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by Laura Zarrin

When I started participating in Storystorm in 2012, I was completely convinced that I was not a writer. I was an illustrator and storytelling was not in my wheelhouse. Color me surprised when I managed to come up with 30 ideas that year and every year since. Where had they come from?

Deciding that maybe I was a writer after all, I started writing. Just a bit here and there. I went on to write a few stories that went out on submission. One that made it to an acquisition meeting, but no sales so far. That’s OK. (It’s not really OK, it’s annoying, TBH, but I digress.) I wish I could say that I look forward to sitting down with a pad and pencil and some tea to happily write, but that would be a bald-faced lie! I have to be dragged kicking and screaming into it. Just ask my critique group. Currently looking for a better ritual, ahem.

When I started writing, I noticed that my art began telling more of a story than it had previously! What a wonderful surprise! A critique partner recently told me that my illustration ideas should come with a Powerpoint presentation to get through all the story I’m packing into my descriptions.

I have found that the only way I can get a story out of my head is to take a blank piece of very non-precious copy paper, start playing the story out in my mind like I’m watching a movie, and draw it out in scribbles. It’s been surprisingly helpful to do it this way. Words almost always come last for me. My drawings are doing all the heavy lifting. I seem to draw everything out like it’s a graphic novel without any boxes or lines. Any type of formatting or layout stops me in my tracks. I completely freeze up. Even though I don’t really read graphic novels (except for the early reader ones), and that I swore I would never make one, it turns out that that format is very conducive to my way of working. Even my picture book dummies have a bit of comic formatting. (Sadly, I still can’t binge while doing this.)

Next I cut up the scribbles and arrange them in order, adding or subtracting where needed. As I work on the story, I refine the sketches and start to add words and formatting. After a lot of trial and error, I have a completed dummy.

I’m becoming more and more of a storyteller every year and I owe it all to Storystorm and a very patient critique group who listens to my whining. I am currently working on three early reader graphic novels that started as Storystorm ideas!


Laura Zarrin is the illustrator of the WALLACE AND GRACE series by Heather Alexander and the KATIE WOO’S NEIGHBORHOOD series by Fran Manushkin.She’s now writing her own sweetly subversive stories. Laura has illustrated over 30 books for children including board books, picture books, and chapter books. She’s happiest illustrating characters with subtle and not-so-subtle humor.

Visiit her at, follow on Twitter and Instagram @LauraZarrin. You can find her art in her Etsy shop here.

Laura is giving away a hardcover copy of WALLACE AND GRACE TAKE THE CASE by Heather Alexander, Bloomsbury.

You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered Storystorm 2023 participant and you have commented only once on today’s blog post. ↓

Prizes will be distributed at the conclusion of Storystorm.

LauraZarrin-in-pinkby Laura Zarrin

Picture Book Idea Month is over. You have ideas waiting to be developed. Now what?

As a kid and all the way through college, writing came easily. Essays or essay questions? No problem. I loved to really pad those answers. Fast forward to now and that ease is completely gone. Sometimes I have no words, not even a decent name for the file I’m writing in. What happened to the free flow of words? Maybe they shriveled up and died from lack of use. Maybe I spend so much time drawing that the words have gone to sleep? I’m sure it’s a lot of things, but one thing that’s different is that while the more words the better method worked in school, it’s the wrong approach to writing picture books where brevity rules. As a mom and an illustrator, I appreciate brevity. Short books were my favorite since I’d have to read the same book over and over and over again.

As an illustrator, I approach my stories through pictures first. I ‘see’ them before I write them. I’ll sketch out the character or a scene and see where it leads. Sometimes I’ll be so inspired that I’ll write a quick first draft. It’ll be horrible, but that’s ok. The point is to get something written out. To begin. I can always go back and edit it or completely rewrite it. Mostly, I have to let the ideas marinate in my head for awhile, sometimes years, to figure out what the real story is. I turn it around, hold it up to the light, add and subtract characters, try various what ifs, and grill it with questions until it feels solid. I really wish I could just snap my fingers to create the book dummies, but it just doesn’t work that way. Even though picture books are ‘simple’, they’re anything but easy. It’s like saying it’s so easy to draw in a simple and childlike way when it’s anything but. It takes a ton of work to get to the point where one can pull off ‘childlike’ effectively. One has to have a solid grasp of anatomy, technique and design to make it work. The same can be said of writing. It takes some serious chops to write a story in it’s simplest form.





I wish I could give you a formula. Heck, I wish I could give me a formula, but as it stands, my formula is to scribble, sketch, make lists, make notes, outline, research, work on character design, write then delete, draw, and draw, and draw, cry, give up, try again, and eventually there’s this thing that actually becomes a story.

My suggestion to you is to just begin. That’s often the hardest part of any project. Draw your character or a scene that’s calling out to you. Write the character’s bio, outline your plot or write a synopsis. Whatever feels like the easiest entry point to begin. Good luck!


Laura spent her childhood in the St. Louis area exploring creeks, woods, and attic closets, with plenty of tree climbing and digging for artifacts in the backyard all in preparation for her future career as an archeologist. She never became one because she realized she’s much happier drawing in the comfort of her own home while watching TV. Obsessed with the Little House books and Native American cultures, Laura drew lots and lots of pioneers and studied pictographs and books about that time period. When she was 12, her family moved to the Silicon Valley in California where she still resides with her very logical husband and teen sons, and their illogical dog, Cody.

Visit her at and follow her on Twitter @LauraZarrin. She blogs at Creative Whimsies and Simply Messing About.


Laura is giving away an 8×10 print of “Winter Dancing”.


This prize will be given away at the conclusion of PiBoIdMo. 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.

Good luck, everyone!


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