ReviMo Day 2 with Marcie Colleen

Sunday, January 10, 2016

3 “Out of this World” Revision Tips


(what a little penguin and the moon taught me about the revision process)

by Marcie Colleen

In January 2012 I wrote a story about a penguin who longs to travel to the moon.

In September 2014, Scholastic acquired that story—The Adventure of the Penguinaut. It was my very first book sale and will be illustrated by the incredibly talented Emma Yarlett (Orion and the Dark). I couldn’t be happier…but sometimes I think getting to the moon would have been easier.

It took 39 drafts to get that manuscript into orbit. Here is what I learned along the way.

Every draft is like a mission. Writing is revision. Each draft should be viewed as exploration, with the spirit of curiosity.

Some drafts will feel like flight tests. Others might not even make it off the launch pad. Some will even veer entirely off course and lose direction…or find a totally new flight path that leads to brand new discoveries.

Is your manuscript in rhyme? Try it in prose. Have you written in first person point-of view? Give third person a try. Need more page-turning tension? Create another draft.

Do not worry. This is revision. Nothing is written in stone. Any changes you make can always be unmade if you want. In fact, to be sure each mission is not lost, take a cue from NASA’s Apollo missions and number them. Penguinaut v1, Penguinaut v2, Penguinaut v39. Therefore, every step in your journey will be fully documented.

Critiques are like Ground Control. Like being on a space mission in a tiny capsule, it’s easy to get consumed with a story and not be able to see the bigger picture. Therefore, you need to get other eyes on your manuscript from time to time to provide an outside viewpoint.

Find those who you trust to give honest feedback. Often, comments from fellow writing buddies or a critique from an editor or agent can be just what we need to get unstuck when calling out, “Houston, we have a problem.”

Writers are an elite crew. Not everyone that I know who started writing when I did is still writing.

Like the road to becoming an astronaut, becoming a writer is long and arduous. It’s a challenge. If it was easy, anyone and everyone would do it. But to put it into perspective, only 833 astronauts traveled to space as part of NASA’s space shuttle program. It’s an elite crew…and so are you!

The clean white sheet of paper is your frontier. A blank document is yours to fill with adventure. It’s a challenge. It can’t be rushed. Many give up before reaching their destination and with years to complete one sale-able picture book, it’s not surprising. However, the journey is amazing. The views along the way are breathtaking. Don’t lose heart.

Revision is how we learn. It’s how we navigate. It’s how we reach heights we never thought we would or could.

So in the words of the late Gene Roddenberry (with some creative liberty taken by yours truly):

“These are the voyages of the picture book writer. Its two (or five or ten or more)-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to create new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before.”

Now reach for the stars, my fellow writers. It might not seem like it when you are in the thick of it, but revision will eventually end. It’s the accomplishment that will last forever.

Marcie Colleen is a former classroom teacher turned picture book author. In fact, she co-teaches the “Picture Book Revision from A-Z” class for with author Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen. Marcie’s forthcoming picture books include Love, Triangle illustrated by Bob Shea (Balzer+Bray/HarperCollins, 2017) and The Adventure of the Penguinaut illustrated by Emma Yarlett (Scholastic, 2018). After calling Brooklyn, New York home for many years, she recently located to San Diego, California with her husband—LEGO artist Jonathan Lopes—and their mischievous sock monkey. Marcie is represented by Susan Hawk at The Bent Agency. To learn more, visit her at or follow her at @MarcieColleen1.

Marcie has generously donated a prize for ReviMo! A lucky winner will get a 1 hour Skype critique on a PB manuscript. Thank you Marcie! 

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