Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Revealing ReFoReMo with Jilanne Hoffmann

The Picture Book Marathon

When I first started writing picture books, I thought I had put in my 10,000 hours. Little did I know that an MFA in Creative Writing for adults and being a published journalist for 20+ years would take me only so far in the picture book marathon.

It took a year or so to figure out that I was still far, far from the finish line. I knew how to write. I just didn’t know how to write picture books. My first efforts ranged between 1200-1500 words and were deemed more appropriate for an older crowd. My education in the art of the picture book was lacking. Sure, I had fallen in love with the form when I read to my son, but I had never studied what made them unique in the literary world.

So I enrolled in online picture book writing courses, became a member of SCBWI and attended conferences, joined 12x12, and discovered ReFoReMo.

I began to study picture books. I read the ReFoReMo guest posts written by agents, editors, and authors. What books did they love and why? What picture books did published authors read when they needed specific guidance or inspiration?


I’ve read hundreds of picture books. I mean I REALLY read them. I studied each page and how the story moved from one page to the next. What happened in between the page turns? I studied the text and illustrations. I analyzed how they added different, complementary elements to the reading experience. I pondered why a character tugged at my heart. And I focused on why I wanted to read certain books again and again and again.

Are you having trouble with characterization? Check out these picture books with unforgettable characters.





If you can’t plot to save your soul, take a lesson from these stellar page-turners.



Or maybe your prose plods along like a metronome set at 20 beats per minute? Take a look at some picture books that keep readers turning the pages and guessing what’s going to happen next, all while changing up the pacing.













If you don’t know diddly squat about poetic techniques and how they can enhance your tale, immerse yourself in picture books that are playful and inventive in their use of language, whether lyrical, humorous, or rhyming.



Now that I’ve been through year three of ReFoReMo, I can finally say that I’ve put in my 10,000 hours in the picture book marathon. And while I may not have crossed the finish line, yet, I feel far more certain that I will do so. It is only a matter of time.

While everyone’s marathon may follow a slightly different course, we’re all running in the same direction. We want to give children a very specific kind of gift, one that will lift them up with imagination, give them knowledge about their world, and build bridges of understanding. It is a gift that can make a profound difference in children’s lives.


Good luck to all who take on this exquisite journey, this labor of love—again and again. There may be no other work that is more thrilling or satisfying.


Jilanne Hoffmann has read at Listen to Your Mother - San Francisco, is an alumna of the Squaw Valley Community of Writers, received an honorable mention in a Literary Death Match bookmark competition judged by Daniel Handler, and is a co-producer of Kidquake, the elementary school version of Litquake, San Francisco's premier literary festival. She often features her favorite picture books for Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Book Fridays at www.jilannehoffmann.com.



27 comments:

  1. Hey Jilanne, this is such a well-written post. I appreciate how you picked stellar books for each possible pitfall a writer can have. Her's to us and the next step after our 10,000 hours.

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    1. 10,001...10,002...Thanks, Kathy! So many great books can be used in multiple ways. 10,003...Cheers!

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  2. Thank you for sharing, Jilanne. It is only a matter of time. It looks like you are doing everything right. Thanks for being a great example of learning and growing.

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    1. The race goes to those who persevere, right? Thanks for stopping by!

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  3. Great post! I love your examples of books to study. Thanks for sharing to help us along our path! :)

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    1. All of these books are inspiring in so many different ways. Just as all of our paths are so different and inspiring. Cheers!

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  4. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this post, Jilanne. You made it so simple by giving us these great examples for each important element that goes into making a great picture book story. And your analogy of the writing journey as a picture book marathon is spot on!!!!

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    1. Thank you, Vivian! One step at a time, right?

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  5. Jillanne! What a perfect post for ReFoRemo! Thank you for sharing your insights and your humor.

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    1. I think it's important to maintain a sense of humor during all parts of this process. Especially when I figure out that I've made mistakes I promised myself I'd never make again. Mentor texts often help me clear my vision or get rid of the blind spots I have for my own work.

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  6. Great post! Thank you so much!

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  7. Great examples to refer to often! Thanks for sharing your journey!

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    1. I've either checked these books out multiple times from the library or now have them sitting on my shelves permanently. In many cases, I've typed the text into a mentor text file on my laptop, so I can refer to them no matter where I'm writing. Thanks for stopping by!

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  8. Good luck! I'll watch for a new book from you.

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    1. I'll be shouting the news from the rooftops when I do. Thanks!

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  9. I'll run thus marathon with you any day Jilanne. What an insightful post. And you named mentor texts I haven't read. Thanks!

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    1. Thanks, Keila! You know, I should have mentioned that the kidlit community is like all those people who cheer from the sidelines or teammates who are running together. Some folks hand us water or an energy bar when we need it. Some offer encouragement by cheering. It's inspiring!

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  10. Great and inspiring post, Jilanne. We must continue to read as many picture books as possible and work on our craft. I just requested, from my library, the books I haven't yet read. Always appreciate discovering new titles to check out.

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    1. Thank you! That's one of the things I love about ReFoReMo, discovering books I may never have seen, otherwise.

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  11. Like you, I thought I brought some skills into the arena, only to discover just how hard picture books are to get just right. We have to hang in there together. These were some great mentor texts, and I loved your post!

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    1. Thank you, Sherry! Yes, it's a completely different animal, isn't it? Good luck in your marathon!

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  12. I'm cheering you on, Jilanne! Thanks for the post and marvelous mentor texts you've shared.

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    1. Thank you! I can hear the roar from the crowd. That's one of the things that keeps me going forward. Cheers!

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  13. Thank you for sharing your insights into the marathon of writing picture books. I will look into borrowing these books from our local library and some (or all) of them may find a permanent spot on my book shelf!

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    1. I either own these books or have checked them out multiple times from my library.
      I wish I could buy every single book I love. Hope you enjoy these, too. Thanks for stopping by!

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  14. So true, Jilanne. This is a marathon & we need to practice, practice & practice by reading, reading & reading some more. To your success!

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