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by Janee Trasler

Generating ideas comes easily for me. I am participating in my own private PiBoIdMo every day of the year. I jot down ideas on napkins; I write them on my hand; I email them to myself; I leave myself idea voice mails. I’ve got no problem with ideas.

It’s getting those ideas out of my head and onto paper I struggle with.

You’ve probably met people who get an idea on Monday and by Wednesday, have a polished, publishable, picture book manuscript ready to send, right? I’m in a critique group with those people.

I am not one of them.

My process looks something like this.

  1. Get brilliant idea.
  2. Decide that I am a genius.
  3. Jot down a few notes.
  4. Let idea brew.
  5. Critique way too early in process.
  6. Decide that I am not a genius.
  7. Decide, in fact, that I suck.
  8. Stuff notes in deepest, darkest corner of drawer.
  9. Get sudden inspiration while washing dishes.
  10. Pull notes out of drawer.
  11. Reread notes.
  12. Decide that I am genius after all.
  13. Jot down new inspiration.
  14. Let brew.
  15. Make storyboard.
  16. Revise storyboard 42 times.
  17. Write first draft.
  18. Send to critique group.
  19. Wait for them to confirm genius.
  20. Get feedback from critique group.
  21. Decide that critique group doesn’t know what they’re talking about.
  22. Stew.
  23. Decide that critique group is genius after all.
  24. Revise.
  25. Send to agent.
  26. Wait for her to confirm genius.

I could probably trim a lot of self bashing and praising from my process, but the other parts, the brewing, story boarding, and revising are really important for me. I get an idea and actively brainstorm it for a bit, but then I need to put it away and let my subconscious work on it.

It gives my idea time to grow. It allows me to make connections I might not have otherwise made.

I used to think of this as a bad thing. I compared myself to the idea-on-Monday-polished-draft-on-Wednesday people and felt lesser, but then realized it’s just the way I work. The time I spend brewing my idea, they often spend looking for one.

The other part of my process that I’d be loath to lose is the storyboarding phase. I get a lot of the kinks worked out here before it ever goes to draft form. I number a piece of paper 1 through 15 to represent picture book spreads. I tentatively write the exposition on the first line and the resolution on line 14. I pace out the major plot points on lines 2 through 13 and the wrap up on line 15.

As I’m playing with the storyboard, I know I’ve got the half-title spread to steal if I really need an extra spread to complete my arc.

I find it so much easier to revise the storyboard than a draft, that I will try things here that I might not try if I went straight from notes to writing. There’s a lot less risk to trying something at this stage.

I congratulate you all for participating in PiBoIdMo, and whether it’s ready next Wednesday or three years from now, I look forward to adding your picture books to my collection!

Janee Trasler has illustrated 19 books and written/illustrated four of her own. Her latest book, CAVEMAN, A B.C. STORY (which by the way, sat in a drawer for six months “brewing”) was published August, 2011 by Sterling. You can catch the book trailer here:

and see Janee’s illustration portfolio on her website

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