When did you decide to become an author?
I didn’t plan on being an author. In college, I studied visual art and psychology, and in graduate school, I studied expressive therapies and learned about helping people through the arts. It wasn’t until after my son was born that I started reading picture books and was inspired to write one. Before that I was a/n:
- elementary/middle school art teacher
- tree planter
- art therapist
- museum outreach coordinator
- wilderness program canoe trip guide, and
- (absolutely terrible) waitress
What was the first book you wrote?
When I was about five, I wrote and illustrated a book of animal traps. Some were traditional — like a box propped up with a stick — and some were my own inventions. One was an upside-down box with two straws leading into it. Next to the straws, there was a tiny sign on a toothpick: “Ants, there’s sugar in here.”
My first published book was My Blue is Happy (2013).
Where do you get your ideas?
I’m inspired by things people — especially kids — say and do; memories; music; art; books; names; random facts and experiences; and the sounds of words. I often have a lot of ideas, but not always the ones I’m looking for. My ideas are like wild animals. They come around when they want to, and usually that’s when I least expect it.
How long does it take to write a book?
Sometimes it feels like the story writes itself. Other times, I struggle with every word. I usually revise many times before giving the manuscript to my critique partners. They read it and give feedback. Then I revise again and repeat the whole process after letting the story sit for a while. The fastest first draft I’ve done was finished in several hours. And the slowest? I’m still working on it.
What else do you like to do?
The same things make me happy now as when I was a tot:
I want to be an author. What should I do?
Here are some things that have really helped me:
Read for fun, but also as a writer. Ask yourself why you like the books you like, and why you don’t like the ones you don’t. What is it about the characters, plot, language, and illustrations that grabs you — or doesn’t? Familiarize yourself with what’s already out there, and let it inspire you to write something new.
Find people who love to write and read, and who appreciate the same types of books as you. Writing can be solitary, but having a team to share the journey can bolster your perseverance and maximize your ability to brainstorm and revise. You can also learn a lot about writing from editing other people’s work. My crit partners are my buddies, my comrades, my cheerleaders, and my secret weapons. We help each other through the creative process and the publishing process, sharing frustrations and celebrating successes along the way. They make me laugh, and they make me work!
Join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). They offer helpful online resources and fantastic conferences and workshops. My first SCBWI retreat changed my life and put me on the path to publication.
? and !
? = Be curious. Ask questions. Not just Who? What? Where? When? Why? and How?, but What if?, Why not?, Would you care to dance?, and Got any chocolate?
! = Be fiercely enthusiastic. Follow your story, blaze your path, and don’t even think about giving up.
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©2013 Jessica Young. All rights reserved.