A behind-the-scenes look at WIDE-AWAKE BEAR. And, a GIVEAWAY.

Wide-Awake Bear“What process do you follow to write your stories?” I’ve heard that question more frequently as I’ve sold more picture books, and I never quite know how to answer.

The people asking usually look as if they’re waiting for a golden ticket to inspiration.

Like, maybe I’ll say that I always walk three times around my living room, stand on one foot, hum the “Star-Spangled Banner” and then run to the computer to start writing before the muse I’ve conjured flies away. Then, they can do the same and wait for their own inspiration to strike.

When I tell the truth – that I don’t have a specific writing process – they seem disappointed. But, trust me. I’m doing them a favor. If they knew how things really go down, they might give up writing altogether. I’m a little haphazard.

But, just for you, in honor of my newest picture book, WIDE-AWAKE BEAR, being released by HarperCollins Jan. 2 with illustrations by Jean Kim, I am pulling back the curtain and sharing my process, such as it is. Here’s how I wrote this book:*

Step One: Have a cranky child.

My daughter, who inspired WIDE-AWAKE BEAR and SOPHIE’S SQUASH.

Many years ago, my youngest daughter was happily napping on the couch. When I woke her to take her to volleyball practice, she had a world-class meltdown. There was wailing, tears and shouting. I tossed her into the car and took her anyway. Afterward, when she was calm, I asked, “What was THAT all about?” Her response? “I was a hibernating bear. You woke me up, and I went into a bear frenzy.” (Author’s note: Is that not the best response ever? I love this kid.)

Step Two: Forget about that adorable incident.

I filed that wonderful remark under the category of “Cool Stuff My Kid Has Said” and went about my business. For many years.

Step Three: Be bored on a plane.

On a plane ride home from Yellowstone Park, where I was disappointed I hadn’t seen a bear, I thought I should use the flying time to do something productive. So I grabbed a notepad and pen and wrote a story about a bear cub who wakes up in the middle of winter and goes into a bear frenzy.

Step Four: Listen to your critique group say, “Meh.”

I shared this story with my critique group and got a lukewarm response. They thought the bear cub got too cranky and deserved a timeout. They also didn’t understand why he got so angry.

So I adjusted and reworked the story over several weeks. The title changed, and the storyline morphed into a bear cub who wakes up midwinter, gets scared and can’t fall back asleep. I shared it with some more writing friends and adjusted it even more. Then, I stopped, because I didn’t know what else to do.

Step Five: Let it sit on your desktop for a while.

I wasn’t sure the story was ready. So I worked on other things and didn’t think much about it.

Step Six: Send it to your agent on a whim.

Then, one day, I opened the file and thought, “This isn’t so bad.” (See how I just glow with self-confidence?) I sent it to my agent, hoping she might give me a few ideas so I could work on it some more. But she thought it was ready to go, sent it out and it sold in about three weeks. That’s my quickest sale ever.

So, there you have it. How to write and sell a picture book in six simple steps. You know just what to do now, right? (And, yes, my daughter who inspired this story is the same kid who inspired SOPHIE’S SQUASH. No, you may not borrow her.)

I told another writer about my lack of a process, and she said, “You do have a process. It’s organic!” And, she is absolutely right, because I’ve never once used pesticides in any of my books.

If there’s anything to learn from my post, it’s that everyone’s process is different. As long as you find something that works for you, you’ll be fine. If you’re not seeing the results you want and feel like your process may be fault, try a few different things.

  • Be haphazard – I mean organic – like me.
  • Be super-organized like another writer I know who sets her timer for 45-minute chunks and logs her writing minutes in a chart posted on her office door.
  • Try writing mornings or evenings to see if something works better. Try different locations, too.
  • Try standing on one foot in your living room and humming the national anthem. (Hey, it could work.)

Chances are something will seem more appealing to you and you’ll be well on your way to finding your own inspiration.

And now: A GIVEAWAY

If you’d like the chance to win a signed copy of WIDE-AWAKE BEAR, just leave a comment on this post. After a week, I’ll pick a random winner.

And, if you aren’t the winner, or if you just can’t wait to see if you are, you can order the book from your local indie bookstore or find it online here or here.

If you order it from this Madison, Wisconsin bookstore and write a message in the special instructions box, I’ll sign it before the store sends it to you.

Happy reading. And may you always sleep peacefully.

*Disclaimer: This post originally ran on Tara Lazar’s wonderful blog: Writing for Kids While Raising Them. Thanks, Tara, for asking me to join you way back when. (And if you’re looking for more picture books to read, check out Tara’s latest, 7 ATE 9. It’s hilarious.)

74 Comments:

  1. I often go into a bear frenzy too. I can totally relate! Thanks for the chance to win….I imagine some of my second graders can relate as well!

  2. I think young writers need to realize that even the professionals can struggle with the writing process. I will share your story with my students and let them know what your writing process looks like and that it is probably very different than another children’s book writer. Thanks for the chance to win Wide Awake Bear. I will enjoy sharing it with my students who love anything “bear”.

  3. I read this on Tara’s blog and STILL laughed out loud this second time through. Many times. There’s only one you, Pat! 🙂

  4. Sounds cute! I like that term, bear frenzy. Please enter me in the drawing! I think my
    sleepyheaded grandkids will love this book.

  5. Cannot wait to add this to my collection of your books (yes I buy all your books. I’m a collector, not a stalker). Love hearing about your process!

  6. “Listen to your critique group say Meh”…priceless! Great post. Looking forward to reading about the frenzy!

  7. Adorable post, Pat! Can’t wait to read the book.

  8. Fun post! Congratulations on your new book! Somehow I missed this on Tara’s blog.

  9. We love Sophie and her squash and I’m sure we’re going to love the little bear too. Can’t wait to read it. I love the story of how it came to be. Thanks!

  10. What a fun post! Thanks for sharing your process and inspiration for this story. I look forward to reading it!

  11. Thank you for sharing your “process.” I’m relieved to hear I don’t have to stand on one foot as balance is not “my thing.” This post made me think about what events and activities in my day-to-day life has generated story ideas. Everything from things my children have said to things I’ve stepped in while walking the dog. While not always pretty, it often makes a great story! I can’t wait to read this book!

  12. Loved hearing the story behind the story. And your daughter’s adorable! Thanks for sharing!

  13. A bear frenzy! That is what my grandson does when I have to wake him up! Maybe he needs to read this book. 🙂 Adorable! Congratulations!

  14. I just love this…thanks for sharing Pat!

  15. Thank goodness for good ideas that get turned into great ideas – thank you critique partners!, and thank you to our kids and grand kids who inspire us. Love this post – thank you for that too! Congrats!

  16. I love your honesty and your great sense of humor! Thanks for sharing!

  17. This sounds terrific, Pat! And I love the cover art.

  18. From GGRRRRROOOOWWWWLLL to Grrrrreeaaat! Love the (organic) origin story!

  19. Congratulations on another gem, Pat. And kudos to the kid who inspired it! 🙂

  20. I love this and love seeing what you have done since the EJK Award!

  21. Fun post today. I laughed about your daughter’s responses and it brought back memories of when I used to write down funny things my kids said. Now to remember where I put my notes…. Thanks for sharing how this book became published and I will enjoy reading it as I know your sense of humor is within the covers.

  22. Pat, I love hearing the inspiration and formation stories for each of your books! It’s even more fun reading them knowing how you got to the final product.

  23. By organic, it means…you’ve got great soil! People can just throw seeds your way…and Wa La! something delicious will grow. Who knows what the next seed might produce?? A rabbit’s rapaciousness? I, too, have bought all your books so will add this one to my list for the grandchildren.

  24. Pat, I love hearing the stories of inspiration and formulation for each of your books. It makes it even more special when reading them.

  25. Thanks, Pat, for sharing this book’s journey. It’s been fun watching your daughters grow up.

  26. Inspiration comes from all sorts of places and situations (I am cranky if I am awakened from a sound sleep, so I can relate). What writers must do is allow their minds to be open to the possibilities.

  27. I get insomnia. Maybe this book will help me too. I think picture book writers are the only authors that want their readers to fall asleep.

  28. Love hearing the background story, Pat!! Congrats on what sounds like another award-winning title :)!

  29. Thank you, Pat, for sharing your organic process and for validating the idea that there is no one process that fits all. It took me way too long to finally learn this truth. I do so look forward to adding a new book to your books in my collection!

  30. This post really made me chuckle. As an aspiring writer I appreciate the honesty, and can relate to those wonderfully inspiring moments with my children. Happy holidays!

  31. As a former English major, I am green with envy! You have the perfect full-time and part time careers!! I would love to have this book for a special little someone who is not here yet!

  32. It’s always fun to read your posts. Your humor is so refreshing for the soul. Congrats on what looks to be another great book.

  33. Kathleen Mazurowski

    I just love your process and inspiration. Thanks for sharing. Can’t wait to read it.

  34. Thank you for sharing this post with me. It’s not hard for me imagine your teenager (won’t mention her name) as an adorable young child.

  35. Thank you for sharing Pat. love your humor.

  36. Great post, couldn’t stop laughing! Can’t for this book.

  37. Can’t wait to check this out! Thanks for the inspiring post, Pat!

  38. Can’t wait to eat this one. I agree, Sophie needs to be in on your contacts!

  39. Now, even though I’m hungry, I do not intend to eat the book. Sometimes I read as if devouring books, but this was another digital mishap on my part. sorry.

  40. I love the part about this selling in about three weeks. Congratulations!

  41. Your beautiful daughter reminds me of my daughter Ash, who has also had her wonderful share of memorable bear frenzies!!

  42. Wonderful list. Thanks for this post. The books looks like a sweet one.

  43. It warms my heart to hear your writing process is as organic as mine is.

  44. Wide Awake Bear looks perfect for a small grandchild I know

  45. Looks like another great book. I would love to win this for my daughter to share with her kindergarten students.

  46. Thanks for sharing your process…or sort of process. So good to know that I’m not the only one who searches for that muse sometimes. Can’t wait to read your newest book!

  47. Great fun, Pat! Both the book and the peek. Can’t wait to read it.

  48. Stacy Digianantonio

    This book looks adorable! I can’t wait to read it!

  49. Love the post, Pat! Sonia is a hoot! I can’t wait to see this book in print. 🙂

  50. A new writing buddy of mine told me she writes best on an airplane. I just tried this and came up with what just might become a great piece. So fun to hear that this book was born in the clouds too!

  51. Can you go into a bear frenzy on one foot? That would be something. Congrats on the new book. See, ideas come from anywhere and everywhere!

  52. Can you go into a bear frenzy on one foot? See, ideas come from anywhere and everywhere. Co0ngrats on the new book.

  53. I enjoyed the peek into your writing process. Thanks!

  54. I love the idea of a bear frenzy. I wonder if it would work with other animals as well, standing on one foot or maybe jumping up and down.

  55. Thank you for sharing a behind the scenes look for WIDE-AWAKE BEAR. Your six step writing process = success.

  56. See, I just tried to ignore those things and hope they never happened again. I should have been mentally and physically cataloging every incident as prospective story fodder. Who knew?!

  57. Pat,
    I really enjoyed hearing about how you came to write Wide Awake Bear! It was so interesting! I can’t wait to get a copy of it. Congrats!

  58. Stephanie Bass Faust

    thanks for sharing your process. I have had a few cranky bears in my years as well.

  59. Stephanie Bass Faust

    Thanks for sharing your process with us. I look forward to more stories!.

  60. I love the story about the story–made me laugh and think at the same time. Thanks so much.

  61. Sheryl Klein Aronson

    Thanks for the beary cute look at your process. I look forward to reading this new pesticide-free book. Maybe what Wide-Awake Bear learned in solving his problem can help me. Now, I need to get my husband to tuck me in and read it to me…

  62. How organic! Maybe there’s still hope for me. I’m gonna keep trying — and keep listening to you! Thanks!

  63. Love the advice at the end of “may you always sleep peacefully” 🙂

  64. I’d love to win, I love your books!

  65. Pat, You’ve given me the inspiration I need to start sending out the manuscripts that fall into the category of: I-don’t-know-if-they-are-ready-but-I-can’t-think-of-anything-to-add.

    Thank you!

  66. Pat- I enjoyed the post on Tara’s blog and I loved the refresher. Positive reinforcement is always worth remembering!
    Thanks!

  67. Love hearing about a writer’s process! So many different ways to tap creativity. Looking forward to reading this book!

  68. Concept to contract posts are my favorite! Thanks for sharing your journey!

  69. Thank you for sharing! I can totally identify with the hibernating bear frenzy. Kids are so smart!!!

  70. Love your sense of humor! For me, that definitely helps the writing process. 🙂

  71. I love your organic style!

  72. I knew I should have been taking notes when my kid spoke.

  73. Excited to read this to my kids!

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