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"Writing Time Outs" Can Help You Polish Your Picture Book:
"Musings" for July 2005
by Margot Finke
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What is a Writing Time Out?
No, it does not mean dumping your PB (picture book) manuscript on a chair in the corner for fifteen minutes! A writing Time Out means putting the PB manuscript you have slaved over aside for a few months. Let it marinate in a drawer, or in a folder on your hard drive marked, "Time Out." Forget about it. Clear your brain of all traces of this PB and begin writing something new.
Does Your Picture Book Need a Time Out?
It does, when your fellow critiquers offer conflicting advice. Or you tweak, change, and rework your PB so many times you lose focus. This is when a Time Out can be especially useful. Yes, doing nothing sometimes works wonders!
Or, when you feel there is something not quite right, but you can't put your finger on the problem. You need to view your PB with fresh eyes. So, give the pesky thing a Time Out. When you reread it, in a month or two, you will be amazed by what jumps out at you.
Your First Reread--Yikes, What Was I Thinking?
Problem areas abound. How come you couldn't see them before? You race to the computer, bring up the file, and begin to type. Your husband and kids ask about dinner. You offer a glassy stare while pounding the keys.
What You Found and How to Fix It:
The word nice appears four times on the one page? There were way too many compound sentences. The main character's name was only mentioned once. And the mom seems more important than the kid character. Tighten! Tighten! Tighten! The Fix: Focus on crafting a great voice for that kid character. Cut back on what Mom says and does. But watch out: you don't want the word count (1,000 or less) to balloon. Break out your trusty thesaurus. Use it to scrap those overused adjectives and weak verbs. Are four adverbs really necessary, or do most of them prop up weak verbs?
Now You're Cooking!
Your picture book is coming together with flair. You have cut unnecessary descriptions, worked in active and powerful verbs, and strengthened your main character. But wait! It is still too early to rush to the query letter stage. Another Time Out, plus clear headed nit-picking, will give your picture book exactly the right polish, and make it into an editor's must have PB.
The Second Reread and Minor Fixes:
Better! Much better. But still. . . The ending isn't quite perfect. And that one sentence near the end, where the loose ends get tied up, needs a more lyrical feel. Oh no! Are there enough illustration opportunities for a 32-page picture book -- approx.14 or 15? The Fixes: Solutions come easier now, because time away has sharpened your clarity and focus. Visions of a signed contract encourage you to keep tweaking, and make sure that your text offers a good number of illustration opportunities. Soon your picture book is as fine as you can make it.
Begin writing that query letter.
Why Do Time Outs Work ?
#1 Because they give your overloaded brain cells a rest, and you love writing for children.
#2 You put the story out of your mind, write other things, and go on with your life.
#3 You come back to your PB after a two month hiatus, bringing with you a fresh new focus.
NOTE: A few days or a week won't give you the clarity you need. I have found that picture book Time Outs work best if given the minimum of a month's rest. Once your manuscript is buried in your bottom drawer or hard drive, do whatever is necessary to forget it. Take a class, get married, join a rock band, paint the house or get a divorce -- whatever works!
I use as many Time Outs as necessary. Keep doing them until you are sure your book is as perfect as you can manage. This tactic works. Utilize Time Outs to help you shape a problem manuscript into The Picture Book That Sells.
Happy Writing Mates.
Margot Finke's biography and index to Musings.
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