Whew. Well, here I am with five picture book manuscripts on the verge of being queried. I wanted to make sure that I have five; five that I can read over and over again and say that I tried my hardest on – that I really love. As we all know, most agents will ask for more.
Well, I guess that’s a lie. I didn’t just write five. I would say I have written (not always to completion) about 30 picture book manuscripts over the course of seven years. Written from the countless ideas I’ve explored and experimented with on scraps of paper, scribbled in notebooks, and the 126 “notes” I’ve drafted in my phone.
Which brings me to my point here. One thing I’ve learned throughout this process and through all the articles I write on a daily basis as part of my job, is to always follow your gut when you’re rereading your work. It’s a lesson I think as a writer you learn over the years, but an incredibly important one. I define it as the moment where you shift from writing for yourself to writing for the reader, and it can make or break a story.
It borders on the “kill your darlings” advice, chopping sentences or whole paragraphs we’ve written and fallen in love with, but ultimately need to lose because they just don’t jive with the story.
But following your gut is slightly different. It’s when you read over your work and land on a word or a sentence that stands out in a questionable way. You say to yourself, is this the right word to use? Does this sound funny? Where you might pause for a slight second and envision the reader. Would they question it too? Do yourself a favour…
Countless times I’ve written something, stopped on a word or sentence, questioned it, but ultimately said, “nah, it’s fine.” And every single time I have kept it in and – EVERY TIME – I handed it off to the reader, that word or that sentence is the FIRST thing that reader picks out and suggests a change on.
You can’t be lazy as a writer. Do we want our writing to just be average? No. We want it to stand out, but in a good a way.
Follow your gut.