I was soon to discover that books just don’t ‘appear’! Why did I ever think I would just get it all down at once?!?! I discovered a principle firsthand, which we teach through the Child Writes program. That is, that everything to do with writing and illustrating a book is done in layers. First there was the initial burst of inspiration, some words came to mind, they came to me in the form of a rhyme, so I kept going with it. I thought at that point, I just had to get it done as soon as possible. With four young children, time was always an issue, and I was looking for the big chunk of time in which I could ‘finally get this finished’. But the elusive chunk of time never eventuated, and so I developed the habit of spending the last half an hour before my children arrived home on the bus each weekday, sitting on my verandah and working layer after layer on my story. Check out my view!
The beauty of the daily writing time was threefold. Firstly, the story was always fresh in my mind and I didn’t’ have to waste time refreshing and reacquainting myself with it. Secondly, there was still enough of a break between sessions that it gave a sense of distance in which problem areas were easily identified (such as text which didn’t flow) and fresh inspiration was captured. And thirdly, it provided momentum and gave a sense of making progress, even if it did seem that I never got too far on any given day. I might have only changed one or two words, but each change would make the story stronger. Over a number of months of regular writing, the story took shape.
I wish I still had the first drafts to show you… though you’d need a degree in shorthand to decipher them! Neatness was not the utmost thought in my mind when inspiration was flying and the body of the work was being transferred from imagination to paper. Most of the time working on the rough draft layer, was spent just finding the perfect words which suited both rhyme and rhythm. Then it was the layer of polishing after receiving feedback from my mentor, Virginia Lowe (what an invaluable gem she was!). Then layer upon layer of getting the rhythm right, then polishing the words again, then editing punctuation and grammar, then breaking down the text page by page, and finally producing with a flourish what I felt must surely be a perfect work! Little did I know at that point, that the layers would continue all the way to publication… how could I know back then that I would still be finding tiny little punctuation or capitalisation errors all the way to the completion of the file for printing? Or that in a paragraph I’d read hundreds of times over, I would suddenly discover a far superior word I could be using! The polishing was gradual, but oh so satisfying!
So for those of you who plan to write anything – whether it be a picture book, fiction or non-fiction, you will save yourself a lot of frustration if you realise right now that writing is a process… and much more like a marathon than a sprint! The good news is that I finally got through all those layers… and I finally completed all of the suggestions Virginia had made for improvements. In fact, she wrote a letter recommending Slow Down Sarah to potential publishers I may have submitted to in the future (click here if you want to check it out). Aaaahhhh…. the satisfaction of a job well done and the enjoyment of a brief moment of reprieve before the next step in the process began.