Photo: Stacy Murphy Photography

by Nancy Tupper Ling

Inspiration. Oh inspiration. Wherefore art thou?

It is Day 21, for goodness’ sake. Are we all here? Have we lost anyone? I hope your well hasn’t run dry. Not yet, at least. If you’re like me, you have visions of cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie dancing around in the back of your head. Still, Thanksgiving must wait for now. We’re busy serving up some PiBoIdMo on our festive plates.

I cannot tell you how grateful I was for my notebook of ideas from last year’s PiBoIdMo adventure. In my household, there’s no such thing as a long stretch of time to write (maybe this is why I’m a poet). If I’ve stocked up on the “Idea Shelf” however, I’m golden. It’s like finding a collection of chocolate bars hidden inside the piano bench (hey, it’s possible) long after Halloween has flickered away. This way when the opportunity to write arrives at my doorstep, I can go for it, even if it’s for a half hour at a time.

Ah, but I digress. Onto inspiration!

I often mention the art of observation to students when I visit schools. I love what Mary Oliver has to say on this topic. “To Pay Attention, this is Our Endless and Proper Work.” My inspiration for my first picture book, My Sister, Alicia May, happened through observation.

sister_alicia_front_cover_web copy

During the summer of 2006, I visited a childhood friend and her family. As we walked down a long country road, Cheri and I began to talk about her middle child, Alicia, who has Down syndrome. Ideas began to percolate and I jotted them down, but the heart of the story came from my observations of the two older sisters, Rachel and Alicia, and their everyday interactions with one another.

My second book, Double Happiness, began as a poem.


Ironically, that poem never made it into the book so I’m going to share now. That way it will see the light of day (ha!).

All day,
Yesterday, too.
It’s glassy and light,
like bean thread
noodles, sloshing
the window panes.
We’ve done everything,
Jake and I.
We rolled our bodies
inside rugs, tight
like spring rolls.
We ate Mr. Lee’s cherries;
our lips and fingers
turned purpley-red.
We colored napkins
with the pits—see,
my cherry tree?
See, Jake’s scribble?
When we were done,
we watched more rain.
Really, we knew,
there was nothing left to do.


After much revision, the story came to have a dragon, a move, and lots of snow. There’s no rain or cherries or Mr. Lee, but the initial poem got my imagination going. When people ask me for advice on writing, I always say “write anything and everything.” Don’t limit yourself to one genre. Becoming a better poet helped me to become a better children’s author (note, still a Work In Progress).

Oddly enough, my fresh-off-the-press book, The Story I’ll Tell, was inspired by a day dream.


As I was driving down the highway one day, an image came to me—a baby on the doorstep of a home in the mountains. I began to ask myself questions. Who will open the door to the child? And how did this child end up there? And what kind of stories would the parent tell her child about that journey to their doorstep? I found these questions to be helpful for inspiration, as I thought of more and more fantastical ways that the baby came to his new home.

Still, there was one line that pivoted the story, and that’s my favorite line in the book today: “. . . there are times when I think I will tell you the truth, for the truth is a beautiful story too.” With that line I came to a realization. There would be a nugget of truth in each of the fantastical stories that the parent would tell her child, and this patchwork of truths would be stitched together to reveal the most beautiful story in the end—a story of adoption.

So here’s to your 21 ideas, and to this observation-making, poem-tackling, dream-weaving journey. Looks like you’re on the way to your next story!

Nancy Tupper Ling is the winner of the prestigious Writer’s Digest Grand Prize and the Pat Parnell Poetry Award.  She draws her inspiration from the multicultural background of her family and the interwoven fabric of familial culture which is, on the surface, seemingly every day.  She is the author of My Sister, Alicia May (Pleasant Street Press), Double Happiness (Chronicle Books), The Story I’ll Tell (Lee & Low Books) and the founder of Fine Line Poets. Currently she resides in Walpole, Massachusetts with her husband, Vincent, their two girls, two fish and a parakeet named Nimbus. 

You can learn more about Nancy at NancyTupperLing.com, Facebook and Twitter @BlushingFawn.

PrizeDetails (2)

Nancy is giving away a copy of Double Happiness.

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

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

  1. You have registered for PiBoIdMo.
  2. You have commented ONCE ONLY on today’s post.
  3. You have completed the PiBoIdMo challenge. (You will have to sign the PiBoIdMo Pledge at the end of the event.)

Good luck, everyone!