As we shelter in place, I’m trying my best to stick to a regular work schedule, which means I’m showing up most weekdays and trying to get some writing in.* Day by day, word by word (and bird by bird), I’m happy to say I’m getting somewhere. The world is turned upside down, but I currently have no deadline, and I’ve set my mind on seeing this time as an opportunity to explore.
You might remember I’ve spent much of the last year slowly working through my own revision notes on my next novel, Miraculous. It’s been a wonderful slog, one where I learned yet again the tribulations and joys of novel writing and the respect that’s needed for the process. Setting Miraculous aside meant it was time for a different writing discipline — the word play and discovery that is drafting a picture book.
A few weeks ago I planned to sit down with a new idea…
…and instead tumbled back into another picture book draft I’d toyed with a few years before. It was this line — late night flashlight bug collecting — that drew me. It felt magical and full of energy. Was it about lightning bugs? Hunting for bugs with flashlights? I didn’t know (and I’m still not sure it matters), but it was enough to whet my appetite to dive back in.
By the end of the week (lightning [bug] fast for me), I had a first draft.
I find the chaos of a novel’s first draft anxiety inducing and overwhelming, but that feeling disappears when I enter revision. For some reason I don’t experience that familiar angst when drafting a picture book. Maybe the shorter length frees me up. Perhaps it’s viewing the work as a puzzle I know I’ll eventually solve that makes the writing easier. At some point, the magic and energy take over and the work becomes play of the “flashlight bug” variety, the type where my mind’s allowed to roam without restraint or inner critic judgment. I’m hopeful I can apply this approach to future novel drafting. Embrace the chaos, my critique partner Uma Krishnaswami likes to say of first drafts. Maybe remembering the playfulness of a picture book manuscript might be my way in.
This unwieldy time has freed me up to be more free with my work — a strange and unexpected blessing I hope I can take into whatever lies ahead.
*Not everyone will have this experience, and that’s okay. The last few months have been very difficult for me, and I’m grateful the routine of writing has (mostly) been a refuge.