by Kirsten W. Larson

Today we will not be talking about generating ideas.

Nope. Not even for a minute.

You think I’ve forgotten the whole point of Storystorm.

I assure you, I haven’t.

You see, I don’t think ideas have to be generated. They’re already out there just waiting for you to catch them. Your job is to pay attention, to put up your story antennas and jostle them around until the static gives way to a steady stream of inspiration.

That’s what I want to focus on today—fine-tuning your antennas. Because here’s the thing, if you train your antennas just right, you’ll pick up the story ideas only you can write. The ones that resonate with your soul and speak to the deepest part of who you are. The ones that capture your heart and energize you, carrying you from crappy first draft through countless revisions.

Those story ideas are gold. And they are begging for you to notice them.

Take the idea for my debut picture book WOOD, WIRE, WINGS, illustrated by Tracy Subisak, the true story of engineer Emma Lilian Todd. Lilian Todd was the first woman to design a working airplane, which flew in 1910. That idea for that book came straight out of the pages of ROSIE REVERE, ENGINEER by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts.

Thousands, perhaps millions of people have read ROSIE REVERE. Why did I pick up on the idea of Lilian Todd when so many others hadn’t?

My antennas were up.

I used to work for NASA, and I’ve lived and worked around airplanes my whole adult life. I was interested in aviation. I was fascinated by underdogs. And I was curious enough to think, “Who is this Lilian Todd, and why haven’t I heard of her?”

Step 1: Embrace curiosity

Your first task today is to make a list of topics that interest you and new things you want to learn about. Consider past jobs, your hobbies, your childhood favorites. (If you’ve read my latest picture book, A TRUE WONDER, illustrated by Katy Wu, you know I was a huge Wonder Woman fan as a kid. I had the Underoos to prove it.) Think about the types of movies, TV shows, and books you like. What are your cherished family and cultural traditions? What have you been dying to learn more about?

Now keep pursuing those interests and see what ideas crystalize out of thin air.

Step 2: Consider your values and truths you know

Now let’s make a list of your values and truths you know. These speak more to theme than subject matter, but every good picture book needs both.

I believe underdogs can change the world, and I love writing about them. All my protagonists are underdogs, including Wonder Woman, who was poo-pooed by male comics creators and then parents and teachers.

The label also fits Cecilia Payne, the real-life subject of my next picture book, THE FIRE OF STARS, illustrated by Katherine Roy. When Payne discovered what stars were made of, a well-known male astrophysicist flat-out told her she was wrong. French art curator Rose Valland, who secretly spied on the Nazis for years, is an underdog too. She’s the subject of my first middle grade graphic novel, THE LIGHT OF RESISTANCE, illustrated by Barbara McClintock.

My antennas are always scanning they sky for stories about people who defy odds and expectations.

There are other ideas that fascinate me too, like being a scientist or inventor is about passion and persistence not genius. I also gravitate to the idea of subverting notions about what heroes look like.

Getting in touch with your values and truths helps train your antennas in the right direction.

Step 3: Mash it up

What if you combine one of your truths/values with one of the topics from your first list? Maybe you mash up “pirates” with “family is who you choose.” Does an idea start to form?

I’ll be honest, every time I finish a project, I worry I’ll never find another just-right idea. But I know if I indulge my interests and curiosity and reflect on my values, the ideas come in crystal clear.

Now get out there and pick up some golden ideas.

Kirsten used to work with rocket scientists at NASA. Now she writes books for curious kids. She is the author of the picture books WOOD, WIRE, WINGS: EMMA LILIAN TODD INVENTS AN AIRPLANE, illustrated by Tracy Subisak (Calkins Creek), A TRUE WONDER: The Comic Book Hero Who Changed Everything, illustrated by Katy Wu (Clarion), and THE FIRE OF STARS: The Life and Brilliance of the Woman Who Discovered What Stars Are Made Of, illustrated by Katherine Roy (Chronicle, 2023), and the middle grade, graphic nonfiction, THE LIGHT OF RESISTANCE, illustrated by Barbara McClintock, (Roaring Brook, 2023), as well as 25 nonfiction books for the school and library market. Find her online at or on social media @kirstenwlarson.

Kirsten giving away an hour Zoom call you can use any way you like. You could use it for career coaching, a critique, or just an “ask me anything” session.

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