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?