writing picture books

I’m currently in the process of writing some picture books. I started writing them at different times and they’re at different stages of completion but this last week I’ve been working on all three of them at once. It’s been making me reflect on my creative process because although all three books are in rhyme and are a roughly similar length, writing each of them has been a very different experience.

frosted tree

The first book came at me out of nowhere. I wanted to write something for #ThePrompt over at MumTurnedMom and the theme that week was ‘Books’. When I sat down to write, the whole story appeared in a couple of hours. It just flowed and without any real effort I had a story about a girl who wouldn’t read. Of course, I’ve spent masses of time since editing it, re-editing it and editing it again but the entire story and structure basically happened in that first couple of hours of inspiration.

Book two actually came off the back of book one. There were a few lines (now edited out) where the girl read “Her latest book about a magic biscuit cook, whose fresh, enchanted custard creams were sure to give her sweetest dreams.” The lines didn’t make the cut but I rather liked the idea of a magic biscuit cook and decided to write a story about one.

This time round I had a reasonable idea of what the story would be before I started writing it. I also made a deliberate decision about the meter of the rhyme as I wanted it to be different from my first book. The story and the characters came into focus as I wrote it, but getting the first draft down was a lot harder work. I had to think about it and work it out and once I’d finished it I had several versions which were quite different in terms of length and story complexity. I’m currently trying to work out which version I prefer.

Book three is a whole different beast all together. The inspiration for this was my son responding to a question with “I’ve absolutely no idea”. For some reason this triggered in my head  the line “He’d absolutely no idea if aliens can even hear.” which in turn made me think ‘I know, I’ll write a book about a boy who meets some aliens!’ Of course the idea is hardly earth-shattering in originality so I then had a big think about what sort of book it would be (humorous but thoughtful) and what precisely would happen during the story in terms of key events and character development. At this point a few rhyming couplets popped into my head which gave the story its rhythm.

That was about two months ago and I’ve been writing it on and off ever since. It’s still nowhere near complete. It’s a very slow process (given the length that the finished piece will be) and I’m finding it really tricky. I’ve found myself wondering if it would be better in prose rather than verse… but then I’ve got little stretches of it that I love because of the rhythm and the pace the rhyme gives them. I have a funny feeling that if I can get this one right it will be the best of the three but I have no idea if I can pull it off at all.

So there you have it: three little stories with three very different creative processes.

Do you find your process differs between projects? What brings about the changes? Do you have a preferred way of working?

I’m sharing this with Friday Fiction as it’s the closest I’ll get to sharing extracts from any of these books! Also linking to the Wonderful World of Writing at Virtually All sorts.

Nikki Young Writes

10 thoughts on “writing picture books

  1. Emily Organ

    I’m very impressed by anyone who can write in verse, it’s something which completely eludes me! And I can imagine that in a picture book every single word counts so there’s pressure to get it right. Obviously that’s true in a novel as well, but when there are 90,000 words it’s not as critical. And also because picture books are designed to be read aloud you must always be be conscious of how that will work. I don’t envy you! The themes of your books sound good though, a magic biscuit cook definitely sounds interesting to me! I think I’m still trying to find the writing process which works for me, I’m getting there though. And it’s the sort of thing no one else can teach you either, you have to work it out for yourself.

    1. Maddy Post author

      I very much feel like I’m in the ‘working it out’ phase at the moment! I wonder if i’ll ever leave that phase since it feels like there is always something new to learn. Writing in verse is a funny thing – sometimes I find it quite easy – when I get in the flow of it my brain starts to rhyme everything! – but other times it can be quite tough. I like working on projects with smaller word counts though. You’re right about the pressure but it also feels less unwieldy! Thanks for commenting Emily. xx

  2. Nicola Young

    Thanks for sharing your creative process, Maddie. I think that most people would say the same, that sometimes inspiration will hit and you struggle to get the words down, whereas other times you find yourself staring at the walls wondering if your creative muse has gone on holiday. One thing I always do, is give my characters a life – a whole back-story. Then I get to know them and their capabilities and it helps when it comes to writing the scenes that they feature in.

    1. Maddy Post author

      I like the idea of giving characters a back story. It’s something I’ve tried with my novel but not with the picture books. Maybe I’ll try it with my Aliens one – you never know, it might help! xx

  3. Mummy Tries

    I really enjoy your rhymes and am so looking forward to reading your stories. I’m confident that you will find a way to pull it off! It’s funny how inspiration comes in bursts isn’t it – mine has officially left the building, but I’m sure it’ll come back soon (bloody hope so anyway!) xxx

  4. Carol Cameleon

    OOh now you’ve got me thinking – do my processes differ depending on the project? Well, yes they do as it happens. I’m with you on the rhyming front, if I’m hit with inspiration, it just flows. Prose is much the same when inspiration strikes but interestingly. I much prefer writing with simple paper, a comfy pen (or pencil depending on the mood), then for reworking it’s post-its and highlighter. The change tends to happen when I read my work aloud or simply go back to it the next day. I find that if I leave more than a day to read aloud, the zing has gone and I sometimes have to claw it back. Thanks for linking up to #WonderfulWorldofWriting Maddy :)

    1. Maddy Post author

      I think that’s why I’m struggling with the third book Carol – the process is so slow that I’ve yet to really get on a roll and capture my ‘zing’! xx

  5. Chrissie

    I remember the first book flowing – you’ve kept the third one a bit of a hidden gem ;-).
    My creative process is throw it all at the page and hope something sticks. Much like my life, actually. x

    1. Maddy Post author

      I hope it’s a hidden gem rather than a hidden, um, turd?! I think I need to ‘throw it all at the page’ a bit more with it actually. It might help. Thanks Chrissie. xx


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