Countdown to BREAKOUT: The writer’s to-do list

Countdown to Breakout is a 23-day blog series about the three-year writing process for BREAKOUT, my new novel for young readers, which earned starred reviews from both School Library Journal and Publishers Weekly. It’s about a small-town prison break and manhunt that change the way three kids see their neighbors and the place they call home. Why a 23-day series? Because this book was inspired by the 2015 Clinton Correctional Facility prison break that led to a 23-day manhunt in June of 2015. This blog series runs from May 14th to June 5th, release day for BREAKOUT. If you enjoy the posts, please consider pre-ordering the book!

The Writer’s To-Do List

I have a bit of an obsession with charts and checklists, so no book I write gets done without them, and BREAKOUT is no exception. I’m a relative fast first-drafter, so when I’m working on the first draft of a book, I tend to write from start to finish without going back to revise. But what happens when I’m writing along and notice an issue or something I want to go back and fix? I keep a big piece of paper next to my laptop with the words “Known Issues” at the top, and I add things to it every day.

My Known-Issues list for BREAKOUT met an untimely end when I spilled guacamole all over it and had to throw it out, but here’s the sort of thing that ends up on such a list.

-Go back to Chapter one and add Dad

-Where’s Sean in chapters 2-3? 

-Lizzy is funny. Let her be funny more often. 

– Add scenes at beginning so we see Elidee in community before breakout happens

-Need more with Nora & Dad

-Add dinner table conversation about prison demographics

You get the idea. I add notes as I write, and by the time I finish the last chapter, that list is pretty long. It becomes my first-pass revision to-do list, and those obvious jobs are the first ones I tackle. Then I usually print out the entire book, read it aloud, and mark it up with a colored pen.  (That was my process for BREAKOUT – more recently, I’ve been doing this read-aloud revision on an iPad pro. I import the document into an app called Notability and use the Apple pencil to mark it up.)

Then I make another to-do list. Then I go back and revise again. Rinse and repeat.




















This third draft -or sometimes fourth – is the first one I send to a writer friend for feedback. I’ll email one of the writer pals with whom I swap manuscripts and ask if she has time to read. If she does, I send the document, and she makes notes, usually using the comments feature on Microsoft Word. Then she sends it back and I do another round of revision or two. Usually by then, I’ve thought about other things I’d like to change.

I manage all of these drafts and revision jobs with both monthly goals and daily to-do lists in my bullet journal. I check off each chapter as I’ve revised. What does that revision look like on the page? We’ll take a look tomorrow.

Today’s assignment: One thing I like to do when I’m trying to identify where my manuscript needs work is write a letter to myself, from my work in progress.

Dear Kate, You’ve really given me a strong beginning (love the excitement of that prison break scene) but things really slow down in Chapter three. I feel all sluggish and blah. Help? 

If your work-in-progress could talk back to you right now, what would it say?



Breakout cover imageThanks for joining me on this part of the Breakout writing-process journey! If you’d like to read the other posts in this series once they’re all posted, you can find them here.  I hope you’ll also want to read BREAKOUT for yourself, and I’d love it if you’d consider pre-ordering now. Here are some ways to do that:


If you’d like a signed copy, you can call my local indie booksellers at The Bookstore Plus at 518-523-2950 or order online here and note in the comments field how you’d like your book signed. I’ll personalize and sign it for you, and it’ll be mailed out on release day! 


You can also order from your own favorite bookseller, either online or in person at the store. (Indie bookstores are always my favorite because that way, you can buy a great book and support a business in your own community. You can find your nearest indie bookseller here.)

Bloomsbury is offering a great incentive for pre-orders, too – a free poster and set of bookmarks to share. Details about that are here.

And if you live near one of the cities where I’ll be on book tour this June, please come by and say hello!

This entry was posted in CountdownToBreakout. Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.
  • Find Kate Online