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Fighting the Writing

Craft, Authors, Authors + IllustratorsLindsay WardComment

Happy Thursday Critters! Today’s craft post is all about fighting the writing.

Being Type-A, I work around a pretty structured schedule, it’s the only way I can get anything done—and I stay pretty busy between all of the plates I’m spinning on any given day. That being said, there are days, more than I would like to admit, where getting words on the page is like pulling teeth. I sit, staring at the computer screen, waiting for something brilliant to come to me, which to be honest, never does when I try to force it. The cursor blinks at me, laughing. Or so it feels…

So how do you pull yourself out of that? How do you sit down and write when it’s the last thing you want to do? The answer is pretty simple, but you’re not going to like it: YOU JUST HAVE TO WRITE THROUGH IT. Write through the fog and the self-doubt and the fear. I’m a firm believer that you have to write a bunch of crap to get to the good stuff. I wish there was a more eloquent way to say that, but I’m sorry, there’s just not. The muse is fleeting and unpredictable, but when she shows up everything suddenly clicks into place and the magic starts to happen. Getting there…well, sometimes it’s hell.

I make the mistake of self-editing while I write. I want it to be perfect the first time I do it, which as anyone who writes knows, is just ridiculous! Writing is revision and inspection and constant consideration. We write because we have too. You wouldn’t put yourself through the agony of it all if you didn’t absolutely have to do it. If it wasn’t apart of who you are, right? Otherwise, you would be miserable constantly.

For me the trick is consistency. Make a commitment to your craft. Do it every day, in some form or another. Now, I say that because I’m not someone who physically writes every day. I tend to be very cerebral with how I work. I used to beat myself up over that, feeling as though I wasn’t writing enough. Conceptually, most of the framework for my books happens in thought, not with actual pen and paper. But I make time for contemplating my work every day, usually on walks with our dog. And when I say contemplating, I don’t mean procrastinating. I mean actual problem-solving. I generally only sit down to write and/or sketch when I feel ready (unless I’m trying to force it, as previously mentioned, which is never a good idea). Sometimes that’s days…months…or years (WHEN BLUE MET EGG is a perfect example of years).

Creatively, everyone works differently. Each manuscript is its own challenge and will require flexibility in variation from you. So don’t do that thing where you go on Twitter and you read about fabulous book deals while your blank document glares at you with its oppressively, blinding light. That certainly won’t help you get to the good stuff. Nor will it inspire you. As much as I love how connective and supportive social media can be, it can also be incredibly distracting and isolating. You have to learn to tune out the white noise. Which I realize is a lot easier said than done. Whether that white noise is you, your peers, or the internet, find a way to unplug and focus on the work.

So now that I’ve told you to make a commitment to your craft, I’m also going to tell you to take a break from it. Often. Creative work, and life for that matter, is all about balance. But it’s really easy to throw yourself off balance and continue stumbling around without even realizing it’s happening. So make time to get away. Experience the world. See new things. Spend time with loved ones. Read a book! Whether it’s for a ten-minute walk or month-long vacation, just step away. I can’t stress the importance of getting out of your own head and re-charging enough.

I’m a list person. They give me a sense of control and accomplishment in my busy life. Which, I know, sounds silly, but it’s oh so true. So I’m going to suggest this: write down your commitments. Your commitment to your craft and to taking a break. How much time will you allow yourself for both? Make a note of that. Then try to stick with it. I find that writing it down makes it more important and real. Preferably in a place where you can see it, first thing, every day.

I know how easy it is for life to get in the way. Day jobs, relationships, kids— they all require precious amounts of your time. But if you are really serious about writing (and/or illustrating) you have to make time for it amidst everything else. Because you have to. It’s what you are passionate about, right?

So go out there and write some good stuff!

Until next time…

Happy Writing!

Lindsay


What’s up on deck? Tune in next week for an interview with author/illustrator and art director at Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, Lucy Ruth Cummins!

The Subtle Art of Pagination

Craft, Authors + Illustrators, AuthorsLindsay Ward3 Comments

Hello Critters! This week’s craft post is all about pagination, something that I think can make or break a picture book. All great picture books demonstrate a strong grasp of pacing, which is ultimately determined through the final pagination of the text and development of the manuscript itself.

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Take, for example, WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE. Maurice Sendak has some seriously long, run-on sentences in that book that would even give Nathaniel Hawthorne a run for his money. But it doesn’t matter, because Sendak is a genius. He understood that it wasn’t the structure of the sentence that mattered so much as how he broke it up amongst the pages. WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE is the greatest picture book of all time for many reasons, but pagination is a big part of that. Sendak breaks sentences in the middle, straddling them across the pages throughout the book, not necessarily in conjunction with the punctuation. In 1963, that was pretty revolutionary for a picture book. Even today, I rarely see authors do that without an ellipsis.

I remember the first time I re-read WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE as adult. On the final page, the text reads “and it was still hot.” The line is in reference to Max’s dinner, which we know Max’s mother sends him to bed without in the beginning of the story. The pagination of this line is brilliant. It’s the perfect ending. It leaves the reader wondering how much time has actually passed? Did Max really leave? So many questions arise from this simple collection of words. It’s satisfying, and yet leaves us wanting to know more. It allows the reader to understand that even at our worst, there is still love. Max misbehaves and lets his inner monster out, but it doesn’t change his mother’s unconditional love for him.

Sometimes I wonder what Ursula Nordstrom, Sendak’s editor, thought of his manuscript the first time she saw it. I imagine it would have looked a bit like a short paragraph. The entire book is only made up of 10 sentences, totaling about 338 words. But it’s how Sendak broke those 10 sentences that created such dynamic pacing and anticipation for the reader.

For me, pagination is a feeling. I sit down with my manuscript and read it aloud to myself over and over and over again. I like to test raw manuscripts out on my three-year-old too. I’m always surprised by the lines or details he connects with instantly. As I read, I make a mental note of all the places I naturally pause in my speech to formulate or process the next set of words. Those pauses become part of my timing. I also note any hiccups I come across. Places where I stumble over my own words, or find myself self-editing as I read them aloud. Those are sections that still need revision work, which I finesse until I no longer struggle with them. The placement of one word can make all the difference.

I can’t stress enough the importance of reading your work aloud, whether it’s to yourself or a group. It’s the easiest, fastest way to hear issues in your manuscript. You have to understand how your words sound together when read aloud. It’s absolutely impearative as a picture book author.

Once I feel like the text is in great shape, I consider the reveal. I think of the page turn as a curtain on a stage. Every time the reader turns the page, I’m pulling back the curtains. Showing them what’s coming next. It’s my job to get them excited about turning that page. This is where pagination really helps. As an illustrator, I have the advantage of visualizing the illustrations as I do this, which is incredibly helpful. However, if you are an author-only, practicing and understanding how to paginate your own text will help your writing tremendously. It forces you to really look at your pacing and how it works in relation to your story.

Here’s a great exercise to try for this:

Print out three copies of your manuscript. Paginate each manuscript differently. Cut up the text and paste/tape them down inside of a dummy mock-up. You can use copy paper stapled together for this. Read each version aloud and see how the pagination has changed the pacing of your story. Is there a version you gravitate towards? A version that surprised you? A version that clarified a problem area for you? Usually one pagination will just feel right when you read it aloud.

Generally, if you are an author-only, you most likely won’t need to paginate your own text, the editor or illustrator will do that. BUT, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t learn to do it and get so darn good at it that it becomes second nature. It will only help you improve as a writer and storyteller.

Until next time, happy paginating!

Lindsay


What's up on deck? Tune in next week for an interview with picture book author Anika Denise!