Stacy_McAnulty_72 webby Stacy McAnulty

When I tell people that I have a mechanical engineering degree and that I’m also a picture book author, they look at me like I’m trying to mate two different species. Like I’m part alligator and part butterfly. (That would be one scary insect/reptile.)

But as an engineer, I relied heavily on my creative gifts and as an author I can use engineering skills to organize and tackle writing projects. November and PiBoIdMo were about the creativity. Now in December, let’s use our engineering skills to tackle the what-is-next problem. (Don’t worry. You DO have engineering skills. You just don’t know it.)

When I worked as an airline seat engineer I had to create a bill of material (called more affectionately a BOM). A BOM was used by purchasing to order all the parts needed to create an airline seat—everything from nuts and bolts to cushions to motors. (These were the awesome first class seats that fully recline and offer in-flight entertainment.) I’m suggesting a BOM could also be used to create a children’s picture book.

Let’s look back at our ideas from November. This is our inventory from which we can create a BOM. I like to use a spreadsheet, but you can do the same thing with paper, pen and a straight edge. Make a list of all the characters that sprung to life in November and put them in column A. Then make a list of other components needed in a book: settings, problems, titles, goals, situations, emotions, other, etc. It’s OK if you have fifty characters listed and only five settings.


(click to view chart at full size)

Now we have a list of components we can use to build a story. By creating your spreadsheet, you might see that you have a great character and interesting problem that you do not previously consider putting together. Your cookie-loving shark might be the perfect hero to free Mars of aliens.

Or maybe not.

Engineers—like authors—also go through numerous revisions. And every part you need to build your picture book will not be in your inventory list. Your BOM for each story will require the creation of new components. Your goal and your setting may work, but you may need to create a new character (a character not created in November, but in December).

So don’t be afraid to engineer your picture book. In the end, creativity and structure can live happily ever after.


santasaurus3x3Stacy was a mechanical engineer for 8 years before becoming a full-time writer. DEAR SANTASAURUS, her first picture book, was released in October from Boyds Mills Press. She has also engineered two other picture books to be published in 2015 by Random House and Knopf. Stacy lives in a messy house in North Carolina with her 3 messy kids, 2 messy dogs, and 1 messy husband. Visit her at


Stacy is giving away a signed copy of DEAR SANTASAURUS and a picture book critique. Leave a comment to be entered.

You are eligible for this prize if:

  1. You have registered for PiBoIdMo.
  2. You have commented ONCE ONLY on today’s post.
  3. You have completed the PiBoIdMo challenge. (You have signed the PiBoIdMo Winner’s Pledge.)

Good luck, everyone!