The second time I was going to write a picture book (I’ll talk about my first attempt at writing a picture book some other time. When we need a really good laugh…) I clearly remember clearing an afternoon of everything else, getting a sketchbook with doodles and ideas, sitting at my desk, bringing up a new Microsoft Word document on my computer, positioning my hands over my keyboard so I could start typing…and…and…sitting there.
I wrote nothing of any commercial value that day. I don’t most days. But the difference is now I write something everyday and don’t have expectations that what I will write will magically transform into a 32 page picture book. Most of what I write is, to be less than polite, sucky. (That’s a word used in the trade. Strictly a professional term.) And only the tiniest fraction is commercially viable. I wish I could improve my batting average. (I hate sports analogies…)
But I often think about sitting at my desk in Pasadena trying to write one on demand. I wanted to start work on it immediately. You know, things to do, places to go. And I had a million ideas. And just about 1 million of them wouldn’t work well for a picture book.
For me, books don’t just hop out of my head. Heck, my illustrations don’t work like that.
The way I work is more obvious to me now. It’s little steps here-and-there, now-and-then.
Ideas grow and develop across months. I write things down not expecting anything to come of them. On the rarest occasions something sprouts. The picture book that was recently acquired by a publisher developed like that. It’s a picture book that grew from one little drawing and a few sentences. After a long journey of edits with my agent and input from an editor, it was solid enough to move forward. I will be starting work on that in the next few weeks and I’m very excited. It’s the first picture book I wrote and will draw.
I know some people get that opportunity right away. I know artists and writers who have the ability and luck to sell their first manuscript. It didn’t work like that for me. And my second picture book, which is in the process of being acquired (which I can’t talk about yet) didn’t come about any easier. It didn’t have any less drafts or fewer edits or revisions or rewrites or waking-up-at-three-in-the-mornings and realizing that page 15 sucks. (Again, please excuse the professional language.)
I know everyone has a different process. Some learn faster than others. Some writers have a naturally commercial set of instincts. It’s taken me a lot of years to figure out that the time I set aside for writing is just the start of the process. There is no way to shorten the book making recipe for me. But by ending and often beginning each day by writing I create more opportunity for something to develop.