• Picturebooking Prof

The Case of the Vanishing Summer: Finding the Silver Lining When Things Don’t Go as Planned

Ah, the summer. In May, we look at the expanse of the months and think about all the time we’ll have to do whatever it is that we’ve been looking forward to making progress on. For some, it might be fantasizing about getting out in the garden, reading a book, or finally getting the house in order. For writers, it’s often picturing ourselves relaxing on the porch swing brainstorming story ideas or tapping away at our laptops in our Pinterest-worthy writing space as we nimbly revise what is sure to become our Caldecott winner.

But then, BOOM. It’s August, and our writing routine has gone out the window along with all the money we’ve spent on the A/C. Those peaceful brainstorming sessions and picturesque revision days were the stuff of myth, and we sit here staring at our cluttered desk/table/catch-all and wondering what the heck happened.

For me, it was advising multiple Master’s theses, a seemingly never-ending DIY home improvement list (one of those things that once you uncover one issue, you find 6 more and you have to do them all NOW), and high-maintenance kiddos who refuse to have nice, long naps in tandem (how dare they?!). Oh yeah, and those pesky trips to the lake.

ANYWHO, I’ve been getting down on myself, annoyed that I’ve made so little time for this hobby that I so want to develop my skill in. But then I had an epiphany: I realized that I HAD been participating in a regular “story-muscle” workout all summer, although quite different from those ideal scenarios I envisioned back in May: Improv Bedtime Stories with my little man.

What are Improv Bedtime Stories, you ask? Well, each night after reading his 3 bedtime picture books, my 4-year-old demands to be told a story. But it can’t be just any story. It has to be a story that he’s never heard before, AND it has to be about the specific thing that he comes up with in that moment. Some recent examples: a magic blanket, a stick that breaks, candy, a turtle that turns into a rock…you get the idea. He literally comes up with these things on the spot, and then looks expectantly to find out what amazing tale mom or dad will conjure up. Sometimes, it almost seems like a challenge—“haha, let’s see them come up with something for THIS!”

Talk about great, practice, right? It’s like a daily writing prompt, just from the oh-so-random mind of a 4-year-old boy.

So every night that I come up with stories on the spot like this, I am flexing my “story muscle”—I develop characters, scenes, plots, and themes on the fly. I will admit that sometimes I mail it in (for “candy,” I riffed on Willy Wonka), but most of the time I really try to be original and see what I can come up with. I can tell by Mr. 4’s reaction at the end if I succeeded at weaving an entertaining, coherent story, or if it fell flat—for the not-so-great ones, he pointedly critiques with, “That wasn’t a good story,” “But nothing bad happened!” or the dreaded, “No!” (Thank goodness agents and editors couch their critiques in a few more layers of padding, lol.)

For the “good” ones, on the other hand, he gets excited he starts jumping on his bed, and then wants to talk about how he would continue the story (no, getting him excited is not the best outcome at bedtime…but that’s a problem for another day). These organic mother-son story collaborations are a lot of fun, and when he said the other day that he wanted one of our “good” stories “in the library for everyone to read!” I thought that it may be fun at some point to seriously work with him on writing a story that could potentially be published. If nothing else, as he develops his writing/reading skills, we can work on crafting stories for fun. But who knows, maybe in a few years we’ll become the next mother-son writing sensation! ;)

So, maybe you’re one of the lucky ones that did achieve all of your hopes and dreams this summer—writing or otherwise (congrats if that’s you!)—but if you’re like me and getting caught in the “coulda-shoulda-woulda” cycle of a “lost” summer, I’ll bet there’s more you accomplished than you realize! I know for me, I may not have as many revisions under my belt or submissions in the pipeline as I had hoped, but I have some happy Master’s students, a beautifully repainted lower level, and lots of fabulous memories with my kiddos, making Summer 2019 a fabulous one!

My painting clothes, evidence of how I've been spending my time this summer...

Is there something you were really hoping to accomplish this summer that vanished with the weeks? What else are you taking away from Summer 2019 instead? Share in the comments!


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