Mining for Heart: Jill Esbaum Reveals Her Secret

Jill Esbaum is an award winning children’s author who’s all heart. Over the years, she has fine tuned her process, utilizing her angst to get at the heart of her characters. (It sounds like quite a scene!) Though she didn’t share a video of her process, she did share her secret. Thank you, Jill!

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In twenty years of submissions, I’ve had my share of manuscript rejections about which an editor has stated: “I just didn’t connect emotionally.” Ugh. That always sent me back to the keyboard to sit and wonder how on earth to “add” emotion – and the heart my story was obviously lacking. Since then, I’ve kinda/sorta figured it out, but only because of working through the process again and again and again.

Here’s the secret: Failure. When I’m working on a story, there’s almost alway a point in which I’ve worked it to death and still don’t feel like I’m getting it right. A point that I yank my fingers off the keyboard, lean back, and say, “AHH!! WHAT. IS. THIS. ABOUT?!” There may be hair pulling involved.

That’s when I know that a) I’ve been trying too hard to manipulate the story in the direction I want it to go, and b) it’s time for me, the writer, to get out of the way and ask my main character one question: “What do you WANT?”

It isn’t until we know what our MC wants, know his most basic heart’s desire (and the why of it), that we can begin to create a story that resonates emotionally with readers, one that prompts them to say, “Yes, I’ve felt that way, too!”

If we can pull that off, it may only be a matter of time before––please, oh, please––another kind of “Yes” comes our way.


Before meeting Jill at a writing retreat last year, I reviewed a few of her books. Click here to learn about my favorites. 

P.S. Don’t tell Jill, but I’m sharing a few extras.

Jill has some great informational nonfiction books, too! Check them out here.

And there’s a free Party Kit that goes with her latest fiction picture book, If a T. Rex Crashes Your Birthday Party. 

9 thoughts on “Mining for Heart: Jill Esbaum Reveals Her Secret

  1. Oh, Jill…that’s my biggest problem. I can usually come up with a decent story and details, but somehow lose the heart of the matter. I’m going back over all my NFs and ask, “what do you want?” (from me!) Thanks

    Liked by 1 person

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