by Carrie Tillotson

When people ask me, “Where do you get your ideas?” my too-literal brain often interprets this as, “Please tell me where you were, physically, when you got the inspiration for your book. Were you sitting on the toilet? In the shower? Waiting in the rain for half an hour?” But then I realize what they really want to know is how I get my ideas.

Ironically, one of the main ways I get ideas is by writing in weird places. For instance, one idea sparked while I was revising an old manuscript in a stuffy, steamy pool room. My son was at his swim lesson, and I was sitting on a bench nearby. Every lesson, my son performed a starfish float, a skill where he lay on his back with arms and legs spread like a starfish. Every time, the instructor counted to ten, “One-two-three, four-five-six, seven-eight-nine, BANANAS!” And every time, hysterics ensued.

One day, my son joked with her about ending on ten instead of bananas. “What?” she said. “Don’t you like my counting to bananas?” SPARK! I looked up from my manuscript, then scribbled down the phrase, knowing instantly that this was the stuff of picture book titles. I had no idea what the book was about but knew it was something I had to explore. Five years later, COUNTING TO BANANAS: A MOSTLY RHYMING FRUIT BOOK (Flamingo Books, April 2022), illustrated by Estrela Lourenço, is my debut picture book. All thanks to writing in a hot, humid pool room. Although the book is about an opinionated banana more than a swim lesson and starfish floats, it embodies the same sense of surprise and delight that my son experienced when his swim instructor counted to bananas instead of counting to ten.

With notebook and pen in hand, working on a story in a “weird” place had my creative juices flowing. My mind was tuned into ideas and opportunities. Had I been playing on my phone instead, I might not have even overheard the hilarious conversation. Other “weird” places I’ve written and gotten ideas include:

  • Hammock
  • Bus
  • Library
  • Park
  • Bus stop bench
  • Picnic table
  • On the floor in front of the fireplace
  • Coffee shop
  • Taekwondo dojo
  • Airplane
  • Beach
  • Blanket fort (my personal favorite!)

Weird places I have not yet written, but might enjoy:

  • Hot air balloon
  • Dogsled
  • Gondola
  • Disneyland’s Splash Mountain
  • The Space Needle
  • Under a bed
  • Museum
  • Tent in the snow
  • Treehouse
  • She-Shed
  • On a surfboard
  • Carousel
  • On horseback

Okay, okay—maybe I am just listing things I would like to do in general, but I also like to write. Why not mix writing with my favorite activities or even my daily errands? I wrote part of this post while lying upside down over the edge of my bed to see if it inspired anything unusual.

Today, I challenge you to find a weird place to write. Then tune into your surroundings and see what sparks. You never know where inspiration might strike next!

Carrie Tillotson is a biostatistician turned book author. Her debut picture book, Counting to Bananas: A Mostly Rhyming Fruit Book, arrives on shelves in April 2022, followed by its sequel, B is for Bananas: A Going Bananas Book in Spring 2023. As a child, Carrie loved to read, paint, and draw, and thought books were written by dead people. She later met a real-live author and realized she could be an author one day, too. After working as a biostatistician for 13 years, Carrie now sculpts her interest in science and fun into playful picture books. When not reading and writing, you can find her running, playing games, and eating ice cream (though usually not all at the same time). She lives in Oregon with her husband and son, two dogs, and two chickens. Visit her online at, and on Twitter and Instagram @carrietillotson.

Carrie is giving away one copy of COUNTING TO BANANAS: A MOSTLY RHYMING FRUIT BOOK (upon its release).

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.