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by Julia Mills

1. I like to start with a list. Lists are much less intimidating than paragraphs. You can use numbers, letters, bullet points, stickers. I sometimes change midstream.

2. I like to make lists of very random words, whatever comes to mind. It’s ok if some of them are repeats. You may find that the same word creeps in again and again. Be suspicious of this word. It may be telling you something.

3. Lemons…

4. When you are brainstorming, no idea is bad. Write it down. Sometimes I try to make a bad idea worse. Take it to the limit. You can always go backwards.

5. If you can’t think of anything to write, write how you feel.

6. I’m feeling hopeful today. I’m hopeful that some great picture book idea will land in my brain.

7. Look at your words. I mean really look at them. What shapes do they make? The “aha!” moment for my story occurred when I saw a turtle in the letter “u” of “stuck”.  I like to make very rough doodles. It’s OK if you don’t draw, doodling is for everyone. Doodle like a Kindergartner with a sparkly crayon.

7.5 Say your words. How do they feel? Are they crunchy or smooth? Are they funny or serious?

8. Take your words to a different place. Sit on the floor. Do they look different here? Take them to the shower but only if your paper is waterproof.

9. Add things to your process that make you happy. For me that means colorful pens, stickers and tea. Tea is very important.

10.  If you are really frustrated, take a nap. When you are half asleep, think about your words. Imagine them in a book. Don’t stress over this. Just read the book to yourself in your half sleep. Read them like you would read them to a child. You are the child. You are putting yourself to sleep. It’s ok, you are tired.

11. Ignore your words for a while. If you have terrible handwriting like I do, deciphering your words months later is half the fun.

12. Come back to your words after you forget them. What do they make you think about now? What questions pop up when you look at them?

13. Even if you write ONE word, you have written something. You deserve a nap, a sticker, a cup of tea, or whatever makes you happy.

Julia Mills is a writer, illustrator and kindergarten art teacher. Her debut picture book I AM STUCK (Clarion, Fall 2023) was dreamt up on the very last day of Storystorm in 2020. She has yet to write a book about lemons. You can find her at and as JMillsPaints on Instagram and Twitter.

Julia is donating a 30-minute Zoom idea chat or art critique.

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.

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