Friday, July 01, 2011

You've gotta be crazy to do this

Writing a picture book can be an agonizing experience. It is nothing less than a form of self-inflicted torture (SIT)!

When writing a picture book, the author must squeeze enormous themes and concepts into a tiny package. She must develop characters, create tension, and build a plot, using vivid language and bold imagery to tell a complete story--all in less than 1000 words. Often in less than 600 words!

On the surface, this process may not seem very daunting. But the emotional trauma caused by SIT can be excruciating. A picture book author is often forced to cut beloved lines from her story, perhaps never to see them again. She is subjected to a storm of harsh criticism from her peers. She will agonize for hours over a single word, stress out over her growing word count, worry that after all her efforts she'll have to scrap the story and start again from scratch. She suffers from discouragement, self-doubt, and, sometimes, an overwhelming feeling of failure.

And then there are the physical effects of SIT. A picture book author spends hours on end "on her end," all too often with little or no tangible progress to show for it. She may be sleep-deprived, malnourished, and appear disheveled. She may also suffer from tension in her neck, shoulders and back, writing cramps and carpal tunnel syndrome.

Occasionally, the picture book author may come to her senses and realize that she is a crazy nut-ball for doing this to herself, but that moment of clarity rarely lasts long. The truly determined picture book author toughs it out, because she knows that telling a great story is worth the struggle it takes to get there.


  1. I could never, ever, ever write a picture book, never mind keep it down to 600 words, so I bow down to you and wish you good luck! I hope your efforts are rewarded tenfold.

  2. Come to your senses? Clarity? Those are words for the week and cowardly. You can do it, Becky! Your kind of crazy is quite endearing my friend. :o)

  3. Thanks ladies! Can you tell that my latest picture book project has been particularly difficult? The fine tuning, not the story itself. It's a collaboration, so that can make it seem doubly difficult, but we are very confident that this one will sell!

  4. Yup, this definitely summed up the way I was feeling all week!

    Just when I got done saying "the chicken is cooking" the chicken started to crash and burn :)


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