Seven Steps for a Productive NaPiBoWriWee

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. napi-logo-universal

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


Five Steps for Setting Achievable Goals

blog graphic from canvaJanuary is a natural time for making resolutions and setting new goals. As someone with a large appetite for creative projects, I find setting goals for myself to be an invigorating and entertaining process, but following through with these goals is much less exciting. Acknowledging this about myself led me to the question at the heart of this blog post: How do you set realistic, achievable goals that won’t fall to the wayside? Creating goals for creative side projects in particular can be very challenging when you’re juggling multiple creative pursuits alongside life’s many pressing demands. To help, I’ve listed five steps that I practice when planning goals for my professional and personal projects:

1. Assess Where You Are in Your Major and Minor Projects: I say “major” projects because us creative types tend to have a wide variety and great number of ideas we want to pursue. It helps me to separate projects into two types, major and minor. Finishing my middle grade novel is a major project. Composing a Broadway musical based on my everyday shenanigans as a publishing employee—although a huge undertaking—is a minor project. Decide which projects you want to focus on. During 2019, there’s a mix of major and minor projects I plan to develop.

2. Determine How You Want Your Projects to Grow (or in other words: VISION!): What’s the next phase for each project? Some of your major projects might be long term compared to others. For example, I finished writing the first draft of a middle grade novel last month. I’d like to see the novel published but that’s a tall order for 2019 considering there are chunks of dialogue that still need to be filled in, so I plan to focus on revising the novel and “growing” it into a second or third draft for the time being.

3. List Next Steps: Now that you know how you want to advance your project(s), sit down and list the things that need to happen so your project can reach the next phase. I’ll use my middle grade novel as an example again. Revising the novel into a presentable draft will involve the following steps: writing the missing dialogue, assessing the different plot lines, and revisiting each scene to make sure it’s essential to developing the story. By completing these steps, I’ll accomplish my goal of creating a stronger draft of my manuscript.

4. Set Due Dates and Check-ins: Take a look at the projects you plan to focus on and the steps you need to complete for each project. When creating due dates for yourself, consider the time you devote to your creative projects at present, and how that may have to change so that each project is given the attention and focus it needs for you to achieve your goal. I find that it helps to set soft due dates and hard due dates for myself. For example, let’s say I plan to submit a picture book manuscript to a writing contest that has a submissions deadline of June 1st. I’d set a soft due date for myself by planning to have the manuscript ready to send to the contest by May 1st, then set a hard due date of May 20th for myself. Setting soft due dates helps me pace myself and stagger multiple projects. Setting hard due dates help me build safety nets into my schedule so if my soft due dates prove too ambitious, I still have a chance to stay on schedule.

When I’m planning over long periods of times, it helps me to schedule check-ins. Check-ins are specific dates when I stop and assess how my projects are developing. When I have a big project that I plan to tackle over the course of a year, I arrange check-ins a few times throughout the year, for example, at the start of each season, so I can see how I’m progressing and adjust my plan accordingly.

5. Expect the Unexpected: Now matter how much we plan or how realistic and achievable our goals are, life happens. It’s a good idea to leave some wiggle room in your goal setting to accommodate curve balls in the creative process. There have been times when I planned to focus on one manuscript but had a break through with a different manuscript. When that happens I find it’s best to switch gears and revise my due dates for the first manuscript instead of forcing myself to concentrate on it. I operate best when my schedule is challenging yet manageable. When I make a rigorous schedule and don’t meet my hard due dates, it makes me feel like I’m not doing enough which shuts down my creative process. I’m most diligent and productive when my schedule has some flexibility.

I hope these tips prove useful as you prepare to take 2019 by storm with your unstoppable creative energy!

Fifty Reasons Why I Write

After attending and participating in the 2018 Kweli Color of Children’s Literature conference and reflecting on my time there in this blog post, I found my biggest takeaway was hearing why writers—published and unpublished—feel compelled to write. Anyone can do it, in the sense that you don’t need a degree to buy a notebook, find a pen, and start writing. And while there are strong similarities across the writing, editing, and publication processes, the reasons behind why a writer writes are as numerous and varied as the writers themselves.

On my way home from the event, I started making a list of the reasons why I’m compelled to write—in less than 30 minutes I had nearly 40 answers! After some further reflection, I compiled a list of 50 reasons why I write that are not related to making money. The list is a combination of quotes, lyrics, and reasons that range from the universal to the specific. Please enjoy!

  1. “Without struggle there is no progress” Frederick Douglass
  2. For my mom and dad—the people who have given me everything
  3. For the kid I was and the kid I am
  4. It’s an unparalleled feeling
  5. No one’s gonna tell my stories or my story like I will
  6. To thank friends and family in my dedications
  7. To become a better composer—writing is writing, it feeds itself.
  8. “The best way to get ahead, is to get started”
  9. To see my name in print on a cover of my book!
  10. For the dual book launch with my good friend and fellow WNDB intern, Julie
  11. To not disappoint the people who know I want to do this and are patiently waiting for me to finally do it
  12. To give my mom bragging ammo
  13. To let the inner demons walk around a bit
  14. To be like Lin Manuel Miranda
  15. To be heard
  16. For the reader I am
  17. To be remembered
  18. “You are living in a poem” “[Writing] is an act that preserves you, energizes you…[writing] is an immediate experience” -Naomi Shihab Nye
  19. Because it’s difficult
  20. To become a stronger writer
  21. Because I can do it!
  22. Because I love characters
  23. Because I love language and words
  24. To give all of the notebooks and pens I buy a purpose
  25. Because it’s easier to struggle through it, than it is to give up
  26. “Don’t let the world change your mind” –Be Ever Wonderful, Earth Wind & Fire
  27. I’d be great at school visits
  28. To inspire and be inspired
  29. To meet new people
  30. It doesn’t cost me anything
  31. To share what I love with others
  32. Because I owe friends books of mine
  33. Because even when it’s the hardest thing to do, I enjoy it
  34. so when people ask how’s the writing thing going, I’ll have an answer
  35. To make myself laugh
  36. To connect with others
  37. “Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep” I found this quote on the title page of  In Her Hands, LEE & LOW BOOKS
  38. Because making stuff up is fun
  39. To give shape to my many thoughts and emotions
  40. Because when I’m productive in my writing, I treat myself to life’s treasures: pens, journals, books, and almond croissants.
  41. To keep record of everything that matters to me
  42. “A goal is a dream with a deadline” -random journal
  43. To get invited to book-related events
  44. So that I don’t have to commute to/from Manhattan for the rest of my life
  45. To go to the Oscars! (Long shot, but you never know…)
  46. to wear pajamas while I work
  47. to escape
  48. Because I enjoy the physical act of writing
  49. Because it employs my strengths and challenges my weaknesses
  50. “There are no limits, there are only plateaus. But you must not stay there. You must go beyond them.” Bruce Lee

 So those days when I don’t feel like writing or doubt why I do it, I read through this list until one or all of these reasons helps be overcome the Resistance, and reminds me why I do this.

What are some of the reasons you write? Feel free to share in the comments below!

Blogs, Banners, and Big Changes

These last few months I’ve been giving my blog a facelift. I played around with about a dozen different color schemes in a dozen different templates. Widgets were added, moved, deleted, and added again. And my About Me page has undergone extensive editing.

 Why so much fuss?

 Well, in retrospect, I realized that I was experiencing several changes professionally and personally. I was promoted to assistant editor last September and have been receiving invitations to attend conferences and publishing events since then. Most of these events ask for a suitable head shot, which I did not have. I provided a drive-by head shot that a good friend of mine took on their iPhone at a book store,  but I wanted to have a stronger photo on standby–one that aspiring writers and publishing professionals would look at and think “I bet that lady knows what she’s talking about!”. Meanwhile, I saw that many of the publishing people I was attending these events with not only had head shots already, but websites—professional-looking ones. Their websites are where they keep their fancy head shots and easy-to-find 100-word bios ready for any and all events. That meant one thing: I needed an online space to keep my stuff, too.

Personally, I wanted an online space where I could share a variety of content, not just my doodles and random poems. Last Halloween I started this epic blog post about how I made my workspace both fun and functional. It’s about 1000 words long and has photos. I’m really proud of it. So proud, that the thought of posting this big, beautiful blog post I had worked diligently on for two months onto a blog I wasn’t proud to share with others was a sign to me that I needed to make changes.

 With professional and personal pursuits aligned, I’ve been revamping the look of my blog as well as its purpose. I want this to be a space where I can share my experiences as someone who has a foot on either side of the publishing line. I needed a head shot and a banner to reflect that, so I called the experts, two special and creative friends who graciously use their talents to help others. I’d like to give a BIG thanks to photographer Lloyd Campbell for helping me with my head shot, and illustrator/designer Abhi Alwar for the beautiful banner. They helped bring this new vision for my blog to life! Now I have an online space to display my awesome head shot, professional bio, and share all things about writing and publishing.

 You can check out Lloyd’s photography on his website:

And Abhi’s work on her website:



Writing with Bleed: Thoughts on Creating Short Stories

In illustration, bleed is art that goes beyond the edge of where the page will be trimmed. This ensures that the art will cover the entire page. By illustrating with bleed, artists make the art bigger than it needs to be. The same can be said of short story writers.

In the short story The Lottery, author Shirley Jackson focuses on one moment in the lives of the villagers at the center of her narrative. Although the story ends, the characters’ lives do not. There’s aftermath the reader doesn’t get to see because the main action—the story—has already been told. If we were to ask Ms. Jackson what happened to the villagers afterward, she would have an answer. Not a solid play-by-play of each character’s whereabouts perhaps, but enough of an understanding that extends past the short story’s end—that’s the bleed!

My short story, The Baby in the Bathwater, was written with bleed: Zed survives the fall into the dumpster and makes it to the pay phone on the street corner where he tries to call Ryan. He reaches for a quarter to make the call but realizes his wallet and phone are upstairs. Instead he decides to find Cole, knowing there’s a strong chance he’s nursing his worries at the local bar. That’s as far as I thought out to write my short story.

Does Zed go to prison for murder?

I don’t know.


Do Ryan and his girlfriend get back together?

No clue.


That stuff’s beyond the bleed, beyond what the story needs and the reader needs to know.


After taking a stab at short story writing and mulling over my thoughts on bleed here, I’ve found I enjoyed writing the bleed as much as I enjoyed writing the story. Zed and Ava’s history started off as bleed, then evolved into backstory that made it into the actual story. It’s fun to explore beyond the edges of your art and paint a bigger picture than your story provides—this way if your reader toes the line or gets the chance to ask you what’s beyond it, you’ll have answer.

Clouds of Doubt

There’s a time and place for everything, even in writing. In each of my writer’s notebooks I designate pages (places) for everything. I have a Favorite words page where new vocabulary I acquire, like “Nepotism”, can collect and mingle with old favorites like “tinged”. My weekly goals page is decked out with color-coded post-its dividing the spread into quadrants and indicating long-term and short-term objectives. There’s a page for funny snippets of conversation I hear, and a page for names of potential characters.

There’s even a page for Doubt. The page is folded in half towards the spine and titled Clouds of Doubt, because that’s how Doubt manifests in my life–as clouds of varying sizes working independently and /or cohesively to intercept my sunny disposition.

Doubt drifts in and, like clouds, it can pass by just as quickly (or slowly) as it floated in. Sometimes it blocks my sun for just a moment–a dark thought I hadn’t considered. Other times the clouds collect creating a permanently cloudy day.

People deal with Doubt in different ways because Doubt manifests differently for different people. For those who view Doubt as a gnarly weed growing in their inner garden, they may feel it best to cut Doubt out at the source and eliminate it swiftly; even if it means wiping out some of the good-thought plants in the process.

I find it best to give Doubt a bit of attention; a place for it to exist where I can acknowledge it and revisit it in my own time, on my own terms. I can’t control when Doubt shows up, but I can control how I confront it.

When a cloud creeps in, I open the special page I’ve given it and write about it. Sometimes it’s a short poem –a snap shot of a feeling or situation. Sometimes it’s a list of worried words. Sometimes it’s a scream into the white void of the page. Presently a bright fuchsia “Arrrggggghhhh!!!” stretches across my Clouds of Doubt page. I don’t remember what it is in reference to but it felt (and still feels) appropriate.

Unlike other emotions, Doubt is one I find that I can safely revisit. I reread my fuchsia scream and volatile verses and remember what it felt like to feel them. I may still feel the Doubts that these expressions stemmed from but I find comfort in knowing I’ve felt them before.

I cram all of these doubt-fueled expressions onto the folded page until I can’t fit another letter and by then… it’s time for a new writer’s notebook.

How do you deal with Doubt? Feel free to express yourself in the comments section

The Amazing Story Generator

amazing-story-generator-coverI came across this awesome title at the New York Public Library Store on Fifth Ave about two years ago. It’s called The Amazing Story Generator and yes, it is amazing.

Inside this spiral notebook are three sets of pages. The top page supplies a setting or inciting event, the middle page provides a protagonist, and the last page presents a conflict or obstacle. You can mix and match the pages however you want to generate enough stories to last a lifetime. The layout of the book is great because if you open it and like the setting and conflict you’re given but not the protagonist, you can skim through the top pages until you find one that jives. This works for all of the pages.

I’ll be using this book to stretch my writing muscles by tackling different prompts and exercises which I’ll post to this blog (of course)! What books or websites do you like referring to for writing-prompt material? Feel free to share in the comments below!

Inktober 2016

inktober_promptsIt’s Inktober! Woot! Woot! I actually took time and came up with 31 drawing prompts. No guarantee I’ll keep up with them all but it was fun making the list!

For those looking for prompts you’re welcome to follow mine. The list on the left is of little things that should be drawn big. The list on the right is of big things that should be drawn small.

Have fun and please feel free to share a link to your #inktober illustrations via the comments box below.

Frankenstein Fish

Blogging is like having an aquarium, but without lives at stake.

Let me start at the beginning. You decide to get a fish tank. Why? Because you like fish and you got mad fishy-ideas! You’re ready for the world to see your awesome fish-abilities! You pick out a tank that suits your needs, you get a fish, drop it in your tank, and BAM! You’ve got an aquarium!

You’re excited! You’re bustin’ out mad fishy ideas and next thing you know you’ve got six fish in your tank!

But then you hit a wall.

Well, not so much a wall as a hill; a Hill of the Mind. And suddenly, adding new fish to the tank becomes difficult and unenjoyable. You change tanks thinking maybe a new design will spark your enthusiasm and help you generate new fishy-ideas but it doesn’t. Bottom line: aquarium maintenance -–much like blogging -–is not a joke.

If my blog really were a fish tank my fish would be belly-up in the murkiest water. All summer long my blog felt like a burden.  I’ve been unfocused and then felt guilty for not posting content. To be honest, I read in a How-To-Blog article that if your blog’s not providing a service or information then it’s an online diary. Appalled by this notion, I took a few months to come up with a new game plan. I tried to write posts which would provide a service to readers, but soon I realized I don’t know enough about writing and publishing to be able to drop post after post of knowledge.

After an unproductive summer, I reread my earlier blog posts in the hopes of rekindling my love for blogging and remember why I started a blog in the first place. While these early posts did not provide much guidance there’s an honesty behind them I want to get back to. When providing a service, it’s important to acknowledge what you know as well as what you don’t. I acknowledge that I don’t know a lot, but my experience as a writer working in children’s book publishing is material I want to share and will hopefully be enough for interested readers to learn from; or at least be amused by.

That said, I’m cleaning out my fish tank, plopping in a cool pirate ship, and Frankenstein-ing my fish back to life!

Feel free to check out some of my older posts by clicking here and here!

Also, for all (two) of you Friday Floetry fans interested in seeing more unedited poems inspired by observations from my commute, I will be bringing Friday Floetry back in 2017!

True or False: I am the only person who finds blogging difficult?……. FALSE! Share your biggest blogging obstacles and/or advice on overcoming them in the comments below.