January is over and February has begun. The groundhog has seen his shadow, and it’s a perfect time to hunker down in front of a cozy fire. There’s no better time to take a second look at all the picture book ideas I came up with and pick one to turn into a story.
Before I do, I’m going to re-read some of the many excellent posts that were shared during Storystorm’s month of creative encouragement. There were so many ideas and perspectives that could help me generate even more ideas or help me focus my writing. Kirsten Pendreigh’s post on “Ideagrients” was definitely one I’m going to refer to when honing in on exactly the story I want to tell.
Ideagrients™: distinctive fragments and descriptive sparks that elevate ideas. May include—but not limited to—gorgeous words, evocative images, sensory details, original names, and clever language devices. According to experts at PBIU (Picture Book Idea University), good ideas require a minimum of five Ideagrients before story writing can begin.
Kirsten’s suggestion is to search for specificity and clarity in who your character is, what they want, where their setting is, and what the language is that you want to use all before you commit to any writing time. She recommends assembling your ideagrients in order to have an easier time creating a compelling pitch, enjoy a smoother writing process and create a better end product. Who’s ready to sous-chef up a story? Me!
Another great post, this one about finding ideas to make into a story, was provided by Ebony Lynn Mudd who suggested literally scrolling for them. Here are some of the scrollable accounts she suggested.
It’s the mid-way point of Storystorm 2023! And so far, so good, I’ve been keeping up with this month long picture book brainstorming challenge created by Tara Lazar.
To me, brainstorming is like like taking a journey with a somewhat vague destination in mind, but no set directions for getting there. Since I’m a big LOTR nerd, that idea connects me immediately to Bilbo Baggins’ warning to Frodo about embarking on a journey, “If you don’t keep your feet, there’s no telling where you might be swept off to.”
Storystorm, in order to encourage participants creativity, provides daily blog posts written by a multitude of picture book creators.
One of the posts that captured my attention, this Storystorm, was written by Kathleen Doherty. Her post was about intertextuality. Though I had never heard it called by that title before, I was familiar with its theory which says that whatever you create is influenced by something you’ve heard, seen or read before.
Kathleen embraced intertextuality in each of her picture books. Her first, Don’t Feed the Bear, came from her memories of watching Yogi Bear and Ranger Smith’s cartoon high jinx.
It’s a super fun read that demonstrates the power of written communication and it definitely tickles the funny bone.
Kathleen described her second picture book, THE THiNGiTY-JiG, as a reworked version of The Little Red Hen with a dash of creative BFG word-play added to the mix. I think it’s so much more!
The THiNGiTY-JiG has a pleasant repetitive refrain that gets the story going and keeps its transitions flowing. The prose is active, full of onomatopoeia. Each attempt of the main character to achieve what he has set out to do, cleverly builds upon the one before it. Lastly, it has a very satisfying ending. I’d recommend this book to children, as well as to picture book writers in search of mentor books.
There is more Storystorming left to do in the remaining weeks of January, and I’m up for the challenge. I’ll let you know how my efforts pan out at the start of February.
On this the first week of 2023, I’m excited to share with you my interview with debut picture book author, Emma Pearl.
The questions I posed Emma, to a one, revolved around the kindling of the imaginative spark. I felt this focus was just the thing to accompany the sense of possibility and new opportunities that the new year brings.
InterviewQ&Awith author Emma Pearl
Emma, after finishing a project do you ever feel lost as to what project you’ll do next?
No, I don’t really find this a problem. I write for all ages and have far more ideas/projects/WIPs on the go than I could ever hope to complete in a lifetime! I’m usually drawn to the next one naturally when I finish something, but if I’m ever in doubt I just read through my endless files, lists and notes until something shouts ‘WRITE ME!’
I currently have a YA novel about to go out on submission in the new year so I’ve just finished final revisions on that. I’ve also just finished the first draft of my next novel – a YA with similar themes/synergy – so will be tidying that up before sending it to my agent. And I have a sequel for that one planned too, which may or may not be the next one I write. I’d like to get an MG novel out on submission next year too – I have one completed that needs a rewrite and several more that I’m keen to work on – I’ll be discussing with my agent which one to focus on.
I have quite a lot of picture book texts ready to submit and am waiting on my agent to look at them all (I intend to keep her quite busy next year!). I love writing PBs because they require such a different skill set to novels and completion can be achieved in a relatively short space of time, so I often work on them in between novels or when I get stuck in the middle of a novel.
It sounds like you are super busy!
Do you have any brainstorming techniques to get your ideas flowing?
I’ve gathered so many ideas over the years that I don’t actively need to look for them any more. But I do make sure to write them down when I get them – ideas usually come from reading other books, watching movies or conversations. There will be a nugget of something that I find fascinating and then ideas will spin off from that. Also, I constantly mine my childhood memories – what were the things that made me feel the biggest emotions? Even the most ordinary events, habits or people can be turned into amazing stories if you can identify and connect the emotions associated with them.
I agree, Storystorm is a great way to kick off the year with ideas and inspiration!
Emma, Do you have any routines that encourage your writing process?
Not really. I write as often and as much as I can, which is most days, but there’s not a strict routine (life tends to get in the way of that!), and there’s a lot of time spent on things that are essential to my writing career (which is still very much fledgling) that are not writing per se – admin, marketing and promotion, networking, learning, mentoring, critiquing… etc. I am most productive in the mornings from about 9 to 12 so try to maximize writing time then whenever possible.
What have you found to be the best writing advice you ever received?
I’m not sure which one of these is the best, but all of the following have been invaluable:
– first drafts are supposed to be rubbish! I spent many years not getting anywhere with my writing because I was scared of writing rubbish. But a very important lesson was learning to write anyway. You can improve a badly written story but a blank page is worth nothing.
– there is no set of rules, no one way of doing anything, no set path to follow. There are a huge number of amazing resources available, and many of them are free. Find whatever works for you and don’t be distracted by anyone else… but also:
– connect with other writers whenever possible, they will be your greatest comfort/support/cheerleaders/learning… etc.
Thank you Emma, for sharing your excellent suggestions and links to helpful resources!
There was one last question I asked Emma. It was in regards to her great uncle, Roald Dahl.
Emma, I read that Roald Dahl dedicated The Twits to you and I wondered if it was your favorite book of his, or was there a different one that was your favorite?
Great question on the Roald Dahl books! Of course I loved The Twits. It was so very exciting to have a book dedicated to me – I was a real bookworm as a kid and it was just about the best thing ever. It’s a wonderful story of oppression, courage and just desserts, and I’ve loved monkeys ever since! But in all honesty, I think I loved reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory more. I read that countless times, over and over from a very young age (well before The Twits was published). I also loved Fantastic Mr Fox and Danny (I used to play in the gypsy caravan that inspired the story). But my favorite now, as an adult, is Matilda. I think I was 13 or 14 when that came out so it wasn’t part of my childhood as such. But I have a suspicion (that might be completely ill-founded) that there is the tiniest part of Matilda that was in some small way inspired by me. Roald was very close to all three of his sisters, one of whom was my grandmother, and I was the first grandchild to be born to any of them, so I was a little bit spoiled and doted on by them all! I was a huge bookworm and reading long before I started school (not War and Peace, mind you!). Also, a little later on I had a very scary teacher who bore a striking resemblance to Miss Trunchbull (my teacher was also an ex-Olympian shot-putter!). So even if just a tenuous link, I’ve always felt a connection with the character of Matilda, who is one of my favorite females in all of children’s literature and always fills me (and countless others) with inspiration.
I’ve attached a link to 10 year old Emma’s (she’s the little girl at the center of the photo) interview of Roald Dahl. It brought a smile to my face and I hope it does the same for you.
Emma Pearl writes fiction for all ages and is represented by Sera Rivers at Speilburg Literary. Mending the Moon is her debut picture book, and Saving the Sun will be published by Page Street Kids in September 2023. Emma is a picture book mentor for WriteMentor (2021/22) and a freelance editorial consultant for picture books. She lives with her family in New Zealand.
Although we’re already into February I want to take a moment and celebrate January’s Storystorm!
If you’re a picture book writer or if you’re interested in writing a picture book, Storystorm created, coordinated, and hosted by Tara Lazar is the conduit to generating enough ideas to fill your new year.
The premise is to come up with 30 ideas in a month. An idea a day for all but the last or the first day of January, depending on your preference. To guide and inspire you, there are daily blog posts that come right to your email. What a nice way to start the day, or interrupt a day that’s heading south. Some posts are funny, some serious, but all are heartfelt.
I’ve participated in Storystorm for a number of years, even when it was in October and was called PiBoMo. But this year I’ve seen it through, for the first time ever, to come up with thirty ideas in thirty days. Actually, I came up with thirty three!
Now some of them are pretty wonky, but still . . .
Thank you to all who shared their writing journeys, their book journeys, and their techniques for idea-imagination creation via the blog posts. A huge thank you goes out to Tara Lazar for doing it all so well, once again!
Looking forward to pb manuscript weather systems propelling my writing this year!
January has been a difficult month. My school has quarantined multiple classes in both sites I visit, without sharing much information and without providing support to the therapists/teachers who continue to provide both remote and in-person sessions. According to my school admin., as long as you are have only been in a room or in contact with a student who was exposed to someone who tested positive for less than ten minutes you have nothing to worry about. As a teacher for pre-school students with delays, who are encouraged to wear their masks, but not required to, well let’s just say . . . I’m worried.
Worry compounded with a lack of compensation, yet increasing expectations has affected my personal writing time. I’m having difficulty attending to my personal creative efforts outside of the materials I create for my students. I can’t seem to lose my concerns by creating stories as I’m used to doing.
Thank goodness for Storystorm. For the first time ever, I have completed the challenge to come up with a picture book idea for each day of January. The guest bloggers on Tara Lazar’s blog Writing for Children While Raising Them had a good deal of positive take away thoughts that have helped me through the month.
I’m hoping February will be a better month both for clarity, and creativity. I hope it’s that way for you too.