How I Write a Book


When kids ask, I tell them that if you want to be a writer, you need to pay attention. You must always be looking and listening and noticing things, because you never know when something might happen that will give you an idea you can use in a story. Someone might say something odd or amusing, you might go somewhere, meet someone, see something, or learn a new fact that will send you off on the journey of writing a story. Not only that, but you have to go out and live your life: do things, so that you can write from experience.

I have gotten book ideas in dreams, while in the bathtub, reading the newspaper, traveling, running, fishing, and eavesdropping on conversations at restaurants. I might be doing something as ordinary as peeling a potato.

One Potato...Two Potato

One Potato… Two Potato…! Hey, suppose a poor, old couple were down to their very last potato, when they find a magic pot. When they put in one potato, two potatoes come out! Yeah! And when they put in their one and only candle, TWO candles come out!

I better start writing this down.

I'd better start writing this down.

This is a first draft. It’s VERY rough.

This is a first draft. It’s VERY rough.

…and throw it away.

I read it...and end up throwing most of it away.

I rethink and rewrite.

I rethink and rewrite.

And write and rewrite…

And write and rewrite…

and write and rewrite some more.

and write and rewrite some more.

Writer’s block is a real thing. Sometimes I get stuck.

Writer’s block is a real thing. Sometimes I get stuck.

Sometimes it helps to take a break and go for a walk with a friend.

Sometimes it helps to take a break and go for a walk with a friend.

Sometimes it doesn’t.

Sometimes it doesn’t.

Sometimes it helps to sleep on it, and let my subconscious mind work on the problem.

Sometimes it helps to sleep on it, and let my subconscious mind work on the problem.

Sometimes inspiration comes during the night!

Sometimes inspiration comes during the night!

Sometimes it doesn’t.

Sometimes it doesn’t.

I do a lot of research

I do a lot of research, especially for my books of historical fiction. I call people, google all sorts of crazy topics, call up experts, and go to museums and libraries. From all this fascinating information, I have to pick only the most interesting details to use in my story.

My husband Buzz is my first reader. He always has useful comments and suggestions. It helps to hear things from a guy’s point of view.

My husband Buzz is my first reader. He always has useful comments and suggestions. It helps to hear things from a guy’s point of view.

writers' group

Once a month, I meet with my pals, an incredible group of writers and illustrators of children’s books. We read our new stuff aloud to one another and critique what we’ve heard. We’re kind, but honest, and really try to help each other out.


The writer’s group (clockwise from top left): MJ Auch, Vivian Vande Velde, Robin Pulver, Ellen Stoll Walsh, Katherine Coville, Bruce Coville, me, and Patience Brewster.

writers' group

Reading at the writer's group, next to Patience and her dog Reuben.

After a meeting with my writer’s group

After a meeting with my writer’s group, I am always excited about rewriting with their ideas and suggestions in mind.

It helps to look at what I’ve written from a new angle. The crazy, slanting walls in my office remind me to do this.

It helps to look at what I’ve written from a new angle. The crazy, slanting walls in my office remind me to do this.

I write,

I write,

and write

and write

until I have a manuscript that I am proud and excited to send to my agnet and my editor,

until I have a manuscript that I am proud and excited to send to my agent and my editor,

who will undoubtedly want me to do more revisions and rewriting!

who will undoubtedly want me to do more revisions and rewriting!


But I wouldn’t have it any other way. Because once the book is printed, it’s too late for changes, and I want every book I write to be the best it can be. Seeing the stories that I worked so hard on become beautiful books is the most rewarding thing I can imagine. I love when they are translated into other languages, like Danish, Korean, Italian, German, French, and more! It thrills me to think of children all over the world reading my words.