by Diana Murray
Inspiration is everywhere. It’s just a matter of tuning into it. And in order to do that, you need to switch on that part of your brain that reminds you to evaluate funny or interesting or poignant experiences and ask, “Could this be inspiration for a book?” If you don’t stop to notice it, inspiration can pass you by. Of course it’s also helpful to record things right away so you won’t forget. Official PiBoIdMo journal anyone?
Here are a few ways you can tune into inspiration:
1. Look to Yourself
When I wrote GRIMELDA: THE VERY MESSY WITCH, I started with the character trait of being messy.
Unfortunately, that’s a trait I am intimately familiar with, so I know how frustrating it can be. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked around the house wearing one flip-flop, desperately trying to find the other one. Once I had my inspiration, I cranked it up by making the main character a witch. That made the potential for messiness even bigger and more interesting. If you think about your own traits, maybe even flaws, you can get a lot of ideas that way. For more on this you can read my post from last year: “Brewing Up a Character-Driven Story.” And by the way, I thought up this story during the first ever PiBoIdMo (I think that was in 2009?). It got me a SCBWI grant, an agent, and a two-book deal. Yeah. Tara, can I just give you a big hug right now??
2. Take a Hike
CITY SHAPES was inspired by the long “hikes” I used to take around the city, back when I lived in midtown Manhattan. I loved the way the neighborhoods changed and discovering surprises around every corner. If you go out and observe your environment, what will you find? Maybe you’ll see a greedy squirrel trying to claim all the birdseed in the feeder? Or a raccoon riding on an alligator? (Seriously. Google it.) Scan your surroundings and see if anything inspires you. For a more specific challenge, you can also take the idea of a concept book (colors, shapes, numbers, seasons, etc.) and put a unique spin on it, perhaps pulling from your environment.
3. Observe Kids
This is a no-brainer. Kids are funny, full of wonder, and often brilliant. Watch them. Take notes. My own kids’ antics are a constant source of inspiration.
4. Admire Art
When I wrote GROGGLE’S MONSTER VALENTINE, I was inspired by an illustration. I was in-between projects at the time and my agent suggested that I look at a particular illustrator’s portfolio and see if anything caught my eye. Well, it did! And that’s when GROGGLE was born. And now that very same illustrator (the fabulous Bats Langley) is illustrating the book. So, if you ever get stuck, try browsing some portfolios online or head to a museum.
5. Watch TV
Didn’t expect that one, did ya? Yep, literally watching TV can also lead you to inspiration. However, you need to watch actively, not passively. In other words, keep your inspiration sensor clicked on. You never know what might strike you. In fact, NED THE KNITTING PIRATE was inspired by an episode of Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations–a travel and food show with a smart and amusingly snarky host. The episode I saw was filmed in Sweden. There were these extreme snowboarders who were descended from Vikings, and one of their favorite activities was…you guessed it, knitting. They knit their own hats with pompoms on top and gifted one to the show’s host. Bourdain (kind of a tough, black-leather-clad New Yorker) was clearly not comfortable wearing the fuzzy, woolen hat. It was hilarious.
I was immediately inspired. Now, of course I’m not implying that you should COPY what you see on TV. I’m just saying, you can get a seed of inspiration and then make it your own. For more about mashing together opposing ideas, you can read my 2012 post, “Idea Mash-Up.”
I hope this helps you tune into inspiration…and RIP THE KNOB OFF! (Sorry, I just had to get that in there.) Now get ready to be introspective, explore your world, laugh with your kids (or someone else’s), browse illustrations, and binge watch your favorite shows on Netflix. And most of all…have fun!
Diana grew up in New York City and still lives nearby with her husband, two very messy children, and a goldfish named Pickle. Diana is the author of six forthcoming picture books. Her award-winning children’s poems have appeared in many magazines, including Highlights, HighFive, Hello and Spider.
Diana is giving away a NED THE KNITTING PIRATE tote bag with grey/white mosaic trim (product details), and special sneak preview editions (unbound F&G’s) of GRIMELDA: THE VERY MESSY WITCH and CITY SHAPES nearly a year before they appear in stores!
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