I’ve owned WRITING PICTURE BOOKS by Ann Whitford Paul for about four years now. But it wasn’t until about four months ago that my copy saw any hard use. As I mentioned in my first post of this series, I read the book when I first got it, and kept it on my shelf to dip into from time to time. But I never did the exercises in the book, and couldn’t shake the feeling that I didn’t get as much out of it as I could have.
Now, my copy is literally dog-eared. I’ve carried it in my bag for months. I’ve read it at the playground, at gymnastics class, at soccer practice. And I’ve completely many (not all) of the exercises. Doing this has been not unlike taking a picture book writing class — but this one cost only $16.99. Based on her advice, I’ve made some changes to the way I think about story writing, and it has helped my writing improve.
The final section of the book has a great chapter called “Priming Your Idea Pump” with lots of techniques for coming up with story ideas. This, I find, is the major change between the writer I was two years ago, and the writer I am now. Two years ago, I had written a single picture book manuscript and I worked that thing to death. Countless revisions. Countless reviews by critique partners. More revisions. I sent it off for a conference critique and was thrilled that the editor liked it. However, when she asked, “What else are you working on?” I was stumped. I was writing some poetry for magazines, but had no other picture books in the works, or even a list of ideas. *slaps forehead*
At that same conference, Jane Yolen was a featured speaker, and she made reference to her own recent rejections. (Yes, even Jane Yolen gets rejected…on a regular basis, it seems.) I’m not sure if it was some phrase of hers, or my own imagination that created this image in my head of a writer’s body of work as a mountain — a mountain that grows bigger with each completed manuscript. The peak of the mountain represents the work that’s published, or publishable. Everything underneath is the stuff that’s been rejected, or just isn’t good enough or polished enough to see the light of day. As I thought about this, I realized how huge Jane Yolen’s mountain must be, and how puny mine was in comparison. But (and this is the great thing about conferences) I wasn’t discouraged. Instead, I was energized and determined to start building my own mountain.
So, I primed my idea pump and started a new story. I signed up for a class. I participated in PiBoIdMo and 12×12. My mountain is growing, and now, thanks to WRITING PICTURE BOOKS, it has grown a little bigger and (I hope) a little sturdier.
OK, it’s not that big yet, but it is growing! How’s your mountain coming?