by Danielle Joseph

I Want to Ride the Tap Tap Cover, colorful Haitian bus, harbor in background

When I started thinking about writing this blog post, I realized that I’ve been gathering ideas for most of my life. Thoughts took me back to my bedroom with the blue carpet outside of Boston, where I’d sit with my sister or a friend and try to figure out what to play. We’d individually come up with a bunch of ideas, write them on little scraps of paper, ball them up, and then stick them in a clay bowl that I’d made in art class. Some top ideas: play house, camping, act out tv commercials and school. Sometimes, when we’d finally decided what to play, a friend’s mom would arrive to pick her up or my mom would yell, “Come set the table!” That was the worst!

pinchpot ceramic bowl, white and yellow

The actual bowl I used to generate ideas as a kid.

When I got older, I continued to collect ideas. In sixth grade, a friend and I threw all sorts of ideas into the bowl on where we should sleep that night for our sleepover because beds would be too boring. The bathtub was the winning idea, but my mom quickly vetoed that, and we ended up with choice number two, my closet. It was cramped, so eventually the beds won out. But it was a lot of fun imagining what it would be like to sleep in some of the odd places that had made the list.

It took me a long time to realize that the gathering of ideas was a game in itself! Then fast-forward to when I taught middle school for a few years after college. I’d come up with a whole bunch of story ideas, throw them into a bowl and tell the students to pick out two ideas and incorporate them into their stories. We always had a blast with this, and the students were so creative.

For my own work writing novels, I keep different files of ideas on my computer, but when I began writing picture books, I found that lists were really helpful too. Since I love to procrastinate, I start with a pre-brainstorm list. It helps to get the ideas flowing and bonus, you don’t have to commit to anything just yet. You can answer any types of questions when you create your pre-brainstorm lists, but here are some suggestions. And you should keep it as a running list, so you can always refer back to it.

Pre-Brainstorm (Create an idea list), jot down:

  • Things you like
  • Specifics that relate to you
  • Hobbies
  • Your culture
  • Upbringing
  • Family life
  • Character traits
  • Major life events
  • Minor events that stick with you

Once you’re done with the list, you are ready to start brainstorming! I call this the hook-up phase and from here you pick two topic ideas from your pre-brainstorm list that you want to further explore, hook-up. When I wrote my picture book, I WANT TO RIDE THE TAP TAP about a boy in Haiti who dreams of riding the Tap Tap bus, I chose location (I love to travel and have lived in a few different cities) and transportation (I’ve collected a few types of toy cars over the years, starting with a handmade wooden one that was given to me as a baby by my dad’s friend).

The Hook-Up (Unification of Ideas)


Cape Town…Cable Car
Haiti…Tap Tap bus
London…Double-decker bus

Once you pick an item from column one that corresponds with column two, you are ready to brainstorm!


Again, this can be done in a list format. Just write down anything you think could possibly happen in your story from the mundane to the wacky! And if some of the items don’t make it to this story, add them back to your main idea list and you may use them another time.

Story Grab Bag

Keep all these ideas as a running list. They will go into your story grab bag. You just never know when you might need a new story idea or an idea for a plot thread and when you do, you can look through your lists or your bag or bowl and see where your next match comes form. Sometimes you have a good idea going, but your plot is too thin, so you can pull an idea from your Pre-Brainstorm List.

I hope this gets you generating even more ideas this month and beyond! Happy Brainstorming!

Danielle Joseph is the author of the newly released middle-grade novel Sydney A. Frankel’s Summer Mix-Up and the 2021 CBC Notable Social Studies picture book; I WANT TO RIDE THE TAP TAP. She also has written three young adult novels Shrinking Violet, Indigo Blues, and Pure Red. Shrinking Violet was adapted into the 2012 Disney Channel movie, Radio Rebel. Danielle has a BFA in Creative Writing and an MA in Marketing Communications and Advertising, both from Emerson College. She’s a former middle school creative writing teacher and has been teaching writing workshops for over fifteen years. Danielle was born in Cape Town, South Africa and currently lives in Maryland. Her picture book biography, RUTH FIRST NEVER BACK DOWN debuts Fall 2023 from Lerner. Visit her at and follow her on Twitter and Instagram @daniellejoseph1.

Danielle giving away one signed copy of I WANT TO RIDE THE TAP TAP and a second prize of a 30-minute consultation where I can answer any writing or industry questions or talk about story ideas. These are two separate prizes!

You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once below.

Prizes will be distributed at the conclusion of Storystorm.