HELLO, FUTURE ME tells the story of eleven-year-old June, a girl who tries to stop her parents’ divorce using her super planning skills, magic and a little help from her future self. Too bad magic has a way of going horribly, and hilariously, awry. June’s rollercoaster of emotions mirrors the turbulent path this story took from first draft to final product. In this edition of “The Story Behind,” I’ll focus on the writing journey that led to the publication of HELLO, FUTURE ME.
“Sometimes, life stinks and there’s nothing we can do about it. But we keep going. And, hopefully, the stuff that seemed so terrible at first will start to feel a little less terrible over time..”— June Day, from HELLO, FUTURE ME
This quote from June can definitely apply to writing. We all know the old saying: 90% of writing is revision. It’s true. We start with a crude sculpture and slowly mold it into something subtle, moving, magnificent. At least that’s the idea. But the revision process isn’t always that straightforward. Sometimes it’s not so much about whittling something crude down to a more refined form. It’s about building sculpture after sculpture until you finally realize the shape you’re trying to achieve, then starting from scratch with a fresh block of clay.
That’s what happened with HELLO, FUTURE ME. I wrote three complete versions of the story, each starting from a blank document, each informed and hopefully improved by the last. When I sat down for the third time, I had such a clear vision of what I wanted to write (the form I wanted the clay to take) that I wrote the draft in seven days. Now, I’m a fast writer, but that’s my fastest ever.
Why so many drafts? Why start from scratch when you could simply shave layers off your first attempt? Why would anyone put themselves through all that heartache?
Answer…they wouldn’t. Unless it just so happened to be their process, which they have learned to love and embrace over time, like me. Basically, I have no choice.
I can only truly understand a story when I experience it in narrative form, through writing it. Yes, I can create a beautiful outline with all the right beats and emotional touch-points. But when I sit down to write, it rarely stays the same. The characters veer off in new, more interesting directions, and I choose to follow them. I follow them because the paths I discover through prose are often more organic and emotionally honest than anything I could come up with in outlining mode. For me, the act of drafting gives me access to the wiser, more creative part of my brain, and so it pays to veer wildly off the path and see where it takes me.
That said, stories need shape and structure. That’s why my first one or two drafts (either partial or complete) often turn into narrative experiments. They allow me to feel the structure out using the most imaginative parts of my brain, but they don’t always lead to working stories. So I take what I’ve learned, all the wondrous discoveries, I open a fresh document and I put those discoveries into a brand new draft with both a clear vision and a working structure.
It makes sense to me. I’m not prescribing this method to anyone by any means. Even for me, every novel is different. Sometimes my wild first draft does end up largely staying the same through to the final version. But sometimes, like with HELLO, it’s a much more interesting and twisting ride.
Finding your voice.
One of the hardest parts of writing is finding your main character’s voice. In this case, it took three drafts before I found the real June Day, with her hopeful, determined, oh-so-totally enthusiastic outlook. In the end, she was the easiest character I’ve ever written, because she sounds exactly like me!
Well, she’s the voice in my head, mixed with some light Buffy-speak, plus about a zillion ounces of sugar and coffee. HELLO, FUTURE ME is also the only book I’ve published in first person, so it was especially important to find a funny, endearing, authentic voice. Wait…did I just call myself funny and endearing…um…technically, yes 🙂
It was especially fun writing three different versions of June: present, past and future. Future June was probably the most fun, because she’s so snarky and full of herself. Sigh. At times, it did feel like there were three versions of me, all chatting via IM, all getting super annoyed with each other.
What can I say? It’s the life of the writer.
If you have questions about the writing process, why not drop me a line in the comments? Or find me on social media and let’s chat!
KIM VENTRELLA is the author of THE SECRET LIFE OF SAM (Fall 2020, HarperCollins), HELLO, FUTURE ME (Aug. 2020, Scholastic), BONE HOLLOW and SKELETON TREE. Her works explore difficult topics with big doses of humor, whimsy and hope. Follow Kim on Twitter and Instagram.