I’m still reading Stephen Sondheim’s book, and perhaps he has solved a mystery for me. I have always wondered: why does everyone think writing should be easy? Why does everyone expect amazingly instant results to their writing endeavors? I found the answer in another quote from Stephen Sondheim, “Sweat poured over the final product should never show.”
As poets, writers, and artists we look at the work of others and wish we could produce something so beautiful as easily. I, admittedly, am an extremely envious person. When I see a work of art that I love, or read a novel that makes me want to back up and re-read phrases that flow like musical lyrics, I assume that those words just roll on to that lucky writer’s keyboard, or flow from their brushes. And, because my own work feels so ordinary, I envy the uniqueness people bring to their stories. Why doesn’t anyone have to work as hard as I do to make things come out the way I am hearing and seeing them in my head? And, often in the picture book arena I wonder how other authors come up with such seemingly simple books?
(And sometimes I do get to create a book effortlessly... I remember years ago, though, when writing THERE WAS AN OLD LADY WHO SWALLOWED A TROUT! I kept trying to improve it, until my editor reminded me that not ALL books have to be grueling...to take this one as a gift. New concept for me.)
Lately, I have been pulling unfinished or unpublished stories out and looking at the hard work I was NOT willing to put into them. Some of them had an editor ask for a revision, but since I already had a contract to work on, I put them away. Thinking I was walking away from a story that would never make it, the truth is that I was walking away from sweat and hard work....the part of the finished product that never shows. Somehow I had gotten it into my head that each book should be easier to get accepted than the last. The economy and changes in publishing has quickly dashed that egotistical thought, and I am now back to the only important question, “Do I want to tell the story, even if it takes a long time and has to get revised and rejected, revised and rejected...well you know the routine.”
So I went back to work on old stories. One of those stories just got split into four books and is making its way through submissions. Another, a song I have sung to my grandson, is now waiting for a dummy. And, thanks to Ann Dixon, another book that I was to illustrate while Alaska Northwest went bankrupt is under contract again...THE BOOK BOAT....a story about the library service to fish camps on the Kuskokwim River. So what made me decide to sweat again, even though it often seems that other people don’t have to? Somewhere deep inside of all artists and writers is a desire to share their work, and in the case of Ann’s book, a desire to stay connected to a place and an event we are familiar with. Eventually that desire outweighs our ability to keep a story to ourselves. So we dig the story out, find ourselves in the story again, remember what sparked the idea, the place we love and get going.
For those of you not having to sweat, I am still jealous!
Teri Sloat has been writing and illustrating children’s books for almost twenty years, with over twenty trade books published with Dutton, Orchard, DK Ink, Holt, Putnam and Alaska Northwest Books. She has also worked as a freelancer in illustration and educational publishing and enjoyed a visiting professorship with Hollins University, teaching MFA students in Children’s Book Writing and Art. Her books have been awarded by the American Booksellers Association, the New York Times, the American Library Association, the Children’s Book Center, Sesame Street, and State Reading Associations. She lives with her husband, Bob, a very small farm in Sebastopol, CA. For more info go to www.terisloat.com and www.terisloat.blogspot.com