The simple solution to ditching book envy and finding your writing voice

Have you ever felt book envy? You read a great story, or even just a great opening line, and wish you’d written it?

I wouldn’t really call it envy when I feel this way, because that implies resenting the actual author, when what I feel is more admiration with a touch of kicking myself for not thinking of an idea. That’s how I felt when I read “Charlotte the Scientist Is Squished” by Camille Andros last weekend. (See review below.) It’s a fictional picture book about a young rabbit scientist, and the plot is driven by the steps in the scientific method. To me, this structure is simple and brilliant. That’s where the “Why didn’t I think of that!” comes in.

If you’ve ever felt this way, take heart from this quote from author Ann Whitford Paul:

I used to feel upset that I couldn’t write something that somebody else wrote, and none of us can. We can only write the stories that matter to us.

Paul’s words come from a webinar she gave to Julie Hedlund’s 12 x 12 Picture Book Challenge last month. As for how to find your voice and the stories that matter to you? Her solution was simple:


Easy peasy, right? 😉

Charlotte the Scientist Is SquishedCharlotte the Scientist Is Squished by Camille Andros

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As a budding scientist, Charlotte needs space to conduct experiments. But when you’re a bunny with dozens of siblings, space is a limited resource. Charlotte uses the scientific method to tackle this problem and finds that her initial solutions may have additional effects that aren’t ideal.
I love Camille Andros’ use of the scientific method as a framing device for a story that any introvert or child from a large family can relate to. Brianne Farley’s illustrations are bright and inviting. Hopefully we’ll see more of Charlotte in the future!
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3 revision tips from an L.A. Times editor

Joanna Penn edits

Book edits. Photo by Joanna Penn

“It’s okay to borrow from literature,” an L.A. Times editor told me and a room full of journalists at a recent workshop on word craft. Well, the reverse is also true. I attended that workshop for my job as a reporter but in the subsequent days have found myself utilizing Steve Padilla’s tips as I revise picture book manuscripts. Details like length and vocabulary level may differ in my writing spheres, but the principles of good writing cut across formats. So I thought I’d share some of Steve’s best tips here that you can make use of in your children’s writing, or any other kind of writing.

1. Focus on verbs Print your story out and circle all the verbs. Look at each one and decide if it’s a) active, and b) specific/vivid. My high school yearbook adviser drilled active vs. passive into me as a teenager, so I rarely use forms of “to be,” but I’ve noticed in revisions that many of my verbs are still boring/generic.

An example:The man was eaten by a lion. (passive)

A lion ate the man. (active)

A lion devoured the man in two gulps. (active, vivid, specific)

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