What a genuine honor and pleasure it is to count Laurie Ann Thompson as a friend and to celebrate her newest book, Elizabeth Warren’s Big, Bold Plans, illustrated by Susanna Chapman (Atheneum Books for Young Readers/Simon Shuster). Laurie never ceases to inspire me through her personal actions as well as her wonderful books (Emmanuel’s Dream; Be a Changemaker, for example). And today she talks about how something she never liked has turned into a cherished part of her writing journey. Read on!
One thing I’ve learned to expect in publishing is that you can never be sure what to expect! At the beginning of my writing career, I expected to figure out how everything worked, then simply repeat that process for each subsequent book. That couldn’t be further from the truth!
Every manuscript seems to demand its own process of creation, from idea generation to research to drafting to revision. This is still unsettling to me, but it is no longer a surprise. Still, everything about book number seven was a surprise!
I used to say that I don’t like surprises, but everything about this book has forced me to question that belief. It started when an editor I’d met at a conference asked my agent if I might be interested in writing a picture book biography of Elizabeth Warren. I had hoped to work with this editor someday and had long admired Warren, so this felt like the best possible surprise… an out-of-the-blue dream come true!
There was one big catch, though: they wanted it ASAP. My first picture book biography, Emmanuel’s Dream, took eight years from idea to sale. For this book, I would have only months! Yes, I had learned a lot over the years and gotten a lot faster, but a few short months to go from initial research to final manuscript? I wasn’t at all sure I could deliver, but I knew I had to try.
I dropped everything else I was working on and spent several weeks reading books and articles by or about Warren and reading and watching interviews she’d done, noting scenes I might want to use and interesting facts. I was surprised how much we seemed to have in common!
Then, I started drafting. I had three different ideas for framing the story, so I quickly drafted a manuscript for each. This was so different from how I typically work: slowly and methodically, carefully considering every possible choice. But there was no time for self-doubt or second-guessing on this project! I had to trust my instincts and go for it. Having the tight time constraint was actually quite freeing, and it taught me an entirely different way to approach a project.
Two of those drafts seemed to have potential, so I brought both to my critique group. They disagreed about which was best but gave helpful feedback on both. I revised each and sent them to my editor. She chose her favorite, and we moved forward from there.
While we proceeded with editorial notes and revisions on the text, the talented Susanna Chapman began working on the illustrations. This was intimidating since I knew she was working from a fairly rough draft that was still evolving… but it was also exciting since I then got to see her absolutely delightful early sketches and character studies!
In fact, everything about making this book was delightful. I got to dig deeper into the life and work of someone I truly admire. I got to learn new ways of working and gain confidence in my abilities. I got to be a part of an incredible team and make some new friends along the way. And together we succeeded in making a book that was not one of my own big, bold plans, but did turn out to be one that I am quite proud of.
So, surprise! It seems like I’m finally becoming a fan of surprises after all. And that’s good, because there’s one thing I’m sure of: There will be many more surprises to come!
Laurie Ann Thompson is the co-author of the Two Truths and a Lie series and author of several award-winning nonfiction books, including the teen how-to Be a Changemaker and Emmanuel’s Dream, a picture book biography about Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah, which was the recipient of the Schneider Family Book Award and was named an ALA Notable Children’s Book and a CCBC Choice, among other accolades. She lives with her family outside Seattle, and you can visit her online at http://LaurieThompson.com or @Laurie Thompson.