As soon as I call on a kid at a school visit and they ask this question, dozens of other hands go down. You’ll hear countless children’s authors say it’s the question they’re asked the most. I get ideas everywhere (yes, that’s a copout statement), and so can you!
But first, you have to get past Miss Midge and her like. Those nasty voices that say miserable things to you. Here she is in my journal (and right now she’s saying “You’re not an artist, what are you doing!?!”)
GAG YOUR INNER CRITIC!
If you’ve been moaning about being behind in your PiBo count—stop perfectionizing! (Since my dinobooks, I’ve thrown out the dictionary. We are all powerful. We create worlds. We can create our own words.) Write down ALL the ideas you consider. You don’t know what will piggyback on them or what new variation will emerge. Let in the misfits and barefoot ideas that blankly stare at you.
But, back to the coach in me who wants you to stop being so durned critical… Name that beast inside you and move on. Sorry, but you gotta be tough about this one. Stand up for yourself. No self-bullying allowed!
Done exorcising that evil shadow? (Not totally? Okay, we’ll visit this again a little later.) Let’s move on to your hunting training.
BECOME AN IDEA HUNTER!
Ideas lurk. They hide. They disguise themselves. It’s your job to hunt them down. You develop x-ray vision, you study playground shenanigans and never say Bah Humbug about any holiday that involves kids, chaos, and giddiness. You train your family and friends. You observe like a four year old. You and your trainees share knowing looks. Picture book? Picture book!
MINE YOUR MEMORIES & UNLEASH YOUR IMAGINATION!
I always say writing is part imagination and part memory—it’s just the ratio that changes. Open your eyes with this in mind and you’ll never lack for ideas.
While other four-year-olds were playing in their sandboxes, I sat on my dad’s lap and operated the levers on his backhoe. I helped him “build.” Those experiences inspired MONSTERS ON MACHINES.
I sailed with The Shifty Sailors (the motley crew below) from Seattle to Olympia, and we took the train on the way home… DINOSAILORS and ALL ABOARD THE DINOTRAIN.
You see? Memory and imagination.
Along with memories come emotions. That takes a little deeper mining, but that’s what makes prose sing. What keeps readers engaged, holding their breaths, laughing out loud, shedding tears. Feel as you write. Wring yourself out onto the page. Write the words that pour from that space that aches, that cries for joy. Replace your judgment with curiosity and write as if your words can save the world. Because they can.
ALL WORK AND NO PLAY MAKES JACK A DULL WRITER!
Picture book creators must play! Go galumphing! (Says my good friend George Shannon—who is great at accessing his four year old). Twist those ideas, turn them upside down, pack them with surprises and yummy words until you’re clapping and Yay-ing! Be four!
So, little girl or boy inside that big grown-up writer, what do you want? What’s your big dream or wish? Write it. Write whatever “it” becomes. And big outside writer, let that four-year-old go where it’s going to go. Don’t wait for the tantrum. If Miss Midge hears the kicking and yelling, she’ll be all over me.
I promised you another try at quieting your inner critics. Ready?
Raise your write hand and repeat after me…
Note: Did you know some people are so controlled by their inner critic that they can’t even get their hands in the air? RAISE THEM! There. Was that really so tough?
Write badly! Write junk—and lots of it! You gotta dig through lots of rocks to unearth the gems. You clean the mess up later—not before it hits the page.
No excuses, no stopping, no perfectionizing…
Just do it! And may the Fours be with you!
Deb Lund is a picture book author, creativity coach, continuing education instructor, and writing teacher. In her past lives, she’s been a music and classroom teacher, an elementary librarian, and a school founding director. If Deb’s rambling sparked anything for you, check out more on her blog. She lives on Whidbey Island, but if you can’t make it there to hang out with her, you can find her on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.