I love introducing books especially those of writing friends and critique buddies like Carrie Finison’s “Don’t Hug Doug.” Introducing her book, Carrie touches on that very important element in our writing journey that we as writers need to be aware of – time!
Take it away Carrie –
I put the word “new” in quotes because in lots of ways DON’T HUG DOUG doesn’t feel very new to me at all. The story began life with a first draft in September 2015, and the idea is even older than that. Surprisingly, given how short they are, picture books can take a long time — perhaps not a long time to write, but a long time to perfect.
We’ve seen some recent stories that seem to be on a lightening path to publication. The story of the little owl stuck in the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, an event that just happened this past November, is slated for publication next fall. Similarly, the story of Joe Biden’s dogs – Champ and Major – heading to the White House is coming out in record time.
But these are the exceptions. Most picture books take a minimum of two years in production (especially if the author and illustrator are separate people) — and that’s after an often years-long writing, revising, and submitting process.
But I’ve come to regard that time as a good thing. It allows me to set aside a piece of writing, sometimes for many months, and come back to it with fresh eyes – something I find virtually impossible to do in the short term. Having that fresh outlook allows me to revise a story deeply, rather than just changing a few words around here and there.
For example, with DON’T HUG DOUG, compare the opening lines of the first draft, to the opening lines that are in the published book.
Doug was huggable. All his relatives said so.
“Feel this soft, curly hair!” cried Aunt Prudence.
“And look at those big, brown, puppy dog eyes!” said Aunt Muriel.
“Da-ga-ha-ga,” babbled his cousin Maggie.
And they hugged him and squeezed him and squashed him and squished him.
Doug hated hugs, and he hated it when Aunt Prudence, Aunt Muriel, and cousin Maggie came to town. So the next time they did he grabbed a pile of his favorite Captain Haywire comic books…and hid.
The basic concept is the same – a boy named Doug who doesn’t like hugs. But the story changed drastically. The point of view, tense, voice, and tone are all radically different. Looking back through my files, between December of 2015 and April of 2017, I didn’t work on the story at all. I was busy writing and submitting other things. I also put it away for a long time between May and October of 2017 – and it was that draft in October 2017 where the major change took place. The story sold a few short months after that revision.
If you’re going in circles on a story and not getting anywhere, it may benefit from a resting period. When you can come back to your story with fresh eyes, you may be open to seeing it in a whole new way.
Join me for the next stop on the DON’T HUG DOUG virtual tour, at Pragmatic Mom on 2/1. See you there!
Carrie Finison began her literary career at the age of seven with an idea, a box of markers, and her father’s typewriter. She has been writing off and on ever since, though she has (somewhat regretfully) traded in the typewriter for a laptop. Her first picture book, DOZENS OF DOUGHNUTS, was published in July, 2020. Her second book, DON’T HUG DOUG, illustrated by Daniel Wiseman, hits the shelves this month, on January 26, and has earned a starred review from Kirkus. She lives outside Boston with her husband, son, daughter, and two cats who permit her to write in their cozy attic office. For updates, subscribe to her newsletter, check out her website, or follow on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.
Thank you so much Carrie for sharing your thoughts and process. I know I speak for many in wishing you all the best and many many “new” books.