Posted by: jeannineatkins | December 23, 2015

Layers of Writing

Most of my writing life has been spent at my desk or window seat, and includes long tides of waiting to hear back from editors, and a rare celebratory message that there will be a book. Around a year ago things shifted, so that three of those manuscripts, labored over for years, sent to the desks of many editors, were accepted. Little Woman in Blue was published this fall, with two others coming out next fall and the following spring. This means that I’m working through a lot of layers, moving between promoting one book, seeing another go through the picky process of copy-editing, and doing a revision on another to tighten the pacing and rev up the plot. Those last two tasks were just completed, and I’m stepping away from most of the work of the first.

Recently I opened my computer and whispered, “Hello,” to a girl waiting. Her name in my mouth made me know I was working on the right thing, and I felt so ready to be in her company. I got out old notes and made slashes through some and picked up words and phrases for others, polishing them up. I began to feel back within the rhythm of her life. Someone from history gives me something, and I mean to give her something back. I’ll learn about her life in the same steps forward and steps back that we learn about ourselves. It’s a gentle process that I feel ready for after spending a lot of attention to details such as getting each last word right. I can set down jumbled lines again, even as I arrange clean corners.

But all of the stages include both mess and light. While tightening the plot of Stone Mirrors, I sometimes felt freaked out about the disarray. I’d taken apart poems so they were wildly strewn, back to a different sort of beginning. I knew these parts were on their way to something better, but no one else would, and I had occasional freak-outs that I wouldn’t get a chance to finish and I’d be left with what was worse than where I began. But I made it through this round, and expect more breaking-apart and putting-together and polishing ahead.

Even when a book is finished, the words at last in unalterable place, there’s room for wind to blast through, and that wind is our readers. What will they find there? Little Woman in Blue feels like mine. I can open to pages and remember decisions I made: Why did I begin a chapter where I did, what scenes did I decide to leave out? But it also belongs to readers, and it is gratifying when others care for May Alcott as I do. Not all read her just as I do, or find every sentence or chapters just as it should be. But for many who read, it seems like we have a friend in common. And I’m so grateful.


And now I’m eager to cook, eat, laugh, sing, and generally spend time with my family. I like knitting and reading by the Christmas tree, at some lucky times with the cat on my feet, but I’ll give the characters in my work-in-progress some attention every day. It works best for us all if we meet up every morning: otherwise, they can be stubborn later on. I’ve got a circle of evergreen and winterberries on the outside door, but just put together a wreath for inside. It’s time to trade in glitter and glue for butter and sugar. Good tidings to all!



  1. How lovely that you allow two pleasures – work and festivity – at your holiday table.

    • Just to be clear, I don’t whip out the yellow pad between the green beans with dried cranberries and roasted potatoes. But I do like being the first one up, turning on the tree lights, and curling up for some quiet time before the noise and joy ramps up. Love to you, Sarah.

  2. xoxoxo

    • So great to weave some talking, walking, and writing together with you recently. Hoping we can make that happen again in the new year. All the best wishes for 2016!

  3. I just love reading about your writing life – you are poetic even in that, Jeannine! Merry Christmas, my friend. Enjoy the holiday!

    • Thank you, Tara, for all your support of me and so many writers, especially those sixth graders. Wishing you merry times with family and some quiet moments, too.

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