OK…It is April 1st. This is actually my hand drawn B-film from animation school. No computer needed. Well, until I digitized the video tape made from the 16mm.

This is a follow-up to my previous post about the perception that picture books are easy to write. At one time I thought picture books must be easier to write than other prose and it’s easy to understand why. Picture books tend to have very few words.

As in some have none at all. But those are obviously books created by a visual artist. The books that create more problems for would-like-to-be-writers are the ones that feature a few words – like 10 words, or 80 or 150.

That’s a lot less than a middle grade novel. Any chapter from Harry Potter is 20 times the word count of an entire picture book.

So I understand why word count can make a picture book seem much easier to write.

Another aspect that makes a picture book seem simple is, well, they often are very simple. A journey to the laundromat or a day at the park. A first day or school or a story about feeling crabby.

But this is ‘simple’ like a William Carlos Williams poem is simple. This is ‘simple’ as in finding only what must be there. This is not simple as in easy simple, quick simple, fast simple. Of course the best picture book authors make it look easy. But if you watch any expert craftsmen their results seem to appear painlessly and easily. At least to a casual observer.

Picture books are prose that fit somewhere between poetry and short story. Between sketches and paintings. They are neither but contain elements of both.

Their difficulty doesn’t come from a picture books size (War and Peace they are not) or from the complexity and mechanizations of plots. In fact, if you are writing a picture book and are having issue with your plot, I think it’s safe to say you already have too much plot.

For me writing a picture book seems to involve taking everything I want to ‘say’, writing it all down, drawing a bunch of pictures, then forgetting it, erasing it, tossing it away. And after doing that enough times I finally find what’s worth writing and drawing.

Yes, I’ve heard it before. Picture books have so few words, they MUST be easy to write, right?

600-900 words? What is that, an hour or two at THE MOST? Maybe a half hour more to correct spelling?

I had the second meeting of a new critique group I joined yesterday and we discussed some novels the members are working on and some picture book manuscripts. And those of us who are trying to do both clearly see how the differences between the genres/formats does not add up to one being ‘easier’. Or quicker.

A picture book manuscript I wrote, which is finally good enough to share with my agent, had a long gestation. When someone asked how long even I was shocked that the first sketch I did that inspired the idea was done just after my daughter was born. 7 years. Ouch.

I know I am not a ‘fast’ writer and not all my picture book have bounced about for that long, but many do.

Two picture books I wrote have been published now (well, Dilly Dally Daisy won’t be out until July) and the other 20 or 30 I wrote along the way will never be out. Not a great batting average.

The right 900 words are not so easy to find.

From The Thing with No Head. Available as an ebook on the iBookstore.


Buy and download it here.

Mark’s Neighborhood. I meet different folks every day of the week. Generally a happy lot. But it’s a bit different ’round here.


From the eBook available at the iBookstore.



On my recent school visits I made a mistake. I was signing a lot of books and talking while doing it, and I draw in each book so it takes a bit and…

You see…I was signing a copy of The Great Thanksgiving Escape and I had been signing a lot of copies of Earthling! as well – and it looks like I had a crossover signing.


That’s Gavin from The Great Thanksgiving Escape, drawn onto the title page of The Great Thanksgiving Escape inviting a student to attend Cosmos Academy – which happens to be the school in my book Earthling!

Avyree brought this to my attention later that day and ah – I added a bit more to that page to make it right!

And I always thought I was great at making sure I signed the right book with the right name and such. Live and learn, live and learn and slow down!


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