6 Lessons Learned from Doing the Picture Book Marathon

Pic­ture Book Marathon 2011 Logo, by Nathan Hale

I did it. I wrote 26 brand-new pic­ture-book texts in the 28 days of Feb­ru­ary! Now that I’ve had some time to relax and reflect, I thought I’d share my thoughts on the experience.

I start­ed out with great gus­to, then stum­bled in the mid­dle and took a bunch of days off, but man­aged to sprint to the fin­ish to make up for lost time. I fin­ished the last one with exact­ly 12 min­utes to spare before the clock struck mid­night on the very last day. Talk about close. But, still, I did it!

And I am so glad I took on this chal­lenge. Not only do I have 26 bright, shiny new man­u­scripts (sev­er­al of which have real poten­tial right out of the gate), but I learned some much-need­ed lessons along the way. I’d thought I’d doc­u­ment there here for any­one think­ing about doing the chal­lenge, for any­one think­ing about writ­ing pic­ture books, or for my future self when­ev­er I need a reminder!

5 Lessons I Learned From the Pic­ture Book Marathon:

  • PB Marathon Les­son #1: When I set my mind to it, I can be a LOT more pro­duc­tive than I thought I could. I was find­ing stolen moments in the pick-up line at school, while wait­ing for kids to get out of lessons, scrib­bling on receipts at stop­lights, etc. I dis­cov­ered I have been wast­ing a lot of time on things like self-doubt, think­ing I need­ed a big chunk of unin­ter­rupt­ed time to write, or try­ing to fig­ure out the whole sto­ry before I start­ed writ­ing. I wrote more in this one month than I have in the past year. Yes, I was most­ly work­ing on revi­sions, but still–yipes! We need to keep the cre­ative wheels turn­ing, even when we’re focus­ing on more ana­lyt­i­cal tasks. This has unex­pect­ed ben­e­fits, like…
  • PB Marathon Les­son #2: Pro­duc­tiv­i­ty begets pro­duc­tiv­i­ty, and pro­cras­ti­na­tion begets pro­cras­ti­na­tion. The more I wrote, the more I felt like writ­ing, AND it car­ried over into oth­er things as well. I man­aged to get some long-stand­ing to-do’s around the house done, sim­ply because I felt so super­charged about get­ting my books writ­ten! Typ­i­cal­ly I would­n’t let myself tack­le those kinds of chores, because I always felt like I should be writ­ing instead. But I often did­n’t do the writ­ing because it was so easy to get dis­tract­ed by lit­tle to-do’s and inter­rup­tions. So, every­thing would stag­nate. Now that I learned #1, it’s much eas­i­er to avoid the down­ward spi­ral of #2.
  • PB Marathon Les­son #3: As pro­duc­tive and ener­giz­ing as that month was, it’s impor­tant to remem­ber to recharge! I think I crashed in the mid­dle because I was writ­ing every day. It was fine on week­days, but on the week­ends I real­ly need­ed to get away from my com­put­er and play. Doing that and then feel­ing behind and rush­ing to catch up was­n’t help­ful either. So, out­side of the chal­lenge, I’ll try to be pro­duc­tive every week­day, and I’ll reserve the week­ends for rest­ing, read­ing, and spend­ing time with family.
  • PB Marathon Les­son #4: Writ­ing fast and short is the best way to cut to the heart of the sto­ry. I tend to over­think book ideas before I ever get to writ­ing the first word. And, if I do start writ­ing, I tend to be research dri­ven and over­ly wordy (which is the kiss of death for pic­ture books!). So, my first drafts usu­al­ly read like real­ly bad ency­clo­pe­dia entries, and then I spend all my revi­sion efforts try­ing to resus­ci­tate them and bring back the life that inspired me to write about them in the first place. The marathon forced me to just get it out there in all its pas­sion­ate chaos. It’s much eas­i­er, and more suc­cess­ful, to start with a strong heart and add the nec­es­sary limbs lat­er than it is to start with a bunch of limbs and try to find a place for the heart! The PB Marathon allowed me to final­ly get to the core of some big ideas I’ve been think­ing about for years but did­n’t know how to con­tain. I think this approach would also help me with longer projects, as a sort of outline/synopsis/summary to keep me on track as I flesh out the details.
  • PB Marathon Les­son #5: I need to work on end­ings! If I could work a cir­cu­lar end­ing, great. If not, though, all of my end­ings felt either rushed or drawn out or just plain trite and stu­pid. Clear­ly, I need some work here! So, I’m going to be launch­ing a major self-edu­ca­tion unit, study­ing the best of the best pic­ture books and their end­ings. Maybe I’ll post my dis­cov­er­ies here someday.
  • PB Marathon Les­son #6: Final­ly, the biggest, most impor­tant les­son learned: Despite my weak­ness with end­ings, I don’t total­ly suck! Okay, so not all of the 26 are going to end up on any­body’s award list (or even book­shelf), but that’s no sur­prise to anyone–least of all me. What I was­n’t expect­ing was to find a hand­ful of real gems. There are sev­er­al man­u­scripts in the pile that I love, can’t wait to revise, and know I will hap­pi­ly and con­fi­dent­ly sub­mit in the not-too-dis­tant future. And there are quite a few oth­ers that are, at the very least, a good idea worth pur­su­ing to see if I can devel­op it into some­thing sol­id. Very pleas­ant sur­pris­es indeed, and great con­fi­dence boost­ers besides.

After all those valu­able lessons, I would’ve felt like a win­ner even if I had­n’t com­plet­ed the 26 man­u­scripts. The whole expe­ri­ence was def­i­nite­ly worth­while for me. To my friends and fam­i­ly, thank you for the encour­age­ment and cama­raderie: they were a huge help, and I am extreme­ly grate­ful for your sup­port! To my amaz­ing and won­der­ful cri­tique group, thanks for wel­com­ing the del­uge of new man­u­scripts com­ing your way! And to those of you con­sid­er­ing the chal­lenge, DO IT! And let me know what YOU learn. 🙂

Oodles of story ideas!

Pic­ture Book Marathon 2011 Logo, by Nathan Hale

I’m behind on the Pic­ture Book Marathon and have some seri­ous catch­ing up to do, so I’m going to make this short, but thanks to this Pic­ture Book Marathon blog post, I dis­cov­ered some great new sto­ry idea resources that I just have to share!
Author Rick Wal­ton has some great tips for com­ing up with sto­ry ideas here. He lists a bunch of dif­fer­ent ways you might get start­ed with a sto­ry. For exam­ple, choose a char­ac­ter, a quest, or even just a phrase–just about any­thing that comes to mind–then fol­low it, and see where it goes.
To help with that, he’s also com­piled lots and lots of amaz­ing brain­storm­ing lists for chil­dren’s book writ­ers, which you can find here. A few of my favorites include:

If you can’t find some sto­ry ideas in there some­where, you might want to try a new career. Maybe brick lay­ing or air traf­fic con­trol? (Oh wait, that’s what MY high school apti­tude test said I should do. I guess you’re on your own.)

Picture Book Marathon–Day 14


Last month, I blogged that I was going to to do two big chal­lenges: the pic­ture book marathon and the Word­Press PostAWeek. I’ve pret­ty much been keep­ing up with the Word­Press PostAWeek chal­lenge. I think I’ve put up some good posts so far, but I’m still a lit­tle dis­ap­point­ed with the results. I was hop­ing to get a lit­tle more inspired, get a lot more into the flow of reg­u­lar blog­ging, and get more com­fort­able shar­ing more about what I’m learn­ing and doing. Per­haps that will come in time. After all, I’ve been fair­ly well con­sumed by the Pic­ture Book Marathon all this month, too!
The PB Marathon is a chal­lenge “dur­ing which children’s writ­ers com­pose one pic­ture book each day until they have writ­ten 26 pic­ture books.” Today is day 14, and I’m pleased to say I’m half way there! So far, I’ve writ­ten 13 brand-new pic­ture books includ­ing every­thing from non­fic­tion sci­ence and biogra­phies to pure­ly fic­tion­al goofi­ness to tra­di­tion­al folk­tale retellings. It’s been a lot of work, but I have def­i­nite­ly learned that I can com­mit to a dai­ly writ­ing prac­tice. (Well, Mon­day through Fri­day, any­way. Week­ends have been near­ly impos­si­ble!) I’ve also been pleas­ant­ly sur­prised by the results. I was expect­ing per­haps two out of 26 to be worth pur­su­ing, but so far, I think maybe there are only about two that should prob­a­bly just be delet­ed right now. Some are bet­ter than oth­ers, of course, but I think most of them do have the poten­tial to be devel­oped into some­thing inter­est­ing. And since I like doing revi­sion much bet­ter than writ­ing first drafts, I’ll be set for quite some time (although I am def­i­nite­ly going to con­tin­ue with some type of new writ­ing work every day—just not a whole book)!
So, Feb­ru­ary is half over. And 2011 is look­ing to be a very pro­duc­tive year. Over the hump and on down the oth­er side!