In fact, at first, I hated the idea. But slowly I'm warming up to it.
Some of my initial thoughts:
- I thought it denigrates picture books and belittles the process which creates them.
- I thoughts it works in direct opposition to what I'm trying to do, which is to elevate the status of picture books.
- I thought that those writers who truly have "stories within them" will find a way to let them out, without a contrived reason to do so.
- I felt badly for writers who take the process more seriously, in that their submissions may now be lost in a tidal wave of "one day wonders," as thousands, if not tens of thousands, more manuscripts may find their way to publishers because of this project. Imagine you're a picture book author, riding in an elevator at a national conference. The person next to you asks, "What do you do for a living?" After you reply, "I create picture books," this person retorts, "Oh yeah, picture books. I wrote seven of those last week."
But the response from Daniel Kirk, author of Library Mouse, finally convinced me that perhaps I was really off-base with my criticisms (a rare occurrence, as my long time readers will attest). In his response to my tirade, Daniel made some good points:
Never heard of National Picture Book Writing Week. At first glance it seems a
bit contrived, but sometimes it takes contrivances to get people motivated.
Writing, or doing anything creative, requires monumental expenditures of energy,
hope, courage and perseverance. Few have what it takes. It's easy to get
frustrated in the process, and beyond writing, getting published is another
What is successful in the marketplace is often something that panders to the
lowest common denominator, and financial rewards often have little to do with
the intrinsic value of a story. As you know, if you go into a Barnes and Noble
and look at the picture book shelf, it is pretty hard to find a good
book--ordinary people see what's out there and think, "Hey, I could do that!" I
get requests all the time from people who want to get their stories published,
and from my own experience it is VERY hard to get work published, though I've
done over thirty books. For every one that finds a home at a publishing house,
there are at least five or ten manuscripts I write that won't find an interested
So I find that I am motivated more by my own inner need to create than anything else...the striving for perfection, clarity, elegance and to bringThanks, Daniel, for taking the time to respond with such insight.
heart to what I conceive intellectually. I encourage kids to write, but not
necessarily with the goal of getting published. It's more about learning how to
think, plan, empathize, clarify and express feelings, etc.
There are times when I brainstorm ideas and come up with many projects in a
week, and I suppose that this is the kind of thing the sponsors of this
"National Picture Book Writing Week" are thinking of. When my "Library Mouse"
editor asked me to come up with five new Library Mouse stories, so he could pick
the one he liked best for us to work on, I carved a week out of my schedule to
do just that. And I guess it's good to prod the imagination into working at full
speed for a while, like sprinting on the track. If folks come up with seven
ideas, they can then go into editor mode and see which of their ideas have
promise. The hard part is the follow-through! Some people need a kick in the
pants to get started, and that's okay, but it's important to recognize all the
hurdles still to come.
I think that most people who give a shot to coming up with seven stories and
bringing them to completion are going to find it more difficult than they
imagined, and maybe that will teach them something about the process. Might be a
hard lesson, but certainly a worthwhile one. One can't look at Tiger Woods on
the golf course and say "it looks so easy, I can do that, too", then go out and
be a pro after an afternoon. It's part of the job of a professional to make
something very difficult look completely effortless. There are lots of
analogies--you can't run a marathon without building up speed and endurance for
months, you can't be Yo You Ma and play the cello without a lifetime of grueling
practice. But for some reason people look at picture books and don't get it.
Maybe it's good for some of them to give it a try, and see what happens!
While I still have some reservations, I can certainly see now how this project can be a good thing for fledgling and veteran writers alike. For those of you who take part in NaPiBoWriWee, I sincerely wish you the best, and I hope to be discussing your book in a couple of years.