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#FirstDraftFriday with June Smalls

Thanks for joining us for another #FirstDraftFriday! February's a short month so let's waste no time jumping into things with guest author June Smalls!

Cover of My Sister, Daisy

June is generously offering a manuscript critique as a prize for someone who completes a draft today! Details at the end of this post.

June Smalls’ picture book HE LEADS: MOUNTAIN GORILLA, THE GENTLE GIANT, illustrated by Yumi Shimokawara, will be out in March with Familius. It is the second title in the LEADS series, following SHE LEADS: THE ELEPHANT MATRIARCH. The third title, THEY LEAD: THE WOLF PACK, releases this Fall!

To pre-order HE LEADS or order any of June’s other books, visit:

Let's hear from June about what inspired her to sit down and write the first draft of HE LEADS: MOUNTAIN GORILLA, THE GENTLE GIANT.

HE LEADS is the second book in my natural leaders series. It felt like the obvious next step after SHE LEADS. I had fun trying to figure out which species to focus on. Lions, chimps, kangaroos?

But when I started looking into the mountain gorillas and saw how they are gentle and even sweet (one video of the dominate silverback teaching a young female to do chest beats was adorable), I knew they were the one. The obvious strength and power juxtaposed by their avoidance of danger and gentleness was just what I was looking for.

What was that process like? Any hiccups with getting the first draft done?

It was strange at first. Since I created a structure with SHE LEADS, I had to have it fit in style while still being unique. Since I tend to be a pantster and find a flow organically, starting with a structure definitely forced me to be more controlled from the start.

Though my process was much the same. I start with watching documentaries just to get my head in the game and think visually, then I move to books and articles, and finally turn my notes into drafts.

How did the manuscript change from that first draft to what it is today?

It changed very little. Since I knew just where I was going with this one most of the changes were minimal.

Do you ever find yourself putting off drafting a story?

Always! I like to start creating it in my head. I’ll sit around and shape and reshape long before I put pen to paper or fingers to keys. But eventually I get out of my head and get to work.

What is the hardest part of drafting a story for you? And how do you deal with that?

Knowing when I’m finished is sometimes the hardest part. I can tweak lines and rework bits until the cows come home. There is no way to deal with it except to trust in my critique partners and myself and just let it go when I feel it is a good as I can make it.

What are your tips and tricks for getting that first draft committed to the page?

No excuses, just get it down. Block distractions (I use noise cancelling headphones and sometimes turn off my wifi), stay hydrated (favorite drink at the ready), and get to work. I don’t have any special tricks. Just start writing even when you aren’t sure where you’re going. Its like breaking a dam. Once a little starts flowing, the rest usually comes after.

Alright, readers, who's ready to see what they can get flowing? #FirstDraftFriday has begun so grab your drink of choice, block those distractions, and start writing!

To enter for a chance at a free critique of a picture book manuscript (less than 1,000 words, nonfiction or fiction, non-rhyming) from June, do the following by 8 pm ET today (Feb. 4, 2022):

  1. Follow both me and June on Twitter: @HollieWolverton and @June_Smalls

  2. Complete a full picture book draft

  3. Return to this blog post and comment that you’ve completed your draft and provide your Twitter handle. You will need to Sign Up/Log In to leave a comment (it’s easy - just an email and password). NOTE: You may get notifications as others leave comments (I'm hoping not as Wix has offered me a fix to try!), feel free to hit "unsubscribe" at the bottom of any notification you receive if they bother you! You will still be signed up for the giveaway.

You don’t need to send in your draft or provide proof - we’re all about the honor system here! The lucky winner will be randomly drawn from the comments and announced on Twitter shortly after 8 pm ET tonight.

Good luck!

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Audrey Perrott
Audrey Perrott
Feb 05, 2022

Thankfully I went into today having a clear idea for my draft because a migraine took me out for most of the day. Somehow I still finished! I love having the motivation of a deadline with this writing challenge -- thank you, Hollie and June!


Reed Hilton-Eddy
Reed Hilton-Eddy
Feb 05, 2022

DONE! Man, this was a rough weak for this writer. But I rolled up my sleeves. Love the books that June is writing.


Feb 04, 2022

It was close, but I did it!! Thank you both!😍



Done!! Thank you both :)


Feb 04, 2022

Done! It’s scribbled on paper and not properly in a document yet, and whew, is it rough! But, it’s a brand new shiny draft with potential! And it has a really cool music connection and several hooks… 😳😊🤞🏻

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