Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Brick Walls & Book Decisions

Have you ever been tempted to give up on a project when you've hit a brick wall?

This happened recently with a picture book idea I'd been working on. I had spent a long time on the story, had sent it countless times to my writing group (with eternal thanks!) and it was time to start drawing.

And then I hit the wall.

I had a lot of text, maybe too much, and not enough room for illustrations. So I decided that perhaps there was enough back story in the characters to expand it into an early chapter book. (I'd never written one before-- it seemed too intimidating... but it had been in my mind to try. What the heck!)

So I began. I was enjoying thinking differently about the story (being able to use more words than in a PB-- what freedom!), and was fairly pleased with how it was going...

... when I hit another wall.

Actually, the wall was right in front of me. The wall where the sketches I had already completed for the PB version were hanging. And I missed them. I really, really missed them!

It dawned on me that the chapter book version would be a completely different story from the picture book. Not better or worse, just different. And it wasn't the one I wanted to tell.

In the end it came down to figuring out which form best suited the story. So I decided to go back to the picture book.

Perhaps I had given up on the illustrations too soon. Or maybe I wasn't thinking about them early enough while writing. (I usually end up cutting text where the pictures tell the story, anyway-- why did it stress me out this time?) But I knew I wanted to give it another shot.

I've learned a bunch of great things from this experience-- it's better to try a different approach than to give up. None of this was wasted time. And I actually broke down another wall-- because now a chapter book doesn't seem as scary. (Well, maybe a bit...) At least I know I'm capable of attempting one.

And I will-- just with a new story.


gail said...

Interesting Jennifer. Another thing about "I've learned a bunch of great things from this experience..." you'll probably end up with a better picture book than you would have had if you had not gone through this whole process.

Good luck with it!

Unknown said...

Boy, I know those feelings!
I'm working on a script right now and I'm always paranoid about hitting that wall. I think for me, I try to create a mine rich enough that it can with stand changes of heart and the occasional obsstacles. However, I don't think I've accomplished this yet. There are always gaps in the story. Thank God for people willing to read them.

Christine Mercer-Vernon said...

Oh gosh, i hit walls all the time, if it's not in a graphic design project, it's with my art. exploring different avenues may not always turn out as planned, but in this case it solidified your original intention was the best it's a success! sometimes setting things aside for a few days and sleeping on it brings about a breakthrough!!

Jennifer Thermes said...

Gail- Thanks, I hope so! The whole process of thinking it through has been really interesting.

Eric- I like the way you word that-- creating them rich enough-- There have been projects that I've dropped in the past, but they didn't nag at me like this one did. It's like a feeling in your belly that doesn't go away. (Not sure if that's a great way to describe it!) And yay, for readers! I know I have blind spots, and need someone to point them out.

Christine- It's oddly comforting to know that others deal with this, too! I need to be reminded of that. Sometimes it's so hard to put a project aside (I tend to do the obsessive thing, first) but you're right-- it usually does lead to a fresh outlook.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, everyone!

Elizabeth said...

I have never done a picture book - though I can draw - sort of.
I'm working on chapter books for 8-12 yr olds and get all my friends' children to give me feedback....they rather enjoy the importance of it!
Have horses in my current one - so got a 10 yr old with her own horse (!) to tell me a bit more about what it smelled like..etc.
How one struggles being creative.
One can always give up and play on-line solitaire...but not for too long......

Christine Mercer-Vernon said...

kind of an afterthought, and you can tell me to shut up....but as an art director, i suggest this to my artist's.....go back and re-evaluate your illustrations, tell the story with your pictures 'first'...then go back and re-evaluate and edit the text. it seems like your struggle is connecting the two. if your pictures tell the story well, there is probably text you can edit, thereby shortening your manuscript to better suit a picture book. start forwards.. :) hope that helps.

Jennifer Thermes said...

Ha ha, Elizabeth-- you're right... it's easy to drown your struggles online. ;-)

Christine- No, please don't shut up!! :-)

You said it EXACTLY with "it seems like your struggle is connecting the two." That happens time and again when I concentrate too much on the words first without the pictures. Maybe because I think the story needs a strong structure, so the literal part of my brain focuses on the words-- when really I need to think about both at the same time. It's not an altogether rational process, I think! And I think it has to do with how each particular story comes to you, too-- visually or verbally. I love your suggestion-- I'll give it a try!

Alicia PadrĂ³n said...

What a wonderful post Jennifer!! Thanks for sharing this.

I think that writing is actually very hard. I congratulate all of you that are able to do it!
I dream of writing and illustration my own story some day.. I have ideas and stories dancing around in my head all the time...but I know I am not ready, at least right now.

I think we all struggle in a similar way with any creative process. There is a combination of thoughts and feelings that is not easy to balance. But I don't think there is an easy way out of it but with trial an error. You had to go through all of this experience in order to realize that your book really needed to be a picture book and that your heart really wanted to illustrate those already imagined pictures in your head.
I think you accomplished a great deal actually! :o)

Jennifer Thermes said...

Hi Alicia- Thanks! Yes, I think the trial and error is definitely part of the process, whatever kind of art or writing you're doing. Hey-- your characters would make great stories-- I hope you give it a try sometime!

Christine Mercer-Vernon said...

i know what it's like to get stuck like that, if there is one thing i've learned with working with patients in an art therapy setting is how to help them get out of their head.... don't let yourself get too tied up in the words, if you are set on a picture book, you already know the pictures should tell the story without the words, the words are just there for support, mentally let go of the words for now. you know the story, put the words aside and tell the story with your illustrations, then hang all of your sketches and without looking at your manuscript rewrite the first words that come to you. never let a wall stand in your way, you can always turn around and go the other direction. :) you CAN do make this story happen!!

Elizabeth said...

Do hope you are having a better time with your story/picture book.
Sometimes one wrestles with things and then it all suddenly becomes clear......
I like to get ideas when half-asleep - naptime or night time -I try to get 'into' the story.
Of course this sometimes keeps me awake - or else it works - but I then go to sleep and forget it...
Several people want to do DOORS - literally or metaphorically next WED.
I look forward to seeing everyone's.

Jennifer Thermes said...

Christine-- That's great advice. I'm going to print it out and save it! I do wonder if a lot of creative people have that same "issue" (I don't really think of it as a problem) of getting stuck in their own heads too much. Hmmm... this could be the subject of another post...

And Elizabeth- Yes, I'm moving forward with the story- wrestling a bit, but I know it's just part of the process. Oh, and yes-- naps are wonderful-- I think they let your subconscious ideas bubble up!

I'm spreading the word about "Door Day." Should be fun!