Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Mind the Gap . . . or Why Not to Give Up

by Dori Kleber

Last month, Candlewick Press published my debut book, a picture book called MORE-IGAMI. The reviews have been favorable, including a starred review from Kirkus. That makes me think this book must actually be good – which is somewhat shocking, given that just a few months before I wrote it, I was convinced I would never understand or write picture books.

I had tried. In February 2011, I had completed the Picture Book Marathon. At the end of the one-month challenge, I had drafted 26 manuscripts that ranged from pretty bad to downright awful.
I thought one of them might have niche market potential. But in a paid critique at a conference, a well-known agent ripped nearly everything about the story. When my ten minutes with her were over, I hustled to the ladies’ room and cried – not because she was harsh, but because every negative thing she had said was true.

I was tempted to give up, but I was new at narrative writing. I wanted to give myself time to learn. I reworked the story again and took it to a picture book workshop. But the more I learned there about what makes a good picture book, the more I realized how rife with problems mine was. By the end of the day, I was convinced: I would never be able to write a picture book.

That was okay. I had an idea for a middle-grade novel and was eager to work on it. So I did.

Until just a few months later, when I got an idea. A picture book idea. I scribbled it on an index card and set it aside. I was not writing another picture book. I couldn’t.

But the idea kept pestering me. I typed out the story, solely to get it out of my head. And when I did, I realized it wasn’t like the 26 awful manuscripts I had written a year earlier. It was decent. Six months later, it was sold.

Public radio producer Ira Glass has famously talked about the disappointment people feel when they first start creating art. They have great taste – they know what’s good – and they can tell that what they’re creating falls short of their own standards. (If you’ve never heard his remarks on the topic, watch this two-minute video.)

For many artists, the gap between their aspiration and their ability is too much to bear, and they quit.
I get it. The gap nearly defeated me, and if not for a pesky idea that wouldn’t go away, I might never have tried writing another picture book.

The gap is terrible, but temporary. Keep working. Your story – the story of you as an artist – isn’t over unless you say it is. It’s tempting to give in and say, “The end.” The braver path is to say, “Next chapter.”

MORE-IGAMI. Text copyright © 2016 by Dori Kleber. Illustrations copyright © 2015 by G. Brian Karas.
Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

About Dori Kleber:

Dori Kleber writes picture books and middle-grade novels from her home near Atlanta. She is an active member of SCBWI Southern Breeze.

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