Friday, March 25, 2016

Let It Go! My Secret Step to Success with Lori Mortensen

After spending oodles of time on a manuscript, the last thing you want to do is kick it to the curb and start over.

But sometimes your reluctance to let it go is exactly what’s holding you back from writing your next winning  manuscript. A great example of this is my rhyming picture book Cowpoke Clyde and Dirty Dawg that became one of Amazon’s bestselling picture books in 2013.

The original idea came from my neighbor’s dogs that regularly broke out of their backyard and raced down the street. A few minutes later, I’d watch as the owners raced down the street after them. “Come back, Rolly! Come back Wendy!”

It seemed like a great premise for a story. However, in my story instead of adults racing after their dogs, I imagined a boy chasing his dog for a bath. I wrote it in a contemporary setting and rhymed words such as dog, log, frog, etc.

It was a good start, but it wasn’t long before the whole thing was putting me to sleep. Dog, log, frog. Who cared? After a while,  I didn’t even want to work on it. Ugh. At this point, I could have gotten into a revision loop trying to make this particular approach work, or just put myself out of my misery by deleting the whole thing and telling myself it was just one of those stories that didn’t work out. Luckily, however, I’d been reading some picture books with cowboy settings, so I made a big decision.

I let it go.

I swapped my contemporary boy for a cowpoke in a western setting.

In an instant, I knew I had a tiger by the tail. The story took off--along with with Dirty Dawg! The rhymes and rhythm fell into place and I knew I had a winner.  As I wrote it, I couldn’t wait to see what happened.

But my story would still be stuck in the ditch if I hadn’t been willing to let the original idea go and explore something new. I’m plum tickled to announce that its sequel, Cowpoke Clyde Rides the Range, will be riding onto bookshelves on May 3rd.

My newest picture book release, Chicken Lily, is another great example of my “let it go” strategy. Originally, I’d written the story as a more realistic picture book with a fearful girl as the main character. Although it received some kind rejections, in the end, it wasn’t working.

So I let the whole thing go--except the title. I knew that was the best thing about it.

I love humorous picture books, so I thought, What if Chicken Lily was . . . a chicken? That fun idea turned into Chicken Lily, about a chicken that is chicken. I’m egg-cited to announce that it’s hatching onto shelves March 29th.

So the next time you’re spending oodles of time on a manuscript that’s headed towards the ditch, try letting go. Let your setting go. Let your character go. Let everything go except the title if you must. It just might be your secret to success--and a winning manuscript.  

Lori Mortensen is an award-winning children’s book author of more than 70 books and over 350 stories and articles. Upcoming titles include Chicken Lily (Henry Holt 2016), Mousequerade Ball (Bloomsbury, 2016) illustrated by New York Times bestselling illustrator Betsy Lewin, and Cowpoke Clyde Rides the Range (Clarion, 2016) a sequel to Cowpoke Clyde & Dirty Dawg, one of Amazon’s best picture books of 2013. Other titles include Cindy Moo (HarperCollins, 2012), Come See the Earth Turn – The Story of Léon Foucault(Random House, 2010), a Smithsonian Notable Book for Children, 2010, and In the Trees Honey Bees! (Dawn, 2009) a 2010 NSTA/CBC Outstanding Science Book K-12 Winner.

When she’s not removing her cat from her keyboard, she follows her literary nose wherever it leads and works on all sorts of projects that delight her writing soul. Lori lives in Northern California with her family. For more information, visit her website and her author page at FaceBook.


  1. Thanks, Lori. You've come a long way since Leon was hatched! Great advice...I think it's about time that I should let it goooooo, don't you???!!!!!

    1. Me, too, Mona LOL! So nice to see you here at My Word Playground! Please feel free to mine the archives for further inspiration!

    2. Thanks, Mona! Yes, it has been a long time since Leon swung his way onto the bookshelves and we both need to let it go. I hope you're doing well!

  2. Thank you, Lori, for sharing your story with us. Keep the title and let everything else go! I'm going to try it.

    1. Me, too, Charlotte! So nice to see you here at My Word Playground! Please feel free to mine the archives for further inspiration!

    2. You're welcome, Charlotte! Glad it was helpful. Good luck with all of your writing projects. :-)