by Kjersten Hayes

Here we are, Storystorm day 22—how’s it going? Do you have 22 shiny new picture book ideas? If yes, hooray! If not…

There’s still time!

In my book THE ELEPHANTS’ GUIDE TO HIDE-AND-SEEK, the main character is invited to play a game, but the odds are stacked against him. He’s awkward and unsure. He feels like he’s behind the other players, not as good at playing as they are. But he gets in the game anyway! Which is what I invite you to do now. And so, I present…


Let’s do this!

The Guidelines:

1. Lower the bar.

Completely set aside your excellent standards for this exercise. Say YES to every idea, even ones that strike you as genuinely bad, write them down anyway. You won’t find better ideas if you’ve set yourself up to say no while brainstorming, so say yes to everything.

Once I wrote an idea containing only the barest start, it basically said: write a parody guidebook of some kind. I wrote it down anyway.

2. Think quantity, not quality.

Quantity leads to quality. I teach art, and I see this with my students all the time. When they focus on quantity, they focus on practicing lots, and practicing lots is how you get better at anything. Focus on quantity if you want to find quality!

Try this: turn one idea into ten right now. Pluck an idea out of your idea pile. Maybe it’s an idea for a character. Or a setting. Or a problem. Or just pick a random animal as a character idea. Now, write that idea at the top of a piece of paper. And below, challenge yourself to add to it or to change it up at least ten different ways. Commit to ten variations of that one idea.

Try adding or changing the setting. Or the problem. Or the antagonist. Or the main character. Say yes to ridiculous variations. Say yes to the first thing that pops in your brain, and the second, and the third. You are not trying to be brilliant (this is key); you are just trying to make it to ten. Combine that one idea with another in your stack. And no worries, if you like the first idea best, you can always go back to it later.

My son and I meeting some elephant babies. Yay, elephants!

Remember that parody guidebook idea? While Storystorming one year, I decided to brainstorm different kinds of parody guidebooks (one idea into ten!). I searched through my other ideas and found a memory. When my son was young, we lived in Malaysia, where we learned about, met, and fell in love with elephants. One Christmas, home in Washington state for a visit, my son looked out the car window and said “Look mom! A forest! That’s where the elephants live!” It made me think of elephants hiding.

So from that, I wrote down a new idea: a parody guidebook about elephants playing hide-and-seek. And that idea eventually became my first published book.

3. Gamify.

You are playing. Not committing. You are trying out ridiculous things with wild abandon. But if finding ten variations of one idea is taking a while, make it a game. Set a timer. Say, ten minutes. See if you can do it in that amount of time, like you would for a low stakes boardgame. Can you get all ten variations in ten minutes? Write fast. Faster! Say yes to all the things, no matter how silly!

If you don’t make it, lower your standards, give yourself an extra minute, and try again. Repeat until you do make it. Incidentally if you want to write funny picture books, this is an excellent exercise. A person gets goofy when searching for many solutions fast.

Storystorm invites us to come up with lots of ideas in a short amount of time—31 ideas in 31 days! Year in and year out, Storystorm posts mention actual published books (like mine!) that originally came from this process—it works. So why not play with the process in an even more condensed fashion? Ten ideas in ten minutes? Why not? As I write this, I am at least four days behind, so I’ll be joining you! Let’s get back in the game! Right now. Ready, set, go!

Kjersten Hayes is the author of the picture book, THE ELEPHANTS’ GUIDE TO HIDE-AND-SEEK, illustrated by Gladys Jose and published by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky. She lives in Bellingham, Washington, in a century-old house full of color, books, pottery, art, music and happy kid noises. Besides writing she spends her time teaching art, taking adventures, and creating and selling collage art, greeting cards, and handmade journals. Visit her at, on Twitter @kjerstenhayes and Instagram @kjerstenhayes.

Kjersten is giving away a copy of THE ELEPHANTS’ GUIDE TO HIDE-AND-SEEK.

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