Monthly Archives: August 2015

Breaking Down the 52 – The Numbers

Let’s look at the numbers. I’ve dissected each and every story. Maybe we’ll see some patterns or tendencies emerge. What do I write?

First off, I wrote 52 picture book first drafts in 1 year. That was 1 each week for 52 weeks.

Of these stories, 12 have seen some form or revision. 7 have been seen by my critique group.


  • Shortest story: 24 words
  • Longest story: 1,598 words
  • Average: 501 words per story
  • Total words written: 26,071


  • 35 for the 5-8 age range
  • 12 for the 0-4 age range
  • 5 not sure yet


  • 13 are told in 1st person
  • 39 are told in 3rd person
  • 43 are told in past tense
  • 9 are told in present tense
  • 5 are told in rhyme
  • 45 are told in prose
  • 2 have elements of both
  • 26 are humorous
  • 22 are serious
  • 4 haven’t decided
  • 2 are journal format

Genres and Topics: This will add up to far more than 52 as some fit into more than one category.

  • 7 multicultural
  • 6 bedtime
  • 4 fable
  • 4 concept
  • 2 songs
  • 1 holiday
  • 1 first chapter of a middle grade
  • 3 LGBTQ
  • 3 sports
  • 3 theatre
  • 2 meta
  • 20 live in that undefined quirky, contemporary world
  • 11 are about friendship
  • 9 are about family

Main characters:

  • 30 male
  • 15 female
  • 5 both
  • 2 neither
  • 3 adults
  • 37 human
  • 14 animals
  • 11 others
  • Main and side characters included: people (caveman, sailor, farmer, cowboy, president, pirate, king, glass girl, gondolier and more), animals (gorilla, goat, raccoon, lion, fish, wolf, tarsier, crab, snail, turtle, and more. Oh, and  birds, birds, birds), and others (nose, cloud, bread, rock, baseball, book, aliens, dragon, ogre and more)

Where I was when I wrote them:

  • 9 Thailand
  • 3 Indonesia
  • 6 Taiwan
  • 4 Philippines
  • 1 Malaysia
  • 3 Cambodia
  • 5 United States
  • 21 Mexico
  • Stories directly influenced by my travels. This is impossible to quantify. Some times a story would be clearly about an experience I had had. Other times something I would see would inspire a story that had nothing to do with where I was. I’ll go with 10

The only thing here that surprises me is that my humorous to serious ratio is so even. I feel like I write far more humorous stories than the numbers show.

If I were to define my typical story, it seems it would be about 500 words written for the 5 to 8 age range. The lead character would be a human, male child. I would tell it in third person, past tense. The topic would be quirky contemporary with a strong friend or family relationship.

It’s funny, because I don’t think most of my favorites could be defined this way.

Some people have asked how many I think are publishable. Honestly I think all 52 have a workable ideas. 14 would need a whole lot of work (maybe a different author). 15 I like, but just aren’t working in their current form. 23 I could see living on a bookshelf. I truly expected to have many throw-away stories, stories simply written for the exercise of writing. I was pleasantly surprised that I was always happy with the ideas.

Wow! That was a lot of numbers. Take a look at everything you have written and see if there are trends. You may be surprised with the difference between what you think you write and what you actually write.


Generating Ideas (part 2)

I’ll be starting here with number 8. If you are not confused, then you have read my last post. If you are confused, go back and read my last post.

8. Ask a Friend. This is something I do with my husband all the time. I say, “What should I write about?” He knows the routine. He throws out random words until I say, “Got it.” I then run to my desk and start scribbling. When we try to think of our own ideas, sometimes our brain is stuck. We think the same thoughts over and over. Use someone else’s brain to unstick your rut.

9. Party Game – What Would I Say? Imagine you are at a party. What are your party stories? We all have them. When the topic turns to ex-partners, awful roommates, childhood injuries, funny pets, or travel, what do you say? These are stories you know well, and enjoy telling. Write them down.

10. Party Game – What Did They Say? Bring that notebook to your next party (Yes, the one you bring on your walks). Borrow from other people’s stories. There is always that guy who feels a need to one-up everyone with better stories. Use one of his to find an idea.

11. Dreams. Dreams carry so much wonderful, bizarre, joyous, frightening content. I find character names, plot fixes, and art imagery, all in my sleep. Where is that notepad now? I hope it’s on your nightstand. Be warned that some things that made perfect sense in the middle of the night, may seem like gibberish in the morning. Or is that just me?

12. In the News. Truth is stranger than fiction. Why not borrow from current events? Glance through the headlines and see what catches your eye.

13. Riffing on a Single Note. This one helps to keep those creative juices flowing. Take a single idea (pigs, pots and pans, bravery, Asia, Thanksgiving Day, anything). Now go crazy. Come up with as many ideas as you can. Push yourself. Climb way out of the box. No answers are wrong. Keep saying, “And then,” “What else,” “What more,” “What if?”

14. Works of Art. I personally like using fine art, but any images will do: Art, photography, sculpture, magazine images, billboards. Create a story from what you see in the image. I once passed a billboard with an image of a cubby, golden, winged infant. My imagination went wild.

15. Play with Kids. Play make-believe games with your own kids or borrow some. Anything they make up is something they would be interested in seeing in a book.

So this is where we start. Not every idea will be the right fit for you. That’s why we need to work on these idea generating skills. The more ideas the better.

I have lists of ideas. I review them periodically. Don’t get rid of an idea just because you didn’t connect with it the first time. I often find inspiration in things that I thought were bad ideas. Keep those lists. Also, you don’t have to have a great idea to start writing. I’ve had stories develop just because I put in the time with it. Granted, I’ve also abandoned stories halfway through because they just weren’t working.

Generating ideas can be tons of fun if you let it be. Relax and keep at it. Those ideas will come.

What are some ways in which you generate ideas? I love adding ideas to my list.

Generating Ideas (Part 1)

Over the past year I have come up with 52 picture book ideas that I used to write 52 picture books. Actually, I came up with far more 52 ideas; it took hundreds of ideas to find the ones I wanted to work with. Some good. Some bad. Some I immediately started to write. Some I came back to months later and found new ways to make them work.

Sometimes an idea will just pop into my head, but usually I have to put in a little effort.

Here is how I normally do it. I sit down and think, “I need a new picture book idea.” Then I let my brain kind of flip flop around. Anything I can grab onto, no matter how slight, will work: A name, a feeling, a location, a line of dialogue. I take that idea, and free associate. What does that idea make me think of? Sometimes it turns into something I am moved to write about. Other times it goes into the scrap heap.

There are times when this method doesn’t work for me. That is when I turn to my idea generating games. Yes, I call them games. A game is always more enjoyable than a strategy. And isn’t this all supposed to be fun?

1. 10 Things in 10 Places. This one always works for me. I will often come up with an idea pretty quickly using this game. I grab a note pad, and use my environment to discover ideas. First go to a location, any location (kitchen, garden, library, park, bathroom, closet, anyplace). Let the things around you spark ideas. Do it quickly without too much thought. Write down ten ideas, switch locations, write down ten more ideas, and repeat. Don’t worry if the ideas are good or not, just write them down. Even ideas that seem terrible at first can turn into something amazing. Besides, you only need one good idea. Frankly, I don’t think I’ve ever made it to one hundred ideas. I always come up with something I want to write about long before I get to the end.

2. Just Write. This isn’t always the best method for me, but it has worked. I was lucky enough to be a part of Mem Fox’s picture book intensive at the SCBWI summer conference. During the class she had us all take out pencil and paper, and with no preparation told us to write for seven minutes. She said that one of her books was started using this exact exercise. In those  seven minutes, I did come up with an idea that I think could make a very fun book someday.

3. Crazy Combos. Make a list of things kids love. Then mix them up and see what you create. Robot bears, grumpy cookies, a polka-dot firetruck. Any combo could spark an idea. Have fun.

4. Hoof It. Go for a Walk. Nothing gets the brain working like a walk around the block. And it’s healthy. I go for a walk everyday and this is when I find many of my ideas. Don’t forget to carry a small notepad and pencil. This is something you should get in the habit of carrying at all times.

5. Sidekicks. This works perfectly for fractured fairytales, but can be effective for generating any kind of idea from any story. Explore the peripheral characters in some of your favorite books. What is their story? What do they do when they are on their own? Their story may be just as important to tell as the protagonist. Even if you don’t write their story, you could discover an entirely new idea.

6. Kid Jokes. Find a book or list of kid jokes. Not only could you find an idea, but it’ll be an opportunity to discover what makes kids laugh. Of course a story is more than one joke, but this could be a fun place to start.

7. Curio Cabinet. Most of you have a shelf or box dedicated to keepsakes: Souvenirs from trips, items from when you were young, awards, photos, knick-knacks won at the fair. Each one comes with a story or else why would you keep it. Tell those stories.

Come back soon. I’ll be posting part two by tomorrow with more idea generating games.

How to Write When You Just Don’t Feel Like Writing

After a year of working on the 52 First Drafts Project, I have learned many things. Maybe the most important has been – how to get my bottom into a chair, and how to keep it there.

I think I’ve been lucky. Most of the time I enjoy what I am writing, so am motivated to write.

But then there are other days; days with no ideas, no motivation, and no desire. Days when the bed, the park, the internet, a torture chamber, all seem much more inviting.

Here are my tips to help you sit down and write.

1. Remember that you love writing. Why do you write? To get rich? To become famous? Because it beats taking out the trash? Probably not. Hopefully because you love it. Remind yourself. And you’ll have to take out the trash anyways.

2. Have a snack first. Don’t let being peckish be an excuse. And hydrate. Writing can be exhausting.

3. Remove distractions. No computer (if you type on the computer, close everything you are not using). No phone. No TV. No pets. No people. No looking out the window. Just NO.

4. Accountability. Tell people what you are doing. Tell your family you will be writing. Tell a critique partner. Announce on Twitter or Facebook that you are planning to finish a chapter by that very evening, and you want people to ask you about it later. Accountability works for me. The thought of public shame is simply too terrible for me to bear.

5. Set goals; short term and long term. What do you hope to have written by the end of the year? Month? Week? Day? Hour? The more specific, the more likely you are to accomplish it.

6. Make lists and notes. Visual reminders of your goals work wonders. Put them in places you frequent. For me that would be the pantry, and the novelty ice cream freezer at the local supermarket.

7. Deadlines. Write those goals down in your calendar. Break it down into small manageable bits. Mine was straight forward: a new picture book first draft every Tuesday. In 52 weeks I was only late by one day once. I had a very good excuse. Really. (Not really)

8. Set a timer. This works miracles for me. The clock puts my brain in work mode. Keep it short. If you want to work for an hour, set it for 15 minutes, then keep resetting it. It’s easy to work for only 15 minutes, and only 15 minutes, and only …

9. Physically block yourself. I have a habit of standing up to think. Pacing gets my juices flowing. Unfortunately pacing does not get the pencil to touch the paper. I actually place chairs in my way so that standing is difficult. When I bump into it, I’m reminded that I should be writing, and I sit back down. We’ve all seen comic images of workers chained to their desks. Yes, please.

10. Find your inspiration. Find those things that inspire you. Find quotes, pretty pictures, things you’ve written, a nice note from a critique partner, things you’ve writen down at conferences, a positive response from an agent about your work. Put them where you work. Read them. They should be things that remind you you are a writer and that writing is important to you.

11. Treat yourself. When you finish writing, reward yourself. If every time your dog rolls over, you give it bacon, it will want to keep rolling over. Do it. You deserve it. Make it something small and something that you like. You won’t even have to beg for it.

Here is one of my favorite quotes.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain

I love the message. I love the imagery. I love the writing. Seeing it always inspires me.

What works for you? Add to this list. We all work differently, so the more ideas to choose from, the better. I wish you all luck – seated, scribbling luck.

Success Comes in Many Sizes

SCBWI Summer Conference 2015 was a huge success for me. did I get an agent? No. Did a publisher request to see my manuscript? No.

Before the conference, I made a list of goals I wanted to accomplish. Here’s the stuff that makes me happy.

  1. I met everyone I wanted to meet.
  2. I shared my 52 First Drafts Project. (Many people were even familiar with it.)
  3. I made lasting relationships. (Time will tell, but I’m pretty sure.)
  4. I gained writing skills.
  5. I gained industry knowledge.
  6. I took risks.
  7. I acted beyond my comfort zone
  8. I’ve been inspired.


It’s easy to feel lost at the conference. 1200 people, and it seems like every one of them is further along in their writing careers than you. It’s not true, but even if it were, it shouldn’t matter. This is not a competitive sport (Although, Kwame Alexander’s basketball references were pretty spot on). One persons success does not negate another person’s chances. If your book is good enough, one day the right person will see it.

This doesn’t stop the comparing. You’ve published how many books? You just signed with which agent? Who requested to see the whole manuscript? There are so many successes all around at the conference. They should be inspirational.

Regardless of how positive your attitude is and your understanding that you need to have perseverance, you can start to feel small. When Mem Fox or Kwame Alexander read their own words I find myself having to catch my breath. Stunning! My next thought is often – I could never do that. Then, I force this next thought – No, but let me show the world what I can do.

At these times we have two choices: Wallow in the fact that you will never measure up, or rise to the challenge, work harder, and create your best work. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always seem like we have control. Those feeling can hit you fast. Personally, I would bounce between the two ideas five time just riding the escalator from one floor to the next.

In the end, I force myself to be strong. It is a choice.

The 52 First Drafts Project was started, in part, to deal with these understandable and inevitable feeling.  I figured that if I was doing something big, even if it wasn’t getting published, I would have results I could be proud of. Something I knew others may find interesting or noteworthy.

And it worked. It helped me find confidence. That confidence lead to the eight  successes I mentioned at the beginning of this blog post.

I am heading towards the end of week 49. And I have my 50th story idea in my head. It’s all coming to an end. I’m looking forward to sharing everything I have learned through this experience, but I am also looking beyond. What’s next? How will I keep up the momentum of this fantastic experiment? I have some ideas I’ll share in the weeks to come.