Illustration by Leeza Hernandez

Whistle while you write? You might not want to put your lips together and blow, but maybe a little music could lighten your mood…and your mind.

Last Sunday at the NJ-SCBWI picture book intensive, illustrator Leeza Hernandez led writers in a creativity exercise by playing random musical selections. The idea was to help us generate ideas. (Sound familiar?)

Leeza played two-minute tunes, and during each piece, she asked us to think of a single story element and write whatever came to mind.

So let’s try Leeza’s exercise today!

Go to

Enter an artist or song. A new music station will be created for you, with songs similar in style to what you submitted. (Aim for instrumental, although music with lyrics will likely pop up. I entered “Vivaldi.”)

Alternatively, you can choose a genre station: classical, blues, dance and a dozen others.

Set your timer for two minutes. As the first song plays, focus on element #1 and write. Don’t stop until the timer goes off.

Next, click the [ |>> ] button on the Pandora player to switch to the next song. Now focus on #2 for two minutes.

New song, #3…and so on…

1. Character
2. Scene
3. Supporting Cast
4. Conflict
5. Emotion
6. Resolution

Leeza’s sixth instrumental did not conjure up a resolution for me. Instead, I envisioned a boy on a farm at sunset, herding all the rowdy animals into the barn for the night, only to have them escape again.

However, the boy in the musical mayhem was the character I created during the first piece—and I didn’t even realize it until I was done writing. I subconsciously felt a connection between the two songs.

Do I have a story? Maybe. Maybe not. But I do have some ideas that floated out of thin air. (Truth be told, I had just received an advance prototype of Michael Sussman’s IdeaCatcher.)

Being an illustrator, Leeza sketched her ideas as the music played. For #6, she drew herself jumping up and down, holding her published book.

Keep working on your ideas, PiBoIdMo’ers, and that image may be you, too!

So, how’s it going today? Care to share your musical thoughts?