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When I graduated from art school I wanted to get paid work right away. I wanted to be the super success story with two book deals my first year out of college, or something awesome like that. I thought the best way to do that was to write what I thought art directors would want to hear. That would surely get me a publisher.

Every time someone critiqued my illustrations, I took everything they said to heart and changed my work. I thought, “If this person wants to see me do this, then I will do it. Then I will get a job.”

But it didn’t happen.

At the end of the first year, I had a portfolio filled with work that I wasn’t passionate about, a handful of stories that meant nothing to me, and still no major book contract.

I can’t predict what other people want to hear. Everyone has different taste. Adjusting my stories to accommodate everyone’s opinion was too stressful.

When I was thoroughly discouraged and thinking about applying to beauty school or something, Peter told me to sit down and just think about things that make me happy. What made me happy when I was a kid? What struggles did I overcome and what really excited me? What makes me laugh and what makes my heart feel tingly and emotional? What do I want to read? That is what I should write about.

Not what I think anyone else wants to hear.

Peter is great at tapping into the mind of his inner child. I encourage you to connect with your inner child, too. Ask child-you what makes them feel stuff. Luckily, we have all been a kid at some point, so thinking like a child just takes a little effort. When I searched my memories for child-Kayla, I discovered a whole bunch great material.

My spirits lifted and suddenly I was bursting with ideas. Puppies! Frosting! Koala Bears in suits! Farts! Disco Balls! Doodles! I have lived with myself my whole life, I know what images I want to hear and what images I want to see. Why try to guess the ideas of other people when there are so many ideas inside of ME?

When you write what you know and what means something to you, the reader can tell. Kids will know you had fun writing your story because they had fun reading it. Even if your story is not meant to be fun or happy, if you feel deep emotions about your work, then so will your audience.

Jonathan Safran Foer was given a great piece of writing advice from Joyce Carol Oates when he was working on EVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED. She told him to feel more.

That makes a lot of sense to me, and it seems to work really well with the children’s book world. Childhood was all feeling. Think of something from your life today and then see it through your memories as a child. I’ll start. Pizza for me now is “super cool”. But when I was a kid, pizza was “SLAP ME IN THE FACE, IT’S THE DOMINOES DELIVERY GUY!!”

Also, I love puppies today, but when I was a kid I used to pray for a hundred of them until my belly knotted up and I nearly squeezed the stuffing out of half a dozen stuffed animals.

For the “getting down to business” part of illustrating I try to start with a loose grip on the pencil. If I’m uptight and trying too hard, I end up with a dry, rigid drawing or I just freeze up and no drawing gets made. I’d like to broaden that too. Getting uptight (i.e. fearful and judgmental) about my life as a children’s book illustrator usually results in some serious paralysis as well. I want my drawings and my life to be playful. I’m not drawing medical illustrations after all.

Also, I try not to reject drawings or ideas too early on, because there’s no telling where it will end up. I usually start a drawing by making shapes. If it’s a head, then I play with shapes until a cool head shape shows up, then I add to it and play with it. It’s a little like staring at a textured surface or clouds and all of sudden you see a lion or a dog. I trust that my right brain will make associations and see something that I find interesting.

So hold your pencils and yourselves loosely my friends, and don’t worry about feeling so near sighted, because your brain will naturally rise up to meet creative challenges and will associate it’s way to the end of the drawing or story.

Now I’m gonna throw an awesome quote at you:

Writing is like driving at night in the fog.
You can only see as far as your headlights,
but you can make the whole trip that way.

And finally, if you guys need lasting inspiration then pick up a copy of HENRY IN LOVE by Peter McCarty. It’s a masterpiece!


Kayla Skogh has been illustrating stories for the iPad app FarFaria for over a year. Stories she’s illustrated include: Bats, Where the Bears Sleep, Elephants. Kayla is Doodle’s mother. Kayla also does custom pet portraits.

Kayla is giving away this darling signed print to a PiBoIdMo’er who completes the challenge. Comment here to enter and then if you complete 30 ideas by the end of the month and take the PiBo-Pledge posted in December, you’ll be eligible to win!


Peter Harren is represented by Kelly Sonnack of the Andrea Brown Agency. Peter is the father of Doodle.

Ooh, something to win from Peter, too! Same rules apply–comment here *and* complete the PiBoIdMo challenge.

Both winners will be randomly selected in December. Good luck!

I know you’ll probably say, “Tara, you had me at Peter Brown…”, but you will no doubt flip at the entire spectacular line-up of authors, illustrators, editors and other kidlit professionals I’ve secured for this November’s Picture Book Idea Month, affectionately known as PiBoIdMo ’round these parts.

PiBoIdMo challenges picture book writers to create 30 new story ideas in 30 days. Read the full scoop here.

Plus, we have an adorable mascot this year: Doodle! She’s the doggie pal of artist-couple Peter Harren and Kayla Skogh (who are equally adorable), and she’ll be making several cameos throughout the month of November!


PiBoIdMo will kick-off on October 24th with registration plus a guest post from


That’s right! One lucky former PiBoIdMo participant will win a guest blogging spot to write about how past events have inspired you, what you’ve done to gear up for the event, and how you sort through that fat file of ideas to pick ones to pursue.

To be eligible:

  • Blog about PiBoIdMo and what it means to you.
  • Link back to this blog post.
  • Leave a comment on this blog post telling me you’ve done so.
  • Complete all of the above by October 15th.

I will read all your entries and pick the blogger who most exemplifies the spirit of this annual event.

And now, without further ado, here are your PiBoIdMo guest bloggers!

Peter Brown
James Burks
Priscilla Burris
Dianne de Las Casas
Kelly DiPucchio

Amy Dixon
Kate Dopirak
Ame Dyckman
Donna W. Earhardt
Marcus Ewert
Deborah Freedman
Tiffany Strelitz Haber
Peter Harren
Charise Mericle Harper
Julie Hedlund
Leeza Hernandez

Carter Higgins
Ward Jenkins
Mike Jung
Ella Kennen
Diane Kredensor
Emma Ledbetter, Assistant Editor, Atheneum
Kelly Light
Deb Lund
Tracy Marchini
Wendy Martin
Diana Murray
Laura Murray
Debbie Ohi
Carol Rasco, CEO of RIF
Aaron Reynolds
Laura Sassi
Liz Garton Scanlon
Corey Rosen Schwartz
Kayla Skogh
Tammi Sauer
Mr. Schu, School Librarian & Kidlit Book Blogger
Melissa Sweet

Will Terry
Audrey Vernick
Robert Weinstock
Tamson Weston, Editor & Consultant
Timothy Young

And while you’re waiting for registration to begin on October 24th, why not join our PiBoIdMo Facebook group? Connect with other participants and picture book professionals, chat about the event and other writerly topics.

Stay tuned for more PiBoIdMo announcements in the coming days!

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