Let’s Talk, Writing Picture Books (and so much more)!

It was one of those surreal moments that will forever be embedded in my brain.  Right in my inbox, an email from the Contact Me page here on my blog. She read my recent post and thanked me for mentioning her book.  This line was the kicker, “If you ever want to interview me for your blog, I’m available… “ANN WHITFORD PAUL, Y’ALL!  I started this blog to make connections, but this was more than I dreamed of.  You see there was a time at the end of last year when I decided that it was time to invest in myself and my writing journey.  Being a one (and a half) income family with three small kids, a mortgage and a life, I had to spend wisely.  At that time, I wasn’t fully aware of the expansive Kid Lit online community, but I did come across a deeply discounted webinar package that came with a copy of Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul.  I had been eyeing this book for months, and the price of the whole bundle was exactly what I was looking for.  As soon as the book came in, I devoured it and it has since found a permanent spot on my nightstand.  For me, this book was the beginning of my education as a writer; it’s my kid lit foundation.  In addition to her impressively informative book, my kids and I are also huge fans of her picture books and she has another coming out soon! So, I invite you to come along for my conversation with Ann as we talk about her writing career, including books for both children and adults.

Thank you so much for agreeing to visit with me, Ann! This is such a wonderful treat.  Can you start by telling us a little about yourself and how you started writing for Children?  I was born and lived mostly in the Midwest, Chicago and Madison Wisconsin, with interludes in Philadelphia.  Graduated from the University of Wisconsin and Columbia University School of Social Work.  I worked for several years in a hospital where I met my husband.  Our honeymoon was a drive across country to California where he had taken a job.  I stopped doing social work when the first of my four children were born and would have loved working part-time but Ronald Reagan was governor and cutting back on social programs.  I had to find something else and it was that lovely quiet time of reading with my children that inspired me to try writing books that other grown-ups and children could share together.

Your first picture book was published in 1985, and you have upcoming books scheduled for the next two years, how tremendous! How do you keep up with the changing industry?  How do you keep your writing skills sharp? I think I keep up with the changing industry badly.  It’s been a special challenge when editors are looking for “edgy”.  That’s not me, but I do try to add a little more humor to my writing and to think outside the box.  Still, I’m me and it’s hard for me not to write who I am.  I keep my writing skills sharp by writing every single day and I belong to a monthly kid’s lit group where we discuss a new middle-grade or YA and a picture book.  That keeps me up with the latest publishing trends.

What is the most interesting shift in the children’s book market that you notice happening now? When I started out in the business, most sales went to the school and library market.  Now on-line and independent stores are where the sales are going.  That means the books have to appeal to parents who are not necessarily savvy about what makes a good story.  Art is becoming much more important and especially what appears on the cover to attract buyers. 

In 2009, 24 years after your debut picture book was released you published Writing Picture Books.  What prompted you to put this book together?  Was there anything new about the publishing process in writing for adults? I had been teaching for over ten years at UCLA Extension and at numerous conferences.  One of my students suggested, no pushed and prodded, me to write a book.  It was certainly a challenge, but once I told myself to look at each chapter as a long picture book, I was able to fool myself into thinking I could do it.  One of the super-nice things about writing for adults is that I didn’t have to split my earnings with an illustrator.  And I hear back from so many writers about how the book has helped them.  I love getting those notes and e-mails.

I have to tell you, my critique partners and I call your book ‘The Picture Book Bible’. Writing Picture Books is filled with such invaluable information and advice.  How did you organize and compile all your thoughts for the book?  See what I mean about hearing back from writers.  Thanks so much!  The organization was actually fairly easy, because I tried to organize my classes around those chapter subjects.  Also, because I’d given many talks, I was able to adapt some of those into the book.

 It sure seems to have a life of its own. Has the book accomplished everything you hoped since its publication?   What does the future hold for Writing Picture Books?I’m so glad you asked this question, because right now I am deep into doing an updated and revised edition of WRITING PICTURE BOOKS which will be published fall 2018.  There will be some new chapters, all new examples and all new books cited.  Also, Writer’s Digest Books (the publisher) and I are partnering to fund the SCBWI Most-Promising Picture Book Award to recognize and encourage the work of aspiring picture book writers.

Ohh, that’s very exciting!  I can only imagine the wisdom those pages will hold.  Since you’ve taught so many of us HOW to write, I’m curious, what is the most important piece of advice you’ve been given as a writer?  “Write what you know.”  I’m aware that’s mundane and everyone has heard it over and over again, but I’m an insecure writer and have lived a fine and thankfully uneventful life.  I’ve never saved a child from drowning, never stopped a bank robbery and never swam the English Channel, (but my son did) so I worried, and still sometimes do, wondering what on earth I have to write about.  But years ago at an SCBWI conference, hearing those words made me think about the patchwork I loved sewing and about how the names of the patterns spoke of long ago life.  I was so inspired, I finished the manuscript for EIGHT HANDS ROUND: A PATCHWORK ALPHABET IN six months.  That my hobby, my love of history and how people lived, could resonate with others (the book is still in print after twenty-five years) has made me less likely to push aside my ideas that might seem pedestrian.  I accept that my ideas might be boring to me, but exciting and fascinating to others.  Write what you know and are passionate about and your stories will touch others.

 Such great advice!  I try to remind myself often to be authentic in my writing, I can only tell my stories, not someone else’s right?  Speaking of my stories, I’ve learned from more than just your book, in your webinar for Kid Lit College, you talk about the importance of making a dummy.  That webinar is still one of my favorites. It completely reinforced what you wrote about in Writing Picture Books and totally transformed my creative process.  Why is making a dummy such a crucial step for writers? I’m glad you found making a dummy so helpful and transformative.  It was, and continues to be, the same for me.  There’s something about seeing your words cut out and pasted onto pages that you have to turn that shows you where your story weaknesses are.  Invariably when I make a dummy, I find words that can be cut.  Recently I’ve noticed in my writing that I tend to go on a bit too long after the problem has been solved.  That usually means I don’t have enough in the middle of my story or that I can delete or tighten the wrap-up at the end.  The act of reading my dummy aloud and turning the pages helps me to create stronger page turns also.  I would never submit a manuscript without making a dummy first.

Next month (October 2017) you’re scheduled to release If Animals Said I Love You.  This makes your Animals an adorable series. Congratulations!  Can you tell us a little about how the second book came about, eight years later? (If Animals Kissed Goodnight, 2009 was the first) On a trip to New York, I decided it would be a good time to meet the editor, Janine O’Malley, who had taken over for my original editor on IF ANIMALS KISSED GOOD NIGHT and had a lot to do with making it into a board book.  I arrived at an auspicious time for that very day, FS&G had ordered a huge reprinting of the book.  The board book, much to my joy and delight, had taken off in this new format.  In that meeting, Janine had suggested writing a follow-up, which I did.  I wrote TWO!  One about animals bathing in tubs and another about animals wearing clothes.  She rejected them both and suggested I write IF ANIMALS SAID I LOVE YOU.  I was doubtful.  Wasn’t that very close to IF ANIMALS KISSED?  However, my son Alan and his family live in South Africa and we were headed there for a visit and I determined to at least try and write that story while there.  We went on several safaris where I made notes and wrote couplets about them.  Also we went trekking to see Gorillas.  Something I would never do again—three hours straight up to find them.  I ached for days afterwards.  To make this story a bit different, I decided not just to have parents and children express love, but grandparents and cousins and siblings.  The manuscript was completed during our three week trip.

That sounds like the trip of a lifetime, and it was productive to boot! Fabulous! I actually have a safari themed manuscript and going on safari is on top of my vacation wish list, now my wheels are turning… Hmmm… Okay, before I get carried away let’s get back to the good stuff… The rhythm and rhyme scheme of If Animals Kissed Goodnight is one of my all-time favorites.  Was writing the second book more, or less challenging than you anticipated?  It was both.  When there’s a first book, the format is already determined, so you’re kind of locked into it.  The challenge for me was to work to differentiate the two since they were both about ways of expressing love.

While I was preparing for this interview, I read a 2013 interview you did with Henry Herz and I realized we share a love of Jane Austen! Just to make sure my daughter started her little life off right, I read Pride & Prejudice to her as a newborn.  Are you reading anything now?  Who’s your favorite author? Jane Austen is definitely my favorite author.  I’m also hooked on Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache mystery series.  I belong to three different book clubs so am always in the middle of a book—one is a couples reading club, another women only (and you wouldn’t be surprised to discover that co-ed book clubs are drawn to different books than the single-sex ones.)  In addition, I belong to a book club of teachers, librarians and writers and illustrators that read one novel (middle-grade or YA) and one picture book each month.  We post our discussions here:http://bookchatthursday.blogspot.com/

Is there anything else you have coming out soon?  Where can my readers find you if they want to follow along?

There are two more books upcoming in the animal series.

IF ANIMALS SAID MERRY CHRISTMAS will be published in the fall of 2018

IF ANIMALS WENT TO SCHOOL will be published in the fall of 2019

WRITING PICTURE BOOKS—New and Revised edition will be published in the fall of 2018.

I publish a monthly (sometimes less frequently) newsletter that you can sign up for here:

Sign up for my e-mail newsletter

Check out my web-site www.annwhitfordpaul.com.

Thank you so much for sharing your time, energy and wisdom with me! I had such a hard time narrowing my questions down to these 12.  Congratulations on your upcoming releases! Happy Writing! 

 Guess what? I have ANOTHER exciting interview coming next week… actually, make that TWO.  First up, is my chat with Megan Ur-Taraszkiewicz, founder of The Writer’s Match.  Do you have enough critique partners? Do you have a go-to place to find and connect with more?  If you answered ‘No’ to either of those questions, stop what you’re doing and check out The Writer’s Match.  It’s a free website that creates critique partnerships and allows you to search based on genre, experience level, and more.  I’ve had great success, and I know you will too! And after I share Megan and I’s chat, it’ll be time for Paper People with Liz Wong, author/illustrator of the adorable Quackers.  She has so many exciting things happening, you definitely don’t want to miss it.  Okay, that’s all for now.

And after I share Megan and I’s chat, it’ll be time for Paper People with Liz Wong, author/illustrator of the adorable Quackers.  She has so many exciting things happening, you definitely don’t want to miss it.  Okay, that’s all for now.

 

See you Friday!

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

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Steering the Craft

It’s been a struggle of mine from the beginning.  I love to learn, I’ll soak up every chance I find to hone my skills and expand my knowledge on writing for children.  I keep hitting the same roadblocks, however, and in my most honest moment yet… the biggest one is cost.  I desperately want to learn from the greats.  I would devour any and every piece of wisdom that these prolifically published authors can share if only I could afford it.  You may or may not understand the struggle, but for me, it’s become quite the ‘hamster wheel’.  How am I ever going to find success as a picture book writer if I don’t learn more from those who’ve done it well?  How am I ever going to be able to afford these courses if I don’t sell (a few) books first? But, I can’t sell books that aren’t sellable, so I need to improve… but in order to improve, I need to find a way to afford the fees… and on, and on, and on.

My first venture into the picture book world came by way of a deeply discounted webinar package that included a copy of Ann Whitford Paul’s Writing Picture Books.  Since then I’ve remained on the hunt for the literary version of clearance rack deals: webinars offered at a discount, free courses and social media communities that offer guidance and expertise.  Truth be told, some of what I was hearing started feeling repetitive and I couldn’t help but feel that something big was missing from my toolbox though.  In a moment of clarity, I realized that I can hear the same lessons over and over and over again, taking something different from each… but only if my writing is good enough to handle the challenges.  I think I allowed myself to get so bogged down in writing the perfect picture book, that I jumped ahead of myself.  All my energy focused on the picture book end, and I am still missing key components of basic writing.

So, what do I do when I’m feeling down and discouraged? I take myself to the library!  Down at the very bottom of a shelf, taking up only a small section of space, I found the books on writing.  (Seems ironic to me, that in a building filled with writings, there were so few books on the topic, but I digress.)  I only had about ten options, and the attention span of my three cohorts was waning, so I quickly chose two and we checked out.  Fast forward to the following weekend and I realized that I held a gem in my hands.  One chapter in to Steering the Craft by Ursula K. le Guin and I ordered my own copy from Amazon. (On sale, no less!) I also stumbled upon an idea, and after sleeping on it and fleshing it out a bit, I created an online book study via Facebook.  There, a handful of critique partners, kindred spirits, new friends and I will take one chapter at a time, and reset our focus on basic writing skills.  (Are you interested? Email me or find me on Facebook if so… we start Oct 1!)

I think so highly of those who see a void and take actionable steps to fill it.  So, that’s what I’m trying to do with the book study, even if it’s only my own personal void.  I hope all the group members benefit from the book, I also hope we connect a bit more as a small community who can support each other on this journey. I have no doubt that my time and energy (and money) will be well spent, once I sharpen my skills a bit more. And there are numerous communities and opportunities out there at little/no cost to help writers along the way.  I’ve included a short list here of the ones I’ve found helpful… If you have other suggestions, I’d love to hear them!

  • Kid Lit College offers webinars for a small fee ($20-$40 range) and some have been incredibly helpful… one, in particular, ‘Be A Better Critique Partner’ by Heather Alexander I keep on repeat, for myself and my critiques.
  • On Facebook, a group called ‘Debut Picture Book Study’ takes one debut picture book each month and breaks it down and holds a discussion to help readers learn from it. I’ve not been able to participate as much as I’d like, but the conversations are enlightening and I’ve learned a good bit, even if from the fringes.
  • Susanna Hill’s blog is a treasure chest of all things Kid Lit, she runs many different series… ‘Would You Read it Wednesday’ is a great segment, that allows readers to submit their PB pitch and then allows other readers to comment/critique. Pitches are so important to the PB process and something I struggle with in a big way. I think I’m going to try… (update: I did it! I’m on the books for November 8!)
  • Podcasts! I’ve fallen in love with the wisdom these audio gems provide. I really need to start taking notes…
  • SCWBI’s webinar calendar offers a wide variety of topics and all are very well priced. I haven’t dug into these but I’m eager to do so.

I know there are other opportunities, some I’m not even familiar with yet (and some are going to be discussed in another post!) To wrap up, I want to include a quote from the Introduction of my new favorite book…

“A skill is something you know how to do.  Skill in writing frees you to write what you want to write…. Craft enables art.  There’s luck in art.  And there’s the gift.  You can’t earn that. But you can learn skill, you can earn it.  You can learn to deserve your gift… but first of all-it is an art, a craft, a making.  And that is the joy of it.  To make something well is to give yourself to it, to seek wholeness, to follow spirit.  To learn to make something well can take your whole life.  It’s worth it.”            

Ursula K. le Guin Steering the Craft: A 21st Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story 2015 edition, pg.xii

 

Here’s to leaning to deserve my gift, your gift, all our gifts.

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

PS- I have a couple of exciting interviews coming up! Stay tuned for the next couple of Tuesdays for an extra Let’s Talk posts (one of which is about a certain ‘PB How-To’ book I mentioned earlier!), and then soon after the October edition of Paper People with Liz Wong!

Lessons from a Dummy

It’s a fact, the dummy changed my life.  Dramatic as that may sound, from the perspective of a picture book writer who felt stuck in her own revision process, it’s completely true.   I’ve known about the concept of dummy picture books for months now, and I’ve heard (or read) tons of people talk about what a necessary step it is.  I must be a slow learner because I’ve been avoiding it until this week.  But I did it, and I love it and I can’t wait to talk about it.

I used scrapbook paper because I like the weight of the paper in my hands.  After I cut them in half, stapled them together and numbered them 1-32, I pasted in my text.  I started on page 5. (And if anyone has a different opinion on this, please share.) For this dummy, which will be the first of many, I just separated my sentences into what I thought would work best.  You have to start somewhere, right?  It blew my mind what a different feel the story had, now that it’s not in paragraph form on 8.5 x 11” sheets of paper, and instead actually resembles a book.  Many of my hiccups became clear, as did clumsy wording and soft spots in my story.  There are a few of my sentences that need to be tightened up, and for probably one-third of those, I could easily see how to do so. I’m going to keep chipping away at the edits that are surfacing from this experience.  Of course, I’m going to make another, if not more after that, touching things up along the way. How crazy that I was leaving out this incredibly crucial step!

As I’m still digesting the revelation that I talked about in my last post, and coming off my ‘dummy’ high, I know what wrinkles need to be ironed out now… Read Aloud Potential.  It’s the obvious next step and is exactly what the dummy is helping me to discover.  I don’t just want to write a picture book; I want to write some kid’s favorite picture book.  On top of that, I want to write one that parents love to read to their children.  (aka Panda Cake!)  That’s where the magic happens in this corner of the market, and it’s completely unique to picture books.  I know my opinion of the book I’m reading affects the quality of my reading and the tone of my voice.  I know the pain of being asked to read a story to one of my kids that I REAAALLLYYYY don’t like, or when I suggest one that’s not a favorite of my kids. On the other hand, I know the joy and delight that comes when I read a story that we all love, and what a richer experience it makes.  I want to write one of those, and I need its real aloud potential to be off the charts.  (Mary Kole just posted a great video blog on this exact thing, you can find it here if you want more info)

So, the moral of this story… make a dummy of your picture book manuscript, in fact, make a dozen.  I’m going to the store tomorrow, stacking up on paper and glue sticks, and will turn my sweet little writing desk into a dummy factory.

 

In somewhat unrelated news… Kid Lit College is having a Board Book contest, with two categories (standard & novelty) going on now through May 31.  There’s also a chapter book contest going at the same time.  I’m going to enter the board book contest with a blend of one of my NaPiBoWriWee stories and a previous project!  The winner gets their manuscript critiqued by five editors, what a great opportunity.

Also, my daughter finished and submitted her #50PreciousWordsforKids entry.  We had a blast working on her story together.  This was one she had previously written but was way above the word limit, so we talked and walked through a bit of editing together.  Mother-Daughter editing; it did get as dicey as it sounds, but that was short-lived, and she was very proud of her finished product.  You can read Mia the Cat and all of the entries here. The contest received entries from 15 states and 6 different countries.  It was a wonderful lesson for my seven-year-old on just how small the world is while at the same time expanding her view beyond the city limits of our small town.  Whew, I think that’s all I have for today.

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Show, Don’t Tell

This afternoon, somewhere in the midst of end-of-school-year mayhem and baseball season fatigue, I had an epiphany.  I’m not even quite sure what to do with it yet, and honestly, it scares me a little.  Writing picture books is very VERY different than telling stories.  We tell stories all the time in my house.  There’s a series about ‘Bob the silly dragon’ that’s five years running. These get told every nap time or in the event of an extended potty stay. (Parents of current or former toddlers know exactly what I’m talking about.)  There’s a game we play often at the supper table, putting ourselves into our favorite fairy tales and telling them from a different perspective.  Sometimes on road trips, we take turns adding sentences to a story that becomes a family affair.  To be clear, I did not get into picture book writing because I thought it would be easy, or I thought that our silly little dragon would make me rich and famous.  But I did think that the two were similar, and though they are in some ways, they are not in many more.

The concept of ‘show, don’t tell’ confuses me.  I thought I knew what it meant. I thought I understood the concept, but with every critique I receive, I’m realizing how wrong I was.  As I try to find the balance between using great words, but only a few of them, I realize that I need to figure out how to tell a story without ‘showing’ much of it.  I’ve learned that adverbs should be used carefully, and prepositional phrases are almost never needed. I know that I shouldn’t say anything that can be shown in illustrations, except that this is such a vague and hypothetical concept for me, and therefore a struggle.  I have a good story.  I know how to tell my story using my spoken words and do it justice.  I’m struggling with how to tell it in written words, and as few as possible to boot.  I’m struggling to hang on to my voice and untangle the knot of words I’m hanging on to.  I think I’m on the cusp of something really good, and for lack of any other obvious, next-step options, it’s time to make a dummy.

Here’s my homework from a long forgotten webinar:

  1. Use 8 pieces of paper, cut in half and staple
  2. Number 1-32, and starting on page 5 or 6 (different schools of thought here) put your words on the page.

That’s it.  I’ve been avoiding it like a stack of unpaid bills.  You know, the kind of things you know better than to procrastinate on, but for some reason NOT doing it seems easier.  I could do it now, but I also have real work I could do too… or laundry… hell, it’s 9:30 pm, I could also sleep…

…I did it. I walked away from my computer and started on my dummy, slept a bit and now I’m back.  Honestly, I’m a little obsessed and outdone with myself for allowing my manuscript to stall for so long.  I can see things in the dummy that I couldn’t in a Word document. One thing many people don’t know is that I almost always carry one of my WIPs with me.  In my purse, or in my car you’re certain to find a manuscript or two.  Now that I have a dummy, you may find Him buckled into the passenger seat. Stay tuned for more of my ‘lessons from a dummy’.

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

The Clean Up

My husband works in the construction industry.  His job is to supply contractors, large and small, with the equipment they need for their respective projects.  Sometimes it’s an air compressor, or a welder or any number of things that are hard for me distinguish.  But according to my boys, he has the cool stuff too, like bulldozers, excavators and dump trucks.  Over the years, those projects have ranged from hospitals, university dormitories, and even a grocery store or two. From time to time, the projects are also demolitions.  How convenient! See where I’m going with this?  I can stick with my theme.  (Because I do not have my own home renovation to have learned from… and I’m not sad about that!)  If you missed last week, or any week for that matter, I’m in the process of a major revision of my picture book manuscript.  I’m tearing it down and going to build my story back together.  Like any remodel, I’m hoping it resembles the original with a noticeable facelift.  I want to keep the emotional core of my story, I want to keep the main character, and I’m pretty set on the support staff too. At this point, it looks like every other aspect is on the chopping block.

From my crash course in demolition, I learned that as soon as the tear-down phase is complete, the clean-up begins.  This is when the contractor sorts through the rubble, determining what’s trash and what’s not.  Perfect!  That’s exactly where I’m headed.  I used the following questions to help guide me through my manuscript cleanup.  (These were also picked up in a recent webinar I attended called How To Be A Better Critique Partner by Heather Alexander.  I figured it would be wise to turn them on myself.)

  • Who is the protagonist? Well, this one was easy, I created him after all.  I elaborated in my Knots post, that I talk to him, asking questions and trying to learn more about him.  I do need to know ALL about him; the good, the bad and the whiney.  (He does whine a little in my story.  Which breaks cardinal rule number one in the house I grew up in… thankfully my parents have softened a bit as grandparents.  I wonder if imaginary grandkids count too?)
  • What does he want? He desperately needs (in the way five-year old’s do) a solution to the enormous problem staring him in the face. He’s Bored.  I’m talking painfully bored, the kind that makes you restless and irritable.  He wants to have fun but is having trouble finding someone to help him.
  • What is his ultimate goal? To salvage his day, which seems to be spiraling, if you ask me. It’s going to take something BIG to get his day back on track.
  • How will he achieve it? He starts with all the usual suspects; friends and family… even daring to broach the topic with his mom. He strikes out. I don’t want to give away too much, he does ultimately come up with a solution but not before striking out a couple of times.
  • What will happen if he doesn’t? As a mom, a bored kid is a ticking time bomb of the worst sorts.  They (at least my own) get whiney, emotional and utterly distraught.  Boredom, once it sinks in is terribly difficult to shake off, especially when your five.  He needs to figure something out, or there’s likely big trouble looming in the distance.

So, I think all of this is my ‘good stuff’, the salvageable parts of this story that I’ve been toiling and tinkering with for the better part of a year.  What didn’t make the cut? Well, the first thing to go was the rhyme.  I’m feeling good with that decision and looking forward to getting to know this new side of my writing self.   Many of my word choices, I would imagine, are also holding the story back.  For some reason, the ‘less is more’ philosophy I ascribe to doesn’t translate into my words.  I almost often use too many words to explain myself, both in speaking and in writing.  I know I have at least 200 words to shave off from where my manuscript stands now.  I also need to keep the emotional theme of my story securely in my cross-hairs, and any parts that contradict, or deviate from the emotions I’m trying to convey, need to go. Regardless of how attached I am to them.  I do know that I need to learn more about ‘pacing’ so that my story can efficiently move in the direction it needs to.  I see another webinar in my future.

If I can be honest, some days my ‘trash’ pile feels tall, and my ‘keep’ pile feels small.   The good news is that one the rubble has been sorted, the next part is the dirt work.  If I can be thorough in what I’m doing now, I will have the space and the tools that I need to build a brilliant foundation for this story.  Plus, I know where I can get a bulldozer if I need one

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Demolition

Two things happened recently, that have greatly altered the course of this little writing journey I’m on.  First, I watched a fantastic webinar on ‘How to Be a Better Critique Partner’ given by Heather Alexander.  I learned a great deal, and I’m still unpacking much of what she said, but one part resonated with me (and it actually had nothing to do with critiquing).  During her presentation, she made a comparison between that the revision process and a home renovation.  She made it clear, not the kind of remodel that involves slapping on a coat of paint and changing the light fixtures; what she was referring to was ‘knocking down walls kind of stuff’.   I’m a very visual person, and I appreciated the analogy, I even went so far as to write her words in large print on the bottom of my notes page.  But kids got home, life moved on, I slept and somehow lost track of it.

Fast forward a couple of days, and I received feedback from someone who graciously agreed to beta read for me.  I could’ve pinched myself when she agreed to do so. She’s previously published (with more picture books on the way) and comes from a similar background (healthcare turned writer) with much more experience.  I heard back from her sooner than I expected, and her feedback was all too familiar.  For the third time now, someone with industry experience told me, “Drop the Rhyme.” All three times it was said with much more tact, but I like to cut through the fluff when possible.  Three different times, each one separated by months and miles, but the advice didn’t change and this time I heard it.  If I can be honest, I felt like I had the wind knocked out of me.

I am terrified at the thought of not writing in rhyme.  It’s all I know.  In my family, rhyming is my ‘thing’.  Just ask my parents to see old Anniversary cards or Christmas picture books, and you’ll see that my history of rhyming goes back a long way.  Heck, I won a poetry contest in the eighth grade… I RHYME…IT’S WHAT I DO.  I know I’ve talked about writing versions of my story that don’t rhyme, and I promise I did.  I just I never did so with the intention of putting all my eggs in that basket.  I don’t know if I’m even any good.  But I believe, with every ounce of my ‘wanna-be’ writer self, that fear should never be the reason to hit the brakes.  At least not in situations like this.  Sure, it feels foreign, a little scary and like I’m starting from scratch, but the boy at the center of my story deserves for me to try.  (As an aside, I recently read “… if you write, then you are a writer” so I’m trying to settle in with the title.)

I think I’m starting to understand what Heather was talking about now.  Not that I hadn’t done major revisions before, because some those had been painful, but this is taking “kill your darlings’ to a whole new level.  (For my non-writer friends, don’t panic… the ‘darlings’ in this case are words, favorite words even, that need to be cut from a story.  William Faulkner said it, so you know its good advice.)  One of the first things I did was go back to my main character and ask for his help.  He did not disappoint.  What he did do, however, is throw the entire sequence of my stories about him in a tailspin.  I have three stories written about this boy and they landed in different pieces and different places than I had ever previously considered.  I think he may be on to something, but to get there will take a few more swings with a sledgehammer.  Words are starting to flow, but I’m not taking off my hard hat yet.

Sure I loved my ‘house’ before the renovation, it was filled with first words and early lessons, but I can already see I’m going to like the changes. It’ll make a mess in the process, but I feel energized and I’m eager to see where this takes me.  So here I go, in the middle of a self-induced rhyming fast (library books included) and venturing into foreign lands.  I’m also halfway through the Picture Book Page Turns webinar (kidlitcollege.org), I think I’ll be making a dummy with my WIP this week.  I’ll share what I learn soon. Wish me luck!

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP