A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.

How do you write/illustrate, and why?

I couldn’t resist volunteering for this post because it means I get to show you some of my collection of notebooks. Also, I think the creative process, and how we deal with our words once those ideas have popped into our heads, is a very interesting one.

Writing notebooksFor me, the process begins with an idea which is quickly scribbled in a notebook – the seed, if you like – in the hope that I will be able to read it back later! I keep a notebook by my bed… err, correction, two, one in the kitchen, two or three in the living room (my main writing space) and a whole load of others in a drawer – all very necessary for future projects (of course). Oh, and there’s one in the car, and usually one in a handbag – every handbag. That’s quite a few. But this is all very necessary you see – as fellow writers will know, ideas often strike in the most random places, so you have to be prepared. Night-time is one of those times, so having notebooks by my bed is essential if I’m to record those thoughts while they are still fresh, and before I nod off again. My current WIP came to me through two separate dreams – one I recorded in words at some ungodly hour, and the other I drew a sketch of the moment I woke up. These two dreams, the notes and drawing, form the beginning and part of the end of the novel, and if I hadn’t recorded them there and then they would have disappeared into the ether. So, it’s really important for me to have a notebook to hand… a nice one, with a super-duper cover and sometimes cute little pictures inside 🙂

I also get quite a lot of random ideas in the car while I’m waiting to pick the children up from school – it’s in those moments of stillness, I think, when there’s nothing else to distract me, that the freshest ideas come.  I had a netbook for Christmas a couple of years ago, with the intention of using it in the car, but when I tried, it didn’t feel right. When ideas are so sparkly new, or I have just solved a plot problem (or realised that I have a plot problem), writing them on paper feels the right way to record these thoughts. By the time I’ve logged on, got impatient at waiting, got distracted by emails/Twitter/Facebook, the idea/thought/lightbulb moment, has passed.

So, I always start with an idea in a notebook, and then build on this original idea, usually dedicating a notebook to each project (my 25.7.13 Mapping out my storyexcuse for NEEDING so many). With my recent WIP I drew the sketch from the dream, filled a quarter of a notepad with notes and ideas for characters, plot and possible themes – along with little sketches – and drew a map, before I began the actual process of writing on my laptop. Having said this, I do think different projects lend themselves to different methods, and when writing children’s picture books I will write down a basic idea in a sentence or two and then launch into the writing process on my laptop straight away.

For me, this is partly to do with layout, partly to do with text length, and partly to do with plot. With a longer manuscript, more characters, subplots and themes, I need to develop these ideas and carry out any research before I start to tell the story. With a picture book, or a poem for that matter, the process seems more instantaneous, and the shorter text and need for conciseness means I can play about with words as they appear on the screen, picking out rhythms and rhyme, imagining the accompanying images and shaping the words around them. The Ruby and Grub books were all written on my laptop – I have no hand-written notes for these at all (shock, horror), other than those that appeared on early draft printouts. I do, however, have a sketch I did of Ruby and Grub, as they first appeared in my head… and no, you can’t see it – Sarah Warburton’s wonderful illustrations are faaaaar better!

So for me, it’s notepads first, where seeds are sewn, and laptop later, where ideas can blossom. But I still keep a continual barrage of notes and ideas going in the WIP-associated-notepad right up until the final draft… well, it would be a shame to waste them, wouldn’t it?

How do you work through your writing process?

About Abi Burlingham

I write children's books and paint pictures inspired by nature, animals, trees etc, mostly in acrylics. I am a crisp addict.

13 comments on “How do you write/illustrate, and why?

  1. jomcarroll
    March 10, 2014

    The travel writing all begins in notebooks, as I scribble wherever I go. Then I transcribe that lot onto the computer when I get home – it’s tedious but there’s something about that process that helps the real story to emerge.

    Then is relatively easy to get the framework onto the computer, and edit from there.

    But fiction and poetry – they generally begin in notebooks. And, like you, every big project has a notebook of its own (sometimes two, if it gets out of hand!)

    (There’s no such thing as too many notebooks!)

  2. Barbara Henderson
    March 10, 2014

    Your notebooks look amazing. I write ideas down in notebooks too but it’s a great regret of mine that I can’t draw. What a great talent you have! Bea

  3. Deanus
    March 10, 2014

    Y’know what? – I had actually forgotten my love of note books that I had years ago. Like you I always wanted to have access to one at all times, and a pen of course. I never had many and they didn’t get filled very quickly, but I loved the things themselves. I think it may be time to treat myself to one.

    Love hearing about the different approaches you take for the different styles and genres of writing. I think the act of writing on paper must make a huge, but probably indefinable, difference.

  4. Abi Burlingham
    March 10, 2014

    Hi Bea! Thank you 🙂 It is handy to be able to draw those images in my head, although they always look sooo much better in my head than on paper. Notebooks are fab, aren’t they? I can never have enough.

  5. RachelHamiltonAuthor
    March 10, 2014

    I love the look of your notebooks. I’m another one for drawing everything on paper before I start writing. Somehow it makes the ideas feel clearer. I put the mindmap for my first book up on my website and my illustrator used bits of it for my front cover, which made me feel secretly artistic 😉

  6. Lisa Shambrook
    March 10, 2014

    I love ‘Gorgus’, I have diaries, notebooks and scrapbook papers from ‘Gorgus’! My other favourite place for notebooks id TK Maxx…soooo many to choose from, and great prices! I have a huge pile of notebooks…
    And why is it inspiration always pops into our heads while we’re dropping off to sleep, or driving, or being busy?
    I love noting ideas down though, while waiting for the kids.

  7. orthodoxmom3
    March 12, 2014

    I definitely start the process on paper. Sometimes it ends up all on paper first, sometimes just part of it…but it’s always started that way. I feel more creative with a pencil than a keyboard. 🙂

  8. Pingback: 14th March 2014 | Abi Burlingham - Author

  9. Abi Burlingham
    March 17, 2014

    I agree – a notebook feels like the right place for thoughts and ideas, and I think it’s that kinaesthetic thing of holding a pencil which makes it feel more a part of the creative process.

  10. Abi Burlingham
    March 17, 2014

    We should set up a Gorjus appreciation society, Lisa 😉

  11. Abi Burlingham
    March 17, 2014

    Thanks, Rachel. I love the idea of some of your mind map ending up as part of the cover – how fab!

  12. Abi Burlingham
    March 17, 2014

    Thanks, Dean. Glad your love of notebooks has been reignited. I think it must be similar for you with your book cover design and illustrations – different techniques etc, which, I guess, is one of the reasons that being creative is so rewarding and pliable.

  13. Abi Burlingham
    March 17, 2014

    Lovely to hear about your writing process, Jo – it sounds quite similar to mine, except that you are usually in fabulous places and I am normally at home, although I do write on trains too and at platforms, if I get the chance.

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