Investing in the Craft and Writing from the Heart

Image: Danilo Rizzuti /

Image: Danilo Rizzuti /

I had the absolute pleasure of participating in a Writer’s Digest Picture Book Craft Intensive webinar last week with the amazing agent, Mary Kole. Getting up at 2:45am to attend the said webinar was slightly less pleasurable, however it was absolutely, totally, entirely worth every bit of sleep I didn’t get*. Hooked up live via my computer, I got to hear Mary share some of her insights into picture books and the publishing industry for an hour and a half, while watching an accompanying PowerPoint. It really was just like attending a lecture except that I couldn’t actually see the lecturer; there was no video – just audio and a visual presentation. There was a little box for me to type any questions I had and send to Mary, which I put to good use throughout. Writer’s Digest guarantee that no question goes unanswered in a webinar, however that doesn’t mean they get answered immediately. In our case, Mary had so much amazing-incredible-insightful stuff to share she was struggling to fit it into the 90 minute time frame as it was, so the questions will be answered and sent to us with a link of the lecture which we can access for some time afterwards. And if I had ever questioned the value of investing in my craft, this webinar put any of those doubts safely to rest.

When I decided to take writing seriously about four years ago, I knew I had a lot to learn (read: I knew nothing except I loved to write and seemed to have a way with words). I enrolled in a variety of workshops and short courses, read and read and read online and had the attitude that I was doing my apprenticeship and it would require just as much hard work and dedication as any other apprenticeship. I was right :) I’ve always loved learning and thoroughly enjoy being challenged academically and intellectually, so investing in the craft has come naturally to me. However, it’s quite difficult to find top-quality learning opportunities that revolve solely around picture books, especially ones that fit into my life (as crazy as it is). And can I just say, Mary knows picture books. As in she KNOWS picture books. I obviously am not at liberty to share the details of Mary’s webinar, but what I can say is that it has had a profound impact on my writing. As Mary was talking, light bulbs were going off in my head. I know why some of my PBs aren’t working. I know why they haven’t been picked up yet. I can see with clarity why certain manuscripts are still in the unpublished pile on my computer.

That sort of knowledge and insight is gold for a writer, but I have to say it’s also a little intimidating. Part of the webinar deal is a critique on a PB from Mary. As I was listening to what makes an awesome picture book, I knew that nothing that I had already written was good enough. And although I certainly could use some pointers on how to improve my existing PBs, I didn’t want to waste an opportunity. On top of that, Mary suggested that we go and apply what we learned to a manuscript. I decided to do just that and write a totally new picture book. That’s where the intimidation part kicked in.

Now that I have a greater appreciation and more technical knowledge of just how complex, crafted and entirely amazing good picture books are, I found myself paralysed with a not-healthy dose of self-doubt. Could I actually write something that incorporated the techniques Mary highlighted? I wasn’t sure. I’ve been mulling the concepts over for four days now and with the deadline for sending in the manuscript for critiquing fast approaching, I was starting to get a little worried. That’s when my good friends, Kat Apel and Dee White stepped in and gave me some great advice: write the picture book that was already in my heart. It was just what I needed to hear.

Thanks to the support from these lovely ladies, and the knowledge and insight I gained from Mary, I was able to find the story that I needed to write. The kids may have had soup out of a tin for dinner, but I got the thing written. And here’s the best bit: I can see how I’ve taken what Mary told us and used it. And I can see how the application of those concepts has made my manuscript strong in ways that I would never have anticipated. And now I’m in love. With a new picture book. And it’s beautiful!

So if you get the opportunity to invest in the craft, do it! It’s an investment of time and money that may well pay off ten-fold. But whatever you do, don’t forget to write from the heart. That’s where all the best stories come from.

*And I may or may not have had a total fan-girl moment when Mary mentioned my name at the start of the workshop. Apparently my constant tweeting about the ridiculous hour I was going to have to get up caught her attention LOL Thanks, Mary!

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13 Responses to “Investing in the Craft and Writing from the Heart”

  • A truly beautiful story in big and small ways that totally captured my heart. You always write gorgeous PBs, but this one is breathtaking. It is still whispering its way through my mind and heart. So proud of you! xx

    • Karen

      Thank you, my dear! It’s such an exquisite feeling when you know on some level that what you’ve written is working. I am savouring that feeling right now!!

  • Karen, hope the story goes well. It is such a learning curve.
    I am sitting here at 1:42am, stuck with this book I am working on at the moment, and a deadline for printing has me frozen. Ahhhhhh.

    Keep up the good work… you continue to inspire!!

    Write well… for the kids!

    • Karen

      Thanks so much, Bruce. And good luck with your book too! Deadlines can be friend or foe…but I’m sure you will get there in the end :)

  • Karen,

    Your beautiful new picture book comes from your beautiful heart.

    I’m sure it will profoundly affect people in big and small ways.


    • Karen

      Thank you so much, Dee! Some books feel like a gift from heaven – SAMUEL’S KISSES was like that for me – and others you need to carve out of stone with a toothpick! I’m enjoying this heaven-sent one for a little while before I get back to my carving… :P

  • Thanks for this post, Karen. Your words always engender hope in me too. And even though I haven’t seen your newly minted picture book, (like the lucky ladies, Dee and Kat), I’m sure I will one of these days!
    Take care and keep loving what you do, sweet girl. :)

    • Karen

      Thanks, Sheryl! I really do love what I do…although my children didn’t appreciate having soup out of a tin last night because Mummy had been too busy writing all day!!!

  • Thanks for sharing about the webinair, Karen. Sounds like it was brilliant, and absolutely worth you missing some slumber. Congratulations on your dedication in getting up in the middle of the night – shows your passion, as did this post.

    Thrilled to hear about your new picture book. Enjoy the polishing time.

    Best, Chris

    • Karen

      Thanks so much, Chris. And to be honest, doing a webinar in the middle of the night was far easier than trying to participate in the middle of the day with the four kids running around!!!

  • Thanks for sharing your experience, Karen. I cannot wait to read this new picture book gem. Wishing you every success.x

    • Karen

      Thanks, Angela. Occasionally I write something that fills me with the hope that it’s actually good. This is one of those moments and I’m enjoying it :) Happy writing to you!

  • So glad I found your blog, followed the links from Twitter and Jo Hart. Anyway, have been thinking of doing a course but which one!
    Will look again at the WD webinars.
    Bummer – missed this one!
    Look forward to reading more from you.

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