Tools for Writing and Illustrating Children’s Books

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A great story is the foundation of any great children’s book or kids story. The ability to tell well-structured stories, hold interest does not take many tools to do so.

But if you are looking to put your kid’s stories into an illustrated book, here is a list of tools that can help you do that quickly and efficiently. 

The first stage of making a children’s picture book is coming up with the idea. It’s rare that an idea hits you and you run with it and start writing/ illustrating. 

The process is more like collecting pieces of ideas every day and letting them bake and breed until you have an idea ripe enough to pick. For the idea capturing process I use:

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Waiter Pads– Very simple white paper pads from Amazon. They don’t take up a lot of room on your desk and you can travel with them easily. I got the idea for these from Larry David who captures ideas on waiter pads. There is something powerful that happens when you write ideas down by hand, it’s like extra idea juice seeps in as you write and you get a few more ideas, or a stronger idea. 


When I don’t have paper around me, I always have my phone on me and I use the following apps to capture ideas:


Reminders (on Apple) – I love how easy it is to document ideas quickly with this app. I have thousands of ideas in here, very few of which will see the light of day, but it gives you agreat depository to store your ideas. 


Notes – I use Notes (on Apple – but you could use Note Pad on PC) to flesh out ideas. I’ll take a short idea from my Reminders list and start writing for 15-30 minutes to see where the idea goes. Sometimes it grows, most of the time it sinks. I’ll also use Notes to write my full stories. Because it syncs between my phone, laptop and iPad, my stories go where I go and I can add a line here and a line there until the story builds up. Being mobile is key. Changing of environments while writing creates new and different ideas. 


Microsoft Word – I will move my story to Microsoft Word to do spelling and grammar checks. Having a Word Document also makes it easier to share with other people who might be editing your story. 


Once you have most of your story written, you can start sketching it out. 



  – I used to use a Muji Notebook but now I print my own Notebooks via Createspace to track projects and gather ideas. You can buy a CreativeLog here for $5. It has pre-printed pages for tracking my MediaLuv projects. This may or may not work for you. 


Big Ol’ Paper – I find it helps to have different size paper so your ideas don’t get stuck. Sometimes I will have a small notebook on my desk and sketch out rough character designs and ideas, and other times I will need to throw my around and draw big and crazy. For smaller drawings, I go back to my Muji notebooks or creative log notebooks. I have a long desk set up with a roll of Melissa and Doug’s paper. I keep one roll of the paper anchored to a PVC pipe camera stand, and the other end is attached to a wooden paper roll. As I need more paper, I just roll up one side and the new paper slides to center. 


Tools-for-writing-childrens-book, how-to-write-childrens-book, kids-stories, short-stories-for-kids

Pens & Pencils

I’m of the school of thought that pencils and pens really don’t matter. You can get your ideas out drawing with a stick in dirt. But these 4 tools have become my favorite, mostly because they seem to always be around when I need them. 


Pen – Simple Bic Round Stic M pen – nothing crazy here. Most of my sketching for my books is done in pencil. One day I will do a book where I fully ink it on paper, but for now I sketch in pencil, snap a photo and start drawing digitally (more on that below)



  – Pilot G-2 07 Mechanical Pencil – This is always a smooth drawing experience

  – Paper Mate Sharpwriter #2 Mechanical Pencil – I’ve always loved these pencils. In my middle and high school days, I would make my best art with these while zoning out in class. Great for shading. 

  – Staedtler Mars Technico (Thick) Mechanical Pencil – I use this for initial sketching. Something about a thick line makes me feel like things don’t have to be perfect so my ideas flow. The thick line reminds me that this is just the discovery phase. 

Tools-for-writing-childrens-book, how-to-write-childrens-book, kids-stories, short-stories-for-kids

Software for Drawing Digitally

Once you have your pages sketches out on paper, you can snap a picture of them and import them to your preferred software to start “inking” them digitally. Here are a few software/ programs/ apps I use to do so: 

X Manga Studio (Now called Clip Studio Paint)- Manga Studio (Clip Studio) – I used this for many of my early books but it has been fading out of use for me. It’s a great program, it’s just not compatible with the iPad Pro. I used it heavily when I was drawing with my Wacom Cintiq tablet. But within the last year, the iPad Pro has caught up and eclipsed Wacom’s drawing tools. You can draw a full book on the iPad Pro and have the mobility and file sharing flow of all Apple devices. 



Procreate – I drew “Away We Go Land” in Procreate. I love it. It gives you everything that Manga Studio delivers, but is iPad Pro and iPhone compatible. The ability to draw on iPad makes the process far quicker and easier in terms of file sharing and file management. My process is: sketch on paper, snap a photo on my phone, that photo is automatically on my iPad and I add the photo to a Procreate file. It takes seconds per page, compared to the Wacom + Manga Studio work flow. 


Photoshop – I’ve never been fully into the Photoshop illustration tools. Photoshop was the first program I learned for drawing, but the brush library is clunky and overwhelming in my opinion. Photoshop is great for retouching and resizing once you start compositing your book. 



InDesign – Indesign is absolute KING when it comes to compositing your book, that is, combining all of the illustrations and words. I set up 2 files, one cover file and one interior file. Both of which will be exported as PDF’s and uploaded to Createspace. Take some time to explore and get good at Indesign, it is a huge time saver when it comes to putting your books together. 


Adobe PDF – You’ll need this program to double check your exported PDF’s to make sure everything is sharp. 



Tools-for-writing-childrens-book, how-to-write-childrens-book, kids-stories, short-stories-for-kids

Hardware for Drawing Digitally

iPad Pro – As I mentioned above, this right now is the winner in terms of what device to use to digitally illustrate your children’s book. Two years ago, it would have been a Wacom Cintiq Tablet. But the $1,000 for the iPad Pro is a far better value than the $2,500 for the Cintiq tablet. 



Apple Pencil – It’s not perfect, but it’s close enough to get you a great final result. I prefer the Wacom Pen over the Apple Pencil, but the Apple Pencil can do good things. The drawing experience does feel slick/ slippery at first but you get used to it. It’s nice to have a Pencil and a light weight tablet combo to draw wherever you go and not be bogged down with a thick Wacom pen or heavy charger cables. 



Macbook – After your book is drawn on your iPad, or where ever you draw it, transfer your files to your main computer to get ready to composite. I’m currently using a MacBook pro but any computer will do. I like a laptop or desktop as my main base to assemble my books and prepare to put them out into the world. 



Wacom – On my desk I use a Wacom Intuos 4 as my mouse. I mentioned above that I no longer use the Wacom Cintiq but they are two different devices. The Wacom Intuos 4 is great for navigating your computer and drawing while looking at the screen, which I don’t do much of these days. 




Big Monitor – I use the Apple 24” monitor which is now discontinued, but I like to have a large monitor with good color settings infant of me to help assemble my books. 

Tools-for-writing-childrens-book, how-to-write-childrens-book, kids-stories, short-stories-for-kids


Dropbox – I sync all of my files with dropbox, it’s on all of my devices and greatly speeds up my process. 


Createspace – You can read more about uploading your book to Createspace, a ‘print on demand’ service that links with Amazon to help you sell your book. 


Hope this list of tools helps you and as always, reach out with questions. 

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