Tara Lazar has done it again! Formerly known as PiBoIdMo held in November, Storystorm has moved to January. I love starting the year like this. January has always felt like a new beginning, a chance to finally get the things done I have been putting off. What have I been putting off? Writing! The past few months have been extremely slow writing months, but packed full of life. I have spent a lot of time with my grandchildren, gotten a new puppy, and enjoyed the holidays with family.

All of these experiences are fueling my Storystorm notebook of ideas. I spent a week with my granddaughters while their parents were on a business trip. Watching a 15 month old literally race around the house and truly enjoy life reminded me of the joys of the small things in life. We hosted an early Christmas full of aunts, uncles, grandchildren, and dogs. A house full of kids 10 and under is a treasure box of story ideas. A puppy in the house has brought much laughter, plus story ideas by the dozens. My granddaughter and I made rolls for Christmas dinner, her first attempt at making her favorite part of the meal. Her mother treated us to Christmas Eve afternoon at the Nutcracker Ballet. We made spritz cookies, another favorite due to the use of a battery operated press. All of these activities were family bonding at its best.

Now my job is to jot down the ideas as they bubble up in my brain. As has happened in the past, I itch to play with these ideas and convert them into stories. Writing has moved up the priority list as I make time to write. So once again, thank you Tara Lazar for the motivation to record 30 story ideas in a month, and for all of the inspirational posts you and the wonderful guest bloggers have provided. I am rejuvenated and ready to write!

SCBWI Conference Perks…

In September, I had the opportunity to attend the Northwest Inland SCBWI conference in Spokane. The best part about SCBWI conferences is the one-on-one critiques with the conference keynote speakers. To some this is a scary proposition. No one likes to hear that the story they have labored over still needs more work.  BUT…this is exactly what most unpublished authors need to hear.

I have seen attendees come away from critiques crushed. This usually happens when they go in thinking that the agent, editor, or author will fall head over heels in love with their work, offer them a contract on the spot and they will be set for life! Sorry folks, that’s a dream. It’s a dream that many of us share; however, we’ve learned that it is just a dream and it rarely (if ever!) happens like that.

So, what does happen? SCBWI critique sessions are both encouraging and instructive. The key to making this a positive learning experience is to keep an open mind and realize that taking risks is a necessary part of all learning.

This year, I was lucky enough to nab a session with author/illustrator Jennifer K. Mann.  Just a few weeks after the conference, her picture book, Two Speckled Eggs, was named winner of the 2015 Washington Scandiuzzi Children’s Book Award.  This lady knows what she’s talking about! Check out her website at  Her presentation about analyzing picture books visually was full of information I’m using to study picture book structure.

For most of us, it takes a few minutes or days for the full impact of a critique session to sink in. Then we are able to relish the positive aspects of the story that were pointed out right in the beginning, and honestly evaluate the places in the story that need more work. I was challenged to look at the plot structure. So, the next week I checked out a number of picture books and looked at them with structure in mind. I’m using Jennifer Mann’s techniques to analyze them which make it much easier to see how the type of revisions she suggested would make my story much stronger.

Critique groups are great, and I learn a lot from mine (see our picture below), but conference critiques give you the opportunity to see your work through the eyes of a professional.  So…be brave! Sign up for a critique session at your next conference.

My critique group clowning around at the Inland Northwest SCBWI Regional Conference. It’s probably obvious that the conference had a circus theme!

SCBWI 2015 clown picture

Writing Conferences

Conferences are one of the best investments I make in my writing. Last month I attended the Western Washington SCBWI conference in Redmond, WA. I came away energized ready to plow into revisions and test out new ideas. Being around a group of people who shared an interest in children’s literature was inspiring.

Workshops ranged from writing picture books, making the first page of your novel count, and how to connect the plot points of your novel to marketing your book, getting an agent, and what agents and editors see happening in the publishing world.  Each gives the aspiring author tools to help make his or her manuscript the best it can be.

There is also plenty of time to network, not just with the presenters, but also with the fellow attendees who may become a critique partner or just someone else in the industry to go to for advice and/or support. Visiting with writers- published and unpublished- allows attendees to hear success stories and lessons learned by others who share the goal of publication.

Inspirational speeches by both an illustrator and an author rounded out the program. Learning about their journeys was enlightening. The common thread throughout both talks was an emphasis on persistence and hard work.  Good writing doesn’t just happen; it is the result of continual writing and revision.

Attend a conference! You’ll be amazed at how much you can learn.

What I learned about writing while making a book dummy

It’s done! I’ve revised, shared with my writing group, revised again, and again (and again….) until I finally reached the conclusion that I’ve got a polished picture book manuscript ready to submit to an agent or editor.  Yea, me! That’s when I  remembered to make a book dummy of my precious manuscript. And I realize I should have done it long before I got to this point!

A book dummy simply takes the text you have been lovingly crafting and puts it in the form of a real live book. This exercise helped me to make sure the manuscript fit into the structure of a picture book. Illustrators use a dummy to test their ideas for pictures, since I’m not an illustrator mine are usually text only–unless my granddaughter is handy, then she will provide the pictures.

Picture books are comprised of 32 pages, but did you know that at least two, and sometimes up to eight of those pages are not available for your story or illustrations? If you are not sure how the pages lay out in a picture book, hop over to Tara Lazar’s site ( and click on her picture book structure post. It will show you exactly how many pages you have to work with and how they line up.

Making a dummy of the picture book manuscript I have been revising over and over taught me the importance of pacing, page turns, and carefully chosen words. When I imagined the illustrations that would eventually accompany my text, I found words and sentences that would simply be a repetition of the illustration. Bam— entire sentences—gone!

One of the most enlightening parts of the exercise was seeing which sentences would be opposite each other on a two page spread. I ended up rearranging some of them so they would both tie into a single illustration. These changes also improved the read aloud quality of the manuscript.  In some places I added words when I realized that readers may not interpret my words that same way I do. An added bonus for me—it was the perfect proof-reading activity.

Recopying my words onto the pages highlighted the places where words, usually articles—a , an, or the—had  been lost during multiple revisions. I have read the manuscript over and over and never picked up on the missing words, even when reading it aloud.

I have no idea whether or not an editor or illustrator would put the page breaks in the same places that I did. But I know that going through the process helped me improve my manuscript’s chances of catching the eye of an agent or editor.

Happy writing!

Have you signed up for PiBoIdMo yet?


Do you like to write picture books? If so, head on over to Tara Lazar’s website and sign up for PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month). During November, participants come up with 30 picture book ideas, one for each day of the month. Created six years ago, the website’s daily posts from writers, agents, and editors during PiBoIdMo are full of ideas, motivation, and inspiration for those who love to write picture books. The challenge is completely on the honor system, with the real prize being a notebook full of ideas and the inspiration to transform the best into full picture book manuscripts. It’s free, but the advice found in the posts is priceless. Take the challenge…I did!