Posted by: nancyisanders | February 27, 2014

Nonfiction Picture Book: Writer’s Mini-Retreat Week 2

My writing friends and I met again yesterday for our special writer’s mini-retreat to work on our nonfiction picture books. It was just fun to see their smiling faces and share their excitement and talk shop about the working of creating our picture books.

Two of the gals are working together and they decided to switch gears and write a fiction picture book with lots of nonfiction in it. The other gal and I are still on course with straight nonfiction. One of the things you may discover as you’re researching and starting to write the actual manuscript is that it demands to switch from pure nonfiction to historic fiction or fiction with a huge dose of nonfiction. That’s okay! There’s a great market for picture books with informative text these days whichever angle you opt to take.

Here’s what we really did in real time to really roll up our sleeves and work on writing the first draft of our picture books!

1:00 The ladies arrived with armloads of research books and laptops and file folders of notes. We settled down at my dining room table and shared about the progress we’ve been making.

1:15 We spent 15 minutes updating our bibliographies with the intent of including footnotes in our manuscripts as we work on writing them. When I write a manuscript such as for a nonfiction picture book, I like to keep my bibliography file and my manuscript open at the same time so that when I state a fact or make a statement, I can easily click to insert a footnote, then copy and paste the bibliographical info from my bibliography into the footnote and add the page number I got that fact from. This little step saves me TONS of time and angst of forgetting what fact came from which source. So first we updated our bibliographies with any current resources we’ve been using.

1:30 Next we all pulled out our Basic Plot Worksheet and our Outline.

We reacquainted ourselves with these.

1:45 Then we wrote down our writing goal for the day.
Basically, this was our plan on what chunk of our manuscript we wanted to write during our time together. Since we were all pretty much at the same place, we all decided we wanted to write the first three points in the beginning part of our manuscript. (A manuscript is divided into 4 parts: the beginning, the first half of the middle, the second half of the middle, and the end.) We discussed the fact that since we want to aim for an 800-word manuscript, this first part should be 200 words. Less if you’ve already written the text for the first page of the published book.

A first draft of 200 words or less! We could do this!

2:00 Next we talked about finding our writing rhythm.

In my next post here on my blog, I’ll share how to do this. Basically, when I write, I fall into the same rhythm:
1) Read my sample target text (i.e. the published picture book you’d like your book to be like)
2) Self-edit what I wrote last time for 15 minutes or so.
3) Research for an hour or so.
3) Write the next chunk of text. In this case, the first 200 words of my manuscript.

2:15-3:30 Next came research and writing.
We spent time digging through our research resources and writing and researching some more and writing some more.

Around 3:30 we were all eager to share what we’d been working on. There was just one rule we had to follow…ONLY give feedback on someone else’s work by pointing out the strengths.

Why no critical input at this stage?

Because I’ve discovered that when I’m working on a picture book or one chapter of a chapter book, if I get too much critical feedback before that chunk is done, I shut down. I feel like I’m inadequate for the task. Sometimes I give up and quit altogether. So until our first draft is down on paper from beginning to end, we only point out our strengths in these mini-retreats.

After that, and only after that, will we roll up our sleeves and start to chop and cut and point out errors. But by then we’ll be ready to do that.

At 4:00 everyone packed up all their gear and headed out the door. We all wrote down dates to meet again next week and the next, with plans to continue meeting together to write, actually write, the first draft of these picture books from beginning to end.

And boy, are we having fun!!!

If you haven’t yet started writing your first draft, go ahead and hold your own writer’s mini-retreats! Meet with a writing buddy online if you can’t meet in person. And write your book!


  1. Meeting regularly is a terrific way to stay on target and keep motivated.

    • Paula, next time we’ll have to take a picture of our group meeting so we can show everyone how hard we’re working :o)

  2. Reblogged this on Why I Write Picture Books? (#YIWritePB) and commented:
    Sharing valuable information

  3. Reblogged this on Why I Write Picture Books? (#YIWritePB) and commented:
    Sharing valuable information

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