For the Love of 49 Words: A Revision Story Part 3

Well this is the final post in my series “For the Love of 49 Words” in which I spend hundreds telling you how I’m finding those perfect few. In the last episode you left me plunking my rhymers into my spreadsheet to form the spine of my story. Here’s what happened next:

I ordered my rhyming pairs so that their concepts would escalate in absurdity – a winning progression for a kid’s book. Of course, I couldn’t settle on only one ordering so I kept 5 columns open on that spreadsheet for 5 possible versions. Thankfully, I had one favorite word pair that promised the biggest payoff at the end of the book. That couplet won its rightful place in the last position and hasn’t moved since.

So now with my B’s is my ABCB scheme in place, I needed to drop in all my A’s and C’s. Easy you say? Think again.

Even though I’d previously highlighted my favorites from my brainstormed word list, I now had new goals for the remaining words:

  • Cover all five senses – sight, smell, sound, taste, touch,
  • Root out words that might be too similar in illustration,
  • Consider patterning or a progression of words for illustration,
  • Examine beats per line and rhythm readability
  • Use techniques in addition to rhyme, such as alliteration, to improve readability.

So with all those things in mind I started plunking, pulling, pasting, copying and cutting words like crazy into those five columns. And when I thought I’d come upon a perfect combination, I highlighted the whole column and let it rest for a while.

Finally I had three columns highlighted and two I threw out. I read each out loud a minimum of fifty times until the words became inevitable. I had 49 words I loved! — albeit in three distinct versions.


So now after all that passion, those 3 columns are icing just a bit for a fresh read in a few days. At that time one — hopefully at least one — will stand out as the best. Here’s hoping!

See For the Love of 49 Words: A Revision Story Part 1 and Part 2.

For the Love of 49 Words: A Revision Story Part 2

When I first wrote this picture book, I composed a word list — a brainstorm of all possible kid words (and a lot of made-up words) that dealt with my topic, FOOD. Thankfully I still had that word list stored safely in my files. I don’t remember how I’d ever gotten to the text I’d originally submitted, because my list turned up a wealth of stronger words.

With word list in hand, I highlighted my favorites with a focus on illustration strength and humor. Which words would a kid love? Plus, my editor and illustrator offered several winners I hadn’t thought of, so I added them too.

Next I coupled my rhymers. Because my text is written in an ABCB rhyme scheme I wanted to make sure I had rhyming words with “payoff.” Payoff at the page turns is important to young readers. So the rhymers became the spine of my story and I plugged them into an Excel spreadsheet — a terrific way to play around with the text. And that’s when the fun began.

See For the Love of 49 Words: A Revision Story Part 1.

For the Love of 49 Words: A Revision Story Part 1

One of my upcoming picture books was submitted at 45 words and sold at 65. Yesterday I received a very kind and thoughtful revision letter from my editor asking me to cut 16 words and change all the rest. You think I’m joking?

Two funny truths about that letter:

  • I completely agree with her suggestions and
  • I’m excited to get started.

Now I’m not trying to sound like the Pollyanna of publishing, but I’m thrilled that someone other than me cares so much about the quality of my picture book and hence, those 49 words.

I don’t believe in making work harder than it needs to be, but in honor of the readers I care so very much about, I’d like to tell you about the journey of those 49 words.

So tune in tomorrow for the first of a few posts in which I spend hundreds of words to tell you about finding those perfect few.

That One Perfect Sentence

So today I went for a 45-minute run on this unseasonably warm Colorado day. And about half way through, I composed a line for the final scene in my current MG WIP. I loved that line. I adored that line. I mentally kissed myself for authoring such a vastly poetic, thematically targeted, perfectly voiced sentence. One sentence. That’s all.

Then fearing I’d lose it, as so often happens in my compressed and fragmented brain, I repeated the line over and over in my head for a full twenty minutes until I just now sat down again at my computer and plugged that puppy into it’s proper place in my manuscript. Phew!

Such is my typical “writing” workout. Where another runner might rush to the bathroom after 5 miles. I rush to my computer (and sometimes the bathroom after that). And to think, all that energy, angst and urgency was tied to one sentence.

Funny thing — that one sentence might likely be the first one cut in my critique group’s “scissor” reads. Or it might make it to my agent and I’ll be lucky if it only suffers a word change or two. But if an editor ultimately sees it, well then, I’ll have carried that baby a long, long way. And you can’t blame me, if I’m a little resistant to abandoning it. The parting would be painful.

Because I’ll remember the day I recited that glorious line over and over again until it was as rote as the Pledge of Allegiance.

But before then, I’ll just have to see if I still love it — or even like it — tomorrow.

Golden Kite Award Winners!!

Look at what I just picked up from Elisabeth Bird’s Blog. Congratulations to all the winners.


The Golden Kite Award is the only award presented to children’s book authors and artists by their peers.

Golden Kite Award Winners:

by Steve Watkins
Candlewick Press

by Pamela S. Turner
Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Picture Book Text:

by Bonny Becker, illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton
Candlewick Press

Picture Book Illustration:
Illustrated and written by Hyewon Yum
Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Golden Kite Honor Recipients:

by Mary E. Pearson
Henry Holt Books for Young Readers

by Ellen Jackson; photographed and illustrated by Nic Bishop
Houghton Mifflin

Picture Book Text:
by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Sean Qualls
Henry Holt Books for Young Readers

Picture Book Illustration:

Illustrated and written by Mo Willems

Share a Story – Shape a Future – Literacy Blog Tour

I’m constantly impressed by creative uses of blogs, social networking sites and the internet in general. And when they’re combined with a terrific cause, like literacy, well then WOOT! WOOT!

From the Share a Story – Shape a Future blog (logo artist Elizabeth Dulemba):

“Within the kidlitosphere, the children’s literature bloggers comprise and reach a very broad audience. One of the group’s greatest assets is its collective, community-minded approach to sharing information and ideas. Through events like blog tours, authors and illustrators have had wonderful opportunities to share their story and their craft. Given the success of tours for “producers,” what about an event for and by the people who create and engage their readers: teachers, librarians, parents, and people passionate about literacy?

Voila! Share a Story – Shape a Future is just that event. This is an ensemble effort not only to celebrate reading among those of us who already love books, but to encourage each other to reach beyond ourselves and do it in a way that we are neither judging nor instructing others. This is a venue for communicating practical, useable, everyday ideas.

The event begins March 9, 2009 and lasts one week. Each day we will have a group of bloggers sharing ideas around a specific theme. There are a number of book giveaways and free downloads that will be announced by the various hosts as we get closer to the kickoff.”

I’ve looked at the daily agenda and it’s impressive. If you can’t commit to the whole week, stop on by anyway. Each day introduces different topics with different hosts. And the line-up is fabulous.

The Astonishing Pay Off of Hard Work and Research

It just so happens that the same day I started reading National Book Award Winner, The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing by M. T. Anderson, my GoodReads friend, Elizabeth C. Bunce, author of Curse Dark as Gold (winner of the first ever William C. Morris award) posted dozens and dozens of books she read to research CURSE. Then, just few days later, Elizabeth’s GoodReads update showed volumes more she’s using to research her next novel. That’s the day I concluded I was a lazy writer.

Elizabeth talks about her research in her interview with editor Cheryl Klein. Check it out. And follow her CURSE journey in her blog archives. Learn about Anderson’s process in his interview with Publisher’s Weekly .

I can only imagine the time put into establishing the authentic voices in these novels. The narrators’ fluency in their historical languages leave readers completely transported.

I say bravo and thank you to both authors for their intense dedication to their craft. And I’m delighted it’s paid off so well.