Thursday, February 13, 2020

Keep It Simple: Tools to Help Strip to the Essence of a Story


By Jen Bryant



In many ways, I am totally unqualified to write this post. I am a “pile” not a “file” kind of person. I am easily awed, easily overwhelmed, and too easily distracted. I have an eclectic personality and am deeply interested in an ever-widening range of topics, from meteorology to theater, evolution to modern dance, lightning bugs to computer viruses and so on.


But in another way, I suppose, this makes me exactly The Right Person, as Peter Mark Roget would say, to tackle the topic of clear, simple nonfiction writing. In order to rein in my expansive interests and my ever-wandering attention, I NEED to have a strategy to pare down the piles of research materials and begin to spin them into an elegant, coherent, simplified narrative.


In my view, all excellent picture book texts are three things: eloquent, informative, entertaining. Even if the text itself is longer than usual, the story is somehow anchored by carefully chosen images and rhythms that make it seem, well, —seamless! 


So, how is this accomplished? 


First, there is the copious research on the part of the author. Research that is done before, and also during, the writing of the manuscript as aspects of the subject’s life begin to glimmer and shine like small gems in a mountain of patiently mined soil, gravel and detritus. This might include travel to the places where the person lived and worked, viewing films, listening to audio recordings, conducting interviews, reading diaries, books, journals, newspapers, and personal family documents in addition to the online and reference book reading. 


And therein lies the great paradox of simplicity: it derives from the long, exhaustive, sometimes tedious but oh-so-rewarding, gathering of and studying your raw materials. By this I mean that IF you spend enough time learning about your subject, you begin to feel like they are sitting right next to you when you begin to write. You become a portrait painter, except you wield words, not paint. Above my desk, I have this quote by artist Jamie Wyeth, who takes it one step further: “When I work on a portrait, it’s really osmosis. I try to become the person I’m painting.” 


For example, in reading the war diaries of self-taught painter Horace Pippin (the subject of my biography A Splash of Red) and in combing through more than a hundred  archived newspaper and magazine articles, after seeing as many of his original works of art as I possibly could, in viewing a film and flipping through files in the basement of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art in Philadelphia and walking up and down the sidewalks and alleyways of his West Chester neighborhood, two distinct images emerged: the color red (flowers in his garden, discarded barn/ house paint that he used for his art, blood from WWI battles, fire in his wood stove, etc.)  and his own big hands, which were constantly working, shaping, making something beautiful and useful. “Big Hands” was, in fact, a working title of the manuscript for a while—until Melissa Sweet (also a lover of the color red) suggested that we pluck the phrase “a splash of red” from the text for the final title—a suggestion that proved to be a really good one! 


Please note that I said “emerged.” This is important because if you stop short of doing enough deep research, you may end up imposing an image onto your narrative that doesn’t quite work. I see this sometimes in published books and it makes me cringe, because I know the writer didn’t dig deeply enough. If, however, you are faithful to the process and do as much deep digging as you possibly can, spending days/weeks/ months immersed in the wonderful soup of your subject’s life, then I guarantee that images will emerge that you can use as the hub of your wheel and around which you can spin the rest of your narrative. 


In my biography A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams it was the Passaic River that revealed itself to me after months and months of sifting through his poems and personal writings, visiting Rutherford and Paterson, NJ, and combing through hundreds of fascinating details of his life as a pediatrician and poet. There were other images, too, but I kept finding the word “flow” in my notebooks whenever I summarized a period of his childhood or tried to describe his first halting efforts at writing poems. This became the title and the central image around which the rest of the text could unfold and flourish. 


In FEED YOUR MIND: A Story of August Wilson, my challenge was to reveal how the young Freddy Kittel, raised by his mother and living with his siblings in a cramped, 2-bedroom apartment with an outhouse in back, found his voice, his writing process and his lifelong subject: his own Pittsburgh neighborhood and the struggles of African Americans in the 20th century. Again, above my desk, I kept Wilson’s own words as I wrote: “I just write stuff down and pile it up, and when I get enough stuff, I spread it out and look at it and figure out how to use it.” And oh my, did I have piles of stuff!


But again—one of the things that I kept coming back to was his voracious appetite for language and learning. Here was a young man who, at 175 pounds-strong, angry and bitter after being disbelieved by teachers and mocked and bullied by students, could have done a LOT of other things with his time once he quit school. But . . . and this is where fact is more unbelievable than fiction . . . he decided to spend his days reading across every subject imaginable at the Carnegie Public Library. Words like “voracious” “hunger”, and “devour” can become cliché, for sure, when applied to reading and books. But Wilson’s 1999 speech title “FEED YOUR MIND—the Rest Will Follow” became the keystone of the text, the central image around which the remainder of the story could freely spin.



ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jen Bryant writes biographical picture books, historical novels in verse, and poems for readers of all ages. Her books have received the Sibert Medal, two Caldecott Honors, two Schneider Family Book Awards, the Orbis Pictus Award and a Charlotte Zolotow Honor. Jen’s latest book Feed Your Mind—A Story of August Wilson, was inspired by her local theater company and is illustrated by Cannaday Chapman. She lives with her family in Glenmoore, PA, where she feeds the birds and cheers wildly for the Phillies.

ABOUT THE PRIZE

Jen Bryant will offer a signed copy of either A Splash of Red: The Art and Life of Horace Pippin OR a signed copy of FEED YOUR MIND: A Story of August Wilson, plus a signed promotional poster for FYM. Winner may choose.




Leave one comment below about what struck you in the post.
You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered NF Fest participant and you have contributed one comment below. 

151 comments:

  1. This gives me hope. When I'm knee-deep in research, sometimes I wonder how I'll ever get to the point where everything comes together. Thanks for the great examples!!

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  2. Jen, I love how you become immersed in your subject. I’m looking up your books:) Thank you.

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  3. It's good to know that you don't have to have all of the answers from the beginning. Thank you, Jen.

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  4. I'll remember the "paradox of simplicity" not only for biographies but for other kinds of nonfiction writing too. Thank you, Jen!

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  5. I absolutely love your books. And I'm guilty of exactly everything you've written about. (Some of the good/some of the bad.) Thank you for your post and sincerity. I'm going to be putting on my best boots, getting back in the trenches and digging deeper today.

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  6. So insightful. Thanks. Yes, the paradox of simplicity is something we all need to live by.

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  8. I am exactly the person you described in paragraph one - a "piler" and a bit ADD. Thank you, Jen, for sharing how you distilled the essence of the person to find the motifs and themes that work. We need give ourselves the time to find that person's truth. Excellent post.

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  9. I'm a huge fan of your books, Jen, so truly appreciate the story behind your stories. I too have piles and can feel overwhelmed by the information. Nice to know how it all eventually comes together for you, after an exhaustive search.

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  10. Thanks for the tip about finding the essence of story through deep research!

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  11. I too am a bit of a "piler" so I'm glad to know there's hope for me! I do love doing research, trying to find that essence you spoke of. It's rarely in the top layer either, so digging deeper and deeper is key. Thanks for an insight into your process!

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  12. Thanks so much for the inspiration. Diving deep now.

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  13. I related so much to being a pile person. Your books show you wearing the mantle of your research! Thanks for sharing!

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  14. Great info to go deep to really absorb all the info needed to write the story! Thanks!

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  15. So many things struck me in this post. I, too, am a piles person. Jen has given me hope I can wrestle my piles into something worthwhile for young readers if I dig deep enough to find a meaningful narrative. Crafting a story that is "eloquent, informative, and entertaining" is an excellent goal and one I hope I can reach. Thank you for your insights, Jen!

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  16. I love finding that word or tidbit that keeps resurfacing to help with where or what to focus on.

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  17. What an inspirational post. Thank you for sharing your organizational ideas that emerge from hours of digging deep research. One of my favorite books is A River Of Words. I've read and read it. Studied it. Loved it death. Now to hear you talk about it . . . Wonderful.

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  19. Thanks for your honest post of being a piler, organized , yes of course!
    And how after tons on indepth research, the story reveals itself to you.
    Thank you!

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  20. I loved immersing myself in the research for my picture book biography. Each new discovery was a thrill. And I am a piler too!

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  21. Love the idea that you can purposefully let things emerge -- instead of feeling like that aha moment was merely chance.

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  22. I like the examples of such different people: Horace Pippin, William Carlos Williams and August Wilson. Very helpful.

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  23. 'IF you spend enough time learning about your subject, you begin to feel like they are sitting right next to you when you begin to write.' ~ This really hit home. I'm researching someone right now and have access online to scrapbooks, letters, etc and I feel when I sit down to start writing next week that I'll need to make room for two at my desk. :)

    Also, I just reserved your books at the library. Looking forward to reading them!

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  24. Thank you, Jen. I love how you dig deep and the person you are researching speaks to you.

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  25. So enjoyed this. "Piles of stuff" -- how appropriate! And yesterday's post by Cynthia Levinson showed how to organize all that stuff. I especially loved the idea that a pattern emerges to focus the book and suggest the title. Jen's admonition -- "excellent picture book texts are three things: eloquent, informative, entertaining" makes this a homerun post.

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  26. I love the idea of a portrait painter, and I like the way she puts quotes nearby to be her inspiration. What a body of work she has!

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  27. Wow, this was a lovely post. I find I'm really touched and inspired by stories of how writers sift through piles of info and ideas to find the real touchstone that makes their book clear to them. I clearly need to go much deeper in my own research and writing! Thanks for the inspiration.

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  28. I love the idea that if you do enough deep research it's almost like your subject is sitting right next to you as you write. Exciting!

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  29. I'm such a fan of your work! Thanks for this great post. I love the research and do get lost in the piles as well. I loved reading about your process and how the titles/themes emerged from your piles of research!

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  30. Jen, loved this peek into your process for letting the central image emerge from a story! Thanks for reminding me that the story tells its soul to you as you spend enough time immersed in the facts.

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  31. I felt like I was reading about myself in the first paragraph. This was such an inspirational post. The research is time consuming but also so rewarding. Thank you!

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  32. I've only tried writing one pb biography. I feel like I needed more research to really grasp her essence.

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  33. Thank you so much for this inspiring post, Jen! I'm taking away the word "flow" and coming to the image of flowing while digging super deep. I'm a huge fan of August Wilson's plays and can't wait to read FEED YOUR MIND.

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  34. Osmosis and the great paradox of simplicity - two terrific take aways! Thanks Jen for a fabulous post.

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  35. Fascinating! I often skipped school to go to the library for hours to read pretty everything.

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  36. I'm learning a lot about writing NF but I'm also learning a lot about the most fascinating people--thank you!

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  37. Jen, thank you for this fabulous post. Your point about the "paradox of simplicity" really resonated with me. It reminds me of a quote by Enrique Jardiel Poncela that I had displayed in my classroom for years: "When something can be read without effort, great effort has gone into its writing." The same goes for research!!

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  38. Simplicity is the hallmark of good writing and it take a depth of knowledge to make something simple. Thanks for sharing!

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  39. I love how you mine the person's life to find the essence of their character. Thanks for the insight.

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  40. I love the triplet "elegant, informative, elegant." I wrote that down in my notebook in three different fonts!! That's my goal for manuscripts now!

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  41. Jen, thank you for your post. It was interesting to hear that your subject's words are in your sight above your desk. I have other things all around me, but that idea might help with focusing on WIP better. Also, I love that you said images emerge from all the work and that you summarize chunks of the person's life and see what words are revealed. I started my research the other direction, trying to locate the facts that "fit" the image I had in my head, but your way seems to be more "organic" and authentic. Thanks for sharing!

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  42. I like the idea of traveling to see the places where your subject lived. With all the information that researching web and paper files gives us, experiencing the sights, sounds, tastes, and smells that influenced the person could bring it all together.

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  43. I am glad I'm not only one who gets distracted easily and is interesting in tons of different topics. Sometimes I worry I'm going too in depth in research to avoid getting to the writing, but it's good to know it's worth it.

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  44. I loved this window into how you sort through your river to find the theme that's your delta. Thanks for sharing!

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  45. Thanks for this glimpse into your process. I really like that it sounds like you wade into your information and soak in it until its essence seeps in and gives you your core theme. Thank you!

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  46. I tend to be more focused and not easily distracted. I like the idea of stripping down to the core of the story and that you must dig deep to get there. Thanks for sharing.

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  47. Jen, I've read most of your pb bios and the extent of your research is evident in the final product. Love your books.

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  48. Distilling information to its essence is the hardest but most rewarding part of being a picture book biography writer. Thank you for so eloquently describing the process.

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  49. More than a couple of things in this post struck me. 1) I'm glad that my piles won't doom me, but I realize I do have to maintain some kind of order that works for me. So I'm in a constant state of trying to improve my research note-organizing. 2) As you note, NOTHING substitutes for deep research. It took me a few years to find the "right" resources to tell the story that needed to be told for one of my projects. 3) I've discovered and added more of your books to my TBR pile. Yay!

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  50. I love the idea of being a portrait painter, except with words instead of paint. It is so true. I can't draw a stick figure that is recognizable. I "paint a picture" with words.

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  51. I've been researching and accumulating information about a couple of historical figures, but the material never seemed to gel into a book. Now that I've read your post, I realize I haven't delved into their lives deep enough to reach that phase where they are real to me. Time to reconsider the process. Thank you!

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  52. I Love this post because I can relate to this SO much, feeling like I'm drowning in endless research. I appreciate the tools you suggest.

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  53. Thanks for this great reminder how important it is to invest enough time and patience into the process!

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  54. Getting to the core of who the person is! Thanks for this glimpse into your process, Jen! You are a master.

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  55. Thanks, Jen. Your titles are great examples of the need for deep research until a theme or title emerges.

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  56. Great post, Jen! Thank you for giving us a peek at your process for digging deep and letting the piles of research speak to you. I love doing research and would often skip classes at college to spend the day doing research for myself and others at the library. I loved it when you said to become "immersed in the wonderful soup of your subject’s life"

    I am glad I'm not only one who gets distracted and is interesting in a ton of different subjects… from the manned space program to the Triple Crown and everything in between.

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  57. "I am a 'pile' not a 'file' kind of person." Oh, how I can relate to that! Thanks so much for sharing your process.

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  58. Love piles! Thank you for the post on your process. And I adore your books.

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  59. I'm a piler (is this a word. ;)) too! Thank you.

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  60. Thank you, Jen, for your insight. It truly is a paradox that to write a book as short as a nonfiction picture book, mountains of research are necessary. The trick is in compressing the mountain to a nugget of gold!

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  61. A wonderful post, Jen. I loved the line...You become a portrait painter, except you wield words, not paint. So beautifully expressed, and true. Thank you for explaining your writing process.

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  62. Thanks, Jen - I sometimes think I've researched a topic extensively only to have someone ask me a question I can't answer. Why don't I know that? I ask myself... and then go find out some more. If a picture is worth 1,000 words, then a picture book is worth 1,000 items of research...

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  63. As an easily distracted, unorganized person currently surrounded by piles of sketches and ideas- you give me hope!

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  64. I loved this line, "...all excellent picture book texts are three things: eloquent, informative, entertaining." as well as the importance of digging deeper. Thank you!

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  65. Thanks for such an informative post. I loved your three descriptors of an excellent picture book: eloquent, informative, and entertaining. Great goals for all of us! After immersing oneself in research and mulling it over and over and over, it is always interesting to see what emerges. I appreciated your guidelines for helping to distill it.

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  66. "...if you stop short of doing enough deep research, you may end up imposing an image onto your narrative that doesn’t quite work"- what a great tidbit to ponder. It's hard to know when your research has gone deep enough...often I find it hard to pull away from research and actually start writing. -Sara Ackerman

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  67. ❤️paint a portrait with words. Thank you.

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  68. I identified with your use of the word "emerged." So true! I find that it's necessary to exhaust all possible sources in order to gain the most complete bits of a subject's "life" before a pattern, a glimmer of a theme will reveal itself. As for piles? Oh, yes! Thank you - Priscilla

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  69. I love the piles of information emerging into a book. thank you for this.

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  70. I love the painter analogy. Thank you for sharing your process and passion!

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  71. I'm easily distracted as well--research is so fascinating! Especially intrigued by all the deep research in your biographical picture books, and can't wait to read "Feed Your Mind"!

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  72. This makes me think about research differently, thank you

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  73. Sometimes it feels like the more research you do, the less clear it becomes what you need to focus on in your writing. But then on the other hand if you don't do enough research then you may miss something that is essential to illuminating your subject - aaaargh! All of your post is so inspiring but I especially loved this line: "become a portrait painter, except you wield words, not paint. "

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  74. I really like your writing about the images that emerge from the research — the words or concepts that occur over and over again. Thanks so much.

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  75. I love the challenge of trying to find that illusive answer. THanks for sharing ways to make sense of the mountains of information we discover and collect.

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  76. How hopeful to know that "images will emerge that you can use as the hub of your wheel and around which you can spin the rest of your narrative." Thank you for the wonderful suggestions! I love your books!

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  77. Thank you for sharing your process with us! Your books sound wonderful! I look forward to reading them. :)

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  78. I definitely have experienced this process of the text revealing itself to me as I dig deeper and spend more time with it. Thank you for making it more explicit for me and others.

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  79. Immersing oneself in one's subject is so important. I also love how Jen is a piler instead of a filer, which I am, too. :)

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  80. What struck me about this was the concept of digging deeply enough and how that relates to patterns in the research.

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  81. There is so much in this post that I love and that resonated deeply with me. The persistence, determination and passion to dig deeply and the idea that one can become a "portrait painter, except you wield words, not paint." Wonderful imagery. Thank-you for reiterating the importance of really digging deep into our research, remaining true and faithful to the process. Your words energize and inspire me.

    Celia Viramontes

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  82. I like the idea of painting a portrait with words, and feeling like your subject is sitting right beside you.

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  83. I often hesitate writing nonfiction because what if I don't "dig deep enough" to do the story justice. I think it comes down to more than telling the events of a story, but showing the emotion and real-life experience. It really comes down to showing and not telling.
    -Ashley Congdon

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  84. Thank you, Jen, for your well-told examples of getting to the essence of a subject!

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  85. Great examples of digging deep and finding a special theme or gem.

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  86. You and Melissa Sweet are my favourite NF bio pairing! So I love to see that you work together sometimes to find the nugget worth exploring. Thank you for this!

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  87. Thank you for setting expectations on what being immersed in your subject can look like!

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  88. Thank you for giving hope to a messy collector of information.

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  89. A great post today for those of us wanting to digdeeper into the research process and who need to allow time for things to settle and shift inside our brains. Thank you!

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  90. These are wonderful examples of the research process. And your books look wonderful. I am from Pittsburgh and I never heard of August Wilson. I am going to check him out via your book. Thank you!

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  91. Thank you for sharing your own process and examples of how your central ideas emerged!

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  92. Great post. Thank you for showing us that digging deep into research makes all the difference.

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  93. Lovely post, Jen! I struggle to reign in my wide interests as well, usually of an esoteric nature.

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  94. Thanks for the prod/encouragement to keep digging and looking for the heart and theme of the story. Helpful examples!

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  95. I've been working on researching and writing a picture book for the past three years and this post left me encouraged. Thank you Jen! Be Inspired, Nicki Jacobsmeyer

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  96. I thought, at first, Jen was writing about me and my hyper-kinetic mind and work skills. Inspirational are the ways she found the theme which led to the titles of her books. Jamie Wyeth's quote is a keeper. Melanie Vickers

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  97. Thank you, Jen. I love what you said about excellent picture book texts being eloquent, informative, and entertaining.

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  98. I loved this Jen! This describes a manuscript I'm currently working on. "...you begin to feel like they are sitting right next to you when you begin to write." My subject has become my research partner and my writing partner.

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  99. "...if you stop short of doing enough deep research, you may end up imposing an image onto your narrative that doesn’t quite work." You are inspiration, Jen. Thank you for sharing your process.

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  100. Jen, thanks for sharing your secret … osmosis. This really comes across in your books.

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  101. Oh wow, thanks! I won't tell you who I've been sitting beside for the last few days...the story has been percolating for some time, but now we're having tea and I'm feeling her pain! Thank you.

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  102. Ah! So many piles of disorganization. Or as the saying goes, “There’s organization to my madness!”

    Thank you, Jen.

    Suzy Leopold

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  103. I love the emphasis on being open to what's already there and not imposing another narrative. Thank you!

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  104. I love this! I am one of those odd ones who loves the research and I want to write about EVERYTHING! I often struggle to admit I have enough information and that it's time to sit down and start telling the story.

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  105. Thanks so much for these insights. I love the idea of working as a portrait painter but with words. And the main character sitting beside you as you write.

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  106. I always spends lots of time researching and you've given us an excellent way to find the heart of the story in all that data.

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  107. I love love love researching my subjects. It almost seems anti-climatical when I go to write about them and the words just "aren't right." But that's where the sculpting comes in and the real work begins.

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  108. Just when I thought my personality might keep me from writing success, I read you comment " I am easily awed, easily overwhelmed, and too easily distracted." Thank you for describing me to a "T".
    I know your advice will help me to stay in focus.

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  109. I love your guarantee - that if you immerse yourself in the wonderful soup of your subject's life, then images will emerge which can be used as the hub for the narrative. Thank you!

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  110. I am glad you have introduced kids to Horace Pippin!

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  111. You offer valuable advice on immersing yourself in the subject so you get to the essence of the story, a little bit like reducing a sauce until it's rich. Thanks, Jen!

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  112. I love the idea that immersing in the research will reward us with an image to organize around.

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  113. I really admire the depth that you, and other NF PB writers go to, to write your books. Months of research, creating that nugget of vision, weaving a story around it all. That is what I call, passion!

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  114. It takes a lot of intense research and study to immerse yourself in your subject. Thanks for the advice to get to the heart of the story.

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  115. Good to know that I am not alone in piles not files! Love what you said here: You become a portrait painter, except you wield words, not paint.

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  116. I love the idea of mining for small glimmering gems. It's easy to get overwhelmed with material. Thanks for your ideas to keep things in line.

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  117. Looking for that one common thread in all of our research to help find the story we’re trying to write is such a great idea. A NF newbie needs ideas like this :) Thanks!

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  118. I am going to print that artist’s quote “I try to become the person I’m painting” and put it above my desk. It’s powerful advice. I’m also look forward to reading your books, Jen - they sound amazing!

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  119. "Eloquent, informative and entertaining" sticks with me as qualities for a good nonfiction book and also the trust that images will emerge and you can spin the narrative around them. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and your process, Jen. I amn sitting right now among lots of piles that I am determined to pare down to simplicity. :-)

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  120. Thanks for a great post, Jen. I appreciate all the research techniques you describe, and I love the quote from Jamie Wyeth that you shared about becoming the person he painted. I look forward to your new books!

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  121. I love how thorough research can be--and your important reminder not to make up our minds about what angle to fish for when doing the research until we get deep, deep into the process.

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  122. Maybe there's hope for me, since you are a piler upper. Thanks so much for the notion of EMERGE!

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  123. Have made myself a quote out of something you wrote. New quote is, "Be a file not a pile person!" Hopefully, this will help me get organized this year. Thank you for sharing a great post today.

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  124. I LOVE research! My problem is that I am a pile person too.

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  125. I love finding previously unknown gems about my subject. I like this point 'images will emerge that you can use as the hub of your wheel and around which you can spin the rest of your narrative.' Yes!

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  126. I love your books, Jen! This post is an inspiration to look for the distinct images that will drive the story of my subject's life. Thank you for your insights.

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  127. Jen, I loved the stories you shared about your process and the way you entered the lives of your subjects. Your point about "piling" on the research until the story's heart reveals itself vs. imposing the author's image is key. Thank you!

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  128. I'm very intrigued by the characters you chose to write about. It's proof that everyone has an interesting story we are not aware of until, luckily, some author like you comes along and shares it with us!

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  129. Great post! Thank you. Entering the life of our subjects is so important. Thanks for showing us this.

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  130. That cover of FEED YOUR MIND is amazing! And I love how fitting his quote was: "I just write stuff down and pile it up, and when I get enough stuff, I spread it out and look at it and figure out how to use it.”

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  131. Awesome to learn about the title change for A Splash of Red!

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  132. Absolutely fascinating to hear how you found the hubs that your biographies spin around!

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  133. This gives me some hope! Thanks for sharing.

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  134. Thank you for sharing your process of digging deeply into the research and looking for clues in all your notetaking, Jen Bryant.

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  135. I loved reading about Horace Pippin in your book. Your post inspires me to find a great subject and start digging!

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  136. Fill a huge pot, then distill it down to the essential story idea! Love this lesson.

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  137. Such a helpful post for anyone writing picture book biographies, and especially for your fellow "pilers". Thank you, Jen!

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  138. What marvelous, intelligent, heartfelt comments! I'm so grateful to everyone who is participating in this NFFest--I'm learning so much by reading all of your comments and posts on the FB page. I've had a too-busy month and didn't know if I'd even have time to be a part of this and am so glad that I did! Best wishes to EVERYONE who is sitting (or standing) over a blank page/ screen and wrestling their dreams onto it. May the Muses be with you!!

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  139. I loved the August Wilson biography, so I'm looking forward to reading these other books. Thanks for the tips!

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  140. OSMOSIS is such a grand word & great Jamie Wyeth Quote. Maria Johnson

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  141. I love the fact that you live with quotes from the person you are researching - I've been thinking about writing a biography and I wasn't sure how to enter the story - after reading your post I think I need to do some more research and meet my subject where they are, not where I want them to be. Thank you so much for this post and widening perspective.

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  142. Your ideas were great Jen! I also like the idea of keeping a quote nearby while writing. I think that would help me focus on them as an ordinary person and help me dig deeper into who they really were and not just their accomplishments. Thanks!

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  143. Thank you for the reminder that research guides the writing. I'm amazed how a story finds a life and a voice that I never expected.

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  144. Seeing what "emerges" from the research---keeping it simple---what wonderful guidance. This spoke to me: "IF you spend enough time learning about your subject, you begin to feel like they are sitting right next to you when you begin to write. You become a portrait painter, except you wield words, not paint." This is such a lovely way to work, while giving the people we write about deserved respect. Thank you!

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  145. Thank you, Jen, I am also a “pile” not a “file” kind of person. I love the words you keep above your desk from Jamie Wyeth, “When I work on a portrait, it’s really osmosis. I try to become the person I’m painting.” And from August Wilson, “I just write stuff down and pile it up, and when I get enough stuff, I spread it out and look at it and figure out how to use it.”

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  146. I like that you feel if you spend enough time researching your subject, you will feel like that person is right next to you when you begin to write.

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  147. I love the quote you keep at your desk. Such lovely way to approach non-fiction as brushstrokes of information to paint biographical portraits. Beautiful! A whole new way of thinking about things.

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