A teacher contacted me this week and asked if I could write a note she could read out loud in her class. The note was supposed to encourage her students to try their hand at doing a word picture, something I do a lot of when I’m writing because it makes everything so much easier. Here’s what I wrote in case, you know, you were thinking of doing a word picture or something.
Hello young writer peoples!
When I write a book it always starts the same way: I look at other books and think: whoa, that looks like a lot of flippin work. All those pages! Covered in words! My face starts to feel like a garbage can and I slump, hard, in my chair. It’s the kind of slump where I could practically touch the floor with my garbage can face.
But then I remember how I start every single book I write and I feel a lot better. I stop slumping! My face feels like a normal face with a nose and eyeballs and other stuff that belongs on my face!
I take out a piece of paper and I ask myself: what the heck is my story about? And then, like a little piece of magic, I have the courage to begin. What I do is very simple and it makes me stop feeling afraid of all those pages that will come later. I draw pictures of what my story is about – lots of them – and I make little notes next to my pictures that remind me of the big moments in my story. Pretty soon I have a whole page covered with simple drawings and a bunch of little notes that guide my way and quite a bit of orange cheeto dust (I don’t know how the orange cheeto dust got on my paper).
Once I have a word picture, it’s so much easier to write my story. Now I have a road map that tells me where to go and how to get there. I can zero in on the most important parts, I can see what the story looks like. I can totally write this. I can!
And so can you.
I’ve been getting a lot of email lately asking for help with various aspects of writing a novel. When I wrote the Atherton trilogy I created a series of nine short videos that describe the two year process of writing those books. If you’re a teacher or a librarian, these might be helpful for the young writers in your schools. And if you’re a writer yourself and you’re feeling a little bit stuck, I hope these help! Write on. http://www.patrickcarman.com/
I do a lot of rewriting before sending a first draft to an editor, and based on the below letter to his daughter, so did Roald Dahl. First time novelists remember: even for the best writers, it’s a long process getting to a publishable manuscript. And I love that writing chair he used!
“The reason I haven’t written you for a long time is that I have been giving every moment to getting a new children’s book finished. And now at last I have finished it, and I know jolly well that I am going to have to spend the next three months rewriting the second half. The first half is great, about a small girl who can move things with her eyes and about a terrible headmistress who lifts small children up by their hair and hangs them out of upstairs windows by one ear. But I’ve got now to think of a really decent second half. The present one will all be scrapped. Three months work gone out the window, but that’s the way it is. I must have rewritten Charlie [and the Chocolate Factory] five or six times all through and no one knows it.”
This is a painting that used to hang in the house where I grew up. It’s by a German painter named Carl Spitzweg, and apparently this is one of his more obscure paintings.
Have you ever seen a picture and either wondered what story it was trying to tell, or made up a story for what you saw?
For this Spitzweg painting, I remember thinking it was the central scene of a fairy tale. This was the basement of a castle, and whenever the princess met someone she wanted to marry, she would send them down to this room to meet the poor poet of the house and his wife. And his monkey.
Visiting the poet was a test to see what the prince would do, because in my imagination, the poet sitting there (and his wife) would tell the prince all about the rarest gem in the world, which was worth a fortune. It was hidden somewhere in the room and it would fit in the prince’s pocket – it would be all his because they hated the princess.
All the prince had to do was take the ball and chain off the monkey and put the ball and chain on himself – then the monkey would show the prince where the treasure was hidden.
But of course once the prince put the ball and chain on, he turned into a monkey. The guy walking up the stairs is the last guy who fell for this trick, walking out in shame after having been held captive for a few years.
Now the monkey in the painting had only been that monkey for like five minutes! Right before I showed up and saw the painting, that monkey was a prince. And the guy walking out the door was a monkey.
If you have a picture and a story, I’d love to see it and hear it. Comment!
Charlie had his chocolate factory.
Stanley Yelnats had his holes.
Order your copy online or from your favorite bookstore – the critics are raving!
A madcap mystery reminiscent of Roald Dahl and Ellin RAskin, complete with bizarre inventions, a mystery involving a missing billionaire and his fortune, and even a crazy elevator or two – Publishers Weekly
Mixing mystery; colorfully drawn, offbeat characters; and some Willy Wonka evoking flourishes, this series offers an absorbing, entertaining read – Booklist
An adventurous romp, as atmospheric as incense and as smooth as lemonade on a summer day – Kirkus
FLOORS provides puzzles to solve, fabulous rooms and inventions to explore, and large dollops of humor – School Library Journal
FIND ALL THINGS FLOORS AT WWW.FLOORSBOOK.COM