Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Slightly inspired by artificial deadlines

It's Day 29 of the Picture Book Marathon (which I signed up for on Feb. 1st). The goal was to have 26 picture books finished by the end of the day. My count (as of 11:11 a.m.)? Three nearly complete books, and ideas and/or outlines for another 12 or so.

After some hesitation on that first day, I began to feel hope and inspiration, actually letting myself believe that I was going to not only come up with 26 manuscripts, but that I was going to sell many of them. Nine days in, that hope hadn't entirely vanished despite not having completed a single book—I met a writer friend for lunch halfway between here and West Virginia, where we brainstormed together for an hour.

The beginning of such efforts always feels like the start of a love affair—there's an almost tingly sensation of playfulness and life-changing opportunity. And then comes the hard work, whether paying a mortgage, or creating a conflict-filled plot.

I got really, unexpectedly busy this month, so the PBM became less and less of a priority. If it had been a real deadline with consequences (i.e., money or stigma) attached, I would have found a way to make it a priority. But I knew, deep down, that it was an artificial deadline and that it really didn't matter if I came up with 26 books in a month.

Yet, without this artificial deadline, I probably wouldn't have made myself come up with ideas for so many picture books, nor would I have attempted to write down some of the stories I used to spontaneously make up for my kids at bedtime (e.g., "Cleo, Secret Empress of the Cats").

So, I don't have 26 books completed (although I still have another 12 hours or so...), but I do have a list of ideas to work on—and I got to see my friend, Mary, for the first time in six months.

Monday, February 13, 2012

The little pieces of paper that mark our days

I am in the midst of filing this year's FAFSA for I-guy's college funding and so, today, I am going through the little pieces of paper that are stuffed inside the shelves of my computer desk. Because of this, I know that I went to the eye doctor on Dec. 13th, ate Thai food on Jan. 26th, and bought books on Jan. 9th.

It is a bit like being an archeologist of my own life. But the only activities I have engaged in, which can be discovered this way, are the mere purchasing of things. Many of those days were otherwise unrecorded—skipped entries in my journal, blank squares on my paper calendar.

Where hunter-gatherers from long ago might have left behind spears and knives as evidence of their activities, I have only credit card receipts...tossed into a plastic bag, headed anonymously (I hope) to the dump.

The irony is that I don't even enjoy shopping all that much. I purchase what I need—whether groceries, hand lotion, or jeans—and then dash home, not lingering over all that I could potentially own. What did I do on the days that I didn't eat out, or buy food, or pay for eyeglasses? Those hours are unmarked, gone except in receding memory.

That is why artists create, seizing the moment and wrestling with what would have been silence, invisibility.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Picture Book Marathon begins

I signed up for the Picture Book Marathon, pledging to write 26 picture books in February, because I thought it would be fun to delve into a new format, especially since I have no realistic plan to seek publication for anything that comes out of this. I figured it would be a good exercise to write with both simple visuals and a specific audience in mind.

So this morning, the first day of the Marathon, I set aside 15 minutes to start scribbling something down. The contest suggests coming up only with a very rough 32-page draft each day, which could be only 32 sentences for the simplest picture book.

But for the first time in my life I have writer's block (which is why I am writing this blog post instead). It's not just that my mind has suddenly gone blank—I actually feel nervous and sweaty. I can't make myself commit anything to paper.

I thought writing for young children would be the simplest kind of writing possible. What is overwhelming is not how little I need to write to make one small book, but all the thousands of words and descriptions I must cut out to get there.

My inner critic is like a fussy child, displeased with any of the ideas I hand her, throwing them all in the thrash before they're even unwrapped.