Revision Week: Pam Munoz Ryan

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Dear Readers… Revision Week kicks off with Newbery Honor author Pam Munoz Ryan. She’s written picture books, beginning readers series, and middle grade novels, many of which are taught in schools nationwide, including one of The Editor’s favorites, Esperanza Rising. Please enjoy Pam’s interview, and enter to win today’s “Free Partial Edit” from The Editor.


Pam Munoz RyanPam Munoz Ryan is the author of more than 30 books for young readers, including four beloved novels, Riding Freedom, Esperanza Rising, Becoming Naomi León, and Paint the Wind, which collectively have garnered, among countless accolades, the Pura Belpré Medal, the Jane Addams Award, and the Schneider Family Award. Pam’s latest novel, Echo, is a Newbery Honor Book. Pam has written picture books and beginning readers, but for this discussion of revision we focus on her novel writing.

Pam’s interview follows the Rafflecopter form/entry link for today’s Free Partial Edit Giveaway. Scroll down for her full interview.

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How many drafts does it typically take before you feel confident about the character and story choices you made? Does this vary substantially for picture books versus novels?  I don’t know, exactly, how many drafts it takes before I feel confident about the character and the story. I think I work on both until the last rewrite. Since I work on a computer, I don’t print every draft, so it’s hard to determine a number. Also, I’m a recursive writer. I begin a novel in an opening scene. The next time I sit down to work, I read what I had written previously, rewriting a bit as I go along, and then I continue writing to build the story. The next day, I start at the beginning again, reading and rewriting, and inching the story forward. There does come a point in novel writing that I don’t go all the way back to the beginning, but start, for example, several chapters back from the point I had stopped. For me, writing is an evolution, more than a process.

Do you use critique partners? No. I’m not in a critique group. It’s just me and my editor, Tracy Mack. I don’t have anyone who reads my work before she sees it.

Esperana-Rising-Cover-660x1024Which draft typically gets shown to your editor? How much revising happens after the editor sees that draft?  I’ve been working with Tracy at Scholastic for almost twenty years. There’s no one procedure for how we work. Every book has had its own idiosyncratic order of things. I usually discuss the story idea with her very early on, before I’ve ever written a word. When I know she’s on board and loves the idea, I start moving forward with the writing. I might write a treatment of the story to get a feel for the overarching plot. I might share that with her. Or, I might just start writing. Sometimes I’ve waited to show her a completed rough draft. Other times, I’ve shown her the first few chapters and given her a synopsis of the rest of the book. Different books have required different approaches. I would say though, that by the time she sees a complete first draft, I’ve rewritten over a dozen times. But as I mentioned before, it’s hard to gauge that. For me, rewriting is a constant and I can’t seem to separate it from the writing, or give it a number.

ECHO-medal-693x1024Echo, your latest novel, required you to balance storylines for several protagonists across several time periods and countries as well as an original fairy tale that opens and closes the book. I saw the white board in your office that you used to track the different storylines and main threads. Impressive! Did these extra efforts to harness the story during the original drafting reduce revision for this book compared to your other novels? Unfortunately, no, it did not reduce revision. But it helped me keep a lot of information straight. I tried using the computer program, Scribner, but it wasn’t a good fit for me and this book. So I tried the giant (7′ x 4′) freestanding white board. The revision on Echo, was very long. It’s almost a 600 pages! My editor and I knew the overarching organization of the book—three main stories and a transition story, framed by an original fairytale. All of the stories had to be woven with common threads. That’s where the white board came in. I could track, in one large visual, the leitmotifs, the recurring themes, words, phrases. I could see each character’s challenges and fears. Later in the editing process, after the big picture and the big themes were established, we broke it into sections. I would rewrite and fine-tune the first section, send it to her, and while she was editing it, I would work on the next section. We had many discussions and passed many notes back and forth.

Becoming-Naomi-Leon-Cover-650x1024How do you know you’ve got the final draft? Book manuscripts always want more. Putting them to bed is like putting a toddler to bed. You tuck them in and think that’s it, yet they want one more kiss, a drink of water, a song, the blanket fluffed, a night light. . . . Once I receive typeset pages, I know I won’t be making dramatic changes. After it goes to copyedit, I feel I’m almost done.

Thank you, Pam!

You can follow Pam on Twitter @pammunozryan. 



  1. I love the idea of the whiteboard. I struggle to keep my full stories (and symbols and themes) in my head. Having a place to put them externally–a big place–sounds very helpful.

  2. It’s always fun hearing the process of how other’s write. Great idea about keeping plot lines straight with a big white board and I love the analogy of tucking a toddler into bed. Thank you Pam Munoz Ryan and you also Deborah Halverson!

  3. It is fascinating to hear this process. I also like to reread sections before moving on, but sometimes have trouble with the latter and get stuck. I love the toddler analogy. So true!

  4. I bought ECHO for my summer reading and loved Esperanza Rising. The 3 different story lines in ECHO sounds intriguing and difficult to write! Thanks for sharing, Pam!

    • I enjoyed ECHO as a reader, but also as a writer intrigued by what the author was doing with the various narratives.

    • YES! Showing that truth was one of the key reasons I created Revision Week. I recall being amazed, as a baby editor, how much revision the veterans did… and their deep belief in its importance. It was an awakening.

  5. Now I want a whiteboard. 🙂 So interesting to read how other writers make their magic especially when I’ve read and enjoyed their work.

  6. A white board! Rewriting and writing are indistinguishable! No critique group! Thank you for this inside look to remind us that everyone’s process is unique, and that writing is an evolution.

  7. It’s rare that I’ve read an author who writes a draft similar to my method. I often go back as well. Interesting that different books require different ways to write them. Great interview!

  8. I know there’s more than one way to write a manuscript but I still feel better about my process after reading this interview. Thanks Pam, for sharing your methods and your gifts. Can’t wait to read Echo!

  9. Love: “Book manuscripts always want more. Putting them to bed is like putting a toddler to bed. You tuck them in and think that’s it, yet they want one more…” So sweet and so true. Thank you!! ❤️

  10. I am very excited to be a part of Revision Week! Always great to have a community of writers, editor and agents to collaborate with and from whom I can receive great advice.

  11. It’s very encouraging to read that someone who is a successful author “revises” the same way I do. I read all the time about people finishing a revision and going on to do another revision and I would wonder about that. I do the same thing Ms Ryan does. I revise as I go and then go back over what I’ve written and revise some more. It’s like I can’t help myself. And the fact she doesn’t participate in a critique group is encouraging, as well. I actually don’t feel qualified to critique another person’s writing. I’ve done it and the process just proved to me I’m not really qualified. I truly appreciate this interview. Thx!

  12. It’s so encouraging to hear that your process differs for each manuscript. That serves as a reminder that the writing process is organic and ever changing.

  13. Thank you for posting this interview. I’m also a recursive writer, and it’s good to read about a successful author who has a similar revision style.

  14. I loved reading about your process! I love, love, love ESPERANZA RISING! It is also my 13 year old’s all time favorite book- and she reads all the time. Thank you for sharing your talent with the world and for making my daughter’s heart sing with love for a book!

    Thanks for the opportunity, DEAR EDITOR!

  15. I loved Espiranza Rising. Hope to read Echo soon. I appreciated hearing that Pam is not in a critique group. I often feel ‘guilty’ that I don’t have time for a critique group, so knowing not all writers utilize them lifted a bit of that burden. Thanks!

  16. Thanks for the interesting insight into your writing process! And what a great partnership you have with your editor – I would love that, but it seems hard to find these days.

    ECHO sounds fascinating – faerie tales are my favorite read! I will definitely be checking that one out!

    • You’ll like ECHO, Kiki. I read it out loud to my sons for our bedtime read — they are eleven and really enjoyed it. Lots to chew on.

  17. Thank you for sharing your process, Pam! I can definitely relate to the “putting the toddler to bed” piece of revising 🙂 I like the idea of your big revision board, it’s very visual!

  18. You asked great questions, Deborah. I learned a new word, “recursive”, as in Pam is a recursive writer. Her “writing is an evolution rather than a process”. I loved hearing how she works with her editor, and how she knows she’s done… Well, almost done.

    • I hadn’t known “recursive” as a word describing writing style either. I now know that I’m a recursive writer!

  19. I know everyone’s process is different, but I’m so happy to see there’s someone out there that shares in the ‘evolution’ method. All the best to you and wishing you continued success!

  20. I appreciated Pam’s saying that she’s a recursive writer. That’s how I work best, but many people push slamming through the first draft with no revisions along the way. It felt encouraging to read Pam’s interview. Thank you.

  21. I’m enjoying ECHO right now! I’m almost finished. Can’t wait to see how she pulls all three together!

  22. This is such a great opportunity to see how others approach their work. Lots of great inspiration!

  23. Thank you for this great interview. I loved Echo. The story is a world story, not just an American story of multiculturalism. I live in one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world, Auckland, New Zealand. Cultures weave in and around one another, each person carrying a thread back through time that tells a story of how their family came to live here. As I read Echo, I was reminded of Shaun Tan’s wordless picture book The Arrival. The many tales in Echo were beautifully stitched together and I was curious how difficult it must have been to work it all out. I would love to see a picture of that white board.

  24. Great insights, thanks for sharing, Pam! I’m especially interested to know that you start again reading from the beginning when you start to write each time, and then “inch the story forward.”

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