Saturday, February 25, 2012

Writing Time Outs Really do WORK!

                                     "Writing Time Outs"
                            They Help You Polish Your Picture Book.
                          ( From my "Musings" column on the Purple Crayon )

What is a Writing Time Out?
No, it does not mean dumping your PB (picture book) manuscript on a chair in the corner for fifteen minutes! A writing Time Out means putting aside the PB manuscript you have slaved over: for at least a few weeks.  Let it marinate in a drawer, or in a folder on your hard drive marked,

                                                        "Time Out."

 Forget about it. Clear your brain of all traces of this PB
                                                       and begin writing something new.

Does Your Picture Book Need a Time Out?
It does, if your fellow critiquers offer conflicting advice. Or you tweak, change, and rework it so many times you lose focus. This is when a Time Out can be especially useful. Yes, doing nothing sometimes works wonders!

Or, when you feel there is something not quite right, but you can't put your finger on the problem. You need to view your PB with fresh eyes. So, give the pesky thing a Time Out. When you reread it, in a month or two, you will be amazed by what jumps out at you.

Your First Reread--Yikes, What Was I Thinking?

Problem areas abound. How come you couldn't see them before? You race to the computer, bring up the file, and begin to type. Your husband and kids ask about dinner. You offer a glassy stare while pounding the keys.

What You Found: and how to fix It:
The word nice appeared four times on the one page? There were way too many compound sentences. The main character's name was only mentioned once. And the mom seems more important than the kid character. Tighten! Tighten! Tighten! The Fix: Focus on crafting a great voice for that kid character. Cut back on what Mom says and does. But watch out: you don't want the word count (way less than 1,000) to balloon. Break out your trusty thesaurus. Use it to scrap those overused adjectives and weak verbs. Are four adverbs really necessary, or do most of them prop up weak verbs?

                                                   Now You're Cooking!

Your picture book is coming together with flair. You have cut unnecessary descriptions, worked in active and powerful verbs, and strengthened your main character. But wait! It is still too early to rush to the query letter stage. Another Time Out, plus clear headed nit-picking, will give your picture book exactly the right polish, and make it into an editor's must have PB.

The Second Re-read, and Minor Fixes:
Better! Much better. But still. . . The ending isn't quite perfect. And that one sentence near the end, where the loose ends get tied up, needs a more lyrical feel. Oh no! Are there enough illustration opportunities for a 32-page picture book -- approx.14 or 15? The Fixes: Solutions come easier now, because time away has sharpened your clarity and focus. Visions of a signed contract encourage you to keep tweaking, and make sure that your text offers a good number of illustration opportunities. Soon your picture book is as fine as you can make it.

Begin writing that query letter.

Why Do Time Outs Work ?

#1 Because they give your overloaded brain cells a rest.
#2 Putting the story out of your mind for a while allows a clear and focused re-read.
#3 Problems jump out at you when your brain reads words with clarity.

NOTE: A few days or a week won't give you the clarity you need. I have found that picture book Time Outs work best if given the minimum of a month's rest. Once your manuscript is buried in your bottom drawer or hard drive, do whatever is necessary to forget it. Take a class, get married, join a rock band, paint the house or get a divorce -- whatever works!

I use as many Time Outs as necessary. Keep doing them until your re-read finds nothing to tweak. This tactic works. Utilize Time Outs to help you shape a problem manuscript into a Picture Book That Sells!

                      BOOKS  for Kids - Manuscript Critiques




  1. Margot, I use something similar when editing scripts meant to be executed on a computer, where every word HAS to be right (though generally without the time out, as my boss would be upset at the delay ..): if I can read through twice without finding any errors, then it's good to go. As much of a pain in the neck as it is to have to get two consecutive "good" read-throughs, I end up with a far, far better result.

  2. So true and such good advice here, Margot! We do need to give ourselves permission to let it go from time to time. Nice entry!

  3. Margot,
    Thanks for you practical suggestions. Often it is better to go with the time out rather than push through with a heavy hand.

  4. Margot, I really appreciate your insights and guidance, always "with a light touch." I need to get away from my writing when I see it's got potential, but I'm too close to it to find/fix the problems. Thank you. Penelope