Perhaps the most valuable lesson I learned while at Chautauqua was to change my writing process. I had developed several bad habits as a writer, and I learned how much they were affecting me.
1. I wrote only on my computer: no planning, no sketching, no brainstorming, no making of dummy books. This leads to technically perfect sentences written around a gaping hole: little or no story.
2. I had transformed into my own editor. Typing three sentences and rewriting two , constantly self-editing, seeking the prefect word before I even had a full draft of a paragraph, much less the whole story.
3. I had lost sight of the main goal: to write a story. Not a picture book, not a magazine article, not a novel. A STORY. No matter what form, genre, fiction or nonfiction, the overall goal is to tell a story. A story that grabs the reader and sits her down saying, “You’re going to be a while, so get comfortable. Sorry if you don’t get enough sleep tonight.”
So, armed with the truth, I marched into the bookstore and bought myself a sketchpad and a set of colored pencils. (Okay, I didn’t really need the colored pencils, as I’m no artist, but maybe I’ll learn how to draw along the way. Will Strong, an illustrator I met, pointed out that art, like most things, needs to be taught.)
And I was thrilled when, during my second critique, Eric exclaimed “That’s it! That’s what I want to see.” When an acclaimed picture book author announces you’ve got it, well, I just wanted to burst into song a la Eliza Doolittle!
I’ve started slowly, but surely. I am writing more – if not every day, a majority of days. I am not doing so only at my computer. I am thinking more, brainstorming more, and writing fewer sentences – for the moment. Improving my process means improving my stories.
And that may mean focusing less on picture books and more on my supposed side project: my novel of Old Salem.