Something strange happens when you are a writer. Something that I have yet to fully figure out how to cope with and accept. You get an idea, a brilliant idea no less! You write down a few notes, you scribble out the colorful scenes in your head, you mark up page after page with the hope of potential. Then, at some point you know you must examine the literary world and see if a similar story already exists. In the two years I have been studying this world, in most cases, it does.
How many books are there? How many people have had the same idea? And how many people with connections to publishing houses have already had that idea made real? Chances are, those brilliant scribbled thoughts of yours have already been turned into a beautiful book.
Such is the case with Twelve Kinds of Ice by Ellen Bryan Obed, illustrated by Barbara McClintock. This book is not quite a picture book, not quite a chapter book, but a stunning and delightful story of the joy of waiting for and preparing for and enjoying the many varieties of ice for skating. It is clearly based on Obed's childhood experiences, as she captures backyard ice with poetic perfection. She writes with words that compel the reader forward by saying so much, without actually saying it.
As I read it, it made me feel like I wanted to cry. My husband, Rob, is deeply inspired by the backyard ice we create each winter. He knows the anticipation, he is passionate about getting perfect ice, he stays out late flooding the pond and grumbles at the snowfalls that disrupt the rink. He loves the ice, and he wrote out a story for us to work on together. I revised and edited, and tried to pull out a picture book touching on the wonder of winter ice skating.
Then, a critique partner (thanks Sue!) passed Twelve Kinds of Ice to me, and I realized Obed has already said everything that I wanted to say, and done it twelve times better than I could. It is a sobering, and discouraging situation to be in. As an unpublished writer, still feeling like an amateur, trying to squeeze my way into the book world any way I can, I wonder how other writers deal with this sort of thing?
I don't have any answers. The only thing I can suggest to myself is the truth that my vision of the world, however similar to someone else's, is unique and valuable. And if I halt my exploration of that vision, I am robbing myself and the world of what I have to share. It seems a good thought, but feeble in the face of icy disappointment.
Yet, it remains, Twelve Kinds of Ice is a treasure, and I adore this book. I guess that is the note to stick with. A celebration of ice, a story that needs to be told, a success for another writer getting her valuable words into print. This all is truth. And though my belief in this is tinged with regret for my own predicament, maybe the inspiration of Twelve Kinds of Ice can remind me there there is not only one way to tell a story. Perhaps there are twelve.