You wanna know what’s great about PiBoIdMo? Besides the fact that Tara’s letting a non-picture book author like me make a guest post? What do you mean, you don’t think that’s so great??
The greatness of PiBoIdMo lies in its lack of limitations. This is the idea stage, where anything goes, babies! Do you want to write a book about a reclusive green alien named Melonhead who assuages his loneliness by routinely traveling to the planet Earth and kidnapping pigs from isolated farmhouses in rural America? BAM! Idea Number 1! Have you always had the urge to write a picture book about a pet rock that’s been stubbornly kept in a drawer by a mad scientist since the mid-seventies and gained sentience via an unexpected spill of that scientist’s insane-but-brilliantly-created vat of artificial intelligence serum? Yo, Idea Number 2! A picture book about talking laptop computers who have a wacky adventure when an IT staffer mistakenly leaves a bottle of super-fun shredder lubricant on the ergonomic chair next to the desk where they live? Crap, utter crap, but hey, Idea Number 3!
I’m kidding. Kind of. Not really. I don’t actually mean you should deliberately spend your energy coming up with a bunch of deliberately crappy and unusable ideas. But you could definitely choose to come up with ideas that display some eccentricity, fall outside your normal comfort zone, or feel impossible to actually turn into a book.
By the way, those are all real ideas that I’ve actually tried to turn into real stories. HANDS OFF.
I’ve tried to write picture books, you know, and I don’t know how you people do it—when I try, it feels like I’m performing a lobotomy on myself with a soup spoon and a pair of knitting needles. Picture books are hard. Picture book ideas are easier. That’s true for all kinds of books, isn’t it? I don’t say that to invalidate the worthiness of PiBoIdMo, however, because the fact that coming up with an idea is easier than turning an idea into an actual book doesn’t mean that coming up with an idea is just plain old EASY. These creative processes are infinitely malleable in nature, and unique to the character and proclivities of the individual pursuing them.
During my one feeble attempt at PiBoIdMo I found myself swearing roundly at the horribly mundane, hackneyed ideas coming out of my tortured braincase. At least I thought they were mundane and hackneyed—maybe they weren’t at all, but the fact that I felt that way was messing with my head, you know what I mean? My solution was to say “well then, I’m just gonna use AAAAAALL the crazy ideas. Gonna take the wraps off my inner weirdness and just go to Bizarro World for the rest of the month.”
In creative terms, I do believe there’s a big upside to just thinking about the most wacky ideas in your head, without evaluating them for plausibility, market-readiness, industry trends, or genuine viability as potential stories. I’m a believer in the power of unfettered brainstorming—by removing boundaries on what kind of things qualify as legitimate ideas, you’ll sink a tap into a bigger aquifer of source material than you might otherwise. Your free associations will have more building blocks to link together. You’ll stretch your brain. Maybe you’ll find some avenue of inspiration that you didn’t even know you possessed. And you might be able to take one of those off-the-wall ideas and recognize a sane, strong, usable core inside it.
Or maybe all those daring ideas will come to nothing, I don’t know. That would actually be okay, wouldn’t it? There’s a price to doing business in the marketplace of creativity, and it usually involves the dismissal of efforts that prove unviable or untimely. Then again, maybe one of those cray-cray, easy-to-scorn ideas will turn into something entirely new. Where would we be without the advocates of previously unembraced change, the children’s book creators who were willing to try things that no one else was trying? Where would we be without Scieszka and Smith’s THE STINKY CHEESE MAN AND OTHER FAIRLY STUPID TALES, or Ezra Jack Keats’s THE SNOWY DAY, or Dr. Seuss’s THE CAT IN THE HAT?
Go crazy, people. Test the boundaries of your conceptual world, write down those nutty, unrealistic ideas, and then see if they take you some place you might not have gone if you’d stayed within the borders of The Town of Reasonable Thinking. Me? I’m definitely writing that alien-and-pig picture book one of these days. Try and stop me.
Mike Jung is an author, library professional, public speaker, blogger, amateur musician, former art student, and geek, but his preferred title is “Internet Despot.” Mike blogs, Facebooks and Tweets. He lives in Oakland, CA with his wife and two children. GEEKS, GIRLS, AND SECRET IDENTITIES (Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic) is his first novel.