by Tamara Ellis Smith

Here is a joke for you all:

Why did the picture book writer wait and then cross the road?
To get a PiBo Idea!

I do a lot of hanging out within my landscape: small-town rural Vermont. I spend time in the cornfield behind the farm at the end of my block, out on the river trail at the edge of our town park, in the red pine woods, and up the various local mountains nearby. (Okay, maybe not as often up those mountains, but I just climbed one last weekend so it is still fresh in my mind…and in my achy thigh muscles!)

I get much of my inspiration from being inside my landscape.

This has been clear to me for a long time. The natural environment is full of tiny and majestic muses—the trees, rivers, flowers, blades of grass, ferns, rocks, and wind—all of them hold images, voices and ideas within them. I even have a blog about this, called Kissing The Earth, which I created with fellow children’s book writer, Sharry Wright. In it, we explore how landscape inspires writing, and how landscape in its own right can play a vital role in story-telling.

Today, though, I want to share a new revelation about landscape with you all.

So back to that aspiring writer-chicken. The one who waits on one side of the road before crossing. She waits. She sees the blue-purple chicory flowers at her feet. She hears a pair of squirrels chattering in the tree above her. She sniffs in—do chickens even sniff?—the rich, earthy smell of the woods just across the road.

As we continue on with this amazing PiBoIdMo challenge, I want to urge you to cultivate the art of waiting. And specifically, to cultivate the art of waiting within a landscape. As I said earlier, I truly believe that the trees, rivers, flowers, blades of grass, ferns, rocks and wind all hold stories within their ancient and organic roots and leaves and layers and flow. But in order to be privy to those stories, we have to be willing to create a space for them. And that’s where the waiting comes in. Waiting creates that space—a time-space, a physical-space, and a magic-space—and it is within that space that the alchemy of our imaginations and the earth’s secrets come together. Sparks fly, bubbles rise, and the best—oh the best!—ideas burst forth.

Ideas that feel brand spanking new and inevitable all at the same time.

In practical terms, I am talking about a change in perspective. An openness. And the search for the link between the child-within and the child-like quality of the story. Sometimes when I am mulling over an idea for a picture book, or a draft that isn’t quite working, or staring at a blank page all it takes is being quiet and still somewhere outside to make all of that shift. The experience of waiting within the landscape really can bring forth ideas. It also re-ignites that incredible sense of wonder and possibility that playing outside stirred up in us when we were children. And it also creates a sense of gratitude—for the world, for yourself, and for the way we are all connected.

Won’t you join me in the wide and wonderful Out There?

Tamara Ellis Smith has written a middle grade novel and several picture books, all pre-published. Her picture book manuscript, Milo’s World, was a finalist in the 2006 W.I.N. competition. Her middle grade novel won an honorable mention in the 2008 PEN New England Discovery Awards and was a runner up for the 2008 SCBWI Works-In-Progress grant. Tamara is represented by Erin Murphy of Erin Murphy Literacy Agency. You can learn more about her at and can read more about landscape and writing at her blog Kissing the Earth.