It has been such a pleasure to get better acquainted with Melissa Roske, today’s guest. Unfortunately, most of that acquainting has been through social media; I know our paths will cross in real space and time someday and that, when they do, we’ll talk each others’ ears off! So happy to shine the spotlight on Melissa and her debut middle grade novel, Kat Greene Comes Clean (Charlesbridge), which comes out in four short days (8/22). Welcome, Melissa!
Whenever I sit down to write, I start by asking myself a series of “What if…?” questions, in order to explore possibilities and work out plot kinks. Here’s an example from the journal I kept when drafting my middle-grade novel, Kat Greene Comes Clean:
What if Kat’s mom is a hoarder, rather than a compulsive cleaner?
What if Kat’s BFF, Halle, crushes on Sam instead of Michael?
What if Kat tells the school psychologist what’s going on?
This technique, which I adapted from my days as a life coach, helps guide my thinking and is especially helpful when I’m feeling stuck, or grappling with a character that refuses to cooperate. Unfortunately, when applied to the publication process—or to any important life event, for that matter—“What if…?” can be more dangerous than a porcupine in a balloon factory.
Here’s what I mean…
Ever since I can remember, it’s been my dream to write a book. The dream didn’t specify what kind of book, but one thing was clear: It had to happen—no ifs, ands or buts. So, after I shuttered my life-coaching business to focus on writing, I did what any ex-coach would do: I hired my own life coach and created an action plan. Together, we drew up a list of attainable goals—i.e., maintaining a daily word count; using a timer to regulate my writing sessions—and then, plan in hand and butt in chair, I set about the business of becoming an author. If I worked hard enough, I figured, my dream of having a book published would come true. It worked for J.K. Rowling, didn’t it?
And then I started querying. I knew to expect a tsunami of rejections—and I did, wave after wave of NO. But all that negativity led me to question my Great Plan. Suddenly, “What if…?” wasn’t as helpful as it used to be. If anything, it caused major stress.
What if I can’t get an agent?
What if I never get published?
What if I have to give up on my dream?
These questions played in my head on a continuous loop, daring me to imagine the worst possible outcome: no agent, no book, no dream. What would I tell my family and friends? What would I tell myself? Still, I wasn’t ready to give up. At least not yet.
Eventually I found an agent who was able to sell my book, and my dream of becoming a published author was within reach. I couldn’t believe it. I still can’t, four years later.
And that’s the problem. Despite the fact that my book is a few days away from publication, the “What-ifs” continue to haunt me.
What if my book doesn’t sell?
What if I never get to write another one?
What if I have to give up on my dream—for real this time?
These are all definite possibilities. After all, it’s hard to predict whether a book will land on the New York Times Best Sellers list or languish in a bargain bin at Target. It’s anybody’s guess. Then again, what if I looked at “What if…?” the way it was originally intended? As a way to explore possibilities, rather than focus on negativity.
What if my book resonates with readers and sells well?
What if I’m lucky enough to write another?
What if I stop worrying about “What if…?”
Success or failure is not within my control, but knowing that I have the power to remain optimistic—even if it’s cautiously so—helps.
And if it helps me…
What if it can help other writers, too?
Melissa Roske is a writer of contemporary middle-grade fiction. Before spending her days with imaginary people, Melissa interviewed real ones, as a journalist in Europe. Upon returning to her native New York, Melissa contributed to several books and magazines, selected jokes for Reader’s Digest, and got certified as a life coach. She lives in Manhattan with her husband, daughter, and the occasional dust bunny. Her debut novel, KAT GREENE COMES CLEAN, will be published by Charlesbridge on August 22. Find Melissa on her website, on Facebook, on Twitter, Instagram, and Goodreads.