Three Questions For Children's Book Writers and Illustrators

Welcome to Inkygirl: Reading, Writing and Illustrating Children's Books (archive list here) which includes my Creating Picture Books series, Writer's and Illustrator's Guide To Twitter, interviews, #BookADay, writing/publishing industry surveys, and 250, 500, 1000 Words/Day Writing Challenge. Also see my Inkygirl archives,  and comics for writers (including Keiko and Will Write For Chocolate).

I tweet about the craft and business of writing and illustrating at @inkyelbows. If you're interested in my art or other projects, please do visit Thanks for visiting! -- Debbie Ridpath Ohi


Julie Duffy on the Story A Day May Challenge

Starting Sunday, May 1st: Story A Day May Challenge! Founder of the challenge, Julie Duffy, was kind enough to answer a few questions about the event for me:

What exactly IS Story A Day May?

Story A Day is creativity challenge for writers: write (and finish)
a short story every day in May. It's quite silly in a way because it's
an almost-impossible challenge. In another way it's quite serious (and
plenty of writers take it that way) because committing to writing a
lot is a fabulous way to learn how to write well. Possibly the only

What motivated you to start the event?

I had always written but life kept getting in the way and my
writing was slowing down. I was sick of starting stories and not
finishing them. I was starting to think I couldn't write. I was
intrigued by the idea of NaNoWriMo but wasn't interested in writing a
novel. So I decided to adopt NaNoWriMo's hell-for-leather approach and
commit to writing a story a day for a month. I know it seems strange
when I wasn't writing anything at all, to decide on such a huge goal,
but it inspired me. And, as it turned out, lots of other writers too.

How did the event go last year?

I knew I had to make the goal public so that I didn't give up. As
soon as the idea hit the web, people started pledging to join me, and
we ended up with about 80 people writing every day. Only a handful

came out with all 31 stories, but many people wrote more than they had
in years, and some people ended up taking their stories and doing very
cool things with them (expanding them into novels, polishing them and
getting them published, entering them into contests and events...).

Loads of people used Story A Day May to get excited about their
writing again, and to remind themselves that yes, they could write.

Any advice for writers who are thinking about signing up but are worried they might not be able to finish?

First, carry a note-book around and capture ideas wherever
you are. Capture ideas all day long. Writing a story a day requires
lots of story sparks that you can call on when you sit down to write.T

Keep the challenge fun by interacting with other people at the site
( There's a social network with groups and
forums and a news feed. Some of the writers are teaming up into
accountability groups, others do this on a more informal basis. There
is no greater feeling than posting "Today's story is finished" in the
"Victory Dance" group at the site, and watching the congratulations
roll in.

And remember that you're aiming to write first drafts and they can be
any length. Some days all you're going to have the mental energy for
is a Twitter-length story and that's fine. Any creative attempt keeps
your brain in that "writer's space" and makes it easier to write again

Finally, set your own rules: if you need to, decide that you'll take
Sundays and Wednesdays off, for example.

On some level, any writing is better than no writing. Last year so
many writers told me they amazed themselves by how much they wrote and
how happy they were, that I couldn't resist doing this again. If your
writing needs a kick in the pants, come and join us!

Anything else you'd like to add?

Anyone who signs up for the StoryADay Mailing list automatically gets the StoryADay Creative Challenge
workbook which walks the through the decision process and provides a personalised reference for the days when it gets tough.

It works for any creative challenge and helps you analyze:

*how you'll make time for writing

*how you'll find ideas

*what you have to lose or gain from trying

*practicalities of writing every day


For more info about Story A Day May, see

You can also find Story A Day May on Facebook.


Inspiration from Libba Bray

Love this quote from Libba Bray's latest blog post:

This is the magic/curse of writing: That in crafting your fiction, you leave yourself open to sudden moments of unguarded truth, and you have to be willing to tolerate that again and again. You have to keep raising your sword and charging, even knowing you could retreat scorched and missing a limb. You have to keep doing it even when you don’t want to. Especially when you don’t want to.


New Will Write For Chocolate comic

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Posted a new comic on Will Write For Chocolate.


Comic: Exclamation Abuse Support Center

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Comic: Critique Betrayal


PiBoIdMo and Tara Lazar

Tara Lazar is a children’s book author, mother, foodie and founder of Picture Book Idea Month (a.k.a. "PiBoIdMo"). Her first picture book, The Monstore, will be published by Aladdin/Simon & Schuster in 2013. Tara is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. Find out more about Tara at her blog:

And stay tuned for PiBoIdMo 2011 this November!

What inspired you to start PiBoIdMo?

I got active in the online kidlit community in November of 2007. I learned about NaNoWriMo  immediately--EVERYONE was chatting about it. I was jealous of novel writers having all the fun, so the following November I decided I would do something to inspire me as a picture book writer. I'd created one new picture book concept a day. I didn't make it through the whole month, though. I finished with 22 ideas, but one of them was for THE MONSTORE, my upcoming book with Aladdin/Simon & Schuster.

How many years have you run PiBoIdMo?

PiBoIdMo 2008 wasn't official, it was just me and a few local writing friends. I ran PiBoIdMo on my blog for the first time in November 2009. This past November was the 2nd year for the blog-based event.

How successful has it been?

The first year I ran PiBoIdMo, I didn't have a sign-up period, so I don't know how many people participated, but a little over 100 signed the pledge at the end, confirming they had at least 30 ideas. My website received 15,000 hits during November 2009, which, at the time, was the most active month the site ever had.

For PiBoIdmO 2010, there was a sign-up period which logged 404 particpants, with 201 completing the challenge. Web hits soared to 30,000 for the month and my blog was ranked in the top 100 book blogs by Technorati, making it as high as #10. I was blown away by the enthusiasm of the participators! Many blogged their daily progress. Megan K. Bickel, for instance, put her own spin on PiBoIdMo by creating ideas in alphabetical order.

And PiBoIdMo has netted others contracts and awards. Corey Rosen Schwartz came up with the idea for GOLDI ROCKS AND THE THREE BEARS during PiBoIdMo 2009, which was bought by Putnam in 2010. Diana Murray wrote a manuscript from a PiBoIdMo idea which won the SCBWI Barbara Karlin Grant. Those are the two PiBoIdMo success stories I know of, and I'm sure there's more to come! I hope people will contact me with their good news.

Have you enjoyed running it?

It's been a blast running it, but also a lot of work. The first year, I decided to do a daily post after I had already recruited guest bloggers. There were 15 guest bloggers, which meant I had to write 15 posts on my own. That was a bit much, so in 2010 I decided to schedule more guest bloggers. The response was surprising--there were more volunteers than days in November! So some of the guest spots rolled into early December. I had so much fun putting the posts together; I felt privileged to read all the great advice before anyone else.

Next year I might need a PiBoIdMo assistant! So many people volunteered prizes that I'm still doling them out in January!


Want To Write? 18 Great Writers & Thinkers Show You How (Guest Post: Julie Duffy)

Julie Duffy is a writer and the host of, a creative writing challenge held in May every year. This Friday, March 25 is the start of her 3-week Warm Up Your Writing short story course. (

I was tickled to see Debbie's recent cartoon, No Magic Beans, Just Write because I was researching that very topic for this blogpost. There is a curious truth about the writing life: You could wait your whole life for time and the inspiration to write, but it is not until you force yourself to simply start, that either will turn up.


The good news is that the more you force yourself to sit down and write, the more inspiration and writing time you'll find. And the happier and saner you'll be. I'm certainly not the first person to discover this:

Life grants nothing to us mortals without hard work. - Horace
Nothing will work unless you do. - Maya Angelou
Laziness may appear attractive but work gives satisfaction. - Anne Frank
The harder I work, the luckier I get. - Samuel Goldwyn
The only place success comes before work is in the dictionary. - Vince Lombardi

Of course, the problem with reading inspiritional quotes is that they can leave you feeling like, well, a bit of a slacker. You might agree with all of those quotes, but still find it difficult to sit down and write. You need more than motivational tidbits. You need a little empathy, support and a few good tactics to help you get through the difficult labour that comes with delivering a story to the world. I can help you there, too.


You're not the only one to find it hard to be creative. Perhaps it would help you to think of this difficulty as a noble, essential part of the process. Andre Gide did:

Art begins with resistance - at the point where resistance is overcome. No human masterpiece has ever been created without great labor.

Well, that makes it seem a little better, doesn't it? And if you want to feel even better about the bullets you're sweating, how about a little Thomas Carlyle:

Every noble work is at first impossible.

We're doing the impossible here, folks. So don't feel bad when you're finding it a bit tricky to plot out the next chapter. And know that even experienced writers feel the same fear you do as you plonk your inadequate words down on the page or screen.

We sit there alone, pounding out words, with our hearts pounding in time. Each sentence brings the sickening sensation of not being right. - Isaac Asimov

Wait! Isaac Asimove?! Didn't he write about five hundred books, including no less than a complete, annotated companion to the Old Testament?! OK I'm starting to feel a bit more grounded. How about you?


Start - You can plan all you like, but until you start writing, you're just procrastinating:

Procrastination happens before hard work. Incubation happens after hard work. - Mark McGuinness

When you have started work on a project, only then you can stare into space productively - wrestling with character traits or searching for one perfect word. If you are staring into space before you've started writing, you're probably just killing time or arguing with your inner critic. And I'm not sure how we think tomorrow is going to be better if we haven't started writing today, but it is a favourite stalling tactic of writers. Elbert Hubbard, however, quite sensibly points out that,

The best preparation for good work tomorrow is to do good work today.

Ah. Good point. Turn Up - Even if you think of yourself as the kind of person who doesn't like routines, you have to commit to turning up and writing on a regular schedule. Don't resist this step. It will really help, I promise, and so does my pal Gustav,

Be regular and orderly in your life so that you may be violent and original in your work. - Gustave Flaubert.

And when it is hard to turn up because you are second-guessing yourself, turn to everyone's favorite failure, Vincent Van Gogh, who cries,

If you hear a voice within you say 'you cannot paint' then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced.

Sensible man, that Vincent. Make Mistakes - Remember: it does not have to be perfect in the first draft.

The only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really shitty first draft. - Anne Lammott

That's a blunt way of putting it. They don't have to be that bad, but you have to be willing to allow them to be. You can clean up later,

Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep. - Scott Adams

And even then don't worry too much about getting it all right.

The artist who aims at perfection in everything achieves it in nothing. - Eugene Delacroix

Our old friend Isaac Asimov writes stories full of great ideas, but no-one ever accused him of writing brilliant, well-rounded female characters. That doesn't make him a worthless writer, as his billions of sales attest. Don't try to be perfect --- and bland! If All Else Fails, Steal - If you are having trouble writing it's no surprise. You're trying to juggle with five balls in the air. You're thinking about character, plot, setting, language and dialogue - and that's after you've carved out time, hog-tied your inner critic and decided on a topic. Sometimes it's all too much. So don't be afraid to steal one or more elements, to free your brain. After all, Lionel Trilling said,

Immature artists imitate. Mature artists steal.

He has a point. If you're having trouble getting started, warm up by re-writing a fairy story, or steal a character from real life. Steal from nature: go outside and describe a maple tree in spring. Steal someone else's framework (it worked for Neil Gaiman, who stole the Jungle Book's structure, hung his own story on it and went on to win about seven thousand awards, including the Newberry Medal). We don't have to make all this stuff up. We just have to put our own twist on it. Which is impossible for us not to do anyway. Hooray!


Procrastination is exhausting. Physically, if you tend to clean your house or exercise to avoid writing; mentally if your favorite sport is 'beating myself up about not writing'. Yes, writing is difficult. And scary. And frustrating. It is hard work. Well, what more could you ask for in your life? No, seriously. Theodore Roosevelt nailed it, saying,

Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.

And your writing is work worth doing, not only if you become a published author with riches and fame. It is important for your quality of life and your mental health. And if that sounds unreasonable, that's OK with me, and it's OK with GK Chesterton:

The Greeks were right when they made Apollo the god of both imagination and of sanity. Imagination does not breed insanity. Exactly what does breed insanity is reason. Poets do not go mad; but chess-players do. Mathematicians go mad, and cashiers; but creative artists very seldom...Most of the very great poets have been not only sane but extremely businesslike…

So yes, writing is hard; and no, you're not alone. Equip yourself with tactics for the tough times, get writing and get ready to reap the rewards.

Some Useful Further Reading

How To Write First Thing In The Morning - Leo Babauta

Write First - My own call to action on this topic:

Procrastination vs Incubation - Mark McGuinness's excellent article on the topic:


Torkidlit Loves Japan!

Here's a video I took on my point-and-shoot last night at the monthly get-together of the Toronto Area Middle Grade and Young Adult Author Group, for

For more info about Torkidlit members, please do visit the Torkidlit Facebook page.


Comic: Hazards of Being A Writer


Hey, I'm in this video of the iPad 2 launch line in Toronto!


Lining up for 11 hours at the iPad 2 launch in Toronto


Read my photo-packed 3-part report:

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3.



RNIB video: A World Without Books

Thanks to Sheila McLeod for pointing me to this link. Sheila writes: "I've often wondered how it could be possible to make picture books accessible to children who cannot see or cannot see well. Thought I'd pass this link along in case it interests you or someone in your creative network."

The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) is a UK charity offering support and advice to almost two million people with sight loss. UK Helpline: 0303 123 9999. URL:


Not happy with Zazzle and Warner Bros right now

UPDATE: Ok, I found out what probably caused the problem (thanks to Kelly Light on Twitter, Christine in my blog comments & Patricia Storms on Facebook) -- Warner Bros must own the name/phrase "Harry Potter" and are protecting their trademark. -- Debbie


So I've had a Zazzle store with some of my cartoons on cards and t-shirts for a while. I don't tend to publicize my Inkygirl Gifts For Writers shop much because I don't keep it updated with new material -- I'm too busy with my illustration and writing.

Today, however, I received the following letter from Zazzle:

Dear inkygirl,

Thank you for your interest in, and thank you for publishing products on Zazzle.

Unfortunately, it appears that your product, Four Things You Should Never Say To A Writer, contains content that is not suitable for printing at

We will be removing this product from the Zazzle Marketplace shortly.

Please help us make our content approval process better by taking this short survey.

The details of the product being removed are listed below:

• Product Title: Four Things You Should Never Say To A Writer
• Product Type: Shirt
• Product ID: 235977150042632245
• Result: Not Approved
• Policy Violations:
o Your product has been removed from Zazzle’s Marketplace due to an infringement claim by Warner Bros. This may be due to the actual design of the product, description or search tags that references properties owned by Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
• Image: Image

We apologize for the inconvenience, a detailed description of the policies are located here.

If you have any questions or concerns about the review of your product, please

Best Regards,
Content Review Team
Zazzle Inc.

You can see the t-shirt design image at the top of this post. I assure you all that *I* came up with it all by myself, based on real life experience (though slightly exaggerated in some cases :-)).

The image link in the Zazzle letter did NOT match the name of the product title, but referred to another of my t-shirt designs:

Zazzle I Write

Now, I'm assuming that Warner Bros ISN'T claiming that they own the phrase "I write."

I've written to Zazzle to find out more info.

Have to say, though, that I'm not crazy about the fact that they took down my "4 Things To Never Say To A Writer" t-shirt (it's gone from the store already) without asking me about it first.


Comic: No Magic Beans...JUST WRITE

Jack The Writer


Writer Survey & An Amusing Barton Fink Video Clip: "I'm A Writer, You Monsters!"

My "writer uniform" today:

-- Red track pants

-- T-shirt

-- Fleece jacket

I try to avoid working in pajamas. I know some writers do, but I don't because I inevitably lose track of time when I'm working, and I don't want to have to answer the front door.

What do YOU tend to wear when you write?

(Thanks to David Diaz for the YouTube link)


New comic for writers posted on Writer Unboxed


Support the Red Cross & win a hand-illustrated custom poem from yours truly

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A while back, Therese Walsh of Writer Unboxed asked me if I'd be willing to donate anything to the Writers For The Red Cross fundraising effort. I had no idea at that time how meaningful that effort would become for me.

By now, you've all heard about the Japan earthquake and tsunami. A family friend lives in Sendai with her young daughter, and we are still trying to find out if she's okay. [UPDATE Mon March 14th 8:30 a.m. - Just found out that Yoriko and her daughter are fine. Building damaged but ok. They have electricity but no water or gas.]

My heart goes out to the victims of the disaster and their loved ones, and I've been following the bravery of those involved in rescue and relief operations.

Please do consider bidding for the package I donated (handwritten, illustrated instapoem custom-made for the winner plus a selection writer greeting cards). If you donate $25 or more, you get to pick a free book from the authors donating to the project (not sure if this is only if you do a straight donation or not). My package is up for bid from March 13-March 20th.

Even if you're not particularly interested in my package, there are TONS of fantastic items and services donated by writers around the world. Please do take a look at the Writers For The Red Cross site.

Thank you.


My writing critique group made me cry

So my writing critique group, MiG Writers, made me cry this morning. Just recently one of them asked me what my favorite picture book and favorite middle grade book was. I told them heck, that's a hard question but if I had to choose, here's what I'd choose.

Well, this morning I logged into my e-mail to find the following video and blog posting:

Screen shot 2011 03 12 at 7 59 36 AM

Feeling very, very lucky to have found this group of women. We've all become friends in addition to critique partners, supporting each other in so much more than just our writing projects.

Anyway, please do join the party over on the MiG Writers blog. :-)

And to my fellow MiG Writers: THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Writers & Voice: my MiG Writers' blog series

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I've started a blog series over on the MiG Writers blog about writers and voice, for those interested. Today's post:

Stephen Pressfield & the Fabrication of Voice


Will Write For Chocolate updated (finally)

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I bet you all thought I had given up on Will Write For Chocolate! Please read my most recent post to see why I was away so long, and why things look different.