Tuesday, January 29, 2013

PBDummy Step 2.1

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How are the picture book manuscripts coming?  Still having trouble?  Stuck in the middle?  Finished but unsure?

Since we in the unofficial PBDummy Challenge have a virtual critique group, I thought this would be a good time to offer some advice I routinely give or receive in my real-life crit group.

If you are struggling to get a first draft written:
Just get it down on paper!  Don't self-edit as you go.  More often than not, it's just your loud-mouthed inner critic shooting you down.  As Anne Lamott says, give yourself permission to write junk.  Worry about editing in a later draft.

If you are stuck in the middle:
See Above.  Also try some stream of consciousness writing.  Don't worry if it's in the wrong voice or even if it's really part of the story.  Maybe you have to write "I'm stuck and I can't think of anything!"  Just get something down on paper and eventually your story will resurface.  You can throw away all the in-between junk later.  As Gail Carson Levine says,  letting your thoughts wander (on paper) can "prime the pump" so your ideas begin to flow.

If you are finished, but unsure:
Try some or all of the following.
1. Do a word count.  If you are like most writers, it's way over the 500 word average.  One of my critique partners always says, cut your word count to 1/3, no matter what.  That way it is stripped to the barest essentials.  Then for the third (or is this the fourth) draft, you can add the really sparkly bits back in.

2. Break your text into spreads.  This helps you get a feel for the rhythm, for where the text is wordy or where it needs something more.

3. My stories always get too grown-up, so I use this exercise.  I rewrite my story for a younger audience.  Then I rewrite it again for an even younger one.  This is like cutting your word count without the bruising.  And my writing is always better for it.

4. I sometimes wait a few days, then rewrite the story completely without looking at the previous drafts.  I have had the most marvelous "happy accidents" with this method.  It often uncovers flaws and solves problems unconsciously.

5. Look at the space between.  This relates to the way the story flows.  Think about page turns and breaths.  Read your work out loud.  Slowly.  Imagine you are reading to a child.  Imagine a specific child.  Better yet, find some children.  You will know immediately where the story drags, the language drones, or the rhyme flops.

Courtesy Greg Matusic
If all else fails:
Maybe you just aren't passionate about this idea.  It's okay to change.  Read back through your list of ideas. Does one make you smile?  Laugh out loud?  Is there one that makes you want to run for pen and paper?  Then go with it.  Try a first and second draft.  You still have at least two weeks to develop a decent manuscript.  There'll be plenty of time for additional revisions during your storyboarding.  If you are considering this option, read Greg Matusic's success story from a previous challenge.

How are you faring?  What are you struggling with?


  1. Love this! Great advice Joanne. Thanks, it's just what I needed to read this morning.

    1. I'm so glad it helped. We can't thank-you enough for continuing the challenge and keeping us all motivated.

  2. Great advice on how to cut the story. Thanks for the pep talk. I'm laying out a written story for the first time ever and it's very educational about flow. Thanks for the great blog!

    1. Thanks for your kind words. I'll probably post more specifics about flow at the end of February when we get to Step 4. As an illustrator, it's easier for me to notice issues when I get to the storyboard.

  3. I so agree with your advice on writing first drafts. It is so hard to silence my inner grammer check, spelling correction, literature critic, etc. When they do shut up a lot more happens.

    1. For a hilarious picture of Deb Lund's inner critc, check out her guest post for PiBoIdMo 2012.

      And I understand the amazing Iain McCaig's critic is a T-Rex.
      Thanks for the encouragement.


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