Books·How I Wrote It

M-E Girard on finding the flow in a tidal wave of revisions

M-E Girard lets in a little angst in her new young adult novel Girl Mans Up.
M-E Girard is a YA fiction writer and a paediatric nurse based in Toronto. (Harpercollins Canada)

M-E Girard takes on all the hallmarks of teenage life — demanding parents, toxic friendships and identity crises — in her new novel for young adults. Girl Mans Up follows Penelope "Pen" Oliveira, a heroine and outsider, who loves girls, video games and — to her parents' dismay — wearing her brother's clothes.

Girard, who's a pediatric nurse by night and writer by day, says the process of writing Girl Mans Up involved a lot of procrastination — and rewriting.

Changing course

"I went through 800,000 revisions. I can't do that again for this next book I'm working on. Initially there was this flashy plot in the beginning and it was eye-catching. It turned out it was too flashy and too much of an 'issue book.' I kind of realized that these characters are compelling on their own. In subsequent revisions, especially working with YA author Malinda Lo, I took the story in a completely different direction. I was able to keep the themes and message intact with a completely different plot. In the end, I really needed to nail down what I wanted these characters to tell the readers. Then I could spin up a plot that would facilitate what I'm trying to say.

"I don't have much more insight into writing now than I did. Even though I published a book, I think I need to constantly work at making my process more efficient. You're working under different conditions, circumstances and writing for different things. All those craft books and magazines I read, I'm reading again because I'm a new writer now with new stories, starting over."

Let it flow

"A typical writing day is me procrastinating a lot. I work full time. I work nights. You constantly hear, 'You have to sit at the computer every day.' I've never done it that way. I can go weeks without writing anything and then I will go crazy and write like 10,000 words in a day. The best thing I can do is, when I'm flowing, I try to get rid of everything else and clear my schedule. So there are times I spend seven hours at a coffee shop after I work a night shift. There are some days where I write a little bit and the next time I read it I'm like, 'This is horrid.' So I don't like to force it. I just write myself into complete insanity. The best thing to do is when it's going, when it's flowing, cancel everything and go with it. As long as it will take."

It's not you. It's them.

"A lot of times as a queer person there's a lot of angst. Sometimes the angst is not because of you, it's about other people's expectations around how you should live your life as a queer person. I know that not everybody can separate the idea of gender and sexual orientation, so they lump it all together. Figuring that out as a teen, you're wondering, 'Am I supposed to believe these people?' I wanted readers to know that expectations will be placed on you, even if you're adamant about being different, people are going to want to dictate how that different is going to happen."

M-E Girard's comments have been edited and condensed.

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