by Joana Pastro

A few months ago, I was summoned for jury duty. When lawyers went around the room asking questions as part of the selection process, one of them surprised me by asking where I get ideas for my stories. About fifty pairs of eyes stared at me, so I gave my go-to one-word answer: everywhere. I wasn’t lying—I was under oath after all—but when I noticed that all eyes were still on me, I realized they expected more. So I expanded my response with a series of examples that I’m pretty sure sounded like a bunch of mumbo jumbo.

At the end of the day I wasn’t selected for the jury, but I left determined to have a better answer for next time.

So…where do I find ideas for my stories?

Everywhere. Allow me to expand.

All day long we are exposed to an enormous amount of information that can prompt ideas. Notice I’m using the word prompt.

To find ideas, you must follow a few steps.

  1. Be on active pursuit of prompts at all times. How, you ask? Turn on all of your senses—sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch. Leave your brain, your very own personal database—emotions, memories and knowledge—open to make the necessary connections rather than just going on autopilot through your day.
  2. Once you’ve made the connections, ask a creative’s favorite question: What if?
  3. Grab those ideas! Register them: write them down, record them on your phone, do whatever needs to be done. Don’t let them escape. Ideas have a way of disappearing into thin air when they’re not properly captured!

For example:

Witnessing a flock of birds fly from one tree to another, in and of itself, is simply a beautiful scene. It’s not an idea…yet. But if you take that beautiful scene and filter it through your personal database, that scene might take you to an idea. Observing those birds might make you think of an air show, a ballet, or a crowd gathering to protest—birds can be pretty loud! Their beautiful chirping might remind you of an orchestra or your grandma’s front porch where you used to eat deliciously ripe and juicy mangoes. I bet you can almost taste those.

Oh boy, I’m about to go on a tangent.

The flock of birds might remind you of how your grandpa planted trees all over town, and by helping him, your relationship with him grew stronger.

So, perhaps that flock of birds leads to a story about a grandpa’s love for nature and his grandchild.

My upcoming debut book LILLYBELLE, A DAMSEL NOT IN DISTRESS began with a call for submissions from Cricket magazine. The prompt was knights and castles. It wasn’t an idea yet. It only became an idea when I sifted through my database and remembered the term “damsel in distress”. Then I thought of my daughter, who loved playing princesses and was also confident and strong. BOOM! An idea was born! What if I wrote about a damsel, who loves being a damsel, but refuses to wait for rescue?

Try taking a few moments to pursue a prompt that catches your senses and see what kind of connections your personal database will make. It can be outside your window, on a screen or a photo album. Anywhere! If this process works for you, make a habit out of it, and hopefully you will never suffer from a dreaded idea drought ever again!

Joana Pastro always wanted to be an artist of some sort. So, she became an architect. But once her first child was born, all the visits to the library, and the countless story times made Joana start dreaming of becoming a children’s book author. After a lot of reading, writing and revising, her dream is coming true. Her debut picture book, LILLYBELLE, A DAMSEL NOT IN DISTRESS, illustrated by Jhon Ortiz, will be published by BM&K in Fall/2020. Her second book, BISA’S CARNAVAL, illustrated by Carolina Coroa will be published by Scholastic in Spring/2021. Originally from Brazil, Joana now lives in Florida with her husband, her three extremely creative children and a rambunctious Morkie. Visit her on Twitter @jopastro, Instagram @joanapastro, or at

Joana is giving away a non-rhyming picture book critique.

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