by Lori Mortensen


The Muse.

The first crumb of an idea.

That’s where all writing begins, right? But what if you’re sitting there and you have no idea where to begin? When I first began writing, I heard the phrase, “Ideas are everywhere.” Although this was supposed to be encouraging, it made me feel even worse. Oh, oh! I thought. I’m surrounded by ideas and I still don’t know what to write about.

Initially, not knowing where to begin shook my confidence and made me wonder if I had anything to say after all. However, as I persisted and kept trying, I discovered the main ingredient.


Including myself might seem obvious, but at the time it wasn’t. I was a beginner. What did I know? Ideas were somewhere “out there.” However, as I made a conscious effort to notice what stirred my imagination, what to write seemed to grab me by the lapels and say write about this!


One of the biggest moments occurred several years ago when I was roaming around my local thrift store and noticed a figurine of a cow happily sitting on a crescent moon. It was one of many used knickknacks clustered on a shelf. Ordinarily, I would have strolled right on by. But this time as I stared at the accomplished cow, I was intrigued. How did she get there? I wondered. In a heartbeat, I knew I wanted to write the story. I bought the figurine and went home. As I wrote, it was exciting to figure it all out. How would she try to jump to the moon? Would she really make it? I loved coming up with the unexpected twist at the end.

Nobody else cared about the cow sitting on the moon. But it stirred my imagination. The story about a spunky cow trying to jump the moon became my rhyming picture book CINDY MOO. I was thrilled when HarperCollins snapped it up.

Houdini Hounds

Then, there were my neighbor’s dogs. Houdini hounds, really, that regularly broke out of their backyard and raced down the street. Moments later, my neighbors sprinted after them. “Come back, Rollie and Wendy!” they yelled.

Although the dogs’ antics certainly annoyed my neighbors, the dogs stirred my imagination. I thought, Wouldn’t it be fun to write a story about somebody chasing a dog? After a few false starts, my story took off–just like the dogs. As I wrote each verse, I couldn’t wait to see what would happen next. How would the determined main character try to catch the dog? Would the main character really catch the dog in the end?

My rhyming picture book, COWPOKE CLYDE AND DIRTY DAWG, became one of Amazon’s best picture books of 2013.

It was the “me” factor once again–the main ingredient—and how I reacted to what I saw.


In April, my picture book IF WENDELL HAD A WALRUS will hit the bookshelves. This story began a bit differently. At the time, I’d been reading a variety of quiet picture books where the main character had an inner longing of some kind. I loved the idea of an inner longing and wondered where an inner longing might lead. As I thought about it, I imagined looking up into the clouds and seeing something that pulled at my heart. When “walrus” popped into my head, I was hooked.

A walrus?

The fun, quirky idea captured my imagination. Why would someone want a walrus? What would they do if they got one? Would they really get one in the end? When I came up with the unexpected twist, I was delighted. An editor at Henry Holt fell in love with it too.

So the next time you’re scouting around for an idea, keep an eye out for forgotten figurines, Houdini dogs, and the like. Then, add the all-important main ingredient.


Lori Mortensen is an award-winning children’s book author of more than 70 books and over 350 stories and articles. Recent releases include Chicken Lily, (Henry Holt), Mousequerade Ball (Bloomsbury) illustrated by New York Times bestselling illustrator Betsy Lewin, and Cowpoke Clyde Rides the Range (Clarion) a sequel to Cowpoke Clyde & Dirty Dawg, one of Amazon’s best picture books of 2013. When she’s not letting her cat in, or out, or in, she’s tapping away at her computer, conjuring, coaxing, and prodding her latest stories to life. For more information about her books, teacher activities, book trailers, critique service, events, and upcoming releases, visit her website at

Lori is giving away a copy of COWPOKE CLYDE RIDES THE RANGE, the sequel to DIRTY DAWG.

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!