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.