Craft Book Read-Along: Writing Picture Books – Final Check-in


I’ve owned WRITING PICTURE BOOKS by Ann Whitford Paul for about four years now. But it wasn’t until about four months ago that my copy saw any hard use. As I mentioned in my first post of this series, I read the book when I first got it, and kept it on my shelf to dip into from time to time. But I never did the exercises in the book, and couldn’t shake the feeling that I didn’t get as much out of it as I could have.

Now, my copy is literally dog-eared. I’ve carried it in my bag for months. I’ve read it at the playground, at gymnastics class, at soccer practice. And I’ve completely many (not all) of the exercises. Doing this has been not unlike taking a picture book writing class β€” but this one cost only $16.99. Based on her advice, I’ve made some changes to the way I think about story writing, and it has helped my writing improve.

The final section of the book has a great chapter called “Priming Your Idea Pump” with lots of techniques for coming up with story ideas. This, I find, is the major change between the writer I was two years ago, and the writer I am now. Two years ago, I had written a single picture book manuscript and I worked that thing to death. Countless revisions. Countless reviews by critique partners. More revisions. I sent it off for a conference critique and was thrilled that the editor liked it. However, when she asked, “What else are you working on?” I was stumped. I was writing some poetry for magazines, but had no other picture books in the works, or even a list of ideas. *slaps forehead*

At that same conference, Jane Yolen was a featured speaker, and she made reference to her own recent rejections. (Yes, even Jane Yolen gets rejected…on a regular basis, it seems.) I’m not sure if it was some phrase of hers, or my own imagination that created this image in my head of a writer’s body of work as a mountain β€” a mountain that grows bigger with each completed manuscript. The peak of the mountain represents the work that’s published, or publishable. Everything underneath is the stuff that’s been rejected, or just isn’t good enough or polished enough to see the light of day. As I thought about this, I realized how huge Jane Yolen’s mountain must be, and how puny mine was in comparison. But (and this is the great thing about conferences) I wasn’t discouraged. Instead, I was energized and determined to start building my own mountain.

So, I primed my idea pump and started a new story. I signed up for a class. I participated in PiBoIdMo and 12×12. My mountain is growing, and now, thanks to WRITING PICTURE BOOKS, it has grown a little bigger and (I hope) a little sturdier.

Tetons by Ansel Adams, 1942 (National Parks Service/NARA)

Tetons by Ansel Adams, 1942 (National Parks Service/NARA)

OK, it’s not that big yet, but it is growing! How’s your mountain coming?

15 thoughts on “Craft Book Read-Along: Writing Picture Books – Final Check-in

  1. Renee LaTulippe says:

    Hi, Carrie! Congrats on completing the book! My copy just arrived, so I am making it my summer project. I won’t be able to read all the books she recommends, but I’ll adapt it and make do with what I have. I’m hoping it helps set me on a better, more productive PB path.

    I’ve enjoyed following along with you even if I couldn’t participate. Your tenacity and dedication to honing your craft is really inspiring. πŸ™‚

  2. Donna L. Sadd says:

    My little ant hill is growing! It’s light years better to have a bunch of stories in the hopper because it’s easier to stay away from them for a while. When I come back to them, I find that they’ve marinated and so have I…it’s time to cut, cut, cut, but it’s a lot easier with fresh eyes.

    Thanks for this series Carrie, I learned bunches!

  3. Cathy Ballou Mealey says:

    Congratulations on all your AWP achievements! It’s been a great series, and I’ve enjoyed each post.

    My mountain is more of an iceberg. There’s loads floating beneath the surface, and sometimes chunks break off and float away. But the tip above water is looking good, and often attracts cuddly, fuzzy polar creatures. If I can keep from crashing into an ocean liner, I’m in good shape!

  4. carolmunrojww says:

    I’m glad to hear your mountain is growing, Carrie. I’m happy mine is growing, too. *waving from the top of mine to you at the top of yours* Isn’t it a great feeling to have all those mss nagging at you for attention? “Edit me.” Send me out!” “What do you mean you hope I get a bite?”

  5. viviankirkfield says:

    I agree with you 100%, Carrie. When I got the book in December, it sat on my shelf for a couple of months. On my last trip back east, I brought it on the plane and then had time to do many of the exercises while I was visiting my son. And that made such a difference in the way I looked at story writing…my story writing! Before, I just wrote a story and revised it…not really thinking about the voice, the characters, the story arc. Oh dear…and I thought my stories were so good. πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ Remember that map I posted on FB (grabbed from someone else) of the writer’s mind…’delusions of grandeur’ was one of the mountain ranges, I think.:)

    And I am making time to write…instead of leaving it to chance…this makes a big difference…I revised one story (the one you will see on the 15th) and wrote two others (one possibly for Susanna’s 4th of July contest) and had a germ of an idea for a third when the roofers woke me at 7:30am, hammering on my head.:)

    So glad your pile is growing!

  6. Hannah Holt says:

    You are a rock, Carrie. My mountain took a summer slump, but I feel like it’s warming up for fall. The great thing about mountain building is it takes years and the occasional break here and there doesn’t have to stop the huge forward momentum you are building.

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