Biographies, biographers, and interesting people

Archive for November, 2015

“Move It Or Lose It” for Tighter Writing

In my previous post, I wrote about workshopping my first picture book biography at a writing retreat. Since then, I’ve rewritten the book so many times I’ve lost count.

There are many things I think about when I’m revising. Do I have a strong start? Is the ending satisfying? Have I weaved in sensory details that will make readers feel like they are right there with the subject of my biography? Have I included anecdotes to make the writing entertaining and used strong action verbs?

I had worked on all those things over and over again, but it wasn’t enough. When I read the manuscript out loud, I stumbled over the words in two paragraphs that weren’t working. In a picture book where every word is so important, two paragraphs is a lot. In one paragraph, it was a problem with transition. There was something missing, a question that needed answering. But answering it required too much explaining, telling instead of showing. I couldn’t pinpoint the problem with the other paragraph. I just knew it wasn’t right.

I set the manuscript aside for a few days and worked on other things. When I went back to it, I made minor changes, but those two paragraphs continued to taunt me. Then, as I was pouring yet another cup of coffee, my own good writing advice popped into my head – move it or lose it.

Time and again I’ve discovered that if something isn’t working in a manuscript, it’s for one of two reasons. Either the information is not in the right place or it needs to be deleted.

In the case of my picture book, it was one of each. The paragraph where the transition wasn’t working was easily fixed by moving one sentence up to an earlier paragraph. It fit much better there and it made a smooth transition into the next paragraph. As for the other troublesome paragraph, I simply deleted it.

Move it or lose it. It’s writing advice I’ve come back to many times. So why does it take me so long to realize it’s what I need to do? That’s something I can’t explain. I suspect that stubbornness plays a role, at least in the losing it part. I always think that the section I need to delete is the cleverest thing I’ve ever written. Of course, that’s not the case. I don’t miss the paragraph I deleted from my picture book at all. In fact, I hardly remember it was ever there.

I’m ready to submit my picture book to publishers now. I know that because even though I continue to pick at the manuscript, I realize that I’m making changes but not improvements. I’m satisfied that at this point I’ve done the best I can do. So I’m sending it off. Fingers crossed.

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