I take this same approach when I am critiquing or studying some else's work. It is challenging to keep a critical eye when everything moves through you at once.
Here is an example of a Focused Draft list by Jack Gantos, from his book, Writing Radar:
We Are Water Protectors is a non-narrative story. A call-to-action to stop the Dakota Pipleline. But instead of calling the pipeline by its name, Carole calls back to Indigenous folklore and refers to the pipeline by a metaphor, the "black snake." The illustrations help make the connection.
Imagine if she had chosen a more literal direction. It would have significantly less impact on the reader. The cultural imagery is a window into the ways indigenous people develop a connection with nature through stories. Now, the audience can also interact with the story and develop a connection with the cause as well.
"Words are the model, words are the tools, words are the boards, words are the nails."
Consider every word choice carefully, with intention, keeping a goal in mind. What is the purpose of your story? What kind of structure is best suited for the purpose? And finally, what words will best support the purpose?
When you step outside your comfort zone, getting stuck is inevitable. In that situation, it can be challenging to see the forest through the trees, as they say, and you may need someone who is in a position to know where you are at from the 300-foot level and point you in the right direction.
This kind of mentorship, a one-on-one learning model, is probably ideal for every creative person, but it is also tough to find outside of grade school and university. However, that does not mean that you have no other options.
In Real Artists Don't Starve, Jeff Goins challenges common stereotypes. He argues,
"Isolated individuals are not creative. That is not how creativity works."
Creative genius happens in groups. So connect with your peers in a collaborative, non-exploitative way.
Here are a few ways you can collaborate with your peers:
I want to help you learn to revise your drafts! Subscribe to my newsletter and I will send you a Picture Book Writing Cheat Sheet for free.
Not everyone agrees with this approach. In Writing Magic, Gail Carson Levine says that she doesn't have many story ideas. She preaches,
"You don't have to have lots of ideas to be a writer."
Ideas are not precious, so if you are not the kind of person to whom inspiration comes easily, there is no need to worry.
The craft is more important, so is consistency, dedication, and habit. With good craftsmanship, you can make any idea a masterpiece. With routine, you can complete your project and develop skills along the way.
If you enjoyed this newsletter, consider signing up for my newsletter, so you don't miss a single post. You will also collect my Picture Book Writing Cheat Sheet for free.
When I first developed the style I used for my coloring pages, I was in a funk. And so I wanted to return to childhood creativity. Return to freedom and exploration.
And I was going to do it by restricting myself in every way possible.
The only way I could find the freedom to explore was to remove my tendency to sketch, erase, and correct. As I grew and developed my art, the strategies I learned also caused me to agonize over perfection I could never reach. So I restricted myself to a pen, a single page, and no preparation, setup, or references of any kind.
I felt good about it, better than I'd felt in a long time about my art. So I decided to explore it again. The result was a series of coloring pages that sprawl out across the entire page.
I see fantasy maps as a potential influence. I have been obsessed with them since childhood. Next, I see Benjamin Chaud, although he did not directly influence these pieces and some old Russian artists from children's literature that I can no longer name.
Childhood is that state which ends the moment a puddle is first viewed as an obstacle instead of an opportunity." -Kathy Williams
The key to developing a style is to stop worrying about getting things perfect. I know that advice sounds a bit enigmatic, but in practice, it means that you have reached your destination already, and now you must use the tools you have at your disposal to create. What comes out is truly you, the sum of your experiences, practice, and taste.
I also stand by the concept that style is developed naturally without any effort at all. You create it over time in an effort to convey meaningful ideas as clearly as possible.
Good luck on your journey.
If you are interested in taking home a piece of this style for yourself, buy my unique printable coloring pages.
Picture books are a great place to learn because children can gather information about the tone from textual and visual clues. Here is how you can convey tone through illustration:
There is an opportunity to use illustrations to teach children tone and build their reading comprehension. In turn, these steps will help you develop your story in powerful ways.
I can think of several reasons to ignore this step. First of all, Maurice Sendak told me I could.
"I don't write for children. I write, and somebody says, 'that's for children.'" -Maurice Sendak
Second, it is a take on storytelling that requires you to change, adjust, or fix aspects of your storytelling to fit a specific audience and directly address their response to it.
"Storytelling offers the opportunity to talk with your audience, not at them." -Laura Holloway
The practice of beginning without an idea does wonders to release creative pressure. And it is easier than it may seem. For example, you may start to write by taking notes on something you read, summarizing a book, or beginning a journal entry. You may begin to paint by working out the details in the process, clipping textures out of a magazine for a collage, or using a reference image.
One potential pitfall is to search the internet or Pinterest under the guise of looking for ideas. This practice almost always leads nowhere. Instead, do a quick Google search and pull the first image on page 3 as a reference. You could also open a random book from your shelf and blindly put your finger down on the page. Then, use the word or paragraph you found as a prompt.
Don’t miss out on new tips. Sign up for my free newsletter!
Consider the ambiguity of the following sentence:
"I lost my tooth."
We don't have enough information to tell whether or not this is a good thing or a bad thing.
We can use some of the tools above to help convey the tone.
"OH NO, I LOST MY TOOTH!!"
"Good riddance, wobbly tooth!"
"I lost my tooth! It wasn't a popcorn kernel after all."
"The taste of blood and the feeling of a tooth rolling around my mouth like a popcorn kernel, left me without an appetite."
"I lost my tooth! It's my first one."
"I lost my tooth on picture day, and as I sat on the barstool in front of the lights and cameras, I couldn't be happier."
Hi, my name is Cory Shaw. I am an author and illustrator of books and book covers for children.
This blog uses affiliate links.
See My Covers: