In January, I wrote a review of Jeannine Atkins’ Views from a Window Seat and talked about how motivated I was to turn back toward my picture book revisions. I was so inspired from reading about Jeannine’s focus on sitting with a story, with its characters and its words, all at different stages but always with the same sense of giving the story time and room to reveal itself.
As I get back into my revisions, I’ve been working (hard) to stay with that inspiration, to remember how I want to do this. I’ve pushed away self-criticisms of how long I’ve been working on each of these stories. I’ve stuck in metaphorical earplugs to shut out the noisy thoughts of how much longer I might still be working on them. I’ve (tried to) put a lid on all the fantasies about what will happen when I do get them done. And I’ve spent a lot of time in non-story files, typing in thoughts as they occurred to me, listing questions for which I didn’t yet have answers, and then just thinking about those thoughts and questions.
Yesterday, while I was working on one of the revisions, actually at the point where I was changing words and sentences around, pulling the threads of the action and dialogue a little closer around the theme/purpose/point whatever, I heard a small, but solid thump. And I looked at what I had left to do in that revision, at least before I sent it off to my critique group for the nth time, and it was a lot less than I’d thought. Things had, without my realizing it, become more connected and cohesive. The pieces of the story had moved themselves into the right spots, and the characters had picked some good things to do and say. I had, with so much less agony and stress (not with less time or work!), come to the next “ready” place. Off went the critique.
And this morning, I picked up my folder for one of other picture books in the revision pile. It has been several weeks, at least, since I’ve looked at this one, and the first thing I did was read through the latest comments from my critique group. I didn’t open my laptop, not at first. I just read the comments. And suggestions I remember shaking my head at and feeling skeptical about suddenly made SO MUCH SENSE. I had been approaching the story, yet again, with some fear, but because I let myself start slowly and just get reacquainted with the critique comments, laptop unopened, no pen in hand, something else went thump. In a nice way.
This time, it was almost easy not to immediately open the story file. I started a new file called something like “What to Do With…” and I put in the two most important words that came through to me from the critique. I typed in a couple of questions, then a couple of ideas. Not really even possibilities yet. Just ideas. Thoughts. More to sit with.
Oh, of course, the other voices are still there, talking at me about mythical life deadlines, goals, self-esteem, productivity. But they’re clamoring a little less loudly, their vehemence softened, I think, by my going with Jeannine’s reminder–the reminder that we’re here because we choose to be. We are touching down with a story because at least that little bit in love with a character or a plot twist and because we want to see what we can do with it. Why run away from it? Or rush through it?
Yes, the tortoise eventually won the race. But I think he also enjoyed the feel of the ground under his feet, the sunshine on his shell, and all the sounds and smells of his journey.