It’s April and since we’re trapped indoors with our thoughts, now’s a good time to start prepping for NaPiBoWriWee! What’s NaPiBoWriWee, you ask? It’s a writing challenge called National Picture Book Writing Week that’s held during the first week of May where participants write seven picture book manuscripts in seven days. NaPiBoWriWee was founded by the brilliant and prolific Paula Yoo, author of many wonderful children’s books including GOOD ENOUGH and the Lee & Low titles LILY’S NEW HOME, WANT TO PLAY?, and THE PERFECT GIFT. You can learn more about NaPiBoWriWee by checking out its archive here.
Update 4/6/20: Since writing this post, it’s been announced that 2020 NaPiBoWriWee is postponed. While this news is disappointing, it doesn’t mean you can’t start preparing! Keep reading this post so when NaPiBoWriWee does arrive, you’ll be ready. *thumbs up emoji*
I know what you’re thinking: Seven picture books in seven days? That sounds awesome but unrealistic. Where would a writer like me begin?? Fear not, writer! I had the same apprehensions, so I wrote this blog post as a way to process and prepare for the event. I’ve assembled seven steps to get ready for the NaPiBoWriWee challenge and like I said before, we’re trapped indoors with our thoughts for the next several weeks so let’s turn your apprehension into action!
STEP 1: Create Content
First, we need content for seven picture books. Now is the time to figure out if those new story ideas you’ve been flirting with are picture books in the making. It’s also time to revisit your ideas that have fallen to the wayside for different reasons. Dust them off and decide if they’re still contenders. Does the idea need a little time and attention? Can you tweak what wasn’t working in your previous draft and get it operational?
Make a list of all your picture book ideas and rank them. Put the storylines you’re most excited to write at the top and put the least exciting ideas at the bottom. We only have seven days to crank out seven manuscripts. With limited time for each story, we need to bring passion and energy to each project. With this in mind, select the seven stories you want to write for the week.
STEP 2: Outline!
Some people see the word “outline” and they groan, so think of this step as exploring your story ideas instead of outlining them. For this step you’ll need a blank piece of paper or a fresh page in your writer’s notebook. Now write down EVERYTHING you know about this picture book idea. Here are some questions to ask yourself:
What’s the story about? (Who is the main character? What’s their goal? What’s in their way?)
What’s the story About? (What is the heart of the story?)
What are the major plot points?
Who are the major characters?
What’s the setting?
The point of this exercise is to have all of your information about your story in one place. We also want to think about these fundamental elements now to make your writing experience easier when NaPiBoWriWee comes. Repeat Step 2 for all seven story ideas.
STEP 3: Assess
Now that you’ve fleshed out these ideas a bit more, take a good look at them. Make sure you want them to be picture books and that none of these ideas is actually the kernel of a much longer work. There’s nothing like setting off to write a picture book manuscript and realizing halfway through the journey that you actually want this story idea to be a high-fantasy middle grade novel. It’s better to have this realization now in the preparation stages and not during NaPiBoWriWee!
STEP 4: Schedule
Now let’s put our outlines to the side and pull out our planners. Turn to the month of May and look at what you have going on between May 1-7 (or whenever the week of NaPiBoWriWee will be this year). Consider your schedule and daily responsibilities then block out time each day for writing each picture book manuscript. Be mindful. Think about your process. Are you someone who wants to devote a large chunk of time to writing or break up your writing time into smaller bites? I’m working from home these days, and I like to keep my regular 9 to 5 schedule. This means that I need to plan my writing time around my work hours. I’ve found that having a Plan A write time and a Plan B write time ensures that I fit my writing time in every day. For example, I plan to write between the hours of 8:00-9:00 a.m. the week of NaPiBoWriWee, but if something happens and I’m unable to stick to that time on a certain day, I’ve blocked off the 9:30-10:30 p.m. for writing, too. I don’t plan to write during both time slots each day, but the evening one is there just in case something comes up that keeps me from writing in the morning.
STEP 5: Deal with Details
Spend some time dealing with the details of your writing process so your work station can be ready when you are. Start making preparations now so that setting up your ideal work station doesn’t eat up your precious writing time during NaPiBoWriWee. Ask yourself:
Do I want to type my story on a computer or write it free hand?
Where am I going to write? Will this space be available every day, all week long?
Do I have my playlist ready to go? Will I use the same playlist for each project? (Personally, I like to build different playlists for different story ideas to help keep me in the head space of a particular project.)
What else do I need to tune into my writing process quickly?
Dealing with the details now will allow you to make the most of your writing time.
STEP 6: Ponder your Projects
Take these next few weeks to ponder your projects during your downtime. Use the time that you spend brushing your teeth, folding laundry, making your bed, and tidying to waddle around in one of your picture-book stories. Juggle the projects in your head. Spend time with each one so when the moment comes to sit down and write the story, you’ve turned around the story’s elements in your mind recently. Jot down any thoughts you have about a certain story idea between now and NaPiBoWriWee on its appropriate paper from Step 2.
DURING NaPiBoWriWee, the night before you start your next picture book story idea, look over your one-page outline. This way you can chew on the project overnight and when the moment comes to actually write the story, you don’t have to spend time reacquainting yourself with the project. This should make pivoting between different stories day after day a little easier.
STEP 7: Treat Yo Self!
Incentive is an effective motivator. Honestly, even with a plan laid out, I don’t always follow through and deliver on my goals. Sometimes I have to dangle a shiny carrot at the end of the stick to help kick my butt into gear. I also find that rewarding myself for reaching my goals works better for me than criticizing myself when I fall short of those goals. This year for NaPiBoWriWee, I plan to treat myself to two picture books I’ve had my eye on for a while. They’re already in my virtual Barnes & Noble shopping cart so when the sun sets on the last day of NaPiBoWriWee, I can click BUY and secure my well-earned prize.
As you consider your reward system, take some time to set achievable goals. By achievable goals I mean manageable goals designed to motivate you, not intimidate you. The ultimate goal of NaPiBoWriWee is not to deliver 7 polished manuscripts. It’s about crushing perfectionism and putting words on the page. This year, my goal is to have first drafts of 5 picture book manuscripts by the end of NaPiBoWriWee. If I finish between 3-4 manuscripts, I’ll be thrilled. Even if I only write one manuscript during the week, it’s one more than I had the week before; so that’s a win!
Think about why you’re doing NaPiBoWriWee and what you want from the experience. Set 1-3 goals for yourself and decide what you’ll treat yourself to when you achieve those goals. Grab some index cards or sticky notes and write down your goals in bright & bold colors. Put your goals in places where you can’t avoid looking at them. You can tape them next to your writing station, or to the corner of your bathroom mirror, or the cabinet above the kitchen sink, or the window by your bed. Keeping your goals in sight, keeps them in mind. Sometimes I set writing goals in the heat of an inspired moment but the next day, when that passion has subsided and Life happens, I let those goals get pushed to the back burner. Writing and displaying my goals helps me recapture that passionate inspired moment and keep my creative goals sizzling in the forefront of my mind.
“This is about encouraging everyone to write EVERY DAY no matter what. It’s a fun exercise to combat procrastination.” –Paula Yoo
I hope these 7 steps will serve as a jumping off point as you consider the great and wonderful undertaking that is NaPiBoWriWee. I participate in it because I enjoy a challenge, but more importantly I want to walk away from the week with a positive experience, better writing habits, and more of my stories out of my head and on the page than I had the week before. Wishing you great productivity in the weeks ahead!
To learn more about NaPiBoWriWee, visit https://napibowriwee.com/about/