Not long ago I saw an old video about creativity by National Geographic photographer Dewitt Jones. I have a page of scribbled-in-colored-pencil notes with countless lessons, all applicable to my work and life. But one lessons stands out:
There's more than one right answer.
Obvious enough. I can write a poem in free verse or as a sestina; both can be good, or "right." But what struck me was the quote,
"Anybody can come up with one right answer." The key is to look for the next right answer ...
I don't have as much trouble doing this in some areas of writing. My picture book isn't working in prose? Try it in rhyme! Let's make the characters centipedes, set it on Mars. In other areas and other arts, however, I have a harder time: that scene that won't come together, that awkward poem, that uninspiring photograph.
Jones, a photographer, shared a bland snapshot of his daughter. The sort of picture we all have crowding albums and memory cards. Blown-out highlights, crowded frame, random use of color. He pointed out that if he judged himself on that shot, he'd put his camera away forever. But he didn't stop there. He pushed on, and the next image was tighter, more sensitive and evocative. Ahh, he'd found the Right Answer.
That's where I'm often tempted to stop. In picture making I think, "Oh, good! I got it!" and the terror at having to put away my camera subsides. For a while. Because who knows if there will be another great shot? What if there's not? Then it's proof I can't do it, I don't have the gift, my "right answer" was just a fluke, luck. I labor over a scene and finally get it. Not great, but good enough. What if I try again and make it worse? What if I lose what was right the first time?
Jones urges us to...
Look harder, to shift perspective, trust instinct, slow down. To look for the next right answer not in terror, but knowing it will be there.
The next shot of this same subject was a close-up of his daughter's face. Sensitive, full of texture and mood. Breathtaking. Another right answer.
This is what I need to do, to let go of the fear, the frantic judging of my self-worth by the image on the LCD screen or the words on my page. I need to let myself fall in love with the world. Because that's what creativity is. Curiosity. Joy. Love.
I assumed Jones's glorious images were moments of inspiration, gifts. But he said that it takes him fourteen-thousand "answers" to get those thirty or so "right answers" that end up in a National Geographic story. Just as I read somewhere else that your first hundred thousand photographs are practice.
Dewitt Jones doesn't stop at the first right answer, and neither can I. And with Scrivener's Snapshot function, I never have to lose any of my first right - or wrong - answers along the way.
And then there were three ... books by me! It is with supreme delight that I announce Eerdmans Books for Young Readers will be publishing my picture book, Mama Earth's New Year. Yay!
The very first copies of Halloween Good Night!!
I've been doing this writing thing for more than fifteen years. You'd think I would have an airtight process by now. You'd think I could write a book like “how to write a book.” Right? You'd think I wouldn't flounder with each new project as if I were the first one to wonder if a round stone could roll. Because really, this isn’t my first rodeo.
I started the first semester of graduate school knowing just a little more about picture books than I do about worms. Children love them, they come out on rainy days, and if you cut them in half, they really do die.
13 Must-Have Mobile Apps for Writers. Writing has changed since the days of typewriter and correction fluid (remember the little bottle of white-out with the brush, remember how strong it smelled, how fast it dried, how fun it was?). Pen and paper have been replaced in many fields by smartphones, mobile devices and laptops. But until recently it never occurred to me that more than just writing could be aided by technology.
The 3 Act structure provides a perfect framework for any genre of picture book, about any subject. Plus thinking of it in terms of the grid we drew together, it can help immeasurable with pacing and troubleshooting a story that just isn’t working.
I first started thinking about tension when I heard Donald Maass speak at a conference some years ago. He described how the simple scene of a man looking at his watch while waiting for a bus can go from bland to Bang in a matter of words. Since then I have often noticed the varying levels of tension, both in books I have enjoyed and in those I haven’t. Here I'll discuss the ten levels of tension, and what they mean to the writer.
I can't believe how long it's taken me to post these photos. Actually, yes I can. I'm horribly lazy when it comes to keeping up with my online presence. What's worse is I actually like to blog and Facebook and whatnot, but these children! The chickens! The garden! My editor and agent who actually - gasp - expect me to write now and then!
I know, excuses excuses.
I am so full of exclamation points! See, just this morning I was showing Maggie the cover art pdf. She, always attentive, noticed the little square on the back cover where the bar code will go. "What's that?"
I believe four key elements unite the best of the best rhyming picture book texts: Structure, Speech, Surprise, and Story. Books that fail will be lacking in one (or more) of these key areas; those that succeed will demonstrate at least passing-grade competence in all four. Now to examine these elements more closely.