Tag Archives: beginning new work



In this story, a mouse’s squeak sets off a chain reaction that wakes all the animals in the surrounding meadows and mountains. I painted the illustrations in black and white gouache resist and my sister Kate McGee colored them in Photoshop, as we did for Little Wolf’s First Howling,

THE ILLUSTRATIONS for SQUEAK! are delivered to Philomel for publication next spring. So it is time to scratch around for a new project. How to begin?

BEGIN as a cobbler – laying out all the pieces of the story on the bench. It’s going to be a shoe, but what sort of shoe? Bright buckles? Strong arch support? High heeled, strappy, patent leather?

Begin with an overheard line: “As long as you’re home in time for wormcakes,” or “You’re just a baby. A baby, baby, baby,” or “I remember he was missing a few fingers.”

Begin with a character and the stakes: a child in jeopardy, a badger or weasel or mouse with unquenched desire. Yearning is not enough, begin with clear need.

Begin with a sequence: days of the week, or the five senses, cities along a highway. Sequence can open up a writing experience. Begin there

or with place. Begin with a place that holds memories of the life lived there: the janitor’s hideout in the school basement, a dresser drawer that served as a cradle, a sun-parched hillside.

FREEDOM flows when I approach the blank page. In some ways a new beginning feels like the first time I tried to write anything. In other ways, I lean on 27 years of making picture books.

I think of Seahawks football coach Pete Carroll, talking about the freedom that players gain when they master their skills. He said: “Think of a dancer. Dancers work and they work and they work and they master their skill – or singers – they master their skills so far that improvisation just comes flowing out of them. Their natural expression of the best they can possibly be comes out of them because there is no boundary to hold them back.”

I hope for such intuitive leaps, but am aware of my shortcomings, too, and appreciate encouragement from Leonard Cohen’s Anthem:

      Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. / There is a crack in everything – that’s how the light gets in.

BEGIN. Let the world fall away and follow the path into the story – as long as you’re home in time for wormcakes.


Happy New Year 2013!

I am thinking about beginnings – beginning this new year and beginning new projects.J. PaschkisSummer Birds p24-25

Starting anything is exciting but scary. I have to overcome rational and irrational fear to begin. Mainly I am afraid that a new idea is stupid and not worth pursuing. I have to ignore that fear until the idea is big enough to stand up for itself.Julie Paschkis, Root 2004

I am used to riding out the doubt when I am painting.

Julie Paschkis, brown deer












But writing is less habitual and my foundations are shakier.

Julie Paschkis, Illustration from Twist












I have been beginning to learn Spanish for several years now.   My Spanish is halting but improving slowly. I love learning the words and grammar. This fall I have been writing poems in Spanish and English. I work on the poems in Spanish first. My lack of fluency somehow frees me from my fear of starting a poem. I wander around the words, look at them as strange and wondrous objects and pluck them for my poems. I am distracted from the amorphous fear of creating something from scratch.

Julie Paschkis, Inko












After I have written a poem in Spanish I work on the same poem in English. I go back and forth until both versions work. My final step is to have true Spanish speakers look at the poems and point out the egregious errors: thank you Fernando and Julie Larios, and Marta Seymour.

Punctuation, 19th century engraving

New ideas are skittish. They want to run away, like deer. Here is a sample of one of my bilingual efforts, illustrated with words and image.

Julie Paschkis, Venado

What do you do to keep your ideas from running away?