by Mirka Hokkanen

Now that the holiday season is over, it is time to get off the couch, stretch and get those idea-generating muscles warmed up again. Let’s get ready to rumble with Storystorm 2023!

Today I’m sharing about how Storystorm helped me on my journey to becoming a published author, and my recipe for generating irresistible tetris-pizza-supreme books. I hope that my story inspires you to show up every day for the next month, flex your idea-generating muscles, and write down those ideas, no matter how good or bad, because you never know where the next idea might lead you.

Roughly seven years ago I started on a journey to become a picture book illustrator. I spent my time soaking up everything I could about picture books and the publishing industry; reading, going to classes/webinars/conferences, joining SCBWI, meeting with peers and critique group(s), and even getting agent representation. Things were going great by all measures, but it still felt like actual illustration work was impossible to come by. My work was good, but never the best in the room, so I felt like someone else was always going to get picked over me.

As I learned more about the industry, I figured that if I could write stories, it would be a shorter path to publication. But that was a major roadblock for someone who never understood creative writing or book reports in school, and always teetered on the brink of failing assignments. Rather than write, I drew as a teenager, and my mom kept telling me that I should create comics and make that into a career. Great idea, if I could only come up with a viable plot! I tried a few times, but never got past the middle. Eventually my little sister cut pages I’d started into confetti and I gave up. By the end of middle school, I had lost my will to read and write all together, and just wanted to make art and ride horses.

Fast forward about 20 years, and 2 young kids later, I knew if I wanted to make it in publishing, I should probably figure out how to write. So I took some more classes and wrote and illustrated several stories… and let me tell you, they turned out fantastic!

Just kidding—my stories were terrible, because I didn’t have good ideas. But I kept trying because I had a burning desire to publish work that would bring joy to readers like I’d felt reading with my own kids. Then I heard of something called PiBoIdMo, and thought it couldn’t hurt (even if I couldn’t pronounce it). I made it through the month and had 30 ideas. They weren’t the greatest, I was a skeptic, but that was still 30 more ideas than I had the month before. Done is better than perfection!

I showed up for PiBoIdMo, now Storystorm, every year and packed those ideas in. I read the posts and some resonated with me more than others. As time went on, I noticed that ideas started trickling in on their own. What started out flowing like dry oatmeal, started to ooze like syrup from the cracks of my life, until the dams broke open. Ideas jumped at me from all over the place, from things I saw online, in my life, in books, etc.

And now we get to the juicy part: What I didn’t realize at first, when doing the prompts, was that I was starting to use my idea generating muscles. And like with all muscles, when you use them, they get bigger and more developed, and easier to use.

Mechanical became organic, and I figured out how my brain likes to generate ideas and what makes it tick. So if trying to generate ideas gives you a cold sweat, I want to encourage you to stick with it. Exercise and nurture those muscles, because when you get them built and warmed up, they are a gift that keeps on giving.

As a second half to generating ideas, I encourage you to read prolifically in the genre for which you are writing. It’s kind of like the protein drink that helps those muscles grow stronger.

This year is special for me, as I am not only debuting one, but three books that I have written (and illustrated) and I wanted to share how the idea for the first book came to be. It came on a Storystorm month, during which I am always really busy turning things around in my head and more sensitive than usual to prompts bubbling up in life. We were living in Hawaii, where coconuts grow on every street corner. For me as a girl who grew up in Finland, that was pretty exotic, and I would often hum a tune from my childhood that told the story of a guy wrecking his house trying to crack a coconut.

I thought that it would be a pretty funny idea for a picture book, and then used my skills learned in Storystorm, to develop the idea further.

I would describe the way I develop ideas as “pizza tetris”. I start with the main theme or frame for the book, like “impossible-to-crack coconut,” which is like the frame for different-shaped pieces. Then I start fitting pieces in and out of the frame to see which ones fit the best. I often first think about how to turn an idea upside down, and if I can’t think of anything good, then I toss that idea and start shuffling unexpected locations and characters in and out of the frame to see what looks interesting. Once those are figured, and you have a frame of pieces that fit, that’s like having a pizza base and tomato sauce, but then we need toppings.

For toppings, I jot down anything that can add extra layers and depth into the story: possible plot points, scenes or lines that I want to add in, additional themes or concepts, target audience, class curriculum tie-ins, etc. At the end, my goal is to have a delicious, well balanced, tetris-pizza-supreme, that is irresistible to editors, educators, parents and most importantly, we all know who loves pizza the most, kids!

So to illustrate: My completed coconut-tetris-pizza supreme consists of two bickering gnomes and an impossible-to-crack coconut as the base, and then a forest backdrop, a surprise character reveal, friendship, trying again after failure, creativity, early readers as target audience, rising graphic novel format, a heap of humor to top it off, and a side order of sequel ideas.

And it worked! MOSSY AND TWEED: CRAZY FOR COCONUTS was sold in a two-book deal, with the first book releasing on January 10th, and the sequel coming out later this year! I am so excited to bring these books out into the world, and hope they will inspire kids to pick up a book and learn to read.

Thank you so much for going on this journey with me. I hope that you keep showing up and working those muscles!

Mirka Hokkanen is an author and illustrator who cannot think of 7 impossible things before breakfast. She generates ideas much better after a pitcher of tea. Her best ideas wait for her in the worst times of the day; usually when driving or right as she is falling asleep. When not writing or illustrating, Mirka likes to relax at home with her three young kids. Mirka is also a teacher on Skillshare, a licensing illustrator and a printmaker. Find her online at

Mirka is giving away a copy of MOSSY AND TWEED plus a picture book critique to one lucky winner.

You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered Storystorm 2023 participant and you have commented only once below.

Prizes will be distributed at the conclusion of Storystorm.