by Heidi E. Y. Stemple

I, like every author on the face of the earth, am always asked where I get my ideas. We all, pretty much, have the same answer. Ideas come from everywhere. It sounds too pat and too vague. But, frankly, it’s the truth. Ideas do come from everywhere.

I’m always surprised when writers say they are worried they’ll never have another idea. How is that possible when they are under every rock, behind every door, in every café… And, the ideas I find are not floating around only in my orbit, they are in yours, too. What’s magical about ideas is that when two people see the same thing, they can spin that same experience into two (or three, or seven) wildly different stories. My idea may be a linear narrative nonfiction picture book and yours may be a fantastical YA romp in fairyland—both sparked from the same word or sight or situation.

An editor saying she was tired of pink princess books sparked the idea for a book about princesses doing active not-particularly-princess-y things. Spotting an enormous young moose in my backyard set me off on a year-long quest to find a plot for my moose character named E. Norm Moose. An online conversation about the publishing business led me to say, “I never count my chickens…” and I immediately thought of a farm-yard counting book. Taking part in a citizen science project for many years led me to a manuscript about its history. I was recently moved by a piece of art created by a friend, to write a story to flesh it out because I needed to know more about the characters. Some of these ideas are now books, some are manuscripts, and some may never get past the idea phase. But, that’s the reason to have more ideas than you think you could use in one lifetime. Ideas are never wasted. You may come back to an idea years from now, or cannibalize it later to fit into a story you have not yet written. Often, an idea I think will be an entire story is just a character, or a small scene in a larger story. Sometimes, the initial idea doesn’t work but is the gateway to an even better story. No idea is worthless. Keep every single one.

So, what is my advice for Storystorm? Open your eyes and ears. Pay attention to the world around you—live in it, not just in front of your computer screen. Eavesdrop on conversations. Let your mind wander. Once you are open to finding ideas, you’ll be surprised how many will appear. The hard part comes after, of course. Crafting a strong story with the perfect voice and creative arc, that is unique and authentic, and that an editor will fall deeply in love with and be able to convince the pub committee that it is sellable, well, that’s another post all together. That citizen science book? It took me 4 years to figure out how I wanted to tell it. NOT ALL PRINCESSES DRESS IS PINK started out about clothing and wound up about more active princess stuff. I’m still working on the moose story. But, all those stories, and every story—every book— begins with an idea. What are you waiting for? Go out and find them.

Heidi didn’t want to be a writer when she grew up. In fact, after she graduated from college, she became a probation officer in Florida. It wasn’t until she was 28 years old that she gave in and joined the family business, publishing her first short story in a book called Famous Writers and Their Kids Write Spooky Stories. The famous writer was her mom, author Jane Yolen. Since then, she has published more than 20 books including You Nest Here With Me, Not All Princesses Dress In Pink, and 2 Fairy Tale Feasts cookbooks, as well as numerous short stories and poems, mostly for children.

Heidi lives on an old tobacco farm in western Massachusetts where she writes, reads, cooks, sews, and once a year, calls and counts owls for the Audubon Christmas Bird Count.

Her website is and she’s on Twitter @heidieys.

Heidi is giving away a signed copy of YOU NEST HERE WITH ME.


Leave ONE COMMENT on this blog post to enter. You are eligible to win if you are a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once below. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.

Good luck!