By Miranda Paul
2. Research and "mulling"
5. Bang your head against a wall**
6. Revise and polish
Those, roughly, are my six stages of writing. **But stage five deserves explanation. What does "Bang Your Head Against a Wall" mean?
This can take many forms, from lamenting to your spouse to curling in a ball and repeating "I quit" over and over. Gentler forms of stage five involve me staring into space, taking a hike, or distracting myself with Internet memes.
It's a horrible and seemingly unproductive stage, but it's a necessary one if I'm to produce a manuscript I'm proud of, and proud to tell students about when I visit their schools. If a story wasn't a challenge to write at some point in the process, it's probably not the best it can be. And why submit or publish something unfinished? Every time it would be read aloud, you'd have to hear all the places you "shoulda, coulda, woulda" done more work. A little head banging now saves many "what ifs" later.
Your writing process may have different stages. And certainly, our careers have different stages. Cycles, seasons, and phases are all part of any journey. Our characters and manuscripts should reflect that, too. Ask yourself--does your story have stages?
In my upcoming book, called Blobfish Throws A Party, there are subtle stages to how I've laid out the plot. The reasoning behind subtle stages is that the story is based on the old "telephone" game that I played as a child. Changes don't occur all at once, but gradually a problem or message gets twisted and can have chaotic (and humorous!) results. Of course, I made sure that the most chaotic (and humorous) stage of the message-passing is the last one. It's important to order your stages in a way that build anticipation rather than diminish it. (Unless it's a wind-down bedtime book, perhaps.)
In addition to the plot stages, my main character also goes through emotional stages. Blobfish Throws a Party begins with a character who lives at the bottom of the sea. The dark, lonely bottom of the sea.
Roughly, Blobfish goes through the following four stages:
The stages in this book are very simple - because the book is for young readers, and it's a wacky fantastical text meant solely to entertain. (Plus, it's coupled with delightful illustrations by debut illustrator Maggie Caton!) My point in writing about Blobfish isn't to make his story sound grandiose or complex or literary. But if you analyze even the shortest, simplest picture books, you may begin to recognize distinct shifts or phases to each story. Oh, how cleverly and painstakingly picture book authors craft their work! (I'm constantly in awe of short texts that do so much with so few words.)
Now, take a look at your story - have you incorporated shifts or stages that work for your characters and plot? Do they help your readers anticipate what's next or feel the emotion of the text and pictures?
If not, simply bang your head against a wall (or desk). It's a legitimate part of the process that your friends and family might never understand. Just continue revising and polishing anyway. In no time, you'll be throwing a party too!
Miranda Paul is an award-winning children’s author of both fiction and nonfiction. Her creative nonfiction picture books One Plastic Bag and Water is Water were both named Junior Library Guild selections, and her bedtime romp 10 Little Ninjas was an Amazon Best Book of the Month. Her titles have received starred reviews from School Library Journal and Publisher’s Weekly in addition to being named to several award and state reading lists. Forthcoming titles in 2017 include Blobfish Throws a Party, Are We Pears Yet? and The Great Pasta Escape. Miranda makes regular appearances at schools, conferences, and festivals, and has been a guest presenter at the Library of Congress Young Readers Center along with environmental activist Isatou Ceesay. Miranda is a co-founding member and current mentorship chair for We Need Diverse Books™. She believes in working hard, having fun, and being kind. Connect with her on Twitter (@miranda_paul) and Facebook, or learn more at www.mirandapaul.com.
I was disappointed to read an essay posted online recently by a white male author/illustrator about how to handle the demands of "We Need Diverse Books" without losing any business. That's right. His essay about his experience with including diversity in his books is about how to do it properly so as to not lose any business to authors and illustrators who are people of color. "Sue me for being selfish." he actually writes at one point. He is quite proud of himself for having "worked in" some Spanish, a wheelchair, and a girl wearing a hijab. Then he blames WNDB for requiring that he do so. When his agent urges him to cool it on awkwardly checking off boxes in his work to indicate diversity, he "was pretty pissed off." He creates a list of books made by people who are not the same race as the characters in the book they made in order to argue his case with his agent. Sadly for him, his agent lets him know that each of the books on his list was actually made by a POC the same race as the characters depicted in the book. Oops. Instead of admitting that his agent is right, he reaches out to a friend in the industry who tells him that his inclusion is coming off as a bit forced and inauthentic. This upsets him. But then he realizes that the most important thing is getting published, so he decides to whiten up his characters. "Plain old" is the term he uses to indicate whiteness, the natural default for characters. He seems angry at WNDB for tricking him into thinking that he needs to include brown people in his work.
He then writes about talking to two POC in the industry who stress that the industry desperately needs more POC on the creative side as well as the editorial side. He then states that he would prefer to make the books himself, rather than have POC make them, because he wants to make the money. That's when "Sue me for being selfish." comes in.
This essay is so incredibly inappropriate and completely off the mark. He never mentions the reason why WNDB exists, only his desire to find workarounds so that he will not lose any business to authors and illustrators of color. His sense of entitlement has him thinking that not only should he get book contracts for projects depicting white people, he deserves to get the contracts for books depicting brown people too. His annoyance at being told that he wasn't doing it well is evident, and instead of taking the advice being given to him, he chooses to argue because he can't possibly imagine that he is wrong.
I've heard similar things from Caucasian people in my critique group, proudly showing one page of brown people in their portfolio to satisfy the call from WNDB.
I've seen well-executed inclusive books made by white people and very clunky inclusive books made by white people. What never seems to cross anyone's mind is that maybe it's time for white folks to stay in their own lane and let POC tell their own stories.
For next month's post and moving forward, please send me questions and topics that you would like to discuss that involve libraries, books, diversity, and the children's literature community. firstname.lastname@example.org
Fifi Abu spends her days surrounded by books that have already been created and the rest of her time writing and illustrating books yet to be born. She looks forward to a day when all children can see themselves reflected in the books they read. Ms. Abu holds a master's degree in children's literature and a master's degree in library science, is an active member of SCBWI and a Children's Book Academy graduate.
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