Monday 3 May 2021

How I am Writing My New Books Every Minute Even When I'm Not • by Natascha Biebow

Writing is something I do. But most of the time, I am not writing.


While I am supposed to be writing, but really I am not writing, I am:


- Juggling: if you have work, family, volunteer commitments, and life in general like me, chances are you are also juggling. This is useful for writing because it means you are living. And living is what is at the heart of writing. So, I make lists, do the school run, hoover the house, check in on my mum, keep wishing dinner will cook itself, help run SCBWI-BI to pay it forward to other writers and illustrators, edit books, and breathe . . .  because one day these experiences will be in my books.


- Reading Other People’s Writing (Books): each day, I indulge in a bit of R-E-A-D-I-N-G. Very often, this is not a children’s book, but if you pay attention while you are reading, you can glean quite a few useful things while you are not writing: inspiration how to write good (or bad) dialogue, techniques for storytelling, ideas for formats, insights into the competition, an awareness of the marketplace. If it’s a book that hooks, or a funny book, or an artfully written one, you can bask in good language like a shark basking in the sun and dream of one day writing a book like that too.

Some books I've been reading


And picture books and nonfiction research

- Walking the Dog: this is an excellent way to pound out plot problems and other writing niggles. Plus observing people in the park means you might get the odd ideas for characters. Importantly, it makes you go out so you are not entirely a hermit in front of a computer staring at a blank screen or typing wondering where this book is going . . . You might even find out what is actually going on in the world and meet a person. And it's exercise so it helps you stay fit. (NB: If you don’t have a dog, you can walk yourself.)


My dog Luna lives for watching
then unsuccessfully chasing squirrels.

- Reading Aloud to a Child (Or a Pet): reading A-L-O-U-D is an excellent way to get an ear for the sounds and structure of writing. When reading aloud, I get completely and totally immersed in the story and it is oh, so rhythmical in a way that reading silently just isn’t. (Sometimes I read my stories A-L-O-U-D to the walls – thankfully, they don’t voice their opinion).

- Cooking, cleaning, washing and Taking Care of Other Chores that always seem to need doing on repeat: see juggling (above).

- Listening to Craft Webinars or Reading Craft Books: mostly listening to other authors speak is a comforting language of threads of a shared experience in the life of writing; it is also great procrastination “Hey, I’m learning HOW to do it, yes, really” instead of bum on seat. Bonus is you can do it at the same time as Walking the Dog . . . and get in the zone.

- Watching Children be Children: if you are lucky to meet a child on your walk or pass a playground or even have family with children or children of your own, you can do something very important while practising not writing: watching and listening.


- Sleeping. A surprising amount of writing can be done in that subconscious state before you fall asleep. This is a great time to noodle around with ideas and story problems. Plus it's necessary.


-Eating Chocolate (Shhh!) definitely helps you keep going.


In other words, I Am BUSY Living, So A Piece of Me Can Find Its Way Into My Books:

All this living is collecting material for writing. One day you’ll see it in my books. I am working on a new nonfiction project; while I’ve done some research and there is much more to do . . . as I’m ‘writing through living’, I’m figuring out HOW TO TELL THIS STORY to make it compelling for a child to read. Every book I write is written because of some living I did. A piece of me is in there, and it is this that I am hoping will connect with readers big and small to make the story resonate with them also. 


Nonfiction picture books are 100% TRUE STORIES. 


To figure out and collect the ‘true’ bit, I need to do a lot of outreach and research. I've decided my topic has ‘legs’ – e.g. it hasn’t already been done by someone else and it has a strong enough hook – so I am busy uncovering more of the required facts. Eventually, it will be time to weed out what should go in the book, and what should be parked up (what is not relevant to the story can possibly go in the backmatter).


Fueled by curiosity and a love of my new topic, my quest is to discover the inner truth, the passion that makes THIS story tick, the child-centred angle, something that will elicit an emotional response from my young readers so they, too, can connect with the spark that led me to write this book.


When I sell my idea to a publisher, you'll be the first to know how the living has made it become a real book. As I told a group of school children on a virtual author visit recently, it can take years to make a book, sometimes as long as they have been alive.  It's about trusting the process.


 For this, I need much time LIVING.


Natascha Biebow, MBE, Author, Editor and Mentor

Natascha is the author of the award-winning The Crayon Man: The True Story of the Invention of Crayola Crayons, illustrated by Steven Salerno, winner of the Irma Black Award for Excellence in Children's Books, and selected as a best STEM Book 2020. Editor of numerous prize-winning books, she runs Blue Elephant Storyshaping, an editing, coaching and mentoring service aimed at empowering writers and illustrators to fine-tune their work pre-submission, and is the Editorial Director for Five Quills. She is Co-Regional Advisor (Co-Chair) of SCBWI British Isles. Find her at



1 comment:

Mini Grey said...

I do love your dinosaur shadow drawing picture!