The very first kid lit writing contest I entered was Vivian Kirkfield’s “50 Magic Words” in 2018. I’ve done a few other challenges since then, but wow, this one is still tough. If you think writing a 100 or 214 word story is difficult, try writing with just 50 words and no illustration notes!
The amazing thing about it, though, is that if you read through the entries, some people really rock this challenge. We’re only two days into the challenge and there’s already an impressive range of flash fictions for children: funny stories, sweet stories, and tug-at-your-heartstring stories.
And if you’re up for it, by all means try the challenge. I think this one encourages lyrical or poetic stories, because every one of those 50 words has to carry so much weight.
One of the things I didn’t know when I first started writing picture books was that you need to write a lot. Like many writers, I thought I would write one book and then try to find a home for it.
The reality is that what you OUGHT to do is write another picture book manuscript, and another, and another. Kate Messner explains why in this post on “Picture Book Math,” which anyone who wants to write picture books should read.
What I want to talk about here is how you can write a lot. One of the tricks I discovered last year is Tara Lazar’s StoryStorm, a one-month challenge that encourages people to generate a month’s worth of story ideas. It’s not as daunting as it may sound, because there’s also a month’s worth of reading about how to generate ideas.
Last year, I was so excited by StoryStorm that there were many days when, rather than just writing out an idea, I actually sat down and dashed out a whole draft. I happen to be a fast drafter, and I had more free time due to a sabbatical, so I had a number of complete drafts at the end of the month, in addition to a page or two of ideas. That was great in some ways. Writing so many drafts in one month gave me a lot of material to work with as I tried to learn my craft.
I’m still trying to learn the craft, of course. But I already have drafts from last year that need revision. Plus, I have a new semester of teaching to prepare for. So while I admit that I’ve already turned one of my StoryStorm ideas into a January draft, I’m trying to pace myself. Dashing off a first draft is probably the most fun part of writing for me, but it isn’t necessarily what I need to be working on now. (Have I mentioned that revision is my nemesis?)
Of course, when we get to the first week of May, all bets are off, because that’s National Picture Book Writing Week! A challenge that involves drafting a new story every day for a week is prefect. And it’s demanding: by the end of that week, even I needed a break from drafting.
For now, I’m trying to balance the work of generating new ideas –which is important–with my need to focus on revision and polishing. Picture book writers, how do you balance those two?