Sometimes, brainstorming picture book ideas feels a little like playing darts with cooked spaghetti. It can be sloppy and frustrating. But if you throw enough of it around, something is bound to stick.
I recently joined in on Storystorm 2019, a challenge for writers to generate 30 new picture book ideas in 31 days. Each day, followers of Tara Lazar’s blog receive posts from guest bloggers with tips and tricks to find inspiration in creating fresh picture book ideas.
At day 16, my brain is feeling a bit more like that mushy spaghetti. However, I have gleaned some pretty good ideas on how to keep focused and continue churning out ideas.
Inspiration is around us all the time. Whether it’s a child’s favorite toy, or random misplaced item. Listen to the questions you start to ask yourself and see where they lead.
When I first read a Storystorm post by Susan Taylor Brown about finding inspiration in found items, I found myself looking around the house for some item that would spark a fabulous idea.
I found my glimmer of inspiration in a sad looking stuffed basset hound my son stuffed between the couch cushions. I started to wonder, what does this sweet little hound have to be sad about?
My answer? He wants to be a brave police dog like his idol Blaze (a dashing German Shepherd), but his short legs and long ears make him feel clumsy and slow. However, his yet-to-be-discovered strengths give him his chance to shine.
Just a start. But it is something I can build on.
The brilliant Storystorm contributors have also encouraged the practice of embracing the randomness of life and using that to harness creative energy.
Ashley Franklin explains in her blog post, “There won’t be an “aha moment” around every corner. There may not be an aura surrounding your next big idea. If you want access to a constant source of inspiration, look no further than yourself.” I have personally found that the more I dwell on not knowing what to write, the harder it becomes to start. Sometimes the simple act of just looking at the random things in our environment is enough to spark an idea we can at least run with for awhile.
When my son was an infant, I was reduced to a drunk-like stupor. I was constantly gushing over his every movement and babbling incoherently along with him. This seemingly ridiculous behavior I was exhibiting sparked an idea. What if a baby had such a powerful aura of sweetness, that they short circuited the brain of every adult they encountered? What if this baby had and older sibling who was unaffected and completely baffled by the behavior of the adults?
This idea later turned into a draft titled, “Max Versus The Baby Babbles”.
Along the same lines as embracing randomness and utilizing our line of sight, listening is an equally valuable source of inspiration.
Listen to the conversations that kids have. They are truly brilliant and hilarious little beings! A conversation with my son during the holidays about his perception of Rudolf inspired an idea for the alternate story of Rudolf, a haughty reindeer who’s celebrity has gone to his head. A lesson in humility and teamwork is the only thing that can pull this beloved helper of Santa back to reality and the true meaning of Christmas.
All of these picture book ideas came through random everyday interactions and conversations. Nothing special had to occur, I just had to pay attention. As writers, the biggest set back we can bring to our process is waiting for that brilliant idea to float down to us through parted clouds back of a unicorn just begging to be published.
Writing down a lot of ideas, even writing down a lot of crummy ideas, will get us to some of those more elusive ideas. The spaghetti we’ve been throwing will start to stick.