by guest blogger Julie Falatko
In 2011, after several months of taking picture book writing seriously, I heard about PiBoIdMo and thought, “Sure, why not?”
If I’d realized how much Picture Book Idea Month would change everything, I might not have been so glib about it. But at the time I didn’t realize that the work done during PiBoIdMo would get me an agent and a book deal.
That year, I came up with 48 ideas, one of which was good. I didn’t realize that at the time. At the time I thought they were all good. But as I wrote them up, I learned that sometimes what seems like a good picture book idea…maybe isn’t. Or at least not for me. I thought a story about a stalk of depressed broccoli would be great (spoiler: it wasn’t). A girl who puts on ridiculous clothes every morning? Snore. How about a kid who wants to be a writer? How about I bonk the reader on the head with boring bricks?
But PiBoIdMo 2011 took a wrench to an Idea Faucet that was rusted shut in my head, loosened it up, and oiled it with a big can of Pay Attention.
After that November, the ideas kept coming—drip, drip, drip—slowly, and, in most cases, terribly. But I like my brain. And I trust it enough to listen to it. So when it told me an idea, no matter how ridiculous, I wrote it down.
On November 1, 2012, I started my second year of PiBoIdMo. What I didn’t know was that my brain had gotten a much bigger wrench for the occasion. And instead of opening up the Idea Faucet a little more, my brain clean knocked the whole faucet off—THWACK!—and let the ideas spurt up like a fountain at the park.
November 2012 I got 30 ideas. Four were good. One I wrote up immediately and it was better than anything I’d written before. Something was happening.
And then one night in late November I was making dinner, thinking about how I like books that let kids know we trust them and think they’re smart. And FWOOSH there it was, an idea, but more than an idea, the entire story, not just the plot, but the words, dumped into my head.
I ran. Bolted from the kitchen, so afraid of losing the sentences swimming in my head. I yelled to my husband that he had to finish dinner, and typed up my story as fast as I could. It was exhilarating and maybe a little scary.
When I was done, I had SNAPPSY THE ALLIGATOR (DID NOT ASK TO BE IN THIS BOOK). Snappsy was the story I sent to Danielle Smith at Foreword Literary. She liked it and asked for more—I sent her the story from the one good idea from PiBoIdMo 2011 and the other good one I’d written during PiBoIdMo 2012. She became my agent. And SNAPPSY was my first book deal, on July 16. It’ll be published by Viking Children’s in the summer of 2015.
Since November, the ideas have kept coming. None have come out as quickly as SNAPPSY, but some have been close. I keep notebooks and pencils everywhere. And I still write down everything my brain tells me to in my PiBoIdMo notebook. Because while some may seem like a random string of words (“accidental octopus/Georgie, oh Georgie”), or just my brain having fun (what am I supposed to so with “Mr. Codfish is quite pleased with his new trousers,” exactly?) those ideas pave the way for the ones that become good stories.
Writing is practice. Preparing for writing takes practice too. PiBoIdMo forces you to play. Thirty ideas is a lot of ideas. Not all of them are going to be brilliant or fully formed. Probably very few of them will be. But you write down what you can, and you teach yourself to look for ideas in the world around you and to listen to your brain when it whispers in your ear. PiBoIdMo is fast, but writing well can take time. Keep at it. Don’t give up. Take yourself seriously, and trust in the process.
Thanks for sharing your success, Julie, and congratulations on SNAPPSY, which I cannot wait to read!
I hope many of you will join us for the 5th Anniversary of PiBoIdMo this November!
Julie Falatko lives in Maine, where she works tirelessly trying to bribe her four children into doing housework so she can spend more time writing. In the end, they just bake cookies and call it a day. She blogs at worldofjulie.com, tweets @JulieFalatko, and reviews picture books for Katie Davis’s Brain Burps About Books podcast. She can often be found transcribing her brain’s random word association games into her PiBoIdMo notebook.