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by Jodi Moore

It’s okay to write a 2,000+ word picture book.

*braces self for screams of disbelief, coffee cups dropped, any chance of securing another book deal/agent/critique opening vanish, my own editors paling in shock, possible angry mobs at my doorstep and Tara questioning why-oh-why did she ever ask me to guest blog for PiBoIdMo?*

Now, hold up. I didn’t say it would be publishable. I just said it’s OKAY to write one. In fact, sometimes it may be necessary.

As picture book writers, we are challenged to deliver big ideas in as few words as possible.  We are expected to fully develop our story, our characters, our plotline; captivate our audience; fashion a fabulous first sentence and create a satisfying end.

All while leaving room—and extending faith—for the illustrations.

It’s no easy task. So I ask…why would you limit yourself in the beginning with a word count?

Perhaps it may help to look at this in a different way. Let’s say I want to build a perfect sandcastle.  If I only look at a finished product, say, one of my husband’s illustrious creations, and size up the amount of sand comprising the castle itself, I may decide I only need a few large buckets of sand to complete the task.

But that’s not what he starts with. Larry begins with an entire sandy beach. Using a large shovel, he piles on tons of sand. He sifts through bucket after bucket of the grainy particles. He packs it high as a mountain, scraping up more sand than he could possibly need.

That proud hill is his main idea. It’s the structure. The mass from which he will carve out his masterpiece. It’s his 2000+ words.

And then, he sculpts. He edits. He revises until he can see the more subtle nuances of the castle. Sometimes, a wall will cave or a doorway will be in the wrong place. But that’s okay, because he still has plenty of sand left. He can add. He can rebuild. My husband hasn’t limited himself to a few buckets of sand.

Why should you?

From your comments and posts on both this forum and Facebook, I know that you’re all busy creating your own pile of ideas. Embrace them…and write what’s in your heart. Use every word that’s necessary and a few that – you may find out later – are not. Restricting your words too early on may constrict your idea, choking the very life out of it. Let it breathe; let it swell. Let those words FLOW.

There will be plenty of time to revise—and reshape!—later.

Writing picture books can be a DAY at the beach. Shed those limitations and dig in!

Jodi Moore is the author of WHEN A DRAGON MOVES IN (May 2011, Flashlight Press) and the soon-to-be-published GOOD NEWS NELSON (Story Pie Press).  She writes both picture books and young adult novels, hoping to challenge, nourish and inspire her readers by opening up brand new worlds and encouraging unique ways of thinking. You can visit her at

by Mary Rand Hess, editor, Story Pie Press

Oh, hi there! You must be a children’s writer, too. I bet you feel like part of a rather special group of kids who pretend to be adults, right? You’re supposed to do adult-like things such as pay the bills, fold laundry, and scrub toilets. Instead, you find yourself imagining finches that perform operas at dawn, or a secret tunnel that leads to an underground zoo of zombies. If only your family and friends knew how important it was to write down these stories before adult-like memory sets in and foils your attempts.

As I was saying, you are special because you have been given the gift of story. And not just any type of story, you have been given the gift of writing stories for children. These stories inspire those future adults who will one day be responsible for our nation and other nations. Does that feel like a heavy burden? Well, it might, but it shouldn’t. We’re not writing about hedge fund fraud, tax cuts, Medicare, and unemployment. We’re writing about things that strike the heart cord, like bravery, happiness, love, fun, sadness, acceptance, and healing. We’re writing stories that every adult, who reads to a child at night, clings to in remembrance of his or her own childhood. Picture books are for everyone, but especially for children, even big children like you and me.

Now let me say, I completely understand you because I sit on both sides of the table, as a writer and editor. I understand the toiling away at words, the mania of wonderful ideas pouring into the mind like a chocolate river, tempting you to abandon all else. And here it is the month of Thanksgiving and you’re willing to risk failure on Turkey Day for a chance to write 30 picture book ideas in a month, one each day…even on Thanksgiving Day. So Cheers to all that we are thankful for this Thanksgiving, including an abundance of story ideas. Just remember to set the timer on the oven.

As you set out to conquer this challenge, keep in mind that as a writer you have one responsibility…tell a good story, a story only you can tell. Words are free. You don’t have to go to your neighborhood art-o-rama store and buy hundreds of dollars worth of word supply. You only have to pay in time, time spent in your story zone with words… thousands and thousands of words…beautiful, descriptive, hungry words. Perfect words that make your readers say, “Please pass the book.” Because at the end of a day, and whether it was a rotten one or an exceptional one, everyone could use a good read, especially one that comes from an excellent picture book. When one reads a picture book, all seems well with the world, right? Add a little chocolate, tea or coffee, and there is no question the world is right. You have survived another day. Children need this sense of comfort, too. They often have heavy burdens that we don’t know about. Being a kid is not always bubblegum and water balloons. A good book proves to a child that knowledge grows from words. And knowledge, as they say, is power. A child needs to feel that empowerment and to live in the shoes of a favorite character. Might a child run away to an island where the Wild Things are gnashing their teeth, and return to find his supper still hot? Unlikely, but a child can tell you what that experience was like in Max’s clawed feet. And that same child recognizes himself in Max, still loved even after getting in trouble. That’s what we strive for as writers, relatable characters…no matter the circumstances.

As an editor, I look for the same things I look for as a writer, characters and situations that inspire me, pulling me into a world I want and need to know about. When I sit down to write a story, I always pick the characters that reside in my heart. As an editor, I want an author to give me a story that’s truly special, one that an author couldn’t say no to when the story whispered, “I’m here. I know it’s not convenient right now, but you need to write me.”

I remember when Samson’s Tale and Good News Nelson came across my desk. Both stories had something undeniable about them, both were stories that only those authors could write. Both were my immediate favorites, made me cry, made me laugh, and when they went off to the focus group, they resonated the same way with those parents, librarians, teachers, and kids. Pure magic…the gift of story that roams in the soul, that doesn’t mimic the next great thing, but instead mimics the beat of the author’s heart and the dance of the author’s own authentic imagination.

Before I close, I want you to imagine, in this magical month of November, that a mysterious tree has appeared at the center of your favorite park (or garden), brimming with interesting colors. These colors aren’t just any old autumn colors, they are personal to you: cadmium red, Paris gray, burnt umber, diarylide yellow, turquoise, the color of love, the color of surprise. Only you know what that tree looks like, as each leaf represents an idea. There are hundreds of those leaves falling, falling into a pile begging for you to jump in. In that pile is the promise of a great story.

So please jump in already, and allow yourself to relish in the freedom of endless story ideas. And remember to write the stories only you can write.

Happy writing,
Mary Rand Hess

Mary Rand Hess is editor at the deliciously scrumptious Story Pie Press. She’s also a children’s author, creative writing and drama teacher, allergy awareness advocate, mixed media artist, and MOM (a title that rightfully deserves to be in all caps).

Story Pie Press is an independent publishing house that strives to produce children’s books that will entertain and empower readers from generation to generation.

Our Mission is to publish great books, printed in safe, eco-friendly venues within the United States. Each book that is published will be associated with a charitable cause. A portion of the proceeds from each book will go to various organizations in an effort to help raise awareness for causes related to education and health.

Our Motto is heart-filled and good for the soul…“baking” stories that will have a positive impact on the lives of our readers, the organizations and charities we support, and the world around us. 

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