Finding the Starting Line with @jenmalonewrites

Let’s play with an analogy today. Let’s equate Kidlit Summer School to running a 10k road race. You’ve signed up, you’re raring to get going. But of course, you won’t just show up on race day—you’ll train to build endurance. Over the upcoming steamy weeks, you’re going to pound pavement (okay, keyboards), learn tricks and tips from the pros for streamlining your techniques, and be cheered on by teammates who’ll help you dig deep for extra motivation when you need it.

And when race day comes, you’ll be cheered on from the sidelines by crowds of supporters. This is gonna be fun!

But wait. Back up just a bit. There’s a step that comes before any sweating begins, and it happens to be my favorite. You get to join the running club, shop for new springy shoes and super cute Lycra running shirts, and pencil in the training times in your calendar. You’re (literally) gearing up, building motivation, and giving yourself tools for success.

In NovelLand, we call this pre-writing… and it’s no less a part of the process than revision or drafting. It’s a time for allowing yourself to get excited and inspired. Your story is nothing but sheer possibility at this point, and you can play with abandon as you become acquainted with your characters and enter the world you’re creating for them.

It’s also a time to go from abstract to concrete, to begin zooming in closer and closer on the race map until, at last, you spot it: the starting line!

Try out any (or all) of these pre-writing activities to keep you energized while you wait for Day 1:

  1. Pinterest boards- create digital bulletin boards that help you get to know your characters (what does she look like, what would he wear, how is her room decorated), or their world (what is the scenery on his planet, how might the castle look or the monsters appear), or even one that simply evokes the mood of the story, to get you into the right frame of mind before a writing session. I’m an Author in Residence at a middle school and here’s an example one my students created when I had them do this assignment (using a similar program called Educlipper): educlipper
  1. Research the time, setting, or subject matter of your story through trips, texts, and personal interviews. I’m co-writing a novel set in the Gilded Age in Newport, RI and my co-author, Kris Asselin, and I spent a day walking the grounds of the mansion we’re using as our backdrop, snapped hundred of photos, and interviewed the caretaker at length. Since returning home, I’ve read a dozen books set in that time period and watched period dramas galore—this is hardly a hardship and I’m picking up the details that will make our descriptions as uber-rich as those high society types were.
  2. Interview your character. it can be a simple five questions or as detailed as an FBI background check, and there are tons of sample sheets online (Google: character worksheets) to get you started. Here’s a fairly basic one I have my students complete:JM image
  1. Make a timeline for your story. For my YA Wanderlost that just released and follows a teen on her own for the first time and charged with leading a senior citizen’s bus tour through Europe, I went to AAA and collected brochures for actual European bus tour itineraries so I could see how much time might be allotted at each location and which routes would be followed. Below is a snippet of the timeline I had open next to me as I wrote my 2017 YA, Changes in Latitudes, which features a girl sailing from Oregon to Mexico. The timeline ended up dictating much of the story, because I needed to know the sailing times and weather conditions between each possible port, so I could figure out where to set pivotal scenes and how to get her into place for those events. The amenities she’d have access to at each port dictated how she’d be dressed and what tasks she’d need to concern herself with at each point in the trip. Had I skipped this step, the revision process would have been intense!TL


  1. Draw a map of the story’s world. Even if what you’re writing is less Game of Thrones and more “takes place on one square block in NYC,” maps are incredibly useful tools and they don’t have to be fancy. This is one of my co-author Gail Nall drew for us to use while drafting the You’re Invited series, which was set on the (fictional) teeny-tiny island of Sandpiper Beach in North Carolina:sandpiper beach
  1. Create a playlist of songs that fit your story. I have a friend who blasts them on her drive home from work to get her in the world of the story, so even if you can’t write to music, it can be a helpful tool in your arsenal. This site has collected a series of authors’ playlists to give you some inspiration.
  2. Write your cover blurb. Last year during Kidlit Summer School I talked about how I always start my stories by writing the jacket flap copy.
  3. Send that blurb to friends and ask them to come up with five “what if’s” for twists and turns your story could take. People tend to underestimate how much of the book writing process relies on outside eyes and opinions to push things forward, and pre-writing is a perfect place to begin embracing that idea. You never know what jumping off points they might offer you!

So, while I’ll be cheering you all along the course (although, of course, writing is never a race. Bad Jen for even invoking this analogy!), I’m more excited to see you at the starting line, full of energy (and carbs) and wearing those cute, springy running shoes.

Have a blast gearing up!

Jen MaloneJen Malone writes fun and flirty YA travel romances with HarperCollins and humorous “girl power” MG adventures with Simon & Schuster. Her 2016 titles include The Sleepover (MG) and Wanderlost (YA).  She once spent a year traveling the world solo, met her husband on the highway (literally), and went into labor with her identical twins while on a rock star’s tour bus. These days she saves the drama for her books. You can learn more about Jen and her books at Find her on Twitter and Instagram @jenmalonewrites.


*Thanks to Jen for this excellent idea-generating post! Today is the last day to pre-register for KLSS and the pre-registration webinar is Wednesday, June 29. Click on this link for more details.


44 comments on “Finding the Starting Line with @jenmalonewrites

  1. agatharodi says:

    Great suggestions to follow thank you for this unique post it really helps me a lot while writing MG novel along with more reediting!Greetings from Greece!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Deborah Allmand says:

    Jen, great ideas for pre-writing. Thsee are items everyone can use immediately. Thanks for the post.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Deborah Allmand says:

    Jen, great ideas for pre-writing. These are items everyone can use immediately. Thanks for the post.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. ptnozell says:

    Some super ideas to get my mind in gear! Counting down the days until KidLit Summer School begins!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. emilycolin says:

    Jen, thanks for your awesome post. I already utilize some of these ideas in my pre-writing, and am curious to try out the others. Oh…and love your bio, which reads in many ways like back cover copy all on its own…even though you save the drama for your books nowadays, I can’t help but want to know the story behind how you met your husband on the highway and went into labor with your twins! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Patti says:

    I am amazed at how much fun it is from pre-write to final editing. When one finds the right “job”, one never works a day. For sure, it is work, but what fun it is. Your suggestions inspire me and stir up all that enthusiasm for writing. What a blessing to fulfill the call.
    Thank you…love your humor.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Andrea Mack says:

    Lots of great ideas for getting started! These will help me with my new project.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Good stuff, thanks! I might try the Pinterest board, I haven’t made one for a character before.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. All this prewriting sounds like so much fun. Thanks for the post!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Lori Dubbin says:

    Thank you for sharing 8 ways for getting started and energized. I never thought of map making as pre-writing, but it certainly is!


  11. Kirsten Bock says:

    Thanks for the great suggestions!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Thank you, Jen, for sharing tips and sites to help us get our story structure right.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Love these concrete suggestions. I’ve never asked friends questions before the writing, and I love that idea!

    Liked by 2 people

  14. jenmalone says:

    So glad so many of you are finding these ideas useful!! Can’t wait to see the writing that result:)


  15. Great ideas, several of which I’ve already dabbled in but wondered if I was wasting time. Thanks for giving me the nudge to follow my gut!

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Reblogged this on Cindy M. Jones and commented:
    What great advice on getting started with your writing project. Thought I had already tried a few beforehand, this helped me to know I was on the right track!

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Val McCammon says:

    What great, and fun, hands-on suggestions for pre-writing. Thanks, Jen.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Thank you, Jen, for the analogy of a 10K to the writing process. The many useful tips are appreciated.
    ~Suzy Leopold

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Shannon Quinn says:

    Looking forward to SummerSchool!

    On Mon, Jun 27, 2016 at 8:02 AM, Nerdy Chicks Write wrote:

    > kamikinard posted: “Let’s play with an analogy today. Let’s equate Kidlit > Summer School to running a 10k road race. You’ve signed up, you’re raring > to get going. But of course, you won’t just show up on race day—you’ll > train to build endurance. Over the upcoming steamy weeks” >

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Marge Gower says:

    I really like this visual way of building a timeline and outline. Makes an outline more interesting and makes me more willing to outline a story. Outlines are a necessity, but boring. 🙂 I find this more lively and doable. Thanks for the post.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. kathalsey says:

    Hey, Jen! I met you as NESCBWI! These are great concrete ways to get in “the writer’s zone.” I love the map idea and and the jacket copy w/the what ifs! Thank you. BTW, I wear 5.5 size shoes!

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Maria Marshall says:

    Thank you, Jen. Love the idea of a book playlist and the other “stretches.”

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Christine says:

    Laughed aloud at the race analogy. ‘Cause I hate to run, and couldn’t if I wanted to anyway. But great ideas for getting us pepped up!

    Liked by 2 people

  24. tinamcho says:

    Great ideas! I’m saving this post. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  25. Mary Worley says:

    When you mentioned shopping for springy shoes, I thought we might get assigned to go to the office supply store. Thanks for the ideas. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  26. Thanks for the refresher on using these different ideas for pre-writing, Jen! While I’ve read them before in different places, it’s helpful to have them all together in a single list to refer back to.

    Liked by 1 person

  27. Thanks, Jen. Lots of great suggestions here. I love calling it pre-writing instead of prep and research. It sounds so much more productive.

    Liked by 1 person

  28. Lori Mozdzierz says:

    Most excellent post!

    Liked by 1 person

  29. Kathy says:

    Thanks! What great ideas!

    Liked by 1 person

  30. judyrubin13 says:

    Thank you for sharing your great ideas. I am happy to settle down and interview a few characters.

    Liked by 1 person

  31. writersideup says:

    What a great post, Jen! I knew it would be 🙂 The one tool you mentioned here which I’ve never put to use is Pinterest. I know Kami’s mentioned it in this way and now you. Imagery is big because it helps with descriptions, too, so you’re not reliant on your mind’s eye which may not remember the details as clearly. This is all great stuff. Thanks for kicking off what we are all SURE will be another fantastic writing journey through summer 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  32. Laura Rackham says:

    this was a perfect start to get it all flowing-thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  33. JEN says:

    Ah! None of my previous comments are showing up! I just wanted to say how much I love, love, loved this post.

    I’m hoping I’ve figured out why my comments weren’t showing up.

    Liked by 1 person

  34. Amy Benoit says:

    Packed and paced with such good information, Jen. Will definitely try these helpful suggestions to flesh out my characters.

    Liked by 1 person

  35. kirsticall says:

    I love this post, Jen! I can’t wait to try some of your pre-writing ideas!

    Liked by 1 person

  36. Sandy Perlic says:

    Love these ideas for pre-writing! (And your author bio is the best!)

    Liked by 1 person

  37. great ideas. Will save for next WIP! Thanks


  38. Juliana Lee says:

    Thanks for the great gear-up ideas!


  39. Keila Dawson says:

    Let’s get this party started! Great warm-up tips.


  40. angelcat2014 says:

    Both character worksheets and pinterest are tools I use regularly. I would also suggest creating a playlist of songs that your characters like to listen to or one for your theme and setting or major plot points. Think of it like a movie soundtrack. 🙂


  41. Kristen C.S. says:

    I developed my pre-writing outline strategy based on the Plot lessons from last summer. Helped me to write a fairly polished first draft in just under two-months. Excellent ideas here! Been meaning to sign up for Pinterest to help my writing, just needed this one more push. Thanks! =)


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