November is my favorite month of the year because I get to celebrate everything I love all at once: falling leaves, picture books, novel writing…mustaches. I usually float through the entire month on a happy kidlit cloud, jotting down idea after idea and blogging about it, making it look like I know exactly what I’m doing.
This particular November, however, is hard. Life is extremely busy as I balance two book deadlines; work a full time job; pack my entire apartment to move from the city to the suburbs; and plan a trip to California with my husband that we booked before we knew we were moving. When your brain is all over the place playing the balancing game like that, your ideas don’t flow as freely, do they?
I know I’m not alone in having a hard time getting started, but I want to share the fateful event that ultimately got my idea engine revving. To do that I’m going to rewind and tell you a little story from the very first day of this year’s challenge.
November 1st was a particularly windy day here in Boston and I was driving around, running some errands. I had decorated my brand new PiBoIdMo notebook the night before and carried it with me in my purse, because you never know when a brilliant idea will surface. I was feeling rather exuberant as I usually do in this celebratory month, though I hadn’t had any ideas yet. I sang along to some radio pop song as I pulled into a parking space.
Gathering my things, I opened my car door the way I always open my car door…except this time it was stolen from my grasp by the strongest wind gust that was ever known to man. In less than a second, I heard a fast, loud, crunch sound. My door had wedged itself into the car I parked next to.
Everything in the world stood still for a moment….and then, it started to rain. This wasn’t just a normal rain, it was monsoon-grade rain that pelted on the windshield like hail. My immediate reaction was to rescue my door from peril and close myself inside. I tugged and yanked the door free and shut it hard, but instead of locking into place, it bounced. My door had dented on impact because, apparently, this wind was strong enough to bend metal.
As I held the door closed while the storm wreaked havoc, my jaw hung open, my eyes popped out of my head, and I started to think, “What did I do? What DO I do?” And though I am not a horrible person, my inner angel and devil popped in for a visit, saying “Leave a note!” “Drive away!” I might have actually shaken my head like a cartoon character to get my senses back.
I reached into my purse, hands wobbly, fumbling, feeling like a complete idiot for what just happened. I’m looking all over for paper and a pen and the only thing I could find was… my PiBoIdMo notebook: fresh, shining, empty and waiting for ideas. I think I even saw a little sparkle reflect off the cover. With deep, deep, remorse…I opened the blank book, flipped to the back, and ever so sadly tore the last page out to write a note that I would leave on my neighboring car’s windshield. All I could think was “I wonder what idea would have gone on this page.”
I plunged through the rest of the day in complete bewilderment, but by evening, I had straightened things out with the car’s owner and started to feel a little better. While I was explaining what happened to my husband, I proclaimed, “Man, wind is NUTS.”
And then, it hit me. Wind has the potential of being incredibly ridiculous. “Gotta go!” I exclaimed to him as I ran to the other room to jot down the windy scene I conjured up in my head. Out of nowhere I invented a city park scene in the middle of a crazy, unnatural wind gust —people’s pets flying all over the place, hair styles messed up, scarves fluttering, tire swings out of control, birds holding on to tree branches. My main character is a dog that has been waiting for this perfect wind gust so he could fly like a super hero. He’s wearing a cape and goggles and…
Once again in my happy little kidlit cloud, this is where my story fades to black.
What I have discovered is, for idea generation, the busier you are, the better. Billions of things happen to us in our lives. Use them all. Did you throw up in front of your second grade class? Use it. Did you get made fun of for wearing shoulder pads in middle school? Use it. Did you get attacked by one of those inflatable people with flailing arms? Use it. Did you learn something new about the health benefits of smiling? You get where I’m going with this!
The very best ideas can totally come from everyday happenings, all you have to do is pay attention. Write this stuff down all year long because it’s good and it’s real. The more real your story details feel, the more relatable they are to your readers. And the more you practice this habit, the easier it is to come up with new, unique ideas.
Just, for your own sake, try to avoid the really expensive weather-related kind. ☺
Renee Kurilla is a published illustrator, dabbling author, and Lead Artist at FableVision Studios in Boston, MA. She is represented by Jennifer Rofé of Andrea Brown Literary Agency.
Her first picture books, three titles in the CLOVERLEAF BOOKS series for Millbrook Press, will be released in January 2014.
She is currently illustrating TREE DANCERS: ORANGUTANKA, written by Newbery Honor Award winner Margarita Engle and published by Holt Children’s. The book is due for release in 2015.
Her work at FableVision has contributed to multiple honors, including ZEBRAFISH, a Junior Library Guild selection, and RANGER RICK’S TREE HOUSE app for National Wildlife Federation, which won a 2013 Parents’ Choice Award.
Renee also co-hosts an illustration blog called Simply Messing About with fellow illustrators Laura Zarrin, Christina Forshay, and Tracy Bishop.
Where to find Renee online:
Renee is giving away an 8.5 x 11 print of your choice from her Etsy shop—to two lucky winners!
Two winners will be randomly selected at the conclusion of PiBoIdMo. You are eligible for these prizes if:
- You have registered for PiBoIdMo.
- You have commented ONCE ONLY on today’s post.
- You have completed the PiBoIdMo challenge. (You will have to sign the PiBoIdMo Pledge at the end of the event.)
Good luck, everyone!