There are many recipes that have been passed down over the years from grandparents to grandchildren and beyond, but as a writer, what are the ingredients required to make a great picture book? What have the older and wiser writers confided in you over the years? Are there must do ideas that could make or break your 12 spread masterpiece? What’s the right spacing, pacing and rhyme making? What should your book say to the reader?
As with all well-thumbed recipe books, your picture book recipe should rest in the kitchen of your mind awaiting the return of sticky fingers and snotty noses trying hard not to bend the page corners as they giggle through the story. It should chase away the worries of the day in one fell swoop, entertaining the restless kids and easing the tired parents’ weary minds after a long day at work. It should make the sofa you share feel the size of the Atlantic Ocean, the pillows saving you from falling overboard. It should wrap you up in a literary blanket as you work through the words with your enthralled budding readers. It should quiet the room just long enough to get to the last page. It should, I’m not saying it will.
Here’s my recipe. What’s yours?
My Procrastinating Picture Book Soup
Pens or pencils
STEP 1 – Pre-heat your printer by pressing the ON switch. Look for 10 year-old instruction manual if required and wipe away any dust that may hamper the printing of your genius. It may have been some time since you have done this.
STEP 2 – Wash your hands for as long as you like. There is no rush. In your ideal world anyway.
STEP 3 – Using the clean, smooth pages, lay the white parchment out in front of you and sharpen your pencils to a thick point, make sure your pen of choice has enough ink in it. Do not search for extra ink – this will just delay the onset of creative thinking even more and you have no idea where it is anyway.
STEP 4 – Turn the radio off if it is distracting you, or, if you have heard the last three news on-the-hour bulletins without actually achieving any writing. Get a grip of yourself – it’s not big and it’s not clever.
STEP 5 – Take a deep breath.
STEP 6 – Using a spattering of words, blend together onto the page until mixed well in a spectacularly literate fashion.
STEP 7 – With the point of your pencil, doodle occasionally in the margins to avoid excessive day-dreaming.
STEP 8 – Coming back to the task in hand, try. Just try.
STEP 9 – All good procrastinators will probably take a break right now and sigh a few times.
STEP 10 – Put the kettle on. Feel free to relax while the boiling commences. Close your eyes and think of all the other things you could be doing. Be careful as boiling water can be tricky to handle if the owner is in a certain mood: impatience, grumpiness, excessive sighing, sleepy eyes etc. Ask a responsible adult to help with this.
STEP 11 – Repeat steps 4 and 5 if required. If you are trying to repeat step 1 again, go back to bed, today is not your day.
STEP 12 – Revel in the ease that the nouns and adverbs you have thrown in for extra seasoning enhance the flavour and colour of your creative style.
STEP 13 – Marvel at the way you haven’t checked your word count in the last five minutes. You should be proud of yourself. Let’s face it, every time you open the oven you are letting out all the warmth and bringing in some cold. Inevitably, this will result in yet another repeat of steps 7-9.
STEP 14 – Using the recipe in your head, only you can write your story after all, continue on the path to completion and watch out for unnecessary spillage on the document as this can cause heightened frustration and may lead to the opening of wine with lunch.
STEP 15 – Using both sides of the brain, spatter some further similes and metaphors where needed. Be careful not to spend too long on this as too many can cause the words to droop and fail to rise.
STEP 16 – The first batch of pages are finished. Now is the time go over the recipe in your head and tick off all the characters you wanted to bring to your creation. If they didn’t make it in, will it affect the final outcome? I feel step 10 may be required again at this point.
STEP 17 – All batches have been checked and primed and are ready to go. I would suggest a few deep breaths here, it’s a very exciting moment in your day. Did you laugh out loud, cry or giggle? No, then go back to step 1 and start again.
STEP 18 – Think Gollum. Think Precious. Think I must print it out and place it in the big brown envelope of mystery that will land on an unsuspecting desk very soon.
STEP 19 – No stamps! That’s fine, you’ll be needing some fresh air anyway so head to your friendly post office.
STEP 20 – You’ve done it. Well done. You now have the right to feel slightly queasy and need a wee lie down. Or you could get another recipe on the go and see where it takes you.
The final ingredient is you.