Monthly Archives: September 2015

The Big Picture

When I started the 52 First Drafts Project, I was aiming to improve my craft. And I did. I learned so much about what goes into making good picture books.

If that would have been the extent of it, I would have been happy. Better writing is what will ultimately get me noticed by an agent or publisher.

But there was more. So much more. So many lessons that will serve me both in my personal and writing lives.

  1. Control – Let’s start with the big one. In a world in which we depend on others for so many things, it’s important to maintain a sense of control. Both over our lives, and our careers. We need to be in control as much as possible to feel like we have ownership. Yes, we need agents and publishers, but we can’t let them do all the work, or wait for them to make the decisions. This project was my way of taking back that control. I have the ability to improve. I am in control of that.
  2. Community – I can’t believe what a great conversation starter this project has been. Both in person and on line. Everyone seems interested in my progress. I’ve found so much support and encouragement.  I love being a writer and being around other writers whether it is at a conference or on Twitter. My circle has expanded greatly since beginning.
  3. Generating ideas – When I am writing now, I am never worried that I won’t have an idea.They are not always great ideas, but I always find something to write about. In writing my 52 first drafts, I came conceived hundreds of ideas. I whittled those down to my favorites. Over the year I became an expert. Maybe I’ll write a book.
  4. Colored pencils – I bought a set of colored pencils and, here’s the kicker, started using them.I know, radical behavior.  I’ve been illustrating my books and characters. Also I’ve been entering other drawings in the monthly SCBWI Draw This contest. It’s informing my writing, and is just plain fun.
  5. Work habits – I have lived with learning disabilities all my life. As I’ve aged, I’ve learned strategies to help myself deal with them. During this project I found I had no choice but to meet them head on. I made great strides towards keeping my bottom in a chair and getting the work done.
  6. Trust in myself (In the context of my writing) – I use to plot everything out. I wanted to know all of the details of my story before I started writing. Now, I don’t need all the answers. I let the stories create themselves. In fact, sometimes, I’m as surprised by what happens as the reader will be.
  7. Confidence – After writing 52 books in a year, I know I can do anything I put my mind to. The children’s literature community is the most encouraging and welcoming group I know. But even so, when you are a pre-published author, it’s easy to feel like you’re tagging along. This project makes me feel like I belong at the party—not because of what I have done, but because of what I know I am capable of.

What I’ve Learned About My Writing

What did I learn from writing 52 picture books in a year?

I don’t believe I was a crummy writer before this year started. I’m not the type to do things unless I have confidence in my abilities. I had written several stories that I was proud of. I knew I was good at creating characters, coming up with ideas, and finding unique ideas. But I also recognized that my writing could be stronger.

There are skills required in picture book writing that are unique. Things you wouldn’t think about unless a teacher or another picture book writer helped you learn about them. It’s not as simple as just writing a good story. Then these skills need to be practiced over and over.

Here are some areas that were strengthened in my own writing:

Keeping it spare. The first of my 52 stories was 1600 words; at least double what publishers will start to look at. The more I wrote the shorter my stories got. I discovered what didn’t need to be written.

Opening lines. There is a whole lot riding on that first line.

Turnability. Readers have to want to turn each and every page.

Rhythm. Everything has a rhythm: Each word, combos of words, no words, page turns.

Pacing. When to rush and when to slow it down.

Word use. With so few words, every word needs to be judged on it’s length, sounds, meaning, descriptiveness and necessity.

Building tention. There needs to be some compelling conflict that the protagonist overcomes.

Humor. I came up with many wonderful ideas for serious picture books. People always prefer my funnier ones.

Transitions. This is something I always struggled with: getting from scene to scene. I learned to let the page turns help me.

Natural dialogue. Find the character’s voice. Let it be unique. Use the dialogue to further plot.

Crutch words. I have many. Now I recognize them, and get rid of them.

Let it flow. I was writing first drafts. They didn’t need to be perfect, they just needed to be on the paper.

The illustrations. This was huge for me. I always felt like if I didn’t write everything down, people would have trouble seeing my vision. Illustrations are half the book. Now I write thinking, “I hope the illustrator has fun with this.” Leave room for the illustrator to shine.

Rhyme. I was writing all of my stories in rhyme before this project. Now I write very little in rhyme. I still love rhyme, but I’ve learned to know when it is nessesary and when it is not. In the last 12 months I’ve read everything I could find about writing better rhyme. Now I feel confident when I do.

And voice. The ever elusive voice. This is one of the main things publishers are looking for. I feel like I am discovering mine. I love when I write a story now, and I think, “This is so me!”

There is more. I keep learning. I will be a student of good picture book writing for as long as I write. I look forward to each new breakthrough.

These are the thing I learned specific to my writing, but I also learned a ton about myself. I’ll be putting my thoughts together on that for next week.



One Year, 52 Books!

I did it! When I started out a year ago, I thought I could. I thought I could write the first drafts of 52 picture books. But you never really know what will happen over the course of a year. So much can change.

But I did it! 52 books!

Hurray! I feel happy, relieved, excited, drained, empowered, satisfied, accomplished.

I feel like I want to take a break. I feel like I don’t want to take a break. I feel ready to take the next steps towards publishing. I feel anxious that even with all this wonderful momentum, I won’t take the appropriate next steps. I feel like with all I’ve done this year something good is bound to come from it.

I feel lots of things.

Mostly I feel thankful for all the support I’ve received from family, friends, my critique group, strangers, and especially my husband.

It has truly been a year to remember.