Retain the Spark

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You come up with a great idea and you draft a new picture book manuscript. You revise and polish and take it to your critique group.

They give you feedback and you rewrite. Then you have someone else critique it. They too give you feedback and you rewrite again.

Many of us will keep up this critique and rewrite process for months or even years on a given manuscript. We tinker with the vocabulary. Don’t make it too hard! Four year-olds won’t know that word. We add descriptions and strengthen verbs and . . .

We revise the heart right of our manuscripts.

Last week, I viewed a webinar with Frances Gilbert, the Editor-in-Chief of Doubleday Books for Young Readers. The webinar was about the rules that aren’t really rules that so many writers try to abide by. But she also spoke about the angst and anxiety that comes with multiple revisions. She’s had writers tell her that they feel stressed and just aren’t having fun with the picture book manuscripts. And, according to Gilbert, it shows. Their work lacks the spark found in early drafts.

The reality is that our critique groups want to help us write better manuscripts. But many of us focus on minor details. When we critique picture book manuscripts, we should be looking at pacing. Does it move along well or does it drag? Is there something for the adult and the child? What about the illustrator? Is this a manuscript that will give the illustrator something to do or is it all in the text? I’ve also come to suspect that our critique groups believe that it is their sworn duty to help us find something to fix.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t revise and I absolutely adore my critique group. But you need to keep your goal in sight. Why did you want to write a particular manuscript? What is it that you want to accomplish?

Me? I always strive to remember my child reader. What is it that this child wants from this book? What will they discover? And what will bring them back?

It is my job to make certain that that spark remains.

–SueBE