Where Does a New Writer Start?

I got a question recently from a writer which basically said:
 "I'm new to writing picture books. Where do I start?"

To which I said, "You know I'm not published right?" 

But her questions reminded me of myself just a year ago. So maybe a newbie like me is a great person to lay out those first steps while they are still fresh in my mind.  

There's the short answer of course, which is to write. But wouldn't that be dreadfully snide to say to someone?  So here we go with the long answer which is going to take about 3 blog posts J

"Where do I start?"
Beyond a blank piece of paper and pencil,
joining SCBWI, creating achievable goals,
and reading are great places to start.
(Image by Constantina Dirica via sxc.hu)

Join SCBWI, the Society for Children's Books Writers and Illustrators. The first year membership fee of $85 gets you a bimonthly magazine, access to the website full of information, connections for critique groups and events in your region. This is the first step after you say, "I want to be a children's writer." You will feel different after making this commitment.

"I'm really overwhelmed."

Honestly, this is overwhelming, because you want to do something you aren't trained to do. Everything you learn will be new. This will be true for a long time. You're welcome. :D

To transition your emotion from "overwhelmed" to "happily excited," think of this time as nourishing yourself rather than putting yourself on a rocketship to publication planet.  If you get on a rocketship right now, it is more likely to end in a blazing crash than a contract. 

So why put yourself through that turmoil? Give yourself the time and space to learn and enjoy the journey. Set reasonable first year goals.  "Draft three 500 word manuscripts." "Read 200 picture books this year." 

"There is so much information out there."
Yep, there is a lot of information out there, and unfortunately it isn't all good. And you don't have time to read it all. So you need to find the good stuff. It's hard to pick a few, but let's start with:

3 books on writing for children:

It's a Bunny Eat Bunny World, by Olga Litowinsky

Writing Picture Books, By Ann Whitford Paul

3 blogs for beginners:
Harold Underdown's Site, The Purple Crayon (Harold also has the book "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Publishing Children's Books" which is very good. See how I snuck another book in!)

Kathy Temean's Writing & Illustrating.  Kathy posts daily with tidbits on the industry, craft, events, and contests. 

Cynthea Liu's Writing for Children and Teens.  (You can buy her book if you prefer the easy format but most of the information can be found by just reading through her blog). 

Next week we will look at getting organized, setting a schedule and tracking goals & actions!


  1. I love the way you are breaking all of this down. Wish I had done the same three years ago. Love the Publishing Planet reference. I'm still on line to get a seat on the rocket, but I'm saving you a seat next to me. Window or aisle?

    1. I like the window, but we can switch off during the flight. Because you know sometimes you want to see the clouds and sometimes you just need a bathroom break!

  2. Great post! And great question writer! I can't wait for post 2! :D

    1. She asked a lot of good questions - you'll see more next week!

  3. Good work laying this out to help prevent blazing rocketship crashes!

    1. Having already been captain on a crazy rocketship, I'm sure it's not the way to go!

  4. Great advice, Lauri. This would have definitely helped me when was starting out. I wish there were more resources like this for budding writers.

    1. I remember just being so worried about what the right paper was for submissions, that I completely missed the part about needing to learn the craft :)


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