Saturday, February 11, 2012

Halfway there?

Just a short update to say that I have made some progress on my story for February. There was a good question on the 12X12 Facebook group about how we find the time to write. For me, it is just a matter of deciding that it is time. I'm a stay-at-home dad with a lot on my plate, but I have the flexibility to move projects around.

So, this week, I just decided it was time to spend a little time on a picture book. Usually, I think about the picture books almost subconsciously, sort of like how some programs on your computer run in the background until a task is complete. Then they pop up and let you know they're done.

On Wednesday, my subconscious popped up with an alert that it was time to starting writing out ideas for a picture book. So, I sat down and I opened up two new MSWord files. I gave each the title of book concepts had been stewing in the back of my mind for a while now. Both are about cats.

This is because my youngest son loves cats. So, I had decided that I wanted to make February's picture book about cats. He had actually given me the title for one of these months ago, and together we had banged out a very quick story to go with the name. But I wanted to give it a real effort.

So, the two concepts were vying for control of February's project. But when I sat down and looked at both ideas side-by-side, one of them just jumped out at me. Character started to spool out of me.

I'm aiming for short, simple, playful sentences. I wrote about 250 words and so far, I like what I have. But I stopped because I realized there was no conflict yet.

My hope is that my subconscious will continue to work on the problem, and in the next few days I'll find a way for my main character to get into trouble and out of it again. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

January draft completed

Recently, I saw a post about another challenge to write a picture book a day for a month. I couldn't imagine  writing at that pace. If I am properly inspired, I can write a story in about a day, but that usually comes about after months of mulling over concepts and characters.

The 12X12 in 2012 challenge has pushed me to ramp up my output, and generating one story a month is a good goal for me. It gives me the time to mull over concepts and characters, but with a deadline that forces me to confront the problems and find the story within.

A story a day would make me feel like I was in a factory. A story a year just wouldn't be satisfying. A story a month works.

As a former newspaper reporter, I think finding voice is my biggest challenge. Hemingway praised how his training in newspapers helped him so much as a writer, and he drew so much from news style to find his own voice.

Even though it teaches you a lot about focusing under deadline, I think the newspaper experience can kill voice. Eventually, everything you write will sound like everything else in the paper. 

I haven't worked at a newspaper in almost three years now, and I still see its influence in my writing. Complex sentences, devoid of passion can be the hallmarks of the average journalist. There are exceptions. There are journalists who are artists as well, but for me this is one area where the journalism training has not helped.

My first attempt at my 12X12 submission was too complex for a picture book. The sentences were too long. The idea took too long to build up. I reached 500 words when I realized that what I had written was the introduction to a longer book for older children. I was no where near an ending.

For me, one way of understanding how long a book you are writing is understanding how long a journey the character must go on. Short journeys -- either geographic or within the self -- can lead to short stories. Long journeys can lead to longer books and novels.

My first attempt might be the basis for a longer book someday, but I knew I had to scale everything down. And I wanted to make the story much, much sillier.

Then I remembered something about how the writer who produced the sequel to "Gone With The Wind" worked by first writing out the original book in longhand. It was a way to learn the voice of Margaret Mitchell. 

So, I sat down with some of my favorite children's books and retyped some of them, including "Duck for President" and "The Useful Moose." I also drew inspiration from "Bark George" and "It's Not Easy Being a Bunny."

I read the new draft to my family tonight. It went well. My boys howled with laughter. 

My 7-year-old said, "I didn't like it. I loved it!" 

My wife said it was my strongest work so far. Then she offered a couple of suggestions. 

For me, it means a lot if my family likes my stories. I think it gives me the strength to face the criticism and rejection from others. So, I've cleared the first hurdle.

Now what do I do with this?