The Writing Cycle in Picturebooks

The Writing Cycle (with credit to Randy and Katherine Bomer).

Working with writers means digging into the writing cycle. Not the 5-step writing process that’s codified in books or in nifty posters you can put on your walls. I’m talking about the writing cycle that involves collecting ideas over the long haul, tuning into your own thoughts, pulling out ideas and refining them, pounding through a draft, revising more than you ever thought possible, nit-picking every comma (and hiring an editor), and then finally sending it out in the world. That writing cycle. The one real writers live.

Making sense of this writing cycle can be tough, especially when you’ve been sold a bill of goods about those 5-steps. Students and teachers, when trying to move toward a more authentic writing process often struggle to forget those 5-steps because they lack a model for a real cycle. So I’ve been working to put together a set of books — picturebooks , specifically— that offers a model for this more real writing cycle. The stories I’ve collected offer ways into the various moments in the cycle, show characters experiencing the same kinds of thinking and struggles that writers — whether students or teachers — face.

So, here’s the beginning of the list: the cycle itself, collecting, drafting, and revising. And, I’ll fully admit, I’m having all kinds of difficulty figuring out what books to use for the editing and publishing moments. Editing is that moment when, as a writer, you really think about what your audience needs and expects. Conventions (grammar, sort of) are often all about audience expectations. The grammar is only wrong if the audience thinks it’s wrong. And publishing is that making public moment. Please please please send me your suggestions for those moments of the writing cycle and I’ll update the post, with credit where credit is due.

And, without further ado, here’s the list.

  1. The Writing Cycle: Rocket Writes a Story —  Rocket collects words, has a mentor, finds an audience and purpose for writing, and struggles. He writes and revises, and shares his work. Rocket is a writer. (Though we won’t talk about how he has no opposable thumbs with which to hold a pencil.)
  2. Collecting: Sidewalk Flowers and What Do You Do with an Idea? — Both are about paying attention (something all of us could do better), collecting things, and being a little different.
  3. Drafting: Ish  — Who doesn’t feel for Ramon when his older brother tells him that his drawings don’t look like the real thing? Thankfully his sister helps him think with ‘ish’ and he dives back in. Drafting isn’t about getting it right, but getting it down and thinking -ishly helps us all get it down.
  4. Revising: Not a Box  — Give a kid a box and suddenly it is a rocket ship, building, race car, mountain… You name it. Drafts of writing are the same. Once they’re done, you can re-imagine and re-vision them almost endlessly. They are so much more than a box. There are lots of children’s books that are about repeating and refining. Pearl Moscowitz’s Last Stand is another favorite of mine, about trying again and again until something works (with a side of social justice and urban renewal).

Not a Box, by Antoinette Portis

Read these with young writers, and old writers. Read these for yourself. I love having an excuse to read and rethink my own writing through these different characters and their experiences of the world. Enjoy!

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