Tag Archives: picture book

52 Weeks: Week 5


I’m so scattered lately that it just took me about three minutes of pondering before I could remember what the name of this website was. Oi vae. It’s Friday night for sure.

I recently enrolled in Mira Reisberg’s Picture Book Academy course on the Craft and Business of Illustrating. This has motivated me ten-fold. I’ve been tightening up and loosening up (is that possible? Tightening up my approach while loosening up within the constraints of an approach, not that that makes sense to anyone but me). I’ve been sketching for hours each day, experimenting galore and receiving critical and constructive feedback from a fantastic group of critique partners. I am so lucky. Tonight during our big critique webinar, my character progress was one of the pieces critiqued by the instructor, Mira. She gave me fantastic feedback, and I had lots to work with from her on what to work on.

This character has undergone a NUMBER of changes. First, he was highly commercial and older and had darker skin and a very specific head shape. He also had a striped shirt. Then, he became a very young, simplified version of a little boy with wild, tilted hair (he was featured last week!). This version underwent a number of changes. Then, I perused my favourite picture books and sketched out what I liked. I noted the styles and approaches and looks that I loved and hated, then I went back to the drawing board, literally.

That’s when this guy was almost born. He was a bit more primitive – much lighter, very wide-headed, with a striped shirt in some of the work. He kept the hair from the middle version (the simplified boy) and the wardrobe (striped shirt) from the first attempt. I gave him glasses, and after tonight’s feedback, tightened him up even more. I need to continue working on the colour version, and determine how he will be rendered, but for now, here is my piece of the week. He’s my favourite, so far.

character sketches 9


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One Brain, Two Brains, Right Brain, Left Brain

I have a very odd personality.  Many people have told me I’m very “right brain left brain.”  I have a keen business sense, like organization, live by deadline, and require major structure.  But, I am also wildly creative, have bizarre sleep patterns, believe in going with the flow, and often feel lost because I’m torn in so many creative directions.  It’s like two people in one body.  

My rigid routines allow me to be creative.  I’ve come to realize that without a deadline, or without a very structured class plan, I could never succeed happily, because I couldn’t be as creative as I’d like.  What I’m trying to say is that the structure I’ve created is what gives me the freedom to explore and be creative.  I need an outline so that I can check in with myself.  Otherwise, my creativity would flow in every direction and I’d never finish a single thing.

Because of my need to be creative, I have to have variety.  I get bored if I am working on just the same thing all of the time.  When I’m working out, a week of the same work out is enough for me.  Then I’m bored and I need change.  Ask anyone who has ever been one of my students.  We have structures in place, but within the structure we are always changing, from the set up of the room to when and how we’re learning.  It’s necessary to have routines, but you have to switch it up!  The kids will tell you they’re bored.  I’m the same way.

And so it goes with my writing, I utilize variety.  I’ve been more successful in completing manuscripts this year than ever before.  The reason is because I’ve created a structure.  I write for specified blocks of time on specified days.  I don’t sway from them.  To date, I’ve worked on my upper middle grade fantasy manuscript during the blocks.  I have weekly word count targets and a plotted story with room for variance.  I go back and modify it as needed.  But, on the story level, it always surprises me.  The characters tell me what will happen next. Somehow they always get to point B.  I think it’s because I’ve found the right balance.  When it is time to revise, some of the targets may change, and that’s okay.  Quite frankly, I think I might even get rid of the main character before the revisions are finished, and rewrite from a different perspective.  But I need to finish her story first.

I also need variety in what I write.  I was so focused on writing picture books that I forgot that I wanted to write middle grade.  I’ve finally pulled out my PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) files from the last two years and started plucking away at them.  I’m motivated now.  I’ve rewritten an old story, and realized that another story could actually be a sequel.  That’s one more PiBoIdMo idea that’s been written now.  From that, I had a whole other idea come to light, featuring the same character.  

I could never have completed this much writing in a month without a structure in place.  The picture book work has been done outside of my dedicated writing blocks.  The manuscript for my MG novel will be completed in only four more weeks.  Then, I am ready for the next thing: another MG novel, but a whole new approach.  I am able to explore, so why not?

The point of this whole post is really just: allow yourself the time and room to be creative.  Have variety.  But if you’re like me, and are unhappy that you don’t create as much as you wish you did, try setting up some restraints, some outlines, some structures so that you can grow within it.  My weekly blocks are only one hour in length and last for two days.  That’s manageable for anyone.  My weekend block is a minimum of 2 hours.  But, I often write for at least 1-2 extra hours now, and have given more time to research and networking, because I feel ownership of my creativity.

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When writing, goals are crucial.  There’s this silly myth floating around that when you write, you just put words down, and then that’s that.  If you know a friend who can draw, and you have a cool idea for a book, then you can be an author, too!  Your friend will do the pictures for you.


In most cases, it doesn’t work like that.  It drives me bananas when people I know say, “I have this great idea for a book!  It’s about XYZ! YOU should illustrate it!”

I want scream back, “Illustrate your IDEA? Your ONE idea?”  Then, my face would turn red and I would go on to say, “You have ONE GREAT IDEA that you’ve had for YEARS?  You aren’t a writer! Give me a break!  I have a file with over ONE HUNDRED IDEAS!”

But that’s not who I am.  I usually give a little, soft laugh, avoid eye contact and try to change the subject.

Being a writer is serious work.  It’s not one story.  It’s a lifetime of them.  It’s about discipline and voice, which only comes in time.  It’s about knowing how to put words and images and phrases together to create a piece of word art.  Good writing isn’t long-winded, like most teachers expect their student’s writings to be (don’t say “said” – how dare you! Use something catchier!  … Gimme a break.  They SAID it.  I’m using SAID.  But that’s another rant that will go on my teaching blog).  Good writing is necessary writing: a story that needs to be told, in the amount of words that are required to tell it.  Fluff it up and you’re out.  Writing takes patience.  It takes years, in some cases.  It takes planning and plotting – just enough – so that there is a framework to write around.  Then, only then, for me at least, the story can flow naturally.  Then, only then, for me at least, it becomes exciting.

So, today I am not setting goals for my own writing – I’ve already done that.  I have a steady writing block that I follow to the minute; I have a list of stories waiting to be written.  Today, my goals are going to be for the business side of things.  I’m going to set some goals for finding the right agent, for beefing up my understanding of the industry (which is pretty good in some regards, but lacking in others), and I’ll even set a goal for getting published.  Because, as the secret suggests, if I don’t put it out into the universe, it’s not going to happen.  And I can’t let that happen (or not happen, depending on how you’re reading this sentence).

Have you set any goals lately?


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PiBoIdMo – Day One!

I’ve been having more fun saying “piboidmo” than anything else lately. I pronounce it like a word … although I’m not sure if that’s the point.

If you don’t already know what I’m talking about, PiBoIdMo is “Picture Book Idea Month” – and I opted to particpate this year. Throughout November, I’ll be coming up with a new idea EVERY DAY for picture books. Sounds crazy, right? It kind of is.

I decided to use my full time job as a sounding board for the project. Every day, I use my Gr. 2 students to announce an idea. Then, they tell me whether or not it sucks. They’re VERY honest and as an added bonus … my target audience!

It’s an interesting way to pull an idea out of you. I’ve made myself accountable to the project by making it known that they will hear about a new story each day – 7 year olds don’t let you out of it. I’ve also made a calendar to record the ideas on. And, I check or “ex” the idea based on their response. I basically stand in front of the class and describe the story … in a way, I’m pitching it to them!

Today, I had jus a few words in my head when it was time to tell them about it. Fortunately, I’ve been blessed with the BS chromosone … I can pull out anything if put on the spot! I approache the floor with this idea: “A really disorganized teacher.” It turned into a story about a really disorganized teacher, a really tidy student body, and a machine that gets out of control. I’ve retold the idea a few times – to the kids, to my fiancee, to myself … and it’s starting to develop into something much more sustainable in terms of writing-worthy.

I’ve never worked like this before, but it is a great way to learn a new skill and to get out of my lack-of-creativity-rut.

Stay tuned … more to come!!

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