How to Write a Picture Book (When You’re an Illustrator)

Jun 13, 2019 | Illustration, Picture Books

As I was thinking about what to write about writing for illustrators, I remembered those step-by-step and how-to-draw books that make it look easy. I found myself wishing there was one for illustrators who want to write. So, I decided, based on my own experiences as an illustrator who writes, to write one. I give you…


(These are suggestions only. Steps may vary. For best results, proceed directly to STEP 20)

STEP 1. Think up a really good story. Write it down.

STEP 1b. Commit to working on it every morning for two hours. Put the cat out, lock the door, and turn off your phone (I dare you).

STEP 2. After about fifteen minutes, let the cat in and turn your phone back on. If you’ve written anything at all, save it as something like, “MyStory_New.” Then, because you’re an artist, arrange all the little file icons on your desktop in a circle around it (note: this will help you find your files later.)

STEP 3. Repeat STEP 1b. Open the “MyStory_New” file, look at it for a while, then close it. Take a break and draw something to make you feel better. Post it on Twitter. Tag it #wip and say it’s from a story you’re writing. Check back frequently for likes and comments.
Save it as, “MyStory_New_Pictures.”

STEP 4. Write some more. Save what you don’t hate as, “MyStory_ New_New.”
Delete the rest. Let the cat back in.
STEP 5. Draw some more, post it on Instagram. Don’t forget the #wip. Check back compulsively for likes. Save as, “MyStory_New_Pictures_New.” Put it in the desktop file icon circle so you can find it next time.

STEP 6. Repeat STEP 1b: This time you’ll do it. No matter what. Really. For sure.
Write some more. Save as, “MyStories_ New_New_Newest.” Let the cat in.

STEP 7. Repeat STEP 1b. Write the ending. Delete it.

STEP 8. Write the beginning. Save as “MyStory_New_New_Newest_Beginning.”

STEP 9. Take a break and go buy some art supplies you don’t need. Play with them. Post about it on Facebook and get into an interminably long comment thread with your “friends.”

STEP 10. Repeat STEP 1b. Delete the beginning. Draw a whole bunch of new pictures instead.
STEP 11. Find the newest “New” files (hint: look in the circle) and place, as best you can, whatever words you haven’t deleted and any pictures that won’t embarrass you into a book dummy.

STEP 12. Show it to your critique group (or, for better results, proceed directly to STEP 20).
cats reading
STEP 13. Stop crying. Calm down.
cat crying
STEP 14. Try not to delete everything.

STEP 15. Repeat STEP 1b. Think up a different story. Write it down.

STEP 16. Save it as, “MyStories_THIS_IS_IT” or, alternatively, “THE ONE_1.” Let the cat back in.
STEP 17. Take a big break because, really, you only want to be an illustrator because that’s what you do best and, anyway, what were you thinking wanting to be a writer, too.
cat at desk
STEP 18. Pass the time making art for greeting cards to sell in your Etsy shop.

STEP 19. After a while, think up a new, really good story. Write it down. Proceed directly to STEP 20.

STEP 20. Sign up for a Highlights Foundation workshop!

Thank you to our faculty for this Guest Post!

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