Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Anatomy of a Picture Book Revision

Anatomy of a Picture Book Revision

I recently needed to revise a picture book manuscript (my agent is one tough lady when it comes to making sure that everything is PERFECT before we send it out), and it was a Really. Tough. Revision. It was the kind of revision where I just felt stuck - where I simply couldn't see a way forward to a better version of that manuscript.

It got me thinking: there's a blog post in this.

Because I don't do anything the way you're supposed to.

I use the dictionary.

And the thesaurus.

And I also sketch out page spreads, even though I'm not an illustrator. (And I will never, ever show them to an editor. EVER.)

And also: coffee. (I drank the coffee. It was iced, and it was delicious.) (I guess coffee is a "supposed to do this" thing for writers. Nobody is a rebel ALL the time.)

There are authors out there who will say that no real writer needs to use a dictionary or a thesaurus, and that those are crutches, and that you're cheating by using them. But how else can you find the right words? They're not ALL in your head. I think this is especially true for picture books, where every single word counts. Where when you need a word that means something very very specific, you need that word and only that word and the page spread simply won't be right without it.

Sometimes, you won't need these things: dictionaries and charcoal. But sometimes, you might.

Sometimes doodling will unlock a new train of thought that will lead you to exactly the right words.

Sometimes poring through the thesaurus will get you thinking about words in a new way.

Sometimes you just need to ignore the guidelines and try something new. You might not use what you make, but it will point you in a better direction.

Sometimes, you need to ignore all the advice and do what works for YOU.

I totally cracked that revision that day. I sent it off to my agent with a flourish, and threw myself a mini party. YESSSS.

She told me the next day that there was a part that still wasn't quite working, and would I take another look at it?

It was the tough part. You know, the part I had thrown myself a party for? It still wasn't PERFECT.* But I knew that this time, I was on the right road.

So I got out my charcoal, and my dictionary, and my thesaurus, and I found the words.

What works for you? What's your revision process like?

*I cannot stress enough the importance of getting a good editorial agent.


  1. Ha! Yep, Laura makes me work hard, too. :) Glad to know I'm not the only one. My process involves pacing the floor, snacks, going for a long rung, sleeping on it, and sending it to lots and lots of critique partners.

    1. Yes, we are sisters in suffering through tough revisions. But really, I wouldn't have it any other way. Going for a long run sounds like an AWESOME way to think through a tough problem with a WiP! I haven't run in ages, but it's something I've been wanting to get back into doing. (And critique partners. YES. Where would we be without critique partners?)

  2. Honestly, you have to ignore the "rules" and just try things. Experimenting with process is the best way to figure out what works for you, and personally, I think it's foolish to eliminate helpful tools simply because someone said you're not "supposed" to use them. Who the heck are those writers anyway? The dictionary and thesaurus are AWESOME.