I got all bristly earlier this week when a friend of mine — while we were discussing prolific children’s writers and our own busy schedules — remarked about how great it must feel to bang out something as short as a picture book manuscript.
Fellow members of the kidlit guild will be proud to know that I reflexively defended our craft and the time it takes to do it properly, even when the word count is measured in three (or even two) digits. Yes, compared to the geologic age of the earth or the time it takes to produce book-length nonfiction about the Smoot-Hawley Tariff, picture book manuscripts come together relatively fast. But in such a brief piece of writing, for an audience whose outlook and recent experiences are so different from those of the author, every word gets scrutinized and scrutinized again — and that’s before you take into consideration how those words will interact with illustrations that don’t yet exist.
It’s possible to quickly turn out a picture book manuscript, I admitted, but it’s not necessarily the norm. In my experience, certainly, it’s the exception.
Well, a day or two later, I went on to have one of those exceptional experiences.
With a critique group meeting looming and nothing to share, I went for a run Tuesday evening. Less than a mile into it, a recent idea that heretofore consisted only of three words popped into my sweaty head — along with fully formed text. I fleshed it out while I ran, kept working it over so I wouldn’t forget it before I got back to the house, and typed it up as soon as I came in the door.
Later that evening, I sat in a big comfy chair and added a bit by longhand before placing the notebook on the floor right outside my bedroom door. First thing in the morning, I picked it up, went downstairs, and banged out a complete manuscript. Elapsed time since inspiration hit: maybe 13 hours.
My friend was right. It did feel great.
What felt even better was the nature of this particular manuscript — goofy and silly, inspired by and targeted for the tastes of 7-year-old S. I can’t remember the last time I’d written something like that, but I know I don’t want to go that long again.
Is my new manuscript any good? I’ll find out soon enough when I share it with other grownups. But I can tell you how S and 2-year-old F reacted. My wife read the manuscript to them throughout the day, and they loved it, with S recounting his favorite parts to me when I got home that evening.
Now, something else that we in the kidlit guild are supposed to reflexively emphasize is that you should never use the reaction of your kids, grandkids, pets, etc., to measure the quality of a manuscript. Of course they’ll love it; you feed them. Their reaction is not supposed to matter.
Well, it did.