Monday, September 12, 2016

Rebecca Hirsch Writes Science

By Sue Heavenrich

Rebecca Hirsch has written more than sixty books, from picture books to YA nonfiction, for educational and trade markets. She’s also written about science and nature for Spider and other magazines. Her most recent picture book, released just last month, is Plants Can't Sit Still. If you’ve got a wiggly-worm for a child, you’ve gotta get a copy. (I reviewed it on Friday over at Archimedes Notebook)

“This was the manuscript I took to Rutgers back in 2013,” she said, but the story Hirsch took to Rutgers looked nothing like the breezy text of the published book.

“It was a list about cool things plants can do,” she said. Her Rutgers mentor pointed out that it needed just a few things to set it straight:
  • an entry into the story
  • a narrative ark
  • a strong ending
  • turn descriptions into art notes and let illustrations show those details
 The first thing Hirsch did when she went home was to closely study picture books. “I wanted to see how they start. And I discovered I could take out description because it would be shown in the artwork.” One of the books that helped her see a different way to organize material is Ducks Don’t Get Wet, by Augusta Goldin. She paid attention to how that book used a repeating line. It took her about six months, and a complete re-visioning of her story, but she found the heart of the book.

Reading the kind of book that you want to write is important, Hirsch says. One summer when she didn’t have any projects, she read 100 picture books. She chose a number of award-winners and studied how the first sentence worked; how the first page worked; what the “fresh take” was for that story. At the same time, she studied Ann Whitford Paul’s Writing Picture Books.

“It’s focused on fiction, but the rules apply to nonfiction,” Hirsch said.

Her advice to other writers? “Have more than a single project going on at once.” On any single day, Hirsch usually has four to six books in various stages of completeness. Right now she’s doing preliminary research for one, writing text for a middle grade science book, has a couple picture books in the rough draft stage. “This,” she says, “allows me to get away from one project for a couple days – and come back with more clarity.”

Every six months or so, Hirsch takes a step back and reviews her goals. She usually has two or three big goals: write a new picture book; study picture books; maybe write some poetry. She also sets herself a few minor goals that she matches to a timeline: do research, draft the story, do the back matter. She puts these on a calendar.

“Having a framework helps,” says Hirsch. “Knowing that this week I’m working on back matter helps me stay organized.”

It must be working because she’s got another book hitting the shelves in November, Birds vs. Blades. It’s about offshore wind power and protecting seabirds.


  1. Great interview of Rebecca Hirsch and what real revision looks like! Welcome to the GROG, wonderful writers, both of you.

  2. Great post! I also live by the "have more than one project going on at once" rule. It really helps, especially when you reach a challenging point in one project and need to give it time to percolate before continuing. I will have to look for your newest book at the library! It looks so engaging.

  3. Yup, I agree with Laura. Having multiple projects is the best way to stay efficient. When one manuscript needs time to chill out, you can turn your attention to a different project. I can't wait to check out Plants Can't Sit Still. Thanks for the post, Sue.

  4. Sue, you have hit the ground running. Great post. It's only in the last four or five years that I've been working on multiple projects. I'm a bit of a slow learner. Love reading about folks who are science-oriented. Always a need for those books!

  5. Lots of great tips and advice in this post! Thanks. I always appreciate hearing the nuts and bolts of how folks "get 'er dun" in this biz. Nancy Sander's book is a great one in that regard, too, FYI. It has a long long title, something like, You Can Learn How to Build a Successful Writing Career.

  6. Sue, you did a phenomenal job distilling our conversation! Mary Kay, I agree with you: Nancy's book (Yes! You Can Build a Successful Writing Career) is full of ideas for how to organize your time and get more done.

  7. What a great interview, Sue! And kudos on your exciting new book, Rebecca! I absolutely loved hearing how your writing process works for you...great tips to implement in our own writing journeys. And thanks Mary Kay and Rebecca for the shout out about my book. Te he he, yes, it does have a long title! YES! YOU CAN LEARN HOW TO WRITE CHILDREN'S BOOKS, GET THEM PUBLISHED, AND BUILD A SUCCESSFUL WRITING CAREER. Find out more at the book's site at

  8. Thank you Rebecca and Sue for this interview. Congrats on the new book, Rebecca. I have several projects going at one time and I am more efficient. Great tips and examples!

  9. Welcome to the GROG family, Sue, and thank you for bringing Rebecca's words of wisdom to our readers. I'm very intrigued by this book and can't wait to see it in person. Theoretically, I agree with having more than one thing going at a time, but I tend to get pretty obsessed with projects I'm working on...

  10. Great post! It was interesting to read how your ms evolved into the story it is today. Congratulations!

  11. PLANTS CAN'S SIT STILL by Rebecca Hirsch is a book I must read. Thank you for introducing me to this delightful book, Sue. Rebecca's thoughts and tips are practical and useful.

    This Sue L. welcomes you, Sue H. to the GROG Blog.

  12. Appreciation, Sue, for this mini-workshop you've brought us, right here at GB with Rebecca Hirsch.

    BIRDS vs BLADES? I can't wait. Important topic. And PLANTS CAN'T SIT STIll is a grabber of a title.

  13. LOVED this post! Rebecca, I'm going to request your book from the library right now! And I'm going to Rutgers for the first time in October. I can only hope that three years from now, I can be participating in the GROG talking about my NF PB book coming out. . . . :-)