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: