First Drafts

At a children’s authors conference a few years ago, I received the best advice for anyone in pursuit of the writer’s life. Take the belt from your bathrobe and strap yourself into your chair. Writing requires a blind, dogged loyalty to the work at hand. I write picture books for children under 5 that are 350 words or less. My loyalty and trust of this process makes it possible, as most people would throw their hands up in despair after an hour of nothingness. Perhaps this tenacity comes from being a Taurus, a bull that keeps scratching in the dust before a charge. The root of loyalty to this work are my past successes, those days when my frustration turns to love and time loses its boundaries.

There are weeks and days when nothing works, when the simplicity and the cadence of the language I need escapes me. One notion that keeps me going is the familiarity of this desolate place. I realize in the midst of being stuck in the quicksand of a blank page, I will not let the emptiness defeat me. To continue the writing, I must keep my hand moving scratching my way out of a messy jumble of thorns. I keep cutting away the clay to find the structure of a simple story.

After spending the past two weeks working on a first draft, my efforts looked hopeless. I am trying to delight the ears of a three year old and keep the parents turning the pages of the imagined picture book. My words were forced, reminiscent of other works of mine, too formulaic. I wanted to write something fresh. Staying loyal to the process, I continued to plod away on pages that ended up in the trash. A few days ago, the floodgates of inspiration opened. I don’t know exactly why this happened but I experienced the same thing in the past. My trust keeps me going, moving forward until the text looks to me as good as it will get.

Most view loyalty in terms of friendship, which seems a lot easier than the companion called “work.” My steadfast commitment to weathering the difficult days of a first draft has been a lesson I can take to other parts of my life when seemingly insurmountable difficulties cross my path.