Revision Week: Jane Yolen

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Dear Readers…

What a pleasure to share with you, on Day 4 of Revision Week, insights from the amazing Jane Yolen, celebrated author of over 300 books for young people. Jane has written picture books, novels, and poetry collections, in genres including fantasy, science fantasy, and fairy tales. She’s a master at craft with an endless imagination, a work ethic that staggers, and a deep respect for her young readers. Please join Jane and The Editor for Day 4 of Revision Week, and enter to win today’s “Free Partial Edit” from The Editor.

Screen Shot 2016-05-16 at 12.30.48 PMJane Yolen has written over 300 books, won numerous awards, and been given six honorary doctorates in literature. A poet, a fairy tale teller, a writer of fiction across genres and for all ages, Jane has been called the Hans Christian Andersen of America and the Aesop of the twentieth century. Some of her best known books are the Caldecott Award winner Owl Moonthe National Jewish Book Award Winner The Devil’s Arithmetic, and the beloved How Do Dinosaurs… picture books. Jane is also well known for teaching writing to young people and adults. She honored me by writing an essay about crafting distinct voices for my book Writing Young Adult Fiction For Dummies, and today she shares insights regarding the revising process with all of us.

Jane’s interview follows the Rafflecopter form/entry link for today’s “Free Partial Edit by The Editor” Giveaway. Scroll down for her full interview.

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As prolific as you are, will you work on multiple WIPs in a single day or do you prefer to stay in one fictional realm per day? I work on multiple things as well as on my students’ pieces/revisions. I find that such literary multitasking keeps me on my toes and keeps me from getting stale.

Would your ideal writing day begin with original drafting or with revision? Why? It all depends on 1) deadline, 2) a revision request sailing in from an editor, and 3) what else is on my plate at the time.

Devils ArithmeticFor novels, how many drafts does it typically take before you feel confident about the character and story choices you made? I am not a planner and plotter, so my novels come together in the latter stages of revisions. But they feel fresher to me for that. I call it “flying into the mist.” Others call it pantser (seat of the pants) writing, which has a pejorative and hectoring tone to me.

Owl moonHow much revising typically happens after you involve your editor? Depends on the editors. I had one who told me my novel needed nothing. And I said, every piece of writing needs something. She said, “Take out the exclamation marks.” Since I hate them in formal writing (though not to friends!!!) I went through the novel again. Made a number of small but important revisions and took out the one exclamation point. Most editors are much more hands-on.

Sarah BarkerCan you share an experience of having a story problem you didn’t think you could solve but eventually did? I had an historical novel called The Gift of Sarah Barker, which takes place during three days in the 1840s in a Shaker community. In the end, I thought I was going to have the young woman, Sarah, and her new husband, Abel (Shakers are not supposed to marry but be as sexless as angels), going out into the world. He was to join the Union Army and be killed. She would take their new little daughter and go—as her mother did with her—to live again with the Shakers. But when I got to the end, I loved Sarah (who was smart and sassy) and Able (who was kind and giving) too much to have that be their (un)happy ending. And while the editor loved the book, she questioned why it took place in three days. As I tried to explain it to her face-to-face in a meeting, I suddenly realized that I—as a fairy tale teller—was trying to impose the Rule of Three on a historical novel. And when I told her that, she smiled enigmatically and said, “You must trust your audience. They will reward that trust by following you wherever you go.” It ended up one of the most satisfying re-writing experiences I have ever had in a novel AND simply made the book work.

How do dinosaursYou’ve said, “If I ever write the perfect book, I’ll stop writing.” With perfection off the table, how do you know when you’re looking at your best and final draft? Geeze—I wish I had someone who could tell me that! Sometimes an editor simply takes it out of my hands.

Thank you, Jane!

You can follow Jane on Facebook and Twitter @JaneYolen.

How Do Dinosaurs Say I Love You?


















  1. Congratulations to Agatha Rodi, winner of yesterday’s Free Partial Edit by the Editor giveaway! (I’ll send you an email, Agatha.)

  2. It’s always fun to get a glimpse into other writers’ and artists’ creative paths. Thanks for sharing!

    • I agree. I love seeing photos of their writing spaces, too. (But I bet they clean them up for the photos.)

  3. I think my sons would say you’ve already written the perfect book, Jane. They both loved How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight!. I’ve read it so many times that even now, probably 8 years since I last had to read it to them, I still remember every word.

  4. I have not read The Gift of Sarah Barker; it’s now on my reading list. Thanks for sharing us today.

  5. I love Jane’s comment about “flying into the mist.” I think I’ll use that one myself when people ask about my writing process.

  6. Love the ‘Flying in the mist’ SO much better than pantser! Also love that sometimes a work is done when an editor takes it out of her hands! Thank you Jane and thank you Deborah! I love revision week!

  7. Great interview. It’s so nice to hear that even seasoned writers have to polish and polish! Inspiring. 🙂

  8. Now that we’re jettisoning ‘pantser’ for ‘flying into the mist,’ we’ll have to come up with an alternative for ‘plotter.’ Somehow ‘flying into O’Hare’ doesn’t quite cut it.

    And no question about critique groups? (I have a suspicion though that it would be 4 for 4 with your writers flying solo except for their helpful editors.)

  9. I now have a mental picture of flying into the mist and loving the feeling of adventure and excitement. Not only are Jane’s books golden so are her words on writing and revising. I’d always thought it might muddy characters to work on two novels at once, but I’m ready to try it since I’ve got two revisions that have stalled. Thanks to both of you for this post.

  10. Somehow, from having read Jane’s work for many years and having met her at a couple of SCBWI functions, I had a feeling those would be her answers! 🙂 Oh to be as brilliant and prolific as she is. I also want to put in a plug for her short story collection called “Twelve Impossible Things Before Breakfast.” I think that is my favorite book of hers!

  11. It’s good to know that an “ideal writing day ” means “flying into the mist” to even schedule it! Thanks for the wonderful insights, Jane, and many thanks for your wonderful books from a grateful children’s librarian (insert exclamation marks here)

  12. So happy you interviewed Jane Yolen! I have always wondered how she is able to be so prolific. Thanks!

  13. I adore Owl Moon. In fact, our copy is tattered from having read it over the years to four kids. Thank you, Jane, for sharing your writing process and describing it in such a lovely way!

  14. Great peek into the process of a wonderful writer, one I’ve heard is exceptionally kind and generous with her time and expertise.

  15. I always rush to the library when a new Jane Yolen book comes out… though I see I missed one (The Gift of Sarah Barker). How did that happen?!?!? [exclamation points are for Jane in case she needs a new supply].

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