For our February issue, we talk with author Lily LaMotte about her recent book, Measuring Up. In this interview, we learn about dealing with writer’s block and different elements in writing a graphic novel and a picture book.

Writing Challenge

This month your writing challenge will be about a misbelief that your character has. Lily suggests drawing from your personal life, and then fictionalizing it. A lot of our misbeliefs come out of fear and anxiety. If you think about something you used to be afraid of, you can delve into that and find something that triggered the fear. Often it’s something that wasn’t true, and led to a misbelief.

So, for this month’s challenge, think of a time when you believed something that you later realized wasn’t true. Write about that belief, what triggered it, and what happened to make you change your mind. You can use that belief and change as your character’s internal story arc.

An Interview with Lily LaMotte

What was your inspiration for Measuring Up?

I used to watch A LOT of cooking shows. One of the things I noticed between the adult shows and the junior ones is that the kids were so inspiring. The kids were also very supportive of each other, and I wanted to capture some of that in Measuring Up.  So the characters are in a competition, but there’s no backstabbing or talking smack to each other or anything like that. I love the feeling of community that they have.

How do you deal with writer’s block?

One thing I like to do is writing sprints with other writers because of the community feeling of doing it together. Often, sitting down to write is intimidating. I’ll tell myself, I’m just going to write for twenty minutes. And then sometimes, in the pit of my stomach, I feel that, no, I just can’t. So I change my goal to fifteen minutes, then maybe down to ten. Okay, I can do ten minutes, and then I’m typing, typing, typing, and—when the timer goes off—maybe I’ll decide to write a little longer. Sometimes you just need that ramp to get into your writing head. And then once you’re in it, you feel okay. And at the end, you’re so glad you did it and feel much better.

Measuring Up is a graphic novel. How does writing a graphic novel compare with writing a picture book?

It’s very different from picture books. With picture books, you need to leave room for the illustrator. The picture book is your text, but then they get to do what they want with your text. So you can write a story in your mind, and it’s about a girl, but when you get the illustration back, the character is drawn as a bear. But with a graphic novel, it’s a very collaborative effort between myself, my editor, the book designer, and the illustrator. We all give our input for the illustrations. For example, they sent me the illustrations for all the characters, and I gave my comments back on that.

In Measuring Up, the beginning of the book is set in Taiwan. So I needed to make sure that they got the details right. For example, there’s a vegetable called a bitter melon. And I specifically wrote in the script that it needed to be a Taiwanese bitter melon, which is white. Because in the U.S. or China, if you buy it, the melon is green. So I was able to specify details like that.

How do you approach writing a scene?

Inspired by the book Story Genius by Lisa Cron, I figure out for each of my scenes what my character thinks will happen going into the scene, what she is thinking during the scene, and then, at the end, something has to happen. She will either get what she wants, but not in the way she imagined, or she won’t get what she wants. And then she has to figure out what to do next.

Another important thing is making sure that the emotion changes in the scene. So whatever emotion your character comes in with, when the character leaves that scene she has to have a different emotion. Otherwise, the scene will feel flat.


Join us for Summer Camp!

We’re inviting passionate young writers to join us on Zoom for writerly summer camp experiences. Each camp will include skill-building activities, time for drafting, and collaboration with peers.

A special thanks to Lily LaMotte for sharing with us! You can find more of her books at lilylamotte.com.

Lily LaMotte is the debut author of the middle grade graphic novel MEASURING UP from HarperCollins/HarperAlley on October 27, 2020. When she isn’t writing picture books and middle grade graphic novels, she’s cooking up new recipes. Sometimes, when she sees the gray clouds outside her window in the Pacific Northwest, she loads up the campervan for a writing retreat camping trip with her husband and two dogs.

She is a graduate of Hamline’s MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults.

She is repped by Laura Rennert of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency.