I steal from my kids. That’s right. All day. Every day. I have been blessed with two feist-master, sassafras, wrestlemaniacs for sons. Their shenanigans spark writing ideas constantly. My picture book, YOU’RE MY BOO, which is under contract at Beach Lane Books, was inspired by my second son.
More examples? Sure. I spied on my boys taking turns in a laundry basket:
“This is my racecar, okay?”
“No! It’s my spaceship.”
I wrote Jump In!, which sold to Highlights High Five.
I gave each of my boys a penny to toss into a fountain, but my older son kept the coin instead. I wrote The Collector, which sold to Highlights. Even my publications for adult—essays for newspapers, magazines, and babble.com—are almost always about or inspired by my sons. And all three of my picture book manuscripts out on submission now are thanks to my boys.
A critique group partner said, “You have a way of being present with your boys that gives you endless writing ideas.” Thanks and wow! That’s exactly why I love PiBoIdMo: It will make you more present, too. How do I know? Because I pulled out of our garage before opening the door.
I know. I know. That doesn’t sound exactly present. But I was all about my boys in the back seat. My garage door mishap just helps me explain how needing something can make you focus on it.
Never in my life have I cared about garage doors. But because we needed new ones, my antenna was up. I couldn’t even get the mail without noticing the neighbors’ garage doors. Since you’ll need 30 new picture book ideas, your antenna will be up, too. You’ll notice things in ways you haven’t before. Ta-dah! You’ll have more to write about.
Here’s how the writing process usually works for me*:
- One or both of my boys does or says something that grabs my attention.
- Does the idea make me so excited that I have a hard time focusing on anything else?
- Okay. Fine. Does the idea make me dance?
- I bang out a rough draft.
- I critique the manuscript.
- I read the manuscript out loud. I beg my husband to read it out loud. I bribe my son to read it out loud. I record myself reading it using an app called Recorder Plus on my iPad.
- Do the characters ring true? (When I make one of my boys say sorry, it’s the worst excuse for an apology. It’s the same for my characters so I try not to force them to say or do anything. Characters are strongest when they act and react naturally.)
- Does the story have enough heart? (I should feel something so strongly that I am connected to and routing for the character(s).)
- Is there enough tension? (The main character should want something so badly that I want it for him/her, too, but something HUGE must stand in the way of success.)
- Is the ending a satisfying surprise even though it’s the only resolution that makes sense while serving the story?
- I share it with critique partners. Based on their suggestions, I revise and revise and revise.
- Just like my boys, the manuscript needs a ‘time out’. I don’t let myself read it for at least two days (two weeks would be great, but I can’t ever wait that long).
- I allow myself to go back to the manuscript. If it still makes me dance, then I send it to my agent.
(*This whole shebang might take weeks, months or even years.)
If something I’m writing doesn’t make me dance, then I don’t waste time on it. I have too many ideas to stress over a manuscript that’s not clicking. If I don’t love it, I leave it. Sure, I might come back to it later. But I’m also fine with coming back to it never. I’m confident that I’ll uncover something better—something dance-worthy—to work on. How? Because I live with my feist-master, sassafras, wrestlemaniacs.
While this stealing-from-my-kids gig has proven great for my writing, it doesn’t always translate into being a good mom. I’m pretty sure cheering, “Keep it up! You’re giving me lots to write about” when they fight isn’t recommended in any How-to-Parent guide. But lucky for me, this is a place to celebrate writing, not parenting, so I suggest you go steal from your kids, too. Or someone else’s kids. Plop down at your library’s story hour, grab lunch at a fast food playground, hang out at your Children’s Museum and you’ll have 30 new ideas in no time. Fortunately, kids, and writing ideas inspired by them, are everywhere. Good luck and have FUN!
Kate Dopirak lives with her husband and two feist-master, sassafras, wrestlemaniac sons in Pittsburgh, PA. She will be donating a picture book critique to a PiBoIdMo participant who completes the 30-ideas-in-30-days challenge. A winner will be selected in early December.