Tag Archives: writing

PiBoIdMo 2014!

November is Picture Book Idea Month, better known as PiBoIdMo, created and sponsored by author Tara Lazar. The challenge is to create 30 picture book concepts in 30 days. If you are interested, registration is still open through November 7th—it is fun and best of all, FREE! Plus there are daily blog posts from guest authors and illustrators for inspiration.
Although my daily assignment has moved from pictures (Inktober) to words (PiBoIdMo), I hope to include an ink doodle with every picture book idea. For me, the key is not to worry about how fantastic the idea is—just get it down on paper. Kinda like planting seeds—some fizzle out, some grown into bigger ideas. It’s a great exercise, and it works for me—I have a submission-ready manuscript from a quick idea I originally jotted down in my 2013 PiBoIdMo notebook.
Here’s the start of my 2014 journal. I use a tiny Moleskin (3.5 x 5.5)—the book format forces a commitment; the size keeps it from being too intimidating!

“My Writing Process” Blog Tour

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.IF-Shiny-r3

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!IF-mask-1

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.


Picture Book Writing: Navigating the Waters


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):

Wednesday-Nancy-Meyers-1 Wednesday-Nancy-Meyers-3

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.

Picture Book Writing: PiBoIdMo

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!

Picture Book Writing: Critique of First Draft


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.

Then Laura proceeded with her initial take on the story, followed by Lisa. Having two perspectives really facilitated discussion of problem spots and potential solutions. It also helped me to really hear the constructive comments because they agreed on several key areas that needed attention.
All in all, it was a great experience and a wise investment. I was very nervous initially, as writing is uncharted territory for me. But Laura and Lisa were very professional in their evaluation and supportive with feedback. The big issues I need to resolve will take some time and creativity, but I hope to have another draft to ready for review in six weeks and plan to contact them for a second critique. I have to give myself deadlines or it will never happen. My goal is to have a polished dummy in my portfolio for the SCBWI conference in NYC in February.
I find the combination of writing and illustrating is like solving a complicated puzzle, with tons of tiny pieces that all have to fit just so or the story falls flat.  A very helpful guideline from Lisa was to always keep in mind two children–the child who is lying in bed with eyes already closed just listening AND the child who isn’t listening at all but is instead following the story through the illustrations. The story has to work on both levels, or it will not be a successful picture book. Much easier said than done! : )
I’m taking a break now to work on a set of promotional postcards. I want to let the comments sink in for a bit and incubate before I start to plow into revisions!

Illustration Friday: Protest


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.

But actually this dates back further, to a SCBWI Illustration Conference in 2003. I received a business card from an editor who liked the expressiveness of my characters, and she wrote a quick note on the back: “Do you write, too?” I immediately sent a note thanking her, and replied, “Yes!” But it has taken me ten long years to finally jump off the high dive. Armed with my dog-eared copy of Uri Shulevitz’s Writing with Pictures and Molly Bang’s Picture This, I started slowly piecing the manuscript to the sketches. True to Mr. Shulevitz’s advice, it helps me to create a three-dimensional dummy so I can really experience the pacing and page turns (I’ve actually created several so far).
Drawing is easy for me; writing is much more challenging. There is always someone saying, “I can’t draw a straight line,” but there is seldom someone who isn’t champing at the bit to correct your grammar or spelling. One of my favorite quotes is from Katherine Paterson, who was interviewed by Diane Osen in The Book That Changed My Life: Interviews with National Book Award Winners and Finalists“I had a professor at graduate school who stopped me in the hall one day and said, Have you ever thought of becoming a writer? I was just flabbergasted. I said I wouldn’t want to add another mediocre writer to this world. Being a glorious failure didn’t scare me at all, but being just mediocre did. What I heard her say was, If you’re not willing to be mediocre, you’ll never be anything at all. I think that’s a very important lesson to learn, because people always want guarantees that they’re going to be wonderful. But there’s no way of knowing you’re good, if you don’t dare to be mediocre.” 

Pretty gutsy thing to admit.  Of course, it helps that she can say this with a couple of Newbery Medals and National Book Awards under her belt. All the more reason why I am so inspired  by her honesty. Unlike rough sketches, which usually have a lovely sense of spontaneity, rough drafts are awkward, humbling, and often mediocre. But you have to start somewhere or you will never get anywhere. That said, my next step is a critique from Lisa Bullard and Laura Purdie Salas. I will keep you posted!