Tag Archives: writer’s block
I was invited by Amy Courage to join a blog tour of writers and authors describing their writing process. I had the pleasure of meeting Amy at the
New England SCBWI conference in May–please check out her blog at: thedailymermaid.blogspot.com.
What am I working on now?
An art director recently commented on this image: “Now there’s a story!”
So I’ve been busy working on a set of early readers featuring these little ladies.
I also have a couple picture book manuscripts in different stages of rewrites.
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I guess I’m not very trendy; I like subtle humor and I think kids appreciate it, too. When drawing, I strive to keep my linework simple, fresh and expressive. As best I can, I try to do the same with my writing. My heroes are William Steig and Arnold Lobel.
Why do I write what I do?
Many moons ago, I wrote a daily cartoon strip in college–it was my first experience with developing story and art at the same time, and the characters became very real to me–I truly missed them when the strip ended. I still find a story in every illustration I create, and each character always seems to have something to say. The hard part is determining the best way to bring the words and images together.
How does your writing process work?
As an illustrator, my stories often develop as I’m drawing. But once I get past a first draft, I find it best to put the images away so I can really concentrate on the nuances of language. It’s a tricky tango. I’ve used Mentors for Rent and SCBWI conferences for manuscript critiques, and I often refer to Cheryl Klein’s Second Sight. When I hit a roadblock, I study books I like and retype their manuscripts to analyze the pacing, cadence, and story arc. For early readers, I’ve been reading a lot, using a list of Geisel Award winners as a place to start. I have to schedule time to write (early morning or very late at night works best for me), otherwise all the time goes to illustration deadlines, marketing, and business stuff. I find writing more challenging than illustrating, so when I’m really stuck I just go back to drawing. I guess that’s what they mean by the creative cycle!
Sketches from a writing roadblock–which also (conveniently) work for this week’s Illustration Friday word prompt, “Mask.”
Thanks for visiting! I’m passing the baton to two wonderfully talented writer / illustrators I met at the NESCBWI conference:
Marty Kelley is a children’s author and illustrator but has, in the past, been a second grade teacher, a baker, a cartoonist, a newspaper art director, a drummer in a heavy metal band, a balloon delivery guy, an animator, and lots of other things. He has written and illustrated eight of his own published children’s books as well as having illustrated several books for other authors. Books he has both written and illustrated are: Fall Is Not Easy; The Rules; Winter Woes; Summer Stinks; Spring Goes Squish; The Messiest Desk; Twelve Terrible Things; and Fame, Fortune, and the Bran Muffins of Doom. You can read about his writing process on his blog, martykelley.blogspot.com.
Anneliese Juergensen is a children’s book illustrator and author who loves animals (especially whales!), terrible puns, traveling to new places, museums and bookstores, and avocado. You can see her blog and more of her artwork at AnnelieseJuergensen.com.
My postcard for the SCBWI Winter Conference.
I just returned from three wonderful 40-degree days at the SCBWI Winter Conference in NYC. Came home to sub-zero temperatures feeling inspired, overwhelmed, determined, discouraged, encouraged . . . you get the picture.
First, a brief update on the book dummy I started working on in June: I was hopelessly stuck after my critique with Lisa and Laura from Mentors for Rent (great resource–highly recommend!); their comments were insightful and valid but I just could not navigate the changes. I was stuck in a snow drift without that box of kitty litter in the trunk of my car–spinning my tires and getting absolutely, positively nowhere.
So I did the best thing I could do–I tucked that story away and started on a completely different one. This time, I chose to work on text only–no pictures until I had a solid draft. Still working on revisions to that manuscript, but it is moving along nicely.
I decided to use SCBWI conferences as my mileposts, determined to schedule both a manuscript review and / or a portfolio review whenever possible–providing me with two things I desperately need: 1) deadlines and 2) accountability.
At the SCBWI Minnesota Regional Conference in October, I signed up for a portfolio review, and totally lucked out with a review by the amazingly talented Dan Yaccarino.
When I mentioned my stalled book dummy to Dan, he suggested an assignment he gives his illustration students: sketch a wordless book. This was great advice, as I could concentrate on structure and the visual storytelling without tripping myself up on the language (for now). This was the box of kitty litter I needed to get out of that snowdrift. I pulled out the old sketches, omitted the text, dumped the items that complicated the message and came up with a simpler story. Nothing earth-shattering, but still a great exercise in character development, pacing, and composition. Best of all, after many hours of refinements, I could include it in my portfolio for the Portfolio Showcase at the SCBWI Winter Conference.
Two spreads from the dummy (my postcard was my color sample):
So did any art directors pause to page through all 32 pages of that little dummy tucked in the last sleeve of my portfolio, one of 200 portfolios lined up on dozens of tables? Honestly, I doubt it. But it was still a very necessary step for me, and I don’t regret all the effort. At past conferences, I would obsessively count my promotional postcards before I dropped off my book, then count them again at exactly 9 p.m., after the industry professionals cleared out and before fellow illustrators filed in, to see how many cards had been taken. I would set a number in my head, a made-up number that would somehow–to me–equate to success or failure.
But this year I didn’t count postcards. Whoever opened my portfolio wanted to look inside, and that’s ok by me. The Portfolio Showcase was a success for me because I created a slew of new images over that last two years and I finally had that dummy exercise under my belt.
Dory said it best: “Just keep swimming . . . .”
So I’m swimming on to my next milepost–the SCBWI New England Conference in May–committed to drawing every day–the most consistent piece of advice from multiple speakers at the NYC conference. I’ll keep you posted on my progress!
Side note: If anyone is planning a trip to NYC, be sure to check out the fantastic (and free!) exhibit on children’s books The ABC of It: Why Children’s Books Matter at the New York Public Library.
Frustrated while working on details for a picture book dummy for the SCBWI New York Conference, so here’s a quick break for Illustration Friday. I decided to take Anne Lamott’s advice and go Bird by Bird (with a couple of gators tossed in for good measure).
If you have not yet heard about PiBoIdMo, I strongly encourage you to check it out! Tara Lazar features guests bloggers (picture book writers and writer/illustrators) every day during the month of November to inspire your writing. It’s really a great, fun event! You can still register this week–click here!
As promised, here is an update on my picture book manuscript critique with Laura Purdie Salas and Lisa Bullard from MentorsforRent.com. I took one of Lisa’s picture book writing class at the Loft Literary Center many years ago and found a link to their critique services on her web site. I signed up for a 1-1/2 hour “On-the-Spot” critique, which was perfect for a picture book dummy. We all live in the same area, but they offer services via Skype or conference call so they can take clients from anywhere. I admit I am technologically impaired and therefore could not get Skype to work (even though I was absolutely sure I had everything in order), so they quickly and conveniently switched me to a conference call. The format worked fine for me.
Laura began by reading my manuscript aloud. It was very helpful to hear someone else reading it, because the “dead spots” in the text really stood out–hard to ignore it when I heard a dull description or an awkward word combination.
Another character sketch from a story I’m currently working on–seemed like a perfect fit for this week’s Illustration Friday.
I had a window of time to work on a picture book idea and knew I had to grab it, so I finally completed the first draft after three weeks of long days (and sometimes nights) and many, many pages of sketches. I’ve decided to document the progress from this point on to wherever it leads me, because I have learned so much from other artists who have shared their journeys, including the triumphs and the pitfalls. Specifically, I would like to thank both Kelly Light and Will Terry for their fantastic blogs. You have to read their earliest posts to fully appreciate their candor.
I should clarify that this story idea originated more than six months ago, and kept languishing in a journal. I would revisit it and stall, then return periodically. I finally got fed up with my procrastination and decided I wasn’t getting anywhere without putting something–anything–down on paper.