Picture Books and Accounting

As we slowly emerge from winter into spring, we’re also transitioning from quite a year.

As we start to see glimpses of getting back to normal, how are you doing? Are you looking back at this time in lockdown and wondering what you’ve accomplished? With so much pressure to “use this time wisely”—what, exactly, did you do this year?

One December, I found myself asking that same question. I was looking back over the year wondering, unhelpfully, in a businessy tax-ish accounting sort of way: “Now let’s see, what exactly did I do this year?” (I should have known by that “exactly” where this would go.)

So I began counting up the number of picture book manuscripts I’d done that year—in a kind of awful picture book accounting. It wasn’t long before I realized there were none. I’d written no picture book manuscripts. I hadn’t got a single picture book contract. And no picture book had come out that year. I had done nothing.

How could this have happened? I’d been working so hard. What had I been doing all that time?

The trouble was I was looking at picture books like an accountant—as if they were products you manufacture. But picture books aren’t products you manufacture; they are seeds that you sow.

A picture book can begin like a poem (I think all great picture books, actually, are poems), and Robert Frost said it best: “A poem begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness.”

You can’t force a picture book—any more than you can a seed.

Seeds need time to take root. To grow. You have to wait for them. You can’t make them come by force of will power. They come when they are ready. Like plants.

You have to work hard: get down on your hands and knees in the dirt. You must till the soil, water and weed. One year, none will come up. The next, they may all come up at once.

So when you can’t see anything and think you’ve got nothing to show–it’s probably not that nothing is happening. It’s probably the opposite. It’s probably just that what’s happening is quiet, and hidden and secret.

It has a lot to do with trust. And a lot to do with waiting. And a lot to do with being on your knees. And almost nothing to do with accounting.

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2 Responses to “Picture Books and Accounting”

  1. christina

    Lovely.

    I wholeheartedly agree about the convergence of picture books and poetry! That’s part of the reason, perhaps, that children memorize not only the plot of their favorites but huge chunks of exact text, and that without effort. I’m solidly in middle age, but “He roared his terrible roar and gnashed his terrible teeth” and the “bear of very little brain” still hold fast in my memory. A great picture book can shape the poetic ear of generations! (No pressure) Thanks for adding the gardening metaphor.

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