Pencil Tip #20: Keep moving forwards

A friend showed me her knitting project the other day. She’s making a blanket for her niece by stitching together the most neatly knitted squares I’ve ever seen. When I asked how she managed to keep every single row looking so perfect, she told me she has to do it that way, because she’s a novice. ‘If I make a mistake,’ she said, ‘I don’t know how to fix it, so I have to start all over again.’

Have you ever got into a twist with your writing and needed to unravel it? Fixing your work can be hard, especially if you can’t quite see what’s wrong with it, but there’s often a solution and it doesn’t always have to mean starting over. The more you rework, the more lessons you learn. You become a stronger writer with a thicker skin.

When you write a picture book, you’re aiming for row upon row of perfectly stitched text. This is essential if you aim to be published. If your picture book text has any dropped stitches, little holes (or gaping ones), blemishes and imperfections they will spoil the whole. If you notice them, so will an agent, editor or reader. Here are a couple of pointers to help you stitch that perfect story together.

Be ruthless
If any of your words aren’t performing a job, you must take them out. It’s so easy to get carried away and allow redundant sentences to stay in place just because you feel wedded to them. If a line isn’t moving the plot forward or getting us emotionally involved with the characters, if it just describes something the pictures will show, ask yourself: does it really need to be there? Some writers like to see their word count increase. I like to watch mine shrink.

Don’t let go of the reins
Maybe you’re writing in rhyme and you’re in love with a clever little couplet. Sure, it rhymes wonderfully, but in truth it adds nothing to the story – cut it out. In prose and in rhyme, it’s easy to let the words lead you. You’re the one holding the reins, get them under control.

Read it aloud
I’ve mentioned this in previous Pencil Tips, but when you think your text is finished, read it out loud and check it for that crystal clear ringing sound. Does it all ring clear and true? If it strikes a duff note anywhere, don’t cheat and ignore it. Locate it and focus on fixing it.

Don’t be afraid of reworking, it’s part of the writing process. You have a big vocabulary and a massive imagination. There are countless other ways to write your story, so take a deep breath and try.