I regret that Hannah Hall is (as of yet) only a cyber-friend as I know she and I would be able to sit long into the night over cooling mugs of tea to commiserate about being asked to change a story. How many times have I said the very words Hannah reports saying: This is the way this story goes. There is no other way! And then, after an appropriate amount of pouting (on my part; not sure what Hannah does), I somehow find another way. I so enjoyed Hannah’s essay below, talking about that reality of writing– revision–, focusing on her own experiences with her newest picture book, Penguin and Moose Brave the Night, illustrated by Stacy Curtis (WorthyKids).
I don’t consider myself an overly creative person. (An especially unfortunate problem considering that I write children’s books for a living.)
My art teacher brother likens his excessive creativity to having a mental slot machine. He need only pull the handle and a colorful variety of ideas spin into view—cherries, cherries, aliens! No matter how often he cranks that handle, he’s a winner. Poor guy claims it’s quite the burden—he hasn’t enough time nor energy to make use of all that material.
I have the exact opposite problem. I have time (and sometimes energy) but the handle on my slot machine is dependably jammed.
You can be sure then, when I sat down one Sunday afternoon and unexpectedly tapped out the tale of a plucky little penguin, I was in love. Immediately, terribly.
Penguin was delightful! Penguin was brilliant! Everyone would adore him!
Everyone but my agent, that is.
Who, to be fair, did adore him, but also recognized—immediately, terribly—his ample need for revision.
For us less than creative types—I assume I’m not the only one with this affliction—once we grab hold of an idea, we have an awfully hard time letting go. No words cause me greater anxiety than the polite editorial comment, “This is good, but let’s try it another way.”
There is no other way!
It would take me years (upon years) of writing and rewriting before my sweet Penguin was ready to go out into the publishing world. And then . . . crickets.
Months and months and months of crickets.
When I finally did hear something and a contract was in the works, the publisher made a perilous request: “Let’s make Penguin into a series but push this book back. Start with another one—a friendship book about Penguin and Moose, perhaps.”
Penguin and Moose? There is no Penguin and Moose!
“Moose” was just an afterthought in the book, a character I had thrown in to spice up a boring sentence. All those years of writing and waiting, and now this?
How dare they! How could they? How could I? Rewrite Penguin? Impossible.
There is no other way!
Then, as is wise for us non-creative, possibly overly hysterical types, I took a long walk. I pondered. I fretted. I pronounced the publishers unreasonable.
No, I could not rewrite Penguin as a friendship book. It couldn’t be done.
Besides, I had already written a friendship book.
Tucked away in a dusty file somewhere, it was a picture book about a cat who longed to fly and needed his friends’ help to do it. My agent had never seen it and I had no immediate intentions of trying to publish it, but I had definitely used up all my good “friendship book” material on that one and certainly couldn’t write another. . .
Suddenly, the handle gave. The slot machine whirled. The idea bell ding, ding, dinged.
I had already written a friendship book.
In a matter of a few minutes, I had stripped the skin off that old book and found good bones beneath. The cat became Penguin. The cat’s friends became Moose. The desire to fly that had plagued the cat now plagued Penguin instead. (Which made more sense anyway.)
By the time my walk was complete, my precious Penguin had been mentally transformed into Penguin and Moose, a better book, indeed.
Whattaya know? The publisher was right.
So right, in fact, it made way for another book. This month saw the release of the second book in the series about Penguin and his good pal Moose, Penguin and Moose Brave the Night (WorthyKids).
Moral of the story? Don’t give up on yours. Whether you brim with ideas or fight hard for every last one, the book is in you. And there are few more satisfying victories for the writer than cranking that stubborn handle ‘til it the story you’ve been waiting for finally ding, ding, dings.
Hannah C. Hall is a bestselling and award-winning author and speaker with over one million books in print. Her newest book, Penguin and Moose Brave the Night, released June 22nd and follows its Selah award-winning predecessor, Penguin and Moose. Hall is also the author of multiple ECPA bestsellers, including God Bless You and Good Night. Hannah lives in Northwest Arkansas on a small farm with her husband, five children, two dogs, two cats, a cow, and a dwindling number of chickens. Find her at HannahCHall.com.