Author Matt Forrest Esenwine is here this #FirstDraftFriday with "Pro Tips" on drafting picture books and with a new book, which coincidentally offers "Pro Tips" on being human!
Matt’s new picture book, A BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO BEING HUMAN, illustrated by André Ceolin, will be out later this month from Beaming Books. Matt is the author of several other picture books and his poetry has been featured in a variety of anthologies. To learn more about Matt or order his books, visit: www.mattforrest.com
Matt is generously offering a manuscript or poetry critique as a prize for someone who completes a draft today! Details at the end of this post. But before we get to that...
Matt, tell us a little about A BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO BEING HUMAN and what inspired you to sit down and write the first draft of it?
My editor, Naomi Krueger, inspired me, actually! I had submitted a manuscript for a completely different book, and although she didn’t feel it was quite right for Beaming Books, she liked the style and structure and told me she’d had a similar idea for a creative nonfiction book about emotions and feelings. She asked if I’d be willing to write it, and of course I said yes!
What was your drafting process like? Any hiccups with getting the first draft done?
I wouldn’t say there were any hiccups during the writing process, although I did check in with Naomi from time to time just to make sure I was maintaining her vision. We both knew there was no guarantee she’d buy it – if it wasn’t what she was looking for, she had no obligation to accept it – so I was relieved when she told me she loved the first (polished) rough draft! Naomi felt there was a fair amount of editing and revision to be done, but having already worked with Charles Ghigna and me on “Once Upon Another Time,” she and the editorial board were confident we could work together to finalize it.
How did the manuscript change from that draft to what it is today?
It’s not really all that different, to be honest. I sent Naomi two versions, a short version and a longer version, and we ended up combining the two! The bulk of the text, the humor, the “Pro Tips,” as we call them – it’s all pretty much the same as the first draft. What did change was some of the phrasing and emotions. We didn’t want the humor to overshadow the tone or subject matter of the book, and we wanted to make sure we were as inclusive as possible with our language.
Are you a pantser or a plotter? And how does that affect your drafting of a story?
I’m more of a plotster, ha! I come up with a general plot, a somewhat nebulous concept of how I want my story to progress, and then I just jump in and start going. Oftentimes, the end is not what I’d envisioned, but that’s part of the joy of writing, isn’t it?
Do you ever find yourself putting off drafting a story?
Funny you should mention that. I’m doing an interview right now instead of working on a new PB idea I’ve had for weeks.
What is the hardest part of drafting a story for you? And how do you deal with that?
Finding my way in, without doubt. Every manuscript is different, of course, but usually the hardest part is figuring out how to turn an idea into a publishable story. If I can figure out the plot (and I use that term loosely, because most of my books are lyrical, loose narratives) and nail down a structure (free verse, rhyming, prose?) I’m good to go. If I can’t, I just leave it alone and come back to it; I’m certainly not at a loss for ideas to work on!
What are your tips and tricks for getting that first draft committed to the page?
I think my biggest “tip” would be taking the time to ponder, deliberate, mull over. People always ask how long it takes to write a poem or a book, and I always give them the most boring answer: it depends! I spent a good week or two thinking about how to come up with a narrative for “Once Upon,” using just the first few stanzas Charles Ghigna had written – not sitting at my desk, staring at the computer screen, but while I was driving, walking, gardening. Once I knew what to do, I was able to sit down and start working on the text. Same thing with “Beginner’s Guide!” I took the time to kick ideas and phrases around in my head long before committing any words to paper, so that once I was comfortable with my direction, I could focus on execution.
So, have you been mulling over any intriguing story ideas lately? I hope so because it's time to jump in and see where the writing takes you. #FirstDraftFriday has begun!
To enter for a chance at a free critique of either one picture book manuscript or up to three poems from Matt, do the following by 8 pm ET today (Oct. 7, 2022):
Complete a full picture book draft
Return to this blog post and comment that you’ve completed your draft and provide your Twitter handle. You will need to Sign Up/Log In to leave a comment (it’s easy - just an email and password).
You don’t need to send in your draft or provide proof - we’re all about the honor system here! The lucky winner will be randomly drawn from the comments and announced on Twitter shortly after 8 pm ET tonight.