Before You Move Forward, Take a Look Back
I know you’re ready to get crackin’ on all those 2015 writing goals, but before you dash onward, you might try taking a moment and looking back. That strategy worked like a charm for me and…you know what? I feel a story coming on. I think I’ll call it “The Awakening.”
(With apologies to Kate Chopin’s novel of the same title which is really quite a classic novel and well worth a read. Though honestly, my story’s sorta worth a read, and it’s much shorter.)
On a cold and blustery morning in January of 2014, I sat pondering over the fiction side of my writing business. I decided that I could not face yet another 55,000-word rewrite of my angsty teen novel (which definitely needed revisions).
And besides, I wanted happy. I wanted funny. I wanted short.
So I signed up for a yearlong picture book challenge. I would concentrate on 500-word- manuscripts. You can’t get any shorter than that, I figured, as books go.
And anyway, I’d been dabbling with picture books for a couple years. Why, I had gobs of picture book ideas—and even a half-dozen manuscripts—hanging about in virtual files. But 2014 would be different, I vowed. I would really apply myself to the picture book format, the limited word counts, making the space for images. You know, all the important stuff that makes for a swell (and salable) picture book.
Off I wrote, and read, and wrote, and read some more. And goodness, I learned SO much about writing picture books! (Mostly, I learned that it’s much harder than it at first appears.) I connected with a terrific online community of passionate picture book writers whose mountain of knowledge on the subject astounded me! Oh, I would be just like them; my picture book success was right around the corner!
But in the late spring, I found myself flirting with revisions on one of my middle grade manuscripts. After all, lots of picture book concepts were applicable to the longer form, and so I worked on my story a bit. In between the important business of writing picture books, of course.
Then suddenly, in the middle of the summer, I had a fun and fresh idea for a new middle grade novel. Well, I would just take a day or two (or a dozen) to flesh out the first chapter, get down my ideas, sketch out an outline. But then I’d go straight back to picture books. Especially since I was preparing to attend a week-long picture book workshop.
So there I was in the mountains, surrounded by writers who ate, drank, and breathed picture books. And as I soaked up their lovely critique and wonderful camaraderie, I felt…out of place.
Their picture book excitement and joy—it was downright palpable, not to mention enviable. I wanted some of that passion for my writing, and for me, and in a quiet moment of reflection a few nights before I left the workshop, I found it.
It had been there, waiting for me, in my middle grade voice.
I enjoyed my “Year of Living With Picture Books” (even if it was more like seven months), but I was ever so happy to get back where I belonged. And the next time I need a break? Maybe I’ll just go to a movie.
So on this first day of January in 2015, when you are rushing to make goals and resolutions, slow down for a moment and give a thought to your 2014 writing life. You might be surprised, and more importantly, awakened, to where your heart—and pen—is leading you.
~Cathy C. Hall