by your Storystorm hostess, Tara Lazar

I listened to the Hidden Brain podcast last night, all about habits—how to develop good ones, how to lose bad ones. Aha, I thought, Storystorm is all about making story ideation a habit! How serendipitous!

The episode revealed that the less “friction” there is surrounding an activity, the more you’re likely to do the task and eventually make it habitual. And when it’s habitual, you don’t have to think about it. You don’t need to make a decision to do it, you just do. There’s no thinking. It’s automatic.

“Friction” means the things that make doing something more difficult. If the gym is too far away, you won’t go regularly. Too much friction. Lessening—or even eliminating—friction is the key to forming a habit. Want to jog every morning? Getting up early is a hassle. What lessens the rub? Sleeping in your workout clothes. Wake up and go!

In 2021, you want to make forming new story ideas a habit. Why? Picture books are a numbers game. They’re notoriously difficult to sell. The more ideas you have, the more potential manuscripts you write, the more the odds tilt in your favor.

Plus, not every idea is a good enough for a story. Some are awful. Case in point, an idea I have in my 2020 pile: “Bobby Bubble Wrap”. What the heck???

You need to push past the terrible ideas to get to the good ones. If “Bobby” had been my only idea in 2020, I would be in trouble career-wise. Luckily, it was one of 100. Out of that 100, I wrote a dozen and eight went on submission.

So let’s talk about friction. What’s stopping you from daily idea generation? The reason most people forget an idea is because they don’t write it down. If we want to create less friction here, have everything you need ready and accessible. I now keep my ideas in the “Notes” app on my phone. My phone is always with me (it became a habit when my kids got them), so it’s easily accessible. Moreover, my notes are saved to the cloud, so they’re there for eternity. Or as long as my wi-fi works.

Don’t like the phone? Carry a pen and small notebook. Or at least carry a pen. There’s always space to write on your palm. Don’t forget “Aqua Notes” in the shower, too. Put paper all over the house! (Just don’t forget to consolidate it into one place or one file. Make it a habit to do every night before bed!)

Is this too much friction? Or piggybacking?

The next tip is called “piggybacking”. Think about your day. What habits do you already have? Do you enjoy a morning cuppa? Start a new habit by tacking it onto an existing habit. When you sit down with your tea, read the blog, start daydreaming, get a new idea, write it down.

I’ve found that there’s no regular time of day for me to get a new idea, it just comes randomly. But that’s because I’ve become more attuned to what’s happening around me. My senses are sharper; I’ve been practicing story ideation for a long time. It’s second-nature. I don’t have to force myself to think of something. I overhear my kids talking, I watch a show, I read an article and BAM—an amorphous blob begins to take shape.

This is the goal. Standing in the storm with an umbrella means you’re more likely to get struck by lightning.

I highly recommend this Hidden Brain episode, and the entire podcast in general. Listening is one of my habits!

Drawing by Laurie Keller

Tara Lazar is a picture book author and the founder of Storystorm, now in its 13th year. Register for the challenge here, thru January 7th. If you can, please purchase Storystorm SWAG—all proceeds ($4 per item) will be donated to hunger charity Blessings in a Backpack.

Follow Tara on Twitter @taralazar, Instagram @taralaser and TikTok (new!) @taralazarbooks. Most of all, have a creative start to 2021!