As you can tell by the above snapshot, I love THE LITTLE PRINCE. I read it first as a child living in Paris. Antoine de St. Exupery’s story of a little lost prince searching for what matters in life resonated with me. Like the Little Prince, I too, felt far from home and longed for a good friend, my own rose, or fox, or sheep. Imagine my delight, then, to discover that the Morgan Library in New York City has put together a delightful exhibit of original manuscript pages, watercolor sketches, and correspondence to celebrate the 70th anniversary of this classic book. Last week I spent a delightful morning with fellow picture book writer, Robin Newman, enjoying every nook and cranny of the exhibit.
Now, having savored the experience, I’d like to share with you three writerly principles I took away from the exhibit.
1. Write from the heart. Now a classic, THE LITTLE PRINCE had a slow start because the publisher wasn’t sure whether to promote it for children or for adults. Thank goodness Antoine de St. Exupery didn’t worry about how to categorize it. He just wrote the story he wanted to tell. And, as it turns out, it was the very story readers of all ages (and cultures) wanted to hear. Indeed, as I learned at the exhibit, THE LITTLE PRINCE has been translated into more languages than any other work of fiction. So, take heart and write from the heart!
1. Revise, revise, revise! The early manuscript of THE LITTLE PRINCE on display is more than twice as long as the final published version. The framed pages are lightly scrawled in pencil and/or ink and show clear signs of intense revision – not only at the sentence level, but at the story level too. Big cross outs show where entire sections were deleted. Simple lines through phrases and words show how the author’s wording evolved. Revising can be long and painstaking, but also rewarding as you see the story emerge and transform on the page. So take out that pen and let the words overflow. Then, like Antoine de St. Exupery revise your text to perfection.
3. Save your doodles. Antoine de St. Exupery was a doodler and for years sketched a little “bonhomme” in the margins of his notebooks. Something about that doodle, in particular, captivated his imagination and ultimately gave birth to the little fellow readers now know and love as the Little Prince. I, too, am a doodler, but my doodles take the form of words and phrases – little bursts of inspiration. Some of those word-doodles go nowhere, but like that little “bonhomme” some keep reappearing in my pages. I’ve even developed some of the peskiest ones into stories and poems. So save your doodles, for they might be just the spark you need to write your next piece.
The Morgan Library and Museum Exhibition: “The Little Prince: A New York Story” runs through April 27th, 2014. I highly recommend it, if you happen to be traveling in these parts. For more details check here.