Tuesday, April 23, 2013

5 Tips For Children's Book Illustrators (and Writers!) On How To Keep From Getting In A Rut

No matter how experienced you are in the children's book publishing field, there's always room to grow. Here are a few ideas on how to keep from getting into a creative rut:

Keep learning.

If you get in the mindset that you know everything there is to know about the craft and business of children's book writing and illustration, you'll miss out on opportunities to widen your creative horizons as well as become a better writer/illustrator.

"I'm way to busy to learn anything new," you may be thinking, and may very well have a ton already on your plate: a day job, for instance, or children demanding your attention, impending deadlines, promotion and marketing efforts, and so on.

Try to set aside regular time, even if it's just an hour a week (or every two weeks, or every month) to purposely learn something new about the craft or business. Between those sessions, keep a list of any articles, websites, online tutorials, etc. that interest you.

Look for new ways to get inspired.

Some ideas:

- Attend SCBWI conferences and events.

- Surround yourself with creative people who inspire you.

- Browse blogs and social media feeds of people who inspire you.

- Take regular walks. Don't listen to music or audiobooks, but just let your thoughts wander. I find that whenever I'm getting frustrated or blocked during work, getting away from the Internet is sometimes a good thing.

- Go to the library or bookstore and browse picture books.

Try something different.

Experiment with art techniques different from your usual. Do you usually work with watercolor? Try acrylics. Is most of your art digital? Play around with some physical art materials. You don't need to spend a ton of money. Borrow crayons from your kids. Browse your local art store for sales.

Is your style cartoon-y? Try realistic. If realistic, try cartoon-y. Sure, your experimental drawings may suck, but you don't have to show anyone else.

Do you usually draw people? Try landscapes or architecture. Do you shy away from figure drawing? Force yourself to try it anyway, on a regular basis. You will get better over time.

Change up your work habits: when you work and how you work.

Never tried writing a picture book before? Start keeping an idea notebook. Collect story snippets. The more you write, the better you'll get.

Remember to play.

Don't get so bogged down in the stress of the business (trying to get published, angsting about reviews or sales, publishing politics, etc.) that you forget to play. Doodle for fun. Draw with your kids. If you don't have kids, draw with someone else's kids.

Write for fun. Keep a creative journal. Try Morning Pages.


Fear of failure is one major reason that many children's book writers and illustrators tend to get into a rut. Another is complacency.

Be courageous. Yes, you may fail. I've failed more times than I can count. It can be embarrassing and disheartening at the time, but I've learned to give myself a day or less to wallow, then I move on.

What I've found: it's worth the risk.

So... what do YOU do to keep growing as a children's book illustrator and/or writer? Feel free to share below.

Debbie Ridpath Ohi illustrated I'M BORED, a picture book by Michael Ian Black and published by Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers. She is currently working on two more books for Simon & Schuster as well as HarperCollins. Twitter: @inkyelbows.


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  2. Hi Debbie,
    Thanks for sharing! I'm going to print this out for my inspiration wall :) We all get stuck & these ideas are so refreshing! Especially love the idea about changing up our work habits. It's so easy to get comfortable in our routines that it sometimes prevents us from pushing ourselves further.

    You asked what other people do to keep growing... One thing that helps me keep moving is taking on projects that are challenging. A wise Author/Illustrator once told me a story of how a Publisher liked her character and asked if she could write a story. Not knowing if she could do it, she said "yes". Then they asked if she could create the story in 3 months... she said "yes".

    She had no idea what she was getting into but pushing herself like that, and most importantly "following through", led her to an entire series of books and many years of fabulous work. I remind myself of her story whenever I'm not sure if I can do something, and it always helps pull me through. Most important thing is always following through.

    Thanks again for sharing this!

  3. To help myself grow as a writer, I try to always remain hungry for more knowledge. I always ask people questions like, "How do you like to write? How do you fight writers block?" I find that if I stay inquisitive then the spark will hit me eventually.

    Or if I get impatient, I chase the spark with a stick. Lol

    Thank you for the read.

  4. Truly wonderful post on children books illustrator..loved it!!

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