So you’ve finished your novel. Maybe even rewritten it once. Or twice. Is your job as writer done?

Probably not.

Middle grade author Kate Messner (THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z.) is here today to talk about the revision process for her fourth novel, SUGAR AND ICE.


When I visit classrooms to talk with kids about books and writing, I always tell them this:

“The book you see on your library shelf is not the same book I started writing.”

And then I tell revision stories…stories of writing anywhere from eight to eighteen drafts to get the book where it needed to be.  Their mouths hang open.  They always thought that authors of kids’ books were GOOD writers, and GOOD writers didn’t need to keep fixing things all the time.  And then I tell them a secret I’ll tell you, too.

I’m not a very good writer.  I’m just really good at revising.

Here’s a glimpse inside the revision process for SUGAR AND ICE.  The draft I sent my editor was actually draft #4, after I’d written two on my own, gotten some help from my critique group, and written two more.  My editor wrote me a letter with a list of suggested changes, including things like:

•    Add more school scenes; it’s a big part of Claire’s life.
•    Show more of the relationship between Claire and her mom.
•    Maybe Claire and Natalie could have an argument? Add tension here.
•    Write a better ending.  (Okay…she was nicer about it than that, but that was the idea.)

I sat down with the letter and my to-do list and opened up the document in Scrivener, the writing program that I use on my Mac. 

The color-coded index cards you see on the screen are all scenes in the novel, and different colors stand for different things.  Green is for scenes set on the maple farm.  Orange is the Olympic Center. Turquoise is school.  And red…red cards show the scenes with the most tension.  This allowed me to look at what I had and figure out how to make it stronger and more balanced.

Then I attacked my to-do list, line by line and scene by scene.  I scribbled notes, outline thoughts, more to-do list ideas, and character sketches in my orange notebook, and I drank lots of tea.  I wrote new chapters and deleted some scenes that weren’t working.   Finally, I sent the manuscript back to my editor.

And she sent another letter with ideas to make the book even better.

Even the book’s original title, SUGAR ON SNOW, had to be reconsidered.  I brainstormed and brainstormed, trying to come up with something that captured the spirit of the family’s maple farm and still gave the idea that this is a book about skating. 

I even tried putting all my concept words on little slips of paper and rearranging them on the kitchen table to come up with something new.  Finally, we agreed on a title that seemed to do a perfect job capturing the book’s sweet spirit and its sharp edges, all at once: SUGAR AND ICE.


Thanks, Kate, for this behind-the-scenes look at your revision process.

Want a personalized, signed copy of SUGAR AND ICE?

The Bookstore Plus in Lake Placid is hosting a SUGAR AND ICE launch party from 3-5 pm on Saturday, December 11th, so please consider this your invitation if you live in the area! If you can’t make it but would still like a signed, personalized copy, just give the bookstore a call at (518) 523-2950 TODAY, December 10th. They’ll take your order, have Kate sign your book after the event, and ship it out to you in plenty of time for the holidays.


  1. I have never used colors to note different scenes. I have only used them to note character changes. But I like the way you did this in your Scrivener program (which I have as well). I'm so glad I'm not the only person who has to work a lot to get to the point where it is good enough to send out.

    Oh, revisions. Yay!

  2. Love her comment about not being a good writer, but good at revising. That's something I need to remember.

    I keep hearing about Scrivener. Still dragging my feet on checking it out.

    Thanks for the great information!

  3. What a wonderful peek into the revisions process – I'm glad it's not just me that has to write better endings. All. The. Time!!

    I'm wondering now if I should have put the Scrivener-for-PC on my wish list …

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