writing a long piece can sometimes feel intimidating. You might even be tired of writing the same characters or revising the plot—I know I felt that way sometimes! A good way to avoid that feeling is to write something else every now and then. Write some short stories with completely different plots and characters from your long manuscript. If you’re trying to finish a major section of the plot in one day, break up your writing with other activities so you don’t become bored. I play some instruments and also like art, so I might work on a few chapters and then spend some time practicing the guitar.
Focus on writing first; edit later
Another thing that helped me was to get the first draft down without worrying about making it the best manuscript possible (yet). The first version of my novel was written in three different notebooks with a lot of mistakes and plot holes! Just getting your concept and basic storyline down is a big step. It means that you have one coherent idea linking everything together.
Then you can go back through to add more artistic sections, pay attention to finer details, and polish your writing. Never be afraid to change large sections of your story, either—even if it’s a big plot point. In the first draft of my manuscript, the main character, Amber, had siblings and parents, but by my final version, Amber was living alone with her aunt. That’s just one of many huge changes my story went through until I finally found the plot I loved.
Be patient with your writing—and yourself
When you’re working on a long manuscript, the most important thing is patience. Keep in mind that it isn’t a fast process. It will take time and revising, even rewriting over and over. Writing can always be improved. I rewrote my story entirely three times before submitting it to the contest, and each time was almost eighty pages longer! If your story is something you really love and feel devoted to, you will find that you’re always striving to make it the best it can possibly be—no matter how long it takes.
— Anya Costello, author of Dark Shadows