Make a Picture Book Draft

I’ve been trying to make a picture book draft once a month, every month, this year. I’m a member of Julie Hedlund’s 12×12 and the focus on productivity and creativity – the art of creating – has been really useful. I know I can come up with an idea once a month and it doesn’t take long to make a picture book draft. These drafts are typically less than 1000 words so it doesn’t take more than an hour to sketch out the first version.

The drafts that seem to work, that could possibly morph into a story for a children’s magazine or perhaps something to bring to critique group and then later to a writer’s intensive at a conference get revised.

As part of the revision process and to test the strength of the story I’ll make a dummy. A dummy is a more detailed draft of the picture book story, laid out with illustrations. Dummies help you see if there are page turning moments, if each set of words can be illustrated, if your story is droning on or getting repetitive.

I’ll also bring my drafts to children to read and critique. My kids are used to being honest about what they like and what they don’t. My kids are also used to seeing picture book drafts that don’t have pictures. But other children aren’t. That’s another good reason to make a dummy.

Make a Picture Book Draft

When you make a picture book draft or dummy, you are working on storyboarding. I have experimented with three different ways of making picture book dummies and storyboarding my tales.

The first is very visual, a traditional storyboard approach. I used this format a lot when planning out the text and illustrations for Dinosaur Boogie.

make a picture book draft

Just needs a story.

 

The second way is a bit more traditional. The instructions come from Ann Whitford Paul’s book Writing Picture Books: A Hands-On Guide from Story Creation to Publication. She advises you take four pieces of paper and cut them into quarters. Staple them together and you have the pages you need to lay the text and illustrations for a traditional 32 page picture book.

Make a picture book draft

Long and short stories.

Following Whitford Paul’s advice I created books of different sizes and orientations to accommodate different amounts of text. But I innovated a little with this method and used scrap paper. Yes, that means I can’t write directly on these pages, but I can write text on post-it notes and move them around inside the book pages easily. I can also scribble something on a post-it regarding illustration and move that around, too, and experiment with a little bit of graphic design. Do I want the text above the art? Below? Around the side?

Which leads me to my third method that I use to make a picture book draft or dummy: InDesign. I’m no expert, but I can get around in InDesign. So I will create a document with lots of pages, put my text in and then search on Google for free images. I’m not going to use these images for a profit so I could probably use images that aren’t free, but I like to keep things honest. Then I print out a simple version of an illustrated dummy. These are the versions I take into my favorite test classrooms and try out on kids that aren’t mine.

picture book draft

Ready to read.

Not too shabby! And I find bringing illustrated dummies to classrooms helps me get a sense of the kids’ real reaction to story instead of them being confused about where the pictures are. And they love learning the phrase “picture book dummy.”

So how do you go about making a picture book draft or dummy? Do you have a favorite method? Are you hi-tech or old school?

Creative science writing

creative science writing

Inspiration from nature

Creative science writing, not exactly science fiction but fiction based in fact, is one of my favorite kinds of writing. Recently I finished a fun story about a worm who saves a compost pile. Lots of creative science writing in that tale.

And earlier this year my middle son asked me to write a story about a certain type of bee he invented. I was delighted with his character but struggled to come up with a story. So this week I grabbed a large stack of non-fiction children’s books about bees from the library. I have learned so much amazing detail about the lives of bees. There is fodder there for at least three different kinds of stories and maybe two decent poems. I have big dreams for this creative science tale, like middle grade novel or maybe even graphic novel length. If only I could draw!

Following along science-and-nature inspired creative writing,  I have rediscovered the most amazing book that I bought for my boys but selfishly I am now claiming for my own. The Tree That Time Built: A Celebration of Nature, Science, and Imagination (A Poetry Speaks Experience). Seriously. Even if you claim you don’t like poetry, you must get this book.

What’s a book, story or poem that you love that is an example of creative science writing?

Writing Contests

I am a sucker for a writing contest. I have a writing friend who thinks they can be a real waste of time and money, and I acknowledge that she is very right most of the time. But after a recent meeting of my SCBWI critique group, and after the experience I gained from one contest, I have identified some intangible benefits.

But to be fair, I will outline some of the negative aspects of writing contests, too. This is hard because I’m not good at seeing the downside of things.

Cons of Writing Contests

  • There is usually a fee.
  • The word count may not lend itself to the best telling of your story.
  • Winning an award doesn’t always mean publication of your writing.
  • It could be a scam.

Pros of Writing Contests

  • The fees for some are very small.
  • Some offer prize money.
  • Word count limits can force you to revise.
  • Winning could mean publication.
  • It’s good practice to have to meet a deadline.
  • Some contests promise feedback that you don’t get on regular submissions.

I’ve been writing for a long time, all the way back to when I started my elementary school’s first literary journal. Yes, as editor several of my more painful pieces of poetry were chosen for the first issue. But since then my fiction success has been pretty low. In college and as an adult I wrote for several newspapers. But my short stories only earned rejections. It hurt but I kept writing.

Then last year, as I continued my habit of entering writing contests, something changed. I earned an honorable mention for a poem, a finalist position for a flash fiction piece, and an honorable mention for another flash fiction story.

These were my first writing awards, ever. And that last honorable mention includes publication in a respected sci-fi/fantasy magazine! My first fiction publication. Ever.

Of course I think it couldn’t be better. But to be fair I’ll list some cons:

  • There is no prize money.

I’m sorry, I can’t think of any more cons for entering this writing contest! I tried. But I’m just too much of an optimist. Here are some pros:

  • The editors asked me to revise my story slightly. That was good practice.
  • The editors asked me to review and sign a contract. I was excited to learn what was in the contract and research the meaning of the rights.
  • The editors asked me to review their copyedits. This was good learning, too.
  • I’m following the magazine on Facebook and learning about how they tagline the stories in each issue.
  • My ego is boosted.
  • This story was originally written before I had children, and I had pulled it out and re-worked it. I have lots more of those and feel like I am a better writer than I was then. I can make them, better, faster, stronger.

If you want to enter a writing contest, I would say go for it. But go for it in a smart way.

  • Do your research. I picked journals that printed things I loved to read. So find a literary magazine or journal that you respect. I have two favorites that have contests on right now and I saved up some of my best work for their contests!
  • Do not just enter any old contest. I often look for contests with unique angles like ‘Best Starts’ or with themes and prompts.
  • Pick the right writing. Chose stories or poems you have written that you think they would love.
  • Don’t enter contests with excessive fees. I consider anything above $20 excessive.
  • Think small. Lots of really big magazines like Writer’s Digest and Poets & Writers offer contests. But smaller journals and magazines host them, too. Sign up for alerts from places like WOW! Women on Writing, Writer Advice, FreelanceWriting and AllIndieWriters.

 

Helpful Resources for Freelance Writing

freelance writing on keyboard

The keys to great freelance writing

Do you belong to a community that improves your freelance writing? I’ve found that freelance writers tend to be very supportive of each other. They don’t mind offering help to other writers and sharing effective resources. There are several communities that I rely on for help, from in person meetings right here in my neighborhood to people all around the world.

The Business of Freelance Writing

If you’re a freelance writer looking for some useful resources to grow your understanding of marketing, web site design, contract negotiations and more I recommend The Freelance Writer’s Den and The Renegade Writer.

The Art of Freelance Writing

If you’re looking for places to hone your literary skills as a fiction writer or even a creative non-fiction writer, check out Scribophile. I also love the classes available at Women on Writing. Their blog posts are definitely useful, too. For children’s writers the place to be is the Society of Children’s Books Writer’s and Illustrators.

Social Media Freelance Writing Communities

There are lots of great resources with active social media accounts for professionals looking to improve their freelance writing skills and their business. One of my favorites are Studio 30, a group that not only offers writing prompts weekly but shares the posts of members on social media for increased engagement and feedback. StThe other favorite is Readers Aloud. This unique Facebook group offers members the invaluable opportunity to submit their work, have it read aloud by another member and recorded as an audio file. Listening to one of my stories read by an incredible narrator was an unbelievably powerful way to tackle a round of revisions.

 

What communities do you use to improve your freelance writing, from the business perspective and the artistic approach?

Choosing the Right Format (For Picky Eaters!)

 

Fun size fro-yo!

Fun size fro-yo!There are lots of ways to help picky eaters try new foods. One trick is to introduce food in a different format. Myyoungest thinks he likes yogurt but he never eats is out of the container. He insists I buy it, but if I serve it in the yogurt cup he takes one bite and will not finish it. Instead of wasting the food, I switched up the format.

There are lots of ways to help picky eaters try new foods. One trick is to introduce food in a different format. My youngest thinks he likes yogurt but he never eats it out of the container. He insists I buy it, but when I serve it in the yogurt cup he takes one bite and will not finish it. Instead of wasting the food, I switched up the format.

I offer it in smoothie form – and no, this doesn’t take a lot of work! I grab some blueberries (perfectly frozen from our CSA box) or diced peaches, a splash of orange juice, some honey and scoop the yogurt into the blender and whip a super-easy smoothie. He drinks every drop. I shared this idea on my 30 Second Mom page!

I also change the yogurt into a frozen treat for a quick bedtime snack. I found this idea on Pinterest but I added my own snazzy twist: before I froze them I added rainbow sprinkles. My kids cannot resist rainbow sprinkles. When I presented yogurt dots they disappeared as quick as ice cream and were actually easier for him to scoop up. Have you ever noticed how tough it is for little kids to scoop into ice cream with plastic spoons?

Just because your picky eaters won’t eat food in one format doesn’t mean the food is off the menu. Blend it, freeze it, chop it, roast it – the key is to not give up!! (And when they try it, don’t forget to keep track in My Food Notebook!)

What food do you eat in one format but not in any other??

 

 

 

Grumpy Kids? Not these Kindergarteners!

This post originally appeared in June 2012. 

Kindergarten Thank You Notes

At the end of May, I read The Bumpy, Grumpy Road to two kindergarten classes here in Pittsburgh. At first they laughed with delight when they saw Dylan, a little boy, driving a car. They were impressed! But then Dylan started to use grumpy words. In each of the classes, a child called out, “The sky is getting darker!” They were worried for Dylan. One girl even shook her head when Dylan shouted at his brothers.

I continued reading and we got to the page where Dylan sees the first sign. In each of the classes again, a child called out “That stop sign says “Sorry!” They watched with relief and amazement as the sky brightened and the road got smoother with every good choice Dylan made. At the end, they were beaming and laughing again.

Those children traveled the bumpy road with Dylan and sped down the smooth one with him when he learned that he can choose his words and attitude.

I love the fact that not only did I get to share my book with two wonderful classrooms, but that one class of children decided to make their own books! These thank you notes are actually small booklets complete with author’s names and a few pages inside with words and illustrations! Is there a future writer in this class? Possibly!

These thank you notes are the first I received from children, but I hope not the last. Of course the best thank you came from Dylan the night I read him the story, and he cried and said “That’s me, Mommy. Sometimes I am on the bumpy road and don’t know how to get off.” I’ll never forget that moment and hopefully the children who heard this story will remember they, too, can choose which road to drive!

Best Billboards

Here are two of the best Pittsburgh billboards I’ve seen lately. One’s silly and one’s clever.

This billboard for Fodi Jewelers cracks me up every time I drive by it.  It’s not the use of the word ‘chicks’ that got me, it’s the fact that they put baby chicks on the billboard.

Too many puns!

Yes, we get the pun that studs is either diamond studs or studly men. And both of those meanings of the word “stud” make sense in this context. I’m just glad they didn’t put some pieces of lumber on the billboard, too. I have to say the image of the baby chickens is just silly and makes me laugh every day.

 

Awesome play on words

This billboard created by Marcus Thomas for just the Pittsburgh market makes perfect wordplay sense. It’s the 40th anniversary of the Immaculate Reception and Pittsburghers will totally get this reference. Makes me wanna buy some chips right now!

Fiction and Non-Fiction Creative Writer

children's book author, writer, social media coachWelcome!

I’m Elizabeth Pagel-Hogan. I’m best known as a fiction and non-fiction writer for children. I’ve written for magazines like Highlights for Children, Appleseeds and Family Fun.

Recent awards:

I love working with children and I am available for school visits, classroom and community workshops.

 

In addition to my children’s writing, I also provide freelance services including:

  • Editing and e-book production
  • Creative consultation and promotion
  • Business writing and blogging
  • Social media coaching

Creative writers get ideas from many places. As a runner and triathlete, I find that a tough physical challenge is a great way to spark incredible ideas.

As a mom, I know the value of humor and patience. My own children keep me on my creative writer toes and offer endless inspiration. Need help with grumpy kids? Picky kids? Want to dance with a dinosaur? Grab a book below!

Contact me at 412.837.9499 or onesweetwriter[at]gmail.com if you need:

I’ve written for magazines for adults including Family Fun, PTOToday, and Thrive. I’ve also written for websites like SchoolFamily.com, PopCity, Kidsburgh and mom.me. I also write for and e-newsletters like Writer’s Weekly and Children’s Writer. My poetry has appeared in Leading Edge Literary Magazine.

I have my MA in American History and have been a science educator, stage performer and worked with non-profits for over 10 years. When I’m not training for an upcoming road race or triathlon, I’m exploring the world with my husband and three children. I’ve been to 31 out of 50 states and 3 continents and counting!

I tackle each writing assignment with enthusiasm and would love to apply my skills to your project.

I encourage you to review my extensive writing samplesview my testimonials, visit my Amazon.com Author Page, and visit my LinkedIn profile.