Our Writing Processes: Mariana Ríos

I’ve really enjoyed reading about the writing processes of my fellow Path2Pub contributors this month. It’s been very interesting to get to know more about them and what’s behind their journeys as writers. Something I’ve learned from each of their posts is that everyone has a special way of writing that works well for each of us, given our unique preferences, personalities, habits, and life experiences.

Today it’s my time to share about my own writing process. I really enjoyed this exercise of being more conscious about what goes on when I create children’s stories.

Getting Started

All my stories spark from an idea. Sometimes it’s an idea for a character, a situation or a plot. Sometimes it’s even a sentence that sets my creativity in motion. It’s funny how ideas just pop in my mind when the inspiration strikes; either from things I remember from my childhood, or from experiences my children or myself go through in our every day routine. So when inspiration comes to me, I have to make sure I grab it.

For example, one time, about 4 years ago, I was driving to pick up my girl at daycare and the following words came to me out of nowhere:

“I am the new boy. The new boy in town, the new boy in the neighborhood, the new boy in school.”

I remember recording them on my phone so that I wouldn’t forget them, because sometimes perfect sentences came to my mind and I thought I’d remember them later but I didn’t. That’s so frustrating! So, for this reason, now I keep a list of ideas on my phone (some more evolved than others), and when I want to start a new story I always check it out first.

Anyway, these “new boy” sentences became the beginning for my early drafts of “Santiago’s Dinosaurios” book. The title of the manuscript was actually “The New Boy” at first. However, the story evolved as I revised it, the dinosaurs got included and in the end the original title was replaced. However, I’ll never forget these words which sparked the idea for the manuscript that eventually became a book. (By the way, those sentences are somehow still part of the story, just not the opening lines). 🦖🦕

Planning

I’m usually someone who is very structured and who likes planning ahead since I like the feeling of being “in control” (although I know it’s just an illusion). I use an agenda and lists to keep track of my activities, my kids’ activities, appointments (of all sorts), events, work deadlines, etc. Still, for writing my stories, I’ve found that I prefer having more freedom.

I usually have an idea of how I want the story to begin and more or less what I want to do with it, but then I just start writing and let the story flow. Sometimes I’m surprised with the way ideas keep building until I get to THE END. I like being open to be surprised by character development and unexpected scenes that suddenly pop out.

Drafting

My first step when I start drafting is creating a document with pagination. I normally start in page [4/5] and end in page [28/29]. Picture books have normally 32 pages (sometimes 40, but all my manuscripts have 32 so far). Since the cover and back cover are counted in those 32, I can’t use them for the story. Same happens with ending pages, the interior cover and dedication page. So, every time I begin, I know that my story will happen between pages [4-29]. My pagination is a reference for me, not a rule. But I have found that it helps me see how the story is moving. I have a better sense of where the problem begins, and makes it easier for me to pace the story with a nice flowing rhythm. Of course the scenes might move from a page to the other later, when I revise myself or when working with the editor. Still, paginating is something I like doing because it makes the writing process easier for me.

Regarding my writing schedule, I wish I had one that I could follow everyday to make sure I stay on track with my drafts, but that hardly happens. My routine is quite different from one day to the other with my kids. When they are in school I mostly write in the mornings while they are gone, since my afternoons are usually packed with homework and activities. However, I don’t really have complete mornings either. I share those hours between writing, my house chores, and other activities I have (meeting friends, blogging, knitting group, phone calls with my family in Mexico, my dog, etc.). What complicates things a bit, is that sometimes when I have time to write, I might not have the inspiration, and that’s simply the worst combination. In occasions I do write at night, but that’s not usual because I’m normally tired by then and I’ve noticed my ideas flow better in the morning.

Now that it’s summer I’m figuring out a different schedule since I have both of my kids at home. So what I’m doing is taking some time off for me through the day to come to the computer and write for a bit. Still, during the day, even if I’m away from the computer, I keep running the story in my mind and trying to come up with ways to move it forward (using my phone to record my ideas for later).

Editing

I normally edit every time I go back to my document in a new session. I start by reading it again and fixing whatever I notice can be improved from the last writing session. When I’m done, I move on to create new scenes. If I get stuck while editing, I just continue writing, knowing next time I’ll come back to it again and maybe then I will have the “answers” to fix what it’s not working at the time.

My husband and my kids are the first ones I share my drafts with. Reading the story to my kids is valuable because it helps me notice if they like the theme, the characters, and if they understand all the words (sometimes they suggest better ones). I love sharing my love for writing with them and they enjoy providing their feedback. My husband is my #1 reader. He always reads the story aloud to me which helps me notice whether it flows with nice rhythm and if there are words that are too difficult for children to read or understand. I always appreciate his honesty, support and encouragement in the feedback he gives me.

When I’m satisfied with the manuscript, after revising it by myself, I know it’s time to reach out for my critique group friends. I have a group that meets through Google Meet the 1st Mondays of the month (we’ve been together 4 years already), and another that shares documents at the beginning of each month (we provide only written feedback). I also have several writer friends with whom I swap manuscripts whenever we need/want.

Once I have my story sent to my critique friends, I let it rest until I get their feedback and consider it for a while. While I wait for their replies, I usually start working on another story.

When feedback comes to me, I analyze it one by one to make the necessary adjustments to my manuscript and considering the comments that resonate with me. I always appreciate my critique partners’ feedback and suggestions. In most cases, my CPs help me see issues that require clarification, better wording selection, or even ways to reduce word count. I feel really lucky to have their support and I’m happy to do the same for them.

In conclusion, editing is necessary, and in my experience my stories have gotten better, much stronger and clearer after this process. So, although, I’d love to get the writing right from the beginning, I always know and trust that the editing process will make my manuscripts shine so they can be the very best versions possible.

Writing space & snacks

When I write, sometimes I drink coffee, but I don’t snack because I find it distracting. To be honest, I prefer snacking while watching TV. So if I want to eat/snack, I take a break and then get back to the keyboard. Same happens with music. I normally need silence to write, otherwise my mind wanders. There are occasions in which I play instrumental music or soundtracks (from my favorite k-dramas or movies), but I usually prefer a quiet environment to stay focused.

Regarding my writing space, most of the times I write in my bedroom. Sometimes I use my desk, others a lap desk (which I love). My husband has been working from home since Covid started and he’s normally on meetings, so my bedroom is the place where I can concentrate more and it’s more quiet.

However, when the weather is nice, I go outside on the deck and write there before it gets too hot. I love the sight of trees and flowers (we have a beautiful magnolia tree) and listening to the birds singing on the background. Working outdoors provides a very different kind of emotional stimulus and inspiration. I love it! ❤️

Finally, I want to introduce you to my writing buddy, my dog Roggie. He always lays quietly beside me (sometimes even on my lap) while I write. He’s truly the perfect loyal companion and definitely a very important part of my writing process ❤️🐶

So, this is my writing process, at least for the time being. Perhaps in the future it will look a bit different, but for the moment it’s working for me and I embrace it.

Happy writing!

What about you? Do you have a writing buddy, a special writing corner, or a favorite snack you enjoy while writing?

Mariana Ríos Ramírez is a Mexican picture book author living in South Carolina. She was a high school teacher and co-owned an online business before becoming a writer. Her debut book, Santiago’s Dinosaurios, will be published by Albert Whitman in October 2022. Abuelita’s Gift will be published by Knopf on Fall 2024. Besides writing, Mariana enjoys photography, traveling, Chai Lattes, and k-dramas.

Twitter l Instagram l Website l Linktree

2 thoughts on “Our Writing Processes: Mariana Ríos

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: