One of the hardest things I’ve had to learn in the publishing business is patience. I’m not a patient person by nature, and I wasn’t prepared for how slooooowly things move in this industry. For example, if I sold a picture book manuscript today, you wouldn’t see it on the shelves for two or three more years.
The upshot of all this waiting is that I’ve learned to be patient with myself and my writing process as well, especially when it comes to developing new stories. The old me would try to force a story that wasn’t working, not trusting that I could make it work some other way, not trusting that if I couldn’t make it work, there were other stories out there.
I held onto ideas very tightly, refusing to let them go. I was fond of saying things like, “But I’ve already put so much time into it!” I’m here to tell you, the amount of hours spent are not necessarily equal to the quality of the product. Would that it were so!!! But I like to think I learn something every time I put my fingers to the keyboard, whether the effort results in something that’s publication-ready.
My first two picture books were drafted in a single sitting. Granted, they needed a fair amount of revision after that (e.g. “Adrian Simcox Does NOT Have a Horse” was cut by 50%), but that experience unfortunately gave me the notion that if I had to work for weeks or months on a picture book draft, it probably wasn’t any good. Wrong! My most recent sale, “The More You Give,” went through many drafts before my agent put it up for sale and another major revision after it sold.
Today, I’m sitting down to work on my latest picture book (tentatively titled “Someday Soon”) and hope to get inspired to start another major revision (my 4th? I think? I’ve lost track.). Sometimes, you have to take an idea all the way to completion to see what’s missing and figure out how to write it better the next time. It’s frustrating for sure, and I’d love if all my picture books ideas came out in a single burst of inspiration, but I’m learning that each idea is its own thing, each new book is a new process, and sometimes the way I’ve done it before isn’t going to work the next time.
Before I started writing for children, I wondered how hard it could be to write a picture book? I know many, many people who assume it’s an easy way to cash in. Truth is, it’s not hard to write one, just hard to write one well, and very hard, (for me, anyway) to be patient while the story works itself out.