Upon discovering I wrote children’s picture books, the woman’s first question was, “How many words do you write a day?”
I was speechless. There were no words. If there had been words, I would have said something like, “If I’m lucky, I write 10 words a day, but they are very good words.”
It seemed an odd first question to ask an author, especially an author who last year sold a manuscript of only 22 words. I wrote that story in about 3 months, a very short time for me. Let’s see. That’s less than 1 word every 3 days. Not very impressive, I must admit.
However, in today’s market, the fewer words in a manuscript, the better, or so it seems. And art notes, once verboten, are now acceptable, as long as the writer understands how to use them. Shutta Crum is one who knows how to use them. She explains a bit about the art notes she wrote to go with her 9 ½ word book Mine! in the March/April 2013 SCBWI Bulletin, “Writing the Wordless, or Almost Wordless, Picture Book.”
The woman’s question seemed to reveal underlying questions:
“How fast can you write?” “How much can you do?”
If I’d had the time and she’d had the interest, I could have explained:
“Less is more.”
“Quality is preferred to quantity.”
“Every word must be perfect and perfectly placed.”
“Our job, as writers, is often taking words away, rather than adding them.”
"Sometimes when I’m writing, I just sit and think or walk and think. I don’t actually write at all."
The brilliant inventor, Nikola Tesla, would sometimes sit for hours thinking, putting his invention together in his mind, before he sat down to physically construct it. Abigail Samoun, agent extraordinaire and author of Mind Afire the visions of Tesla says. “When Tesla first thought up his AC motor, he had imagined its every specification so clearly, that when he built it, it worked flawlessly.
Sadly, I don’t have the mind of Tesla, but the last two times I had mini breakthroughs were 1) upon waking and 2) when I was sitting quietly prior to meditation. I was silently waiting, not writing at all.
Perhaps a better question would have been, “What value do your stories give to children?” “Is there a philosophy or theme that runs through your work?” or even, “What are your stories about?”
In the spirit of “less is more” I'm sharing two books that demonstrate this in different ways. They also both demonstrate love, perfect for Valentine's Day.
No by Claudia Rueda is a 125-word picture book about a little bear who isn’t ready to hibernate, relatable to children who aren’t ready to go to sleep. In the second half of the book there are 3 double page spreads with no words, just the illustrations, also spare, showing the rising action. After those 3 double page spreads, there are 2 double page spreads with only 1 word on each spread: “Mama!”, then another double page spread with no words.
Trouper is a picture book in which a three-legged dog is the main character. One of the things I loved about this book, which is based on a true rescue story, is that the three legs are never mentioned directly. You see the images from the beginning, but the only two references are near the end: “my hairy stump” and the endearing ending when Trouper and the boy who’s rescued him play “a game called RUN ----- and leave five footprints in the snow.”
As Deepak Chopra wrote in his book Creating Affluence, “The field is dynamic. Even though it is silent, it has the infinite dynamism that can create any possibility....In the silence is the source of the dynamism...The deeper the silence, the more the dynamism.”
Go back and substitute the word “story” for “field.” Sometimes it’s not about how many words we write. Sometimes it’s the dynamism we can create through silence. That’s when we can listen, to ourselves, or to our muse, and not worry about how many words we wrote per day.
Called a “born storyteller” by the media, Marsha Diane Arnold wrote the award-winning “homegrown treasures” column prior to penning eleven award-winning picture books. Last year, Marsha contracted with Neal Porter Books for two new picture books, Kate O'Sullivan of Houghton Mifflin for another, and Tamarind for a fourth. Marsha's course Writing Wonderful Character-Driven Picture Books has helped many published and aspiring writers to write stronger characters. If you're near Sebastopol, CA, come hear her SCBWI presentation on Character-Driven Books on March 6th, 2014. All attendees may receive half off her course.
Meet the Friday Blogonauts
First Fridays will feature Bryan Patrick Avery, published writer , man of mystery, and professional magician among other things.
Second Fridays will feature awesome multi-award winning author Marsha Diane Arnold who will be writing about character-driven and/or nature-based books and/or anything she likes :)
Third Fridays will feature independent Aladdin/Simon & Shuster editor Emma Sector who has helped bring many books into the world.
Fourth Fridays will feature the great Christine Taylor-Butler who has published over 70 award-winning fiction and non-fiction and nonfiction books including the acclaimed new middle grade series - The Lost Tribes.
Fifth Fridays will feature the fabulous Carl Angel award-winning multi-published Illustrator and graphic designer.
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