joshalvesby Josh Alves

I LOVE PiBoIdMo (Thank you, Tara)! I’ve always considered myself an idea person. I’ve got lots of them. I love coming up with ideas, thinking about how they’re formed, what sparks them, what’s behind them.

But taking them and making something out of them? That was another story (figuratively). How do you take an idea from concept to completion?

What I’ve learned over time is that my stories are a product of the process and constraint can cultivate creativity.

It’s great to think of ideas that are outside of the box, but those ideas eventually need a box to hold them. So, setup your sides. Build your box. Craft your story!

One of the most scariest constraints you can establish, and possibly the most beneficial, is “time”.

Give yourself time limits.

Give yourself a “lifeline”. (“Deadline” sounds SO foreboding and intimidating… instead, think about when you want your story to have life?)

Try this. Go through your ideas.Take one that jumps out at you first (ideas who are excited are the most fun to work with) or the one that you have the most questions about. Now set a timer for 7 minutes, press start, and brainstorm.


Write notes. Ask questions. Answer them.

What words come to mind? What feelings? What’s the story? Jot these down during the 7 focused minutes.

The first time you do this, your brain might go blank, distracted by the time. Being crushed by the pressure of the clock.

That’s OK.

If (or when) that happens, set the time for 3 minutes (What?!?!) and for 3 minutes write about the feelings the pressure is causing. Get those thoughts out of the way to make room for more productive ones. It will get easier to use the time limit to instigate inspiration.

You might want to give yourself a few 7 minute sessions to explore the story your idea is forming. Then bounce and share these thoughts with someone else (collaboration is another important key to creativity). You never know what might spark!

Now start giving yourself milestones. When do you want your story to have life? When do you want your outline done? When will the first draft be written? When will you show your critique partners?

Then, as the wise “swoosh” says, just do it.

One of my favorite personal projects was completed in a month (it doesn’t often happen that quickly – but I do work better with a fire lit under me).

Last year, I was preparing to present a workshop on creating interactive books at the NESCBWI conference. While researching the tools that creators can use to make their own (without coding), I came across TigerCreate. The tool looked AMAZING (it is) and they were hosting an international competition.

The prize was a trip to the Bologna Children’s Book Fair. I figured, “Why not?”. (My favorite two-word question!)

I just needed an idea to start with.


Going through my “Jar of Ideas”, one caught my attention.

“Surprise party.”

That could be fun (and interactive)!

Beginning my brain dump, I jotted the thoughts that came to mind. One thought was about people I know who DON’T like surprises. That sparked thoughts about types of animals you wouldn’t want to throw a surprise party for. Then I started thinking about what might happen if you DID throw a party for those animals. I ran thoughts by other people, each spark sparking more sparks.


From those notes, “SURPRISE!” was born. A story about what happens when a group of forest animals throw a surprise party for their special friend, Skunk. What you think will happen happens, but that’s not the surprise!


This was the best book I’ve ever created in 30 days (easy to be the “best” when it’s also the “only”). The time constraint helped spur the story development and dictated the art style (it had to be simple to meet the deadline). The story was submitted just in time. To my pleasant surprise, it won!

In every category (Innovation, Interactivity, and Kid’s Favorite).

You are sitting on a treasure trove of ideas (I get excited just thinking about the potential). One of them could be someone’s favorite book. Another might be the catalyst that inspires a future creator.

These are stories that are waiting to be unfolded. Make it happen!

One of my ideas took me to Italy. Where will your ideas take you?

Josh Alves is a puzzle-loving, pictorial problem-solver with a penchant for propagating parables. He loves alliteration (a lot) and anything that leads to laughter. He’s the illustrator of D.L. Green’s 14 hilarious ZEKE MEEKS chapter books. He’s also the author/illustrator of other comics and picture books including LILLY BRISTOL, DINOSAUR WRANGLER, AND THE TOWN A TYRANNOSAURUS WRECKS. His latest interactive book, SURPRISE, is available for iPads/iPhones in the iTunes app store.

You’ll find sketches and project updates by following him on Facebook and Twitter @joshalves. Visit his site at and if you have any questions, drop him a note!

PrizeDetails (2)

Josh is giving away 5 copies of SURPRISE. (iProduct download)

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

These prizes will be given away at the conclusion of PiBoIdMo. You will be 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.

Good luck, everyone!