Lessons from a Dummy

It’s a fact, the dummy changed my life.  Dramatic as that may sound, from the perspective of a picture book writer who felt stuck in her own revision process, it’s completely true.   I’ve known about the concept of dummy picture books for months now, and I’ve heard (or read) tons of people talk about what a necessary step it is.  I must be a slow learner because I’ve been avoiding it until this week.  But I did it, and I love it and I can’t wait to talk about it.

I used scrapbook paper because I like the weight of the paper in my hands.  After I cut them in half, stapled them together and numbered them 1-32, I pasted in my text.  I started on page 5. (And if anyone has a different opinion on this, please share.) For this dummy, which will be the first of many, I just separated my sentences into what I thought would work best.  You have to start somewhere, right?  It blew my mind what a different feel the story had, now that it’s not in paragraph form on 8.5 x 11” sheets of paper, and instead actually resembles a book.  Many of my hiccups became clear, as did clumsy wording and soft spots in my story.  There are a few of my sentences that need to be tightened up, and for probably one-third of those, I could easily see how to do so. I’m going to keep chipping away at the edits that are surfacing from this experience.  Of course, I’m going to make another, if not more after that, touching things up along the way. How crazy that I was leaving out this incredibly crucial step!

As I’m still digesting the revelation that I talked about in my last post, and coming off my ‘dummy’ high, I know what wrinkles need to be ironed out now… Read Aloud Potential.  It’s the obvious next step and is exactly what the dummy is helping me to discover.  I don’t just want to write a picture book; I want to write some kid’s favorite picture book.  On top of that, I want to write one that parents love to read to their children.  (aka Panda Cake!)  That’s where the magic happens in this corner of the market, and it’s completely unique to picture books.  I know my opinion of the book I’m reading affects the quality of my reading and the tone of my voice.  I know the pain of being asked to read a story to one of my kids that I REAAALLLYYYY don’t like, or when I suggest one that’s not a favorite of my kids. On the other hand, I know the joy and delight that comes when I read a story that we all love, and what a richer experience it makes.  I want to write one of those, and I need its real aloud potential to be off the charts.  (Mary Kole just posted a great video blog on this exact thing, you can find it here if you want more info)

So, the moral of this story… make a dummy of your picture book manuscript, in fact, make a dozen.  I’m going to the store tomorrow, stacking up on paper and glue sticks, and will turn my sweet little writing desk into a dummy factory.


In somewhat unrelated news… Kid Lit College is having a Board Book contest, with two categories (standard & novelty) going on now through May 31.  There’s also a chapter book contest going at the same time.  I’m going to enter the board book contest with a blend of one of my NaPiBoWriWee stories and a previous project!  The winner gets their manuscript critiqued by five editors, what a great opportunity.

Also, my daughter finished and submitted her #50PreciousWordsforKids entry.  We had a blast working on her story together.  This was one she had previously written but was way above the word limit, so we talked and walked through a bit of editing together.  Mother-Daughter editing; it did get as dicey as it sounds, but that was short-lived, and she was very proud of her finished product.  You can read Mia the Cat and all of the entries here. The contest received entries from 15 states and 6 different countries.  It was a wonderful lesson for my seven-year-old on just how small the world is while at the same time expanding her view beyond the city limits of our small town.  Whew, I think that’s all I have for today.


Thanks for reading, come back anytime!




Disclaimer: I feel certain that one day I’ll look back at this post with a patronizing smile, or maybe a cringe, and think of what a sentential idealist I was. I fully expect to laugh at all the fluff.  But, if this site is about recording the journey, and this is where I am today. Plus, if that does happen and I find myself looking back, then I’ve gone somewhere; mission accomplished.

I am a small fish.  Within my current school, I find myself among thousands of others, trying to get their Picture Book published. Slowly I am making my way to the middle of the group, with the majority ahead of me and a handful of others just starting out. I know that if I’m ever going to have a chance of making it in this industry, I need to do a few things.  I need the quality of my writing to improve.  I need to continue to educate myself on the industry.  I need to form a network of other fish so we can help each other out when the current gets rough.  I also need to know who it is I aspire to be.  I have a clear understanding of why I write today, and who I am at this moment, but I need to discover who I want to be, as a writer, five, ten or twenty years from now.  This week, in the midst of a good book and a great writing challenge, I started to figure it out.

Erica Bauermeister, the author of The School of Essential Ingredients and Joy for Beginners, is my favorite.  Her books have affected me greatly, in fact, they’re more than friends; they’re family.  Erica has an incredible gift of incorporating all five senses, so as the reader, you have the chance to BE in the story, not just watch it unfold.  She takes something as menial as buying a tomato at a produce stand and transforms her words into an experience.  Before I know it, I can feel the weight of the tomato in my hand, see the shiny red skin, smell the surrounding produce and hear the lively market in the background.  For as long as I can remember, I’ve always tried to utilize all of my senses in every aspect of life.  When studying in nursing school, I would re-write all my notes, read them aloud, listen to the same classical music CD and drink ice water.  When reading to my children, I always have them sit in my lap, we touch the pages as we go through them and have even smelled a book or two.  If I’m cooking supper for my family, I like to chop my own onions, grate my own cheese, and smell every ingredient before adding it to the pot. It’s no wonder Erica’s books speak to me; they do the same.

As a writer, this is what I want to bring to children.  I want to write stories that not only encourage creativity but also stimulate their senses.  I want to make it easy for them to taste the refreshing bite of watermelon, or hear the screech of a table saw in the background.  I want to write books that are more than stories for children to hear, I want to write stories they can experience.

Last Tuesday evening, I had an ‘Aha moment’ as I was unpacking this revelation.  From that point on, I allowed the five senses (plus one) to guide me through my NaPiBoWriWee challenge.  I used six of the seven days to write a story that focused on one of the senses, with the sixth being emotions.  If I’m going to find success, I have to master the use of descriptive words, at a very basic and elementary level. I know that I have a long way to go, and for some of you this might seem like an intangible and therefore unrealistic goal.  I can appreciate that, and I know that I have more to unpack about my future hopes and dreams.  But the good part about goals is that they only need to hold significance for the one who set them, and I’m excited to get back to my WIP with a renewed sense of purpose and motivation.

I’d like to take a moment to introduce you to my NaPiBoWriWee friends:

  1. Violet’s Heartbreak- Emotion
  2. Messy Grace’s Messy Place- Sight
  3. My Momma has a Monster- Sound
  4. Wendy’s Watermelon- Taste
  5. Bruce is Loose! – Smell
  6. Nurses- Touch
  7. School of Superheroes- All 6! Score!

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!


Reduce heat & let simmer…

I’m taking a break from the construction analogies, for one that comes much more naturally for me.  ICYMI-I’ve demolished my picture book manuscript, cleared out and sifted through the rubble, started on the foundation and am currently letting the cement slab dry.  While that happens, I’ll move it to the back burner, reduce the heat and let it simmer a while.

This week I found, NaPiBoWriWee, otherwise known as National Picture Book Writing Week, and just in the nick of time.   It’s a writing challenge for picture book writers, 7 books in 7 days, running May 1-7.  Obviously, it takes much more than 7 days for a Picture Book manuscript to reach completion, so these aren’t so much as ‘books’ as they are ‘drafts’.  It’s meant to be a ‘creative kick start’, to get juices flowing.  The drafts are only for myself at the end of it all, but maybe a future bestseller will emerge from one of the participants, that would not have been written otherwise.  The real benefit to the challenge is the opportunity to make connections.  We have a Facebook group, blog posts, and hashtags, keeping us connected and helping each of us to celebrate our daily success. There are a few of these opportunities scattered throughout the year in the Kid Lit world, but this is the first one I have the chance to participate in and so far, I’m having a blast.  I do believe that as the week goes on, it’ll get more difficult, but writing through those times of is one of the trademarks of being a writer, right? Here’s what I have so far…

Day 1– A tender story about heartbreak and putting the pieces back together after a loss. This one had been brewing for quite some time, I’m glad to have finally mustered up the courage to put it on paper.

Day 2– A silly story about a girl named Grace, her messy room and the understanding that she and her mom come to.

Day 3– I think I feel another story about my main man (aka 5-year-old main character) rising to the surface.

Day 4 thru Day 7, only time will tell.  Next time I see you, I’ll have finished the challenge!

Through NaPiBoWriWee and other avenues, I continue to establish connections with other writers and am humbled that some have gone so far as to take time out of their busy schedules to offer some feedback and guidance.  Some I’ve found by chance; others are bloggers that I’ve been following for a while.  Just this week, I found a blog, started from a very similar place as mine, three years before Magnolias.  The author of that site just had her first book published!  I’ve found other writers who are young mothers and fathers and even some from healthcare backgrounds.   I’m grateful for these new connections and excited to watch new relationships form.   From time to time I come across, ‘Blogs I Follow’ lists on other sites and have learned much from them.  I’m including a short one here, in case anyone is looking for more on my favorite topic.









http://paulayoo.com  (NaPiBoWriWee Host!)


Next week, I plan to bring my picture book manuscript back to the front burner, check the seasoning and maybe toss in a few green onions.  Mmmmmm… wish me luck!

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!