by Bonnie Adamson

Hello, Storystormers! Care to jump into the Way-Back Machine with me? As someone who has participated in every Storystorm/PiBoIdMo challenge since the very first one in 2009, I thought it might be fun to share some Pearls of Wisdom gathered along the way.

In 2009, I had just signed an illustration contract for my fifth book with Raven Tree Press, I was exploring a new(ish) social media platform called “Twitter” where I met the wonderful Tara Lazar, who was already busy making the world a happier place for picture book writer and illustrators. Author/poet Greg Pincus and I had founded #kidlitchat on Twitter over the summer, and I was soooo ready for this picture book idea thing. At the close of the 2009 challenge, I went through each day’s ideas, expanding them into two or three sentence synopses, and developed four of what I judged the best. One helped introduce me to my agent.

Two were probably too quiet for the market and one turned into a chapter book manuscript. A fifth idea never made it to the manuscript stage, but formed the basis of a PiBoIdMo post in 2010. One idea finally found its way into a 2019 project, another was tweaked and re-upped for Storystorm 2020, because the subject was suddenly in the news, in a sad, ecological-disaster way.

Most of my ideas in 2009 were plot-heavy and hard to fit into 500 words or less. The robot cowboy’s story (the one that caught the attention of my agent) is a case in point. It really doesn’t fit the picture book format, but I still have faith in it, and haven’t given up on finding a way to make it work. That’s the thing: a good idea has a way of hanging out in your head until you’re ready for it, or until your skills catch up.

Which brings me to my first Pearl of Wisdom:

Embrace the ideas that haunt you.

Think of them as creative sidekicks. You get to know them really well; they talk smack to you whenever you’re in danger of getting ahead of yourself; and they make excellent sounding boards. Every time you learn a new trick or flash on some insight about how your creative machine operates, you can try it out on your old pal first.

P.S. I have another picture book idea that predates the cowboy! The original concept was kicking around in my head *before* 2009. Is it possible to spend over a decade on one project? Why, yes . . . yes it is.

Witness the evolution of the character I refer to affectionately as “Croc”:

The second Pearl of Wisdom is for other Storystorm veterans:

Revisit your Storystorm stash often.

Sift through the older ones with a new perspective, more confidence in your ability to tell a certain story, or through the lens of changing times. (I have to say, one idea from 2009 and is looking pretty good to me ten years later. ‘Scuse me while I go make some notes . . .)

You’re not the same person you were five or six years ago—I’m not the same illustrator I was even a year ago.

Which leads to the third Pearl of Wisdom:

Don’t be afraid to shake things up.

I thought I was a writer first and an illustrator second, but it seems I had it backwards. Over the years I had settled into a routine: write the story, polish; sketch characters; thumbnail; dummy the page turns; create full-size layouts; complete a couple of pieces of final art; query. This sequence made sense to me, but a deadly fatigue was setting in by the time I got to creating the art. I couldn’t tell if the idea had been wrong for me as an illustrator, or whether I had simply used up all my problem-solving energy too early. So, immediately following Storystorm 2019, I challenged myself to turn each idea into a sketch FIRST, one a day during the month of February. Here are a couple that worked for me (you can see all the 2019 sketches on my website):

For this year’s Storystorm, I’m trying not to get my wordy brain involved at all until I have an interesting or fun image. Here’s Day 9:

(Whoops—it’s Baby Yoda! I dunno . . . maybe if I lose the blanket?)

Fourth (and final) Pearl of Wisdom—this one is the most important. Let’s call it a Diamond of Wisdom:

It’s not all about the ideas.

There have been personal highs over the past ten years: signing with my agent; a chance to illustrate for my dream publisher and a Kirkus starred review that spoke kindly of my art; the opportunity to create the logo for PiBoIdMo 2011 (thanks, Tara!).


But there was also a work-for-hire job that I cringe to think of, and more than one protracted dry spell—marked by the conviction that I’d forgotten how to draw and other forms of temporary insanity.

There have been changes in the industry, too—mostly good (although that darned word count for picture books keeps getting SMALLER and SMALLER).

One thing that hasn’t changed is my love for this challenge: it’s a deceptively simple exercise, but (as I’m sure you’ve realized by day 25), an extremely  effective way of getting into the story zone. It’s about self-discovery, about learning to listen to and trust your creative voice. After ten years, I’m still excited to see what pops into the picture book region of my brain (there definitely is a lobe dedicated to picture books by now).  I’m still inspired by the daily posts, and still grateful for this community.

So hang in there! That’s really what it’s about: the tenacity to put yourself back in the arena over and over.

Here’s wishing each of you success and decade-spanning journeys of your own.

Bonnie Adamson is a graphic designer turned illustrator who is trying, finally, to make the words match the pictures rather than the other way around.

You can wish her luck on Twitter @BonnieAdamson, where she hangs out when she should be doing something else. Also visit her website and blog at

Bonnie is giving away a signed copy of RUTABAGA BOO! by the inimitable Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen,  a definite high point of the last ten years.

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Good luck!