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 and middle school art teacher
- tree planter
- art therapist
- museum outreach coordinator
- homeless shelter art and music group leader
- flower arranger in a bouquet factory
- 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. Each page had a different trap. Some were traditional—like a box propped up with a stick—and some were my own inventions. One was a big upside-down box with two straws leading into it. There was a tiny sign attached to a toothpick that was stuck into the ground. It read: “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, sensations, memories, music, art, books, names, random facts and experiences, and the sounds of words.
I often have a lot of ideas, but not necessarily the ones I’m looking for. I picture those ones soaring and swooping above my head, just out of reach. My ideas are like wild animals. They come around when they want to, and usually that’s when I least expect it. My mind tends to wander quite a bit, so I try to write stuff down before I forget it, even if it’s on a napkin or whatever scrap I can find.
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 several 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 ideas based on 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.
Get some critique partners or a critique group. Find people who love to write and love to read, and who appreciate the same types of books as you. Writing can be solitary, but having a team of people 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), the largest children’s writing organization in the world. They have online resources to help improve your craft and navigate the publishing world, and they sponsor fantastic regional and international conferences and workshops. There are also grants you can apply for and ways to connect with others in the field. My first SCBWI retreat changed my life and put me on the path to publication.
Remember ? 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.