Thus far I’ve featured illustrators and artists on Tuesday Tours, but today I’m excited to share the first writer’s studio tour featuring children’s book author Miranda Paul. I met Miranda this past October at the SCBWI Fall Conference. After a day of seminars and critiques, I ended up in Miranda’s dorm room with a bunch of other writers. It was my first conference and I didn’t know many people, so the opportunity to have a pseudo slumber party was a lot of fun! In addition to writing picture books, Miranda has a number of other roles: she volunteers with Books for Africa, a foundation that collects, organizes, and ships books to the continent of Africa; Miranda founded RateYourStory, which is a website that allows writers to submit their stories and have them rated by other published authors; and recently, Miranda worked with a group of writers and professionals in the kid lit world to organize the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign in early May.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your creative medium.
I’m a writer, so I suppose my creative medium is spiraled notebooks. I write many of my ideas, storyboards, and first-drafts on cheap, lined paper. I’m often more productive getting raw ideas down in notebooks, because it’s harder to edit myself (no delete key!). Notebooks allow me to feel free to experiment or think up alternate possibilities that come with the creative “play” stage of writing. When I type up drafts, I use the default font. Once I’m getting close to a final draft, then I change the font to Times New Roman and double-space it. Now it’s time to look at the story in a different way—more editorial, professional, technical, serious.
How long have you had your space and how does it affect your creative process?
My amazing husband built me this dedicated space in late 2012, but it took me a while to really settle in. I’ve been using it for almost a year and a half now.
Are there any kind of rituals you do before you start creating?
My office is literally an “Underground Lair” and I live in Wisconsin. So, I turn on the space heater 8-9 months out of the year. I cannot work if I’m cold—my fingers turn white, which is actually a condition I have dealt with for years.
Is there anything you like to listen to while you’re working?
I relish the sound of absolute silence. My brain is generally a very noisy place. Having the quiet around me allows for a sort of osmosis. The point, really, is for things to flow out from me. As a mom, a wife, a reader and a teacher, I have enough input and distraction. My office is a place where I pour things onto paper or screen. Cleaning my office is a different story: I crank the music as loud as possible. I listen to rock, hip-hop, reggae, pop, and even Celtic and folk ballads—a well-rounded mix of everything.
Is there any special item/trinket in your space that inspires you?
Back in 2012 I attended my first SCBWI national conference in Los Angeles. One night, my friend and I went down to the boardwalk and saw the original Zoltar machine from the movie Big. For $1, I got a little yellow card that read, “You have a very fine mind, and if you cultivate it properly, you will be very successful.” I sold my first book three months after that. I also have a copy of a picture book I made in second grade. Lastly, since my brain didn’t come with the proper “neat and organized” genes, I have a plaque above my desk that reads: A Clutter Desk Is A Sign of Genius.
A page from one of Miranda’s first books—written in second grade.
If you had a couple hundred dollars to improve your space, what would you do?
Install really large windows. My office would no longer have that secret-underground-lab feel, and I wouldn’t be able to hide as easily, but I love sunlight.
After countless library fines, Miranda’s come up with a crate system for keeping library books separate from the books she owns.
What advice do you have for people who want to make a personal space where they can be creative?
Don’t stress out if you don’t have an office or space. There’s something to be said about learning to adapt and work in different environments. Lucille Clifton, my first professor in children’s literature, wrote at her kitchen table with six kids buzzing around her. When I need a change of pace, I take the laptop upstairs to the sunroom (with huge windows on all sides). I’ve written a few stories on airplanes, too. That said, having a dedicated place to work has improved my routine and established a much-needed separation for my family regarding “Mom’s job.” My office is in a faraway corner of the basement—perfect for a writer with young kids who needs a place where there is no laundry, no dishes, and four solid walls. I can’t even hear the upstairs phone or the doorbell ring from in here.
What are you working on now?
I’m always working on something new, and continually revising my older manuscripts. I have several forthcoming books, but two that release next year (2015) I am particularly proud of— One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of The Gambia (Lerner/Millbrook) and Water is Water (Macmillan/Roaring Brook Press/Neal Porter Books). The second one was written right here, on the floor of my office, using a mix of pens, notebooks, and computer paper before working out the final draft on the computer.
I also love helping other writers through critiques, and a site I run called Rate Your Story. I meet a lot of new writers each week who are looking for a fresh pair of eyes on their manuscript—and many of them connect to me via my website http://mirandapaul.com.
Miranda’s daughter made her a sign a few years ago, which Miranda keeps on her bulletin board pinned to her rejections folder so she can remember her daughter’s good advice.
Thanks for sharing your writing lair with us, Miranda. I’m looking forward to reading all of your new books when they’re released!