Where Does a New Writer Start (part 3)

I'm continuing a series where I respond to a new writer who wanted advice on how to get started  writing picture books. Check out part 1 and part 2 also! 

"I’m not sure which category my voice fits in."
I struggle with this as well. My voice is probably a 12-year-old boy. Yet, I'm not focusing on a MG novel. Why not?  Because I made a choice to focus on picture books, though I play with MG stories on the side. I chose not to write Mom pieces for parenting magazines or nonfiction stories for nature magazines or steamy romance for paperback. I could write in these areas, but there is only so much time and focus is key.

So when you're starting out, write a boat load of different things. If your only idea is for a middle grade novel, then by all means start there.  Otherwise, dabble for a while with short stories aimed at different ages.  Maybe your voice will tell you which it likes best. Or maybe it won't.  Now pick a genre and focus for awhile.  Picture books are a different beast than middle grade short stories or YA trilogies. But, you will learn the craft of writing through any of these as long as you write a lot.
Finding where your voice fits and
your heart belongs can take
some time.
(image by leonardini via sxc.hu)

Read a lot so you can learn what's happening in each genre today, not what you were exposed to as a child.  Consider writing what you love to read, because you'll know that market the best. If you don't have children at home or don't work at a school, know that writing picture books will require you to go the library and read a lot of picture books.  Does that interest you?
So that's my post 3 post response to "where do I start?"  
The question wasn't "how do I grow once I get started?" which involves a much longer answer... 

You'll notice I haven't mentioned taking picture book classes, attending conferences, or joining in all the fun of the writing community online (PiBoIdMo, NaPiBoWriWee, Write on Con, Rate Your Story...)

I haven't even suggested joining a critique group. *murmuring erupts across cyberspace*  Why? Because critique groups are a two way street. When you are first starting, you don't have much to contribute back.  Once you have a handful of manuscripts and say 6 months under your belt, look for a critique group. You'll need to have read a few books so you can critique with at least a basic knowledge of what makes a good picture book.

I also didn't say anything about your author platform.  I started blogging shortly after I started writing, though I can't remember how I fell into it. I have grown significantly through it, and it allowed me to connect with writers who have been incredibly supportive. I have enjoyed it, but it can be a distraction or even drudgery if you aren't ready for it. So same advice - just write for awhile, then if blogging appeals to you, go for it. 

So there you have it! The answers (as I see them) to the questions most newbie writers have as they are frantically treading water in sea of words.  

What advice do you have for our new writer?  Please share in the comments so we can all learn!


  1. I agree with you about reading, and then writing about whatever one finds gets the butterflies to launch. Oh and I think being protective of the writing time I do find/have is significant for me. And by protective I mean turning off the internet. :) I've gotten pretty good at tuning out some things--like kitchen timers (I've boiled dry several pots), but the internet is not good when I want to get words on the page. :) This is a great series, Lauri!

    1. It's so easy to tell yourself the tweeting and facebook is part of the writing! But really only the words on the paper matter.

  2. When you say boat load, are you referring to Titanic size? Queen Mary? Or will a generic kayak do the trick? ;-)

    Great summary post!

    1. Well, if a kayak load does the trick, then that's it! Or you may need to write some poetry, some steamy romance, some picture books, a middle grade short story, some dystopian YA, non-fiction, and articles about how to make ice cream from a frozen banana before you find your calling... I suppose that would be approximately a submarine full, no?

  3. Great advice! I want to write long, detailed, YA superhero books, but I'm only 11 (and 1/2!). ;)

    1. Well, if that's what you like to read then you can write it! I don't let not being 5, stop me from writing picture books:D

  4. Excellent post. Voice is a tricky thing, and I agree with you. Write a boatload, find voice, characters, story and all of that while experimenting. I think sometimes we are surprised when we do find the right writing voice, and it ends up being a very natural fit.

    1. Aha, is that how you have so effortlessly (at least that's how it seems from the outside!) written your 35,000 words? The right story and right voice came together to make your writing feel natural and lovely.


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