Picture Book Authors Writing Routines by Megan Higginson
Writing routines! We hear about them all the time. The author is advised to sit their butt in the writing chair and not move until they have achieved their word count for the day, whatever they have decided they need to write. This could be 1,000 or more words. And they continue this routine every single day until the book is finished.
That is fine if you have thousands of words that need to be written to tell the story. That sort of routine might be achievable for some. But, where does this leave picture book authors? In Australia the current trend for picture books is under 1,000 words. Way under 1,000 words. It is 600 words or less. What is our writing routine supposed to look like?
My own routine seemed haphazard at best. Lots of thinking and brewing time. Writing the first rough draft out quickly; and it is rough! Then leave it for a day or so. Then tweak, rewrite, and tweak some more. It seems like I work on a picture book for as long as some people work on a novel.
Recently, another author and I made a joke on Facebook that we had spent all morning on one line. We would change a word, take out a word, add a phrase, and then find a word that means the same thing. All in all, around 14 words were changed in the entire morning…maybe.
I decided to ask the question of some picture book authors that I know, to find out what their writing routine looks like.
What is your writing routine as a children's picture book author?
With working full time, raising three kids and running the Creative Kids Tales website I try to grab any spare time I can to write. I'm a bit of a multi-tasker and find writing in the shower would have to be my favourite place to write or work through a storyline. I have a waterproof notepad and pencil stuck up on my shower wall.
I try to use my two-hour daily train commute to write but find myself mainly using, this time, to catch up on Creative Kids Tales stuff.I usually make half a page of notes and then let the story come together in my head, I can at least do other things at the same time. Once the story is complete, I return to my initial notes and get it all down on paper.I then work on the editing and send off to my mentor/editor for her thoughts.
I began writing my Lulu story in the playground of my daughter's school while I was waiting to give a short talk to her class. Find it, grab it and run with it is my advice.
I like to live with my picture books. If I have a deadline, I spend time every day working on the current W.I.P (Work in Progress), even if this consists of going for a walk and mulling. If the words aren't flowing, I pack up my work and go to the local library or a café and won't go home until I have something on the page. This could be snippets of lines, terrible sketches or working out what my main character wants.
I take the first draft with me everywhere and tweak and tweak.
Embarrassing confession here: sometimes at the beginning of a project I have one of those "What am I thinking?" days when it all seems too hard and I reread a couple of my other books just to reinforce that I can write a picture book. I've come to accept that I often have what feels like a couple of wasted day at the start of the project, but I've learned that my subconscious is actually making connections that burst out if I persevere.
I can't say that I have a routine in terms of developing a PB. Although, I would say that once I have an idea I stick with it and see it through. That is, I write the entire story in one session. It will be rough but it will be 'complete'. Because I'm more a middle grade and junior fiction author, PBs are a treat for me and I usually only think about them in the back of my mind. Then, occasionally, I think, I'd really really like to write a PB this week! And that's when I get serious, look for ideas, brainstorm and then write those precious 500 words in one sitting.
After that, I put the draft away and keep coming back to it over a period of weeks or months or even years. I fiddle and adjust and rewrite until I'm ready to submit the MS (manuscript).
On the flip side, because I'm an established author I do have the advantage of running concepts past my publishers before the ideas are fully developed. This happened with Blue, the Builder's Dog. But even then I had a full 'story' before I sent an email to my publisher at Penguin.
My writing routine is fairly flexible – especially as I am the mother of three kids (two of them teenagers!) – so when the writing priority is a picture book that flexibility is used to its maximum potential.
I need a LOT of time for picture books, but most of that time is 'brewing' time in between writing sessions where I let ideas and words rest, rearrange themselves and show their true worth.
When I'm actually working on the text I do a lot of brainstorming first, often write out a narrative of the story, then try to figure out the best way to tell it. Then it's just working and reworking and returning to the ideas and experimenting with language etc. until I get it right and know every word is the right one and doing the best job it could.
So there you have folks, the writing routine of picture book authors. I hope this has been of help. It has at least been eye-opening.
Georgie Donaghey discovered her love for creative writing at the age of seven. Apart from the colourful tales, she would entertain her classmates and peers with, Georgie entered and won her first competition. Although her hand written award from the Sun Herald Junior writing competition is now faded and the poem she submitted a distant memory, her passion for writing developed into an obsession.
She has written several picture books and a few children's novels waiting to be shared with the world. Georgie has also tried her hand at an adult murder mystery. One short story for adults was published in the Heat Anthology of short stories published in 2014.
As President of the Children's Book Council of Australia Sutherland branch, Georgie helped educate her local community and renew their love for the adventure of the written word. Shortly before the birth of her third child, Georgie stepped down from the CBCA.
From her supposed 'quiet' time Georgie's dedication to helping other emerging authors was never far from her mind. Unable to find the one place on the internet where emerging children's authors could find tips, information and at the same time display their work, her imagination went into overdrive. In November 2011 Creative Kids Tales was launched. A website designed by emerging children's authors for emerging children's authors.
She even took her love of writing to the airwaves with The Author's Shelf via community radio.
Georgie is just like any other emerging author – full of passion and hopeful that her books will sit on bookshelves other than her own.
In 2015 Georgie's first picture book, Lulu was published.Her second will be published with Little Pink Dog Books in 2017.
Find out more: www.creativekidstales.com.au
Alison Reynolds is a Melbourne-based writer who has loved reading and writing ever since she can remember. After a series of mediocre jobs, as a public servant, market researcher, working in a radio station, restaurant, bookshop, and for the most curmudgeonly boss in Melbourne, she decided to focus on writing deciding that it was the thing she did best. To date she has had over 60 books published locally and internationally, including her latest critically acclaimed Pickle & Bree series, the best-selling A Year with Marmalade series, board books, picture books, chapter books, non-fiction adult books and, in collaboration with world-famous wildlife ranger Sean Willmore*, the Ranger in Danger choose-your-own-adventure series.
She has presented at schools, libraries and writers' festivals, including the Melbourne Writers' Festival. Alison has a clown phobia and cannot stand liquorice, cooked carrots and chai.
Find out more: www.alisonreynolds.com.au
Jen Storer writes her stories in a creaky Victorian house in Melbourne, Australia. She is inspired by everything around her but especially by words. She collects words. She cannot read a book without stealing words from its pages. Her favourite activity at school was learning new words and figuring out how to weave them into a sentence.
Jen's latest book, The Fourteenth Summer of Angus Jack, began when she discovered the little known fact that goblins first crossed the English Channel on Viking vessels. This made Jen wonder if goblins were nothing like we believed them to be. It made her think about Vikings, too. And magical boats. And ancient artefacts. And seaside carnivals. And hot donuts...
'The Fourteenth Summer of Angus Jack is a classic adventure mystery which skilfully weaves Norse myth into a tale that is fresh and utterly compelling. It's a great mix of nail-biting suspense and laugh-out-loud humour... Highly recommended.' Athina Clarke, Children's Buyer at Readings Malvern
Jen also has a new picture book out. 'Blue the Builder's Dog' and is now available. penguin.com.au/books/blue-the-builders-dog-9780670077809
Find out more: www.girlandduck.com
Penny always knew she wanted to be a writer, but never really believed it would happen. As the child of missionaries in Arnhem Land (North Australia), Bangladesh and Papua New Guinea, Penny had a very interesting childhood.
She enjoyed reading, making cubby houses in the bush, playing imaginary games (she once turned her bedroom into a Hotel at which her mother had to pay to visit) and going camping.
In Year 3, while living in Bangladesh, she wrote her very first picture book.
After finishing school Penny studied to become a primary school teacher and after getting married went to live, and teach, in PNG for a year.
Between 2001 and 2006 Penny and her family lived in Nepal, and this was the location and inspiration behind the book Himalayan Adventures.
Since returning to Australia to live Penny and her family have settled in western Sydney.
Penny continues to write about global issues, including using her writing to tackle important issues like human trafficking.