by Brianna Caplan Sayres

I wish I could tell you some great strategies I use to brainstorm picture book ideas. I really do. Unfortunately, most of my best ideas don’t work that way.

No, my best ideas are more like a butterfly flitting by. They’re beautiful and they’re fast and, if I have a butterfly net handy and I’m really quick, I just might be lucky enough to catch one for a closer look.

So here’s how catching an idea works for me (and how you can try it too):

Are you listening?

(Yes, I know you’re listening to me, but that’s not what I meant. :-) )

Are you listening… to yourself?

Yes, that’s the way I come up with many of my best ideas. By listening, to myself.

Here’s how it works:

I’m talking to my husband or my son or a friend and suddenly I hear myself say something curious or funny or thought provoking or odd.

Before I took myself seriously as a writer, those comments used to just “fly away”, but now…

“That sounds like a picture book,” I exclaim, and use my handy dandy “idea net” to catch it and store it in my ideas with possibility pile.

Now if you want to be even more effective at catching promising ideas before they fly away, here’s another hint:

It can really help if the people around you start to listen for picture book ideas too. (My husband and I were in the middle of a wacky conversation, when he pointed out that the silly topic we were discussing just might make an interesting picture book idea. It hadn’t even occurred to me. But, guess what? He was right!)

Now, maybe because many of my best ideas start out sounding like picture books, I often seem to catch titles. That’s what happened with my upcoming picture book, WHERE DO DIGGERS SLEEP AT NIGHT?

I was talking to my almost-three-year-old about his favorite topic, trucks, when I heard myself saying, “Where do diggers sleep at night?”

“That sounds like a picture book!” I exclaimed, and I had my idea. Hurray!

But just because I had my idea didn’t mean I knew what to do with it. For me, that’s when the brainstorming really starts going in earnest. So I decided to go just a bit further with this post, to trace what happened to this idea after I caught it.

Should a book called “Where Do Diggers Sleep at Night?” be a nonfiction book, factually explaining where a variety of trucks slept at night?

I definitely considered that possibility. After all, my truck-loving son had exposed me to many wonderful informational books. I eagerly began researching where trucks truly spent the night. Somehow, though, this direction didn’t feel right to me. Nonfiction is awesome, but the title I had caught felt more fanciful.

So, I went back to the drawing board. What else could I do with this title? I wondered. It should be a bedtime book, I thought, and I started to draft a rather sweet book about a bunch of trucks getting ready for bed.

Right direction, but this new version still had one major problem. It just wasn’t “truck-y” enough. The getting ready for bed story I was writing could have been about airplanes or clowns or elephants (or little boys).

The whole reason I was intrigued, and that I thought my young readers would be intrigued, was that this story would be about trucks. So I headed back to the drawing board once again. This time, I made sure that each stanza contained something about bedtime and something about trucks. Bingo! I finally knew where to go with my idea.

Then came lots and lots of revisions, but that’s another story.

So, good luck with Picture Book Idea Month! Listen to yourself closely and you just might catch an idea. And once you catch it, good luck with brainstorming until you know just what to do with it. :-)

Brianna Caplan Sayres has taught students ranging in age from kindergarten to graduate school. Now she’s busy writing and raising two kids of her own. Brianna’s writing has been published in magazines including Highlights for Children and Cobblestone, and she’s super excited that her first picture book, WHERE DO DIGGERS SLEEP AT NIGHT?, is scheduled to be published by Random House in Summer 2012. Brianna and her critique group chat about writing for children at The Paper Wait. Brianna is represented by Teresa Kietlinski of Prospect Agency.