“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.
- an entry into the story
- a narrative ark
- a strong ending
- turn descriptions into art notes and let illustrations show those details
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.