7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Miranda Kenneally

This is a recurring column I’m calling “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far,” where writers (this installment written by Miranda Kenneally, author of the young adult debut CATCHING JORDAN) at any stage of their career can talk about writing advice and instruction as well as how they possibly got their book agent — by sharing seven things they’ve learned along their writing journey that they wish they knew at the beginning.

(Learn How to Get Your Children’s Book Published.)

Miranda Kenneally is the author of CATCHING JORDAN, a
contemporary YA novel about football, femininity, and hot boys,
released by Sourcebooks Fire in Dec. 2011. Miranda enjoys
reading and writing young adult literature, and loves Star Trek,
music, sports, Mexican food, Twitter, coffee, and her husband.
Follow her on Twitter or see her author website here.



1. Writing is still hard. Just because I have an agent and a book deal doesn’t mean that all my writing is supposed to come out perfectly the first time. Writing is still very hard work, no matter who believes in your raw talent.

2. Relationships are everything. I have such a supportive circle of friends. Without them, I never would’ve learned to write and I never would’ve learned about the industry.

3. Listen to all feedback – negative and positive. Without constructive criticism, I’d be nowhere. I can’t grow as a writer (or as a person, for that matter) if I don’t know where I’m missing the mark.

(Look over our growing list of young adult (YA) literary agents.)

4. My truth isn’t everybody else’s truth. When building a world, it’s important to make sure that you adequately frame a person’s situation and beliefs. I mean, how could people be so evil as to make a little boy live in a cupboard under the stairs? Readers “buy” it because Mr. Dursley’s been painted as a man who abhors anything unordinary.

5. Trust your first instinct. My 7th grade science teacher once told me, “Miranda, a human being’s first instinct is correct 90% of the time. If you’re going to deviate from your first instinct, you’d better have a good reason why you should.”  When I send out a first draft (or portions of a first draft) to beta readers, I’m always open-minded when comments start coming back to me, but before I consider implementing any suggested changes – I have to remind myself to think about why I wrote what I did in the first place.  It’s very normal to feel silly or dumb after hearing comments, and immediately feel like you need to rush to do exactly what that person says — But you’ve also got to remember that you’re smart, too, and you wrote what you did for a reason.

(What types of novel beginnings get an agent or editor to keep reading?)

6. Memorize your edit letters. I’ve found that before I dig in and start revising, it’s better to have a comprehensive understanding of what needs to be done, so when I start re-tackling the novel, it’s all in my mind and I can edit as I go. This is much easier than doing one thing at a time, and having to go through the manuscript several times to work individual plot points. So I guess what I’m saying is memorize the forest, not the trees.

7. Intros are everything. Most agents ask to see the first five to ten pages of a manuscript, but if you don’t grab them on page one, they probably won’t keep reading. The first sentence is the most crucial line in ANY book. Over the past few years, as the publishing industry has gotten more and more competitive, I’ve noticed an upswing in killer first lines. I spend a lot of time crafting the perfect first line in each book I write, and then I test it out on people (even those I never ask to beta read), just to see if it elicits a reaction.



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13 thoughts on “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far, by Miranda Kenneally

  1. Jan Morrill

    As I read your list, I found myself thinking, “Hey, yeah! That’s a good one. That one, too!” But it was #4 I really needed to see put into words. I often have to remind myself that my truth is not everyone else’s truth, at least not without enough story behind it. Thanks, Miranda!

  2. ChrisLKing

    I love what you say about trusting your first instinct. I am a firm believer in this. Of course you should always be open to suggestions, but if you know that’s the way it is supposed to be, you shouldn’t bend just because someone else has a different idea.

  3. OKLopez

    Thank you Miranda for sharing these. Your comment to remember why you wrote something and not just blindly accept that it needs to be changed because of feedback is the best piece of advice I’ve heard in a long time. It’s so easy for us to lose our confidence when critiques come back.

    Thank you for taking the time!

  4. ZaraAlexis

    Writing is difficult if you care to do it well. And I appreciate your advice especially in trusting your first instinct. There is a pressure to please everyone or write “like someone else.” I think the best advice I’ve ever received was from Barbara Gowdy who encouraged me to continue writing as my voice dictated rather than what I believed publishers are looking for.

    My best to you in your writing career. I’m curious to read “Catching Jordan” and am glad at a chance at winning the giveaway.


  5. LynneSchmidt

    Firstly, I would LOVEEEE to get this book. I’ve been waiting forever for it to come out 🙂

    Also #6–When I edit, I keep my tabs all open so I can see what everyone said about each section…specifically what they didn’t like. (It’s easier than memorizing 🙂 )

    Awesome article!

  6. Book Splot Reviews

    Number 7 us incredibly true from the perspective of a reader – and something I really need to consciously keep in mind when writing. This us a fantastic post!

  7. Wikehaja

    Hello Miranda! Just registered for the Writer’s Digest site after intending to for a long time. Your #4 really spoke to me, and not just because I’m a “Harry Potter” fan.

  8. Lina Moder

    Thank you so much for such great advice – especially “Writing is still very hard work, no matter who believes in your raw talent.”

    That’s so true, that whenever something flows perfectly on the page, and seems effortless, it’s just proof that it took an awful lot of hard work to reach that level of awesomeness and grace.

    Catching Jordan has been on my must-have list for such a long time! I love the premise, about a girl achieving success in football, and how that affects her relationships with the guys. It’s fresh and unique and I think it really liberates all us girls who want to be on the field and not with the cheerleaders. I wish this book was around when my sister was into football, but wasn’t allowed to think about it seriously in school. It would have given her a lot of encouragement. What a great book!!!!!

    I checked out the video for it – and now I want to read it even more:)

    Thanks for the giveaway:)

    linamoder (AT) gmail (DOT) com

  9. Kristan

    Love #5 SO MUCH. Not even because I am stubborn about edits — actually my feedback motto is “just say yes” (to see if it makes your story better or not) — but because it’s a good thing to know and remember. I think instinct is such an important part of the process. It’s not infallible, but it’s worth listening to. (Also, instincts can be trained and improved.)

    Also love #6 and #7 as practical advice.

    I’m so looking forward to checking out this book! (I love football.)


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