Friends – This is my last post with Picture Book Builders, and I want you to know how grateful I am to have spent two wonderful years with you – celebrating words, art, storytelling, and our collective love of children’s books!
By now, you know how much I love tips, which I’ve woven into most of my blog posts. So, I’m happy to share my favorite writing tip of all.
But first, some background…
I wrote my first picture book, THE WAY THE STORM STOPS (2003), during a raging thunderstorm. I woke up in the middle of the night because it felt like our house was falling down. Thunder boomed, lightning flashed, and everything shook. So, I went to check on my young son. I wondered what he was thinking with all the noise around us.
When I went to his room, I found him curled up in a little ball on his bed, peeking out from under the covers. I scooped him up, brought him back to the rocking chair in my bedroom, rocked him, and sang to him. It didn’t take long before he fell fast asleep.
Then I thought: Wow – he feels warm and safe enough to fall asleep in my arms even though this storm is still booming. This is the way the storm stops for a young child. And I thought about a lot of other things, like how I loved this kid with all my heart.
I put my son (still sleeping!) down on the bed right near me. I grabbed a pen and notepad from my nightstand. I set out to capture the emotion of what just happened, and I let the sounds of the night guide me.
On my windowpane….
The next morning, I typed up my scribbles (109 words) and sent the manuscript to several publishers.
As the saying goes, it only takes one “Yes”! Two months after I sent the manuscript out, I got a phone message from Christy Ottaviano, an editor at Henry Holt and Company at the time. She said: “I’m calling about THE WAY THE STORM STOPS. I love it. Call me back!”
It was an exciting time. The main character became a little girl in the book, and illustrator Rosanne Litzinger did a beautiful job with the art. After the book came out, I was always blown away when I met very young children who could recite the book word for word.
Over the years, I wrote many more manuscripts. Rejection letters piled up. What in the world had I done? And would I ever do it again?
Anne Lamott puts it just right in BIRD BY BIRD when she says, “Very few writers really know what they are doing until they’ve done it.”
One day, I participated in an author book signing event where I met the amazing author and poet Eloise Greenfield (1929-2021). I told her the whole story. I explained how I wrote STORM sitting in a rocking chair by my bedroom window. I said, “So, I got one book published, but I can’t seem to do it again. What do you think?” She listened very carefully and said right away: “You’ve got to get back to the window.”
We didn’t discuss it. I didn’t ask questions. Over time, I interpreted it for myself. And I’ve always carried that advice with me as my favorite writing tip. I brought my whole self to that first book, including my deepest emotions + my unique way of seeing the world + a child’s point of view.
In WRITING DOWN THE BONES, Natalie Goldberg says “Writers live twice. They go along with their regular life, are as fast as anyone at the grocery store, crossing the street, getting dressed for work in the morning. But there’s another part of them…the one that lives everything a second time, that sits down and goes over it, looks at the texture and details. In a rainstorm, everyone quickly runs down the street with umbrellas, raincoats, and newspapers over their heads. Writers go back outside in the rain with a notebook in front of them and a pen in hand…”
I think that’s what we do. For everything I write, I try to get back to the window.
These days, life can be so challenging as the pandemic drags on and on. My goals are to keep showing love, respect, and compassion to my friends and family, to keep latching on to the bright spots and every ray of hope I can find, and to keep telling stories from the heart.
I am really excited to end this year with some magical book news. Here’s the Publishers Weekly announcement for one of my forthcoming books: MAXI WIZ AND HER DRAGON. Because we all need a little magic in our lives, right?!
Whatever your goals are for 2022, I’m rooting for you!
Sending you warm wishes for a safe, positive, creative, and happy new year!
Thanks to the Web, you always know where to find me:
What an inspiring post, Michelle. “You’ve got to get back to the window.” I’m going to be pondering that one for a while. And your magic formula: “my deepest emotions + my unique way of seeing the world + a child’s point of view.” Wow. I’ll miss reading your posts here. Best wishes on your journey.
Thank you so much for sharing your inspiration and journey, Michelle. And congratulations on all of your success. Your formula is brilliant. 🙂
Congratulations on the forthcoming books! I love your tip and the quote from Goldberg. Best wishes for your next chapter.
Congratulations and thank you for sharing your journey and inspiring us!
Thanks so much for this post! It’s a beautiful piece of advice–“Get back to the window” combined with “my deepest emotions + my unique way of seeing the world + a child’s point of view.” I’m struggling right now to write a new story that is a good as the story that was just accepted for publication. Look forward to reading Maxi Wiz and her Dragon!
Thank you for such an inspiring post, and thank you for your wonderful stories. Best wishes on your writing journey!
Congrats on your newest books, Michelle, and what a treat to meet and get great advice from Eloise Greenfield! All the best as you move on to more after this blog stint. Ty.
What a lovely tip to end your time at Picture Book Builders. Bring my whole self into my writing, though you said that far more beautifully. Thanks for your passion and your posts. Yay Maxi!
I am looking forward to your books Michelle and I thank you for your helpful and inspiring posts here!
What a beautiful post. “You have to get back to the window” sounds like good advice for me, too. Congratulations on your upcoming books!
I have so enjoyed your posts the past two years and will miss them dearly!
Thank you for this inspiring post, Michelle, and best wishes to you as you move forward. Congratulations on MAXI WIZ AND HER DRAGON!
Inspiring, Michelle! Thank you. I enjoyed FLYING HIGH and I’m excited to read your other books. Best wishes (to all).
Love this post so much, Michelle! I’ve experienced the Anne Lamott quote about not knowing what you’ve done until you’ve done it. Something that’s written “in the moment” is hard to recreate. I will use the “get back to the window” on myself to try to recapture those special moments. Best wishes to you on your writer’s journey.
Wise words to live by. Thank you! Best wishes for finding your future windows!
I love your writing advice, Michelle–that’s all we can do–bring our own special spin to things. Thanks for sharing your insights on the blog. Wishing you a safe & happy 2022, and congrats on your new book deal!
Congratulations, Michelle on Maxi Wiz!
Best of luck to you where ever you go.
I love this post, Michelle…and I love that snippet of a tip you received all those long years ago: Go back to the window.
Congratulations on the upcoming book…and on all of your many stories.
I’ve got to run now…right back to the window. 🙂 🙂 😉
A lovely post! Thank you!
Michelle, thank you for all the wonderful posts and for sharing your favorite writing tip–get back to the window. It reminds me to really look and see as well as dream. Congratulations on your new books! I look forward to reading them.
Great tip and great post! Thank you! And best wishes as you continue on your writing path!
Congratulations and good luck to you!
Thank you for all your writing tips as well as your light and love. I enjoyed your posts and wish you even more success in the future. 🙂
Thank you, everyone! Truly appreciate all your kind, lovely words!!
I’m running to that window right now! Figuratively anyway. Thanks for the inspiration. Nice work and lovely sentiments.
What a beautiful post to start 2022. Thank you and all the best!
How blessed your child is to have you as a mom! Blessings in the New Year! Thank you for sharing.
Congratulations on your new book deal – it sounds like it will be a wonder-filled book.
Thank you for your tips and inspiration and the reminder to bring our whole selves to the story.