Coming off the Olympics, the life of a writer probably won’t sound very exciting. But actually, it’s much like figure skating with its subjective judging, slalom with obstacle after obstacle, and the half-pipe with its ups and downs. A typical day, though, sounds more like curling.
After I exercise, eat breakfast, and attain an acceptable level of presentability, I fill a mug with coffee and head to the study. I’m a list person, so I’ll give it to you straight.
Such is the life of a children’s writer. But, in reality, I get a handful of responses to submitted manuscripts each month. And… [DING! Yay? Someone is interested? WooHoo!] and, if I’m lucky, that long-awaited, much-hoped-for “someone loves it!” happens a few times a year.
And so it goes…all because there’s something about the thought of a child
pulling that “idea that became a real book” from the shelf,
and the ultimate win - the elusive “read it again.”
AN INCONVENIENT ALPHABET, BEN FRANKLIN & NOAH WEBSTER’S SPELLING REVOLUTION by Beth Anderson, illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley
Paula Wiseman Books/Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, Sept. 25, 2018
Now available for preorder.
With four kids, the youngest just turned two, I squeeze in writing when I can. Typically, this is during my toddler's nap time. If I attempt to write while she's awake, my day looks something like this:
**Sit down. Turn on computer. Get a cheese stick. Write five words. "You want me to open the cheese stick?" Open cheese stick. Delete two words. Get a "baba" because cheese sticks make toddlers thirsty. Finish revising paragraph. Get toddler off of chair. Set chair on its side so toddler doesn't climb on chair again. Keep one eye on toddler, one eye on writing. Successfully write a new ending to chapter. Toddler cries. Turn on television for toddler. Toddler hates television now. (WHY?) Close my laptop. Remember these years are fleeting. Cuddle toddler. Find cheese stick smooshed to the bottom of my pants when I stand up.**
I do get some writing done at night. Ideally, this happens right after the kids go to bed…if I don't fall asleep while I'm putting them to bed.
"Mommy is just going to lay down next to you for a minute and rest her eyes. I'm not going to fall asleep. I just need a little rest." *Wakes up four hours later.*
When that happens, and if I'm really ambitious, I'll write for a couple hours at midnight. Did you know that this was how R.J. Palacio's WONDER was written? There must be something special about those midnight hours. However, they usually make a zombie out of me the next day.
My most productive writing happens on Saturday. With two kids in sports, it's not every Saturday, but sometimes I will go to the quiet room at the library and accomplish a week's worth of work.
So maybe there isn't a "typical" for me. I do have a dream day of writing that involves a made-over shed Chip and Joanna Gaines' style with a beautiful garden (also a dream because dead things thrive here). Inside this shed are billowy curtains and a desk with a laptop. There is also a bookshelf stuffed with favorites and a cozy chair. I think I'm going to throw in a personal chef because why not? Okay, I'd probably just end up taking naps in my garden shed and missing my toddler who by then will no longer a toddler but a sixteen-year-old with a sassy mouth.
In the meantime, I write when I can snatch an hour or two from my day. And that is enough.
THE REMEMBER BALLOONS, illustrated by Dana Wulfekotte
Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers
August 28, 2018
Thank you everyone for entering our giveaway this month. Your enthusiasm was amazing! We wish we could give a critique to each of you!
In fact we were so blown away by your energy, we ended up giving away three bonus prizes! Whether or not you won a critique today, stay tuned at the end of this post for a self-critique checklist.
Now without further ado, here are the winners:
1.) Jefna Cohen wins a fiction/prose critique with Brenda Maier
2.) Valeria Wicker wins a picture book dummy critique with Melanie Linden Chan
3.) Elizabeth Curry wins a fiction/prose critique with Margaret Greanias
4.) Rita Russell wins a rhyming fiction or nonfiction biography critique with Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow
5.) Deborah Belle wins a fiction/prose critique with Melissa Stoller
6.) Dee English wins a fiction/prose critique with Jessie Oliveros
7.) Beth Elliott wins a critique (no type specified) with Tina Cho
8.) Jen Jasinksi wins a fiction/prose critique with Aidan Cassie
9.) Kay Baillie wins a nonfiction biography in prose critique with Beth Anderson
10.) Kristin Donohue wins a critique (no type specified) with Viviane Elbee
11.) Stephanie Ward wins a prose or rhyming critique with Chris Mihaly
12.) Tina Kirchner wins a fiction/prose critique with Shanda McCloskey
13.) Jen Bagan wins a critique (no type specified) with Kate Narita
14.) Jen Garrett wins a fiction/prose critique with Cate Berry
15.) Katie Engen wins a fiction with facts/prose critique with Traci Sorell
16.) Teresa Traver wins a fiction/prose critique with Kerri Kokias
17.) Jess Carroll wins a critique (no type specified) with Hannah Holt
18.) Amanda Davis wins a nonfiction/prose critique with Andi Diehn
19.) Tracy Nordquist Babler wins a critique (no type specified) with Monica Clark-Robinson
20.) Ronna Mandel wins a critique (no type specified) with Patricia Valdez
21.) Jena Benton wins a critique (no type specified) with Vivian Kirkfield
22.) Chambrae Griffeth wins a writing journal!
23.) Angela Dahle wins a writing journal!
Winners will be contacted by email by their critique match this week, so be on the lookout. Remember all the critiques are for picture books in English with fewer than 1,000 words. All prizes must be claimed by the end of 2018.
Now here’s a quick self-critique checklist for picture book beginnings:
Highlight the first three sentences of your story.
Now, highlight the first 150 words of your story. In the first 150 words do you establish:
If not you might have some extra information, you don’t really need or your stakes might need further refining. Picture books are short and getting shorter. It’s important to keep the story focused.
That’s all for now. We’ll have more opportunities, giveaways, and contests as the year advances, and we will be contacting the winners of this month’s giveaway shortly.
Happy writing trails everyone!
Dana Wulfekotte has created an adorable book trailer for RABBIT & POSSUM. Watch and enjoy!
***UPDATE: Giveaway closed. Thank you for entering. Winners will be announced Monday, February 26th. ***
It’s February! Valentine’s Day will be here soon, and that means it’s time for a H.U.G.
Specifically, we are giving away 20 picture book critiques! T-w-e-n-t-y!!! Wooo!
To enter, fill out the Rafflecopter below and leave a comment on this post. In your comment, please include your name and tell us if your manuscript is fiction/nonfiction and verse/prose. We’ll do our best to match winners with authors with similar works.
You can also earn a bonus entry by sharing on social media using the hashtag #epic18HUG.
As debut authors, we are looking forward to giving back a small part of what has been given to us.
Authors sponsoring this giveaway include: Aidan Cassie, Andi Diehn, Beth Anderson, Brenda Maier, Cate Berry, Chris Mihaly, Hannah Holt, Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow, Jessie Oliveros, Kate Narita, Kerri Kokias, Margaret Greanias, Melanie Linden Chan, Melissa Stoller, Monica Clark-Robinson, Patricia Valdez, Shanda McCloskey, Tina Cho, Viviane Elbee, and Traci Sorell.
(Fine print: only picture books up to 1,000 words and written in English. Critiques will provide mostly high-level feedback. This is not a line-edit, although critiquing styles may vary from person-to-person. One free critique per person and critiques must be used by the end of 2018.)
Please submit your entries by February 22, 2018. Thanks for entering, and good luck!
MOMMY’S KHIMAR, by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelo has received a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly! Check it out here
School Library Journal featured LOVE, MAMA in a roundup for great reads for Valentine’s Day. See the whole article: http://www.slj.com/2018/01/collection-development/great-books-sweet-treats-valentines-day/
New Year’s resolutions offer a fun way for me to dream and imagine an improved future. In the past I had trouble keeping resolutions, so a few years ago I decided to make step-by-step action plans for my resolutions and goals to check if that worked better for me. After all, John Wanamaker said, “One may walk over the highest mountain one step at a time.”
Several years ago, my resolution was to better succeed at reaching my goals. My professional goal was to be a published children’s author. This seemed like a mountain, and I needed a step by step climbing strategy. Some people are skilled at making drastic life changes, but for me personally, small, simple steps are easier to handle. Each month, I scheduled time to write, revise and get feedback on my writing. Once I got used to the new schedule and had an established writing habit, the next step was to become more prolific (and write more). So two years ago I set “write 12 new picture book stories a year” as my goal. For support, encouragement and accountability, I sought help from others. I joined a writing critique group and professional writing organizations (SCBWI & 12x12). Turning to others for help kept me committed.
My new step-by step approach worked! Highlights High Five published one of my poems in September 2017 and my debut picture book, TEACH YOUR GIRAFFE TO SKI, is slated for publication by Albert Whitman & Company in Fall 2018.
This year I have a new resolution – to enjoy the present more. However, I’m struggling to find a good action plan for this. So far, I have only written down one step: remind myself to breathe, appreciate the moment and believe that everything will work out by saying “breathe and believe.” This is particularly important when life feels hectic. For example, mornings with the kids can get crazy. Everyone’s running around, someone can’t find their shirt, someone else spills milk all over the place, and when everyone’s finally ready to head out the door, somebody has to use the bathroom. Often, I find myself feeling rushed and frustrated – but one day my kids will be grown and I’ll miss these moments together. I would like to enjoy these moments instead of feeling rushed.
Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to think of other steps for this resolution, so if anyone reading this blog post has some good ideas, please share!
The best method I’ve found for reaching goals and keeping resolutions is to create step-by-step action plans for them. Hopefully this year’s resolution is one I can keep too – once I’ve found the right steps.
I wish all of you the best of luck with keeping your resolutions & successfully reaching your goals this year. Perhaps a step-by-step method will work for you too. As Jeanne Marie Laskas said, “You plant a garden one flower at a time… you write a book one word at a time, clean a closet one shelf at a time, run a marathon one step at a time. If you feel defeated by some large task, get your spade, and dig the first hole.”
TEACH YOUR GIRAFFE TO SKI by Viviane Elbee illustrated by Danni Gowdy
Albert Whitman & Company, Fall 2018
Read: Lots of picture books. The rhythm of the language, the pacing of the stories, the kinds of stories all trickle in and spark ideas for me. I like to reserve a bunch of titles at the library and then go pick them up, and I also like to lurk in my local indie bookstore for the newest titles. Although I love a lot of older picture books, it’s important to note which ones are current, so that my stories will fit with the needs of the present market (i.e., not too long, etc).
Copy out picture books: I do this with both manuscripts and storyboards! I find writing out a manuscript really helps me focus on the language and what it is doing. And I find doing a rough storyboard from a book really helps me focus on composition and pacing.
Making time for creation: It’s so easy to work on everything other than my next story! It’s really important for me to earmark a block of time (each day or week) to just focus on my project - whether that is writing, storyboarding, or painting. Sometimes this means getting a babysitter for my 10 month old, or making sure I don’t check email when I first sit at my desk – FIRST I draw or write.
Making time to learn: There are a bunch of online classes and resources out there for both writing and drawing craft. It’s important to keep growing. Last year I took some great classes at the Writer's Loft.
Making time to connect: I find community mostly in two ways: my critique partners and SCBWI! I try to go to at least one SCBWI conference every year because I always get so much out of it. SCBWI really changed my career, and I highly recommend it both for the things you can learn and the people you can meet. This is an isolating career, so it’s really important for me to periodically hang out with other authors and illustrators. And this year, I'm actually getting to present at my regional conference, NESCBWI, woot!
Don’t get discouraged: my first story, my first dummy, my first portfolio, were not the ones that got me a book deal. I need to remind myself to keep going – it takes time – and not everything I create will be a book. Even very established authors (like Jane Yolen) get rejected.
Have fun! Sometimes I need to just play and experiment and do something I love just for the love of it.
Jen Betton's debut picture book HEDGEHOG NEEDS A HUG will launch with Penguin on June 19 and is available for pre-order now. She also illustrated TWILIGHT CHANT, written by Holly Thompson, launching with Clarion March 20.
I woke up one morning in this new year with a very concrete thought in my mind:
Respect Your Creativity. Give it the Time it Deserves.
Isn’t that nice?
This year I am making more time for myself to do the things that fill me up: sketching, knitting, walking, inking, reading, painting, baking, writing, gardening, thinking…
My hope is that giving myself more time to be creative will result in many good things including, but not limited to, brand-new ideas and new ways of looking at old ideas.
2018 is the year I debut as author and illustrator, the year I am going to finish the scarf I started knitting last July, and the year I am going to truly give my creativity the time it deserves.
Nina Victor Crittenden
THE THREE LITTLE PUGS
little bee books, March 6, 2018