Note: I’ve been writing about my journey during my MFA at the Vermont College of Fine Arts (VCFA) in Writing for Children and Young Adults. You can read Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 of my journey as well.
I’m just back from my second residency at VCFA, and I’m exhausted and inspired by days filled with lectures, workshops, readings, and so many conversations about writing. To tell you the truth, I was a little shocked when I arrived home and my family didn’t want to constantly discuss writing. At residency, I also delivered my very first lecture, which was about picture-book revisions.
In my lecture, I talked about revision as the heart of the writer’s craft. It’s the reason an editor might eventually be able to sense the pulse of my story. It’s the reason a reader might get to thrum to the beating heart of the story I’ve finally managed to infuse with life.
But how to revise well? I explored this question with a visit to the Osborne Collection of Early Children’s Books in Toronto to seek original manuscripts that became acclaimed picture books. My goal was to analyze how authors of both classic and recent books had revised their manuscripts. I thought of it as a game, where I could identify what questions the author may have asked when revising or what questions they answered through revision. I could then ask the same questions about my own works-in-progress.
Each time I revise a manuscript, I seem to go through the same painful bumps in the road. My hope is that, by analyzing and learning from others’ revision processes, I’ll be able to find the beating heart of my story more directly and with fewer bumps. Perhaps each of these questions I identified can become the basis for one pass through the manuscript. Perhaps I can infuse my intuitive process with some of this analytical knowledge.
My lecture was part of a panel discussion of picture books with four amazing students I studied with during the Picture Book Intensive (PBI) semester. Together we wrote, critiqued, and analyzed picture books in an online forum, as well as working one-on-one with our faculty advisor, the talented Liz Garton Scanlon. I found the PBI discussions to be more demanding and focused than monthly writing groups. It fostered deep thinking and valuable insights.
With my lecture done, I received a PBI certificate, since this semester can be taken separately from the whole MFA program. I was also thrilled to receive the Beyond Words Scholarship! It’s awarded to a student who demonstrates a passion and commitment to picture books. Now, to use my new knowledge of this genre, I’ll be reviewing picture books for Canadian Children’s Book News as well as continuing to write my own.
I’m now back at my desk and diving into my pile of second-semester work. In this semester, my advisor is a writer with great heart and instinct—Amanda Jenkins, author of the Printz Honor Book Repossessed, among others titles. I’m super stoked to dive into how to better connect to my characters and convey emotional depth on the page, which are my goals for this semester.
Taking this MFA program is the best gift I’ve ever given my writer self. It’s a transformative experience, and I’m so grateful for it.