When I started writing picture book manuscripts in 2020, I was amazed and delighted by all the online communities, workshops, and resources. Despite the pandemic and lockdown, online I found abundant, real-time, opportunities to interact with people, from instructors to critique buddies.
My first on-site conference was the June 2023 FL SCBWI Conference in Ft. Lauderdale. Wow! I felt like Dorothy opening the door to exit her house that just landed on Oz. The kidlit world is warm and welcoming online. In person, that shining star becomes supernova bright!
All written communication presents challenges. For example, many of us have had a well-intentioned email message land wrong.
Printed words must stand alone, without body language, facial expression, tone of voice. Printed words presented to a stranger lack the context of personally shared history.
Picture books are written for children. Obviously, the audience lacks mature language development. There is limited leeway for elaboration. Attention spans have shortened, the demands on parents have increased. Modern picture books presenting fictional stories have only about 500 words.
Without illustrations, the manuscript must stand on its own.
Is it any wonder, then, that writing picture books requires ample patience and perseverance, plus a strong dose of kind, encouraging community input? "This is working well. This is unclear. What about trying it another way?"
Patience, perseverance, community, pulling together to produce strong, elegant, economical communication.
The purpose of the psychological reports I write is to help the student, teachers, and family understand and address a challenging situation. The issues are complex, but the report must be clear and practical. The report must be meaningful TO THEM, or it is worthless.
When writing picture books, similar considerations apply. What am I trying to give the future reader? How can I make it clear and meaningful?
To improve our report writing, school psychologists in my area meet to discuss the conditions we evaluate and practice skills for writing "user-friendly" reports. We learn from each other by helping each other. Everyone's skills improve!
When writing picture books, I meet with fellow writers in critique groups. We learn from each other by helping each other. Everyone's skills improve!
After joining SCBWI, I dove headlong into writing picture books. What a wonderful adventure! I dig in to the creativity, problem-solving, excitement of learning new things. The writers I meet, in-person and online, are intelligent, generous, extraordinary. Kidlit writing communities offer astounding camaraderie and support.
I've always spent time on creative pursuits in writing, music, and visual arts. With kidlit, for the first time I feel getting a work out into the public sphere could be an attainable goal.
What I learned in my first year studying picture-book writing.
Don’t overestimate yourself.
Don’t underestimate yourself.
Join at least one writers' community.
For learning, and for support.
Invest time and money in workshops, conferences and courses-
but realize that there are quite a lot, and one cannot do everything!
There's great deal learn about how to write a story well.
Beyond that, there's a great deal more to learn, including
Subscribing to newsletters, following blogs, joining Facebook groups and Twitter
There are so many! I've joined so many, I can't keep up with them all!
Read picture books. Read recent picture books. Read "the best picture books" on the "best of the year" lists.
My first Critique Group
The many learning trails can be all-consuming!
Make time to WRITE!
Evolving the story needs deep-writing and side-writing exercises. Deep work that generates words and ideas that do not end up in the manuscript. These supplements create the healthy inner workings that make the skin glow!
GIVE it Time
and express GRATITUDE to your learning community!
As a psychologist, I have contributed to the following publications:
I am in process of contributing to a chapter on the interdisciplinary management of autism spectrum disorder for a book on clinical practice that is being edited by Joseph A. Balogun, PT, Ph.D, FACSM, FNSP, FAS, FRSPH
I know exactly when I started writing picture books. Christmas Eve, 2019.
My husband and I were visiting our grandchildren (and their parents). My four-year-old granddaughter had a question about a painting hanging in her room. A painting I had made for her.
"WHY did the cow jump over the moon?"
In the middle of the night, I woke up. Perhaps reindeer hooves were pattering on the roof. There was a story in my head. A story about a cow who wanted to pull Santa's sleigh. I turned on my iPad and typed it.
Later, I illustrated it and made a book just for my grandkids. I showed that book to a dear friend who is a media specialist.
She said, "You should join SCBWI."
"What's that?" I asked.
And now I know.