familyportrait (140)by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen

Thirty days, thirty picture book ideas. At first, that doesn’t sound too hard. And you’ll undoubtedly have terrific ideas in the first few weeks, nuggets that have been waiting to be uncovered for a while that PiBo is forcing you to excavate.

But then, if you’re like me…it’ll start getting harder. Maybe you’ll even hit the wall…and start to think you’ll never have another good idea again…and then maybe never any idea at all ever again…and then you’ll be tempted to quit the PiBo challenge and give up on your writing dreams and move to the Adirondacks and live in a small cabin you hand-make out of fallen branches so you’ll never have to face anyone ever again…

OK, maybe it won’t get that bad. But it is not uncommon to hit the “idea wall,” so to speak – and that is always disheartening. So before you start your official PiBoIdMo journey, I wanted to share three things you can do to re-fill your idea well if it starts to run dry.

(1) Words You Love:
My son and I have a secret password that we plan to use in case either of us suspects the other has been kidnapped by aliens and replaced with a life-like humanoid droid designed to help the aliens get a foothold into Earth society as they plan to take over the planet. That password is “Capuchin Echidna.” (Of course, I think we’ll have to change that now that I am announcing it on the internet!) How did we come up with that? Simple: capuchin and echidna are so much fun to say, and together, they sound HILARIOUS.

Capuchin. (Credit: David M. Jensen)

Capuchin. (Credit: David M. Jensen)



When I wrote a book about the bond between parent and child (which I talked about during last year’s PiBoIdMo), my publisher wanted a super-fun phrase to serve as the call and response between mother and son. The result was RUTABAGA BOO—which, like Capuchin Echidna, is a ton of fun to say or shout or giggle.

Keeping your own list of words you love can serve as a source of inspiration for a full-fledged picture book idea. Often, these words are not just fun to say, but very evocative. Think of kerfuffle, or fidget, or crybaby – don’t they get your wheels turning? Or cantankerous, shenanigan, or fartlek (which is actually a training system for runners, not whatever first popped into your head)? What are you already imagining when you hear those words?

Your word list may never do anything for you but make you smile—but remember, it easier to be inspired when you are smiling than when you a frustrated, frowning, and pulling your hair out.

[Tara’s note: check out this word list!]

(2) Things You Hear:
I’ve long been a fan of stealing from children. Not candy, mind you – just ideas. If you have children of your own who are picture book age, you probably already know that listening to them playing with their friends or telling a joke they found hilarious can be a great source of inspiration. But here’s the thing – if you do have children of your own, at some point you will have bled them dry and you won’t be able to get a fresh idea out of them (also, things you find interesting in your own children can, from time to time, on occasion, be completely uninteresting to people who are not biologically related to you, as most of your audience will be).

So seek out some other children (not in a creepy way! Don’t stalk a school or surveil your neighbor’s toddlers!) and listen and take notes. Some great places for this: library story time, walking around a toy store, the subway, the bus, the aisles of your supermarket, the local ice cream shop. Sometimes it’s not a matter of stalking or pursuing so much as just keeping your eyes and ears open in familiar places. I know some of the most hilarious conversations I’ve ever heard have been while some weary, frazzled parent is trying to buy the groceries while keeping his or her children relatively close and relatively calm. Here’s one from last week:

“Daddy, can I have turtle?”
“No, honey, we can’t get any more pets.”
“No! I mean for dinner.”


These eavesdropped ideas are free, and they get you out of your own ruts and thinking like someone new.

(3) Memory Mash-up:
Most of us have memories that make us smile. And I’m not just talking about the cute thing your daughter did when she was two or the time when you were five that you did that thing that your mother still talks about. Those memories are great—and you should definitely mine them for story ideas—but push that farther. Think of the stories your family tells every Thanksgiving that still make you laugh or the tale behind that photo your grandmother keeps on the mantle that makes her smile. Think about that story that makes half your family tear up every time—that also makes the other half of your family roll their eyes.

All those memories are a great place to find a story idea, if—and this is important—if you are willing to fictionalize them.

Remember that thing I said about other people not finding your children as interesting as you do? That pretty much applies to your whole family. So don’t be afraid to reimagine Uncle George as a buffalo or Cousin Edna as an ostrich. Grandma’s living room can become a swamp and Dad’s office can be a snowy mountain. Use the memories as a starting point—and then go in the direction your imagination takes you.

Happy PiBoIdMo and have a great month!

Sudipta is an award-winning author of over 40 books and the co-founder of both Kidlit Writing School and Kidlit Summer School. Her books include DUCK DUCK MOOSE, TYRANNOSAURUS WRECKS, ORANGUTANGLED, and over thirty more books that have been acclaimed by the Junior Library Guild, the California Reader’s Collection, the Bank Street Books Reading Committee, the Amelia Bloomer list, and many more. Find out more about her by visiting SUDIPTA.COM or KIDLITWRITINGSCHOOL.COM. She’s on Facebook and Twitter @SudiptaBQ.

PrizeDetails (2)
nerdychickscholarTo help you put your PiBo ideas to use, Sudipta is giving away a free online picture book writing course in 2016 through

Leave a comment below to enter. One comment per person, please.

This [amazing] prize will be given away at the conclusion of PiBoIdMo. You will be eligible for this prize if:

  • You have registered for PiBoIdMo.
  • You have commented ONCE ONLY on today’s post.
  • You have completed the PiBoIdMo challenge.

Good luck, everyone!