by Juliet Clare Bell

Let’s speed-date Storystorm ideas and take the winners on a date (where you can have fun, put in the time and emotional energy, and see if you’re the perfect match)!

Each of my children gave me a notebook for Christmas (they know me so well!) and this, from my middle child, is now officially my Journal of Misfit Ideas (thanks to Mike Allegra on Day 5)…filling up with lots of Storystorm ideas…

I hope you’re having as much fun coming up with lots of unfiltered ideas as I am-–thanks to so many excellent posts. We’re nearing the end of Storystorm 2019 (can I hear a collective sigh?), so how do we make the most of our ideas? Well here’s something we tried last year with our local SCBWI group here in Birmingham, UK (on a budget hostel weekend retreat just after Storystorm finished). It went down really well and this year, we’re doing it again with a much bigger group. If you’d like to try it, you will need:

[1] Your thirty Storystorm ideas (fewer is fine, but if you have more, stop at thirty, or take literally just a couple of minutes before you start to filter it down to thirty).

[2] Lots of paper-–thirty sheets of A3 (that’s approximately double US letter-sized paper); I used a cheap recycled low grade A3 pad or you can use a roll of wallpaper or the light brown paper that comes free as packaging…

[3] A couple of sheets of A4 (letter-size) paper

[4] A pen (and could use other coloured pens to identify certain ideas if you’re interested in them—and want an excuse to use coloured pens…)

PART 1 (one hour): Speed-dating. Set a two-minute timer and press GO!

Brainstorm idea number one (on a big sheet)–quickly!- until the timer goes off. Start the two-minute timer again—and brainstorm idea number two… and work your way through all thirty in an hour. Be open and ready to be surprised by each of your thirty (idea) speed dates. Two minutes of consideration will often be enough to know whether there’s a spark, or something worth pursuing…

END OF PART 1: Take a break. Laugh with your friends. You might be buzzing or feeling emotionally drained.

PART 2 (one hour): (Not quite but fairly) snap decision time. Aim: to identify your top five and give each potential date some consideration before making your final choices…

Go through your ideas quickly and see which speak to you (or ‘spark joy’, anyone? So when you hold that piece of paper up to your chest it makes you go ‘eeeeeee!’)

Marie Kondo on sparking joy with clothes. Try it with your Storystorm ideas…

Choose five of those and spend about eight minutes on each one writing a short summary or pitch for it.

PART 3: Final hour—if you’re with a group (it’ll take less time with fewer people): Pitch a maximum of five ideas you like in no more than thirty seconds per idea. Have each of your fellow critique partners vote for the two they find most compelling. You may choose to ignore their thoughts but it was really interesting to hear the consensus (or lack of) on people’s preferred ones.

FINISH. With OPTIONAL PART 4: This year, at the end of the session, we will each decide on one to write up as a first draft manuscript for our March critique session, so that we don’t lose momentum (and those who aren’t able to write a draft by then will write a twelve-spread structure).

But what if you’re not in a critique group? I’d heartily advise joining one but you can do it easily on your own (without the vote), or if you have even one fellow Storystormer who you’re in contact with, you could do this whole process over Skype. I have an amazing fellow-Storystormer accountability partner and we Skype once a week and have committed to sending each other a picture book manuscript on the last day of each month for the whole of 2019 (and we hope, beyond) –it’s a great –if slightly terrifying- way of being proactive with your Storystorm ideas (and the many other ideas you will come up with over the course of the year if you continue to use your Storystorm techniques throughout the year. Remember, Storystorm’s for life, not just for January!

Of course, like some relationships, it might be that certain ideas are growers and need time to ferment. Great –just don’t throw your ideas out and you can see if any are slow burners by coming back to your discarded ideas in the future (or see if any of them make their own way back to you…). But treating your ideas professionally and respectfully –and efficiently, by the end of an afternoon or morning, you can have decided on which ones you’re most interested in taking out on a real date and spending some real time and emotional energy getting to know.

As a final note, I’ve never actually done speed-dating with people so apologies if the metaphor is a little off. Perhaps I should try it in the interests of blogging accuracy… I’m sure it would give me some more story ideas, though not, perhaps, for picture books…

Juliet Clare Bell (always called Clare, just to confuse people) is the author of five picture books with more on the way (including a very exciting narrative non-fiction project which she hopes she can talk about soon). She also teaches writing picture books to adults, does professional critiques, writes for the joint blog Picture Book Den, runs creative writing sessions with children and does numerous author visits. She’s been heavily involved with SCBWI British Isles for fourteen years. Visit her at and

Clare is giving away a professional picture book critique which includes an optional one-hour skype session to discuss the feedback.

Simply leave ONE COMMENT below to enter.

You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once below. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.

Good luck!