Picture Books & Me

I had a couple of thoughts this morning. First:

“Writing a picture book goes really fast at the start, then you get to revision and it goes really slowly. It’s hard, but amazing, because it’s when the story really comes together.”

Followed by:

“Oh! Maybe that’s what writing novels is like for other people!”

When I first met my now-husband, I was “working” on a mystery for grown-ups. I had been “working” on it for some time. I hadn’t done much craft learning at that time, so the book was going more in circles than in any actual forward direction. Then, a few years later, I had an idea for a middle-grade mystery. An idea I fell in love with and did learn a lot of craft on. I finished it, revised and revised, and subbed–no takers, but it got enough supportive comments that I felt like I’d found my writing home: novels for children. To paraphrase my husband as he looked at my bookshelves–90% children’s novels–“Why were you writing for grown-ups?”

I tried: I worked for several years on a book that couldn’t decide between MG & YA, or maybe I couldn’t decide. I put that away in a drawer, because it just wasn’t happening. Not to mention it was making me unhappy every time I sat down with it. I Started another definitely MG book. I struggled. And struggled some more. I finally figured out what my big challenge was: writing a character-driven plot. With that knowledge, I kept trying. Kept struggling.

Life came along, and I had unscheduled time when I thought my MG would be with a reader for a while. I went back to a few picture books I had been playing with off and on. That was a year ago. I submitted one for an agent query at this year’s SCBWI Spring Spirit conference, and when I got it back, I thought, “Oh, this is what a positive rejection reads like.” I took four picture books to Big Sur this month and, no, of course they weren’t as ready as I had been dreaming. They were, however, so so much closer than I had gotten in any novel attempt since the mystery. I’ll be doing one more strong revision pass on all of them, and then be querying agents. I am as certain as I can be that I have reached what I call the “I won’t be burning any bridges by sending these out” stage. And it’s the only way I’ll find out if my work is ready to cross the next bridge. (I know, I know, acceptance and rejections are subjective; I will not find out anything by keeping the manuscripts “safe” on my computer.”)

Have I found my writing  home? If your definition of that is the genre that I will absolutely, certainly get published in? Who knows? But if your definition is the genre in which I can draft and revise and pull the story together, instead of feeling like I have cat’s-cradled myself into a knot I can’t get out of, then, yes. For today, at least, I’m home.

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