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kendralevinby Kendra Levin

A few years ago, my friend and I joked that there should be a National Don’t Write a Novel Month. In fact, we even created a Twitter account for it and spent the month of November that year tweeting about all the things we were doing instead of writing a novel.

Writing is hard. Writing a novel in a month is even harder. And while NaNoWriMo and Tara’s own PiBoIdMo are fantastic ways to light a fire under your butt and get words on the page, it’s just as important for writers to spend time…well, not writing.

So this year, if you’re feeling creatively fried, emotionally exhausted, distracted by the election, or just plain burnt out, try spending November replenishing yourself artistically.

Consume culture. You already know how important it is for writers to read—and not just the genre or age category you write, but all kinds of books, articles, and other content. Go see an art exhibit, a dance performance, or a concert. Play a video game. Go to a movie you wouldn’t normally be interested in. Try art forms and genres you don’t expect to like and see what happens!

Explore your world. On the way home from the gym, your job, your kids’ school, any place you visit more than once a week, try a new route. Always go to the same gas station? Try a different one. Instead of walking, running, or riding your bike wherever you usually go, head to the next town over and investigate a neighborhood you’re not familiar with. See what inspiration is hiding in the world adjacent to you.

Learn a new skill and bring new people into your life. Join a club, a meetup group, or a casual sports team. Find an activity you’re curious about that’s different from anything else you do and give it a try. Go to a place that you know attracts people with different interests than you and see if you can make a new friend.

Read your journals. If you keep a journal, you have a potential goldmine of material in the experiences you’ve had and thoughts you’ve recorded. Go back and look at what you wrote this year, last year, five or 10 years ago, or even in high school, and see what you find that intrigues or surprises you.

Make non-writing art. See what it’s like to express yourself without words, and without the pressure that can come with doing your primary creative focus. Collage, draw, paint, compose music. Make a silly video on your phone. Create a whole story just using gifs. Don’t worry about it being good. Make art with no agenda and have fun!

Meditate, be present, nurture your spirit. If you love the idea of meditation but never seem to make time for it, now’s your chance. Take a contemplative walk alone, ideally in nature. Attend a service of a religion you don’t practice, or visit a place that is sacred or spiritual to you. Spend time alone without plans and see what you gravitate toward or where your thoughts take you.

This year, let the month of November be an opportunity to find inspiration, challenge your preconceptions about yourself, and rejuvenate your psyche. By the end, you’ll be ready to roll up your sleeves and write, or to take on the next challenge life brings: the holiday season!

theheroisyouKendra Levin helps writers and other creative artists meet their goals and connect more deeply with their work and themselves. She is a certified life coach, as well as a senior editor at Penguin, a teacher, and author of The Hero Is You. Visit her at and follow her @kendralevin.

And Kendra is giving away a free 30-minute Skype coaching session to one lucky writer. Just leave a comment below about your favorite way NOT to write. Winner will be selected randomly later this month. One comment per person, please. GOOD LUCK!

Check out Kendra’s new book THE HERO IS YOU, released today!

Venerable LA Times rock critic Robert Hilburn recently penned Corn Flakes with John Lennon and Other Tales from a Rock n’ Roll Life, a revealing memoir-style series of vignettes featuring the great rock icons of the last 50 years.

In the book, Hilburn recounts his seven-piece Times series on the most influential and prolific songwriters of the rock era, which was published earlier this decade. He chose Bob Dylan as his first subject. Hilburn wanted to learn about a songwriter’s creative process: what inspires them, how they begin to lay down the music and lyrics, if success or failure of past work influenced future songs. The interview with Dylan earned Hilburn his third Pulitzer Prize nomination. And, Dylan’s words may give other writers—perhaps even picture book writers—inspiration for their own work:

“Some things just come to me in dreams,” Dylan told Hilburn. “But I can write a bunch of stuff down after you leave…about say, the way you are dressed. I look at people as ideas. I don’t look at them as people. I’m talking about general observation. Whoever I see, I look at them as an idea…what this person represents. That’s the way I see life. I see life as a utilitarian thing. Then you strip things away until you get to the core of what’s important.”

And picture books are indeed about what’s important; every picture book features an emotional truth, whether it be about family, friendship or fitting in. If you strip away what’s on the surface—the pirates or the penguins or the princesses—what remains is a story about the human experience.

Noted illustrator Jim Arnosky found inspiration in Dylan’s music. “From the first time I heard [Man Gave Names to All the Animals], the lyrics created pictures in my mind of a land of primeval beauty,” said Arnosky. Dylan gave his permission to create a picture book, and the work was released by Sterling in September.

So that’s your inspirational thought for the day. Well, two inspirational thoughts! People and songs.

What do other people’s actions say to you? How do those actions translate to story? What music boosts your creativity?

And don’t forget, there’s much more inspiration to come when PiBoIdMo begins in November. Consider this a warm up, or as Dylan might say, a sound check.

Photo credit DOCUMERICA by Patricia D. Duncan

Something strange happens to women once they reach 50, and I’m not talking about hot flashes and sagging skin. I am referring to those female family members who have an overabundance of stuff and feel the sudden need to unload it on me.

I do not need wooden napkin rings circa 1974 nor a pilly afghan in the trendy avocado green of that decade. A framed print seems like a generous offering, until I learn that it sits beneath cracked glass. Sweaters and velvet jackets thick with dust and the odor of mothballs? No thanks. Old dented tins, used shopping bags, vinyl placemats, and assorted ceramic chachkas—does my home look like a flea market?

I have relatives who want to get rid of things. I understand that. But they assume the items are too good to throw away. Yet I suspect they also realize their knick-knacks aren’t desirable enough to sell, not even to the eBay-obsessed, so I’m the solution to their clutter.

So what do I do? Refuse the third PBS tote bag I’ve been offered?

No, I graciously accept it with a “thank you” and watch their eyes light up with pleasure, knowing their treasure has found another home within the family. And then I tuck it away into a dark basement closet, awaiting my 50th birthday when I can hopefully dump the stuff on my nieces.

But a few months ago for Picture Book Idea Month, Susan Taylor Brown told us how she finds inspiration: collecting “junk” in an idea box, and then imagining the story behind the brooch, feather or piece of iridescent ribbon she’s found.

So perhaps collecting chachkas isn’t such a bad experience for a writer. In fact, maybe I’ll start asking neighbors to unload their trash–I mean treasure–on me.

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My Picture Books


illus by Mike Boldt
July 2021

illustrator TBA
Sourcebooks eXplore
November 2021

illus by Ross MacDonald
Little, Brown

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