I loved Tara’s post from Day 22 because I get a lot of my ideas in the opposite way. Re-read your favorites and examine what you love about them? I like doing this too, but it completely freezes my creativity. I end up thinking I could NEVER write anything THAT wonderful and I go eat a pint of chocolate ice cream instead.
I would LOVE to be inspired by good books, but (sadly) I’m not. My biggest-ever writing epiphany (next to understanding rhyme) was learning this about myself: good books are bad for me.
No, what I need to feed my creativity is bad books. Nothing gets me more fired up than a book/story/idea that I think could be improved. Books that I read which annoy me in some way that I recognize instantly, or the ones that gnaw at me weeks later, asking me, “Why…? Why…? Why…?”
Books with ill-conceived plots that obviously should have gone This Way instead of That Way (obviously to ME, anyway–ha!) Books with poor structure. Books with over-worn themes that bring nothing new to the world. Characters that should be funnier. Characters who do things I don’t understand. Settings that don’t matter, but could–or should! Why did the author set it there when here would have been so much better?
Wasted opportunity–that’s what basically gets my creative juices flowing. It plays into re-tellings and re-interpretations and parodies very nicely (and I write a lot of those), but you can also use the ideas you come up with in original stories.
When I grew tired of singing Hush, Little Baby to my twins several times every night, wondering at the wisdom of giving breakable (a mirror), small (a diamond ring) or potentially stampeding (a bull and cart) items to a baby who’s screaming, wondering at the lack of funny lullabyes to entertain the parent AND send the child off to Sleepyland with a laugh in their heart, those cogs in my brain just started grinding away.
Most versions I could find at the time were built around a human baby (although several others have proliferated in the last five years), but what if it was a baby… dragon? What would his mother bring him that both made more sense AND was funny? When I thought of a princess to eat, I laughed and started writing.
Most versions of the song Over In The Meadow center on animal communities. And there are so many different versions, every ecosystem on earth! Geesh- nothing new there. But wait. What about all the people at a busy place… like a castle! I did some research, and Bingo! Book #2.
I wrote a twin manuscript because I was tired of picture books that only showed the twice-as-nice, double-the-love side of twins. If you have twins, you KNOW this is only half of the story. Where are the twins who love each other but ALSO shove each other because they’re tired of 24/7 sharing? Mine DO that! So I wrote it.
When I’m stuck, I go to books. I read good ones and say, “Oh, that’s lovely. I wish I could write like that!” And I put them back on the shelf. Then, I find books that I don’t like and say, “Wow, I know how to take an idea/character/plot/theme/whatever like that and make it better.”
Bad books–I love them!
Boni Ashburn lives in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan with her husband and four kids. Her first book, Hush, Little Dragon, was called “Sweeney Todd for the sandbox set” by the San Francisco Chronicle and she can now die happy. First, however, she’d like to publish a whole shelf-full of children’s books. Boni’s next book, Over At The Castle, comes out in March, 2010, and she has two more picture books under contract for 2011.