Picture Book Revision Takes 25 Years

Writing is rewriting

Guest post by Anastasia Suen

For years I have been saying that writing is rewriting, and now I have a book that shows it quite clearly, my new picture book, Road Work Ahead (Viking 2011).

This picture book is short, like most of my books. It’s only 120 words, but those words have been rewritten over and over again. Yes, this one has been a lo-o-o-ong time coming. I started this book when my son was 2…and now he’s 27!

Picture Book Inspiration

When my son was 2, he loved to look at all of the trucks and machines along the road, so I started snapping pictures for him. I made him a “look book” that later turned into a picture book. I loved the story in that book, so I sent it out to editors, but it kept coming back, over and over. Editors said they loved it, too, but it wasn’t quite ready. So I kept rewriting it and sending it out…and now 25 years later, it’s finally a book you can hold in your hand.

The 6 Ws of Story

So what made the difference? I used ALL of the 6 Ws this time. I made sure the story had who, what, when, where, why and how. Using all 6 Ws made it a story, not just a list of machines along the road. Stories sell, but lists…well, not so much.

New Beginning and Ending. After the story finally sold I thought it was ready to go, but my editor thought it needed something more. She asked me to write a new beginning and ending, so we knew why the little boy was on the road looking at all of the road work. That also added a who, by showing us the little boy before he got into the car.

So I added my mother and her famous homemade oatmeal cookies to the book. (We used to eat them right after they came out of the oven. Yum!) Driving to Grandma’s house for fresh, warm, homemade oatmeal cookies is definitely a reason to keep going despite all of the traffic delays due to the work along the road. And when you get to eat them at the end of the book, ah, sweet reward! Adding 2 short stanzas was all it took.

The change I made was used by the Publishers Weekly reviewer to describe the book.

“A batch of Grandma’s homemade oatmeal cookies beckons, but for this backseat narrator, the sights and sounds along the road to her house are equally compelling:
“Road work ahead./ Move over. Go slow./ Jackhammers crack./ Look at them go.’”

The text quoted in the review was the original beginning of the story. I had jumped too far into the action. What worked better was taking a few steps back and letting the reader know who the narrator was and why he was on the road in the first place.

Yes, writing is rewriting! (And a good editor makes ALL the difference. Thanks, Regina!)

For more on writing and revising picture books, see WriteaPictureBook.com

7 thoughts on “0

  1. Anastasia, I enjoyed reading your post. What a fun idea to add grandma’s cookies to the story. About 10 years ago I began writing Bumble Bear: Daniel Bear Learns a Lesson. My 2nd grade students gave great feedback during writer’s workshop. It is out-of-print now, but tonight I was submitting it to publishers. It’s amazing how much we grow over the years, and it’s so fun to learn from other writers and editors.

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