Chris Tebbetts: The Secret Is, There Is No Secret

We’d like to thank Chris Tebbetts for this blog post! Chris is faculty, along with Erin Dionne, for Getting Your Middle Grade or Young Adult Novel Unstuck. Thanks, Chris!

I saw a quote the other day, attributed to Kabir, which said: “Wherever you are, that’s the entry point.”

I love the simplicity of that, and it feels particularly relevant to the Beginning Your Novel workshop I’ll be leading with Erin Dionne and editor Linda Camacho in January.

It also reminds me of one of the first and most important lessons I learned about writing novels.

When I first tried my hand at writing for kids, I thought I wanted to create picture books, not novels. I couldn’t even imagine writing something as long a whole novel. How did people even do that?

Flash forward a few years, and my picture book manuscripts were going exactly nowhere. Meanwhile, at a summer workshop, I met a guy who told me about his work on the Sweet Valley High series for a book packager in New York. When he suggested that I contact his editor to see if she was looking for additional writers, I felt conflicted.

Part of me thought, what’s the point? I have no idea how to write a novel.

And part of me thought, So what? Just email the editor and see what happens.

A few weeks, several emails, and two sample chapters later, I had an offer from the packager, not to work on Sweet Valley High, but to write a new four-book fantasy-adventure series they were developing, called THE VIKING.

Just like that, I had six weeks to write the first draft of the first book, and eleven months in which to complete an entire four-book series.

Talk about trial by fire! From day one, the pressure was high, which was arguably a good thing. I always need some kind of pressure to get the work done. Mostly, though, it felt a whole lot like: AUUUUGHHHHHH! WHAT HAVE I GOTTEN MYSELF INTO?

And then…

I just started writing. There was no choice but to get my fingers on the keyboard and start developing some good habits, ASAP.

That’s when I learned first-hand about the benefits of working every day, whether I felt like it or not. It’s also when I learned to ignore the abject awfulness of my first drafts and just keep going.  

Maybe most of all, it’s when I discovered that there’s actually no big secret to writing a novel. Just the opposite. Working on that first series really demystified the process and showed me that a 600-word picture book manuscript was written in the same way as a 40,000-word middle grade novel. One word at a time. One paragraph. One chapter.

Over and over, and over, and over again.
Step by Step
Step by step…by step…by step.

To be clear: I’d never say that writing a novel is easy. It’s about far more than just putting words on a page, and it always—I mean always—takes me longer than I want it to. But in terms of actually getting it done, at its most basic level, there is something very simple about the process.

Showing up is everything. Butt in chair. Fingers on the keyboard. Filling pages today and worrying about making them better tomorrow. There’s no magic in that, but realizing the truth of it was, for me, a revelation.

To this day, I still feel a sense of overwhelm when I start writing a new novel. How did I ever do this before? What if I can’t get it done this time? The difference now, though, is that I know what to do if I want to start getting some answers.


Chris TebbettsChris Tebbetts is the author and co-author of many books for young readers. Titles include the #1 New York Times bestselling MIDDLE SCHOOL series with James Patterson and illustrator Laura Park; the New York Times bestselling STRANDED series with Jeff Probst; and two young adult novels: ME, MYSELF, AND HIM and M OR F?. His work has received children’s choice awards in Oregon and Hawaii, as well a Sunshine State Young Readers Award nomination, and a nod on the New York Public Library’s annual list of Books For the Teen Age. He is a native of Yellow Springs, Ohio, and lives with his husband in Hinesburg, Vermont.

Online On Demand Workshop Now Available!

Getting Your Middle Grade or Young Adult Novel Unstuck
An On Demand Online Workshop

With Chris Tebbetts and Erin Dionne

You can complete this workshop at your own pace! The faculty has prepared an engaging experience for you with a variety of pre-recorded lectures and hands-on workshops as well as a collection of additional resources. You will have access to the course for six months after your registration date.

Two seasoned authors of middle grade and young adult fiction, Erin Dionne and New York Times best-selling author Chris Tebbetts, will share their writers’ toolbox for getting unstuck, with a focus on character development, plotting and outlining, revision, journaling, and improvisation/play.
register now

Posted on: December 22, 2021

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