On November 20, 2014, the following guest post by me was featured on Tara Lazar’s Picture Book Idea Month (PiBoIdMo) blog.
Everything I know about writing picture books, I learned from animals.
Animals make great picture book characters. Just ask the Very Hungry Caterpillar. And animals offer authors and illustrators eight B’s of inspiration for creating PBs:
Be a sponge.
Soak up everything around you. View, listen, sniff, taste, and feel. Watch people (in public, not with a telescope from your house), read books (especially picture books), and watch TV and movies. Take notes. Even the most mundane situations can unexpectedly feed your muse.
Be a sharktopus.
OK, that’s not a real animal, but I’m making a point here, people. Combine elements into unlikely (and therefore hilarious) pairs, as in Doreen Cronin’s Click Clack Moo: Cows That Type. Practice riffing on the things you soak up. I did a classroom reading where this boy had a torn-up sneaker. I thought, picture book title: The Boy With Exploding Sneakers. Let your creativity run free.
Be a honey badger.
Have no fear. Don’t be scared to put words to paper. Don’t flee from constructive criticism. Don’t be afraid of rejection. They all line the path to traditional publication. Honey badger don’t care, and neither should you! Get outside your comfort zone.
Be a dung beetle.
Be tenacious, even on crappy days. Becoming published isn’t easy. But it won’t happen if you stop trying. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a one step. Revise, revise, revise. But remember that perfect can be the enemy of good enough. At some point, you need to submit!
Be an armadillo.
You need to be thick-skinned and learn to roll with the punches. Understand that a publisher’s or agent’s rejection isn’t personal, but it is highly subjective. Many great works of literature were rejected repeatedly before being published, so you’re in good company.
Be an ant.
No man is an island, and no ant is a bridge. Teamwork is your best friend. Take advantage of critique groups to hone your craft. Join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) to develop a support network. Leverage social media to connect with fellow writers. You’re not alone.
Be a hagfish.
Be flexible enough to incorporate helpful feedback. But feel free to ignore feedback that doesn’t resonate with your gut. Follow the rules, but recognize that they can be broken when the result is a success. Drew Daywalt’s The Day the Crayons Quit is a picture book with over 1,000 words and inanimate characters. But it’s also a New York Times bestseller.
Be a peacock spider.
Male peacock spiders don’t just have stunning colors. They have a delightfully entertaining mating dance (think MC Hammer’s “Can’t Touch This”). They show the ladies some enthusiasm! They wear their passion on their, er, sleeves. Writing is also an act of passion. Write about what you love. Have fun writing. Write the story that is inside you, trying to get out. But hopefully not like a chestburster from Alien, or Ian Ziering in the final scene of Sharknado.
Be a cat.
Cats are lucky. They always land on their feet, and have nine lives.
There’s an expression, “luck favors the prepared.” Working at the other eight B’s is the best way to earn some luck. Good luck to you!