Making Magic, Picture Book Style

Let’s say you have a bit of extra cash to spend on yourself and your writing aspirations: Where do you go? Which way do you turn?  Who can help? Arghhhh, the struggle! There are so many choices! It’s a great problem to have, really, because so many of the leaders in the kid-litosphere generously give of their time, talents and expertise.  Truly, there is no shortage of options or opportunities. For me, and I’m sure so many others, the trouble lies in deciding which course to invest in.  There’s a unique twist to each one and the author/instructors are incredibly talented, so you really can’t go wrong. The fact of the matter is, you do have to choose, though. So, if you’re sitting at the crossroads of one versus the other, all I can do is wish you luck and tell you about my latest experience with making magic… Making Picture Book Magic, that is.

If you aren’t familiar, Making Picture Book Magic is a month-long course offered by Susanna Hill, with small class sizes, daily assignments and feedback from Susanna, herself.  I’m always wary of buyer’s remorse and know the feeling of investing in a class/webinar that turns out to be disappointing so I eyed it for months and was exhaustive in my research.  I asked everyone I knew about their experience. Many had taken it ‘back when they were starting out’ and a few warned me that I probably knew everything she would review.  Some said I might find it too basic, others never made it thought all the lessons.  One of my nearest and dearest friends, however declared it “one of the best things” she’d ever done for herself.  She had yet to steer me wrong before, (I’m looking at you Judy Cooper) so, I bit the bullet and enrolled.  The tuition for the course was a belated birthday gift from two of my biggest fans (aka mom & dad).  As luck would have it, I was blessed with an incredible group to journey though the month of January with and it only got better from there.

Yes, some of the lessons brought me back to the basics, but I knew that’s exactly what I needed. (The day that I decide that I’ve learned enough about writing picture books should be my last day writing… am I right?) Going back to the basics, now that I have a foundation helped IMMENSLY.  You might call it cheating, but I used an existing manuscript through the course and basically stripped it down to the studs.  It was the most exhaustive revision I’ve ever done. I rethought and reworked every aspect of the story, I pushed myself out of my comfort zone for this project and got helpful feedback along the way, both from my groupmates and our fearless leader! (I want to pause and talk for a minute about the other writers in my group… they ROCKED! We all engaged with each other via the private Facebook group and I know that’s what pushed our course over the edge from good to GREAT! If you ever do decide to participate, do yourself a favor and go all in… participate, share, offer feedback, engage. You’ll get out everything you put in and then some!)

I’ve suggested this course every chance I get because I know it was a game-changer for me.  It changed the way I revise, it changed the way I approach my stories, and hopefully, it’ll change the trajectory of my pre-published journey. If you’re looking for a way to sharpen your skills, someone to hold you accountable or a handful of new revision techniques, look no farther and let Susanna Hill show you all about Making Picture Book Magic! (<- that’s the link right there, don’t miss it… click on it)

Oh! Before you go, I want to introduce you to my classmates! There were a couple poets (Rebecca & Liz) and an illustrator (Hannah) in the mix.  Liz has a collection of soccer poems called Soccerverse, set to release on June 4th! The other three writers will undoubtedly be names on your bookshelf one day, each with their own style but obviously and equally talented. Find them & follow them so you’ll be one the first to know when their clever and charming stories make it into the world.

          Rebecca Gardyn Levington on Twitter: @WriterRebeccaGL 

          Stephanie Williams aka @StephanieBoyer (also Twitter)

          Liz Steinglass, Twitter: @ESteinglass IG: @elizabethsteinglass & Facebook @ElizabethSteinglass

          Hannah Spiegleman, IG @HannahSpiegleman

 

As always,

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

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Questions & Answers

I didn’t understand… I had been eagerly anticipating this two-hour window all week. For the first time in longer than I’d care to admit, I was headed to the library and straight into the children’s section. I couldn’t wait to wander around, pulling new finds and old favorites off the shelf to soak up and read quietly. But I found myself speeding though the books, unsatisfied.  In fact, some of my favorites, I didn’t even finish! There was a restlessness and unsettled spirit I couldn’t put my finger on.  Fewer buildings brought me as much joy as a library, and never more so then surrounded by picture books. This was completely unprecedented in my happy place!

To be fair, I made this trip on a week that was rough.  I’ve written about conference hangovers before, and this year I’ve been struggling to shake it.  I mean really struggling. I haven’t been reading like I should, so I intentionally scheduled this library run for myself. It was supposed to brighten my mood and lift my spirits, instead I “wasted time” (I even started scrolling Facebook instead of turning pages, GASP.) I managed to eek out a few minutes of revisions on a manuscript that I was carrying, to save face (from myself) and limped out the door. I didn’t check out any books, I didn’t want to bring anything home tainted with the mood of the day. I felt lost.

The next few hours were a blur of homework, dance costumes and baseball practice. I had nearly forgotten about my dreadful afternoon. Then I turned off the lights, laid down in bed and started to cry.  The tears came with such intensity, I was completely stunned. I didn’t understand where they came from, or why they were happening… until I did. When I started this journey, my oldest was prime picture book age and most probably went over my youngest’s head. But here we are, 2 out of 3 of my kids read MG novels to themselves before bed at night. I’ve effectively instilled a love of reading in them, and now, they don’t need me. My youngest will be in Kindergarten next year and still loves to crawl on my lap and listen to a story, but I see how my time is running out. Soon, the picture books that I bring home from the library will be just for me.  It made me sad and if I’m honest, enormously disappointed.

I recognize how I felt at the library now, in my line of work, we call it anticipatory grief; the mourning of an expected loss, before it actually happens. I secretly hoped to be closer to being published by now.  I knew to anticipate the journey to be long, but that didn’t stop me from hoping for something different.  It was an unofficial, off the record, self-inflicted (grossly unrealistic) deadline that was about to pass me by. The tears also finally brought to the surface all the questions and self-doubt that I had been trying to silence. We all know that avoiding a question doesn’t make it go away, and so the longer I tried, the louder they got and the farther away I pushed my stories and social media; facing my characters and the kidlit world I love meant facing the questions.   Questions of my dedication to the dream, my abilities to write and the intention behind it all anyway.  No one ever told me that this journey would be easy. Nothing I’ve ever read said that publishing is for the faint of heart, quite the opposite actually.  A few years ago, I could easily answer the why’s and how’s… but lately, it’s been murky to say the least.  

Thankfully, tears are often the prequel to clarity.  I decided to continue showing up, writing a little each day, even if it didn’t feel earth-shattering, and re-engaging with my community. I even wrote myself a post-it note that says, SHOW UP TO WORK.  If I had to guess, that’s one of the greatest struggles as a pre-published, un-agented author.  No one is waiting on us to show up. No one, except for the main characters of our stories and the deep-seated desires of our own heart begging to be set free.  Since that day there have been enjoyable library trips, conversations with my kids about my WIPs with new stories (& blog posts) surging to the surface. I think I feel relief too, free from the burden of an approaching deadline that I was never supposed to meet. I’m excited to see what’s next. I’m eager to write each day, and I’ll keep showing up as long as you do too.