CONGRATULATIONS on tackling PIBOIDMO. You are awesome!
Doesn’t it feel amazing to know that some of the ideas you cook up this month may become real, solid books in the hands of real kids someday? Yes, that’s going to happen. It WILL. But before that happens, a few steps have to take place. And one of those first steps, for some of us, will be to take a close look at how we manage our time.
Specifically, our writing time.
First off, I would like to encourage everyone to stick with your PIBOIDMO momentum not only this month, but beyond. Maybe you won’t come up with a picture book idea every single day forever, but you know what? When you sit down to write, you will write something. And any “something” has a better chance of becoming a book than a “nothing.”
That being said: This is as good a time as any to evaluate your writing goals for the remainder of the year and for next year. Want to get published? If so, those goals MUST include making time for writing. Consistently.
Think of it this way. If you ever—for some crazy reason—wanted to run a marathon, would you only train a few hours on the weekends? Or the few times a year you find yourself alone in the house with quiet time? No, you would not. You would train and train and train, every day, no matter what, in “Rocky”-like montages of rain and snow and stairs and fists pumping in the air. You can do that. You can channel your inner-Rocky and do your victory dance at the top of the staircase of your public library, because YOU have the power of imagination AND the discipline of a dedicated writer!!
Let’s lace up your sneakers, tape up those knuckles, head to a meat packing plant to punch some sides of beef, and think about a few things, shall we?
- Are you where you want to be?
- Does your family know you are serious about writing?
- Are you wasting time waiting until you have that extra room cleared out and your writer’s desk set up? Are you waiting until the holidays are over or work settles down or the kids grow up? Are you being non-Rocky-ish?
- Do you make time for your craft and guard that time? Or do you feel guilty for taking time to write, as though writing is a secret, indulgent hobby that you should only do from 2 a.m. to 3 a.m. so that you don’t dare deprive anyone else of something THEY might need?\
“No, Kelly, I do not make time for my craft. My family/job/life is too stressed right now. If you knew what a big deal it was for me to commit to ONE MONTH of writing, you’d be awed.”
I hear you. I do. I’ve been there, too. I wrote Z IS FOR MOOSE while working full time, raising two babies, and completing a master’s degree. I had excuses a-plenty. But the thing is, I wanted to write, and I wanted to be published, really, really bad.
So: If you feel yourself putting writing last—due to external or internal pressure, guilt, mixed messages, embarrassment, misconceptions, or whatever—then I would encourage you to think about that. Again, it comes back to: Do you want to be published? Yes? Well, then. How do you think that will happen if you are unwilling to inconvenience anyone else in order to write for a few minutes a day?
No one scoffs at a pianist who practices hours a day. No one rolls their eyes when a doctor-in-training goes to yet another conference. Right?
Writing is a job. It’s a profession. It matters. So take it out of the closet, stop worrying about whether or not it’s selfish, silly, private, or whatever, and just DO IT.
Inspiration will only take you so far. Great ideas will sit in your folder if you only look at them every other Thursday. If you have a desire to be a published writer, then make a commitment. It doesn’t have to be huge. Try ten minutes a day to start. Just stick with those ten minutes a day. Take the energy of this month and keep it going. Take your writing time and guard it, protect it, and utilize it. You deserve it. Making time to write—even if it’s ten minutes a day—is the straightest path to writerly growth, skill, and publication.
[cue Rocky music.]
Now, let’s make magic!
I’ve been invited to share a tip on inspiration. I’d like to talk about one of my favorite exercises that I use for working through hard spots. It’s particularly helpful with the “what do I do with this snippet of an amazing idea?” syndrome.
It is the simple act of Brainstorming. It requires you to relax, open yourself to possibilities, and put aside your inner censor. Sound fun?
I don’t need to tell you where to find inspiration. You see it in your family, your pets, your garden, your daily life. You hear it in conversations between strangers. You read it in the news, see it on TV, or hear it in song. Ideas are everywhere, and once you begin collecting them, you’ll find an abundance. The universe provides. All we have to do is listen.
But what do you DO with those ideas? For me, this is the problem. This is where I often lose the flush of inspiration—when faced with the challenge of bringing those ideas to life. This is where brainstorming comes in.
- Take your exciting snippet of an idea (a girl encounters a magic zebra, for instance) OR your character (a pink polar bear who feels he does not fit in). Write it down.
- What happens next? Now list at least three ideas for what happens next. Nothing is too silly. Nothing is too dumb. Pull crazy solutions out of thin air. (The polar bear meets a purple penguin who invites him to Rainbow Island.) Write it down. You will create a list of possibilities—some of them a bit unexciting, some of them wonderful, and some in-between.
- When you run dry on “what happens next,” then choose one of your strung-together storylines. Ask yourself, “What is the most expected way to finish this off?” (The bear discovers that it’s okay to be pink, and lives happily on Rainbow Island with all the other multi-colored animals.) Go ahead, write that down. Then ask, “What is something surprising that could happen here?” (The bear eats the penguin and turns purple, which he decides is even worse than pink.) Write that down.
- Look at what you have. You have one predictable path that you have thoughtfully laid out for yourself to avoid. No one is looking for predictable endings, after all. But you’ve also paved the way for more creative, surprising, and interesting developments for your story and character.
Take these varied ideas and begin developing one or two of them in simple thoughts, simple sentences. Just a few sentences, that’s all—no pressure to pound out an entire manuscript. In no time, you will have a whole MENU of magical zebra story possibilities. And that’s all you’re looking for during this exercise: Possibilities.
When the right combination hits you, you will know. You will start tacking on one additional thought after the other, after the other. And from there, you can lift your exercise into a whole separate folder and officially begin poking, shaping, and drafting a full-fledged manuscript.
If that particular phrasing doesn’t work for you, try this:
“My main character is___________, and she wants __________ but the problem is, __________.” Fill in the blanks.
Then below that, write: “How can my main character get what she wants?”
Relax. Brainstorm. Fill in those blanks over and over, in whatever way calls to you. Again—nothing is to be censored or dismissed. When you are done, you should have at least one combination of answers that grabs your imagination and has you to jotting down ideas.
Jotting down ideas leads to more ideas, which leads to stringing actual sentences together. And that leads—to a manuscript!
But we aren’t thinking that far ahead in this exercise. We are just playing. Shadow boxing. Jogging. Training day by day. So play, explore, create IDEAS. We can do that, because we’re open to possibilities, this particular month more than ever. Right?
Besides: we are writers.
So naturally, we write.
Kelly Bingham was a professional storyboard artist, supervisor, and director for Walt Disney Feature Animation for 12 years. She worked on movies such as The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Hercules, Tarzan, and Atlantis. She earned her MFA at Vermont College and has been writing full time ever since. She is the author of two novels: SHARK GIRL and FORMERLY SHARK GIRL, and two picture books; Z IS FOR MOOSE, and CIRCLE, SQUARE, MOOSE, both of which are illustrated by Caldecott-award-winning Paul O. Zelinsky, who is super nice and wonderful and you should go check out his website and twitter account right NOW. Z IS FOR MOOSE has been nominated for several state book awards, as has SHARK GIRL. Kelly regularly hums the theme song to “Rocky” while huffing along the treadmill at the gym, and also while tackling sticky plot issues. One of her proudest possessions is a recent photo with “The Naked Cowboy” from New York City. She lives in Georgia with her sons and husband and a passle of deer and bears. Visit her at KellyBinghamBooks.com on Twitter @kellybingham1 and @MooseThatsMe and Facebook Author Kelly Bingham.
Kelly is donating one picture book critique, to be used at any time within the next 12 months.
This prize will be given away at the conclusion of PiBoIdMo. You are eligible for this prize if:
- You have registered for PiBoIdMo.
- You have commented ONCE ONLY on today’s post.
- You have completed the PiBoIdMo challenge. (You will have to sign the PiBoIdMo Pledge at the end of the event.)
Good luck, everyone!